Five Things To Do When You Are Stuck As A Writer

 

A long time ago, I had to write the NEED sequel, CAPTIVATE, on deadline and I was pretty terrified the entire time. I knew I had to get it done but I was full of doubts the entire time. So much doubt.

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And when I finally turned it in, I was still terrified and stuck.

Is there a phobia name for FEAR YOUR EDITOR WILL SCREAM THAT YOU STINK AND RETROACTIVELY PULL ALL YOUR BOOKS FROM THE SHELVES BECAUSE YOUR SEQUEL IS REALLY JUST THAT BAD?

There should be.

Maybe we should just make a list of writer phobias. But anyway, that time really made me think a lot about what makes me feel stuck and how I will possibly do anything in the world to avoid that feeling. This is what I’ve learned.

So here is my:

Five Things To Do When You Are Stuck As A Writer

KILL YOUR INTERNAL EDITOR

With my students, I talk a lot about how there are these internal critics or editors inside our heads, and this critic basically tells us everything that we could do wrong, all the ways we can fail, all the ways we might suck.

And it tells it to us with authority. A lot of authority.

Mine basically is John Wayne. He’s always squinting at me and telling me how much I fail. This voice? It’s a strong voice, but it’s full of lies. And when we listen to it too much, we get stuck. We can’t write our story. We can’t live our life, because that voice is so strong in our head telling us how much we fail.

So how do you fight that?

I imagine an internal cheerleader. Mine is – cough – Grover, the Muppet from Sesame Street. Every time my inner critic derides me, Grover counterbalances it.

My Post-4 copy

Like today, inner critic said, “The circulation librarian can never remember your last name even though you live in a tiny town and she hates you because you are stupid.”

And Grover was like, “You aren’t stupid, Carrie! Your IQ is actually high. Remember you got it tested?”

It’s good to fight your inner critic with facts when you have them.

With writing, it’s more like:

Inner Critic John Wayne, “Dear god, little missy. Why would you possibly try to write a time travel story? Stick to your little pixie books.”

Grover the Awesome Inner Cheerleader would say, “Do not listen to him, Cawwie. He thought writing about pixies was a terrible idea, too! He thinks everything is terrible.”

Don’t let your doubt stop you from writing. Just bundle up and do it.

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THINK ABOUT WHY YOU ARE WRITING THE STORY YOU ARE WRITING

If you are writing a nonfiction book about the history of guinea pigs in North America and you don’t actually care about guinea pigs in North America? Well, yeah, you’re going to probably get stuck.

Ask yourself:

What books do you love? 

What stories make you happy?

Write that kind of story. To heck with the guinea pigs. 

My Post-3

DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE

Sometimes, when writers are stuck, it’s because we’ve been sitting too long and focused on our story. Our mind is giving us a hint that we actually are not cats and we need to move.

So, I clean something when I am vaguely stuck. I think of it as a sign that my subconscious is giving me that if I sit at the laptop any longer, I will turn to salt.

When you step away, you give yourself space to grow and move. When you step away, you give yourself some space and your story some space to percolate.

LOOK AT WHAT YOU HAVE DONE AND TAKE STOCK OF YOUR GOALS

Sometimes (cough – all the time) I feel like I’m not getting anything accomplished or a lot of my students feel like writing an entire novel is too huge a goal.

So, what I do is I set small incremental goals. If a story feels stuck, I tell myself to write 250 words four times a day to make a 1,000 word-count for the day. I also write the starting number of my word count and mark it off in 250-word increments as I go along. This helps make me realize that:

  1. I am writing
  2. I am not really as stuck as I thought.
  3. Makes the writing feel really manageable.
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This is seriously what I do. It helps. 250-word increments on top. Day totals on bottom.

TRY WRITING SOMETHING DIFFERENT

I know! I know! All the writing advice people tell you to stick to your story. Don’t ever give up on your story. They say, “you will never get a book done if you don’t do the following things:”

  1. Write one book at a time.
  2. Write one book until it’s done.

That’s crap, honestly. Sorry for my language, but it’s just not true. Yes, there are people who will hop from project to project and in 20 years never finish a story. But whatever. Those people are rare. They are even more rare when it comes to people who want to be published. Everyone knows that to get a novel published, you have to write an entire story. That ‘write one book until it’s done’ edict irritates me. A lot.

My Post-4 copy 2

Here’s the truth: 

  1. You can work on as many projects as your brain can handle.
  2. You can put down a story that you are working on and finish it years later when you are ready.

But the biggest truth is this: 

There is no one way to be a writer. There is no one process that will always work for you or for everyone. Part of the adventure is finding things that work, triumphing in the moments when you stop being stuck.

Let’s say you’re reading this and you aren’t an author. How does this work for you as a non writing person who feels stuck in their life?

It’s like this: 

  1. There is no one way to succeed, no one path. If you feel stuck, try something else.
  2. If you hate everything in your life, try to remember something you once loved. Do that again.
  3. Be proud of the things you’ve done and make small goals. Reward yourself for forward motion – any forward motion.
  4. Simplify and organize your life. Press pause with intention. If you feel stuck, organize your thoughts, your desk, your kitchen, your closet. Getting rid of the clutter can help you understand what you need to do to move forward.
  5. Don’t fill yourself with negative thoughts if you can help it. Sometimes we can’t, honestly. But every time that inner critic berates you, consciously work to counter it with something positive.

When my dog Scotty couldn’t open the door by hitting the bottom of it over and over again with his paw, he didn’t give up. He came and got me to open the door for him. When that didn’t work because I was kneading dough and didn’t want to stop, you know what he did? He grabbed the doorknob in his mouth and turned. I’ve never seen anything like it. But the thing isn’t how awesome he was. The thing is that he found a way to succeed. He tried a new way.

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When Sparty feels sad because it’s raining too hard to take a walk, he will go cuddle up with a stuffed animal. He finds something else he loves to make him feel less stuck.

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We can learn a lot from dogs.

 

Random Marketing and Book Things

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m still super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

Kirkus Review says:  Jones gives readers the sketchy details of Berg’s life and exploits in carefully selected anecdotes, employing accessible, straightforward syntax.

And also says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

Booklist says it’s: An appealing picture-book biography. . . Written in concise sentences, the narrative moves along at a steady pace.  

This is lovely of them to say.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be in Exeter, New Hampshire, on a panel for the release of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID.

Thursday, March 15, 2018 – 7:00pm
 
Water Street Bookstore
125 Water Street
Exeter, NH 03833
Things We Haven't Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out Cover Image

And the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is still real. I’m still terrified.

My Post-2 copy

There are new podcasts every Tuesday and our handle on the tech gets better as you go along. I promise.

We talk about love, marriage, living in Maine with dogs and also give writing and life tips with linked content back on the blog. It’s um – cough – different.

 

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Three Quick Ways to Make A Good Book Better – and also my nana said I was different. Not in a nice way.

Before she died, I heard my Nana Morse say to my sister, “Well, you know Carrie has always been a little… different.”

My sister nodded pretty emphatically in agreement.

“She’s just so different,” she said.

She said this ALL throughout my growing up.

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She wasn’t wrong

Nana Morse was worried about this – about me being different. She also worried that I didn’t get enough protein. Or why I dressed so ‘differently.’

And honestly, I was so used to not fitting into my family by then that my only reaction was, “She just used the word ‘different’ to describe me twice. That’s not really creative of her. I wish I could edit her word choice a bit.”

So, yeah, she was obviously right.

When I was little, my Avó Palreiro took me aside and said, “You be you. To hell with everyone else.”

And then she glared at my nana.

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Only one of my grandmothers would approve of this picture. 

The thing is that different is okay. Different is good. Different can be stigmatic and incite bullies and all sorts of negative things, but different is also innovative.  Different people who take action? They make changes in this world. This world needs positive change. So, if you feel a bit different or if your family or others are mocking you for it? Well, they suck, honestly.  Ignore the suck. Be you.

 

HOW TO MAKE A GOOD BOOK BETTER (WHILE BEING DIFFERENT)

Here are some things I (should) think about when I’m revising. Hopefully, they’ll help you out, too. I’ve taken them from James Plath’s article “Twenty-One Tweaks to a Better Tale,” but adapted them to fit me.  Why? Because I’m different like that.

1. Does the beginning need to be an ending?

Sometimes our beginnings stink.

Beginnings need to be:

powerful
witty
stunning

How do you do that? You could use a powerful piece of dialogue, a witty description, or a stunning scene.

Sometimes we writers have to amp up, sort of rev our engines before we start the race of the story.

My engine is revving. Shh…..
Sidenote: Some of us never get started.

It’s okay to cross entire paragraphs or a chapter out.  It’s okay to do what it takes to make your beginning awesome.

2. Check Out How It Ends

Just like a beginning needs to be powerful or witty or stunning to draw us in like a really good appetizer, the ending has to linger (not in the way heartburn lingers). The ending has to resonate. Is there a way to echo earlier images or words or a phrase so that it has that extra kick, making the reader realize that there are deeper things going on, that there is a deeper meaning, that this story or poem somehow touches on the truth that is life?

3. Make Love to the Image

Have an image that resonates throughout the story. In the movie Brokeback Mountain it’s when one guy is hugging the other guy from behind him or it’s when he says, “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

Think about a book like Carolyn Coman’s MANY STONES or THE HOBBIT or CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS. There are central images in there. Do that. Use an image. A strong image will keep your story in readers’ memories.

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Gabby’s central image for her life is basically this. 

Random Marketing and Book Things

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m still super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

Kirkus Review says:  Jones gives readers the sketchy details of Berg’s life and exploits in carefully selected anecdotes, employing accessible, straightforward syntax.

And also says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

Booklist says it’s: An appealing picture-book biography. . . Written in concise sentences, the narrative moves along at a steady pace.  

This is lovely of them to say.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be in Exeter, New Hampshire, on a panel for the release of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID.

Thursday, March 15, 2018 – 7:00pm
 
Water Street Bookstore
125 Water Street
Exeter, NH 03833
Things We Haven't Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out Cover Image

And the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is still real. I’m still terrified.

My Post-2 copy

There are new podcasts every Tuesday and our handle on the tech gets better as you go along. I promise.

We talk about love, marriage, living in Maine with dogs and also give writing and life tips with linked content back on the blog. It’s um – cough – different.

My Love Affair With Big Foot and Why I Write Books About Girls Saving People (and hairy creatures)

When I was a kid, I played alone most of the time.

Yes, this is VERY- VERY sad.

My siblings are way older than I am. We lived out in the country. There was a lot of woods and a lot of swamp. My parents worked. So after school I would be all alone.

This meant that most of the time:

1. I read library books
2. I wrote stories when I ran out of library books.
3. I looked for Bigfoot when I got writer’s cramp.

I looked for Bigfoot a lot actually.

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This book cover is pretty much what I wanted to happen. I wanted Bigfoot to come and steal me away and I would save him from evil scientists who wanted to kill him. We’d take care of each other and potentially fall in love.

It was a lot like the Disney plot of Harry and the Hendersons...

Only in my version there was no John Lithgow and the Bigfoot was a lot – um – sexier? Yes, it is possible for Bigfoot to be sexy. DO NOT DOUBT!

So, thinking about this today made me feel kind of lonely. I just read about some other authors who had these great memories of playing with people and siblings. My memories of play are these solo made-up stories of me searching for Bigfoot or sitting alone on a rock by the highway writing Star Trek fan fiction for my brother in a little college-lined notebook.

And occasionally I would hang out at Debbie Muir or Kathy Albertson’s house where their moms would feed me things.

Is it no wonder I lost when I ran for office?

So, it’s funny too, when I was thinking about this. It made me realize that my stories all have this large theme running through them about saving people and being heroic and standing it up for what you believe in. I think this whole theme started up with the whole me saving Bigfoot theme in my early play. Weird. I think I’ve grown up so much and then I’m all like  DUDE. I AM STILL WRITING ABOUT HAIRY, HOT GUYS WHO AREN’T QUITE HUMAN AND THE GIRLS WHO SAVE THEM.

Yes, that is a spoiler about pretty much every single fiction book I ever write, ever. Sh. Don’t tell.

When you write books, the things you care about, the things that make you the person you are? They come through. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice. Sometimes it isn’t. A woman once asked me in an angry way, “Why are all your books about strong girls having horrible things happen to them?”

She was trying to get me to not visit her school.

And I was like, “Because horrible things do happen to strong girls.”

But the real truth is that I write books about friendship, about girls saving themselves and the ones they love, and often the world because I needed stories like that when I was a kid. I write those stories because I don’t know how to not let my own inner self leak onto the page. I write those stories because kids need to be lifted up not pushed down, to be told to shut up, to be silenced, because they some adults don’t like what they are saying.

I write those books because teens matter. I write those books because girls and women matter. I write those books because people have to have the courage to save themselves over and over again in one lifetime.

Do Good Wednesday

According to a story on NBC news, suicide rates are spiking in Puerto Rico right now. The relief effort is still happening. A simple thing you can do to help (and get something in return) is buy the salsa remix of Almost Like Praying. This effort is organized by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a bunch of amazing musicians. Your proceeds go directly to help Puerto Rico.

Note: I made that link super large to try to convince you to do it.

Random Marketing and Book Things

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

Kirkus Review says:  Jones gives readers the sketchy details of Berg’s life and exploits in carefully selected anecdotes, employing accessible, straightforward syntax.

And also says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

Booklist says it’s: An appealing picture-book biography. . . Written in concise sentences, the narrative moves along at a steady pace.  

This is lovely of them to say.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be in Exeter, New Hampshire, on a panel for the release of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID.

Thursday, March 15, 2018 – 7:00pm
Water Street Bookstore
125 Water Street
Exeter, NH 03833
Things We Haven't Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out Cover Image

And the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is still real. I’m still terrified.

My Post-2 copy

There are new podcasts every Tuesday and our handle on the tech gets better as you go along. I promise.

We talk about love, marriage, living in Maine with dogs and also give writing and life tips with linked content back on the blog.

Yesterday’s podcast was about how I can’t have a donkey farm or be Bono, but it’s also about character and blocking and how dogs are smarter than people.

The Dog Guide of Five Easy Ways To Make Your Humans Act Less Like Potatoes And Get Moving

This is Gabby, the dog, with an important message.

Fellow dogs, let’s face it, our humans are moving less and less. They stare at the square things that makes noise and takes photos. They snore louder than us. Our walk time is getting significantly low.

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Gabby: This is me, acting like a human, flopped on a bed like a human, unable to move like a human.

 

This is terrifying. Not just for their bodies, but for ours. Yes, I’m looking at you, Sparty Dog. You’re starting to resemble a dark bratwurst.

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Sparty: Bratwurst is delicious!

HUMANS AND SPARTY DOGS GET STUCK IN THEIR BAD HABITS

Look, I know how hard it is to motivate a human and teach her or him a new way of being. But the training is worth the hard work. 

Here are five easy ways to break the human’s habits and get her/him moving around again.

MODEL GOOD BEHAVIOR

Yeah, that’s right. Run around the couch a few times yourself. Bark at the door. Bring your ball to the door and hit the door incessantly with your paw. Eventually, the human will move off the couch and even the writer-job human will step away from their laptop. This is especially true if you can act like you have to go to the bathroom.

MAKE MOVING FUN

Humans respond well to positive reinforcement and affection. When they move, wag your tail. When they stand up, bark encouragingly and smile. This support goes a long way. Play the “take away the remote” game. This is basically ‘fetch’ for humans. You take their shoe, remote, sock, car keys and run away with them. They must fetch them back.  For your writing-job humans this is especially effective if you can get their entire laptop and/or power cord in your jowls and then run.

SCREEN TIME IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM SO STOP IT

I have known Chihuahuas to sit on phones and remotes for days in a heroic attempt to keep their human from watching endless loops of people gluing matches together or brides falling into swimming pools. This is brave and hard on your bottom. I hope it doesn’t come to that for you and your human. If all else fails, enlist the cat to take turns. Writers tend to forgive the cats more for sitting on things.

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Marsie the Cat: They forgive us for our indiscretions because we are godlike rather than doglike. 

But seriously, the more time the human watches other humans doing things, the less time your own human moves.  Also, if a writer says she is writing, but her fingers aren’t moving on the keyboard? She’s lying.

WALK YOUR HUMAN

I know you hate them, all dogs do, but leashing up your human to you almost always means that you can get them off the couch for at least five minutes. Humans are much easier to control when they are tethered to you, so bring them a leash. My favorite is rainbow. Sparty is partial to the sailboat leash even though he hates water. Weirdest Lab mix ever – but that’s another story.

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Sparty: You’re hurting my feelings, Gabby. Water is scary, okay?

According to the American Heart Association if you can get your human walking 30 minutes a day it helps your human’s heart. A lot. Human hearts are suffering lately, so we need to do everything we can to help.

MAKE THEM STAND

I know it’s hard to hide their cellphones, remotes, and laptops under your butt forever (unless you are Marsie), so when they do talk on it (instead of texting), try to get them to stand. Even that little motion and movement helps. So spill your dog food on the floor, drink your water pretty quickly. Do anything to motivate them to stand and move while they talk.

FINAL THOUGHTS

You can do this, dogs! Our humans need physical activity to keep their hearts healthy. Hearts keep them alive. We need them alive because they make bacon.

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Gabby: Bacon is important to happiness.

Random Marketing and Book Things

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

Kirkus Review says:  Jones gives readers the sketchy details of Berg’s life and exploits in carefully selected anecdotes, employing accessible, straightforward syntax.

And also says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

Booklist says it’s: An appealing picture-book biography. . . Written in concise sentences, the narrative moves along at a steady pace.  

This is lovely of them to say.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

And the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is real. I’m terrified.

There are new podcasts every Tuesday and our handle on the tech gets better as you go along. I promise.

We talk about love, marriage, living in Maine with dogs and also give writing and life tips with linked content back on the blog.

Here is a video about it. Sort of.

My Post-2 copy

Tips on Not Going to Jail on a Friday

My Post-2
1. When you say “hi” to a mean lady while perusing the turnips in the produce section and she TOTALLY ignores you, pretend she did not hear you. Do not decide she is rude. Do not throw a turnip at her. This counts as an assault, possibly with a deadly weapon, depending on the hardness of the turnip.
2. When the mean lady cuts in front of you at the fish counter at the grocery store and then asks what the difference between sea scallops and bay scallops are, then follows up that question with the comment on the price ($4.49/lb) and then asks if they’ll be fresh tomorrow, and then asks for a different amount than originally specified, and then once she’s finally done buying a pound of scallops, asks about whether it’s halibut season, not because she’s going to buy any, (“Gosh, aren’t they cheaper in late Spring?”) and then verifies that the price for the damn scallops was $4.49 not $4.41 Do not kill her, no matter how tempted you are. Dunking someone into the lobster tank is not a good idea either. This counts as murder. You go to jail for a long time for murder.3. When the fish man finally gets to you and finishes your order in 20 seconds do not ask him why he skipped you in the first place, or lecture him about it, because he has probaby had a hard day, plus he might give you bad fish in the future. Try to smile. It will be hard.

4. When the nice cashier lady asks you if you found everything okay and how your day is going do NOT get hysterical and tell her about the mean lady saga and then compare it to being invisible and unloved and unworthy and how maybe you should just have an all-dessert lunch to make up for it, so you can be sugar high and guilty feeling as well as depressed over your new invisible status because then the nice cashier lady might call the police who might take you in for disturbing the peace, especially if you stand on the check-out line and try to choreograph a dance in a mad attempt to prove that you are human and you are visible.

5. Just calmly walk out. Smile. Get in car. Do not run red light. Do not bash into mean lady’s car when she decides to stop at a GREEN LIGHT! Yes! Yes! I swear she did.

6. Just go home, crawl into bed. Vow to never go to grocery store again. Feel guilty for being so angry. Wonder if perhaps you need therapy. Wonder if you’ll see mean lady there.

BOOK APPEARANCES

I’ll be hanging out at the launch of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID on March 15th and having  a panel discussion with editor Erin Moulton, Aaluk Edwardson and Ella Andrews at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH. 7pm!

“How to describe the feeling of not being believed? It is the feeling of disappearing.” -Stephanie Oakes

PODCAST AND BOOK NEWS!

Moe Berg

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

The Spy Who Played Baseball

Podcast

In my big writing news, the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is live!

My Post

LIVE!

Please go leave a comment, or a review, and pretend to listen, because I’ve been freaking out about this so hard. It’s on iTunes and Stitcher and Castos at the moment and the RSS feed is also here. The feed has bonus material and free things. It’ll be on GooglePlay if I can ever get the screen to validate to not be just a big webpage of blankness.

Love is Um… Flying on an Airplane to Chicago for Rotary International?

Today, I’m in an airplane heading to a regional leader training for Rotary International, which is this global group of 1.2 million professionals who take action to make change int the world.

They have weekly meetings usually.

They make friends. Here are pictures of me with friends at Rotary.

They do good things with each other and for others. Sometimes we look like dorks doing it, but that’s okay.

I’m the public image coordinator for Zone 24 East, which is the eastern half of Canada and parts of the northern United Staes.

So, because I’m in a plane and don’t have a ton of time, here’s your do good Wednesday post:

Check out this video from Rotary. Check out its links. Thank a Rotarian for committing time to make a positive difference in the world. Even if you can’t join Rotary, your thanks will mean a lot to that Rotarian. I promise. And thank YOU for reading this blog.

 

PERSONAL APPEARANCES

I’ll be hanging out at the launch of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID on March 15th and having  a panel discussion with editor Erin Moulton, Aaluk Edwardson and Ella Andrews at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH. 7pm!

“How to describe the feeling of not being believed? It is the feeling of disappearing.” -Stephanie Oakes

a.s._king

PODCAST AND BOOK NEWS!

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

The Spy Who Played Baseball

In my big writing news, the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is live!

My Post

LIVE!

Please go leave a comment, or a review, and pretend to listen, because I’ve been freaking out about this so hard. It’s on iTunes and Stitcher and Castos at the moment and the RSS feed is also here. The feed has bonus material and free things. It’ll be on GooglePlay if I can ever get the screen to validate to not be just a big webpage of blankness.

 

Sticking Your Finger In A Bear’s Eye: Why We Don’t Believe People When They Talk About Bad Things

Maine Man Fends Off Bear Attack To Save His Puppy

This past week a guy who lives sort of near me fought off a bear who attacked his puppy.

The link is here, but if you don’t want to click through, the man stopped on the side of one of our bigger roads (for Maine) so that his puppy could go to the bathroom. It was an urgent dog need.

The dog owner was zoning out, gazing a different way. Maybe the puppy needed privacy. Scotty was like that. He couldn’t do his doggy business if you watched.  Plus, honestly, why watch?

 

Back to the story…. This guy and his puppy are on the side of the road. Man is admiring vista. Dog is doing dog business.

But then the leash was yanked out of this guy’s hand. He turned and a bear was attacking his puppy, so he did what any dog lover would do. He attacked the bear and stuck his finger in the bear’s eye. The bear ran off. The puppy went to the vet and should be okay.

The newspaper article spent a lot of time corroborating his story. They obviously assumed people wouldn’t think it was true. But the Maine wardens found a bear den close by the site. The vet confirmed that the dog had puncture wounds

But it made me wonder: 

Why do we have such a hard time believing people when they have experiences outside our own experience?

My Post copy

One Of My Own Bear Encounters:

When my daughter Em was little, I had her in the LL Bean backpack carrier – because Maine and LL Bean is basically required gear – and we were tromping through the woods in our backyard when we came around a curve on the ATV trail and smelled this rank skunk odor and saw a bear.

Em said, “BIG DOGGIE! BIG BIG DOGGIE! Pet it?”

She liked dogs.

And I was like, “Shh…. baby. That’s a bear.”

The bear looked at me. I looked at the bear and we backed up and then booked it home where we promptly told the story and we were promptly greeted with…

“Seriously?”

And…

“Yeah, right.”

And…

“You did not see a bear.”

There have been so many time in my life that I’ve told stories of my experiences and been greeted with those phrases, with disbelief.

And it obviously isn’t a phenomenon isolated to me.

Here’s the thing About Experience and Truth: 

Our experience is never the only experience.

Our reality isn’t always other people’s realities.

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Just because it didn’t happen to you, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Just because what happened doesn’t connect with your image of the people involved or even how the world works doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

None of us are all-knowing.

We are not omniscient gods who understand and have knowledge of all things. Sometimes we can’t even remember where we put our car keys or school id. How are we supposed to know the truth of other people’s experiences?

One of my friends once told a story on his Facebook page about a racist thing that happened to him and immediately people said, “You read the interaction wrong. There was probably another reason for that happening.”

No.

Just no.

When we were writing my dad’s obituary, I wrote that he was a truck driver, but my siblings said, “No. He was a mechanic.”

Because I am 14 years younger than my closest sibling, I only knew Dad as a trucker. Since my older siblings were gone from home and out in their own lives when that transition happened, they defined him as a mechanic. Same dad. Same family. Different perceptions. If that can happen within such a closed sphere, imagine what happens in the bigger world.

And the other thing is that none of us are perfect. People we love will do things that are wrong. We will do things that are wrong when it comes to things like understanding other people’s experiences, oppression, bigotry.   How we face these things, what we do, it’s part of what defines us.

We need to trust that our experience isn’t the only experience of anything or anyone out there, that our perception isn’t the only perception. Even when we write stories, we can’t have every single character react and think exactly the same way we do. If we did our readers would throw the book away.

This also applies to life.

If something as simple as a bear encounter has to be enthusiastically proven to be believed, then something is wrong with our society. Something deep.

Let’s start to figure out how to fix that, fix it on multiple levels, the levels of discrimination in all forms, but also in just easy simple truths. Let’s tell our truths and believe others’ truths, too, even when they are uncomfortable, even when they make us feel scared or guilty or conflicted or sad or envious or angry.

We don’t get to define other people’s realities or experiences. Life is not fiction. It’s stranger than that.

Top Five Ways To Channel Your Inner Cat and Get What You Want. 

So, a lot of times when I’m talking to other writers, they tell me that they are full of fear.

I’ve been a firefighter and a dispatcher and a gymnastics instructor and I’ve got to tell you that on a really fundamental life level, writing isn’t as scary as those things. You don’t usually die from typing. I mean, someone could put poison on the keyboard, but that’s pretty rare.

But the thing is that writing is scary because it makes you vulnerable. Communicating is an act of openness. Art is an act of sharing. The potential rejection and judgement that comes from that? It can be scary.

But we want it anyways, us writers. We want it so badly. We want to be published. We want to share our stories.

And that takes an act of bravery, of fierceness.

All of life takes that, really.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the world what you want.

So, I’ve solicited Marsie to help us with the Top Five Ways To Channel Your Inner Cat and Get What You Want In Your Writing Career and Regular Life.

Whew. That was long.

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  1. Tell People You Want Something – It feels pretty alpha, but it’s true. If you want people to pick you up and place you near your cat food, you have to meow at them. Marsie is an expert in this. She has me trained. You can do this, too. Ask people to like your blog, to subscribe, to share. Ask people to buy or read or talk about your book. Some people like to help you. Those people are good people.
  2. Don’t Apologize – Cats do not say sorry for their wants. Neither should you. Full disclaimer: I have no idea how to do this. Sorry. SEE! I just did it!
  3. When People Give You Things Be Cool With It – Does the cat turn down the cat nip? No. The cat does not. Why? Because she knows she deserve to get what she wants. You do too. You deserve good things. You deserve blog readers, book readers, gentle pats on the head. You’ve worked for it.
  4. Don’t Give Up – If you don’t give Marsie food when she first meows at you, does she give up? No. No she doesn’t. Cats ask and ask and ask and demand for what they want. So should you. Keep working on your story, your life, your goal. Don’t give up because someone doesn’t hear you meowing. Make yourself heard. Meow loud.
  5. Meow Loud – Really. Writers and a lot of us introverts and those of who have been oppressed or traumatized we aren’t seen. It’s okay to claim your space. Seriously. Meow loud.

For me? The hard asks are these right now: 

  1. Could you please LIKE and SUBSCRIBE to my blog and podcast?
  2. Could you spread the word about them if you get the chance?
  3. Could you leave positive reviews if you’ve liked my books?

That’s about it. It’s easy to make this author happy.

APPEARANCES

I’ll be hanging out at the launch of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID on March 15th and having  a panel discussion with editor Erin Moulton, Aaluk Edwardson and Ella Andrews at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH. 7pm!

“How to describe the feeling of not being believed? It is the feeling of disappearing.” -Stephanie Oakes

PODCAST AND BOOK NEWS!

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

The Spy Who Played Baseball

In my big writing news, the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is live!

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LIVE!

Please go leave a comment, or a review, and pretend to listen, because I’ve been freaking out about this so hard. It’s on iTunes and Stitcher and Castos at the moment and the RSS feed is also here. The feed has bonus material and free things. It’ll be on GooglePlay if I can ever get the screen to validate to not be just a big webpage of blankness.

Ten Writing Prompts for the Weird

I know that everyone in the entire writing universe loves writing prompts.

I do not love writing prompts. I know! Big admission there. Way to bring on the trolls.

The theory is that writing prompts help authors suffering from the dreaded writing block. I do not ever suffer from the dreaded writing block. I know! I’m hiding now.

Full disclosure: I don’t suffer from writer’s block because I have no internal censor, and also because I accept the fact that my first drafts will be terrible. It’s also because I come from the world of newspapers and poetry. In those worlds, you have big work ethics and are used to making no money at all. So, I refuse to have writer’s block because I am too busy realizing how freaking blessed I am to get to do this at all. So lucky. And I don’t want to be a newspaper reporter again.

I want you to be lucky, too. I want you to be a rockstar of writing, but a cool one without ego issues or substance abuse problems.

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But back to writing prompts.  They help people and people get unblocked.

I look at them, and I get… I get bored.  So, I decided to jazz up some really common ones with a weird twist. I live on an island in Maine, according to my friends that makes it okay for me to be this weird. My friends are liars.

The Ten PROMPTS OF WEIRDNESS

Outside the Window: What’s the monster outside your window doing right now? If that’s not inspiring, what’s the monster in your coffee mug? Oh, yeah. You know it’s there.

The Bloodfeud: Write about the conflict that has torn your family apart for generations. Bonus points for the use of the undead.

The Shuffle: You hear a shuffling noise. Is that from outside or in?

Food: Write a poem about the last time you were served for dinner.

Hamsters in Love: Two hamsters. One love. Separate cages. 

Enemies: Write about the person in real life or pretend life or undead life that you can’t stand. Make them your teacher or your parent. What would that be like?

Unicorn Time: There’s a unicorn. What’s she doing?

Done with You: Write a poem where the first line is “Done with you.”

The Found Poem: Find a blog. Print it out. Circle words. Make a poem out of those words.

The Cat: Write about what’s going on in this cat’s mind.

 

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There! Easy and weird. I hope they help!

 

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PODCAST AND BOOK NEWS!

In my big writing news, the podcast is live!

LIVE!

Please go leave a comment, or a review, and pretend to listen, because I’ve been freaking out about this so hard. It’s on iTunes and Stitcher and Castos at the moment and the RSS feed is also here. The feed has bonus material and free things. It’ll be on GooglePlay if I can ever get the screen to validate to not be just a big webpage of blankness.

 

I am so freaked out this that I actually made a video! And I will probably eventually make a contest or something.

But no matter what, it’s quirky and real, and so much random fun.

I think I’m so worried because it’s so authentic and because I was bullied mercilessly about my Muppet voice when I was a kid. So, yeah…. big vulnerability issues there, which is also why I had to do it. I had to face my fears. Right?

Someone say, “right.”

Please….?

Pausing To Try To Be Chill. Failing. 

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

The Spy Who Played Baseball

Writing With Dogs Who Slobber: The Three Secrets to Awesome Characters

So, you’re probably looking at the blog post title up there and thinking, “What?”

Stay with me a second; I’ll explain, I swear. I’m going to boil down the basic elements of crafting a good story by using my rescue dog, Gabby.

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Gabby is the sort of dog who people love or hate.

Gabby is the sort of dog that lets children climb all over her and hug her and kiss her nose.

Gabby is also the sort of dog who judges people by smell.  If you have alcohol on your breath, she will sneeze and then bark at you. If you are male and have ever had a serious time taking cocaine and you are in my house? She’ll bark incessantly at you and never stop even if your cocaine use was over a decade ago.

So, why am I mentioning this? Gabby is a conflicted character. You want a character like Gabby in your story.

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A conflicted character is a dog or person with a goal. There is a motivation for that goal and a conflict.

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Gabby’s goal is to keep me safe. She is super focused on making sure nothing happens to me or her dog brother Sparty or her cat sister Marsie. Her motivation? Probably because I feed her or because she’s a Great Pyrenees, and that breed’s instinct and training is to keep her charges happy and safe. We are basically her sheep.

IMG_9899Marsie insists she is nobody’s sheep, but I have seen Gabby carry her around the house. She is totally a sheep. 

And it might be because Gabby was abused as a puppy and spent her first year chained to a tree, always chained to a tree, never off a tree. She came to us small, terrified, malformed and malnourished. This is her backstory. All characters have backstories, the what happened before we meet them, the what happened that made them who they are when the story begins.

When Em and I picked up Gabby in Cambridge, she was terrified. Every car was about to run her down. Every person was about to hit her. I sunk to her level and she pushed herself against me. Her ears were infected and full of pain. Everything about her was pain. But there was something else there. It was fear and want and need. She wanted to be loved so badly. She wanted to love back.1930658_10154095751489073_788625899982421964_n

The entire time we were in Cambridge she didn’t bark once.

The entire car ride back and the whole first week? She never barked.

“I have a miracle dog. It is a silent Great Pyrenees,” I told everyone.

The vet laughed.

The rescue organization people laughed.

I was so wrong.

Gabby started being able to sleep with both eyes closed. Gabby’s ears got better. We got her surgery on her hip. She took walks without being afraid that trees were going to fall on her, without thinking that every car held a monster inside of it that would hurt her.

She ate, but she would never fill out.

And she barked.

She barked at everyone who reminded her of where she used to be. She barked at dogs she didn’t know. She barked and jumped and tried to be as threatening looking as possible when she is easily the dog least likely to ever bite a human and most likely to snuggle. You know when experts say dogs hate hugs? Gabby would let you hug her all day.

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So, she’s got a lot of back story there?

What’s the conflict for Gabby or for your characters?

The conflict is the struggle. The conflict is how the reader engages with the character. It’s why the reader keeps reading. It’s how empathy is built. It’s how story is built.

So every character has this trifecta of things: 

Goal

Motivation

Conflict

As a writer, if you muck this up? You’re story will be flat.

As a dog friend/owner, if you don’t realize that your dog’s goal might conflict with a happy silence that comes with a life without barking? You’re going to have an unhappy dog.

So, Gabby’s trifecta of character is: Wants to stop threats by barking (goal) because she wants to keep her happy home and the creatures within it safe (motivation we all understand), but everyone gets a headache when she thinks squirrels are threats and barks too much at them (conflict).

Meg in Wrinkle in Time is: Wants to get her dad back (goal) because who doesn’t want to get someone awesome back (motivation that is pretty understandable if your dad rocks), but dude, she has to travel through time and deal with this great darkness, basically like all the evil in the universe because why not (conflict).

But what makes a character conflicted? Basically anything that stands in the way of her goal.

This can be herself (Gabby wonders if barking is her true calling and doubts herself – an internal conflict).

This can be others (The neighbors call the police because of Gabby’s barking – an external conflict).

This can be the environment (Gabby is in space and cannot bark because there is no sound. Horror! – a conflict caused by setting).

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Writing Tip – Make sure your  main character has that trifecta of conflict, motivation, goal.

Writing Prompts- 

Write about wanting to sing when you have to be quiet.

Write about wanting to tell a secret.

Write about being a zombie who is allergic to meat.

Do Good Wednesday – 

So, I wrote a lot about Gabby being a rescue dog. All my dogs have been. If you have the money, consider donating to a dog rescue. If you have the time and space and need and love, consider adopting. If you have the time, find a rescue near you and be a volunteer. I’ve done home visits and photos for rescues. If you don’t have any of these things, but have social media, share a rescue’s site or a post about a dog (or cat or gecko). You could be the step that helps bring a dog like Gabby to her forever home. Even the smallest things help.

Here are the rescues where I got Sparty the Dog and Gabby the Dog.

New England Lab Rescue

National Great Pyrenees Rescue

And this rescue is possibly my favorite one.

Big Fluffy Dog

 

Random Marketing Things – My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

The Spy Who Played Baseball

And the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is getting closer and closer to real. I’m terrified. Here is a video about it. Sort of.