Writing a novel in a month is one thing….

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbAs the more than gazillion National Novel Writing Month writers prepare to knock out another 40,000 novels next month, here are some words of advice: follow your muse, but don’t worry if you decide you don’t get along after all.

My debut novel, Washed Up, was produced in the 2009 NaNoWriMo.  I revised it over the next year, and it was published in 2011 by North Star Press, receiving a “smashing debut” review by the esteemed Library Journal.

It was not, however, the first novel I ever wrote.  And, since publishing Washed Up, I’ve written four more novels. So far, two of those are complete — they are follow-ups in the mystery series and they have been published.  Two are in progress.

Then there are the other novels I don’t talk about, both completed and uncompleted works. For all of these, my muse and I started out inspired and with high hopes, but the books languished, I lost interest, and I expect never to return to them.  These are novels where my muse and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye. And frankly Muse got a bit pissed off that I paid no attention to his ideas (my Muse is a he), and called me a lazy hack more than once.

Since then we’ve reached an understanding and are on speaking terms, most of the time. Here’s the understanding: some novels die an early death, and many will never to see the light of day on a book shelf or in an eReader. Others get finished, but author lacks the interest or ability to go back and do the necessary revision that will get them where they need to be.

It’s hard, at first, for a new novelist to understand the difference between a first draft that can grow up to be a real novel, and one that has nothing but high hopes of greatness. New novelists may develop wonderful characters, but have them do nothing. Some may come up with a great plot idea, but develop flat, boring characters that can do nothing with the great story they are given. My problem is generally a great love of place and poetry, that shines through, but interesting people and stories live elsewhere and no one comes to visit.

I learned a lot from writing my novels, especially the ones that never got finished or will never be published. The real lesson was that sometimes I just needed to let the unfinished project remain unfinished. There’s no point in beating yourself up over a book that refuses to be a book, and basically letting that stagnation keep you from writing anything. Take what you’ve learned from it and move on to the next one. Trust me, the next book will be better. The next one after will be even better. And maybe you’ll publish the fourth one, like I did and it may even happen to be a NaNoWriMo novel.

The important thing is to do the work. If NaNoWriMo helps that work happen for you, wonderful. I’m wishing all gazillion 2013 novelists the best of luck.


Quit Hating on the “Day Job”

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this interesting notion that the ultimate goal of being a writer is to quit your day job. The extreme busy-ness and stress of my day job has brought the idea to mind, but not for obvious reasons (as in: can’t I quit yet?).

I’ve watched as writers of my acquaintance announce that they are being forced to give up their dreams and get a job, as if that’s the worst thing in the world. They’ve found that book sales aren’t paying the rent, or they can’t get a second- or third- (or any) book deal, or other writing-related work is falling off.

As a woman who has worked steadily/hard for three decades, I take offense that all this effort during the work day is somehow not as noble as that of the penniless scribbler, who gives up everything to pursue his or her art.

On the contrary.

It is very noble to roll up your sleeves and do what it takes to pay the bills.

Kahlil Gibran wrote about this very thing. And while there are many days that it’s hard to think that my day job is “love made visible,” I can totally agree with Gibran that ” if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”

“For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.”

Okay, my job doesn’t involve any baking, grape-crushing, or singing, but I do get the occasional joy of having given someone exactly what they needed — a helping hand, an answer, some advice — and in that way get the kind of fulfillment out of it that Gibran speaks of.

The business side of writing is work and it’s a tougher business than you’d think — promoting your work, keeping a website going, having a thick-enough skin so that criticism doesn’t sink you — these kinds of non-writing related tasks take up a lot of energy and time. Just like a day job. And somehow you need to scrape up the time and energy to write the next book or article or poem or story.

So what’s the difference really? The job of novelist doesn’t typically provide a steady, reliable income and the employer (you) can’t afford benefits. Every vacation is a working vacation. You might as well work, in an honest-to-god day job, and get paid for the toiling. You’ll still have time to write. If you really want to.

So there’s my piece about day jobs and writing. If you are keeping or getting a day job to pay the bills, it’s a good thing. Be okay with it. Everyone has to work. That’s why it’s called work.  That’s why it’s hard, not every day, but most days. 

Speaking of working vacations, in three weeks, I’ll have some time off to finish revising the next Arvo Thorson mystery. I’m hanging in there to make it through, envious of friends and family who are NaNoWriMo-ing this year. Washed Up started out that way

In the meantime, I’ve made good on my promise to donate Dakota County honorarium to the Crisis Nursery. It was easy. The work they do is not so easy, but I’m hoping my contribution, and others I’ve sent their way, somehow help.

Finally a plug: the list of upcoming events. Come on out and support a hard working business woman, mother, wife, friend, and sometime philosopher, who manages to write novels in her spare time. You’ll be glad ya did!

Washed Up Events

November 14, 7:00 pm


The Bookcase
607 East Lake Street
Wayzata, MN

Washed Up reading and book signing at Minnesota’s oldest independent book store.

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November 19, 9:00 am – 2:00 pm


St. Stephen’s Holiday Boutique
1575 Charlton Street
West St. Paul, MN 55118

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December 22, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm


Reading Frenzy
12530 Fremont Ave. #200
 Zimmerman, MN 55398
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Looking forward to seeing friends and signing books at Minnesota’s newest book store. Just a few days before Christmas!

2011 Events

February 15, 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm


Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour
The Dock Cafe
425 East Nelson Street
Stillwater, MN 55082

This monthly event for local mystery writers and fans always includes lively discussion and a great time. Reservations are required; call Valley Bookseller at 651-430-3385. Appetizers are included in the cost of $10.00. A cash bar will also be available.

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