Of course, first I scrubbed the kitchen sink, did a load of laundry, sent belated birthday cards, and read a “Be Kind to your Kidneys” article. All essential stuff – when you’re supposed to be writing your current book…

YakIs it ‘Yak Shaving’ again? For those of you who weren’t there: ‘Yak Shaving’ is when you find yourself doing something as irrelevant as shaving a yak (don’t ask!), instead of the goal you set out to accomplish. MIT student Carlin Vieri invented the term and blogger Seth Gordon, explained, “the seemingly unrelated, endless series of small tasks that have to be completed before the next step in a project can move forward.” Hmmm.

Don’t get me wrong. I have increased my writing accomplishments ten-fold.

I started a strange mystery about a young, dark-haired girl (so not autobiographical!) in London climbing out of a window to escape… you get the gist. I’ve written many pages of another new mystery set in a small, Greek coastal village. A 60-year-old widow returns to the site of her honeymoon, hoping to find some direction in her life – but finds mayhem instead…I wonder where that ideal came from? Perhaps I should go back and do some more research in that village. What a great idea! Then there’s a World War Two mystery – only six pages done on that one. I’m also still fiddling with my Lottie Topaz Book Two. I’ve written several chapters, know where I’m going – I thought. But the rest is still foggy. So, I took Jackie Vick’s advice and moved away from that book to focus on another project. All these other new storylines. She’s right about the insights you get as you write the draft of another book. Answers to the one you were stuck on filter through whilst writing the next.

As you can see, I’m all over the place. I share this with my fellow writers and readers, not as a cry for help. Well maybe a smidge. More as a warning. Don’t do as I do!

When I see what fellow blogger Linda Johnson accomplishes – she’s a prolific novelist, meeting deadlines with her strict writing schedules. Gayle Pool, Jill Amadio and Miko Johnson all do it. And Jacki H. continues to promote all of us and write children’s stories, as well.

I ask myself, what is wrong with me? I know better. I think I’m missing a gene…

Pushing RockSometimes I feel like  Sisyphus – the Greek Mythology, evil sinner Sisyphus was condemned to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a mountain. Once he got to the top, the weight of the boulder forced it to start rolling down to the bottom, wherein he had to start again.  According to Albert Camus, the Greek gods felt that there is no more dreadful punishment than this futile and hopeless labor for Sisyphus. Hmmm.

So,  I’ll stop whining! I think this is the way writers’ lives go – seasons of fruitfulness and seasons of distractions.

Stephen King said of writers: “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” And I’m certainly not afraid of hard work. Just sometimes need a push in the right direction to get over that hump!

When you think of it, we’re really lucky. This is what we choose to do: write. Yes, most of us have ‘day jobs’ – other ways to survive, whilst we feed our muses. Or they feed us. I think most of us have managed several careers – often simultaneously. Which become wonderful sources of material for our writing. And I can’t complain.

It’s not as if we have to study for years, as doctors, nurses and medical professionals do in order to improve and save people’s lives. Or go through really tough, brutal training and then, literally, put ones’ life on the line every day as our police officers and military do, in order to protect us all.

Computer filesWe sit at our computers – or with pad and pen – and spill our imaginations onto the page. We aim to entertain, to educate, to inspire, to elevate people’s lives and show them different possibilities – escape into other worlds. Or perhaps just to make them laugh. Everyone needs to laugh. Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”  And then some of us write because we just want to.

And so I get back to the writing. To the completion of writing. Of getting unstuck and moving forward with all the storylines and characters coursing through my brain and – sometimes – tumbling out onto the written page. Hooray!

Fortunately, I’m not alone. As very successful and prolific author M.C. Beaton  – author of the Hamish Macbeth and the Agatha Raisin series – once said when asked her worst habit – “Procrastination!” she replied. Yay! There’s hope for me yet! The interview continued with her philosophy: “Stop projecting. Tomorrow’s a mystery. This is not a rehearsal. I’m on stage now.”  Although my favorite was her answer was to the question, “What do you collect?” M.C.’s immediate response: “Dust. I’m a lousy housekeeper.”

Thankfully, after this cathartic Blog, I’m ready to get going again. Move to the next stage. Be disciplined. Finish one book before moving on to the next. Get going.

Someone once said, “Move forward. Aim high. Plan a takeoff. Don’t just sit on the runway and hope someone will come along and push the airplane. It simply won’t happen. Change your attitude and gain some altitude. Believe me, you’ll love it up here. “

I’m ready for my take off. How do you get unstuck and move forward?      

Rosie and sister 2 cropped……………………………

A Do-Over Dilemma

by Miko Johnston

If you had your life to live over, would you change it in any way? And assuming the answer is yes, how – or more to the point,  how much – would you change it?

For me that’s not a philosophical question. I actually have the opportunity to change an entire life, only it isn’t mine. It’s my characters’.

When CAB, the publisher of my first three books, ceased operations, the rights reverted to me. I was fortunate to find a new publisher to accept all four books and after some consideration, decided to focus on getting the new book published before reissuing the previously issued novels.

I received my original publishing contract on July 4, 2014 for the first two books of the series, already completed, and first right of refusal for the next two. Six years later to the day, my new publisher notified me that proof copies for A Petal In The Wind 4 were on order. While I wait, I’m preparing the earlier three books.

I knew of two mistakes in the series that needed correcting: an engagement ring that mysteriously wound up on a different finger and a currency that wasn’t in use at the time the book took place. I felt certain I would also find some spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors as I reread each book in order, which I did and noted for correcting. I also found something I didn’t consider – signs of an inexperienced writer.

If you’ve read this blog over time, you may recall me saying my writing has matured along with my character Lala, and that statement became abundantly clear as I returned to my earlier works.

As a novice working on my first book, I lacked confidence in my writing and kept many aspects simple. I didn’t understand how to show the passage of time, other than having the characters go to bed one night and wake up the next morning. The idea of carrying a story over weeks, let alone years, felt too complicated, so my first book takes place in the course of a week and has a linear plotline. Very few scenes have more than three characters interacting, and I kept the language simple. One reader, who gave me my worst review ever (two stars), said, “The book reads like it was written by a child.” My protagonist was a child, “almost eight”, so I relied on subtext to convey some plot points. I will admit I found some of it overly dramatic.

By the second book, I felt able to carry the main story over the course of several months and comfortably handle scenes with four or more characters. In it, Lala is a young woman who’s about to experience romantic love for the first time. My reaction was similar to the first book – very dramatic, perhaps overly so. If I were writing it today, I would have been more subtle, but does the heightened drama and verbal hand-wringing reflect the character, even if it no longer reflects my writing?

Now I’m faced with a dilemma similar to what Lala faced in that book, when a ruse she devises backfires and she finds herself trapped. She observes what she fears most “…hadn’t taken place—yet. It could be stopped. She could stop it.” Ultimately she does.

What about me? Should I correct the mistakes and leave the rest as is, or make changes to the book to reflect the writer I am today? I can do it, but it doesn’t mean I ought to.

Have you found yourself in a similar situation? What did you do? What would you advise me to do?

What will I choose to do? Keep posted.

Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers in Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies, including “LAst Exit to Murder” and the soon-to-be-released “Whidbey Landmarks.”

The fourth book in her series is available now.

Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com


What’s On YOUR Bookshelf?

by Jill amadio

Books, books, books.  Does the possession of them denote one’s mental state, intelligence, or expertise? I have often been forced to come to some conclusion when I have watched pundits and talking heads expound on television, especially during Zoom interviews during the pandemic. Invariably they place themselves in a chair in front a bulging bookcase. Who tells them to do this?

The bookshelves appear to be mostly Ikea white and perhaps hastily purchased when asked to appear on TV from home. Do these people rush out to second-hand bookstores to load up books with which to fill the shelves? Leading, of course, to viewers wanting to know, “What are you reading?”

One pundit had his books arranged by spine color and seemed particularly attracted to blue with three shelves of them. Another, a doctor, had a stethoscope dangling from the top shelf. A female psychiatrist had a full shelf of Very Large Tomes behind her head, and a couple of attorneys stood in front of their office law libraries while being interviewed. I haven’t seen a chef interviewed unless he was in the kitchen and I imagine he’d never sink so low as to stand in front of other chefs’ cookbooks. The exception, of course, would be his own recipe book but usually cooks teach by showing rather than telling; the same advice impressed upon authors.

Writers, of course, have more sense. They place their books full frontal on the shelf unless they have only a single book so far. A handful of years ago I went to the Barnes and Noble bookstore in the South Bay where my friend, Christopher J. Lynch, was signing his biography of “Leave It to Beaver” star, Ken Osmond. The store manager had commandeered an entire wall of bookshelves, and filled them with copies of the books facing out. It was a stunning display for an author.

Many writers I know run out of bookshelf space and begin piling books on the floor or finding nooks and crannies to fill. One client for whom I ghostwrote a biography kept a small shelf of paperbacks in her bathroom as many people do. I spotted another who had a penchant for refusing to return library books and not even bothering to removing their old category tags.

Sol Stein, of Stein and Day publishing, invited me to lunch at his baronial estate on the Hudson River in New York. He led me through four rooms completely occupied by books, piled precariously halfway up the walls and all over the floor. Most of them were not new editions from his company but appeared to be his lust for reading. His book, “Stein on Writing” is still my bible when I get stuck trying to figure out plot points and character.

Since my move to Connecticut I haven’t been invited into anyone’s home yet as people here tend to meet at cafes, parks, or the beach. Just as well. We really shouldn’t judge a person by their books.  I have brought many of my books with me and I will cling to them forever, especially the how-to-murder manuals and other crime research books. My favorites include “The Secret Service” which inexplicably details their crime-fighting methods; how the witness protection program works, and their training sessions. Another is “The Writer’s Complete Crime reference Book,” and a well-thumbed edition of an 11-lb. book describing just about every opera ever composed, debuted, and by whom sung.

It’s no secret that many authors find titles from the classics including poetry on their bookshelves. Shakespeare’s works are a prime target for this kind of research. I used my extremely heavy “The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations,” published in 1953, to find the title for my latest book, “In Terror’s Deadly Clasp,” within a poem by John Donne.

Although Google and other online search engines have replaced the need for consulting hard copies and trips to the library, reading a print book for ideas can often lead to more ideas if you happen to turn to the wrong page and discover a piece of information you can use in your writing. As I grow older I find myself more frequently reading “A Thematic Dictionary.” It is a ‘discriptionary’ with cross-references three different ways for those of us who know what something is but not what it is called, although it may be just on the tip of the tongue. The section on lungs is fascinating for its explanation of devil’s grip and goblet cells.

Perhaps paying a visit to your own bookshelves will reveal a treasure you had forgotten. I wish I had bought a book I found at an airport gift shop in Jakarta. It was bound in beautiful red leather and titled “Sukarno.” I opened it up and every page was blank. I guess the publisher wanted to titillate buyers before the Indonesian leader passed away and there would be no repercussions about his controversial reign while he still lived.

Bookshelves and their contents are food for thought. What is on yours?


Photo by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash
Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash
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