Gutting It Out

Two days ago, I finished writing the first draft of a medieval novel that I started almost ten years ago.  What’s really ironic is that most of the writing occurred in the last six months.

After a decade of missing endless self-inflicted deadlines, boring family and friends, and having the main character whisper in my ear and bug me relentlessly to finish her book, I started making public goals.  Beginning in fall 2014,

  • it became my academic personal goal at work to have it finished by June 30.
  • it became my Write For the Money monthly goal at my local romance writers’ chapter.
  • it became my Write A Book goal for the same writing group.
  • it became my Finish the Damn Book goal for the Capital City Writers Association group, of which I became a member this past winter.
  • it became my oh-my-god-what-have-I-done goal once I told an agent in January who was disappointed to hear it wasn’t already finished, and who asked, “So, by the time I read your query and get back to you, it’ll be finished?” and where I said, “Yes.” As of this date, I haven’t heard back from her.  Typically, we writers prefer quicker responses, but in this case, I was fine with the slow response time.

And then it happened.  I was so close to THE END, I had to get there.

These past two weeks, I’ve been on vacation and I thought, perfect!  There’s no reason whatsoever why I can’t get these last 20 pages or so written.

The first week, I added a couple thousand words, thanks to the bi-weekly write-ins I attend.  I was encouraged, too, by fellow chapter members who are on our monthly NaNoWrMo online loop.  Their confidence propelled me forward.

I was frustrated going into the second week of my vacation not having done more, but I felt good in all the various tasks, projects, and catching up with friends and relatives I don’t get to see during the semesters much.  I was caught up on those tasks.

As the days of the second week crept by, I knew I was setting myself up for disappoint if something didn’t change.

Wednesday night at the write-in, I added another 1000 words, but it wasn’t enough.

Thursday, from 12-2 p.m., I wrote almost 3,000 words, adding 11 pages of manuscript.  I still had a long way to go to the end, considering the monthly chapter meeting was Saturday, and I knew there was no way that I wanted to get even early so that I could finish.  The good news was, I had bits and pieces of scenes already written but they needed bridges between them.  That chore, I figured, would require at least another 10 pages if not 15 or 20.

Each night, I was recording my progress to these various groups.  Two friends in particular were holding my feet to the fire.  Maris Soule expected it to be done by Friday, when I was going to visit her.  Alyssa Alexander, especially, was cheering me on, telling me I could do it.

Friday, I spent part of the day with Maris, celebrating her birthday with lunch and a river cruise, coming home tired and a little sunburned but knowing I had to finish the book.

Home at 3 p.m., I began.  By 7 p.m., I was exhausted.  I had added a lot, but when I looked at what was still needed, I thought, I can’t.  I’m not going to meet my goal.  I need to stop.  I’m tired.  I’m just going to have to say, nope, I didn’t make my goal at the chapter meeting.

And then, in my mind’s eye, I saw Maris and Alyssa’s faces hearing that news and feeling my own disappoint in saying those words.

The little voice within, the one I’ve learned to listen and trust, started chirping at me:  You can do this.  Gut it out.  Just do it!

 And gut it out I did.  Already exhausted, I stayed in that chair, typing faster and faster, fully engaged in a stream-of-conscious writing, digging deep into the soul of this character from whom the words were pouring.

I ignored whether I was using the right tense, whether the sentence has clarity, and if I was using the most correct word.  In a few places where I struggled, I simply put XXX and added a few reminder words, followed by another XXX.  These XXXs are easy for me to later find and go back and fix the problem, which often is more plot or consistency related.  There are probably 50 such problems throughout the manuscript already, but I’ve learned not to edit when laying down that first draft.  Often finishing the draft resolves many of those issues, so they become easy fixes later.

I kept moving forward.

I gutted it out.

And then it happened.  I reached THE END.  Ecstasy!

I looked at the clock: 9:30 p.m.  I was starving, having forgotten to eat.  I printed the pages, three-whole punched them, and placed them into the sacred notebook that holds these draft pages, which I carry around with me everywhere, and from which I edit.

Gutting it out is what I did when writing my last two romances, one of which the first draft took me only eight days to write after completing a full outline.  Gutting it out is what I did when making life changes and leaving unhappy marriages and moving into the unknown futures.  Gutting it out is what I did while working on my dissertation when my sister died and my mother began having more health issues that required my involvement.  Gutting it out is what I did when needing to finish my dissertation so I could graduate on time.

Gutting it out.  It’s a goal completer.  At least it’s my goal completer and the best way for me to finish amazing goals.

Yes, gutting it out is a sacrifice of energy, time, and even relationships, but these goals are MY goals.  No one else’s.

I derive great strength in knowing I’ve gutted my way through the pain and came out the other side triumph.  Successful.  And loving what I do.

Gutting it out is not easily seen, but it is thoroughly experienced by those who do what needs to be done, what needs to be completed, so that it can become part of the past as another stair step that lifts us into our futures.

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Storyboarding: Creating Structure to a Project

I love Orly Konig-Lopez’s blog Writing in the Storm, and particularly today’s Writing Process Throwdown.  She talks about her plotting method, which is one I use.

Basically, it’s a method I borrowed years ago from Hollywood’s storyboarding, where the story is put into small pictures and pinned to a board for all to review.

Instead of pictures, I use Post-It Notes with a few words that depict a scene.  I use different colored sticky notes to depict different actions or character plotlines.  For example, here’s a story I created one Halloween night in just a couple of hours, based on an idea I had for a thriller.

Diana's plotting board

It’s a scientific board, much like the ones students use for their science projects.  The board as a tri-fold divide my stories into three acts (based on the folds) naturally.  My boards are based on the plotting devices that authors Chris Vogler in The Writers’s Journey, Syd Field in Screenplay, and Blake Snyder in Save the Cat! wrote about, and methods that David Freeman and Michael Hauge discuss in their writing workshops, and I’ve attended several from both.

For this particular story, which I originally created on Halloween more than a decade ago, the reddish brown notes indicate psychological elements, the purple are emotional elements, the blue are physical  elements,  The mossy green are simply descriptions of place, and the brown, pink, and yellow notes each belong to a character.

As that Halloween evening got later, the more intense the plot became, and I started scaring myself.  Badly.  Finally, I had to quit so that I could sleep that night.  That story has stayed with me since and I will return to it soon.

The plotting still needs work.  In fact, I haven’t touch the story since that night because I was in school and homework took up all my free writing time, along with my working full-time as an office supervisor.  Since then, I’ve obtained four degrees, which enabled me to change careers from business to academia and a job I love, where I teach others how to write.

Now that I’ve returned my focus to my creative writing once again, I’m pulling out my boards.  Some are large with the tri-fold scientific boards and others are small with file folders and tiny Post-It notes.

Diana's tiny plotting board

What I like most about plotting this way is:

  • The entire story is visual at a glance
  • The story is easy to carry around with me (file folders method)
  • Colored sticky notes enables me to see where I have holes in the plotting
  • Nothing gets disturbed

I used to use 3×5 index cards but I found them clumsy and awkward for large stories.  They’d spill.  I’d have to spread them out on a wide surface—often on the floor or tack them to a cork board, which made for sore fingers pushing in all those pushpins or thumb tacks.  And then, I’d have to remove them, picking them up in order, numbering them in case of spillage.  And then when I would rearrange them, I’d have to renumber them.  I didn’t like that I couldn’t see the story in its entirely the way I wanted.

While the index cards can work for smaller works, such as an essay or short story, I prefer the Post-In Notes method for larger works:  books, full plays, and screenplays.

Once my plotting is done, I type up the notes and that document becomes my outline from which I write.  Essentially, every project is fully plotted or structured and the structure is always with me as I write.  The outline provides me with direction should I start feeling lost or get off topic.

Even though my plotting is done, I keep the board or file folder as it is and just file it with all my other notes and research documents.  Once in a while, when the first draft writing was done, I discovered that the structure wasn’t working, so I was able to restructure visually and quickly before attempting to move huge blocks of texts, which we all know can get messy.

Actually, I rarely use index cards anymore.  I much prefer the versatility of the sticky notes regardless of the project:  academic, creative, small, large, and everything in between.

What do you think?  Do you have a method/process that works for you?  Do you have a different style of using sticky notes?

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Managing Potential Submissions

I subscribe to a number of writing newsletters that alert me of contests and open submissions.  As an academic, I get lots of Call of Paper announcements, to which I can submit papers or presentation proposals to journals and conferences.  Presentations have been easy for me to put together and perform.  Judging scripts and manuscripts and reviewing journal articles have deadlines, so those tasks are relatively easy to perform.  Not so with papers I want to submit unsolicited, and the stack is high.

My inbox probably receives about 50 of these every week.  I get excited thinking, oh, I could submit X paper or Y paper, but wait, they both need revision for those journals or publishers.  So, I keep the announcement in my inbox as a reminder, or I move the announcement to my Call of Paper or Contest file folders thinking I’ll go back in and find it when I’m ready to submit.  (I spend a lot of time, getting excited, and then making goals.)

The problem is the deadline passes before I have time to dig the project out the pile or get it revised in the short time period.  Sadly or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, I have a lot of papers that are finished but need revision work of some kind.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as changing the style from APA to Chicago or MLA, but even that kind of revision takes time.

The problem is that I always feel I’m always behind and can’t get ahead.  (Wait a minute . . . didn’t I just say that in a previous blog—Life’s Little Hiccups.  Am I seeing a theme here?)

I prefer to work pro-actively.  Is it possible that I’m performing this process backwards?

At one time, I thought tracking various deadlines would help.  It didn’t.  I became bogged down with maintaining a list I wasn’t even using, because my time was spent collecting these deadlines and on the spreadsheet I was creating from them, rather than on the writing.

The focus needs to change.  My first step was to save these announcements in hardcopy format as it’s far easier to flip through a stack of papers than it is to open and close numerous e-mails.  I created files folders: one for academic journals, one for Hollywood, and so forth, all within easy reach of my computer.  DONE.

Why save them you ask?  Because I’ve learned that many of these institutions repeat these contests, conferences, or calls, which leads me to my next step.

Second, my goal is to revise one paper at a time, until I think it’s ready for submission, then go search for an appropriate publisher, journal, agent, editor, and so forth.  I’ll go to my hardcopy file folder and find an appropriate place for submission.  If the deadline has already passed, the manuscript and the submission notice goes into a ticker file (by month) so that when the next deadline arrives, I’ll be ready.  TO BE DONE.

As you can see, I’m in the middle of changing my methodology.  I’m hoping this method will work.  It’s one I’m going to put into implementation during this year’s Christmas break.  If the method doesn’t work, I’ll have to revisit my process.  Of course, I’m always open to ideas.

So, I’m wondering.  How do you deal with the plethora of ideas, getting them finished, and then submitted?  Was it a struggle for you in the beginning?  Have you found your rhythm?  Or do you still struggle with the entire process?

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Life’s Little Hiccups

I’m behind.  Again.

I wish I could say that I don’t know how it happens, but actually, I do know how it happens.


And a lack of making writing the priority it deserves.

What’s frustrating is that I know better than this!

June was my last blog before this one and the “Dear Plant” blog posted earlier tonight.  July, I spent dealing with my mother’s care and then dealing with her funeral at the end of the month.

What surprised me was the depression that followed.  I hadn’t felt that depression when my father died in 2008 or when my sister died in 2012, so why was I experiencing it now?  Was it because when their deaths occurred, I’d been writing regularly due to hefty deadlines where I buried myself in the writing instead?

I think so.

While I had a writing project that I was carrying around with me when dealing with Mom’s health issues and then, ultimately, her death, I had no deadlines, so the writing could be postponed.

So July melded into August as I prepared for the new academic year.  I noticed that despite the work, my depression wasn’t lifting like I would have liked.  Then, I became buried and exhausted with all of my work, which was more atypical than normal and with new responsibilities.  Basically, I was too tired to think.  Or write.

Only at the beginning of November, when some of the responsibility eased was I able to breathe again.  I got my writing out and was making headway doing some kind of writing every day, proudly putting red Xs on my calendar.  (Jerry Seinfeld would have been proud!)   And the more I wrote, the better I was starting to feel.

And then, BLAM! I found myself involved in a multi-vehicle (over 20, with 3 semi-trucks, a tow-truck, and police car) crash due a sudden white out on the highway, after having left town with the sun shining and only wet cement.  Michigan weather and living within the lake-effect weather zone, the weather can change quickly, and so it did that day.  Fortunately, there were no deaths, and only one driver seriously injured.  I had a few bumps and bruises, but I was okay.  The car, however, was not.  It was totaled.

That following week was a blur, filled with teaching, doctor appointments, and having to find a new car.  But now, I’m back on the writing track and with renewed energy.

Frankly, I had asked the Universe to put deadlines in my path, so that I would be forced to write.  How quickly the Universe reacted.  Deadlines I had wished for, I got!   A new writing opportunity was presented to me, which I took without hesitation, plus I volunteered to be part of a short-story anthology.  Work deadlines began piling up too, far earlier than usual for the end of the semester.

Despite all these deadlines, here I am writing.  What’s that old adage about the busier we get, the more we get done?

Yes, I’m several blogs behind, but that’s okay.  I’ve learned some lessons about myself and life as I’ve traveled through summer and fall’s events, and . . .

I’m joyously happy to find that I’m losing track of time again as I write.  Yup, I’ve reclaimed that zone.

Even better, that novel I’ve been trying and wanting to finish all year, well, I made getting that first draft finished as a professional goal at work, which has a spring deadline.

I have every confidence the book will finally get written.

Bottom line:  I do well with deadlines.  How about you?

Posted in Jerry Seinfeld writing trick, Joy of Writing, Motivation, Procrastination, Setting goals, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dear Plant . . .

Lilly Conference
Traverse City, MI
October 2014

Dear Plant,

I miss your green, your silent acceptance of my work, even when I’m goofing off.

Oh, dear, did I forget to give you extra water?  I don’t worry about you as much as I do about your younger siblings—plants I’ve only had only a year or less—however, they are succulents and should be okay with drier conditions.

I always forget how you found your way into my plant celibate life, that I rescue you from a window shelf when I was working at Kellogg’s in various offices the summer of 2002.  You’d been deserted, stuck on that ledge by someone no longer there, and with no one claiming you, you were on your last breath, dirt totally dry, crumpling quite a bit in the sun.

What amazes me about you is your ability to thrive in the dark with little light other than the weak rays that filter in through the slabs, and even with our Michigan gray weather, which is definitely transitioning into its fall rains, you still thrive and bloom offering me quarterly pearly blossoms and new shoots almost monthly.

Looking forward to seeing and being with you again.

Love, gee how should I sign this?  Mom?  Your friend?  Your keeper?  I know I call you Buddy quite frequently and know how you prefer being near my desk, near my work, but what do you call me?  Hmm, I need to listen more carefully, don’t I?

See you on Sunday!


P.S.  This letter was an assignment for a workshop.  After writing this letter, the session leader wanted us to rewrite it, since we needed to have asked questions about your plans, what you’ve been doing (ha, like I don’t know what you’ve been doing while I’m gone!), all of which is to inspire you to write back.  Yeah, like that’s going to happen.  Besides, I think this is a damn, fine letter.


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The One Trait Every Writer Needs


The persistent writer

  1.  Submits their[1] work.
  2. Accepts rejection. (It’s not personal).
  3. Accepts criticism.
  4. Wants criticism because they know growth occurs when mistakes are pointed out.  Plus, criticism means the writer engaged the reader, if not hit a nerve.
  5. Pays attention to the details.
  6. Rewrites.
  7. Resubmits.

And repeats steps 6 & 7 repeatedly until SUCCESS (acceptance/publication) is finally achieved.


  1. [1] Yes, you grammarians, I used a singular noun with a plural pronoun.  This duality is acceptable and fast becoming a norm.  Why?  It’s considered wordy to say his or her when talking about more than one person, and it’s too sexist to pick one or the other.


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Publishing Online – Not For the Faint of Heart

In 1993, I published my first book.  I was in the right place at the right time, with a finished manuscript—several to be exact.  I was waiting for preparedness to meet opportunity, which is what being in the right place at the right time really means for a writer.

At the time, I was a member of Romance Writers of America and was asked if I wanted to be the editor/writer of a regular round-up column, taking over for a writer friend.  The bi-monthly column involved me contacting editors asking for their current needs.  I climbed on board enthusiastically.  What a great way to place myself further in front of editors!

About a year later, Milburn Smith, called me.  He was the editor of Starlog Press, a publisher of magazines in science fiction and fantasy.  The company wanted to expand into the romance genre.  After all, at the time romance novels was the biggest genre share of all books sold and still is today.[1]

Milburn gave me all the necessary information I needed to include Starlog Press in the roundup column.  And then, he said, “If you know of any writer out there who has a romance manuscript in their bottom drawer, send them my way.”


I said, “Well, actually, I do know of someone.  Me.”

“Send me the manuscript,” he said.

So, I did.

A couple weeks later, he called me.  He told me that he liked my writing style but that the story wasn’t quite what he was looking for.  Did I have anything else?

As a matter of fact, I did.  He told me to send it.

A week later, he called.  He started with, “I just read the most wonderful book.”

“You did?”  I was hoping.  I held my breath.

“Yes, your book.  And I have to tell you I feel like I just discovered Karen Robards all over again.”  He went on to tell me how he had discovered her about twenty years earlier.[2]

I couldn’t believe it.  I was 42 years old and about to have my first book published.  About four years prior, I had vowed if I reached 40 and hadn’t published any book, I was going to stop writing.  I’d been writing for over a decade and wasn’t making any progress.  Even a close writer friend couldn’t understand why I wasn’t selling any of my books.  She claimed my heels were the only thing still on the edge of the cliff.  Why I hadn’t fallen off the publishing cliff was a mystery to her.

When I turned 40, I realized I was so close that I couldn’t give up.  So, there I was two years later achieving that dream.   What a difference my life would be now if I had given up.

Fast forward to a decade later, when I was able to get my rights back.  As the online publishing environment heated up, I thought I could reprint the book, making it available to a greater mass market than had been obtained on its initial 1993 release, which was magazine stands only.

Finally, earlier this summer, I began editing the manuscript.  I was a bit chagrined at the errors I found and no wonder.  Since its original publication, I had earned four degrees, which include creative writing and English specialties; my grammar and punctuation skills had definitely improved since that time.  Additionally, I teach writing so those skills are reinforced every semester.  While the errors I found weren’t that bad, *I* noticed them and now they weren’t acceptable.

I was delighted and surprised to find that my story still held up, that it was better than I had remembered.  I did have to make a number of corrections and clear up some wordiness or unclear meaning here and there; but overall, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected.

The Formatting

I always tell my students that good writing is always about the details.  Converting my manuscript to acceptable online formatting was truly about the details.  I combed through that manuscript as if I was looking for microscopic eggs that could hatch into reader displeasure.  I lost count of the number of passes I made through it.

To format the manuscript properly required that I read Smashword’s manual.  Any errors could prevent my submitted book from being sent out to retailers.  I wanted a smooth journey.

The Cover

And then, I had to include a cover.  Talk about a learning curve.  I could hire it out or create my own.  I wanted to see if I could create my own.  I was up for the challenge, and what a challenge it became.

Another learning curve on the cover creation software I had purchased a couple of years earlier but hadn’t explored yet.  That curve included another manual.

Many hours of online searching, looking for the perfect public domain photos, preferably free.  In the end, I purchased them.

I needed a new title.  While The Man on the Romance Cover was an okay title, I had never really liked it.  My original title had been Fuss and Feathers, but that title didn’t fit anymore either.  Eventually, I decided on Determined.  When I was talked to a writer friend about the title she commented that it didn’t describe a romance and suggested I add “hearts,” so Determined Hearts, it became.

The creation began.  Many attempts.  Many failures.  And then, finally, success.

The cover created, the bio, short, and long blurbs written, I submitted the book.  It was accepted!  And, hooray (!), it passed initial inspection with no errors.

A week later, however, I got the message that the cover wasn’t appropriate—not enough pixels.

Another learning curve.  How many pixels equaled an inch?  How many inches did I need to reach the minimum total required?

Finally, I discovered that I could create my cover using a PowerPoint slide—software that I’m reasonably experienced with, and that once I saved it as a PEG or PNG file, I could easily resize it in my PhotoStudio Expressions program, with which I was even more experienced.

I can’t say this journey of self-publishing was the easiest; it has had its challenges.  However, this challenge was educational:  I learned new programs, new processes, and found new websites.

Now, if I’ve done every thing correctly, I should be getting a notice that the book went into the Smashword’s Premier Catalog distribution.

I’m crossing my fingers just in case.


P.S.  Wouldn’t you know it.  I originally published this particular blog with a HUGE grammar error in the title–feint of heart, instead of faint of heart.    Yup, I still continue to make those dastardly little beastie errors.



[2] I’d like to hope that someday I’ll get to ask Karen about her side of the story—what it was like, how did it feel, what book did he discover . . .

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Facebook Writing Challenges Accountability Group

I don’t know about you, but when I make public my writing goals, I have better results.

What about you?

Would you like a place on Facebook (FB) where you can state your WIP (work in progress) goal(s), ask a question, and possibly get some direction from another writer?  Looking for inspiration, motivation, or just a chance to chat with someone who understands what you’re doing?

Then come take a look at my Writing Challenges Accountability Group that started with a few and has now been turned into a public forum.

Check it out!

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Writing about Emotions & Feelings

Emotions & Feelings - Pinterest photo

Finding this chart of “Emotions & Feelings” on Pinterest today, I was reminded of a time when I was worrying and feeling high anxiety due to a stressful event that had my emotions inside out and upside down. All I could do was pace the room and look out the window every other minute. I’d sit down and get right back up and pace again. My hands would fist, open, only to fist again. My heart raced and I was sweating that smelly kind of sweat associated with fear.

As I paced, I realized that there was absolutely nothing I could do about the situation and all this pacing was getting me nowhere.

My thoughts turned to writing and how difficult it was, at times, to capture an emotion of anger, fear, worry, or anxiety, especially when I was feeling happy.

I thought, Why not write down my emotions and observations of my body’s reactions? Then when I was writing a scene where I needed those physical traits and words, they’d be at hand.

Immediately, I set to work capturing what I was feeling, quickly absorbed in the project, which then led to writing a scene that I’d earlier been struggling with before this event had taken place. A couple of hours later, exhausted by the writing, I stopped and only then realized I’d mentally moved beyond the event.

Looking back at it entire situation, I also realized that all that anxiety was for naught, as it was pure reactionary feelings, with no resolution. It was one of my first experiences of learning how to let go, to back away with trying to resolve a situation that I would have only made worse had I responded.

Since that time, I’ve learned that whenever I’m facing a situation where I find myself steeped with worry, reactionary thoughts, or fear of the outcome, I need to let it go, realize that the situation will be okay in time, and to bury myself in some type of writing or creative process.

More than once, the craft of writing has rescued me from myself.

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Why I Write

Because I *like* on Facebook, I get notices of their online, short writing contests.  Unfortunately, I read about a recent contest, “Why I Write,” too late for entry.  Not able to share there, I’m now sharing it here:

I write to discover the magic of words that can prod, reveal, realize, fantasize, and inflame the possibilities of mind (yours and mine) for all the tomorrows.  I write for the promise of understanding, empathy, laughter, and sharing that grounds us to our souls of imagination.

That’s why *I* write.  In 50 words or less, why do you write?

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