How can anyone write like that?

deskroseTime for another confession. I posted this photo on Facebook last week, and Judith Baxter commented that, now, she could picture me at my writing desk. Well, yes and no. The vase is sitting on my desk, but the photo is carefully staged. Even so, it shows a bit of the mess on my printer stand. I’m a messy writer … not in my actual writing, but in my surroundings as I work.

I’ve read that this is a bad way to work, that a cluttered desk means a cluttered mind. Well, yeah. That’s my mind, ten things going on at once. To be honest, I can’t explain how I’ve managed to write and edit four full novels. Probably my messy ways explain why I have four partly written novels.  But even those I know will be finished at some point.

A lot of writers blog and even write whole books about their work habits. Some of them speak as if theirs is the only way to write bestsellers. They could be right about the bestseller part; I haven’t accomplished that—yet. But I wholeheartedly believe there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing methods. You can force yourself to work in a way that’s not natural for you. But why should you?

Writing is hard enough without stifling your “muse” with some other writer’s rules. I know. I’ve tried. My brain rebels at rigid systems of outlining, work scheduling, or fast and furious, non-edited first drafts. I don’t dress up like I’m going to an office. I don’t meditate before I begin work. I don’t create music playlists for accompaniment. I don’t use dictated writing prompts. I don’t set daily word count targets.

I write in comfortable clothes, generally without makeup or hair styled—to be honest, sometimes I never change out of my pajamas. I write while I should be doing the laundry or the gardening or a thousand other things. I write because there are stories in my head. And I love stories. And I delight in figuring out how to transform those stories into words.

Today, I sat at my desk surrounded by drawings and trinkets made by my grandchildren. I sat amid scattered papers and sticky notes, and tea mugs, and cookie crumbs. I sat beside the open window that enhanced my workspace with bird song and rose perfume. I closed my eyes and saw. I stopped my ears and heard. I rested my fingers on the keyboard, and the pure unadulterated magic of imagination directed them to create.

That’s the way I write.

Your mileage may vary. And that’s totally cool.

Okay, are you ready? Don’t judge. This is what the rest of my desk usually looks like.




Not writer’s block, it’s an abduction!

For the first time in eons, I’ve decided not to watch American Idol this season. I doubt they’ll miss me. I’m not in their target demographic, nor am I an educated listener. Quite often, I think someone gave a wonderful performance, and then the judges tear it to pieces. And I confess, I’ve only ever bought one winner’s CD, and that was Daughtry’s. So, yeah. No Idol this year.

I will be watching Mad Men when it returns because it’s great writing, but I really need to limit my distractions, and watching TV is low on my priority list anyway. I have far too many distractions at a time when I need NONE. During lunch with a writer friend last week, we talked about missing the fire we had when we wrote our last books, when the words came so fast we could barely keep up. I’ve had little success stoking that on my WIP.

Recently, I’ve read some blog posts about “excuses” for not writing. Needing long periods of quiet, uninterrupted time was mentioned as a bogus excuse. Well … maybe for those writers it is. I know many writers have small children and manage to write prolifically. I know many writers have day jobs and manage to write prolifically. I’m not one of those writers.

Last year, my schedule changed drastically. Gone, instantly, were the 40 hours per week of being alone, in silence, to write. I knew it might be harder to do, but I thought I could carry on. After all, I had this writing thing down pat. Maybe I could have if the stresses of those circumstances had not increased my fibromyalgia symptoms. It sent them raging, to be honest. Physical pain, I can work with, through, or around, but some of my symptoms are brain related, and that’s a bummer when you’re trying to write.

At times, my brain is foggy. I see the scene, I just can’t quite translate it to words. Like fish in water, the words are right there, but they slip out of my fingers when I try to grab them. Sometimes I can only see the shadows in a scene and when I look for the objects that cast them, they jumble and I can’t make sense of anything. It’s like The Muse is teasing me. Cruelly.

Then there’s the ADD-like symptoms. I open my file, type a few words, and then I find myself in the kitchen making tea. Or checking the pantry for dinner ingredients. Or googling for toothpaste without sodium laurel sulfate. Or playing a Facebook game. Or—believe it or not—cleaning out the junk drawer. Why did I stop writing? I have no clue. It just happens. Abducted by my alien brain.

When I realize what’s happened, I sit back down. I may write a paragraph or two at a time, so that’s progress of a sort, but the pace is horribly frustrating. It’s not as if I’m a literary writer who turns out a masterpiece every decade or two. So, the writing’s not going too well, but it’s not for lack of trying.

By the way, if any of you fibro suffers have a suggestion for fighting the fog and lack of concentration, I’d love to hear it.

An unwelcome delay in the plan

The holidays are over, once again my home contains the usual two human and one feline occupants, and this was supposed to be my first day back to serious work on my next novel. However, there’s a glitch. I’ve pinched the sciatic nerve in my back again, and the pain and discomfort makes it hard to think or to sit for long.

I have a few things in the works for January, but nothing today, so I’ll give you a glimpse of a day trip we took a few days after Christmas. Three adults and three kiddos piled into a van and headed for the coast. It turned out to be a beautiful sunny, warm day with little wind, but, as usual, the water was frigid at the William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach near San Simeon, California.

The water temperature didn’t keep the little ones from playing in the surf, though, and they had an equally good time digging holes in the sand—or making a sand angel. We had to drag their teeth-chattering little bodies to the picnic table with a promise to let them return to the water after they ate and warmed up a bit.

After lunch, we walked on the pier, and I watched the waves. And, of course, I thought about Jalal, Meredith, and Renee in The Brevity of Roses, which only increased my desire to get back to writing. As soon as my back pain eases up, I’ll be back to work.

It made me sad to leave the beach before sunset, but, on the way home, we caught a gorgeous view of the valley looking out toward Morro Bay just as the sun kissed the horizon. It’s a blessing to have these lovely scenes etched in my memory to escape to whenever I want.

(Click photos to view larger.)

The whole truth about why I self-published

Three years ago, I started this blog to chronicle my journey to publication of my fiction writing. I wrote often about my trials and tribulations in writing, editing, and querying my first novel. I had always planned to get an agent, who would then sell my book to an editor at a traditional publishing house. It didn’t work out that way.

The_Brevity_of_RosesPart of what went wrong with that plan was not something I could control. By the time I finished that novel, traditional publishing was in upheaval, and editors were buying fewer debut novels than ever. It seemed the only way to get an offer was to have an inside connection or write a book in the hottest genre. Neither my book nor I qualified.

One element that I could possibly have controlled was to write a book destined to become a classic. I may be a bit delusional about my talent, but I know I’m not that good a writer. My book is a good story, it’s a pleasant read, but no one will ever add it to their favorite-book-of-all-time list.

So, if no editor was likely to buy my book, no agent was interested in representing it. I woke from the dream of seeing my book published by a big New York publisher. I started exploring other options. I researched self-publishing as well as small presses.

I was leaning toward submitting my book to these small publishers when something happened that changed everything.

Exactly a year ago, my husband’s employer downsized and because my husband was the highest paid manager in his store, he was shown the door. Overnight, our income dropped by 60%—sixty percent! We’ve never had much money, and what we had we didn’t manage the best we could have, so I knew if my husband didn’t get another job right away (difficult because of his age), it wouldn’t be long before we exhausted our savings. Long story short, he didn’t.

I panicked. Then I decided I could help. I had a book to sell. Suddenly, waiting another year or so to have my book published by a small press was out of the question. So in an extraordinary mixture of overestimation, misunderstanding, and fantasy, I chose to self-publish.

If you know the stress of total DIY publishing, imagine adding to that a total lifestyle change. I think I handle stress well, but I don’t really. I just internalize it. My body takes what it can and then starts packing on pounds, breaking out in skin problems, and producing pain, pain, pain. Nice, when you have no medical insurance, right? Okay, that’s the last of my whining on this blog.

Now I’ve finally told you why I really self-published. It wasn’t a well thought out decision. I think only now, seven months later, do I even understand how I should have tried to market the book. And despite what I wrote earlier, I now know you can publish without spending a lot of money, but it’s incredibly hard to successfully sell without spending money—at least not when you’re trying to sell a debut novel.

I apologize for writing so many glum posts this last year, but maybe now you’ll understand why. Nothing has changed in our financial situation, but I’ve decided it’s time to change my attitude. I’ve read many posts lately by writer friends that have lifted me up and shown me the path I need to get back on. This post is already too long, so I’ll publicly thank them next time.

To October … the glorious beginning!

Listen … do you hear that? The birds, rejoicing at the cooler air, have started singing again. Yesterday, my breakfast consisted of hot chocolate and buttered toast. The leaves are only just beginning to turn colors where I live, but it won’t be long before they flash some autumnal glam.

For most of the Northern Hemisphere, October signals the true end of summer, but October is my birthday month, so it’s always heralded a beginning for me. At my age, I don’t look forward to tallying up one more birthday, except to give thanks that I made it through another year, so I’ll focus on a beginning.

Let this be the beginning of the year I finally get it all together. Let this be the year I gather my harvest. Let this be the year I cease my struggling to be, and just BECOME.

I leave you with one version of my poem in honor of the season epitomized by October.


Undeniably, Autumn
looks a bit blowsy
at first glance, with wind-blown hair
of reds and golds and gaze of brazen blue.
You might well mistake her
for a fallen woman,
voluptuous and tipsy
with the fruit of her labors.
Her raucous laughter
takes you by surprise,
takes you in,
takes you under
her wings, soar
on high now you see
this is no slut, no slouch, no lazy woman,
this is strength and honor,
her ease well-earned,
her vibrant abandon deserved,
her motherhood fulfilled,
the harvest plenty.
She’s come back to herself, discovered
her wealth of beauty
and let it fly free and frantic and furious,
one last, brief, all-out fiesta
before twilight bares all
in frosted moonlight,
and she rests.

©Linda Cassidy Lewis, 2010

Inspiration … scenery or scenes?

Yesterday, I left my house. Since I’ve been writing seriously, that’s something that happens less and less. My husband and I were invited to spend a few hours up in the mountains and we accepted. It’s so peaceful up there, and I always imagine what my life would be if I could stay permanently. Would the surroundings remain as inspirational as I imagine or would I soon take it all for granted?

It’s not that I don’t get an abundance of story ideas down here in the smoggy valley, and the stories form in my head, not in the crystal clear air. Staring at a computer screen is the same whether outside is a pine forest or city streets. So, I expect, it’s an empty excuse when I tell myself I could be a better writer, if I lived somewhere inspiring.

Life is inspiration, wherever it happens, wherever it takes you. Gorgeous scenery can make your heart sing. It can make your spirit soar. It can make your Muse pour forth streams of beautiful words. But if you write about people, if you write about relationships, a scene like the one below—a landscape of the heart—can trump all others.