Lessons Learned Yet Again

Writing has been a struggle for months now. A few weeks ago I turned to three friends and one husband. As always, they listen.

And then, as always, I turn to music. The Arran Boat Song (also know as The Aran Boat Song) is one of my favorites. It’s a lament that was around in the 1700s although the exact age is unknown. Feel free to listen while I chat, especially if you need some quiet music in this crazy world right now. It’s a song that always allows me to drift off into stories.

The Arran Boat Song

I’ve spent months trying to write a new story and every single word felt wrong. I’ve started it over four times so far. I then moved to working on the fifth book in the mystery series only to fight every single word there, too. So what helps?

Friends who can gently ask the questions that you already know the answers to.

Especially when you’ve been here before and when you’ve faced the same questions before, and by now should really know the answers.


Can’t see the forest for the trees?

One friend asked ‘what has changed?’ My writing. I’m trying to write the way I always have, and it just isn’t the way these stories want to be told. The characters are stepping away from me and holding up their hands, telling me to wait and listen.

Which leads to ‘why’.

Sometimes the struggle is because I went down one path when the story wanted to go another. One friend asked ‘what would happen if you bushwhacked until you found the trail again?’ And another asked ‘If what is missing is the trail, maybe all that means is you’ve picked up all the tools along the paths to start foraging your own way’.

Do you see how well they know me, that they use forest analogies?


I want to sit in the cup of that tree.

Sometimes I take a character or subplot in the wrong direction. Sometimes I try to take the whole dang story in the wrong direction. Like when you’re trying to force a haunting into a mystery. When that happens you need friends who send an email that says:

What I’m sensing in your emails is this: 

– grief (I won’t pretend to know for exactly what)
– a feeling of being lost, lack of direction
– the desire to enter into some sort of magical realm, so to speak (in
your emails: folklore stories that inspire, characters that are attracted to the elemental parts of the world…)


Elemental forest creature or clay bank with stream and two rocks that fell out? And do you see the smaller face to the side?

And when you read those words, that inner writer lights up and says ‘YES!’ That character – she’s grieving, she’s seeking something elemental, some story to take her away. The mystery is still there, but now, there’s more.

Finally, you need friends and family who believe in you so when you start hitting the potholes in the trail, they carry you over them then give you a little push.


A narrow trail I stumbled down recently.

I’m not moving forward yet, but I think I see the path. But more importantly, I’m laughing. Because I’ve learned all these lessons before. Because I seem to need to relearn them after every book is finished.

Stumbling around fighting words must be the writing process before I can start something new. I’m lucky my family is patient. They should record all of this and play it back to me each time I finish a project and struggle to write the next one.

Another lesson learned.


Knocking on the Story’s Door

I’m using this blog post in order to work my way through a writing barrier. It always helps to problem-solve through putting things into words.

The current work in progress is a dark story in a lot of ways, and draws from myths. I can see where it came from, during health issues and radiation and the ‘monsters’ we fight in all walks of our lives. I’ve put a lot of work into it and am at almost 80,000 words. The characters are joining up and I think I’m building toward the end, but there are still scenes to go.


I’ve been fighting discouragement over the story because I can’t see the individual pieces as a whole. I’ve never written something where I have multiple points of view and multiple storylines. It’s been challenging to write, but up until now has also been fun because of that challenge. I work with one group of characters and if things slow down I can simply set them aside and move on to the next group. In a way it’s like writing several stories at once, with the fun of seeing how the threads all eventually tie together in the pattern of the story as a whole.


I know how the story will end, and how all the pieces will eventually fit. But right now, writing the individual threads has become hard. I’m tired of fighting those threads, and want the lace fully woven.


Added to that, I can see that a lot of editing will be needed. I’ll have to format the manuscript first, to put all the pieces in one place. I’ll then have to read it as the whole cloth and revise where threads don’t match, or where they pull away or snag. Plus the normal editing of things I fear I’ve ignored. For example, this is a story set in rain and woods, and yet my characters seem to be moving through it under invisible umbrellas, for as dry as they stay. Another example is that they are all dealing with the inciting incident, but smaller conflicts aren’t built up enough. So once the first draft is done, there’s still going to be a lot of work to do.


And as if that wasn’t enough, a new story is tapping on the door of my imagination, trying to pull me through into its world.

I need to reignite my passion for the mythical story. I need to focus on it and quit looking for excuses to stop working on it in order to open the door wider to the new one.


I’ve thought about taking parts of the current work to my critique group for review. But at least one person was uncomfortable with the selection I took last time because they don’t like scary things. And I have to ask myself this question: am I taking a piece there to be critiqued, or to have them tell me it’s awful so I can quit?

The thing is, it’s not awful. It’s rough and not great at the moment, but I think it’s going to be okay. I owe it to the characters, and the story, to finish it.

Which means I need to ignore the new one tapping at my imagination and immerse myself back in this myth, walk with these characters as they make their way through the mountains. I’m just not sure how to do it. If I take a break from this story, I’ll never go back to it.


Okay, so I guess that means the solution is as simple as the old adage to put my butt in the chair and work.

Thanks for listening.



When Music Returns

This compulsion called writing is a strange thing. The last few months working on book three has been very difficult. I was beginning to think the story had escaped me, had moved on to someone who might be able to tell it better. But I’ve been doing this long enough now to recognize that fear.

It’s not writer’s block because if I do sit down to write, the words are there; I just can’t put fingers to pen or keyboard. Maybe it’s a lack of trust in the story and the characters. Maybe it’s a lack of trust in myself. I’ve only had this problem the last six years, which makes me wonder if sometimes my brain goes back to its radiation days, moving away from the creativity. Because this feels like a weight. I wouldn’t call that weight sadness but I suppose it could be that. It’s a sense of just not having the energy to start, exhaustion.

I’ve learned however, that if I just keep pretending, if I talk like I know what I’m talking about, if I go through the motions without actually working on the story, eventually that weight goes away.

I used to try and force the story during these time periods, but then learned the only thing that came from that was throwing away a lot of words. The story knows when you’re faking or trying too hard. And that will also show up in the writing. I can read a draft and point right to the spot when the weight descended and I started trying to force the words. The voice changes, everything becomes stilted, unfamiliar. I know now instead of forcing the story, I leave it, and just pretend to others I’m still working.

So this evening, finally, the weight went away and the words came back. Why? I have no idea other than that this time, I put music back on. The familiar tunes I used to write to. Before radiation I always wrote to specific music. It gave me that restless melancholy, that ache that’s needed to write. After radiation, when I was learning to be me again, music was a distraction and I needed silence to be able to hear the characters.

Now I’m wondering if finally, finally, I’ve returned to who I was before lymphoma. Because tonight the music was there, the weight was gone, and the characters took me by the hand and showed me the story that’s been patiently waiting.

This may not be the final fix, the last cure. I’m sure that struggle will come back. Maybe it has nothing to do with the past few years. Maybe this weight is actually a waiting space I need to inhabit during each story, in order for it to grow. We’ll see. No matter how long one writes, the process is always evolving.

Or maybe it’s simply the return of music.