Category Archives: Writing

Losing the battle, but winning the war (I think)

Monday: Today was the beginning…

Get up early and walk, then to work, meditation & yoga for lunch, and then home for more yoga and 2-4 hours on the novel.

Like that was going to happen.

More people came into the office during my 20 minutes of yoga and meditation than were in all morning (so much for that idea) and the allergy meds are making me yearn for bed, or a couch, or heck a piece of floor would do.

Losing ground fast… so tired. I’m sure the allergy meds are not helping. I can’t take Claritin because of the odd headaches, I can’t take Zyrtec because it makes my nose bleed, so I’m taking benydril (sp?) and feel like curling up on the floor and sleeping.

At times I hate being me.

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Friday: And I thought Monday was bad…

It was a week. A week that took me by the throat and shook me proving once again that I have no control over my environment – interior or exterior.

So, it is Friday and I’m sitting here, sipping the last of the scotch, and licking my wounds. Migraines, a day on Vicodin for pain beyond the migraines, our server going down and the exhaustion of a 11.5 hour day yesterday, but I am still here and still staring at the plot on my wall.

’tis time to kill one of my darlings.

I adore Emmett and his family. He is one of the few remaining characters from the first draft of the novel, but he must go. Talked it over with a friend last night. Gave her the plot and she immediately focused in on the Emmett scene and asked, “Why?” I couldn’t defend the scene, I slowed the pace of the plot and distracted the reader from the business at hand. Leave it to AL to figure that out in 30 seconds…. and I’ve been trying to figure out what was wrong all week. (that would be a statement about the value of outside opinions)

So, back to the drawing board – or the post it map.

The story will be better for this. I truly believe it.

A crazy weekend filled with odds and ends of commitment (and taxes) which I usually don’t let happen because I worry I’ll have to cancel. But one event turned into two, and then three…. and well the sky is darkening with rain as much as dusk and it is time to pack for the weekend.

Happy writing,

~ Tess

 
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The Villain of the Piece

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A good villain is hard to find.

Much harder than a good man.

I’ve struggled with this since the beginning of my novel. Most of the time I move my villain around the plot like a piece on a chess board. Need to block the hero from getting what she wants, enter the villain. Need to up the stakes, enter the villain. Need to…. well you get the idea.

It feels contrived. I don’t want to take the easy way out by saying “Hey, he’s evil – he doesn’t need a reason.” I believe that often the most evil outcomes occur when people do the wrong thing for the right reasons. The road to Hell and all that.

Part of my dilemma is all the communication training I had in one of my previous lives. I just can’t help but ask….

“Why would a reasonable rational human being do that?”*

I know there are some obvious reasons I could use – my villain isn’t human, reasonable or rational. Yet at the end of the day their behavior has to hold water and not leak. Leakage, or rather seepage is what took me from absolutely loving Connelly’s The Poet to feeling a little let down. Brilliantly Connellly sets up a new flavor of serial killer, finds a voice for his hero that is both literary and believable, then he takes us on a plot that has twists and turns which kept me guessing until the very end… but that is where things broke down for me.

Part of the thrill I have when I read a serial killer thriller (forgive the alliteration) is finding myself in the inner workings of a world view I have little connection too. We all have fantasies – we all act on them from time to time – most fantasies that are acted upon do not involve killing/mutilating/raping individuals. My fascination is with the physiology of the monster inside. That is why I love Val McDermid – the physiology of her killers is precise, organic, and breathtakingly perverse.

(I hate spoilers but there is a sort-of-spoiler ahead – The Poet was written in the ’96 so I’m hoping you’ll forgive me – and I’ll try to hide as much as possible without making you read the book to follow me.)

When Connelly’s Poet was finally revealed, we were left not knowing the why behind the Poet’s actions. Our glimpses into the Poet’s head were limited, seen from the view of a third party, and used as much for misdirection as for revealing character. Beyond that, Connelly develops several characters all of which have surprisingly rational, abet twisted, back stories that could make the motivation of the Poet killings rational-ish – just not the Poet. We have absolutely no idea why he does what he does.

Don’t get me wrong, the book has made me a Connelly fan and I have a lot of catching up to do… but I wanted to know the why – to understand the why – to feel that sense of catharsis that is the reason I love thrillers so much.

Hmmm… it is just possible I’ve spent more time thinking about The Poet because it wasn’t tied up in a bow – no one lived happily ever after – everyone in the book had their world altered forever – no one really got what they wanted (yet again something that Connelly does brilliantly).

…and yet I still want to know, “why would a reasonable rational person do that?”

So, back to my personal villain problems…

He needs a code to follow, a history from which his actions organically derive, what he is doing needs to make sense to him and by extension to us. I want a great villain, one who could have been the hero but his path was twisted somewhere along the way.

That is what I’ve been working on because I don’t like the cardboard cutout that I’ve been moving around on the page and want Darth Vader – not the rent collector who bows out, at the end of the book with “Curse’s foiled again”.

Guess I need to get back to work… 🙂

~ Tess

*Crucial Conversations – the book is amazing (especially if you want to do things wrong, right is so much harder) and they also have Crucial Confrontations.

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Dreaming in Post-its

In one of my previous lives I was a project manager.

To make myself more marketable I took a series of classes for a PM Certification from our local University – 3 of those classes changed my life (another story) and one of them was the jumping off point for revamping my life (Thank you Toni McConnell).

So, when I thought about charting my novel though Larry’s 4 Story Parts – this is what happened…

Oh, and you can’t see anything on purpose… 🙂

The green post-its are the primary story points and the yellow are my scenes, different colors of ink (which I know you can’t see) represent scenes that are related to other sub-arcs. One is my villain’s, another is the real spider at the middle of the web, and so on…

At one point last night I had to take everything down from Part II to the end and start over – but it was worth it since I got a better feel for what I was doing and what was important. I also sat down and watched Book of Eli which has some very subtle parts of the plot structure and helped me realize that I didn’t need an explosion – just a bend in the road.

When I get home from my mid day excursion to the Museum I’ll start pulling everything together into Scrivener. My hope is by the end of Wednesday I’ll have everything I’ve written that I’m keeping into the new structure and when I wake up Thursday morning I’ll know what gaps need filling.

Ah, how grateful I am to have a plan…

Tess the Mess

Oh, and thanks to Jeff Crow for his Post-it intense Project Management method.

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Worshiping at the temple of Structure

Over the weekend I spent two full days with Story Engineering author/speaker/guru Larry Brooks. Now I didn’t swoon (which apparently disappointed him) but I did learn two things…

  1. I write awesome beginnings
  2. My middles are crap

My endings are erratic so I’m going to ignore that for the moment. But I’ve been spinning around the middle of my novel for almost a year, and now I have some tools that I truly believe will get me through the muck of it.

At least I hope so…

I won’t give away Larry’s secrets – which he gives away on his website – but I will say I spent half the night, post Day One, tearing apart my half finished novel which garnered me the first two pieces of information. Then as I tried to fall asleep – ideas about how to make almost everything I’ve written and not sold better flooded my mind until I just had to tell the damn muse to shut up because there was no way I was going to be able to learn anything Day Two if I didn’t get any sleep (besides the migraine issues).

What I was hoping this weekend would provide is grist for the planning mill… I was terrified that I was hanging too much of my future productivity on this one weekend, thank the gods I was proven wrong.

There is a plan…a structure…a skeleton from which to hang the meat of your story on.

I’m still working on what I started Saturday night – taking the novel as it now exists and divide it into the four sections of story, and vetting the currently written scenes and how they fit into the overarching concept. And what a relief to know I had a concept… so much of Day Two was spent in search of one as different writers offered up their stories or germs of stores to the group to be reviewed.

The interesting thing about that (and probably why I love Rose City Romance Writers so much) is that in the romance world there is room for all of us. No “new” writer is a threat, no established writer feels possessive of their craft, time or contacts. I was talking to a children’s writer who sat next to me and was so surprised that the weekend ended so positively. She said most Children’s events ended with a quiet sense of desperation.

I spent joyous part of last night talking through it with Jo and for the first time ever felt like I had head wrapped around the plot.

Woop!

Don’t get me wrong – this is a bullet but not magic – it is going to take a hell of a lot of work to get my novel to the structural polish suggested by Larry’s structure. But having a structure, knowing where to stick my tent pole in the ground so I can write to it, is wonderfully liberating.

On a different note, my Mac has slowed down to a crawl so my depression (followed by a bout of self-pity) has to be officially over – I only have 37.95 GB left on my Mac’s hard drive and that is not enough for another season of NCIS. And I need to delete many of the ones I have to get my writing tool back to optimum working condition.

’tis good to be back.

Ta!

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The Bend in the Road

They say that change is constant. The only constant we have.

They also say that chaos moves to order – and that one day the universe will succumb to entropy.

Entropy: a hypothetical tendency for the universe to attain a state of maximum homogeneity in which all matter is at a uniform temperature.

In my house – my personal tendency towards entropy leads to chaos not uniform order. So much for Cosmology!

Over the course of the last year my writing has changed. In form, structure, and content. I thought I had more control over this than apparently I do – so it took me longer than normal to figure out I wasn’t obeying my first rule of business… Fail Faster!

When something doesn’t work – try something else.

I didn’t get here by myself. It took my best friend – who’d been holding her tongue for months – to say it out loud. “You gotta kill Emma.”

I don’t know if that is really what she said but it is the summation of her intent. And I did it. I killed her. Wrote a nice Emma-ish goodbye on her blog and walked away from the majority of my publishing history. You see, Emma wrote sex, and sex sells. I, well, I write crazy children’s poetry, non-fiction articles, and 3-Day Novels – and I’ve made more as me than I made as Emma – but Emma wrote fiction that sold. We’ll sold for a while.

I need to stop mourning Emma and just get on with it.

Emma is Dead! Long live Emma!

So, what now?

I’ve been asking myself that for days now – and gotten some flack for how I’m dealing with this change. I’m a plan person – I feel uncomfortable without a plan. And not just a “What shall I do today plan?” I need a today plan, project list, all of which fit into a 5 year plan. Emma had one – and now I need one.

  • My writing friends said – just write!
  • My friends said – just write!
  • My Sig-Fig said – Just WRITE!

My best friend said – do what you need to do.

She knows me best.

When change happens, disappointment, or failure physiologists think of fight/flight or avoidance activities – but two woman researchers wondered about that. When things went wrong in the lab their male companions would escape to exercise, home, drink, et al. But they wouldn’t leave. They would stay in the lab and organize, clean and talk. Eventually – after much research – this behavior was labeled Tend & Mend. It is typically a female trait – and really, think about it – incredibly advantageous evolutionarily. You don’t want Moms running off and leaving the source of their stress behind – the screaming child for example.

My working style is messy – I create chaos around me – piles of books, research materials, mail, crap, random cords from peripherals I no longer use

– you get the idea.

I’ve found that when I find myself in a blind alley – or under crazy stress from projects or deadlines – I clean my office. Silly I know – and probably you could label it a form of procrastination (many people I worked with did) or avoidance (really some of my coworkers thought I was mad) but I go though the piles and somehow by organizing my physical space, simplifying the clutter, and throwing away what I no longer need – I clean and air out my own head. Suddenly there is space for the work – the writing – and best of all for the joy.

Now I just started – the desk was the priority since the arrival of my Mac nothing worked well ergonomically – and there is much more to do. I don’t even want to think about the closet – but it has begun and I feel so much better.

I have no idea what is beyond the bend in the road. But I’m starting to feel like I can handle it. I’ll figure this out…and the next thing…and the next.

So hear is a picture of my beautiful new writing environment!

Inspiring, don’t you think? Best of all no more neck pain from looking up at the monitor! Back to the job – I have a short story to get submitted today.

~ Just Tess

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Happy New Year’s!

Nothing like starting the New Year a week late – but I went on vacation with my sweetie (I don’t actually remember the last full week vacation I had, so this was an event) and decided that I would really take the time off. No writing – Not much thinking about writing – and lots of reading.

Didn’t get much reading in, what I did was learn how to skate ski.

Well – I didn’t actually learn it, or rather I’m very far from mastery, but I gave it a try and only said Fuck! a few times. I’ve never been on skis before – and learning something new at my age (okay I’m not that old but I am wiser and more careful at 40 something than I was at 20 something) is difficult. Not because old folks can’t learn but because my brain wouldn’t let me just do – it wanted to comment all the time. I taught dance for 15 years I know better, yet my brain was having a very good time commenting on my actions and giving me lots of good advice. But in order to learn I needed it to shut up.

Apparently skate skiing is much harder to learn for a novice than classic. Classic being what we all think of when we imagine cross-country skiing. Be that as it may, it was fun, challenging, and I only wanted to cry with frustration once. Then I walked back to the meadow and started working on my technique again.

I forgot how stubborn I could be.

My poor sweetie had to put up with my rejection of his good intentions – when I’m learning something for the first time I like lessons and I like working things out on my own. As usual, he was a brick. He is one of the most amazing people I know. But that is for another posting. Or maybe not… waxing poetic about my romance would get awful boring awful fast and I struggle with that. Which may be one of the reasons I haven’t written in so long.

But now it is the New Year and it is time to dig in and get my ass in gear. It is also resolution time. Usually I look at my life in November and December and try and figure out what I’ve succeeded at and what I want for the future. The last few years I’ve been spinning. “To Write for a Living” is great goal – but it is a 100,000 foot goal not a day-to-day, week-to-week, project to project, goal. I’ve spent the last few months fighting migraines and getting the flu – and now I’m mostly better so it is time to stop cosseting myself and really take a hard look at my habits.

I’ve become something I despise.

But I jump. I picked up my week of mail yesterday when I got home from Sun Valley and saw that I’d gotten my Romance Writers of America magazine. I just thumbed through it but one article caught my attention – “The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective (Has-Been) Authors”!

I didn’t have all of the traits but I was working on one – Laziness.

I’ve struggled to write the last few months and I’ve avoided the “just do it” mentality that used to be part of my character for an “I’ll do it when I feel better”. Or worse, “I’ll do it when I feel It”, “It” being some sort of drive or inspiration. I’ve always despised folks who waited for inspiration because that is hobby not craft. Craft is sitting at your desk day after day and slogging through the bad days and flying through the good, making progress no matter what. I forgot…

So this year is about Laziness.

Last night I was at a release party for Delilah Marvelle who’s been writing for 11 years – published one book then lost her publisher and agent, and then struggled to find a home for a trilogy that is just being released now, one book each month for three months. She’s amazing: the work, the perseverance, and the depth of her research. Delilah reminded me how hard you have to work to make it in this horrid/gorgeous business.

Cheers to Delilah and her Scandal books – Prelude to a Scandal, Once Upon a Scandal, and The Perfect Scandal coming out Jan, Feb, and Mar respectively.

And here’s to raising a glass of coffee to 2011 being a year of productivity for us all!!!

~ Tess

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Today is Different

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Well, to be honest each day is different but today feels more different than most.

Still have a migraine – so I guess that is still the same. But for the first time since my surgery I feel like yoga and walking. Real walking – none of that walking around the block 10 minute BS but real 3-4 mile walking.

I’d head out the door right now, except for the migraine, the house that is a disaster, the laundry that needs to be done, and a promise to myself that I would write today.

I’ve learned a few things while I was out of it. Productive procrastination and all that. While I was recovering I finished the edits on a short story and then read, a lot. You know it is a lot when it is multiple times the amount that I watched Netflix or Hulu. Drowning in visual media was a way for me to escape my migraines, when they were bad and continuous. At the time, reading took too much effort – not to mention memory.

Sorry, got distracted by the wind in the trees and the stormy look to the sky. I love walking in the wind.

So I read. A lot of fiction and a little nonfiction. You might say that my taste are lowbrow. I like genre fiction. Can’t really help it. Although I have to admit that my choices probably added to my depression. I re-read Ghost Story by Peter Straub, On Writing and Bag of Bones by Stephen King. Oh, and a few short stories. I love Straub’s Ghost Story and re-read it every few years.

Like every few years I re-read Sherlock Holmes and all the ghost stories I love so much. I like Poe, but I also like Afterwards by Edith Wharton, Green Tea by Le Fanu, A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter. There are so many more… M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, O. Henry, LovecraftFaulkner and Hemingway both indulged in tales of terror and I’ve read those too. There seems to be nothing like a good fright – and the catharsis of survival.  

I have a strange desire to read a little Hawthorne now, and James… but M. R. or Henry? Turn of the Screw is delightfully frightening. Hmmm…

As usual I digress.

I leaned a few things during my enforced inactivity. Time to think, and rethink, is such a wonderful thing. I realized that I’m not editing hard enough – I’m getting close now, this last thing was edited to within an inch of its life – but I need to focus on getting that part of the process down. My best tool, besides my friends, is reading out loud over and over again. When I’m tired I stop reading what I think is there and read what actually is.

I also realized that I’m my own worst enemy (okay, we knew that). I get afraid and I back off from the drafting process. I need to drown in it – and let it go.

There are times when I am so far into a story that it seems real and the rest of the world seems out of phase. It is a bit of a trip to go out like this, often the story will continue in my head as I wander the aisles in the grocery store. My only hope is that I’m not muttering to myself. A perfectly appropriate thing when I’m home with the cat but would cause most people to keep a wide berth.

It is funny how we instinctively avoid those displaying behaviors we dub as outside the norm.

Again I digress.

Oceans of Notions – to misquote Rushdie.

I need to drown in the Ocean of Notions… the funny thing… I think I’m ready. So much of the last few years have been taken up with figuring out how to structure my life to the best effect. Once I’m here, at the desk, and things are moving I do pretty well. But getting here, staying here, when there are so many other things calling to me – like the wind in the trees or wondering about the evolutionary value of avoiding individuals displaying odd behaviors… it is so easy to be distracted by the bright shiny objects that lay all around me.

So, I need to jump in the Ocean of Notions and let it take me. Turn on the tap and let the ideas flow – good, bad, indifferent, downright silly – letting them flow through me and allow the fear of drowning go.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ~ Frank Herbert

I wonder if he was talking about fear – or writing?

I’ll see you when I come up for air. 

~ Tess

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Last Thoughts – Here’s the rub…

I’ve spent all day working, exercising, and even had a migraine… and yet I don’t feel successful because I haven’t achieved either my word count, time allotment, or finished the final rewrite of this damn short story.

On the plus side, I did answer emails, write, do 40 minutes of yoga, write, take phone calls, write, research, write, do 45 minutes of cardio, and now I’m writing some more. All this after the nastiness of last night’s insomnia.

So, really – not too shabby – right?

It’s only 9 pm so the night is young… so I guess I’ll get back to work.  

On a different note – knowledge I could have done without.

Apparently it will take 1 hour of moderate exercise to ½ hour of intense exercise a day for me to stay in my current shape. According to my Harvard Medical Newsletter – exercise limits weight gain in normal-weight women but it’s a lot of exercise.

Really you don’t want to know what it says… it will just make you sad. Okay – so if you want all the information check the link I don’t want to be the messenger – you’ll shoot me.

A day! That is the crucial part. And my two favorite forms of exercise probably don’t get my heart rate up high enough to count as intense. Walking and Yoga. So I can continue to do more of what I love or head back to the gym and do less work but like it less. I’ll probably head for some middle ground.

Sigh!

Okay, back to work…

~ Tess

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I’ll take a Migraine, Please.

To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub,

This is my second day without much of a migraine.

I won’t say that it is gone, that would be lying, but it has slipped into the realm of <1 most of the day, which is close enough. It is there, but it isn’t having as much negative impact and apparently my mind and body are thrilled.

So, thrilled in fact that I was blessed last night with not one, but two forms of insomnia. 

  1. Can’t get to sleep.

That was fun, and very fruitful, went to bed early (9:45 pm), read a few chapters of a light mystery that I’d picked, curled up and…. Didn’t sleep. The brain wouldn’t stop working and the body started tossing and turning. Sometimes when I read poetry it makes me sleepy – you have to work so hard to make all the connections – so I went out and found The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot and read that…

It didn’t help.

So, read some more poems. Then went to find History of Witchcraft in England by Wallace Notestein – originally published at the turn of the last century ca. 1900. Unfortunately it wasn’t as dry as I thought… and it was after midnight when I finally tried to sleep again.

Not sure when I got to sleep, but I know when I woke up.

  1. Can’t stay asleep

I don’t really mind the first form of insomnia. Once you get to sleep it is over. But the second one gets me every time. Usually I don’t have a specific time that I need to get up at so when this happens I tend to sleep in, late. But I’m tired of losing the whole morning. No matter how much I try and convince myself that it doesn’t matter as long as I get the hours in – it still does. So from 4:00 am on I woke and dozed, had wild dreams, dozed, had more wild dreams… and so on and so forth until my alarm went off at 7:00 am.

Did I mention I was tired of losing the morning?

I am, so all week I’ve been working on getting back to a more normal sleep pattern… it hasn’t worked and I’m wondering if I should just give up. I have lots of research to do and late at night is a good time to read, surf the net, and correlate data since I just can’t seem to get up early to save my life.

This morning the dreams were so vivid, and I would jump right back into them after a period of waking. Sadly after being up for an hour I absolutely no memory of them…

That is another side effect I’ve experienced before. When I really start to get into a story my subconscious wants to come out and play all the time. Some mornings, like this one, it is too good to miss… so I didn’t get up until almost 10:00 am.

What a slouch.

Maybe this guilt is a holdover from my childhood.

My Dad is a morning person. Up by 6:00 am and busy busy busy. He isn’t restless in his busyness and rarely commented out loud on my teenage tendency to sleep till noon… but the reproof was felt nonetheless – whether it was real or imagined I don’t know.

Oh, well… I’ll probably keep trying since it feels wrong and probably keep failing because 2:00 am to 10:00 am seems to work well for me.

Besides, I really can’t complain can I? The whole reason all of this is happening is because my migraines have lessened and my productivity has increased.

Whoop!

~ Tess

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Writers Write

That really is what this is all about.

Writers write and I haven’t been writing as much as I could. I could blame the migraines – and they are a factor – but really what is wrong is me. I’m afraid that I’ll work really hard and get nowhere. If I only work at 20% of my potential it’s okay that I failed. I wasn’t working very hard anyway.

How’s that for honesty?

Last year, the 3-Day Novel contest was the highlight of my life. It was like training and finishing a marathon. I did what I set out to do and some of it wasn’t half bad. The day after the contest I got up early and went to help out at my Mother’s gymnastics academy. I was stupid, tired, and well stupid. I’m also sure I wasn’t pleasant to be around.

What I wanted to do was continue writing to build on the momentum.

It was a high unlike anything I’d ever experienced and I wanted to feel it again. I remembered that Harlan Ellison quipped something about not needing drugs – he was naturally high all the time. That weekend I understood (at least I think I did – if I got it wrong Mr. Ellison please forgive me). That kind of creation, whole and uninterrupted by anything from the outside world… heady stuff.

This year was different.

By the time I started the 3-Day Novel I was 8 days into a migraine. Day 1 was the killer, everything after that was mind numbing, vocabulary dulling, depression making pain. The type of migraine most often depicted by fiction is a short, day or less, intense burst of pain and nausea. I got that… then after that wore off I got days of midrange pain that the drugs could kick but only for a finite period. When they wore off I was back where I started.

It didn’t help that the last time this happened I had one of these things for 31 days. I didn’t have much hope that it would magically go away.  

But, I can be stubborn. So at 12:01 am on Saturday I started my 3-Day Novel. I wrote for a few hours, went to bed, woke up with a migraine, wrote for awhile, took drugs, went back to bed, got up and wrote for while, then just gave out… only 6k words of the 10k I needed to make my goal.

That night I tried a different drug, hoping it would last longer and I could work more. No such luck, I lost all of Sunday.

Monday, I tried again, only 4.5k and then dinner with friends, because by then I knew two things. 

  1. I didn’t have a 3-Day Novel
  2. I did have a good start for my first full length novel

Out of something bad comes something good.

Tuesday I got up and worked some more – another 3k and some great scenes, hints of discoveries yet to come, and the introduction of a character that makes my heart sing with joy.

Today, Wednesday, I’m up again, writing and working and planning another long day.

What I couldn’t do last year – build on the momentum of the 3-Day Novel Contest – I could do this year. I’m writing more, more consistently. Which is what I needed to do to make this work – stop using migraines, family and friends as tools of procrastination. I write a lot… now it is time to move to the next level and be prolific!

After all… writers write.

~ Tess

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