Writing

Writing Ideas notebook inside story idea notes

An Intention To Write and a Notebook of Prompts

A writer must write. Once you stop writing new stuff, you become a former writer. I don’t think there’s an official number of days or months without writing after which you lose your writer’s license, but six months to a year might be it.

I published my most recent book in May 2022. Since then, the only original material I’ve written has been blog posts and book reviews. My posts are short and my reviews are informal. I don’t think of them as “real writing.” Novels, short stories, poetry, and polished essays on specific subjects—those are the real thing.

If I don’t want to stop calling myself a writer, I’d better start writing something new. Soon.

For more than twenty years, my writing efforts were directed to the four novels I call the Herbert West Series and the two that succeeded it, She Who Comes Forth and She Who Returns. There is also a collection of short fiction I published in 2020, but seven of its fourteen stories are spinoffs from the series. I lived in the world of those novels for more than two decades.

It’s time to write something different. Vague ideas have been fermenting in the bottom of the old writing vat for years. When something specific bobbed to the top, I would make a note in the Writing Ideas notebook. (That’s if the notebook and a pen were on hand at the time, or if I managed to remember the great idea long enough to write it down. If only one could find the place where all the lost great ideas end up!)

Writing Ideas notebook cover blue Mead Five Star

This is my Writing Ideas notebook. I have recently combed through it, looking for anything that doesn’t relate to stuff I’ve already written and published. I now have a list of story ideas, plot outlines, and half-baked thoughts to work with.

Writing Ideas notebook cover blue Mead Five Star

The preceding was a circuitous way to get around to this declaration: During 2023, I will write a number (as yet undetermined) of stories or other works based on those notes.

I will report progress on this project in July 2023. The idea is that once written, some of these pieces will coalesce into something bigger. Not a novel, exactly, but something held together by themes that persist in haunting me. Even if that doesn’t happen, I will at least have a number of original pieces and maintained my Writer’s Cred.

Fellow writers, what do you do when you don’t have a work in progress? Do you worry that you’re no longer a real writer if you’re not working on something substantial?


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digital brain

Brain Limits

I’ve heard you can’t really multi-task, despite people who claim they can.

I don’t entirely agree. I can do more than one thing at a time, but only to a point. For example, I can perform simple familiar tasks, like washing dishes, while thinking about something I’m writing or intend to write. And listening to a news program. In fact, I need to have some sort of mental input while doing manual work, even something like sewing, which is not simple or familiar.

But there are limits. I’ve tested them.

First, let me describe the usual scenario in my writing and blogging space. There’s the computer, with a bunch of weather-related tabs open, plus WordPress, plus Goodreads and a few others. Also email, of course. There’s an old-fashioned mini-stereo setup behind and to one side of the computer. It can play CDs and even cassette tapes, although it’s hardly ever called upon to do that. Mostly it’s a radio, and if I’m at the computer, it’s always on, cranking out music, news, or a current affairs program. Sometimes there’s music on the radio and at the same time a podcast on the computer, talking to me through one earbud. And as well as listening, I’m reading blog posts, or even writing one.

multitasking head media colourful
Image from Pixabay

Is this ideal? Probably not, but it seems to work. Is it multi-tasking? No. It’s sequential tasking. The old brain can deal with only one or perhaps two of these inputs at a time. The music seems to seep through the other stuff, but if it fully engages my attention, I disengage from the other tasks so I can listen properly. Otherwise, I’m taking in and focussing on only the words I’m reading, writing, or listening to, for sequential short intervals. I have to admit, I miss a lot of details of the radio programs while paying attention to blog posts or whatever I’m writing. Quite often, my attention is caught by the host thanking the interviewee or announcing the performer, having missed whatever was said, played, or sung. Annoying, but there it is.

When this input-juggling is working well, I can actually get things read or written and switch focus in time to get something out of whatever I’m listening to. It’s not the best way to absorb information, but it’s the only way I’ve come up with to keep up with the blogs I follow and what’s going on in the world, as well as creating blog posts and other writings.

Maybe this is why by the end of the day I don’t trust myself to write comments on people’s blog posts. The brain is worn out!

A final thought: if a long writing session is too challenging, a five-minute one jammed in between other mental tasks is manageable. Several such sessions actually produce visible results. Note: I don’t write first drafts of novels this way; that’s a whole other process!

Ideal combinations:

  • manual work + informative radio program
  • reading blogs + informative radio program or music
  • reading fiction + music
  • writing + music

Ideally, only two inputs at a time, you notice.

On the other hand, I don’t watch anything. At all. Well, maybe the odd video, but only if it’s a short one. No TV, no streaming. I read a lot of books. I do this reading away from the computer and even the radio, mainly during meals and before going to sleep.

Fellow bloggers, how do you avoid brain overload? Do any of you multitask?

The Necromancer’s Daughter: a novel by D. Wallace Peach

First, a word from Diana:

Greetings, Audrey. Thanks so much for inviting me to join you on your blog to talk a bit about my new book The Necromancer’s Daughter. I wanted to share a little dilemma that I had at the start of the book and how I chose to handle it. It’s interesting to me how certain stories challenge us to try something different.
The first section of the book, The Necromancer, is six chapters long, and it introduces Barus. For most of this section, Aster hasn’t been born, so the story unfolds in Barus’s POV.
Then, the story takes a turn and jumps ahead to section two, called The Necromancer’s Daughter. Aster, as a young woman, takes over the story, and Barus fades from the spotlight.
But I liked Barus, and I hoped readers would like him too. And though he isn’t present for the majority of the remaining action, he continues to be extremely important to the story. How would I keep him present and involved if he wasn’t, in fact, present and involved? Hmmm.
I decided that while he fled the kingdom in search of a safe haven, he would write a letter to Aster, in installments similar to a diary. It was my little dive into epistolary storytelling (storytelling through letters). I’m crossing my fingers that it worked.
Thanks again for having me along, and many thanks to your blog buddies for visiting. Happy Reading!

The word “necromancer” in the title captured my interest. My own writing has given me an acquaintance with such an individual, so I was intensely interested in Barus and how he returns the dead to life. Here is an excerpt in which Barus studies his mother Olma’s book of medicines, potions, and cures, specifically, the chapter titled Death Magic:

double quotation mark open

He turned the page and sighed with relief at the plainly written recipes employing common herbs and natural toxins, hallucinogens distilled from plants growing near his home. The many drawings included black henbane and jimson weed, moonseed and baneberry, all familiar to him. Instructions detailed methods for turning necromantic solutions into powders, determining portions, and administering them with…
He froze. The last ingredient on the list stopped his breath.
Human blood.
He shut the book with a thump. Dawn flung golden spears through gaps in the thatch, and he sagged with fatigue, face in his hands. He’d wasted his time. Olma would never have stolen a life, never poisoned and bled one soul to save another. She must have discovered a different way. He dropped his hands and stared at the cut on his knuckle. Another bead of blood had smeared and dried.
His own blood.
He stroked the book’s leather cover as he grasped the nature of the scars on Olma’s arms, scars she’d never explained. Possibility coursed through his veins and lit a fire behind his eyes. Never again would he lose someone he loved.

I loved this! I loved it because it involves a book of esoteric lore, and names real plants used in magic. And the necromantic ritual is not a simple matter of following a recipe. The practitioner must suffer and risk losing his or her life. The scene in which Barus heals Aster from death is both harrowing and poignant. It is incredibly compelling. And it’s only the beginning of peril and fear for both Barus and Aster, as they are hunted by those who believe them to be abominations.

Book Description:
A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant, and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, he breathes life into the wisp of a child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she learns to heal death.
Then the day arrives when the widowed king, his own life nearing its end, defies the Red Order’s warning. He summons the necromancer’s daughter, his only heir, and for his boldness, he falls to an assassin’s blade.
While Barus hides from the Order’s soldiers, Aster leads their masters beyond the wall into the Forest of Silvern Cats, a land of dragons and barbarian tribes. She seeks her mother’s people, the powerful rulers of Blackrock, uncertain whether she will find sanctuary or face a gallows’ noose.
Unprepared for a world rife with danger, a world divided by those who practice magic and those who hunt them, she must choose whether to trust the one man offering her aid, the one man most likely to betray her—her enemy’s son.
A healer with the talent to unravel death, a child reborn, a father lusting for vengeance, and a son torn between justice, faith, and love. Caught in a chase spanning kingdoms, each must decide the nature of good and evil, the lengths they will go to survive, and what they are willing to lose.

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About Diana Wallace Peach:
A long-time reader, best-selling author D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life when years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books. She was instantly hooked.
In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes participation in various anthologies featuring short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She’s an avid supporter of the arts in her local community, organizing and publishing annual anthologies of Oregon prose, poetry, and photography. Peach lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

Conundrums and Contradictions

I have been known to question writing “rules.” (See how those quote marks sneaked in?) Sometimes I wonder why… Am I a knee-jerk rebel, one who thinks any piece of written schlock is good as long as it was written sincerely? Do I really think writers who follow rules and comb through their works-in-progress for transgressions are “sheeple,” churning out lifeless overworked prose?

I hope not, but…

One thing I’ve realized: I react negatively to words and phrases I see trotted out repeatedly and without question. Phrases like “Show, don’t tell,” “Kill your darlings,” and “Never use [insert word(s) here].”

Such writing rules are triggers for me.

Now I’ve admitted all that, here are some thoughts that won’t go away…

Why is it OK for established writers to flout the rules? And don’t say it’s because they do it well. If prologues and backstory are bad, they’re bad, no matter who writes them. Right?

Is “info-dump” simply a pejorative term for what is called “rich, detailed description” when it appears in a book by a big-name author published by the Big Five? (Maybe soon to be the Big Four?)

Does anyone really write a first draft that conforms to the three-act story structure? I’m convinced that structure in a work of fiction is discovered after completion, rather than deliberately created by the writer. Especially in a first draft.

Every main character must have a goal, and every scene must contribute to their efforts to reach that goal. No goal, no story. Really? What about characters who are just bumbling along through life? OK, those are found in “literary” novels. (Yes, I know many of these well-worn rules apply to genre fiction.)

Why do some poorly-written books get 5-star ratings and gushing reviews? Could it be that those readers skimmed the boring parts and are happy as long as the book ends with a startling twist or a heartwarming scene? (OK, let’s toss a few sour grapes into the mix.)

I can’t help but notice that many advice-to-writers posts illustrate their points—about creating hooks, or where the first pinch-point should be, or what kinds of conflict you really need—with examples from movies, not books. What does that tell you? Their advice is not directed to screenwriters, after all, but to those who write long-form fiction. Why can’t these folks come up with examples from novels or stories? Maybe they don’t read much?
(This is not a rhetorical question; I really don’t know.)

All right, steam has been let off. That’s it for now. (And those colour-gradient backgrounds are fun!)

gargoyle grumpy

Does anyone else harbour niggling thoughts like these? Little thought-bugs you can’t swat away? Here’s your chance to share them with your fellow writers and readers!

What Happens Before the Writing?

Cage Dunn describes what she does before starting to write. This background work places the character into an environment with depth and nuance. Does anyone else follow a process like this? Comments on the original post, please!

Cage Dunn - Fibber, Fabricator, Teller-of-Tall-Tales

Pre-writing is a thing for me. I have pages and pages of ‘stuff’ that relates to some aspect of the story. Snippets of conversation, an overheard argument between unknown characters, sounds, places, objects. I particularly like rambling about the history of the place they’re in. How it started, why it started, when it grew beyond the initial dream and became ‘somewhere’. It means nothing to the story I write afterward, but it means something to me as I’m writing – it makes it real in my mind.

All these little bits go into the mix for that purpose – to feel real, to make it more than an imagined thing. There’s too much of it to be fake or imaginary. The people have history, the place has history, the underlying tensions and bickering and secrets make it as real as everything around me that I see, hear, touch, smell, experience.

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Novel or Novella?

Mark Paxson at Writers Supporting Writers has a question about whether to develop a promising story into a novel or treat it as a novella.

“Do you ever have this experience? You start a story. It’s going great and then something gets in the way and you begin to wonder if you can actually pull it off. If you can get your head around all of the details and the possibilities and the realities of the story itself?”

You may read the rest of Mark’s post HERE, and offer your thoughts in the comments.

What Are “Darlings,” and Why Should We Kill Them?

Uh-oh, it’s happened. I’ve been resisting, but now I’ve caved in. I’m writing a post about the second most popular piece of advice for writers (after “Show, don’t tell”): “Kill your darlings.”

First, the origins of the phrase. My admittedly casual googling led me to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who apparently said: “If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.'”

But what is a writer’s “darling”? I’ve seen the term applied to characters, scenes, sentences, and even single words. Strictly speaking, it’s anything that does not move a story along, however well-written it may be.

I can’t really quibble with that. Anything that weakens a piece of writing, that makes it less readable or creates plot holes or lapses in logic, should be changed or deleted.

But…

I don’t care for the phrase. Especially when it’s trotted out smugly and superciliously, with the unspoken but implied addendum of “…you naïve little writer, you.” It’s not the advice I object to, but the way it’s worded. Because it includes “kill” and “darlings” in close proximity, it’s seized upon with glee by people looking for an “advice to writers” topic.

The main thing that bugs me about “Kill your darlings” is the implication that anything the writer really loves about their writing, any sentence or paragraph they think is especially fine, must necessarily be a “darling,” and so should be ushered to the chopping block.

I don’t think that’s the meaning of the advice, however. Rather than “If you think it’s good, it must be bad,” think of it this way: If a scene or paragraph detracts from or harms the story, consider deleting it, even if it’s well-written.

I wonder how many writers, reviewing a work in progress after a productive writing session, think “Wow, this is really good. Did I really write this? It’s great!” Only to decide the whole thing must be a “darling” (because they like it so much), and therefore they must delete it forthwith. They end the session in a demoralized state, berating themselves for being a “bad writer.”

Getting back to Q (Quiller-Couch’s pen name), I’m wondering if that advice, which appeared in a lecture series, wasn’t intended as a rhetorical exaggeration, rather than an ironclad rule. Some writers–and those who love giving advice to us–are always looking for hard-and-fast rules, as though by adhering to them religiously, we can produce perfect pieces of writing.

Well, no. Writing doesn’t work that way. There is no formula or recipe.

Here is my revision of “Kill your darlings”: If some element in a piece of writing introduces awkwardness or is out of synch with the rest, take a close look at it. Consider changing or deleting it, even if you think it’s well-written.

Okay, that’s not nearly as brief and memorable as “Kill your darlings.” So if KYD is a actually a code for my longer and duller revision, great! But don’t automatically assume the worst of any piece of writing you love. By all means subject it to scrutiny. Seek out the opinions of critique partners, beta-readers, or editors. Consider their opinions (keeping in mind that mean-spirited or envious individuals may apply that “darling” label for reasons of their own). Don’t automatically “kill” something just because you like it.

Verbascum chaixii, yellow mullein with purple stamens
If I followed the KYD rule as a gardener, I would rip out these yellow mulleins, because they intrude into the path. But gardeners aren’t told to kill their darlings, so there they are.

Fellow writers, do you kill your darlings? How do you identify the ones that deserve deletion?

By the way, my most recent novel, She Who Returns, is free today (July 24th) on Amazon. Click the link below the cover image.

Featured image from Pexels