Thursday, December 11, 2014

Jump Start a Scene

My 94 year old mother is my first reader. As I progress through this current novel, I read each scene out loud to her over the telephone. I don’t share early drafts with anyone else, because I’m not really looking for input at this stage, but my mum and I have this thing going and we both love it. She commented the other day how each scene is building up her interest (good to hear) and she’s getting immersed in the characters (very good to hear.) But yesterday I had no scene to read to her and she was quite disappointed.  No, it wasn’t that I was too busy, I just couldn’t write the next scene. I didn’t know what to write. I was worried about what to write.  This amazed her. “You worry about your writing?” she said.  “It all sounds so effortless.”
I told her all authors worry (most, anyway.) This was a revelation to her.
I also told her that I’d have the next scene pronto. I have a strategy that works so well for me MOST OF THE TIME.  I have a card with the next four scenes listed, just one line about each. As I write the scene, it gets crossed off and I add another one to the bottom of the list. It gives me a kind of map. Four scenes only as I don’t want to get blocked into a sequence of scenes that might not work. The night before, I think about the next scene and let my mind go anywhere while I make notes. I brainstorm, speculate, visualize, ask questions, maybe write down a few scraps of dialogue but I don’t allow myself to start the scene. Even if I’m keen. It’s not allowing myself to write that seems to free up the creative side of my brain. How hard is it to make notes? Then it percolates all night (sometimes it starts writing itself in my head in the middle of the night!)
I take a walk in the morning with my dog. I let my mind rehearse the scene. When I finally pour my cup of tea and get to the computer, I’ve built up a lot of anticipation and I’m usually raring to go.  After I write, I record the scene in my journal, sometimes noting the word count. That gives me a great feeling of accomplishment.
Then I read it to my mum.
She always ends with, “What’s going to happen next?” I check my list of scenes of my card. It’s so reassuring to know.
Merry Christmas and best wishes for an amazing new year of writing!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I talked about Hemingway’s “one true sentence” in my last blog. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all week long, just write one true sentence after the other. If I look at the whole novel, I feel utterly daunted. If I go sentence by sentence, I know I’ll eventually get there (after all, I remind myself, I have completed novels before – no reason for this to be any different.)
In his book A Moveable Feast, Hemingway also gave me something else to think about. It’s to do with his writing process. It’s probably easiest to quote straight from the book:
“When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing that you were writing before you could go on with it the next day. . .  It was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”
What a lovely image. And maybe quite liberating to let go of the story when you are not actively writing. I tend to mull over plots and think about characters all the time. Am I draining my well and not allowing it time to refill without my interference? Would I be better off reading a good book instead of worrying about my story?
Stephen King talks about the “boys in the basement”, working away while you are elsewhere.
Sometimes when I finally get to my desk, I feel like I’ve been helping those boys in the basement for hours. If I can train myself to let the story percolate on its own, will I sit down for my writing time refreshed and enthusiastic, raring to go? It’s worth trying.

Saturday, November 8, 2014



I’ve been away from my writing for a while. No real excuse. It happens sometimes. There are times when I even contemplate a life without writing. Think of all that free time to do something else. But something always tugs me back.

This time, I’m finding it hard to get started again, even though I know I want to. I have the first draft of a novel finished, but it’s a very rough first draft, much of it unusable.  Usually a second draft is a fun time for me because the first draft has shown me where I want to go and has given me a pretty good outline of the plot. But with this book, I’ve been feeling anxious and a little bit overwhelmed.
And then I came across some advice from Ernest Hemingway in his book The Moveable Feast (his memoir of Paris in the 1920’s.) I have a fascination with all things French and that’s why I picked up this book. The descriptions of Paris haven’t disappointed and the insight into his writing process has been an unexpected pleasure.

Hemingway says, “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 that you know.

I think I can do that. I know I can do that. But first of all, I’m going to copy out those wonderful words and stick them above my computer.”

Do not worry. Thank you, Papa Hemingway!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014



I grew up on a diet of mysteries and adventure stories. You know the fare if you’re of my generation – Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, all the Enid Blyton books, boarding school stories, the Black Stallion series, Tolkien and The Hobbit and so on. Pure fun and escapism for the most part. Books about divorce, suicide, drugs, depression and war just didn’t exist for kids.

I loved books. I devoured books. And I wrote my own long rambling stories, stealing plots and characters from my favourite books without the slightest guilt. I think it’s because I wanted to be that character in the book I was reading or writing – I wanted to ride that black stallion, crawl into the smuggler’s tunnel, have midnight feasts at boarding school. Basically I wanted to BE in the book. Do kids feel the same way about the books they read today?

Kids today have access to such a wide range of books, much more than I ever had. But what kind of books are they? In the latest Quill and Quire I saw a review for a  book which deals with rape and suicide with the disclaimer that it might be too disturbing to a twelve year old. Twelve?  Really? I’m not saying that there’s not an important place for this kind of book (I wrote a young adult novel called If Only that deals with sexual assault) but more and more I’m starting to think that the dark disturbing books are taking over our library shelves and bookstores. There is even a recently published picture book that is set in a concentration camp!

My nephew and daughter, both great readers, turned to fantasy, I suspect,  because they weren’t interested in reading about contemporary teens with dreadful unhappy lives.

Back to my question: do kids want to be inside the book the way I did? Some may identify with the character’s problems but do they actually want to climb into the book and be that character? I’m not sure they do. And for me, that was the magic of a really great kids book.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014



“Picture book writers don’t have the novelist’s luxury to creep into a story. Your opening has to be quick, grabbing the audience from the get-go.”

That’s a quote from Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

I know that. It’s . . . . well, a no-brainer.  She goes on to say that a strong opening addresses the questions WHO IS YOUR MAIN CHARACTER? And WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT?

In my picture book that is out in the wide world right now, looking for a home,  my main character wants to buy a special birthday present for his grandfather. It took me five sentences before I got to that. Five sentences too many! And the frustrating thing is, I didn’t realize that until I’d sent the manuscript out to twelve different publishers!

Help! Can I get it back? Nope.

What was I thinking???

I actually had the manuscript sealed in a brown envelope and waiting on my kitchen table, ready to go out again, when I went for a walk (Oh, the power of walks!) and had my great epiphany. I raced home, tore open the envelope and rewrote the beginning.

Now my FIRST sentence is: Felix didn’t have a birthday present for Grandad.

How could I have made such a mistake? How did I not see something so obvious . . .  and so important? A  painful lesson but I won’t make that mistake again.

And by the way, I don’t agree with the statement that novelists can creep into a story. Certainly not authors of kids novels! You need to plunge the reader into the story with your first sentence – introduce your character and at least hint at the  conflict that lies ahead.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Food For Thought

I came across a fun somewhat whimsical little book called Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. It’s full of fun drawings and some good advice.
To recap, here are the rules:
1.     Never open a book with weather.
2.    Avoid prologues.
3.    Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4.    Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”.
5.    Keep your exclamation points under control.
6.    Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7.    Use regional dialogue, patois, sparingly.
8.    Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9.    Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
He has one last important rule that sums up the others:
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
These rules have served best selling author Elmore Leonard well.
Food for thought.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014



Create a series and you’ve got it made. Publishers and readers will be clamouring for the next book. Right? Not always.
Nothing about writing is easy and that includes crafting a series. I’ve written two series: Jeremy and the Enchanted Theater for ages 6 to 8 and the Ellie and Max series for ages 8 to 12. Both had their ups and downs.

It can be hard enough to develop a character engaging enough to carry a reader through one entire book – 4 or 5 or 6 books is a challenge. There’s certainly room in a series for a character to change and develop and perhaps even grow older. My character Ellie is 9 in the first book and 12 in the last book, and along the way she has life changing experiences in the wilderness of Upper Canada in the 1800’s. I grew very attached to Ellie and her brother Max – one of the perks of staying with characters for so long.

As you start each new book, dealing with the backstory can be a problem. You have to get the reader new to the series up to speed. You can’t assume that every reader has read all the previous books. You want to avoid an information dump in the first chapter. Some authors use a brief (hopefully) prologue to fill the reader in. Only tell as much as you absolutely have to and try to feed it into the present story in small bites.

Another thing to think about is how important is it for the reader to read the books in the correct order. My Enchanted Theater books really only work well if you start with Book One and continue through to Book Four. I didn’t realize that until after the books were published and I don’t think I would do that again. Often at book sales I’ve had to discourage a child who has money for only one book from buying the third book in the series because he likes that cover the best!
How many books should you write? You’ll know when the series is over. You’ve run out of steam. You’ve run out of ideas. It just feels done. One author I know said, “I’ve been in that character’s head long enough!”

Are there guarantees that writing a series will help you get contracts from a publisher? Absolutely not. If the books aren’t selling well, a publisher can shut down a series at any time. In both my series, I had to pitch each new book separately.

Kids like series. They are comfortable. They have a certain predictability. If the first book is a mystery, the reader can expect that the next book will be a mystery too. All my Enchanted Theater books include time travel and a riddle. But that doesn’t mean that the writing can be predictable. Series books must be as well written as stand alone books, with plot twists, surprises, suspense and fresh plot ideas.

But the good news is that if you write a successful series you will have readers eagerly awaiting the next one. I’ve had emails and letters from kids enthusiastically suggesting ideas for the next book. One girl sent me eleven possible plots and said I was free to choose the best one! I just may take her up on that!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014



I know a lot of middle-aged writers! We were raised in the 50’s and 60’s and I think have a fair amount of nostalgia for those times. Young people today roll their eyes when we reminisce about actually walking to school, playing outside unsupervised, riding our bikes anywhere. It was a time of great freedom for kids and, with the exception of TV, no technology!

The world of kids today is so different. If you want to write a contemporary novel, technology rears its intimidating (to some of us) head! How can you write about teens and not include Facebook? Even preteens. And how do you write knowledgeably about Facebook if you never use the darn thing? Not to mention all the other stuff – downloading music and movies, ITunes, iPhones, tweeting etc.

One solution is to dive in and learn how all this stuff works, if you don’t already know. The best way is to have a helpful teen fill you in on what’s current and what’s not. Do kids ever email each other or do they just text? Do they ever use old-fashioned cameras or do they just use the camera on their phone?  Do kids blog? You need to know all this. And to make matters more difficult, it changes fast.

What if you’re just not interested? (I tend to fall into that category. A half-hearted use of Facebook and this blog is as far as I go!) I can offer a couple of solutions.

Write about a pre-technology time. You don’t have to go back that far (the 80’s will do it) or go back even further and make it a true historical novel. I did that with Finding Grace which is set in the 1950’s. I had many reasons for setting my book in 1954 (eg. polio is an important issue in the book) but it was fun to be able to write about childhood the way I remember it. I will say there seem to be a lot of books in recent years set in the 50’s and 60’s. Will editors start getting weary of this?

Another solution is to choose a setting where the kids don’t have access to technology. I didn’t have to even think about computers in After the Fire because the story takes place in a wilderness setting with no electricity and no Internet! How refreshing!

Of course, there’s no reason you can’t write about a contemporary teen who uses technology sparingly or not at all. Make him or her abit of an oddity! You’ll have to make it convincing though or your readers just won’t believe it!

I write mostly books for 8 to 12 years old and technology isn’t as big a problem there. A little bit of computer use, a little bit of texting and the story feels contemporary. I think it is a much bigger challenge for the young adult market, and may be the reason my only young adult book If Only is set in 1968. (I am currently working on a young adult historical novel set in 1908 – you see where I stand on this!)

So if you want to write contemporary fiction for kids and you’re not a techie, find yourself a willing teen and plunge in!

Thursday, August 14, 2014


You’ve come to a roadblock. Maybe you’re plotting out the next part of your novel or thinking about what makes your character tick. You stare out the window and up pops an idea – a great idea! That was easy. Problem solved.

Maybe not. Because good writing isn’t easy and often the first idea we think of it is not the best idea. The reason we’ve thought of it first is because, sadly, we’ve read it before. We might even have read it, or a version of it, lots of times in lots of different books. It’s probably pretty predictable. Horror of horrors, it might even have become a cliché.

The best way I’ve found to avoid this pitfall is to write down the idea (after all, it is a great idea, that’s why it’s been used before!) and then brainstorm at least five alternatives. Preferably think of things that make the life of your character more difficult. There’s a good chance one of those alternatives will be truly original and yours.

Here’s a few ideas for kickstarting a sluggish imagination:

*Have a character say or do something “out of character.”

*Have a new character walk into your scene and introduce themselves.

*Have a character write you a letter telling you what they think should happen next.

*Pick an emotion and develop a scene to make your character feel that emotion eg. make your character mad or sad or worried.

*Think about cause and effect – one thing makes another thing happen. It’s the domino effect. I wrote about that in my blog in April 2013 “One Thing Leads to Another”.

  You may end up going with your first idea after all. But chances are, with a little thought, you’ll come up with something much much better.

Monday, July 28, 2014



Writing can be very lonely. Downright reclusive. There’s really no way to avoid that. Finishing a novel requires hours and hours and hours of work -  all by yourself. One way to introduce a little bit of company into your writing world is to join a writing group.

A writing group can really be anything. Just you and a writing friend talking over a cup of tea. Maybe three or four of you, meeting informally to exchange ideas and offer moral support. Or it can be more formal and structured with regular meeting times and a commitment to attend and participate.

I’ve been meeting with three other kids authors for ten years. We’ve grown together as authors. We’ve celebrated each others successes and commiserated over disappointments. We can’t meet regularly as we all live in remote areas miles apart but we keep in touch with emails and we get together for wonderful three day retreats. I’ve been thinking about why this group works so well.

We’re passionate about writing for kids. We respect each other and honour the differences in our writing. We offer honest critique ( a writing group that pats you on the back and says that everything you write is awesome is useless.) We stay positive. We offer specific advice. We’re sensitive to each other’s feelings but we’re also tough critics. Above all, we laugh. A lot. And when we go home, we feel energized, motivated and enthusiastic. Our batteries are recharged.

It might take a while to find a writing group that suits you. Stay away from negativity and the poor us syndrome (publishers are evil etc.) Find people who feel the same way about writing that you do. Find people who inspire you, not bring you down. Find people who will be honest.

When is the right time to share your work at a writing group? That’s an individual decision. I like to keep my first drafts private. Too much critique at an early stage of your novel or picture book might just discourage you or send you in the wrong direction.  You’ll know when you’re ready.

By the way, I was terrified the first time I read from a manuscript to a group of other writers. They were kind to me but I was literally shaking. It’s easier for me now but it’s always a little scary. After all, you’re sharing part of yourself. 

Elizabeth George in Write Away offers some advice about joining a writing group:

“If there’s someone in there with an axe to grind, don’t become a member. If the group isn’t solution oriented, just pass them by. If you don’t feel good about the group dynamic, trust yourself and don’t join up.”

Nigel Watts in Write a Novel and Get it Published offers a word of caution:

“Writing a novel, however, is rarely a collaborative process, so beware of too much feedback. It is your novel, after all,  and for you to write in your way.”

I’m off this week to meet my writing friends and I’m looking forward to stimulating chat, great food and lots of laughs!

Monday, July 14, 2014



I’ve ground to a halt on my novel in progress. I’ve completed a very very rough first draft but I can’t seem to get going from there. After a frustrating non productive (desperate)  month, I think I’ve figured out the problem. My main character, a sixteen year old girl named Charlotte who lives in Edwardian times, has not come alive for me. She’s vague, blurry, and I don’t feel like I know her at all.

To jump start my second draft, I’ve decided to try something that I’ve tried in the past but quickly abandoned – a character profile or dossier. They haven’t worked for me before but I always tried to fill them out before doing any writing. And I quickly got bored. Would it work better after the first draft is completed, I wondered. Would it help me to figure out who Charlotte is? I figured it was worth a try. 

There are lots of sample character profiles in how-to-write books. I pulled out a few and then made up one just for Charlotte. I went into a lot of detail – all the usual stuff like age, hair colour, height, mannerisms, speech, friends, family members, education, home, employment,  and hobbies and skills. So far those have been relatively easy to fill in though it surprised me how little I knew about Charlotte, even after a whole first draft.

I made a long list of personality characteristics – shy, confident, extravert, introvert, timid, bold, pessimist, sympathetic, empathetic, pessimistic, optimistic, warm, cold, secretive, confrontational, humorous, stubborn, determined, loves company, seeks solitude, leader, joiner, sensitive, untruthful. Slowly I’m circling the attributes that apply to Charlotte, jotting down beside each one examples from the story to show (not tell) why she is that way.

I asked myself – what makes Charlotte excited, happy, afraid, embarrassed, frustrated, disgusted, angry, jealous, impressed, worried, disapproving, shocked?

I’m having fun thinking of all her favourite things: colour, season, flower, music, book, time of day, sport, food.

I ended the profile with a series of questions that are proving much more challenging but I think will help me figure out who exactly Charlotte is.

What does she long for?

What are her goals?

What actions does she take to achieve these goals?

Does she take or avoid risks?

What are her earliest happy memories?

What are her earliest painful memories?

What does she dream about?

How does she feel about herself?

What does she regret?

What is she proud of?

What would she change about her life if she could?

So far, as I work my way through the profile, I can feel Charlotte emerging from the shadows and becoming a real person. I can spot inconsistencies in my first draft and I see places where I can show the real Charlotte. For the first time in a month, I feel excited about this story!

Sunday, June 29, 2014


I came across an interesting article in the Writer’s Digest writing magazine Writing Basics called Write Not For Yourself by Kip Langello. She offers some advice that I am eager to try out.
The idea is that a huge range of people read books. That applies to kids as well as adults. If I think back to my days in the classroom, I remember kids who devoured books, any books, kids that only liked short books, kids that were made to read by parents or teachers, kids who read only sports, or animals stories or mysteries, kids who adored twists and turns in a plot.
Am I writing my next novel for all those kids? Of course not. I really like Kip Langello’s suggestion to visualize one specific person, and only one, and write for him or her.
Take some time to invent this reader. I’ve already got someone in mind  for my next middle grade novel. I met her at the Farmer’s Market in 100 Mile House last week. She was about eleven years old with a million dollar grin. She had set herself up at a card table, no supervising adult in sight, with a sign saying Amy’s Jewelry and a display of bracelets made from brightly coloured elastic bands. She was buried in a book. She was quite delighted to have a customer. I bought two bracelets and we had a good chat about books.
So, as I sit at my computer, I’m keeping this future entrepreneur in mind – a young girl who “loves books where interesting things happen to people and maybe there’s a horse in it”, lives in a small town and likes to make bracelets.
Kip Langello says that focusing on a single reader made her “novel read that way – consistent, focused, true. Not self-indulgent and occasionally meandering because I wrote it thinking only of myself, and not broad and flat because I tried to write it for the reading public at large.”
Find your reader and try it!

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Conversation with Alexandra Amor

Earlier this week, I had the very fun experience of having a conversation about writing with author Alexandra Amor which she recorded as part of her Writing For Kids podcasts.

Check it out!

Sunday, May 25, 2014



Pork chops were cooked by Dad.

Dad cooked pork chops.

While neither of these sentences are memorable, one of them is better. The second one. That’s because it uses an active rather than a passive voice.

Changing passive sentences to active sentences is a sure fire way to make your writing livelier and stronger.   Change the verb cooked to a more specific verb like fried or barbecued and the sentence improves even more.

Another way to look at is the subject should do the action rather than receive it.

Or, the subject of the sentence should be doing something – not having something done to it or by it. The verbs should be strong and carefully chose.

When he opens his eyes, he is being stared at by Constable Diggins.

When he opens his eyes, Constable Diggins is staring at him.

In both examples, the first sentence, as well as being weak, is clumsy to read. It slows the pace. It’s also a tiny bit longer – only two words but that can add up to a lot in an entire manuscript and we’re always trying to cut out those unnecessary words, right?

That little word “by” is often a clue that the voice is passive.  Watch for it.

Get rid of all your passive sentences? No. But stick to the active voice whenever you can. And take time to find the best verb possible.

Favourite Kid’s Book of the Week:

The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart

A compelling historical novel.

Amazon: Inspired by the true story of the lynching, recently acknowledged as a historical injustice by Washington State, this powerful novel offers a stark depiction of historical racism and the harshness of settler life. The story will provoke readers to reflect on the dangers of mob mentality and the importance of speaking up for what's right.  

From Quill and Quire: Stewart’s prose is relatively unadorned, keeping the book’s excitement level high. The few rhetorical flourishes she includes are deft, as when she closes a chapter featuring the mob’s pursuit of Louie Sam with an observation of George’s horse walking in the dark: “All he needed to do was follow the pack.” A clear nod to the diseased morality of the lynch mob, the comment exemplifies the book’s thematic heart.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ouch! That Hurts!

Rejection. It’s part of a writer’s life.

There are lots of different reasons for a publisher rejecting a manuscript:

1.     They have just published a similar book

2.    They don’t publish picture books (do your research before submitting)

3.    They don’t publish fantasy or mysteries or books about holidays (again, do your research)

4.    Your word length is too long or too short (check those submission guidelines)

5.    Your manuscript is sloppy (spelling mistakes, page layout etc.) – one of the easiest things to correct

6.    Your characters are one dimensional or stereotyped

7.    Your dialogue is flat and lacks sparkle

8.    You rely too much on coincidence

9.    Your opening chapter did not compel the editor to keep reading

10.  You lack a satisfying resolution.

That’s only a start. But you can probably group all rejections into two categories:

1.     Your manuscript is not up the publisher’s standards

2.    Your manuscript does not meet the needs of the publisher.

General George S. Patton said,

          “I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.”

Rejection definitely feels like hitting bottom.

Here are some rejection stories to encourage you to bounce back:

Agatha Christie had 5 years of rejection before going on to achieve sales in excess of 2 billion (only Shakespeare has sold more)

JK Rowling had 12 rejections for the first Harry Potter book which included the advice to “get a day job because you have little chance of making money in children’s books.)

Louis l”Amour had 200 rejections and ended up with 330 million dollars in sales.

Dr. Seuss was told his book was “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”

Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 140 times.

L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was rejected 5 times.

Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times for Peter Rabbit that she ended up self publishing. She was later picked up by a publisher and her sales reached 45 million dollars.

Margaret Mitchells’ Gone with the Wind was rejected 30 times.

 Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight was rejected 12 times and ended up being on the New York Times bestseller list for 91 weeks.

The Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times and won the Newbery Medal.

Help by Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times.

Alex Haley’s Roots was rejected 200 times and made 1.5 million dollars in sales in its first 7 months.

My record is 26 rejections for a manuscript that is dear to my heart and still unsold. Some of the rejections have included constructive critique and I continue to revise and resubmit.

So, next time a rejection hurts, remember you are not alone!

Monday, April 14, 2014


In an earlier blog I listed some of my favourite opening sentences form kids’ novels. The sentences below come from adult novels and all of them made me want to keep reading. (An added bonus of scanning through the books on my shelves for these opening lines was discovering a lot of old treasures that I want to reread!)

The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.  (The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler)

Ruth remembered drowning.  (Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwartz) 

The world began to fall apart at nine in the evening. (The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell)
The girl was the first to hear the loud pounding on the door. (Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

I seem to have trouble dying. (The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill)

He found the body on the forty-third day of his walk. (Careless in Red by Elizabeth George)

On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother Thomas entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut Public Library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable.
(I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb)

By mistake Larry Weller took someone else’s tweed jacket instead of his own and it wasn’t till he jammed his hand in the pocket that he knew something was wrong. (Larry’s Party by Carol Shields)

It was as black in the closet as old blood. (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I recall with utter clarity the first great shock of my life. (Trinity by Leon Uris)

I have an ingrained fear of auctions dating back to the third year of my life. (The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float by Farley Mowat)

This last one is really more than one sentence but it promises you a fun read.

These are my New Year’s Resolutions:

1.     I will help the blind across the road.

2.    2. I will hang my trousers up.

3.    I will put the sleeves back on my records.

4.    I will not start smoking.

5.    I will stop squeezing my spots.

6.    I will be kind to the dog.

7.    I will help the poor and ignorant.

8.    After hearing the disgusting noises from downstairs last night, I have also vowed never to drink alcohol.

(The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend)



Friday, March 28, 2014


My yoga teacher asks the class at the beginning of every session to repeat the words

I will let go of expectation.

I will let go of judgment.

I will let go of competition.

It’s a powerful way to start our yoga poses. I believe it’s a great way to start a day of writing as well.

We set up so many mental roadblocks when we write.

We are afraid of rejection.

We are afraid of getting a bad review.

We are afraid of not getting a review.

We are afraid of selling too few books.

We are afraid that we have no imagination.

We are afraid that we are just not good enough.

And if you forget for a while, there is someone sitting on your shoulder while you write, whispering all your doubts and fears in your ear.

It can be very hard to overcome these obstacles but you have to because they can paralyze your writing.

Nigel Watts says in Write a Novel and Get it Published that “Like little squirmy things that live under rocks, our negative beliefs don’t like the light of day: they are at home in the dark where they are unchallenged.”

So challenge them.

Along with expectation, judgment and competition, jealousy can rear its ugly head.

In bird by bird Anne Lamont says that “jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer.” She laments the writers “who will get the place on the bestseller list, the movie sales, the huge advances, and the nice big glossy pictures in the national magazines where the photo editors have airbrushed out the excessively long eyeteeth, the wrinkles and the horns. They will buy houses, big houses, or second houses that are actually as nice, or nicer, than the first one. And you will want to throw yourself down the back stairs, especially if the person is a friend.

Well. We’ve all felt like that. 

So what do we do about it? I don’t have any brilliant solutions but I do think little rituals can help. Keep inspirational sayings posted on cards where you can see them easily.  If you have already published a book, sit back and read a chapter and tell yourself you can do it again. Approach your writing in small steps, one word at a time. Laugh out loud when you write a funny line.

If all else fails, make yourself a strong cup of tea. I have an oversized tea cup with the words A cup of tea solves everything written around the rim. It helps.

There is a French expression

 Vouloir c’est pouvoir.   To want to is to be able to.

That’s an inspiring thought. I read it every day on a card on my bulletin board. Because I do want to. Despite the fears and doubts I want to keep writing.



Monday, March 17, 2014



When I’ve been particularly disciplined with my word quota, or if I just need a pick-me-up, I head to the nearest stationary store. There’s nothing like a stack of brand new recipe cards, a fluorescent highlighter or a fresh stack of yellow legal pads to make me feel that the life of a writer has its perks! And the post it notes! Need I say more? They come in every possible size, colour and shape and are guaranteed to brighten up any writing corner! (And they are surprisingly useful!)

On the subject of yellow legal pads, I was amused to see they rated several pages of discussion in one of my favourite writing books, Page Fright by Harry Bruce.

Here are some thoughts on yellow legal pads from Page Fright . . .

Susan Sontag called them “the fetish of American writers.”

They had the undying loyalty of writers such as Beverly Cleary (the creator of the beloved Ramona Quimby books for kids), and Nelson DeMille  (whose thrillers have sold more than thirty million copies.)

Louis Auchincloss (who at 98 years old was still writing) wrote 47 books of fiction and 17 books of nonfiction on yellow legal pads.

Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind) spent 10 years writing on yellow legal pads.

William Styron was a fan and often brought one to the dinner table.
John Irving wrote 11 novels and 2 books of non-fiction with a fountain pen on yellow legal pads

Lawyer John Grisham wrote his first novel A Time to Kill in longhand on yellow legal pads, working often on the steps of the courthouse.

What is it about yellow? It seems that many writers choose yellow paper, even if it’s not a legal pad.  Poet Conrad Aiken said, “I preferred yellow paper because its not so responsible looking.” Woody Allen, Elmore Leonard, Isaac Asimov and Malcolm Lowry all wrote on yellow paper.

Alexandre Dumas wrote his poetry on yellow paper, his non-fiction on rose coloured paper and his historical novels on blue paper.

The idea is that white paper can be daunting. Cheap yellow paper (or napkins) is friendlier and less intimidating. I once took an art course for non-artistic people and the instructor had us draw with black felt pens on printed newspaper for the first month for that very reason (it was also impossible to erase anything!

Rose-coloured paper? Sounds interesting. I think a trip to Staples is next on my list!

Favourite Kid’s Book of the Week:

The Higher Power of Lucky By Susan Patron

A winner of the Newbery Medal!

This heartwarming book is the first in a trilogy. 

Amazon: Lucky, age ten, can't wait another day. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has.

It's all Brigitte's fault -- for wanting to go back to France. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she'll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won't be allowed. She'll have to lose her friends Miles, who lives on cookies, and Lincoln, future U.S. president (maybe) and member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. Just as bad, she'll have to give up eavesdropping on twelve-step anonymous programs where the interesting talk is all about Higher Powers. Lucky needs her own -- and quick.

But she hadn't planned on a dust storm.

Or needing to lug the world's heaviest survival-kit backpack into the desert.

It’s interesting to note that the book caused a bit of a scandal in some circles because it has the word scrotum in it! I believe some schools considered banning it!