typewriterwoods_thumb.jpg I am back! It’s been a long, long road to get back to blogging. I have dedicated myself to traveling, finishing my novel, and teaching over the last several years. To be honest, I also had some personal ups and downs with family illnesses, deaths, and relationship woes. So, the personal took priority over blogging. Recently, I decided that it’s time to get back to supporting fellow writers, especially those in the beginning or middle of their journey on becoming a writer.

Writing in solitude is a difficult state of being, but it is what writers do. Fortunately, in the age of social media, we don’t have to do it alone. We can lift each other up, read each other’s work, and provide feedback in real-time. So, here I am. This blog will stay true to its initial intention and that is to share what I know, to learn from others, and share what they know, and by the grace of it all, we’ll find that our words matter and someone will read them someday – today, tomorrow, or a hundred years in the future.


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Summertime Hiatus–Aloha

typewriterwoods Summertime summons me to play. In my head, all I can hear is:  “Sun is shining. Weather is sweet. Make you wanna move your dancing feet” (~Bob Marley)

Teaching, writing this blog (or trying to keep up with it), revising my novel, writing notes for a screenplay idea, renovating our home, planting the flower garden, spring cleaning, and tending to four dogs has kept me busy, focused, and productive but worn out physically and spiritually. I need rejuvenation.  I’m restless to get outside and do whatever. I don’t want to stick to a schedule or check a to-do-list unless it’s this one:

  1. Lots of kissing and loving, of course, with my significant other
  2. Sleep in and eat breakfast at noon
  3. Bask in the sun and take a dip in Enid Lake most afternoons
  4. Canoe the Buffalo River in the Ozarks
  5. Jump into the cool waters of Greer’s Ferry Lake  or Lake Ouachita
  6. Drive down to the Gulf Coast National Seashore for a long weekend
  7. Ride the Natchez Trail
  8. Watch  Vacation again
  9. Hang out with family and friends in Oxford, Mississippi and Memphis, TN
  10. Go to an art and music festival
  11. Some light reading
  12. Go to a Drive-In Movie
  13. Support my local farmers’ markets
  14. Grill and pig-out
  15. Visit antique shops and find treasures
  16. Explore Mississippi outdoors
  17. Celebrate the Summer Solstice with camping under the stars
  18. Take it easy and feel the summer breeze
  19. Stock up on good summer wines
  20. Write on my own time — whenever and whatever

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language”. Henry James

Summertime beckons.  So please excuse me while I take a short break from blogging, go play, and return rejuvenated in mid-July – with a posting around July 15th. 

Enjoy your summertime – doing whatever.  It will feed your spirit and your writing.

Related Posts:

Taking a Vacation From Freelance Writing and Hiking in Utah

Top Ten Reasons Freelancers Need Vacations

What Freelancers Really do About Vacation

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Plum Point’s Pull the Trigger: Saddling Up Again

This week’s Plum Point  “Saddling Up Again” describes my response to a writing prompt posted on Plum Point‘s page Pull the Trigger. As many writers will attest to, writing prompts are a good way to break through writer’s block, and get into the habit of writing, and awaken the muse. A good prompt can reveal obsessions and trigger subjects.

Writing Prompt #1

Pull the Trigger: Take a walk through your town, carry a camera, and take pictures of objects, buildings, people, animals and other subjects which attracts your attention. A week later, look over the photos you shot, choose one photo, and start writing. Do not censor yourself.  Set a timer for ten minutes and write without stopping.  Look back over your writing. What obsessions have your discovered? What subject is triggered?  Choose a form – poem, story, or essay and write for another ten minutes, but this time focus in on the obsession or triggering subject.

My Response

I knew exactly the place I wanted to walk and take pictures, and that was at the new Ford’s Well Recreation Center on

Entry to Wranger Camp

the south side of Enid Lake to hike part of the fifteen mile multipurpose Spyglass Hill Trail. The trail is for both hikers and horse back riders. The Ford’s Well area includes a wrangler campground where trail riders can actually camp with their horses. I had never visited a wrangler campground, so it definitely got my attention, and I took out my camera.  At every Ford’s Well campsite, there are hitching rails for the horses.  For trail riders visiting for the day, there is also an ample parking area for trucks with horsing trailers. Horses were everywhere, and I was definitely not going to pass up the opportunity, so before venturing off on the Spyglass Hill Trail, I took several photos.

The Selected Photo

Horses at Wash Station at Ford's Well

Out of the many shots I captured that day at the wrangler camp and on the hike along Spyglass Hill Trail, this picture stood out because the horses reminded me of two horses, Trigger and Black Diamond,  from my childhood.  The first timed writing explored my memory of those two horses and  how my fear of riding horses today originated from my experience with them.  I chose the essay form. The second focused timed writing took me back forty years ago to the age of eight to to the specific details about those experiences with Trigger and Black Diamond, and then a return to the present to the discovery of a simultaneous fear of horses and a desire to get back in the saddle again.

The draft of this essay is written but it is incomplete. I have to get back in the saddle again in order to finish it. I want to connect my past experiences with horse more concretely to my present experiences with horses to finish the ending of the essay.   I have always wanted to ride a horse on the beach at sunset but earlier experiences with Trigger and Black Diamond have made me hesitant to get back in the saddle. Okay, let’s be honest — fearful and trembling in my cowboy boots. So, a few weeks ago, I asked my neighbor and friend, Fred, a horse owner and experienced rider,  if she would take me riding on our beach here at Enid Lake, and she said yes. As a matter of fact, she was downright insistent. So, now we just have to set a date.

Today, Fred and her daughter came trotting by on their horses past my place this morning, I was again reminded that I still needed to coordinate the riding with Fred. Again, fear is leading to procrastination.

I will get back on the saddle again because the essay needs an ending, and facing my fears is the only to do it. It’s like writing. The only way through your fear is to write. The only way through my fear is to ride.

Updates to follow….Does she get back in the saddle again?

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Why I Write? Entering into the Minds of Writers, Part II

why I write

In 1946,  George Orwell wrote an essay answering the question:  “Why I Write” . Many writers  —  Virginia Woolf, Earnest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, and others —  have also  responded to this same question in their letters, memoirs, and nonfiction prose. Or in their own “Why I Write” essays like Orwell’s (Joan Didion, Terry Tempest Williams) and in the anthology  Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction where twenty-six fiction writers answer that question, including  Normal Mailer, Joy Williams, Richard Ford, Amy Hempel,  James Salter, Thom Jones, Rick Bass, Ann Patchett, Lee Smith and Mary Gaitskill.

Reading writers responses to this prompt has led to my own exploration. It’s not that I haven’t often thought of why I write. But I that I believe it needs revisiting.  Many of the reasons these writers to explain why they write are the same reasons why I write. Yet, I know that this question deserves my own response. I believe responding to the “Why I Write” question on our own will lead us closer toward the writing we want to do. The work that only we can do. What draws us to the stories we write? What draws us to the forms that we write in? Why are at our desks writing when there are a million other things to do?

George Orwell begins with this response to “Why I Write” :

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books (Orwell,  “Why I Write,” 1946)

For Ray Bradbury, writing is tonic:

“Not to write for many of us, is to die.,..I have learned on my own journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing I grow uneasy.  Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic”  (Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing, p. xiii)

follow your dreams

I write to have a voice. To cure what ails me. When I was sixteen,  my step-father found several stories I had written and hid in my bedroom closet, and he immediately threw them into a metal trash can in the backyard, poured lighter fuel on top of the pages, and lit a match. He said making up stories was lying and God wouldn’t want me to write lies. Then he grounded me. Or he tried. Writing was the tonic that soothed the pain of seeing my words turn to ash. I write because I need more words to break the silence. Because I will not be silenced.

Barry Hannah said this about his experience at the age of nineteen taking a creative writing class at Mississippi College:

“Frankly, I got such respect from the professor—and I know my stories were not that good— that I started loving it. I had been going through a kind of religious conversion to lit from premed, so it was a liberating, huge feeling. Literature had that great unknown quality because you gave yourself to it without any promises. It was very existential. I liked that. Just risking your whole self for something there’s no guarantee for. The risk is its own end.” (Paris Review Interview 2004, Barry Hannah, The Art of Fiction No. 184)

I write because I need to understand what happened. Why were things the way they were? Why are things the way they are?  I write to discover the words that will say what it is I must say.   If I don’t write it down on the page, I’ll write it down in my dreams. I will toss and turn and never sleep. I write to hunt it down during the waking hours because I take Flannery O’Connor’s words to heart: “If you don’t hunt it down and kill it, it will hunt you down and kill you.”

“Dreams may be temporary flights into madness that, by some law of neurophysiology unclear to us, keep us from actual madness. So, too, … writing keep the writer reasonably sane and with the hope, however illusory and temporary, of control.” Joyce Carol Oates, “To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet,” 1989).

Naturalist Writer, Terry Tempest Williams:

“I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue . . . I write as an exercise in pure joy. I write as one who walks on the surface of a frozen river beginning to melt. I write out of my anger and into my passion. I write from the stillness of night anticipating-always anticipating. I write to listen. I write out of silence. I write to soothe the voices shouting inside me, outside me, all around. I write because of the humor of our condition as humans. I write because I believe in words. I write because I do not believe in words. I write because it is a dance with paradox” (Williams, “Why I Write”).

if you read this

I write to “ease the passing of time”  —  Jorge Luis Borges’ answer to “Why I Write”.  I am aware of my own mortality. I want to “give it, give it all, give it now” (Annie Dillard, “Write Until You Drop”, 1989) . Language is the only way I know to do this even when words seem inaccurate. I feel the need to push harder. To find those words.  To not flinch. To not look away. I want to know that I have been here. The words and sentences anchor me and keep me from slipping away.  Words keep me coming back to the page to try to make sense of it all.  I keep struggling to ‘describe it, to discuss it, to disclose it,’.

Poet Lynn Hejinian on disclosure:

“Because we have language we find ourselves in a special and peculiar relationship to the objects, events and situations which constitute what we imagine of the world. Language generates its own characteristics in the human psychological and spiritual conditions. Indeed, it is near our psychological condition. This psychology is generated by the struggle between language and that which it claims to depict or express, by our overwhelming experience of the vastness and uncertainty of the world, and by what often seems to be the inadequacy of the imagination that longs to know it – and, furthermore, for the poet, the even greater inadequacy of the language that appears to describe, discuss, or disclose it.”

I write because I must. I write because when I do I find the answers to my questions.  I don’t want to wait on the knock on the door from the capricious guest (name for inspiration attributed to composer, Peter Byich Tchaikovsky) .  I write to hear the voices,  to have them  beckon me to continue, to listen, to pay attention, to record the words they speak.

Describing her work on a novel, Joan Didion,  in her essay, “Why I Write” (1975) answers the question:

This “I” was the voice of no author in my house. This “I” was someone who not only knew why Charlotte went to the airport but also knew someone called “Victor.” Who was Victor? Who was this narrator? Why was this narrator telling me this story? Let me tell you one thing about why writers write: had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel

Hemingway said “I have to write to be happy” (To Charles Scribner, 1940 Happiness FactorySelected Letters, pp. 503-504). I know this to be true. I write because it makes me happy.  It made me happy at the age of eight to pick up a pen and start scribbling in a diary. It made me happy at the age of sixteen to write my first short stories. It made me happy to write when I was studying creative writing in college.  It made me happy to write anytime I could find time to write when I was working full time and finding time to write was so difficult.  It made me happy at the age of forty-five to quit my full-time job and return to my writing with a force to be reckoned with and write the first draft of a novel.

It made me happy to get up today and write what I write.  Because now I know, despite the difficulty, I write because I must to be happy. I write because like Flannery O’Connor said: “Not-writing is a good deal worse than writing” (Habits Of Being: Letters). I write so that it does not dry up and blow away.

“I’m a full-time believer in writing habits, pedestrian as it all may sound. You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away.” ~Flannery O’Connor

Annie Dillard in her essay, “Write Until You Drop,”  reminds us of the urgency of passage of time, too:

“After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: ”Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.”

I write because I hear a voice whispering, and when I’m not listening, yelling as loud as it can: “Write, write, write and do not waste time.” Because as Joyce Carol Oates said:  “I’ve never given up. I’ve always kept going. I don’t feel that I could afford to give up.” (Paris Review Interview 1978, Joyce Carol Oates, The Art of Fiction No. 72)

I write because why not write. I cannot afford to give up, or I will silence that my sixteen year old girl’s voice who speaks to me now and tells me she needs more words.  I write to get rid of the taste of ash.

More on “Why I Write”

The Art of Fiction – The Paris Review Interviewsa series of interviews with writers including Earnest Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Stephen King, Alice Munro, Jorge Luis Borges, Marilynne Robinson, Henry Miller, Eudora Welty,  Chinua Achebe, Barry Hannah, and more.

Why and How to Write – a three-part series of various writers responding to the question of why and how to write, including  Flannery O’Connor, Vladimir Nabokov,  Joyce Carol Oates,  Anton Chekhov, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.,  Langston Hughes, Margaret Atwood, and more.

New York Times Series: Writers on Writing – a collection of essays published in the New York Times by various writers reflecting on the writing life and sharing their approach to writing.

Charlie Rose Series: Writers on Writing (video) –interviews with Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith, Martin Amis, Malcolm Gladwell, Fran Lebowitz and Joan Didion

reading 3

Reading: Writers on Writing

  • A Moveable Feast, Earnest Hemingway
  • Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Larry W. Phillips (Ed.)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald on Writing, Larry W. Phillips (Ed.)
  • Henry Miller On Writing, Henry Miller
  • Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961
  • A Room of One’s Own (Annotated) by Virginia Woolf
  • Moments of Being by Virginia Woolf
  • A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • On Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
  • The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor
  • Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose Flannery O’Connor
  • The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
  • Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • Thunder and Lightening: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft by Natalie Goldberg
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
  • Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
  • This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley
  • Conversations on Writing Fiction: Interviews by Alex Neubuer
  • The Triggering Town Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing, by Richard Hugo
  • The Writing Life (1989) by Annie Dillard
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)  by Annie Dillard
  • Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, William Styron
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, John Gardner
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Carolyn Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard, Story Press (2001)
  • Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction, Will Blythe (editor)


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Entering the Mind of Writers

reading Apprentice writers need  mentors. In Thunder and Lightening: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, after discussing the role of mentors in a writer’s life in one of her workshops,  Natalie Goldberg describes how one student asked: “What if I don’t have a mentor –does that meant I’ll never be any good?”.   Goldberg picked up Carson McCullers’s book Ballad of the Sad Café off the table in front of her and held it up to the class and said “These are your mentors. Authors can take you through your whole writing life. Enter their minds  Don’t let any obstacle get in your way.”


“In the past few years I’ve assigned books to be read before a student attends one of my weeklong seminars. I have been astonished by how few people — people who supposedly want to write — read books, and if they read them, how little they examine them.” — Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft

A beginning writer sometimes does not fully grasp the understanding that to become  a writer, you must not only write but you must also read. Through books we discover our mentors. Many writers and other talented artists did not any formal education or very little formal education; instead, they were self-educated and discovered their mentors through reading.


“I’m always reading books—as many as there are. I ration myself on them so that I’ll always be in supply.” From Paris Review Interview (1958)

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you…. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” Ernest Hemingway, “Old Newsman Writes: A Letter from Cuba,” (1934)

I started thinking more about my own mentors as I was reading 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Insiders Secrets from Hollywood’s Top Writers by Karl Iglesias. I was seeking mentors to guide me through the process of writing my first screenplay.

If you want to be a screenwriter, this book is a must read. The chapters in Iglesias’s book are arranged by the 101 habits that writers who want to write a screenplay must practice to develop their natural writing talents, to practice the craft of screenwriting, and to produce a finished screenplay.  Within each chapter, working screenwriters discuss their own habits and experiences working as screenwriters in relation to each of the 101 habits. Along the way, they offer  honest advice to aspiring screenwriters about the dos and don’ts of learning and practicing the craft of screenwriting. As Iglesias says “If you have that one screenplay in a thousand, the one that moves a reader emotionally, I promise Hollywood will take notice” (101 Habits, p. 225).

The same can be said for short story or novel writing. If your story or novel moves a reader emotionally, I believe your work will be noticed. But it takes a lot of hard work to get to that point, and the habits of writers discussed in 101 Habits are habits, I believe, every writer needs to practice if he or she is going to become a writer. Our zest, our gusto for writing must be nourished..

As Ray Bradbury asserts in his book, Zen in Art of Writing:

ray bradbury

“Zest. Gusto…How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items of a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him alone the road where he wants to go. I would only warn him to look at his zest, see to his gusto” (p. 3).

First, do you have the necessary traits to be a successful writer? The following are common characteristics of successful writers noted in 101 Habits before Iglesias and writers discuss more specifically the creative process of a screenwriter and the craft of writing a screenplay.  For each trait, I discuss what I have learned about these traits from other authors who have served as my mentors:


Do you possess the passion and the urge to write?

Creative and Original

“You know, I don’t think it would be nice if Natalie Goldberg had Mark Twain’s mind. Then we’d have less originality, less creativity – and we’d have more writers doing the same thing. Don’t get me wrong – Twain is amazing – but maybe it’s better to have different minds creating different worlds.” – Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.

We must explore our own mind to learn our interests and obsessions are and write about these interests and obsessions to discover our unique voice.  Natalie Goldberg, author of several books on the writing, became my mentor twenty years ago after I first read Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. I have continued to use her as a mentor by reading all her books on writing.

What I learned from Goldberg was that writing practice helps you discover your obsessions and writing voice.  She recommends that beginning writers spend at least two  years writing in journals or notebooks to discover their subjects and find their voice.  I followed this advice and wrote in spiral notebooks for two years. Because of this writing practice, I discovered my interests and my obsessions which became material  for writing more original short stories.

“…the truth of your experience can only come through in your own voice. If it is wrapped in someone else’s voice, we readers will feel suspicious, as if you are dressed up in someone else’s clothes. You cannot write out of someone else’s big dark place; you can only write out of your own.”  Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life

Flannery O’Connor said “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”   I took this to heart and filled several notebooks by remembering events of my childhood through my early adulthood which was marred by those experiences. This material not only sparked ideas for short stories and the first draft of a  novel, but it also inspired ideas for at least two screenplays.

Our experiences, interests and obsessions can spark the fire that feeds our creativity and develops our original voice.  So when my mentor said writing practice which explores my own mind is a good place to start, I listened.

“Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer’s own, individual, unique.” Willa Cather

Natural Storyteller

“That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best — make it all up — but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.” – Earnest Hemingway

We must have a love for stories.  Reading books made me want to a writer. I loved to read when I was a kid. I always had my nose in a book. I spent Saturdays in the library checking out fiction, biographies and other nonfiction books on topics that interested me. Summer vacation was mostly spent sitting outside under a tree reading a book. During the school year, I  read whenever I had a free moment– on the bus on the way to school, during lunch breaks, and on the bus on the way home from school. Although in high school I read stories by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, O’Connor and other literary writers, there were many authors and stories I did not discover until college due to the questionable content deemed unsuitable to be included in our small town public and school libraries.

After high school,  I was introduced to a world of literature in college classes that would blow my mind and inspire the urge to write even more so (I am currently working on compiling a list of books I have read).  Of course, today, you can just Google and get a recommended reading list of the best novels ever written. I rely a lot on word of mouth and the Internet to find authors writing good stories today.

I just do not know how anyone can claim to want to write if they do not love stories and read a lot. Yes, I agree some people seem to have a natural ability at telling stories, and I humbly admit that I believe I do, too, but reading taught me how to recognize good storytelling.

“You have to be able to tell a good story. Most people cannot do that. They haven’t read the great literature “  Leslie Dixon (screenwriter of Limitless)  From 101 Habits, p. 123

Embrace Solitude

“Anything you do fully is an alone journey.”  Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

You have to have long periods of uninterrupted time to write and finish a good day’s work. This means be willing to spend hours alone with just yourself and your words. This habit is not problem for me.  I have always enjoyed solitude and having hours of uninterrupted time to write.

A few years ago, I resigned from an on campus teaching position and took an online teaching position which enabled me to take a lighter teaching load and allow  more time to write. Yet, I still had to make a commitment to wake up a little earlier, unplug the phone, turn the Internet off, and focus on my writing for several hours before turning my attention to returning phone calls, answering email, and teaching my online classes.

I still need to connect to the world outside to feed my writing, but I can do it on my own time now and not allow it to interfere with my writing schedule.

“You need create solitude so that you can hear the voices…”  Tom Schulman (screenwriter) from 101 Habits, p. 6

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.” Earnest Hemingway, Nobel Prize Speech 1954

Natural Observer

“Writers have the particular makeup of a person who looks at the world, observes human behavior, and finds themselves amused, intrigued, or emotionally moved by watching people” Robin Swicord (screenwriter) from 101 Habits, p. 7

Flannery O’Connor said that the “The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.” If you want to be a writer, you must be willing to get out from behind your desk and observe life. I have always been guilty of staring at people in public places. I used to love to go to the airport before the days of tightened security and sit in the waiting areas of different gates of departure and arrival to people watch. Parks, restaurants, movie theatres, museums, and other public places are also good for people-watching.

Driving around to nearby small towns on a Saturday afternoon are also good opportunities for people watching.  I love to drive around the small towns in my area or spend a few hours at a local farmer’s markets or  art festival. You just never know what you are going to see or experience that will feed your writing.

Traveling across the U.S. or to other countries and observing people outside of your own geographical area broadens your horizons and hones your observation skills if you pay close attention. A few years ago, I spent six months traveling across Europe and filled several notebooks of people watching experiences  in the UK coastal areas, Scotland, and Spain. Even though I am not particularly fond of flying anymore,  I do love to take road trips across the U..S.  whenever I can. I always carry a notebook and a camera, and pay close attention to the changing sights, sounds, and overheard conversations.    As  Henry James in his essay “The Art of Fiction,” asserts: “”Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!”

“If a writer stops observing he is finished. But he does not have to observe consciously nor think how it will be useful. Perhaps that would be true at the beginning. But later everything he sees goes into the great reserve of things he knows or has seen…” Earnest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview (1958)

Desire to Write

“Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.” Ray Bradbury

Yes, there are some writers who love to have written but do not like the actual process of writing. Dorothy Parker was one of those writers, and is known for her famous quip: “I  hate writing, I love having written.” I happen to be one of those writers who loves the entire process – discovering ideas, playing around with those ideas, writing in different forms,  writing messy first drafts, rewriting, and editing.

My desire to write is driven by need. I need to write. I don’t ever want to stop writing. All I ever wanted to be is a writer. I would love to give up my day job someday and do nothing but write. I would write for free, and I do. No one pays me to write this blog. I write it because it gives me another outlet for expressing myself through writing while I finish work on those projects which may actually earn some income. But I would continue to write if I never got paid a single dime for my writing. It is just what I do. I am a writer.

Belief in Yourself

“I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” Earnest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I believe I have a talent writing stories. Whether I have the talent to write a good novel (that is, turn the novel draft I wrote into a good novel) or to write a screenplay, I do not know.  But I’m willing to learn, to work hard, and to write the best work that I can, and then rewrite until its perfected, or throw it out if it doesn’t work and move on to the next writing project.

I’m willing to seek out mentors and listen to what they have to say. I’m willing to seek out good readers for completed drafts of a project and trust their judgment and insights. I am willing to do the hard work of rewriting and editing. The bottom line is that I do believe in myself.

I hope those who are just beginning their journey as writers will believe in themselves, and not give up so quickly. In Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg writes “Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go”. Do not be afraid of failure or rejection because if you are, you are in the wrong line of work. Seek out mentors. Read more. Observe more. Live more. Write more. Be more stubborn and persist in despite of the obstacles.   Give it time – as long it takes.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” Annie Lamott


“The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it” Richard Bach

I always remind myself when I start a new project what Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”  If I am not enthusiastic about a project, I know will not give it my all.  Instead, I will lose steam before the fire gets blazing. I can write a short story in a day, let it rest a day or two, and then come back to it and decide whether I want to start the rewriting process or just shelve the draft and move on to writing a new short story.

However, for long projects like the novel draft I recently completed, I have to consider how much enthusiasm I have about the idea, so I always let it incubate for a while, and if I am still interested in pursuing it, I start working on the process of brainstorming, researching, and taking notes to prepare for the drafting process.

I came up with an idea for a screenplay months ago, but it wasn’t until recently that I revisited the idea and decided that yes, I was enthusiastic about the idea and ready to begin the writing and research process to prepare to write the first draft.

It was time to turn to mentors. Even though I have read books on how to write  a screenplay, watched a lot of movies, and studied actual screenplays,  the whole creative process of  writing a screenplay and turning out a good visual story was still a mystery to me. I wanted to hear actual screenwriters talk about their creative process and approach to writing a screenplay.

This brings us back to the beginning – seeking mentors – and being willing to not only practice writing, but to practice good reading habits. Rather than going back to how-to-books, I knew it was time to study the habits of successful screenwriters.

“Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks.” James A. Baldwin

commitmentFinally, Commitment

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true — hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.” Ray Bradbury

You need to be committed to writing if you are going to succeed at being good at it and write stories that people want to read and to see (if you want to write screenplays).  Let’s say you write a short story and its sucks. Let’s say you write a novel and it sucks. Let’s say you write a screenplay and it sucks.  Does that mean you quit? No! Write another one and another one and another one. If you love writing, write until your fingers bleed.

If you don’t love writing, don’t do it.  Do yourself a favor and do something you do love doing.

“Only passions, great passions can elevate the soul to great things.” Denis Diderot (French philosopher)

If you do love it, then get to work. Set some goals. I decided to write from 6:30 AM to 9:30 AM every morning. Now whether I get two pages or ten pages, I write during that time because I committed to that time. I do have day job, but I don’t have to leave the house.  I teach online. This means I can go from working on a writing project to working on my classes without ever leaving my desk.  As long as I meet my deadlines each week, I am free to set my own hours. I wish every writer could be so lucky.

But the point is, that if you want to be  a writer, you have to make time for writing. You cannot say I don’t have time to write. There is always time to write. Figure out how much time you can commit to your writing and make a commitment. Even ten to twenty minutes of writing every day is better than not writing at all. If you love writing, you’ll show up.

And finally, commit to reading. Find your mentors and study their minds.

”All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one… characteristic we must possess if we are to face the future as finishers.”  Henry David Thoreau

Plum Point Discussion: Are you practicing habits to drive your passion and urge to write? Which of these habits do you need to give more attention to?


Filed under Screenwriting, The Writing Habit, Writing

Triggering Subjects: Pull the Trigger

inspiration_alan cleaver

photo by Alan Cleaver

We all have obsessions and discover them through our writing. We begin to note repeated subjects  in our writing which reveal these obsessions to us. What obsessions have your discovered? What are your triggering subjects that “ignite your need for words”?

“Our triggering subjects, like our words, come from obsessions we must submit to…Your triggering subjects are those that ignite your need for words.” Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town

Where do you find inspiration when you are faced with writer’s block? Do you go online and read magazines or newspapers, even the obituaries? Or, do you turn to your list of story concepts written in the back of your writing notebook or clippings in a manila folder stored a file cabinet in your office or saved on your computer?

Do you ever use writing prompts or make up your own to trigger subjects? If so, I invite you to share them to inspire other writers who need some inspiration to pull the trigger and get some writing done today.

Plum Point blog now has a page called Pull the Trigger to share your ideas to inspire other writers and  trigger words on the page. Just post a comment to the Pull the Trigger page . You do not have to share intimate details or reveal specifics about what you are working on right now. The idea is to share prompts which may inspire others to write today. The triggering subject may be a  phrase or a word, a sentence, a quotation, or a question.  I  will post the best of these prompts and update the Pull the Trigger page weekly.

A prompt could inspire a poem, a story, an essay, a play, a song, or a script. You just never know!  So, whenever you need a triggering subject, come back to the Pull the Trigger page, pull the trigger and write!

Write on!


Filed under The Writing Habit, writing prompts

Fade In


I love a good movie. I have always wanted to write a screenplay. Yet, over the past several years, I focused on writing short stories and completing a draft of a novel.  However,  I  still want to write a screenplay. After working on revising  a chapter in the draft of my novel on Thursday, I wasn’t in the mood for more revising, but I was still in the mood to write. So, I considered which project I could switch my attention to keep writing and immediately thought of an idea for a screenplay that I came up with last summer as I was sitting around a bonfire, drinking wine, and chatting with some friends.

It was an idea worth revisiting.

Even though this will be my first attempt at writing a screenplay, I am not approaching this project as a complete novice.  I have read many screenplays and watched lot of films to  analyze the dramatic structure and learn more about  visual storytelling.

There are so many books on screenwriting – almost too many for the aspiring screenwriter to decide among without some advice from other screenwriters; however,  these are the teachers  I was directed to several years ago as ‘must reads’  for aspiring screenwriters: Syd Field, Michael Hauge,  and Linda Seger.

Recently, visiting other screenwriters’ blogs led me also check out and buy  Your Screenplay Sucks!: 100 Ways to Make It Great by William M Akers and 101 Habits Of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Insider’s Secrets from Hollywood’s Top Writers by Karl Iglesias

Eventually,  one has to stop reading and just write. Earnest Hemmingway once said “The shortest answer is doing the thing.”

I took that advice seriously when I started working on my first novel. Hemmingway also said “All first drafts are shit,” which was enough to inspire me to tackle writing a novel  (I got words on three hundred+ pages).

So, trusting Hemmingway again, (I mean come on, even if you are not a Hemmingway fan,  look at what he wrote),  I am willing to write and put words down on 120 pages (the average length of a screenplay) and see what happens.

screenplayshotSo, on Thursday, I closed MS Word and opened Final Draft, the screenplay software I purchased last summer because I was serious about writing a screenplay, and opened the file containing my screenplay notes — the premise, the theme, and the inciting incident (or as John August calls “The Fire”). I even have notes on fires  to ignite in Act II and Act three to get in the way of main character trying to reach her goal and scenes for Act I and II that I wrote  last summer.

It definitely helps to let your work set for a while and come back to it with a fresh perspective.  Looking over this material reassured me that what I had written so far was good stuff; it was a screenplay idea worth  pursuing.

So, it’s time to take my copy of  Syd Field’s Screenwriting Workshop on DVD off the bookshelf and insert it in the DVD player and begin working on this thing. I learned a lot about screenplay structure from reading his books, so he is  going to be my guru over the next several weeks.

All I have to is be willing to write  a first draft and accept that it may very well turn out to be  a ‘shitty first draft’ as Hemmingway said, but I will get words and scenes down on 120 pages.

So, let the writing begin! Fade in…

broken_dreams Today’s Plum Point

It’s a mad, mad world and the odds of writing and selling a screenplay that actually gets made into a movie are about the same odds as winning the lottery.  At least, that’s what they say.

Oh well, what the heck, write on !

Photo Credits (click on pictures to link to photographer’s Flickr sites)

Photo 1:  GSZ

Photo 2:  Jinx

Photo 3: Urban Girl


Filed under Screenwriting, The Writing Habit

Shut up, sit down, and write


Writers write.  Some of us are driven to write. All we ever wanted to be was a  writer. We need words.  Painters paint. Photographers shoot. Musicians play. We write.

Some of us talk about writing, but struggle with discipline and commitment.  I have struggled with these same issues. Some of us just talk about how we want to write poetry, a novel, a play, or a screenplay.  Some of us may write in spurts and then not write at all for days. I have done this, too.

Yet, as Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones,  asserts “Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down and write.”  I read this book years ago.  The main lesson I came away with was to make writing practice a habit. I have formed a habit of writing out of acceptance.

Commitment. Discipline. Yes, of course.  For me, it also comes down to accepting that to be writer I have always to be , I must surrender to the obsession to write and do the work that must be done.  This acceptance drives now drives my commitment and discipline.

One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, and that habit has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating. – Niyi Osundare

How committed are you today? What drives you? What makes you shut up, sit down,  and write?


Filed under The Writing Habit, Writing

Writing on Cocktail Napkins


If you are paying attention and writing everyday, the muse will be aroused. You do not know when the muse will whisper in your ear.  Sprout a seed.  Alert you to  your obsessions. Trigger your subjects.  I know this because it happens to me all the time.

The muse may strike while you are doing everyday activities – making dinner, washing dishes, walking the dog, or weeding the garden. It may happen while you are in the downward dog position at your evening yoga class. The muse may be triggered from listening to  a conversation at the next table while you are enjoying a night out having dinner with friends. An idea may occur while you’re in the shower. Subjects for stories, after all, come from everywhere.

Once an idea takes hold, your muse continues to nudge you  toward creating. Toward writing more stuff down.  Even if you write the idea for a story down  in a safe place where you can return to work on it, don’t wait until you get back to your desk. The muse will awaken at the oddest times and give you more and more until the thing is done.

Be willing to write at any moment. Use every spare moment you have and write on whatever you can find. For those of us who have to work day jobs, our the muse will demand a snippet of our attention. We may have a short time to get those ideas down on paper. Like while working as a bartender for Broadway shows before Intermission while patrons are watching the first acts.  That’s what happened to Aaron Sorkin who wrote the acclaimed play “A Few Good Men” on cocktail napkins during first acts of ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ at the Palace Theatre. “A Few Good Men” later became a blockbuster film starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise.  And, it all started on cocktail napkins.

If that does not inspire you, Sorkin just won an Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation for his script “Social Network”.  Do you think he left his work at home and did not pay attention to ideas for scenes in that movie when he was not at his desk? I’d like to think given Sorkin’s immense talent, he wouldn’t wait until he had suitable paper to transcribe ideas the muse fed to him for scenes in “Social Network,” but instead he grabbed whatever could be written on and ran with the idea.

The muse can whisper in your ear at any time, any place. So don’t wait to write your ideas down. Don’t bother hunting down your spiral notebook  if it’s not handy or running to get your laptop if it’s not turned on and ready to go.  Use whatever paper is available.  Ideas are slippery.

All writers need is a pen and paper. Maybe you don’t have anything to write the idea on. Paper may be scarce where you are. A pen, however, is one thing a writer should always have. Stick it behind your ear, put it in your pocket, put it on a chain and hang it around your neck if you have to.  Then use whatever paper is available.  If you are in the kitchen, grab a napkin from the dispenser. I have written ideas down on the back of grocery lists I have stuck under magnets on the fridge.  Use the margins in the newspaper spread out on the table where you left it that morning.Even cereal boxes have a little white space, grab one from the pantry.

You do not have time to leave the room to hunt down suitable paper. Suitable paper is not needed. A cocktail napkin, for goodness sake, a cocktail napkin. Don’t be choosy. Be a writer and write those ideas down while the flame is burning before the idea flickers away.


Filed under Writing

Friday’s Plum Point

Feeding the Lake

“All of writing is a huge lake…All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.” ~Jean Rhys

Sometimes, you have to leave your writing desk and take a walk to clear out the cobwebs tangling you into writer’s block. For me, a walk to the lake does the trick.

At Enid Lake, where I live, there are many paths I can take to get to the lake.

walk to boat ramp

I can walk to the left of my home down a black-top road past thick woods of tall pines, oak trees, cedar, and birches on both sides of the road. This road leads to one of the smaller boat-ramps on Enid Lake, but a surprisingly very busy one in the summer. Other seasons, I often find solitude on this walk. I like to take this walk in the morning when there are less likely to be fishing boats returning to the ramp. There, I sit on a bench on a hill under a small covered pavilion and allow my thoughts to wander freely about a story I’m working on as I watch anglers casting lines from fishing boats trolling across the lake.

Sometimes, I bring my fishing pole, walk down to the end of the boat ramp, and fish. Fishing, like walking, also helps me to clear out the cobwebs. Often, I work out the story problem and walk back to the house, feeling refreshed, and ready to work again.

Another option is to walk to the right of my house and walk down another black-top road which curves down to the campground overlooking the lake. My favorite time to take this walk is right before sunset. During the week, there are rarely any campers. Usually, it is just me and my three dogs. I always walk to the last camp site at the end of the road. Like all the camp sites, it overlooks the lake, too. Yet, it is a special place. It faces directly west, and the sunsets are amazing. There are two side-by-side gray concrete picnic tables. I take a seat on top of one of the tables, resting my feet on the bench, and wait for nature to do its thing. Great Blue Herons glide across the lake down at the beach and overhead, Red-Tailed Hawks take flight from their perches in the tree-tops.

As the sun begins to sink lower and sets below the horizon, the sky’s palette slowly shifts from powder blue to a bright yellow-orange then to purple, pink, and a fiery mix of reds.  My mind is focused on the setting sun and the changing palette. I am no longer wrestling ideas working themselves out in my brain. My dogs are sprawled in different places on the hill, taking in nature’s painting, too. They have such patience. They teach me to be still, to wait. Something will happen. Something will click on in my brain.  I ‘ll sprang into action and walk a faster pace home to get to back my desk before the ideas fade into the horizon.

Sunset over Enid from the Point

Finally, my favorite walk is down a short trail through the woods down to the lake with my husband and our dogs. This is the walk usually taken after a Friday writing session. In the spring, I really look forward to this walk because the woods come alive with a glorious symphony of  a multitude of bird songs and calls from swallows, jays, wrens, nuthatches, and crow.  I’m fond of the Fish Crow caw-caw. Unlike other crow caws, this crow has a lower pitch and more guttural double  noted caw-caw. In the winter, when most birds have migrated to warmer climates, the woods are quiet except for the crunching of dried leaves as we walk in silence, hoping to  hear the peck-peck of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the pines.

At the end of the trail, the woods open like a door and reveal miles and miles of sandy beach and water smooth as glass. We walk down the beach to our favorite spot and perch ourselves on the massive sandstone rocks on a hill we call Red Rock Point.  We have a deep fire pit that we dug out ourselves and surrounded it with various sizes of smaller sandstone rocks to block gusts of wind on windy days. This is our camp — our little spot in paradise. In the fall and winter, we spend most of the day tending the fire. It is silent except for our voices calling out to each other now and then as we gather wood. One of my tasks is to gather tender – try twigs, dried pine needles and leaves, pine cones, cattail heads.  While my husband combs the beach and searches the woods for larger pieces of fallen limbs and logs, I also gather the kindling to stack like a tepee in the fire pit. As the fire burns throughout the afternoon, we continue to feed it. We sit still on the sandstone rocks around the fire and meditate on the lake, spotting herons and egrets diving for fish. The dogs play on the beach — finding sticks, sniffing out clams, or taking a dip to swim with the fish.

Red Rock Hill

Sometimes, my husband joins the dogs in their play while I sit on the rocks, tending the fire, and writing in my head (I do have pen and paper in my backpack just in case). It never fails. A firestorm of ideas always occurs. Some ideas are just tender, others are kindling, and some are the really big logs. If I have the sense to quickly write them down, I carry them back with me on the walk home.

The Plum Point: “Solvitur ambulando” Translation: “It is solved by walking.” Take a walk; feed the lake.


Filed under Writing