The Fog of Fiction

E.L. Doctorow is known to have said that “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I absolutely agree that writing fiction is like that a lot of the time for me.

In my novels, I’ve mostly known the beginning, the middle, and the end, before I start typing away. A few of the main characters I’ll know right away, while others I don’t think of until much later. The story fills in as I get closer into the fog and see the next stretch of road.

This picture is of the castle in Barra which is in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. When I went to Barra, this fog settled in so thick that the castle didn’t appear until the ship entered the harbor. It was really cool to see the castle creeping out slowly from the fog.

Some of my most favorite chapters were written as I let the characters edge the story along to the next step and while I as the writer continued to step gently in the fog of fiction. Sometimes people tell me that they could never write a novel because it would be too hard to make all the connections between the characters and the plots.

I always tell them that the trick is to write a chapter at a time – the next chapter will be easier to write once the previous one is finished. You can get through the entire novel that way. 🙂

Writers Write

Sometimes truths are simple: water plants routinely and they flourish or write consistently and soon the novel will be finished. Writing is a verb and the key to being a writer is to simply write. Gardeners garden, runners run, and writers write. Travelers travel even if it’s within driving distance.

This is a picture of my garden a few years ago. When I first moved into the house, the garden was a train wreck of wild weeds. The change to this lovely image you see now was the result of consistent gardening. I didn’t think that I had much of a green thumb, but the big ‘eureka’ moment came when I realized that as long as I took care of the plants each week, they thrived.

It’s a simple truth that when you water plants routinely, they live. Writing is, in many ways, not that different. My novels haven’t written themselves – they wait patiently for me to type them out over time.

Wherever you might be in your creative process, be kind to yourself and don’t get discouraged if you don’t meet a milestone. Just keep writing or painting, or singing – just keep doing. Keep showing up, even when it’s frustrating. Writer’s block is only resolved by writing. Writers write – I find that if I get stuck on one project then I switch to another writing project until I’m unstuck and ready to return to the other. Just keep going, writers and artists. 🙂

Flashes of Inspiration

As a writer, I think about creativity and inspiration a lot. I wonder about muses. For me, travel is probably my main muse along with a nice break for a cup of tea or coffee. Inspiration can be like the guiding flash of light from a lighthouse on a dark night that guides you to shore.

It’s that flash of an idea to fix a scene in a novel or screenplay, or the exact right turn of phrase that perfects the dialogue. Sometimes I get the idea for something when I’m driving or on the treadmill. (What a great excuse to stop running on the treadmill – I have to get home to write!)

In my writer’s group, we end each session with a flash fiction exercise. Usually we have some sort of writing prompt and we each write for a few minutes and then share with the group. What I’ve learned from those sessions is the value of focus, finding inspiration from a few threads in a prompt, and then just rolling with a story idea that isn’t fully formed.

Sometimes that ‘flash fiction’ prompt will join up with another idea in my brain for something to add to a current writing project or an idea for a brand new project. It’s also good practice for basic creative writing.

Wherever you get your inspiration from, I hope that you follow it and nurture it. If that means you have to stop the treadmill earlier than planned, well, that’s just a perk. 🙂

Enjoying the View

Some of the best views are only found after walking up the steepest hills. I think that’s true in writing as well as hiking. A writer looks at a blank page and builds an entire world populated with (what we hope are) interesting characters, step-by-step, just as a hiker walks toward the summit for the best view.

It takes focus and dedication to keep writing through the dark forest of the imagination, when the path ahead is not marked. Every writer also knows the frustration of a dead-end trail and starting over with a big edit.

Some writers even stop mid-way on the trail, staying so long that they build a house and permanent settlement on the road to the novel or memoir, or other creative project. It can be scary to keep walking through the forest, especially when the trail appears to wind along infinitely. Only the writer decides when the summit has been reached.

Sometimes we get lost in the editing process trying to make the work ‘perfect,’ and even when we decide the project is finished, it’s easy to forget to enjoy the view. I hope whatever project you are working toward that you stay with it until you reach the summit, and most importantly, when you arrive that you enjoy the view and celebrate the achievement.


The Beach Read

There is something magical about summer. It’s the season we most typically associate with break time and when we give ourselves permission to relax. We even choose our books because they are perfect ‘beach reads.’ As a novelist of the ‘beach read’ genre I think the whole point of the perfect beach read is the escape it offers us and the permission we give ourselves to just read for the enjoyment of it.

Oddly enough, despite how common the phrase is or how often we ask for them, ‘beach read’ isn’t a real genre. I suppose that’s because the ‘beach read’ is so cool it’s almost spiritually above genre categories. 🙂 Beach reads help us escape our every day and let us dive into another world where we can vacation.

I hope that this summer you find several opportunities to recharge, relax, and take a break from the daily grind. Hopefully you’ll see fireflies darting across a dark field, smell the smoke of a camp fire, and dip your toes into an ocean or a lake, embracing the many small joys of summer. And, if you are still looking for a good beach read, escape to the ‘The Magic of Cape Disappoinment!’ This photo is from one of the many beaches around Cape Disappointment, where you can imagine the characters go in the summer to read and relax themselves. Happy summer, everyone – and, please, don’t forget the sunscreen!

Sense of Place

I love to travel. Some places are destination locations to check off the list, others are places one must drive through to get somewhere else, and then there are the places that pull you back for return trips. For me, Cape Disappointment became the latter. This picture is from Astoria, Oregon, looking across the Columbia River toward Cape Disappointment. My first trip to the cape was a weekend camping trip that turned out to be more adventurous than I had expected due to our camp neighbors deciding, rather irresponsibly, to feed marshmallows to a family of raccoons.

Of course, those raccoons then decided that our camp likely would be another stop on their buffet and they paced around the tent while I sat, rather freaked out, inside hoping they would move along soon. I’m happy to report that they eventually moved along without much other fuss. Since that first visit I’ve been back to Cape Disappointment many times and published my novel (The Magic of Cape Disappointment) that takes place there.

Recently I had returned to Cape Disappointment and the surrounding towns on a terrific vacation. Spending time checking out the coffee shops, watching the ships in the river, sitting on the beach by the ocean, and hiking to the lighthouse were simple pleasures that make me smile to remember them.

I hope that this summer you find places that speak to you and they become destinations you also quickly plan to return. If your travels send you anywhere near Seattle or Portland, I recommend a trip to Cape Disappointment. Who knows? You might just stumble upon some magic there yourself. Or at least maybe that same raccoon (remember, please don’t feed the wildlife).

Small Miracles

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that author blogs are often a mixed bag. They aren’t novels, they aren’t essays, and for me at least, they are uncharted territory. I hope this one doesn’t disappoint, but odds are, it will take me a while to make it really awesome.

I’ve enjoyed the feedback from the readers, regardless of whether or not they loved the novel or they didn’t. Somehow these readers who weren’t related to me and didn’t know me stumbled upon ‘The Magic of Cape Disappointment‘ and took a chance.

They spent hours of their time with my characters and what a great, tremendous honor that is for me. And, let’s face it, a bit of a miracle considering the very large book market available today. Not only did they read it, but they wrote a review! Again, people not related to me read my novel. Thanks, guys – it really does mean the world to me.

Every comment helps me learn how to improve and how to make the next novel even more awesome. So, at the end of the day, I’m okay that there wasn’t a team of people to approve the launch of my novel. Of course, wouldn’t it be great to have that type of support at the beginning of any project? Still, I’ve learned so much and have been really inspired. So inspired that I’m writing the follow-up novel!

Friends, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the novel and characters. I hope that if you are working on a creative project that you push on through the fear and panic, because it’s not as scary as you might think once you’re on the other side.