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The Rich Writer

The Rich Writer: November 2009

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Monday, November 30, 2009


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That’s all. Happy happy happy here.

:) Cheryl


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Things I’m learning from NaNoWriMo

I suffered a crisis of confidence during this last week of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated). One week left to write--including Thanksgiving day--and I still had 18,000 words to go.

Could I do it? Maybe.

Was it worth it? I was starting to be less and less certain.

I’ve been demanding a bit more of myself during this year’s event. I’ve been revising (a big no-no) and doing a fair bit of pre-writing, so that when I did write, the material was good. It’s been great for my page output—I’ve written far more than I would have otherwise—but with 18K to the finish line and far too few days to write them, revision and pre-writing would have to go by the wayside. Doubt attacked. Should I be pushing so hard? Am I neglecting family in order to meet a meaningless goal? Will I even be able to use the writing I’m producing?

Time and again, reason told me to quit. Time and again, I kept plugging forward. I knew I probably couldn’t make it, but I couldn’t…quite…give up.

There are a few days left until the finish and, miraculously, I think I’m going to make it. In the end, this year’s NaNo is proving to be incredibly beneficial, despite all my doubts to the contrary. So…here’s my partial list of what I’ve learned during this month of craziness:

  1. You know those little motivational emails NaNo sends out every week to encourage writers forward? They really help. Encouragement isn’t a waste of time, but a way to refill my creative tank.
  2. When doubt attacks, just keep plugging forward. Experience shows that I’ll (eventually) come out on the other side.
  3. I’ve learned that if I practice long enough, even I—and avowed pen-and-paper gal—can learn to write first draft material on the keyboard. It’s much faster!
  4. Even when I feel like I’m writing useless schlock, it’s never long before the scene starts to come to life for me. Maybe I won’t be able to use this draft of the novel word for word, but through the practice of intense word production, I’ve made discoveries that will appear in the final draft. Over and over again.
  5. Reaching for an impossible-seeming goal stretches me in more ways than I ever expect. It’s led to a month of rediscovering what I value about writing—and rediscovering how to balance writing with the rest of my life. It’s also stretched my ability to write quickly, which is a valuable thing for any writer to learn to do.

Even if I don’t write another  word this month, I’ve already gained more than expected from this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Sometimes, pushing yourself is the only way to discover what you’re capable of doing…and discovering your best is, I think, one of the keys to thriving on the writer’s road.

:-) Cheryl

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Barefoot Burglar

I’m writing draft #1 of my latest YA novel—and every once in a while, I lose my forward momentum. That’s usually a sign that I’m missing something. Even though I *attempt* to do a thorough job mapping out plot, characters, and setting ahead of time, I hit inevitable bumps and hitches when I actually write the story. The trick is knowing what to do about them.

One of my favorite strategies is to travel to the area where the story is set—in this case, in the San Juan Islands in the Pacific NW. Unfortunately, I don’t have the funds to hop on a plane, fly up there, and rent a sailboat for a week, so sometimes I substitute research of a more practical bent…like reading the area’s local newspaper.

You gotta love living in a time when you can read about the sheriff’s clothing choice at a recent speech to the San Juan Lion’s Club, or find a blow-by-blow account of the Wolverines’ latest soccer match.

Not that I’ll use the soccer game scores in my book. However, the case of the barefoot burglar is definitely going to inspire some local color for the tale.

The barefoot burglar is a local teen who’s been on an 18-month spree of breaking and entering, theft, and, most recently, joyriding in airplanes. Apparently, he has little trouble avoiding the local police force—which shouldn’t be such a big surprise, because the islands don’t have the manpower to track down one kid on several islands filled with vacation homes, trees, deer, and the occasional bald eagle.

My favorite character in the tale isn’t the kid, though. It’s the mother, who threatened to chase reporters off her property with a shotgun—and then proceeded to give them a lengthy interview. She talks about her son with a mixture of sympathy, worry, and pride. She told reporters "I hope to hell he stole those airplanes — I would be so proud. But put in there that I want him to wear a parachute next time." (from Gene Johnson’s AP article “Teenage burglar moves on to stealing planes, eludes police on islands north of Seattle”.)

Yeah, this is the kind of character detail that makes me grin. Two sentences and you can totally picture this woman, right? Thanks, Ms. Kohler. You’ve helped me find my way back into the story!

:-) Cheryl

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another brain-body link

As a writer who always has more projects than time to pursue them,* I’m always tempted to spend all my free time writing. ALL, as in skipping meals, sleep, exercise, laundry, and other more or less essential activities.

You probably all know what a bad idea that is…but just in case you need some extra encouragement to step outside your writing space occasionally, recent research published in the Journal of Health Psychology found a direct link between exercise and how people feel about their appearance. That is, people who exercise have a better body image than those who don’t—whether or not they’re actually physically fit. It seems that the act of exercise boosts self-esteem, even if the exercise doesn’t immediately knock off twenty pounds.

In my experience, I write more quickly and productively when I feel good about myself. Kinda cool to know that, in addition to all its other benefits, exercise can help keep my mind in a great place to create!

So…get out and exercise. And then write!

:) Cheryl

*This is a character trait, not a simple question of needing more time; my project list grows to fill all available time plus 25-50%. Believe me, I’ve tested.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gift Ideas: Books, Books, Books!

This year, as last, Moonratty over at Editorial Ass has compiled her list of books for a variety of different gift-ees. Looking for a book that will appeal to your 10-year-old niece? Your dad? Your English teacher? Yourself? Visit the Mischief Book List 2009 and enjoy!


Monday, November 23, 2009

The sidetracked writer


Theoretically, there are many ways a writer might get distracted when working on the first draft of her latest YA project. For instance, she might:

  • Stop to research the perfect name an orca might give to itself
  • Need to discover whether harbor seals sleep hauled out on land or if they sleep in the water—and then need to spend time learning about “bottling” (see above pic), the tricky seal habit of sleeping while bobbing upright in the water
  • Check email, Facebook, etc.
  • Go to get a coffee refill
  • Pay attention to the laundry piles growing in the laundry room
  • …and after all that, she might forget that her original purpose was to write the darned scene, with or without the above information.

This is why all writers need to discover brackets. You keep forward momentum much better when you’re willing to write [insert clever comeback here] instead of stopping the writing to actually come up with said clever comeback.

Could you please remind me of that the next time I stop writing to find out the social habits of harbor seals?

:) Cheryl

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

This week’s Tweets on how to dodge subconscious blocks and WRITE THE STORY

Urban Gardener

Write the Story 22: Obsess on setting: read travel blogs & local news. Plaster pictures on your desktop. Find sounds & smells that inspire.

Write the Story 23: Obsess on sensation: roleplay characters’ physical actions - notice every sensory detail as if for the first time.

…for example: How does it feel to climb out of the sea and have cold wind blow dry your skin?

WTS 24: Mindfulness meditation: how slowing down for a few minutes can speed up your writing (among other benefits)

If you’re interested, come join me at @CherylRWrites for Tweets to help you overcome creative blocks and thrive on the writer’s road.

:) Cheryl

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy writing thought for the day

I like it when my readers like something about one of my characters that I like about myself. Not that all my characters—or even most of them—are autobiographical, but bits and pieces of them are. When someone sees a bit of me in my writing, and likes it, that makes me happy :).



Monday, November 16, 2009

Cut the flab!


I went running again today! This is exciting, because I’d been doing so well, slowly working my way toward running a 5K—and then I had a bit of a tussle with life, travel, and general busy-ness and fell of the running wagon for a few weeks.

Wow, that was a lot of metaphors to mix into a single sentence.

Anyways, my thought for the day was that running would be a lot easier on my knees* if I were about 25 pounds lighter. That became my running chant for the morning: Cut the flab, yes cut the flab! It will motivate me to choose apples over apple pie the next time I wander into the kitchen looking for a snack.

And, since I seem to think of everything in terms of writing, I wondered if the same idea could apply to my writing life. Is there any “flab” I can cut away that will make me a more efficient, more enduring writer? Any energy-drainers that I can eliminate from my life?

So that’s my goal for the day: cut out a bit of mental, emotional, or physical flab, because even if it’s not directly impacting my writing, anything that weighs me down makes forward progress a little bit tougher.

I’m thinking laundry might be the first to go :). That or the silly plant in the living room that won’t quite die** but never looks good. Hmm. This requires thought.

:) Cheryl

*My knees are the rate-limiting factor in my training—my knees conk out while the rest of my body is still happy to keep going.

**Yes, yes, I’ve tried. Trust me. I’ve neglected it, stopped watering it, haven’t fed it in years…but every once in a while someone takes pity on the poor thing and waters it and it hangs onto its pathetic existence a little bit longer. Sigh. What does that say about me, that I haven’t been able to throw out an ugly houseplant for three years?

Okay, dear readers, it’s decided: by the end of the day, the houseplant will meets its maker. I will no longer allow it to suck the life out of me! I will no longer allow…

Um, sorry. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming….

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Work in Progress: an excerpt

After all my posts about orcas, seals, and the San Juan Islands, I thought I’d better prove that I’m actually *writing* about these things. Here’s the opening of my current work-in-progress, a YA realistic fantasy that I’m trying very hard to finish by the end of the month. It begins not in the San Juans, but in Argentina. I hope you enjoy it!



I only have one memory of my mother. We’re in the ocean together, riding waves and laughing, me clinging to her neck with one arm while I splash with the other. My feet rest on her side; I can feel the rhythm of her legs pulse through me as she treads water. Dark hair sticks to her face with wet, then fans around her shoulders where it hits the waves.

This is the memory I use to fall asleep at night, so vivid that if I close my eyes, I can taste the salt. I can feel the water’s gentle roll and the sun, warm, against my cheeks.

“It can’t be real, Cass,” Dan says.

Part of me agrees: the facts don’t add up. The water temperature in the Pacific Northwest, where we lived when Mom was alive, is a chilly 48 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit year round, not exactly great for swimming with a toddler. How could it have happened?

But another part of me won’t let it go, because the memory feels true, the kind of true that trumps facts.

I am thinking of this now because there’s a sea lion bobbing in the water just offshore from where I’m sitting. The sight reminds me of how it feels, to float and roll with the waves’ movement. He looks like he’s enjoying himself.

I’m sitting on a rise above a pebbled beach, arms wrapped around my knees so I’ll present the least possible target for the wind gusting in off the Atlantic. I’m watching the sea lions. Most of them have settled on land by this time of evening. Only a few yards from the one in the water, the pebbled beach is carpeted with lumps of fur and flippers, sea lions flopped to rest singly and in piles, like a kid’s toys scattered across the shore. Only a few show signs of life, heaving onto their flippers and hustling to some better spot, and I hear the occasional bark rise above the surf’s roar. Gulls stalk their way between them, ignored by all.

In the water, the sea lion stretches his neck high and peers out to sea.

I have just time to wonder what he might have seen when a black torpedo surges up beside him. It doesn’t break the water’s surface. I can see the sleek, powerful shape as if through blurred glass: an orca, tall dorsal fin slicing upward out of the water, white eye patches sliding beneath a film of wave like twin, misplaced spots of sea foam.

Wind whips away my breath; I’m on my feet, even though I don’t remember standing, as the sea lion leaps clear of the water. His front flippers are flat against his sides, his body a graceful comma, as he arcs through the air and dives into froth—the froth churned by the orca’s thrashing head.

I shouldn’t be seeing this.

:) Cheryl

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday’s Funky Fact

Your nose might look like a single entity, but when it comes to smelling, the two nostrils seem to operate independently. Denise Chen of Rice University pumped two different odors into a volunteer’s nose. One nostril got a whiff of roses; the other, felt-tipped marker.

The result wasn’t what you might expect. The subject didn’t smell a blend of the two odors. Instead, the smell flip-flipped between the two: they’d smell rose, then marker, and so on.

Seems as if the nostrils have to take turns sending their signals to the brain. Who knew?

I learned this funky fact by listening to the AAAS Science Update podcast, September 24, 2009. Hope you think it’s as cool as I do!

:) Cheryl

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

This week’s Tweets on how to dodge subconscious blocks and WRITE THE STORY

iStock_000007354779XSmall Write the Story 14: New blog post – researching first love [Okay, that’s a bit self-referential, but I didn’t want to confuse the rare individual who might actually be keeping track of my bizarre numbering system]

Write the Story 15: Success inspires: Enter a contest such as THE WRITER’s scholarship competition (due 3/1/10)

...or enter the Pike’s Peak Writers contest (due 11/15/09) for critiques and a chance to meet an editor or agent

Write the Story 16: Train to write the way you'd train for a race--and sign up for a "race" like NaNo for motivation

Write the Story 17: Explore place. Need ideas how to do so? Check out the November 2009 issue of The Writer

Write the Story 18: Seek fire's hypnotic inspiration—at your own fireplace (if you’re so lucky), a local Starbucks, or in a candle’s flame .

Write the Story 19: The more intensively you write, the more you need to refuel: read great books, walk down the street, people watch!

Write the Story 20: Dig for ideas - see blog post "On prairie dogs, seeds, and elusive ideas"

Write the Story 21: Obsess. Imagine your next scene while falling asleep; let your subconscious work; wake early to write what results!

If you’re interested, come join me at @CherylRWrites for Tweets to help you overcome creative blocks and thrive on the writer’s road.

:) Cheryl

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Prairie Dogs, Seeds, and Elusive Ideas

pd_headshotI was out early this morning, early enough that frost still shimmered on the ground and the air still had a bit of bite, even though it’s supposed to get up to 60F here today. It was also early enough that the prairie dogs hadn’t yet ventured out of their burrows. Can’t say I blame them. Even if they are all delightfully fat and fluffy in preparation for winter, who wants to scratch through frost and ice to find breakfast?

Most prairie dogs don’t hibernate, although they do something similar when the weather’s at its worst. On milder days, though, you can see them scurrying about and sitting up on their haunches to make sure you aren’t planning to run up and say “boo.” All this activity means they have to eat.

That got me thinking: what do prairie dogs eat for breakfast in the winter? In the summer, you can watch them nibble at all the greenery in the area. They like to keep it nicely trimmed so no coyotes can sneak up on them. In the winter, though, prairie dog towns revert to dry dirt and scattered leaves.

I noticed, this morning, that the earth around and between the burrows was marked with hundreds of little holes. They were all between three and five inches deep, maybe two inches across; they made the dirt look a bit like a playground sandbox.

What the heck was that about? And then it came to me: the prairie dogs were digging for seeds, sifting through the dirt for tiny morsels of nutrition.

This post is getting long, so here’s the point: It strikes me that, as writers, sometimes we feel like we’re in a barren place. Either we’re at a loss for words or ideas, or we feel too tired or drained to put pen to paper; but I think we’re kind of like those prairie dogs. It might look like we’re sitting in the midst of nothing, but if we dig, if we search patiently, we’ll discover the tiny grains of meaning hidden in our everyday experience.

Happy writing—or digging. Whichever seems right.

:) Cheryl


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Note to self: you do NOT need to look up every unknown word


For instance, if you’re looking at the ingredient list for your dogs’ chew toys, you might not want to know what the word “pizzle” means. Especially if you’re currently holding said chew toys in your bare hands.

I’m just sayin’.

:P Cheryl


Monday, November 9, 2009

A problem of schedules

The problem with schedules…is that theoretically, I have this lovely writing schedule, with time set aside for fiction, nonfiction, lunch, exercise, and admin stuff (you know, like typing up the fiction from the day before’s writing.) It looks very practical and useful.

But if I start my day by writing fiction, I tend to get on a roll, and then I don’t want to let go of it, so I write through my scheduled times for lunch, exercise, and nonfiction writing. By then I’m so exhausted that I need a break—which eats up my time for admin.

If I start something else first, though, I don’t ever GET to the fictino writing.

Ah, well. If something’s really really important, I can always start it first. I do usually get to the FIRST thing on my list. And meanwhile, I would rather have too many wonderful things in my life than too few!

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

The data’s in: nice guys DON’T always finish last

Recent research at Binghamton University and the University of Arizona casts new light on the nice guy versus aggressive jerk question. Who is more successful, the polite gentleman or the pushy fellow who won’t take no for an answer? The answer appears in the November 6 issue of Science Magazine.

This is a very important question for YA writers, don’t ya think?

water strider

It turns out that these scientists study attraction in water striders rather than in humans, but their findings seem to translate to human culture pretty well. When a male jerk (water strider) approaches a group of female water striders, the females bug out (bad pun intended, and no, water striders aren’t really bugs, my fine fellow science geeks…) If a female happens upon a gentleman of a strider, though, she sticks around. Pretty soon, the nice guys are surrounded by females while the jerks…I don’t know, maybe they get into a bar fight?

Take heart, all you sweetheart males in the world. As soon as the gals notice you, you’ll be the center of attention.

I’m not sure this is good news for the girls, though. It might explain why most of the good guys are taken….

:) Cheryl

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

October Tweets: How to dodge subconscious blocks and WRITE THE STORY

Write the Story #9: Re-read a favorite writing inspiration book, sa Bird by Bird (Lamott), Take Joy (Yolen), or Page After Page (Sellers)

Write the Story #10: Re-read a favorite writing craft book sa Stein on Writing (Stein), Writing the Breakout Novel (Maass), or Story (McKee)

Write the Story, #11: Find a book you admire; re-read passages to study craft. (Great post on this:

Write the Story #12: Retreat and write! Writing retreats are a great way to find focus, inspiration, and like-minded creative folks. Heaven.

On retreats: A retreat with other writers can energize you with feedback, brainstorming sessions, and a safe haven for your creative self.

Write the story: RT @chavelaque: Fellow plot dorks, behold these charts by the wonderful Jennifer Crusie (@CrusieNews):

Write the story #13: a change of scenery can do wonders toward enticing your muse. Try a coffee shop, library, or park bench.

If you’re interested, come join me at @CherylRWrites for Tweets to help you overcome creative blocks and thrive on the writer’s road.

:) Cheryl


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I love being a writer…

…because I spent the afternoon watching videos like these and can honestly say it was for my work. These are research for my current WIP, because the main character recently lived on the Valdez Peninsula in Argentina, where she and her father studied orcas.

I wanted to discover details about what it might be like to live there—and since I don’t have a few thousand to plunk down on a trip (as always, my first research choice) I took a virtual journey a la You-Tube.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009


If you’re a full-time undergrad student, check out the seventh annual Sylvia K. Burack Scholarship offered by The Writer magazine. The winner receives a $500 scholarship and a year’s subscription to The Writer.

Entry Deadline: March 1, 2010


Monday, November 2, 2009

Researching First Love

snowgirl I'm writing a YA novel in which love plays a major role—the first, fluttery, uncertainty of a girl with a crush on a guy she really, really likes. I need to do a bit of research, a bit of remembering, because I want to capture all the painful magic of the experience on the page...and I've made the delightful discovery that I can commission my significant other to help me.

Maybe this idea works for me because I've been away from sweetheart and family for 5 days. I find myself savoring each moment as if we've first met. It takes me back to a snowy college night when I had my first true-love kiss.

I like it. I like the rediscovered headiness and uncertainty of first love—probably better this time around, when I'm not actually afraid of rejection or hurt. I know how this story ends.

I think I'll call this sweetheart-o-mine and ask him on a date—a goofy date that costs nothing but time and imagination, like those we used to have before jobs, marriage, kids and such. And we'll do a bit of lovely research.

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