Archive for category: Writing

Last summer, I ditched 60,000 words from my work-in-progress and started over from scratch. I finished the manuscript this past February. We’re talking a completed, polished, I-thought-it-was-ready manuscript.

I was wrong.

Two things happened: I gave the book to nine beta readers. Got feedback from four. Crickets from the rest. The feedback I got was mostly mixed. I also put the manuscript in a drawer from the end of Feb to early June. Didn’t touch it once.

In June, I read the whole thing. And I saw what the problem was. I hadn’t inconvenienced my readers. It was a book that people could put down.

I emailed those five quiet betas after I read the book and told them they were off the hook, that I was going in a different direction. (I didn’t want there to be any hard feelings.) I received polite, grateful replies from most of them. I talked to three of those folks, and they all said the same thing: they enjoyed what they had read so far, which wasn’t much, but they just didn’t have time. That’s not the kind of writing I want to produce. I want to produce writing that makes people continue reading even when they’re too busy and they don’t have time. That’s what my favorite books do.

This particular manuscript was my strongest prose to date, and that’s where I stumbled. I was paying too much attention to the sentence-to-sentence work rather than the plot. This has happened to me before (I remember when my faculty advisor in grad school made the same observation about my work…that I tend to be at my best in the “drafty” moments).

So, that’s where I’m at. Starting over. Again. I have no idea if I’ll be able to salvage this. Only time will tell.

And yeah, it was disappointing (to put it mildly) as all hell to start over from scratch.

But that’s life.

That’s art.


The fine folks at Goodreads launched a new feature a few weeks ago: questions for authors. For those authors who’ve enabled goodreads_iconthe feature, readers can ask them questions. And yep, I’ve enabled it.

Here are the questions I’ve answered so far, including direct links to my answers.

You can ask me a question by filling in the box at the top of the page here (you need to be a Goodreads member).

Ask away!

According to everyone’s favorite big brother—Google—an average of 20 people every month search on this phrase: I have an idea for a book.

(Perhaps you landed on this blog post for that very reason.)

After you conduct a search like that, Google will spit up many pages with recommendations, suggestions, and directives on What To Do Next, but honest, there’s only one thing a person like you bursting with an idea can do, that is if you expect the idea to take, to work, to stand a chance in this often cold, brutal world. Just start writing.

Give your idea a shape. Give it words. Give it color. Give it its own goddamn file name in its very own folder on your computer, a folder that proudly proclaims: My Writing.

Own it. Write it. And keep writing.

All those pages that Google produced when you first made your query, they’ll still be there—along with plenty of others—long after your idea becomes more than some ethereal thing that lives in a place between sleeping and waking. Enjoy watching it grow and fall down and pick itself up again. Revel in the moments when it feels like your soul’s on fire and could fuel you forever, just you, your keyboard, and the thoughts burning deep inside in a space you never knew existed until you did just that—you allowed it to come to life and exist.

Avoid any naysayers who tell you to do something else or how hard it will be or hey, do you have a publisher yet? or hey, do you know how many people try and fail to write a book?

Protect the writing, this child of your imagination, until it’s ready to go on its first date, its first drive, its first night away from home. You’ll know when this time comes, precisely because you’ll be thinking, Gee…I think it’s time? Is it time? What can I do to it next? What can I do to make it better?

Then, go back to Google. Or Bing. Or the local bookstore. Or the library. Only then review the many pages and books and tutorials on what to do when you have an idea for a book.

If you made it this far, if this search brought you here, what are you waiting for? Close down this page, open one of your own, and start writing.


A month ago, I had coffee with a friend and fellow writer. We swapped updates on our works-in-progress. I explained how the current section I was working on had frustrated me for the longest time because it took me forever to figure out how to structure it, but that once I had, the writing went fast.

My friend wanted to know if I was writing this section in the same Word doc as the rest of my novel, or if I’d isolated it into its own Word doc. I told her that I’d isolated it into its own Word doc FOUR separate times. For the first three, I thought I’d figured it out each time, only to discover I hadn’t. These docs were labeled innocuous things like “Eleanor – 1” and “Eleanor – deux” and “Eleanor – part trois,” just so I could keep all the different versions clear in case I needed to go back to them. (Eleanor is the name of the character telling the story in this section of the book.) By the time I hit another wall with “part trois,” I became so frustrated that I opened up a new Word doc and named it GODDAMN ELEANOR.

Yes, in caps.

Then, the breakthrough came. Coincidence? I think not. Sometimes you need to get angry. I think it sends a message to your subconscious that you’re serious so no more farting around.

A fellow writer/fan emailed me this question a few weeks ago, and I thought I’d share my answer here:

QUESTION: How do you manage to keep the writing momentum going while also working full time? That’s what I struggle the most with these past couple of months. I haven’t been writing on a regular basis for a long time… This is sad. To be honest, I’m in a slump! Work (professionally speaking) drains me. Family life keeps me really busy. There’s also the house to look after, the walks with the dog (they’re fun, though), our social activities, etc. Argh. It’s really hard to find some quality time to write. Usually I do it late at night, but recently I have been “brain-dead”and have been watching movies instead… Procrastination and lack of discipline seem to be my best buddies. How do you do it Robyn, I mean, how do you keep writing regularly without losing the momentum?

I really need to kick myself in the butt!

MY ANSWER: Ah, you ask a good question, my friend. And I definitely struggle with it. This past summer, I found myself putting my creative work last on the list, which was NOT a good thing for me to do. So back on August 19, I started my disciplined “boot camp,” as I call it. Up at 5am every day. I work on the novel from 5am to 7am. Then I work out, shower, get dressed and face my “second” work day (the one that pays the majority of the bills at the moment). When I’m lucky, I get to work on the novel some more in the afternoon. But that’s gravy. The 5am to 7am is a must.

I think it’s just a matter of discipline. Kinda like training for a marathon. You just need to put in the reps. So my suggestion would be this: could you get up even 30 minutes earlier than you are now and write? Maybe not every day of the week–even 30 minutes of writing three days a week will add up. If that’s not doable, what about your lunch hour (do you get an hour)? Could you bring your lunch to work and then close the door (or go some place with a door) and write for 30 minutes?

Once you get back into a rhythm, you’ll probably find that you’re eager to get back to the page…and then you’ll be creating all sorts of time for the writing. I find that happens with me, especially when I’m deep into a work, as I am now.

Here are some random quotes on writing that have inspired or resonated with me lately.

Seth Godin on writing: “The process advice that makes sense to me is to write. Constantly. At length. Often. Don’t publish everything you write, but the more you write, the more you have to choose from.”

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” — Anaïs Nin

“I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.” Jack London

“Listen, Hank,” he asked, “what makes a man a writer?” “well,” I said, “it’s simple, it’s either you get it down on paper or you jump off a bridge.” — Charles Bukowski

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” — Oscar Wilde

“Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound material badly told, an audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly.”– Robert McKee

“At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.” — David Sedaris

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”– Terry Pratchett

I HAD to end with some funnies, folks. 🙂

Here’s the soundtrack to my current work-in-progress (WIP). It’s important to note that I don’t listen to these songs while I’m writing, but they’re in heavy rotation and a huge inspiration in between writing sessions.

In no particular order:

Possum Kingdom” The Toadies

Wide Awake” Katy Perry

Follow Through” Gavin DeGraw

Next to Me” Emeli Sande

Night Swimming” REM

Somewhere Only We Know” Keane

Home” Phillip Phillips

Double shot! “Gone, Gone, Gone” Phillip Phillips

I Will Wait” Mumford & Sons

Ho Hey” The Lumineers

I’ll Fix You” Coldplay (the version I love is on this segment from the HBO’s The Newsroom)

(For reference, here’s the soundtrack for What Happened in Granite Creek.)

I imagine I’ll be updating this list as the countdown IS ON. Home stretch, here I come!

Do you listen to music as you work? What’s in heavy rotation for you right now?


Had a recent dream where I was teaching (something I used to do) and one student — a girl who may or may not have looked like me — was lamenting the fact that she was having a hard time getting the story down on paper because she was worried it might be shit and she didn’t know where it was going.

“Just get it down,” I said. “You can’t revise what’s not there.”

Good advice.

For me.

For everyone.

I love how the subconscious works.

What do you dream about?


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I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a long time. I’m not sure how else to say it, so I’m just going to say it: I want readers. Lots of readers. I’m not afraid to admit this, but a fair question that people ask me — fellow artists in particular — is why. Why am I so hell bent on getting readers…why is it so important that I’m read?

Here’s my attempt to answer those questions, and I doubt any of what I’m about to write is an original thought. But it is how I feel.

For me, art is not complete until it’s shared. I write the novel. The novel is approaching art, but it’s not a complete piece of art — in my mind — until people read it. Why? Because the readers finish what I’ve started. They take the work to the next level: they interact with it, think about it, laugh at it, cry at it, hate it or love it, they (almost) complete it. I say “almost,” because I also believe a piece of artwork is never truly complete — never truly done — since there will always be (in theory) a new person to come along and interact with the artwork (a novel, in this case) in a fresh, new way. The art will never be 100 percent complete. But with each reader, with each new experience and insight, we get closer to achieving the 100 percent.

So having readers — lots and lots of readers — is important to me. The fact that lots of readers means more money is certainly a benefit, but I can honestly say this: if someone gave me a million dollars and said “live off of this and go write, but you can’t ever share your writing with other people,” I’d say no. It’s not about the money. It’s about creating art. To create art — in this case, a novel — you need a writer (me). But you also need readers. If there’s only me producing novels but no readers, it’s incomplete artwork. And that’s extremely unsatisfying to me.

I’m at my happiest when I’m writing. I can honestly say that. But when I’ve sent my novels out into the world and they’ve landed in the hands of readers who talk about them and think about them and share them with others? That’s the definition of nirvana.

I know not all writers (or artists) feel this way. And I respect that. Open to hearing other thoughts — agreement or disagreement — in the comments.

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