Thankful Thursday

Reality is a scary and anger-inducing thing these days, and today I am grateful for the middle-grade novel I’m writing. Last week, I completed the second draft (hooray!) and then had it printed and bound. I let it sit for a few days and then eagerly began working within those tidy pages. It makes me so very happy to have a compact, mobile version that I can work on anytime, anywhere. Bed? Yes! Patio? Absolutely? Kitchen table? Why not?

And when I wake in the middle of the night with anxious thoughts that prevent me falling back asleep, I focus on Geo and Sam, the two girls at the heart of my story. I aim to do them proud.

Thankful Thursday: Better Late Than Never

Sometimes taking the most simple action can quell my anxiety. Yesterday as I worked on this revision and felt overwhelmed by the many, many details of my madcap story that must be explained by the end of the manuscript, I started a list.


Whoa. Behold this literary rocket scientist at work!

I’m trying hard to stop kicking myself for not creating the list at the outset of this round of revisions and, instead, be grateful for my peace of mind in the here and now.

PSA: Get thee some waterproof paper!

I just had a nice shower and a very productive plotting session. AT THE SAME TIME.

Whoa, Tracy! How is that even possible?!

It was possible because  of an amazing invention called AQUA NOTES.

AQUA NOTES are pads of waterproof paper that you can write on with a pencil while taking a shower. I just wrote out three pages of stellar notes for my work-in-progress, and I’m thrilled because I figured out stuff I didn’t even realize needed figuring. Those pages of notes are like bonus material! And it all came to me during my relaxing shower, an activity that frequently gets my subconscious to come out and play. This time, I was prepared!

Where can I get some of those magical AQUA NOTES, Tracy?

I recommend buying them here, where you can buy 4 pads and get the 5th for free. Write on, friends!

All thumbs

I’ve written lots of stuff over the years and have quite a few thumb drives.


Going back to locate an old project used to be a pain in the ass. Well, not anymore! I FINALLY took the time to index my various drives and to move files around so that none of those projects are on multiple drives. (In case you’re judging me, I challenge anyone to work on a project off-and-on over the years and still maintain a pristine filing system. And yes, I do know about the cloud. Much of this stuff’s out there, too, but that’s a task for another day.)

Right now I’m very satisfied with my little box of thumb drives and index. Never underestimate the power of organizational wizardry. The world feels very bleak right now, and little victories such as this can stop me from running into traffic.



Thankful Thursday: The I-finally-freakin’-did-it edition

If you happen upon this, writer-friend Linda Salzman, you might be happy to know that yesterday I finally, finally wrote the final scenes of the YA I’ve been wrestling with since the beginning of time. Are they perfectly written scenes? Hells no. Are they fleshed-out scenes? Absolutely not. Are they even close to being what they’d need to be in a final draft? HAHAHAHAHA.

In which Linda is the pug offering encouragement to the tortoise-slow Tracy.

In which Linda is the pug offering encouragement (“Do it!”) to the tortoise-slow Tracy.

The scenes I wrote yesterday are, at this point, a collection of placeholder words. A roadmap for the next draft (should I ever have the inclination to wade into the manuscript that right now feels like a horrible, torturous place to spend time). I learned about the value of using placeholder words from writer-friend Laurie Schneider, and I must say it’s one of the most liberating tools in my writing kit. The pressure is off when I’m creating placeholder words; all that’s required of me is to literally hold the place in the manuscript with clues for my authorial intent. The details come later.

So after writing those scenes, I printed out a hard copy and wrote out a few notes for myself before packing everything away in an accordion file. At the soonest, I’ll read that manuscript again in a month. But I have a feeling it’ll take longer than that for me to muster enthusiasm. After finishing, I’d gone back to read the opening chapter, thinking it would fire me up by reminding me the rest of the book is stronger than the ending. *insert hysterical laughter* Turns out, I’d arrived at the THIS BOOK SUCKS MORE THAN A HOOVER stage, and it’s gonna take some time for those feelings to fade.

The good news? I’m already reacquainting myself with another project. This one has huge potential and fills me with excitement. So take that, nasty voice! (Also, I was very grateful for the distraction of this “new” project when I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about Debbie Reynolds dying the day after losing her beloved daughter.)

There are sad and horrible things happening all over the planet, but I’m grateful for the fictional worlds I create in my mind. Sometimes the pretend is the only thing keeping me from being crushed by the real.



Kidder and Fitzgerald for the assist

I just read GOOD PROSE: THE ART OF NONFICTION by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. As the cover says, it is “Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing.” I highly recommend this wise and funny book.

goodprose-coverThere are many gems scattered throughout (and not just for nonfiction writers, but anyone who loves playing with words), and one has been in the front of my brain since reading it:

I remember in college reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon and studying a note that he left in the manuscript: “Rewrite from mood. Has become stilted with rewriting. Don’t look — rewrite from mood.” I reread those lines so often, trying to understand them, that they stuck in my memory. Fitzgerald knew that there are at least two kinds of rewriting. The first is trying to fix what you’ve already written, but doing this can keep you from facing up to the second kind, from figuring out the essential thing you’re trying to do and looking for better ways to tell your story. If Fitzgerald had been advising a young writer and not himself, he might have said, “Rewrite from principle,” or “Don’t just push the same old stuff around. Throw it away and start over.”

I’m getting close to The End (of this draft) of my YA project, and very much appreciate Mr. Kidder sharing Mr. Fitzgerald’s wisdom with me. Maybe it will reach someone else who needs it now.




A Running Start

One of my favorite writing strategies is to take a running start at a manuscript, a technique that works for me both in the drafting and revising stages.

How do I define a running start?

A running start is sometimes merely rereading the work from the previous day in order to find my rhythm so that I can continue in that flow. Most days that’s all I need in order to keep going.

Other days, however, the nasty voices whisper so loudly in my head I worry that writing in that mindset will result in me inflicting big-time damage on my manuscript. I’m talking crash-and-burn, holy-hell-how did-we-end-up-on-this-tangent kinda damage OR, worse-case scenario, convincing myself that the only logical response to the crap I’ve put down on paper is to give up on the project, my writing, and all dreams. Forever

Those are the days in which my running start requires that I go back to page one and read everything I’ve written/revised thus far.

Image from

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Today was a nasty voices day. So I read the 50+ pages of revised manuscript and, as predicted, my literary goblin’s voice faded away. I liked what I read. I was proud of what I’d written and felt a renewed enthusiasm for the project. I made progress on the revision.

It’s important to note that there are multiple decisions required of this strategy. I have to ask myself two questions:
1) Is this a regular running start kinda day or a Page One running start day?
If I immediately know the answer, it’s all good. If not, I ask myself the following:
2) Are the nasty voices so relentless they will dominate no matter what I try?
If the answer is Yes, it’s best to not even fight back. No running start, no writing, no thinking about the project.

There’s always another day and another perspective.

Starting Over, One Word At a Time

I’m revising the YA I’ve been working on off-and-on for years. There are a whole bunch of reasons for the delays and procrastination but the main takeaway is that because of the down-time, I was intimidated about jumping back into it. Then I read about one writer’s approach to getting back into a story: she retypes the entire manuscript.

I decided to give it a try.

I’m taking it chapter by chapter, retyping from the last hard copy I printed out. So far, I agree with the writer who suggested it that retyping helps me revise on a deeper level than if I were only working with what was already there. In other words, my revisions would be more superficial if I was working with a hard copy and pen. Retyping seems to highlight issues such as where the text bogs down and any character inconsistencies. Most importantly, something about putting those words down, again, is helping reconnect me to the story. And in the process, it’s helping shine a light on what needs to change.

Every book I’ve written has taken a different path. There are days when I’m not sure whether that’s a blessing or a curse. This method, at least, is allowing me to move ahead.

My Insides Match My Outsides

For the past several days I’ve been working on the first 90 pages of my YA, zooming in on one particular relationship between two characters. I first went through the pages and highlighted every interaction between them in yellow. Then I went back to the beginning, highlighting in red the words I want to delete and using green highlights for the new words I added. It’s been a slow process but I feel as if finally, finally these characters are unfolding at the right pace and that I’m avoiding the dreaded Emotional Ping-Pong (something that was rampant in a YA I read over the weekend).

So imagine my delight when a few minutes ago I opened my computer to resume work on my project and I realized the screen mirrored the glorious colors outside.More fall leaves and computer screen 001

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Story Is In the Details

It’s been a very strange summer in terms of my productivity and sense of passing time, but school is back in session and I’m trying to get back in the groove. I’m working again on the contemporary YA I focused on during the online revision course with the ever-wise editor Cheryl Klein, and realized I needed to know much more about the setting. So I’m taking the time to create a map of the community, including local businesses. I’m getting to know proprietors and citizens and landmarks.

I’m adding detailed texture to the story.Sedum 052Just having that map and sketches of those additional characters makes me feel like an authority on my story. Taken separately, details can seem like tiny, sometimes insignificant things. But when you add them up, those tiny details turn into a solid foundation.

A Tip from John Irving

“A writer’s job is to imagine everything so personally 
that the fiction is as vivid as memories.”   ~ John Irving                        

Friday Five: The Round-and-Round Edition

1)  As mentioned before, I’ve had to circle back and work on opening chapters some more  and have been mostly pleased with my progress.

2)  Then yesterday I hit a bump and realized I needed to circle back yet again to tweak a scene so brainstormed characterization and plot issues to prepare myself for today’s work.

3)  This afternoon I revised and revised, then printed out the pages and congratulated myself on a job well done.

4)  Except when I began jotting notes about a tangential issue on my enormous whiteboard, I started doubting myself regarding the characterization and plot line I’d supposedly just wrestled to the ground.

5)  So I went outside and shoveled very heavy snow while talking out loud about all this stuff and came up with this answer: there’s such a thing as over-thinking a story and it would be wise to relax and enjoy the ride. 

image from

Wishing everyone a whirly-twirly, fun-filled weekend!

Friday Five: The Round-and-Round Edition


1)  As mentioned before, I've had to circle back and work on opening chapters some more
 and have been mostly pleased with my progress. 

2)  Then yesterday I hit a bump and realized I needed to circle back yet again to tweak a scene
so brainstormed characterization and plot issues to prepare myself for today's work.  

3)  This afternoon I revised and revised, then printed out the pages and congratulated myself on a job
well done.

4)  Except when I began jotting notes about a tangential issue on my enormous whiteboard
I started doubting myself regarding the characterization and plot line I'd supposedly just wrestled to the ground.

5)  So I went outside and shoveled very heavy snow while talking out loud about all this
stuff and came up with this answer: there's such a thing as over-thinking a story
and it would be wise to relax and enjoy the ride. 

                                                             image from

Wishing everyone a whirly-twirly, fun-filled weekend!


I’ve Seen the Light!


This is NOT me.

                                                                                     image from

The photo, however, represents how I feel right now.

Just one week ago I was a weepy little mess as I struggled to learn Scrivener.
Today I’m thrilled to announce I understand the basics of this writing software,

and that I’m looking ahead to a more streamlined, organized approach to writing novels.
I’m still a huge fan of carrying around a notebook, and that won’t change.
I appreciate the words of encouragement and tips shared in my original post.
Thank you, friends!

Friday Five: The Scrivener Edition


In honor of massively computer-challenged Me learning how to use Scrivener for Windows

(writing software adored by oodles of writers), here are some glimpses into my journey:
                                                                                            image from
1) Yesterday I shed tears of frustration and pulled my hair. Literally.
2)  Today I teared up a tiny bit when faced with something I absolutely did not understand,
and then wiped away those tears and told myself "You might not even need to know that."
3)  My mantra: Even if I master only a tiny percentage of what this program can do, 
that tiny percentage will be huge in comparison to what I knew about Scrivener last week.
4)  The thought of writing with a "corkboard" and "index cards" has kept me going, and sure enough,
those are the features I’m "mastering" and will be able to use right from the start.
5)  I’m sure it doesn’t count for anything but I feel better prepared to learn this software
having read Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener in my sophomore English class.
Anyone else out there have an emotion-laden time learning this software?
(For those who mastered it without a problem, it’s probably best to keep that to yourself.)

Friday Five: The Where-I’m-At Edition


1)  I’m loving my whiteboard as I sort out characterization and plot for BIRD BRAIN.

2)  But for the sake of my brain cells, I need to make the big investment and buy non-toxic, no-odor markers.

3)  I’m now enjoying all the little revelations that come with revision, and am no longer beating myself up 
for not being an omniscient author.

4)  I’m writing every single day, making progress every single day, and feeling better about myself
every single day.

5)  This week I received a 14+ month response to a query for FRAMED, and all I could do was laugh.

Wishing everyone a grand weekend filled with whatever brand of happiness your hearts desire!

Highlight This!


Am hard at work in the revision cave,
but wanted to share a tip that might help others.

I had concerns about continuity within a relationship
between two characters,
so I went through my entire manuscript and used the Highlighting function
to color code everything having to do with that relationship.

I used one color for interior thoughts
and another for direct interaction between the characters.

The colors made it very easy to track the progression in the relationship,
and I’m now confident the ms isn’t suffering from emotional ping-pong.
(I thought I’d already eliminated that stuff but apparently my emotionalism dies hard).

There’s a good chance you all know about this computer highlighting trick
(I’ve done this before with hard copy but never within my document),
but I’m a big believer in putting info out there.
May this tip reach the right person at the right time…
I’m missing this community, but am sending good thoughts for all your writing and life projects!

Fun at the dentist office! Really!


Who says it’s no fun going to the dentist?
I just spent an hour there and had a grand time.

Did I mention I was only in the waiting room?
Zebu had an appointment to get his braces-clad teeth cleaned,
so I hung out in the front office.

Did my figure eights,
inserted my ear plugs,
and drafted another couple pages of my final chapter.

Let’s hear it for the dentist office!

Friday Five: Notebook Love


1)  I love spiral-bound notebooks.

2)  I love this notebook I’m using for revisions,
a notebook formerly used by Wildebeest:

3)  I love that I can keep my pen and pencil handy
for immediate use:

4)  I love that I have pages and pages in which to jot any old thought that pops into my
head and that I can rewrite sentences and figure out characterization issues and vomit
out any angst and uncertainty here, and generally just have lots of room to move:

5)  But maybe most of all, I love that the back cover has a drawing by Wildebeest:


Cutting and Pasting

Yesterday I had big plans for my revision work
and except for using 12-pt font and choosing the counter over the hair-covered floor,
I stuck to my plan.

Here is my original ending in all its glory.

And here, after hours of agonizing and brain-sweating,
is the cut and paste version of my revised ending.

I don’t think I could’ve slogged through all that without
a huge visual aid.

Word processors are grand
but nothing beats paper and scissors.

Not even rock
(sorry, couldn’t resist).

Seeing the big picture

I’m reworking my ending.
I’ve realized it reads like GROUNDHOG DAY.

Similar things happen over and over.
Diluting the action.

But I’ve got so many characters and so many plot lines
I’m not sure how to figure it all out.
It’s a bit intimidating.

I’d like a hovercraft that allows me a bird’s eye view
of everything that happens in those twenty pages.

But I don’t have such a thing so I’m going to settle for
printing out those pages
in larger font
and spreading them out on my floor.

Note to self: vacuum up dog/cat hair, first.

My gift to you . . .


If you happen to be stuck on your work-in-progress
(maybe because you set it aside for a month or so
while working on another project),
I feel your pain.

I’ve been spinning my wheels trying to get traction
on this second draft.
I was ready to give up, convinced the story sucked beyond belief.

But then . . .

I sat down and wrote out a timeline for the book.
And now I can see my way again
because I remember what needs to happen
and when it needs to happen.

Such a simple solution
yet it took me quite some time to figure it out.
Which is why I’m sharing this with you.

If you’re in that bad, scary place in your project
try mapping out the chronology.
Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be on your way again.

Edited to add:
Oh, and you know what else is helpful?
Writing the day/time after chapter heading.
For instance: CHAPTER THIRTEEN (Thurs after school).
Yep.  I’m just full of epiphanies.