The Great Setting Round Up: 65 Possible Settings For Your Work-In-Progress!

Dreaming up new settings is usually the last thing on my mind during a drafting marathon... which is why I've pulled together 65 ideas for settings, ready to use! Check them out, and see if you find the next location you were looking for. |

When it comes to inventing settings, I run out of imagination pretty fast. Especially when I'm in the middle of a drafting marathon. I'm spending my efforts juggling characters and conflicts, and I'm not really paying attention to where these characters and this conflict are happening.

Basically, I'd love to just set everything against a green screen and go from there!

But the dedicated writer in me knows that setting is a huge opportunity for shaking up a scene.  

And since many of us are spending November drafting as quickly as possible, I thought I'd do a kind of setting round up, to help all of us out.

I'm not saying that these are all brand-new setting ideas you haven't considered before... but there's probably at least a few that might be good contenders for that one scene coming up.

Some are pretty basic, others are a bit more quirky ... and some are pretty out there. (Hey, why not?)

A lot of these ideas will depend on your characters and your story, and how the prompt would best work for you. Others are more scene elements (like weather) that you could layer into an existing setting to give it a little more oomph.

But whatever you're writing, I hope you'll find some fun ideas here to help you along!

Sound good? Here we go! In no order in particular, what if your scene took place in, on, or near: 

  1. A tree: in the trunk, or below the roots, standing on a massive stump, climbing the branches, or even up in a tree house
  2. A quarry or a mine
  3. A furnace or boiler room
  4. An ornamental garden
  5. Wherever they house the transportation: garage, airplane hangar, rocket storage facility, bicycle lot...
  6. A specialty shop: for glass knick-knacks, ornamental clocks, fountain pens, marbles... (for some ideas, check this, this, this, and this!)
  7. A sand bar in the middle of a river
  8. Any kind of kennel, stable, or animal housing
  9. A poison garden (yes really!) 
  10. A factory—maybe they make really basic everyday equipment, or maybe something ultra fancy and quirky and specialized—or maybe candy. Candy would be great.
  11. The sewer system or some network of underground tunnels
  12. An abandoned/ruined hospital or asylum
  13. A cave
  14. A plant nursery
  15. Your antagonist's favorite landmark: something extra-special from your antagonist's personal history
  16. The place where the people in your storyworld exercise: whether that means a track for running, a place for boxing or heaving weights, or training in whatever way
  17. An orchard or vineyard
  18. On top of something that they'd normally be traveling in: like a train, bus, car, subway, submarine, spaceship...
  19. Someplace where the air isn't good to breathe: maybe after a chemical accident, or a place that vents poisonous vapors from underground, or maybe the scene of a diabolical attack... wherever they are, the air is bad.
  20. A river crossing—maybe a ferry, or a footbridge, or stepping stones, or some kind of natural formation
  21. The place of greatest historical significance to your characters, their families, their government, or their storyworld: where the town was founded, where a great victory was won, where an old hero died, etc.
  22. A hot air balloon
  23. A field of grass, crops, or a pumpkin patch
  24. A laboratory
  25. The house of a person not in the scene... especially if that person would hate that they're there
  26. How about in a sinkhole? (Hey, it could happen!)
  27. Your storyworld's tallest building: put some clouds below your characters' feet!
  28. An immense beach: maybe a scuzzy, sludgy, awful one where you'd expect to find dead bodies, or maybe one that's packed with a zillion people, and, I don't know, a couple hundred corgis? Or maybe a sandcastle-making competition?
  29. A symphonic concert, a play, an opera, or a rock concert. Maybe in the crowd, or backstage, or heck, onstage in the midst of the action... 
  30. A lighthouse, beacon, or some sort of signaling tower
  31. A graveyard, cemetery, mausoleum, or a morgue
  32. At some kind of studio—for ceramics, or painting, or dancing
  33. A desert
  34. An unusual staircase (check out these amazing spirals!)
  35. Standing on ice (because slippery footing is always interesting and maybe even metaphorical...). Maybe in the middle of a parking lot, or maybe the middle of a lake
  36.  Wherever they might be if one of the participants in the scene is in a casket (dead or alive, your choice!)
  37. A greenhouse
  38. A coat closet, storage closet, or locker space
  39. An underground bunker or house—especially if it's deeper underground than your character would like to be
  40. Any place with ancient statuary, whether it's something major, like Stonehenge or Easter Island, or something tiny, and known only to a handful of characters in your storyworld
  41. Some kind of wind tunnel, or any place where your characters have to talk or fight against the wind
  42. In the middle of a lake, pond, ocean, on something other than a boat
  43. A desert oasis!
  44. The set of a film (a major Hollywood production, or a tiny indie film, or even a home movie) or a photo shoot
  45. The banks along a river
  46. An escalator, elevator, or moving sidewalk
  47. The cockpit of a plane that's maybe about to crash...
  48. A stolen boat (or yacht, or pirate ship, or cruise liner...)
  49. The tree in the forest that's haunted, cursed, the oldest, or just plain weirdest
  50. A war memorial or some other local monument
  51. Somewhere "behind the scenes" in your storyworld's most glamorous hotel—in the laundry area or the staff room or the cleaning closet, perhaps?
  52. A museum—whether especially grand, or tiny and quirky, or some specific niche. It could play to what your character most loves or most hates, or whatever most makes him/her uneasy...
  53. At (or behind, or under...) a waterfall
  54. An especially strange forest: maybe one that's crooked, intricate, despairing, massive, or just especially beautiful
  55. A quicksand pit, bog, marshy area, or mud slick
  56. An observatory
  57. In the midst of a mist
  58. At a funeral, visitation, or wake, of someone your characters may or may not know
  59. Or at a wedding, engagement party, bridal shower, or baby shower (and again, they might not know the people involved!)
  60. At the source of a river (oooh, great literary resonance in that)
  61. A rooftop with an incredible view
  62. A library
  63. A "field" of something manmade—like windmills, solar panels, fog catchers
  64. Someplace where the characters aren't supposed to be at the zoo—the lion's cage, perhaps?
  65. Whatever kind of setting is the total opposite of the conversation/action taking place: clearing up mundane information at a soaring, glitzy setting, or having an explosive discussion on the soup aisle at the local store.

And there you go! I hope a few of these triggered some fun new setting ideas for your story. Good luck! 

By the way: if you checked out a few of the links, you'll also see that Atlas Obscura is one of my all-time favorite sites for anything setting related.

They just published an excellent book that I looooooove, and they send out fantastic daily emails if you sign up. Plus the site is just incredible to explore! Highly recommended resource for stirring our writerly imaginations: check 'em out! You just might browse for ages!

PS: And just to clarify, this isn't an affiliate link or affiliate anything. I just love their work and want everyone to know about them! 

Four Quick Fixes for the Next Time You're Looking for a Fresh Idea

A few more tricks for the next time you need a fresh idea! |

Well, Idea Campers, how are you all doing? Do you feel armed and ready to face anything your work-in-progress throws at you? Because we have covered sooooo many idea-finding strategies by now!

When you're on the lookout for a new idea—an appealing, useable concept with velocity—it helps to have a range of techniques, right?

We have a list of major interests and a list of curiosities, to spark excitement in our ideas. We have a list of topics for which we've already done allllllll the emotional research (so let's put it to good work!). We have idea scout files and title files, ready to add shape and heat to our projects.

When things get really tricky, we know how to go over the problem in laser-like detail, to know exactly what idea we're looking for. And finally, we have the all-purpose skeleton key of idea-making: my favorite strategy ever.

Whew! That's a lot of power tools!! 

But just in case you'd like a little more back-up... 

Here are a few other idea-making techniques. Because it's good to have a trick or four up your sleeve for those really tough days. 

1) Remember the value of bridging ideas.

One of the reasons why I like to do a lot of my idea work with pen and paper is so that I have a written record of my process.

Why is that important? 

Because along the brainstorming path, there are sometimes these weird idea cast-offs.

Bizarre, off-the-wall, "couldn't possibly work" kind of ideas.

The awesome thing about these crazy ideas is their ability to spark other ideas.

They bridge you forward to a new idea that you might not've had, if you thought "pffft, I'm not writing down that dumb idea."

Know what I mean? 

Roger Von Oech calls these "stepping stones." In A Whack on the Side of the Head, he writes: 

Stepping stones are simply provocative ideas that stimulate us to think about other ideas. Stepping stones may be impractical or improbable, but their value consists not in how practical they are, but in where they lead your thinking. 

Exciting, right? 

So after an idea session, save your notes for a little while. Go back over them in a calm moment. You might find cast-offs that belong in your idea scout files: tidbits that didn't work to solve this problem, but which might be pure gold another time!

2) Shake your imagination up with a crazy challenge.

I saw this approach in Twyla Tharp's outrageously helpful book, The Creative Habit. She says we should have "an aggressive quota for ideas." 

Such as?

Such as, come up with sixty ideas in two minutes.

No, seriously. That's what she said. 

This is the kind of challenge that blasts you over obstacles, over hurdles.

You lose your hang-ups. All ideas count: everything is written down in the rush to fill up the list!

Which means? You end up with some really cool ideas. (And even the unusable ones could be stepping stones to other ideas...)

So before you totally dismiss this (like I did the first time!), give it a try.

Set a timer. Number a piece of paper. And then let rip.

You might just shock yourself with what you come up with... especially just before the timer dings.

3) Turn random into spectacular.

This is based on an exercise that Donald Maass presents in his incredibly helpful guide, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. (This book is on my all-time absolute must-read list for novelists, so, if you haven't read it yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out!)

In the exercise, he's showing how to weave elements of a novel together (and it's fantastic for that!), but I think that you could do it with any kind of idea generation.

Here's how it works:

Whatever your main problem or question is, try to split it into three categories or three topics. Write them out (with a little space in between) across the top of a sheet of paper.

So, in his example, you're listing characters, settings, and plot layers.

To look for an idea that might happen within a scene, you might list characters allied with the protagonist, characters allied with the antagonist, and various motivations/goals. 

If you're creating a title, you might list key characters, important images from the book, and the main settings.

Make sense? 

Once you've figured out your three categories, try to list six things in each category, and write them under each of your headings. 

And the more in each list, the better. So if you can come up with ten or even twelve for each of the three categories, that's great.

And then? And then it gets really exciting: 

You take a pencil and start drawing random lines, connecting entries from the first list to the second to the third.

What are you after? You're looking for connections.

You're looking for three entries to combine in such a way that your mind grabs the idea and starts running. 

So give it a little time, and keep messing around with it. Draw lines every which way. Link names and concepts together, and watch for what happens in your mind. 

I love this strategy because it shows me how to pair story or scene elements in new ways. And then? The idea sparks fly!

4) Get a new environment.

If you keep looking for good ideas and keep not finding them, try changing up where and when you're doing your looking.

If you normally brainstorm at your desk, in the afternoon, try: outside, in the morning. Or in your car, at midnight. In a grocery store, at 4:30. 

Sometimes we just need to change up the mental chemistry, move to fresh air, switch it up a bit.

It is perilously easy to fall into a rut when I'm doing all the same things in the same ways.

Find a way to change your surroundings, and you just might find your way to a fresh crop of new ideas.

There you go! A few more ways to find the brilliance that's lurking all around and inside you.

At this point, you're essentially unstoppable. I mean, look at you!

But just in case you hit a really rough patch, I've got you covered. Stay tuned for the next post...

We're Going to Be Invincible Writers! (Welcome to Idea Camp.)

It's one of the best feelings as a writer. And I'm gonna get it back. Wanna join me? |

One of my favorite feelings in the writing life is when I'm just brimming with ideas.

You know the feeling?

When you feel like your mind and heart are just giving off sparks. When your creativity feels warm and flexible. 

Solving plot problems feels like a fun challenge (instead of something crushing). Creating stories feels like the best kind of adventure (instead of like bashing your face against a wall).

With plenty of ideas at my fingertips, I feel basically invincible as a writer.

Mmmmmm. It is completely awesome.

It is also completely not how I'm feeling at the moment.

(Anyone with me on that?)

The first half of this year has been more than a little rocky. And in all the chaos, I lost the knack for searching out ideas. 

Worse than that, I fell out of the habit of finding them and picking them up. Collecting ideas like the best shells and seaglass on the beach.

Without the continual practice of finding ideas, writing feels incredibly, um, uphill. As in, completely vertical. Cliff scaling.

It's a struggle, is what I'm saying.

I'm finally getting back into my draft-in-progress, and I want to dive in deep! But the idea-making-machine in my brain is rusty and cold. (Yowch.)

So ... I have this plan. 

I'm declaring June the the month of idea-making.

This is the perfect time to get back into the habit of finding amazing ideas. To practice snatching them out of the air, and spying them around corners. 

I want to pull apart all my favorite idea-gathering practices, remember everything that works, and then open my arms wide to a zillion new ideas.

Does that sound good to you?

Can we create and cultivate a healthy idea-gathering practice?

So that each of us has a huge crop of ideas that get us excited, ideas that motivate us to write and write and write?

Because THAT is how I want to spend my summer. Brimming and sparking with incredible ideas.

Mmmm. Heck YES.

Welcome to Idea Camp. Let's jump in.

Today, let's start by laying a foundation. Getting the ground of our minds ready to explode with ideas for the rest of the month.

(I'm practically jumping up and down with excitement here. Don't mind me. This is just going to save my sanity and my story, so ... let's do a few high-kicks for that!)

I'm a sucker for a definition, and, bonus, I love inventing my own. 

So, for the purposes of Idea Camp, this is our definition of an IDEA (just so we're all clear on what we're looking for): 

an appealing, useable concept with velocity.

Appealing: I am not super interested in just cranking out a bunch of so-called "ideas" that I have zero desire to work on. 

Believe me, I've done it before. I've followed prompts from creativity books and generated a list of stuff that seemed tired and unappetizing. 

That is not what we're looking for this month. 

We want ideas that beg to be used. That hit that mental sweet spot. 

Useable: Obviously. I want stuff I can plug into my writing life, my story-in-progress, or whatever I've got going on. And you do too, right? 

Velocity: When I think of a good idea, it has movement. It pushes me, pulls me, practically shoves me toward a writing pad.

I almost don't notice that I'm jotting it down, but I do feel an incredible rush of energy.

Good ideas aren't static. They have a buzz.

So that's what we're looking for this month: A bunch of ideas that you love, that suit your work, and that fizz with electricity.

Let's start by exploring the most essential part of that whole equation: You. 

Today we're going to create two lists that will be gold in our search for ideas. 

We're going to start by creating a big list of things that you find interesting, intriguing. The subjects that naturally draw out your attention, excitement, and passion.

Maybe that sounds obvious, too easy, or pointless. But here's what I've found: I can be spectacularly blind to what I love. 

Shocking, but true.

When casting around for a new idea, I can totally forget the subjects that most excite me. And then I wind up with a dud that my brain might find "acceptable, workable," but which my heart and creativity absolutely veto.

It's frustrating.

Save yourself the time and the slog by building a catalogue of topics that get your heart racing and your fingers tingling.

Woo! You ready?

Grab some paper or pull up a blank document, and just hang out with these questions for a while.

You can start at the top and work straight through, or start with the ones that seem easiest, or the ones you're most excited to probe into.

However you do it, write down as many answers as you can for each prompt.

  • In general, what intrigues you, draws you in? What kinds of situations, people, occupations, places?
  • What topics, problems, or subjects are you naturally passionate and excited about? 
  • What makes you angry? (On the news, on Twitter or Facebook, in books, in relationships...)
  • What situations, questions, or images fill your brain with interesting possibilities? 
  • What do you find yourself always noticing—in relationships, in public places, in families, in stores, in cities?
  • What do you keep taking pictures of? 
  • What themes and scenarios crop up in your favorite books?
  • What magazines or blogs are you most pulled toward? Which sections in particular? Which columns, articles, posts?
  • What documentaries are you always interested in watching? 
  • What kinds of books are you always ready to pick up?
  • What types of art just grab you? Which forms, what colors, what presentations?
  • What movies are you always willing to see? What themes or premises or genres are your favorites?
  • What are your most recent favorite ideas? (For stories, characters, other projects...)

YUP, I know. It can be hard to step out of the way you think, and take notes on your own mind. It's tough for me too!

Come back to this list a few more times, cycle back through the questions, and add to it. The longer your list, the more options you'll have later.

Because this, my friends, is an extremely valuable practice: to find out what you love. To keep studying where your best ideas will spring from.

We'll be coming back to this list again and again this month.

Whew! Shake out your hands, shake out your brain, and then:

Let's make a second list. This is the Curiosity List!

It's definitely related to the first list, but it has a slightly different flavor.

Ever since reading Elizabeth Gilbert's fantastic book on creativity, Big Magic, I've started keeping a Curiosity List.

And I LOVE my Curiosity List. 

It's pretty self-explanatory: Any time something crosses my path that makes me think, "huh, that's kind of cool," I add it to the list. (My latest entries: the dances of bees, and mimes in Paris—they even have a school!) 

Unlike our first list, this isn't necessarily stuff I know a lot about. It's not going to be the subject of a bunch of conversations of mine, or something I've diligently been studying.

I don't even have super strong emotions about any of the items.

It's just a list of little things that sort of nudge my mind. Things I'm, well, curious about. (Bats that live under bridges, Cambridge University, the legends of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest, near-space travel...) 

So what good is a Curiosity List?

Well, in Elizabeth Gilbert's terms, it's a list of clues.

Clues to where your next ideas could be. Clues to what projects you'll want to pursue, what subjects you'll want to learn more about.

(I spend twenty minutes on Fridays just diving into one of the items from my Curiosity List. I just explore, I take notes or I don't, and I have a lot of fun doing it!)

Like the first list, this is a map to where some of your best ideas are going to be.

So, what are you curious about? 

What beckons you? What's intriguing—even if only slightly?

Even if it doesn't seem to have anything to do with writing, your work-in-progress, or anything you could create with?

Even if it seems "dumb" or random? Write it all down.

Push yourself to list at least twenty things that nudge your curiosity. 

Topics, stories, types of architecture, animals, situations, people, occupations... anything at all. 

Once you start, you might get on a roll. And that's great.

If you can, get fifty down. Or more. 

Keep coming back to it, during the rest of this month, and keep building it.

Try to notice when something catches your heart, makes you smile without realizing it, makes your heart leap a bit. 

Stay alert to anything that catches your interest, anything that snags your curiosity. Even just a little. Even just barely.

Whew! THAT was some seriously important work! Everyone go get chocolate, or wine, or both. (Wait, is it still morning? Cream in your coffee, then.)

These two lists are going to be super helpful the rest of the month.

They're gonna shape where and how we dig for new ideas. They can help us resuscitate ideas that aren't quite right (by sprinkling in one of our beloved or curious topics).

Best of all, they'll help us know when we're on the right track toward ideas that feel like magic. 

Ooooh, feel that?

I think my idea-making machine just gave off a few sparks.

Four Ways to Spark Your Writing Ambition If You've Been Feeling a Bit Meh

Ambition is one of those writing life essentials. If you feel like yours has gone wandering off, check these four ways to relight that ambitious fire. |

Even though we're practicing radical happiness and cultivating patience, we still want to aim super high with our writing, right?

I mean—I want to write the most amazing book ever. I'm guessing you do too.

There's a readiness to conquer, an excitement for improving. That's the lion part of lionheart, right?

Which is why our next lionhearted trait is ambition. We are ambitious for excellence in our work.

OH yeah.

Let's define it: Ambition is about pressing toward success and achievement, especially with the elements that we can control. 

Healthy ambition looks a lot like that line used in so many good fitness challenges: "The only one you're trying to beat is yourself."

So, just to be clear, when I'm talking about ambition, I'm not saying to be ambitious about the things that are up to the people around us. Awards, huge pats on the back, and all other subjective things.

They're nice, and it's fine to strive for them. But the trick is that they don't always correlate with our best efforts. (And wanting them too hard can kinda burn up your heart.)

So, for this post, let's focus on what we actually do control.

Which is, frankly, a lot.

Our quality of work. The quality of our ideas. Choosing projects that stretch us in one way or another.

Writing faster. Writing better.

A richer conflict. A scene accomplishing more purposes. Stronger subplots. Stellar structure.

Working hard and aiming high: that's what we do. 

Mmmm. Gets my writerly juices fizzing.

But—if you're reading this and thinking, that used to be me, maybe, but right now, not so much— 

I get it. 

Maybe you're feeling burned out. Or maybe it's not even that dramatic: you just feel like your ambition has gone missing.

If that sounds like you (or if you'd just like to give your ambitions a good stir), try this:

1) Double check your circumstances.

I know. I've been talking about this a ton lately.

But that's because I used to demand that I jump over buildings in a single bound, during times of intense family or personal stress.


Those usually aren't good times for leaping.

Sometimes, when the rest of life is especially hard, the ambitious response actually looks like: showing up for my writing every day, even in really small ways.

That's super ambitious!! Showing up during hard times? That's huge. You don't need to add some big achievement on top of that.

Focus on smaller achievements. Thumbnail-sized ones.

Maybe just bringing your attention back to the work. Or journaling a certain number of pages a day. (Say, three). Or reading fiction, a chapter a day.


Ambition can be redefined.

Heather Sellers writes in Chapter after Chapter about how we writers need to "cycle through standards."

She says, "When you're stuck or stranded or bored with your book, lower your standards. Slouch your way through it. When you're writing high and hard and strong and solid, raise your standards."

I fought this idea for a long time (and kept burning myself out, ha ha). Now I realize how incredibly wise it is.

If your circumstances are going nuts, or if you're in the middle of a big transition, it's time for smaller ambitions.

Don't worry: when the sky clears, you can let it all out and shoot for the moon. 

For now, small successes are plenty.

(And yes, I'm totally preaching to myself on this one.)

2) Double check your fuel.

Okay, a cheesy metaphor so we're all good with this point: 

You can have the flashiest, reddest, raciest car there is, but if it's out of gas, then even I can run faster.

All engines require fuel, and our creative machine is no different.

Sometimes your life circumstances are okay, but there's some part of your mental/creative fuel that you just haven't been getting for a while.

Take a second to self-diagnose:

Do you need to just go get lost in words? Or strike out in a new reading direction?

Or fall into a pile of really excellent movies, the kind that stir your desire to tell stories? (For a while, I would watch Finding Neverland, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland, every time I felt my story engine faltering.)

Or maybe you need to stir your creativity by playing in other ways.

Do you just need a bit of a spark? A new way to approach your work for a day or a week?

What does it look like, to really recharge your creativity and give your brain the space it needs to dream up stories?

3) Double check the kind of project you're working on. 

If you're good with your circumstances, and if you're creatively fueled, then there's still something else to try. 

Get really still and quiet and then think about your story.

Not from a frantic point of view, or a burned out & done with it point of view.

But think about the story or the work itself, and especially what drew you to it.

Have you veered off the path that you loved? Are you working in a format, a form, or a genre that you don't enjoy? Maybe the characters aren't the ones that you want to write about. 

Is there a crushing deadline that has dampened the thrill of ambition? (Deadlines can be the perfect spurs or the perfect smothers. Double check yours and revise it if it isn't working!)

Here's another test: this is a fun, quick exercise from Chris Baty, in his Nanowrimo guide, No Plot, No Problem.

I tried it once on a whim, and I was shocked at the results. So give it a try, especially if you've felt less than inspired lately.

It's pretty simple: He has you write down everything you love in a book, in a story. Go crazy. Write it all down.

Nothing is too small or too big. You just want to list everything that gets your heart beating faster when you're reading.

And when you've filled out everything, make a second list.

This time, it's everything that you can't stand in a story. Anything that dries up your enthusiasm as a reader or viewer.

What makes you want to chuck a novel across the room? And warn all your friends away from it? 

Write all that stuff down. Alllllllll of it. Every single story-esque thing that gets on your nerves.

And then, you get to sit back and review your lists. (Baty calls them the two Magna Cartas.)

The whole point is: write a book that's got a lot of stuff from the first list! And nothing from the second.

Pretty simple, right? Straightforward?

Can I tell you a mortifying secret?

When I did this with my first novel, I was blown away to see that I was writing a lot of stuff from my second list, and very little from my first. 

What?! How did that even happen?

(I still don't know! And actually, Baty says the same thing happened to him, so... it's definitely possible.)

I instantly made the changes, throwing out every hateful thing that had crept into my story.

Baty writes, "Write your joy, and good things will follow."

YEP. I was much happier after I decided to intentionally write toward everything that I most enjoyed. 

So try that. Make sure that your material isn't somehow thwarting you.

4) Give yourself a fun challenge.

If everything else is fine, but you still feel a little lackluster, then maybe it's time for a lighthearted challenge?

Not something crushing. Just a friendly prompt to stir the juices and kickstart a little magic.

Maybe go on a few little writing adventures.

Or maybe give yourself a writing exercise program, and explode your sense of storymaking that way.

Consider which areas of your writing life you haven't really touched on in a while, and give yourself something extra to aim for. Or a small daily task to build your strength.

Just for fun.

And watch your ambition rise.

Six Ways to Keep Working When You're Sick

What happens when you're in the midst of your work-in-progress, and sick happens?? Here is a handful of ways to keep working. |

I've read a number of interviews with successful authors, who say that they keep RIGHT ON WORKING when they're sick. Apparently the thinking is: What, I have the flu? Pfft. There's this NOVEL I need to write. Let's DRAFT. And off they go.

Man. I applaud that. But that is not my experience when I'm sick.

As timing would have it, I'm sick at the moment. Some kind of stomach bug thingie that I'm not especially enjoying. (And I can't tell you how funny I think it is that this hit right after my #30DaysNoWhining challenge started on Monday!)

So. I'm not whining. (I promise!) I'm just making sure my lunch stays in place and my cookies don't get tossed. So far, so good.

But it got me thinking about writing when sick. (Which, can we all say, is SO MUCH EASIER than traveling when sick. How many terrible stories are there about getting sick on the road. Yiiiiikes.)

I'm not all tough when it comes to working while being sick. Really. I wish I was rah-rah-rah about it, but I'm pretty much a softie.

That said, I still have a few questions for myself when those germs show up. I'll push through for a bit, but then I start asking myself: How can I step back from this hardworking pace, and yet still feed my work? How can I take a break--and, you know, get HEALTHY--but then re-enter my writing work in a good way?

My immune system is not completely super, so I've had a lot of chances to explore these questions. And at this point, when I don't feel so good, I have a good list of habits to help my work along while I rest. 

#1: Put your daydreams to work. 

Being sick has two qualities that are pretty great for writers: 1) most people will leave you alone when you get the word out, and 2) your brain is floating around in a dreamy state.

This is like a perfect recipe for daydreaming.

I think of intentional daydreaming like making a smoothie: put a few good ingredients together in a blender, and flip it on.

So when you're sick and you're crawling back to bed, mentally grab about three things from your work-in-progress. Maybe: a setting you want to explore, or a relationship between characters, a scene or a plot point that you're stuck on, a beginning or ending that you want to rework.

Stick some paper by your bed, and then crawl under the covers and doze. Let your mind wander about. Take naps and wake up and sleep again. And every time you're awake, take your brain for a little walk around those story questions you have.

Honestly, you might surprise yourself with what you dream up. Keep feeding your subconscious during the day, and jot down notes as ideas float by. You can deepen so many parts of your work this way... and it's practically effortless!

#2: Mindmap your way to better ideas.

More focused than daydreaming, but still along those same lines: Being sick can be a great time to explore your ideas in a more concentrated way. 

I've heard again and again that if you want to do better brainstorming work, you need to put yourself physically in a different space. And if you're leaving your desk for your bed, swapping a screen for paper and pen--well, you're halfway there! 

If you're feeling up to it, prop some pillows behind yourself, grab a big pad of paper, and create a mind map of a project or two.

Thanks to the dreaminess of being sick, you have a chance to have a looser process, to let more air into your work, and to just think differently as you brainstorm.

Take that chance to pursue some new ideas and let your mind ramble around in new territory. (I'm only just getting interested in mind mapping... here's a quick explanation if you're new to the concept.)

#3: Create a mini writing retreat.

What's something you want to learn about in your writing, but you don't ever seem to have a chance? Grab that writing book you've been meaning to get to, or explore the writing website you found but haven't yet read.

Fill your feverish little noggin with writing articles and podcasts.

And hey--if you're sick RIGHT NOW, and this writing retreat thing appeals to you, there's an online writing conference happening, the Self-Publishing Success Summit, which is free for a limited time. I've caught a few interviews and am definitely enjoying it! Perfect timing for sick little me! (I don't know when it stops being free, so run check it out!)

#4: Fall into an excellent novel.

This is a great time to dive deep into a book. Declare a reading holiday! 

Pick up a novel that's like the one you're trying to write, and as you soak in the words, push yourself to think like a writer.

Pay attention to where the plot tightens up, to how the character relationships unfold, to whether you want to keep reading (in spite of being sick!), or where the tension slacks off and you'd rather nap.

Jot down page numbers for where the description is spot on, or that perfect way they opened Chapter 14. Make a few notes, so that when you're back at your desk, you can analyze that good writing.

(If you can't keep your eyes open: let a quality audio book send you to sleep. Fill your dreams with superb sentences.)

#5: Have yourself a movie festival.

Find a few movies about authors, or writing, or really--anything to do with books. (When I seriously can't work for one reason or another, it's still nice to give the writing life a big old hug. It helps remind me why I love this work... and that never hurts!) 

You could also dive into a handful of that kind of movie that reviewers call "visual feasts." (Or any other kind of feast, really!) Rewatch some quirky films that delight or inspire you. 

Have yourself an inspiration picnic, right there amid the tissues and cough drops. Get your imagination all revved up. Nourish the places that might have gone a little dry, while you were being so productive before. 

#6 Exercise your grace muscle by letting yourself off the hook.

Look. If you're really really sick, just put the work to one side. Let yourself sleep like crazy. Heal.

Because ultimately--and you know this if you've been around here a while--I'm all about taking good care of yourself as a person first, and as a writer second.

And honestly, illness is a good time for me to re-orient on this principle. 

Because when things are going super well, I can start believing this lie that says, if I check every box on schedule, I can have a perfect writing life.

And then when I get sick, I am tempted to believe that everything is ruined.

Well, frankly, it doesn't work like that. And I'm slowly learning that really good things can STILL happen, even when our plans wreck and our perfect little schedules hit a snag.

So give yourself a ton of grace. And maybe some balloons and flowers. Snuggle into bed. Your work will still be there when you get up. You'll find your way back into it. 

And no fellow lionheart will get all furious with you if you just take the time to get well. Okay? 

Okay then. 

On that note, I'm off to bed. And until I'm on my feet again, I'll be doing a bit of #3, #2, and #5.

What sounds good to you? What will you be up to?

28 Tricks for Tough Writing Days

When you hit a slump, when you have a day where the words aren't coming, try one of these tricks. Or try four. Or try all twenty-eight. |

Maybe you're in a slump, maybe you don't know what happens next, or maybe you'd just rather not. Maybe your brain is all dried up, or maybe your words ran away. 

For one reason or another, you need a different kind of writing day.

Here are twenty-eight tricks for those tough writing days. Yeah. Just imagine them with a big bow on top, and maybe some chocolate and fancy pens: a little gift from my writing life to yours.

Some are creative adventures, to refill up your imagination. And some are ways to reframe the work itself, and hopefully to get you writing again.

Any one of them could be a nice boost to a writing day. Combine a few, and you'll have a great creative retreat.

Ready? Have fun!

1. Start by acknowledging that it's a rough day. Sometimes I put too much energy into fighting a weird writing mood, instead of finding ways to go forward. (It helps so much if you're not fighting.)

2. Post a few photographs of writers you admire around your workspace. Imagine them saying witty, kind, encouraging things to you. Believe them. Write.

3. Visit a quirky nearby museum. Even if--especially if--you know nothing about the collection. Write about what you see. Give a piece in the museum a role in your story. You never know what you might stumble across. 

4. Write from a different vantage point. Sit on your garage floor, or climb up onto your roof, or toss some pillows into your bathtub and write from there. (I discovered the bathtub as a writing place during a tornado warning. It's awesome. Like a cocoon.)

5. Go write in a bookstore or a library. Write while you're surrounded by other words. Let them cheer you on.

6. Switch genres for a while. Try writing your next scene as a poem, a graphic novel, a play, a children's picture book, an encyclopedia entry, a comic strip. 

7. Seek some sympathy from a writing friend. Maybe you just need a bit of human interaction! Buzz around on Twitter, send an email to a writing buddy, or hang out on writing blogs. (Hi, friend!)

8. Change the music that you're listening to as you write. (Or, start listening to some, if you usually don't.) Try soundtracks, try classical. Try nature noises, or opera. Or some crazy electronica stuff, or whatever else the kids are listening to these days. Switch it up. Get a new beat in your ears.

9. Browse one of your favorite novels. Flip around and just study the paragraphs, the ways the chapters begin and end, the flow of the dialogue. Use the same strategies to help kickstart your next writing session.

10. Take a break and tidy your workspace. Clear out the clutter. Get rid of the dirty dishes (whoops, is that just me?). Moving around is always good, and your mind just might appreciate the clear space.

11. Set a timer for ten minutes, and write a sentence that runs for a page or three. Every time you'd like to put a period, just add a comma, and keep going. (Got this trick from Judy Reeves. Try it--it's amazing what it unlocks.)

12. Play around with hand lettering. Letters are our medium after all! This is a great way to let yourself play a bit, to lighten your grip on the day, while still staying close to words. (If you need inspiring, just go here. Then get doodling!)

13. Spend some time with a quality book about writing or creativity. (Try A Year of Writing Dangerously, Wonderbook, or Steal Like an Artist.)

14. Go write in a coffee shop; go write in a restaurant. Mix up your environment. Eavesdrop like a writer. (And eat some good food, or get some caffeine. See what I'm really up to?)

15. Visit your nearest art museum. Drink up the colors, all the shapes. Find a piece that reminds you of your story. Sit. Write. (No art museum nearby? Behold, the Internet!)

16. Find your favorite line in your current project. Treat it like a famous quote from an amazing writer. (Because you are!) Print it out in a marvelous font, or hand-letter it yourself. Post it. Believe in the power of your words.

17. Take a break and go bake something. Cooking always jars a few words loose in me. And hey, even if it doesn't for you, you've got something yummy coming out of the oven in a bit. I call that a win.

18. Write crap. Really. Aim super low. Overuse all the adverbs we're not allowed to use anymore. (Very! Really! Like, totally!!) Make all the mistakes. Reach for every cliché. Just lower that bar all the way to the ground. It's freeing, and one of my favorite ways to get unstuck.

19. Go on a photograph safari. Take a walk and snap dozens of pictures. Or photograph objects in your house. Get back into your eyes. Look closely at the actual nouns all around you. 

20. Try writing by hand on small pieces of paper. I've had really good luck writing passages on little sticky notes, and I've done a whole novel on index cards. It's a much smaller canvas to fill, and somehow the words come running out.

21. Practice gratefulness. Write a thank you note to a writer you admire, encourage a writing friend, or go be kind to your local librarians. The hard days are a good reminder that there are a lot of us struggling forward, day by day. Go love on someone else who works with words. 

22. Go take a shower. Or go do the dishes. (Or anything else mundane and familiar that requires water.) I have no idea why, but this always works when I'm stuck on a plot snag. (Bonus: things are clean when you're done.)

23. Declare a reading holiday. Take time to just get drunk on words. Brew some tea, get out that novel you've been looking forward to, and read.

24. Take a long walk to get the blood moving, and then flop down and stare at the clouds for a while. Let your mind drift. And then tell yourself your story. Like you're telling it to someone who is sure to love it. Connect back to the heart of it, away from computer screens and word quota charts. Just focus on the story itself.

25. Spend some time curating a list of fantastic quotes about writing, quotes about the power of words, quotes that motivate you. Everyone needs at least a bazillion of these, wouldn't you agree? (You know I love writing quotes! I did a series on thirty favorites.)

26. Wander a cemetery for a while. Read the names and epitaphs, and think about all the lives--all those stories!!--represented there. Maybe it will inspire another scene for you; or maybe that sense of life's fragility will give you the courage to write this story with the time you have.

27. Write out all your plot problems or creative frustration in a journal. Write down exactly what's hard, and consider how to fix it. Interview yourself. Maybe something will break loose or maybe not, but either way: you're writing now. 

28. Or just let your goals go for the day. Relax by watching some movies about writers. (Stranger than Fiction, anyone?) Let yourself off the hook. Get some rest. Eat some healthy food. (Or not.)

And try again tomorrow.

Have a first line festival.

Word geeks ONLY. Here's a bunch of first lines you're about to love. |

WARNING: If unapologetic word geekery alarms you, skip this post. It's okay. I won't tell anyone.

Sometimes, my favorite way to grab inspiration is by bingeing on other people's good work. 

Anyone with me? Just devote a day to plunging through an entire novel. Have an afternoon of compulsively watching movie trailers. Or this:

A first line festival.

Sometimes, reading the first sentences of a stack of books--well, it energizes my approach to my own book. 

Beginnings. They just grab me.

So here, for our browsing, bingeing pleasure, are 30 first lines.

They aren't especially famous ones--so, don't look for anyone called Ishmael, any happy and unhappy families, any universally acknowledged truths.

But they still make my fingers tingle. And give a boost to the sentence-churnery in my own head.

Use them to stir up your own writing, to help brew a hook for your own project, or just wade through and geek out along with me.

Beware thoughts that come in the night.
- William Least Heat-Moon / Blue Highways

I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old.
- Marilynne Robinson / Gilead

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
- C. S. Lewis / The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The year began with lunch.
-Peter Mayle / A Year in Provence

It was one of those wet-hot nights in July when living in New York is like living in a teapot.
- Linda Stewart / Sam the Cat Detective

Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.
- Barbara Kingsolver / The Poisonwood Bible

I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon / The Shadow of the Wind

There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.
- Louis Sachar / Holes

On the late afternoon of Friday, 30 June 1559 a long splinter of wood from a jousting lance pierced the eye and brain of King Henry II of France.
- Leonie Frieda / Catherine de Medici

This book was born as I was hungry.
- Yann Martel / Life of Pi

How do you introduce the untranslatable?
- Ella Frances Sanders / Lost in Translation

The strange thing was, he said, how they screamed every night at midnight.
- Ernest Hemingway / "On the Quai at Smyrna"

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
- Dodie Smith / I Capture the Castle

Like many of us, I think, my father spent the measure of his life piecing together a story he would never understand.
- Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason / The Rule of Four

Underground is where you expect to find revolutionaries.
- Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn / The Oak and the Calf

Oh, anywhere, driver, anywhere--it doesn't matter. 
- Dorothy Parker / "Sentiment"

When she sang, it was hard to imagine death was so near. 
- Matt Rees / Mozart's Last Aria

This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.
- William Goldman / The Princess Bride

My father had a face that could stop a clock.
- Jasper Fforde / The Eyre Affair

When at last I was taken out of the plaster, and the doctors had pulled me about to their hearts' content, and nurses had wheedled me into cautiously using my limbs, and I had been nauseated by their practically using baby talk to me, Marcus Kent told me I was to go and live in the country. 
- Agatha Christie / The Moving Finger

I have had not so good of a week.
- Sara Pennypacker / Clementine

There are devotees of Goethe, of the Eddas, of the late song of the Niebelungen; my fate has been Shakespeare.
- Jorges Luis Borges / "Shakespeare's Memory"

It was Charles who called us the parasites.
- Daphne du Maurier / The Parasites

Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes.
- Lloyd Alexander / The Book of Three

The windows of a spaceship casually frame miracles.
- Col. Chris Hadfield / An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

In the beginning was the land.
- Eugen Weber  / A Modern History of Europe

When Mrs. Frederick C. Little's second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse.
- E. B. White / Stuart Little

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods.
- C. S. Lewis / Til We Have Faces

It was nine o'clock at night upon the second of August--the most terrible August in the history of the world. 
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle / "His Last Bow - An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes"

On my forty-ninth birthday, I decided that all of life was hopeless, and I would eat myself to death. 
- Anne Lamott / Plan B

Yep, more awesome first lines coming in. Good to know I'm not the only one who loves this kind of stuff! Here are a couple more opening lines, from Twitter friends and from the comments:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number Four Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
- J. K. Rowling / Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The small boys came early to the hanging.
- Ken Follett / The Pillars of the Earth 

Which opening is your favorite? And what lovely or chilling or just-right first lines should we add to the list? Let me know in the comments.

Seven ideas to kickstart your writing life!

7 ideas to kickstart your writing life! Habits and mindsets to kick off a new project or new practice. |

Here's the thing about the writing life: We're always starting. Starting up, starting over, starting for the first time, starting for the hundredth time. Restarting after a break, an illness, a catastrophe, a trip, a block.

One of the most valuable skills to learn as a writer is just that: the skill of starting again.

So here's a handy little list of mindsets and tricks to help you dive in--whether it's for the first time on your first day, or you're coming back from a break (as I am, this morning, after beating off a cold), or you're renewing your interest in a project you put on pause.

1. Embrace it.

I can't tell you how many hours (days, weeks?) I've wasted being frustrated over starting. Starting can be hard, y'all! And given the choice between diving into a new project or, say, eating all the cheese in the kitchen, I tend to vote for the cheese.

I don't like fighting through all the cobwebs in my brain, all the creaking noises as my word engines warm up. I don't like facing my own ignorance about the best way to dive in. But if starting is a fact of the writing life (and it totally is!), then why not make it a friend instead of an enemy?

When I shift my focus, I start to see how the break has made me better. The time away has given me a richness that I will bring to this new project. Whatever growing I've done will only benefit the work. And I probably have better ideas now.

So I decide to be patient. In spite of the cobwebs.

2. Explore. 

Beginnings are the perfect time to entertain a lot of ideas. To cast around for unusual options. You're not bound to anything just yet. 

Sometimes I've been so afraid of these early stages of beginning that I sprint through them to get to the much more comfortable phase of mundane work and crossing off to-do list items. But I think a bit of adventurousness pays off at the beginning. 

Go out to museums, ramble a bit at your nearest state park, meet new people and see them like a writer would see them. Notice everything: it's a writer's job, after all, to pay attention. To everything.

When you look at the world with a writer's eyes, you never know what you might discover. And you might stumble on an even better way to start.

3. Exercise.

In a way, this is part of exploring. Beginnings are excellent times for writing exercises. 

To be totally honest with you, I'm a long-time hater of writing exercises. Really. It's true. I bristle at most prompts, and usually don't feel any kind of idea tugging at me, other than "I'd rather not be doing this."

... Until I came across Judy Reeves's book, A Writer's Book of Days. You guys. This is the exercise book (among other things!) for people who hate exercises. Her prompts are beautifully open-ended. Intriguing little nudges to get you moving. You almost can't help but write.

And the beginning of a project (or a writing practice, or a writing week) is a wonderful time to do a few warm-up exercises, to get the ink and the ideas flowing.

My advice? Grab her book, pick a prompt, and write for ten minutes. If that makes you feel sweaty and anxious, start with five. Five minutes, picking out a path down a new road with your pen.

It will help bring new ideas into the work you're about to do. Or, if you don't know what you're about to do, it might give you a new story to pursue. You might even get hooked on the buzz of unraveling some new images, some new prose, on the spot, right out of your funny brain...

4. Make lists.

Lists are one of my favorite tools for jumpstarting a writing project.

I don't mean lists with items like "Research the setting" or "Decide on inner conflict for Josie," although those are important.

I'm thinking more like: "Ten sounds she hears in the woods during this scene--at least three sounds should be unsettling," and "Twelve weird places where the opening conversation could take place," and "Four reasons why she has a bad reaction to country music." 

I like listing out ways to add interest to my scenes, or ways to get around the cliched first attempts that my brain is sure to fling on the page. It's a way of getting more than one option, a way of tricking yourself into a more interesting writing session than you might have otherwise had.

5. Interview yourself.

This is what I do when desperate times start begging for desperate measures.

When I'm really anxious about the beginning of something, I start talking to myself (and taking notes). I do this in a document devoted to exactly this kind of conversation. I call it a work journal, but you could pick a snazzier name if you like.

I start asking myself what I'm so worried about. What's making me anxious. What I can't stand about the beginning, why my characters make me nervous, why I'm getting a twitch. I let myself go on and on, typing down the complete answers.

Or I start poking around trying to figure out why I had this great idea that led me through weeks of daydreaming to this starting moment--only for it to abandon me. I start asking why this story or this new enterprise matters to me. What captures my heart about it. What images do I keep seeing. What is tugging at the back of my brain.

So many times, this has gotten me around a huge boulder that was sitting at the beginning of my writing path. Because the more I talk about what I care about, the more I imagine the one thing that got me to my desk in the first place.

And then I know my true starting point.

I start with what I care about. Even if it's not the "first line of the book," or the first technical stage of brainstorming, or whatever. Interviewing myself helps me find out what my guts are telling me--and then I go with my gut. 

So, try this. You might be surprised at what you find out.

6. Don't get stuck.

It's good to embrace the start. It's good to explore a bit, do a few exercises, make some lists, and ask yourself questions. 

But it's not supergood to turn the beginning of the path into a campsite. 

Beginnings can be scary, but you can also get used to them. It gets tempting to just stay there, entertaining options for weeks, once you've realized that middles are plenty scary themselves. (And don't even get me started on endings.)

I've caught myself again and again staying on the first step: mired in the first chapter of a new novel, caught in the first paragraphs of an essay, or even just paddling round and round in the pool of research. 

Dare to let go. To not make your beginning "perfect" before you move on into the middle.

Remind yourself that you can fix it later, or make it better some other day. Leap.

7. Trust the mess.

So many artists and creatives recommend that you "trust the process." And it's taken me a while to figure out what this means.

... Maybe because I was too busy shrieking, "But I don't trust the process! I don't trust anything about it!"

The process of creating is messy and confusing. It doesn't always follow logical steps, even when we think it should. It's not easy to explain. You don't always write a piece--or revise one--in a clear and orderly fashion. The route that takes you from "person holding a pen" to "person holding a story" is a bewildering road, most of the time.

(If it's straightforward and easy for you, then you're very lucky. You should probably buy a lottery ticket.) 

What "trust the process" has meant for me is: Don't flip out when it gets messy. The mess is part of it.

And that's okay. Take deep breaths. Go with your gut when you can. Do the next tiny piece of work in front of you. And don't be afraid of the mess.

Beginning a project with some degree of grace: it's a skill I keep relearning. 

Each of these list items has saved my bacon more than once. Any of them striking a chord with you?

What have you been doing to ease through the beginning steps of your work? Which list item do you want to try this week? Share your thoughts in the comments!

If you liked any of these tips, please send this post to your writing and creating friends! Starting a project is a lonely business--let's keep each other company!

Wanna keep reading? Check out Let's keep going no matter what and The Secret.

And then I turned into a NaNoWriMo zombie.

Remember those diagrams in your old science books: a close-close-close up of a leaf? With arrows in and arrows out? The photosynthesis diagram, that's what I'm thinking of. And your teacher saying, Trees take air and sunlight and soil, and then they make their own food! 

(Which is still pretty cool. Good job, trees.)

Right, well, I'm feeling a bit like that lately. Only instead of dealing with sunlight and carbon dioxide, I've been taking in coffee and toast, and turning it into words.

Thousands, and thousands, and thousands of words.

I joined NaNoWriMo on day ten, right? Much to my chagrin and panic.

Well, it's day twenty-one. And I just crossed the 37,000-word mark. Which means--for those of you who are keeping score, because I'm totally keeping score--I have caught up to the pack of Wrimos who began on day one.

In eleven days (I did take one off!), I've somehow ended up with 140 handwritten pages. 

And even in my kindest moments to myself, I have to admit that I'm feeling and looking a bit like a zombie. 

A zombie who is writing a novel, sure, but nevertheless: the crazy has arrived.

... Like in a conversation just now, I repeated myself four times in a row before, uh, realizing it.

So this is gonna be a bit more of a list than a post, for the sake of all our (remaining) sanity. I don't know why that makes more sense to me, but it does. Okay. 

(There's no order, there's no theme, and there's no logic to this. I'm sitting here grinning like a zombie, bouncing to some loud music, and just happy to see words move across the screen. Hi, words!)

1. Before we go any further, if you want to know: Is this lifestyle healthy? Am I taking really good care of myself? Making smart choices? The answer would be, um, No. Not at all.

2. Am I taking good care of my characters? Nope. They're in a mess of trouble, and right on schedule too. Bad for them, but good for me, and good for readers! (Yay, readers!)

3. Starbucks Chestnut Praline Lattes. Get one. Get four. Drink up. Thank me later.

4. There's a group of NaNoWriMo participants on Twitter who band together for these little word sprints: TOTAL FUN. If you happen to be NaNo-ing this month, join in! It's awesome. (The leader says something like, "Write for ten minutes starting... now! Go go go!" And when time's up, we all chime in with our word counts. So much more fun being a zombie when you have all your zombie friends!) 

5. I've come down with my usual, mid-project case of separation anxiety. Whenever I step away from the draft, I hear little whimpering noises. And it's not coming from my spiral notebook, it's coming from me. What if the book forgets all about me when I leave? What if I lose the knack (if I even have the knack) for the characters' separate voices?

What if I pass out and never make it back to finish the book, and everyone reads how seriously deeply BAD the writing is, and they'll all say, how are we going to break this to her? Well, when she wakes up, we're gonna steer her in a very different career direction...

6. That said, I do know this: Breaks save you. They really do. So I force myself to stand up and get away. Have a little dance party. (Or a big one.) And sometimes I do some mindless straightening: it gets me moving, and then I come back later and say, Hey! Who cleaned up? It looks nice!

7. Because I can't remember who cleaned up. Because most of what I do away from my book I instantly forget. I'm not mentally stable at the moment. I've been careful not to operate heavy machinery or to sign on for anything that requires a responsible adult.

8. I really wasn't kidding about those Chestnut Lattes. Seriously, friends. I love you, and this is how you know: I want you to go get yourself one. Okay then.

9. When I collapse from a day's work, I grab a gin & tonic and watch Gilmore Girls. I believe that this was also Ernest Hemingway's formula. So, it worked for him, is all I'm saying.

10. Um. 

11. Here's my super serious intention with all this mad-dashery: To finish my book in the next five minutes.

12. Kidding! Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Kidding. Not really. 

13. Basically, I want to make the most magnetic storyworld I can. Give the characters powerful voices, build their inner and outer conflicts to a fever pitch, put all the good stuff into it. 

14. Because sometimes fiction--even when you're the one writing it--is a port in a storm. Sometimes making characters face impossible odds helps you face a few odds of your own. Sometimes, when they confront their dark fears, when they band together, when they realize what makes life worth living, sometimes when they do that, they pull you along with them.

Making them courageous has made me more courageous.

15. Yeah.

I don't know if I'll get back to blog before Thanksgiving. At that point, I might just be able to type one letter over and over and over, and not actual words. (If that happens, just know that I'm saying something nice, like Happy Thanksgiving, go hug your family, or something like that.)

But truly, I am pierced with gratitude these days. For doctors and hospitals and medical centers that know what the heck they're doing. For stories--the way they open and guide our hearts, the ways they give us strength and companionship. For all the other marathoning writers participating in NaNoWriMo. For the incredible people in my family--immediate and extended. For hope. For the goldeny color of sunlight in winter. For unexpected snowy days. 

For words. All these words. For a little corner of the blogosphere where I can stand and say a few things, and then for you, sitting where you are, reading them. 

I was born with a writer's heart. And that transaction between reader and writer: it's still one of the most precious things to me. So I'm glad you're there. Happy Thanksgiving, a bit early. Have fun and eat too much pie, okay?

Okay then. I'll be scribbling. 

You had me at September.

Oh my gosh. It's finally September.

I belong to that group that counts autumn as their favorite season. I always wish that it were one of the longer seasons... instead of a little blip between sweating and shivering. But I'll celebrate every day of it as soon as it's here!

To be honest, September usually runs pretty warm: we're basically in the upper 70s til October. Seriously. That should not be. 

Summer just hangs on around here. I start getting that itchy feeling you get when you're trapped in a corner talking to someone that mayyyyybe you're ready to be done talking to? That anxious sort of uh-huh-uh-huh-I-really-need-to-move-on-now head nod and wincing grin? 

Yeah, summer. That's what I'm doing. Time to move on.

I'm edging toward fall, as best I can. It's still gonna be awhile before I can get away with wearing an alpaca scarf (rats!), but until then, here's a not-at-all complete list of everything I'll be embracing this autumn:

  1. apple cider
  2. sweaters!
  3. and, of course, scarves, alpaca or otherwise
  4. rainy days
  5. knitting!! okay, crocheting, you too. Let's get granny-squaring.
  6. curling up with an Agatha Christie mystery
  7. (or really, any mystery at all)
  8. watching college football with the fam... yelling at the TV has its therapeutic effect.
  9. long walks in our neighborhood with cooler weather... no more sweating!
  10. frost
  11. watching our sweet gum turn every possible color... 
  12. bringing out all the wintery afghans
  13. that long-division, back-to-school feel in the air makes me feel vicariously industrious
  14. have I mentioned knitting??
  15. pumpkin EVERYTHING... doughnuts, bread, cookies, pie, mashed potatoes (really!), and of course,
  16. the fall coffee drinks. YES. Yes I would like extra cinnamon on top, thank you.
  17. also? MAPLE. 
  18. the sounds of leaves crunching underfoot
  19. boots!!
  20. kettle corn
  21. visiting the local apple orchards... the dizzying scent of sun on ripe apples, mmmmmm...
  22. all those fall pies, baby. Pear-Fig-Hazelnut, Cranberry-Pear, Caramel-Apple, Pecan...
  23. did I mention rainy days?? My heart lifts off every time it rains. 
  24. the sounds of our high school marching band, practicing across town... so many memories!
  25. sitting around a bonfire with friends, under a cool night sky
  26. and oh, it's comfort food season again! (Basically everything that happens in an autumn kitchen: I adore.)
  27. time to rewatch Anne of Green Gables, am I right?
  28. and a host of other fall movies... Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom come to mind. Oh! And the spooky Tim Burton flicks. (Corpse Bride, anyone?) 
  29. the sound of the wind in the pine trees by my window... oh, the blustery days of autumn!
  30. caramel apples?? Caramel apples. 
  31. and time to start scheming for Christmas! (Did I actually say that.)

... Well that was stupid. Now I'm practically hyperventilating, and it's still suffocating summer-mode outside. 


Help me wait by sharing some autumn love! What are you excited about?? Tell me what's on your list in the comments.