Following Mr. Leonard to the Starting Line

I have fun writing. I don’t make it a chore. I don’t have to struggle with it.

I haven’t been writing much lately.  It’s not a block, so much as a pervasive lassitude verging on WIP-triggered narcolepsy.

I’ve managed a paragraph here, an edited description there, but even my awareness of my own mortality hasn’t been enough to achieve escape velocity.

But the other day, a book appeared on the New Shelves at my library: Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories by Elmore Leonard.

Leonard UnpublishedThere’s something comforting about reading the early work of one of your favorite authors, especially the stuff  that didn’t quite make the grade.

Mostly because it exists.

For some of us, it’s a revelation to remember that Mr. Leonard, for all his talent and genius, didn’t follow his Ten Rules* from the beginning. In his early stories, he may have forced a description or two. He used a variety of dialogue tags. He got in his own way with clever bits. He (gasp) adverbed.

In other words, he didn’t write pure gold from the get-go.

But he did eventually become the kind of revered writer whose early stories are collected and published and studied as comfort and encouragement to the rest of us.

So, how did he go from a writer of not-quite-right-for-prime-time stories to the Elmore Leonard we know?  Part of the answer is offered by his son, Peter Leonard, in the introduction of this collection.

His kids remember him writing all the time when he was at home.  Writing came in a close second to his family and he’d sit in the living room working away with pen and paper, while the kids watched TV or played, grabbing every spare minute he could.  He got up at five every morning and wrote at least two pages, before leaving for his full-time advertising job.  He didn’t even make coffee until the end of the first page, which sounded like powerful motivation to me.

And as I read along, fascinated, it occurred to me that all this sounded oddly familiar—or could, anyway, if I wanted it enough.

I used to write on my laptop in the dining room, where I was within eye- and earshot of the family.  There were interruptions, but these were infrequent and generally involve hugs or the occasional squabble over the remote—they could see I was typing away at something important.  These days, I write in the back bedroom . . . if by writing, one means playing time management games and reading and browsing through the spectrum of buzzfeed channels . . . while the family frequently checks on me to make sure I’m still alive and hangs around asking if they can watch videos with me—for some reason, they don’t believe me when I tell them I’m working.

And I get up at five every morning, too, ostensibly to write . . .  but lately, my routine has devolved into immediate coffee, e-mail, reading other people’s work, and carefully ignoring my project files until I have to wake the kids.

This is all far less productive than I’d originally intended.

So this morning, I tried something different.  I still got up at five and fired up the coffeemaker, but I ignored my phone and laptop in favor of a legal pad and a working pen.  I sat down at the kitchen table and wrote a page before pouring my first cup of caffeine.  Then I continued writing, until I noticed the time, and reluctantly finished a sentence.  Okay—a paragraph. Or two.  I was on a roll.

Felt pretty good.

I didn’t pass the two page mark by much and there were a lot of scribbled out words that narrowed the margin, but now I can legitimately call my WIP a WIP again.

Maybe I’ll take my pen and pad to the couch after dinner tonight and see if I can get the wordflow going around my kids’ favorite shows.  If that doesn’t work the way I hoped, I can always jot down some notes and go back to the  computer after bedtime.

Either way, I’ll find some comfort in knowing that even Elmore Leonard didn’t start out knowing exactly what worked for him.

But he knew how to find out—and he did.

I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.

Worth a try, wouldn’t you say?

*I think he makes it clear that his rules were created by him for him and not as the One True Way.  As he said, “Everyone has his own sound.  I’m not going to presume to tell anybody how to write.”


Random Thursday: Writerly Soaps and Struggles (and Shakespeare)

Random Thursday (ˈrandəm ˈTHərzdā): the day on which Sarah plunks down all the odd bits and pieces she’s been sent by friends or has otherwise stumbled upon this week in an effort to avoid writing a real post, the assembly of which usually ends up taking twice as much time as sitting down and creating actual content.

The readers in my life were happy this week.

The writers, not so much.

Some of them are the same people . . .


What Time is It?

Time for Book

 Our Reference Department is now in charge of reshelving the New Book section,
so we can assist patrons in finding the latest titles
and also help keep an eye on titles that should be moved to the regular collection
to make room for new releases.

Since we’ve started doing this,
our circulation stats have skyrocketed.

Because anyone who shelves New Books
goes home with at least two of ’em.
From each cart . . .

(thanks, caitlin!)


 I could teach these . . .

Writers WorkshopClick the images and follow Mr. Gauld on Twitter.

You will be well rewarded.

(thanks, Dee!)


Shakespeare’s Swag

 I can’t tell you how tickled I am that
one of my favorite playwrights is responsible
for naming one of my favorite cookies.

Two great obsessions that go great together, they are.


Yes, the Book is Going Very Well . . .

Creative Process Timeline

  . . . could you please pass the tissues?


I’m surprised it isn’t fifty shades of sparkling gray

The Whiskey River Soap Company
heard that writers can get into a real lather if they get blocked.

And someone said, “Hey!”

writer's block soap

According to the website, it smells like cheap whiskey.

if you want to get fancy,
Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

If that scent doesn’t bring all the plotbunnies to your yard,
browse through their soaps and candles
for something that’s more . . . you
and check out their About Us page
and see how creativity is done.

(Thanks, caitlin!)


That is the Question

“Yeah, it is.”

Part Two of Brian Cox’s Masterclass with Theo is here.

You know you want to
(for a minute or two to two).


I managed to get through Camp Nanowrimo last month, for which I pledged thirty hours of editing on Odd Duck.

While I didn’t get an entire edited manuscript out of it, I did get nine solid chapters, a couple of new friends, and some Winner Goodies, including a nice discount price on a piece of writing software I’ve been eyeing.


Scrivener puts everything I use to write—a word processing program, a file manager, multi-document views, sidebar comments, word searches, images etc.—conveniently on one screen, and throws in my magnetic wall-board and beloved 3×5 cards as well.

It offers manuscript stats, too—including word usages, for those of us with small repetition problems—as well as writing targets, if you want them.

I spent the weekend importing my chapter files, inputting information on my characters and settings, and organizing my corkboards. Changing arrangements is often as easy as dragging-and-dropping and there are several ways to arrange and tag items in the “binder” (aka, the file manager on the left side), either by icon or color or both.

Scrivener Characters

I’m not sure if the Compile or Formatting features will work for me, yet—I’ll report on those when the time comes—but by the time I’m finished, I’ll have a wonderful Book Bible for Odd Duck.  That’s worth the full licensing fee, right there.

One of the best features so far is the split screen.  While I was getting screenshots for this post, I ended up doing a bit of spontaneous editing between two documents—couldn’t help myself.

Scrivener Editing

The lock screen is also pretty handy, I won’t lie—the split screens got a little . . . flippy . . . before I learned to lock the main one down.  That’s all on me, though, and clearly, Scrivener was prepared for my bad eyesight and subsequent bouts of spasmodic clicking.

On sound advice from a friend (hi, Christina!),  I installed Dropbox on my desk computer and my laptop this morning, so I can easily write at my usual haunts without worrying about synching versions or, heaven forfend, copying over the wrong $#!&% one, as I have been known to do.

Or forgetting/washing/misplacing my flash drive.

The only trouble I’m having at the moment is that Scrivener, logically enough, doesn’t understand the common Microsoft commands (undo, redo, spelling, thesaurus, replace, em-dashes, etc.) I’ve hardwired into my brain.  But as soon as I figure out how to customize the toolbar for those, I’m golden.

I’m sure there will be a few glitches along the way, but so far, so good.  Basically, I’ve gone from this:


To this:

Scrivener CorkboardAnd that’s a definite improvement.


Slow Duck

The library was closed yesterday, not because the Presidents whose Day it is cared nothing for literacy—they were a bit busy with other things—but because when City Hall is closed, so are we.

The kids were off school but in day camp and my husband had morning classes and afternoon appointments and my MIL was occupied with her own errands, so I had several hours to myself which I’d fully intended to use for writing, or maybe for thinking about writing, or maybe for intending to write but watching the eighth season to Would I Lie To You instead.

Or napping.

But just as I’d sat down and opened up my Odd Duck binder and plugged in my Odd Duck flash drive and opened up a browser window to fire up just one episode of WILTY . . . the screen informed me that I had no Internet access.

It wasn’t the computer—my desktop, tablet and phone all said our home network existed, but something wasn’t producing any of what it’s supposed to produce in order to fulfill its purpose as a source of Internet joy and pleasurably guilt-ridden procrastination.

I went downstairs and hit buttons and turned things on and off and called the provider to listen to a message saying everything was fine on their end, so whatever wasn’t happening was our fault (I’m paraphrasing).

No dice.

Reply HazyI’m one of those writers who is always asking the Universe/Powers that Be/Deity of my Choice/Random Banana Peel Generator/Available Magic Eight Balls for constant signs that I’m not fooling myself with this writing business.

Am I supposed to be a writer? Am I supposed to spend my time plugging away at this particular story? Is this really what I’m meant to be doing when there’s so much more to the world than a keyboard and the inside walls of my own imagination and the television remote has been left unguarded and there are three full cartons—not boxes, cartons—of Girl Scout cookies in the house?

Apparently, today, the sign was clear and the answer a very definite “Yes, you idiot.”Duck!2

So I sighed, sat down, and dove in headfirst.

Four hours later, I had hammered out most of the continuity wrinkles and plot changes and obvious stupidities up to roughly chapter twenty-two and added [NOTES IN BIG, BOLDED BRACKETS] about what scenes and details I’ll need to add to make things make sense, things I need to research to make sure the writers of that half-remembered episode of Law & Order hadn’t fudged their details, and a legal pad of side worries about whether or not I need to get rid of a character or maybe even a subplot.

I also had the shakes, so I stopped for lunch.

Then I dove back in for another hour or two, until I hit a strange place where parts of one chapter and parts of another seemed to mesh well, but not for the book I thought I was writing. The rest did appear to fit the book, but not necessarily with each other on a temporal level.

Or something. Not sure.  It honestly could have been me.

But I’d tipped into the Just Get It Done Now mindset, so I printed both chapters, planning to do some literal cutting and pasting, and also maybe some shredding and directed fireplay, because I was starting to develop mental blocks made of exhaustion and compressed short-term memory loss and when you reach that point, self-righteous shredding and the burning of sage seem perfectly reasonable reactions to plot confusion.

But then the WiFi returned and so did the kids.

I saw that as a sign, too, and knocked off for the day before I did any actual damage.

Probably. I hope.

I’ll have to take a look after work today.

You know, unless the WiFi is working.

House Wifi


Paper Trail

paper nest

I seem to have developed a latent cleaning compulsion as a response to stress and/or writing avoidance—I’m as surprised as you are—and spent the weekend cleaning and rearranging my desk and going through my overstuffed file cabinet.*

So far, I’ve found research for abandoned and active stories, clippings, half-written first chapters, short stories, shipwrecks, dialogue chunks, outlines, plot bunny droppings, frankendrafts,** essays, extremely questionable poetry, and various other scribbles of a fictional nature.***

Some of the fiction writing dates back to my college days and some is older. There are dot matrix printouts in there, wide-ruled notebook paper written in pencil, floppy disks^ and a lot of adolescent angst.

So, I’ve been hauling this stuff around since I was at least thirteen,^^  keeping it as close as Smaug did Erebor’s net domestic product and defending it with as much sanity as Thorin hoping to uncover a publishable Arkenstone—or a certain protoHobbit searching for his birthday present.

This hoard of mismatched wordsmithing is my work.  It’s my precious.

But, you know . . .

Those drawers are packed so full that they’re useless, and it’s getting to the point that . . .

It might be time to. . .

I mean, it’s possible that some of this stuff isn’t . . .

And it’s not like I really believe I’m ever going to finish that story about the . . .

I don’t even remember writing that scene and it’s just a single loose sheet of paper so there’s no context for it, so there’s no point in . . .

But what if I need it . . .

It’s been more difficult than I thought to pare it all down—it’s painful.

Because I have four drawers (and several cartons and binders) full of clinkers and clunkers

Coal Scuttle

but I can’t help seeing each one as a you-know-what in the rough


that might, if I just applied myself, turn into something fantastic.

Diamond Ring

Except that’s not true.

There may be a few diamonds among the dross, but only a few—and as time passes, they tend to disappear.

I’m not the same person I was when I started making stuff up and putting it down. I don’t think the same way, feel the same way, or express myself in the same ways. My imagination may be a tad slower, but it has a lot more raw material to work with.

And these drawers and cartons full of words and thoughts,  ink and flattened fiber pulp were instrumental in that development.  They aren’t failures or wasted potential—but their work here is done and they’re blocking my way.  Literally and literarily.

They’re a collection of dull, abandoned, heavy carapaces from a series of scintillating insects that flew off a long time ago.

And to be honest, some of ‘em need to be shredded before anyone else can get a good look.  Especially the children.

So I’m taking it a folder at a time.   Reading, recognizing, wondering, wincing, saving, shredding.

Acknowledging. Honoring.  Releasing.

I’ve done a desk shelf and two and a half drawer.  So far, my Keeper stack is smaller than my recycling pile.

It still hurts a little to let go, but I think I have the hang of it now.

I’m still planning on sedation, though, when the time comes to tackle my bookshelves . . .


*Ever see one of those commercials where a pile of folded sweaters approximately the height of Hasheem Thabeet is crammed into a plastic bag and vacuum-sealed down to the width of Giselle Bundchen?  It’s the same principle, except I used wooden drawers and brute force.

**You know—the drafts cobbled together out of typed and handwritten pages, scrap paper, envelopes, post-its, napkins, images, and digital files saved . . . somewhere.

*** Along with ancient and presumably paid bills, medical assessments, paycheck stubs from a job I left twenty years, school papers and deathless art generated by my kids, not to mention my old IQ tests from ages 6 and 11 which were, in my opinion, a tad optimistic.

^The 3½” ones, thank you, so you can keep your age-related technology jokes to yourself. We who were born before the invention of the Internet and entered the workforce when ASCII was king do not appreciate them. Mouse dependent whippersnappers . . .

^^Though some of it had been archived for decades in my childhood home, until it was dumped on passed back to me by Dad during one of my folks’ U-haul-themed Thanksgiving visits.


Image of the coal scuttle by Lajsikonik is shared under creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons.

 Image of the rough diamond is from the United Stated Geological Survey and is in the public domain.

Image of the diamond ring by TQ Diamonds  is shared under creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons.