Tag Archives: writing process

my friend’s blog post: “one reason not to publish a memoir”

My friend Laura McHale Holland has written a thought-provoking post as a guest blogger on Kathy Pooler’s site. Anyone writing–or interested in writing–memoir can benefit by reading her post.

Here’s the link, and her picture is below: http://wp.me/p1vAO5-3kn










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Reading and five minute video

Hot Summer Nights 7-2016

August 26th, I took part in “Hot Summer Nights”–Tuesdays in July when four members of Redwood Writers, the largest branch of the California Writers Club, read from recently their published books at Copperfield’s Book Store in Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, CA. This is the fourth year Copperfield’s has partnered with us on this event.

Here’s a five minute clip my friend Beth filmed: https://youtu.be/auw1c9uoiJY




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believable prose

In addition to hooking our readers in the first couple of paragraphs, our writing needs to have verisimilitude—whether we’re writing memoir or fiction, it needs to be believable, smooth, and carry the reader into the dream of our story. Paying attention to these six points can help this happen:

  • Correct use of words—nothing will throw the reader out of the story faster than incorrect word usage. Know the difference between effect and affect. Capital and capitol. Site and cite. Complement and compliment. Lie and lay. Just because journalists and politicians make these mistakes doesn’t mean it is all right for serious writers. On the Internet you can look up lists of often confused and misused words. By using words correctly, you build the reader’s trust.
  • Sentence formation—vary sentence length, making sure sentences are constructed properly, without dangling modifiers, or incorrect referents. A scene with high tension might have shorter sentences, and even some fragments. A sequel that describes place might have lush, longer sentences. Notice the rhythm your sentences have, and vary it. We writers need to become aware of our tendencies, and work to overcome them.
  • Economical writing—our prose is dragged down by extra words: two (or three, or four) adjectives where one would do; extra attributions—he said, she said—where the meaning is clear without them; wandering, or circling descriptions, or weak verbs where a powerful one could eliminate unnecessary adverbs.
    Hint: I participate in a weekly critique group. Each week, we bring up to ten pages. For the six nights prior to that group, I review the section—honing, searching for strong verbs, deleting extra words. Every night I find ways to strengthen the writing. As I near the evening of the critique group, I read my selection out loud. It is amazing what I catch by listening to the words rather than reading them.
  • Avoid cliches—cliches are the easy, fall-back way that people describe a situation: “time will tell,” “old as the hills,” “scared out of my wits,” “fall head over heels.” Writers need to do better! Cliches are a sign of writerly laziness. It’s fine to use one as a placeholder in a first draft, but by the second draft, come up with an original phrase.
  • Retain standard punctuation—avoid multiple exclamation points !!!, or the useful ?!. They do not have a place in serious writing. Instead, use words to create that feeling.
  • Strong verbs—using strong verbs reduces the need for adverbs and adjectives, and lessens our reliance on the verb “to be.” Search your work for “was” and “were.” You may be stunned by how many instances you find.

Remember, most suggested rules have been broken in ways that succeed. But don’t count on it!

© Skye Blaine,  2016

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Filed under beginning writers, new writers, writing, writing craft



Today, I have a whole lot of family concern on my mind; it’s much harder to sit down and allow myself to concentrate on writing. Worry worms its way back into my thoughts. It takes courage to allow long term concerns to drop into the background and focus here. What I have learned is I can pick up and shoulder my problems any time I choose. But if I don’t give myself the opportunity to write, a different anxiety builds, and thriving suffers.

When I’m worried, my mind feels empty of material. I doubt the easy flow of words on the screen will ever return–even though I’ve been through similar experiences myriad times.

So I’m late coming to my computer today; it’s almost 11 pm instead of the usual 10 pm starting time. But I got here! That’s what counts. I plunked my butt in the chair, and faced the keyboard and the shocking, empty page.

I keep a running checklist of possible prompts for blog posts. (And another of possible scenes for my novel.)  I’ll allow myself to choose any one of them, but “courage” was next in the list, and clearly, I need to rediscover it.

Once I started typing–do we have to call it keyboarding now?–my body calmed. Eventually, focus narrowed to the subject at hand. Now, a half hour later, I have 265 words on the page. It’s true, I am not a fast writer–but that doesn’t matter, because I’m steady. I show up. I managed the first draft of a novel in fourteen months. In my lexicon, that’s courage.

© Skye Blaine, 2015
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writing discipline

time-to-writeFor a long time, I fussed with finding a good time to write. Since I’m still working–although at home and for myself–when I write during the day, I feel guilty. The guilt is a waste of time, but it’s there. I can’t deny it.

As I age, falling asleep has become more difficult. My husband goes to bed at 10 p.m. I used to head for bed at the same time, and then would lie awake for hours. One night as I lay there, restless and not wanting to wake my partner, I realized I could be writing. I got up, found my slippers, and padded into my office. That started what has been a long period of refreshing discipline. We say goodnight at ten, and I go to write until midnight. I may miss a night every few weeks, but in general, that’s my pattern.

This has been a very fruitful time: the house is quiet and the phone doesn’t ring. These aren’t work hours, so no guilt. My adult son, who keeps an odd schedule, knows not to call me after ten unless he’s seriously ill or hurt. Since he writes too, he honors my writing time. In the last year, working within this schedule, I’ve finished the first draft of a novel and the final rewrite of my memoir. I’ve been amazed at what I’ve completed only carving out two hours a day.

I usually begin by reviewing what I wrote the night before, then I move into new terrain. Right now I’m rewriting the novel, so I’m not generating as much new material. But some evenings, like tonight, I write a blog post, a nice change from rewriting. When I do finally put my computer to sleep and toddle off to bed, I stay with my story. I may fall asleep puzzling over a thorny plot problem, and in the morning, the solution is apparent. Sometimes, I have an epiphany about how to deepen one of my characters.

An old friend I’ve known for forty-one years is staying overnight. Nonetheless, we said goodnight at ten, and I headed for my office. She’s a writer, too; she understands.

I didn’t find the time to write, I made it.

© Skye Blaine, 2015
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prosthetic-leg_sapdI’ve done a fair amount of research on the internet for my novel–I’ve checked into leg prosthetics, PTSD, cortical blindness, and “cane travelers”–the proper use of a white cane. I explored possible names for Afghani children, and the kinds of typical family compounds in Afghanistan.

But there is still research needed that can only be done on the ground. I need to return to Oregon, both Eugene and Sisters, to check where I’ve set my story. Sure, I inquired into what plants grow in central Oregon, and used Google Earth to figure out where the large, rural ranch might be located. I spoke to a wildlife specialist about the behavior of cougars. I’m always delighted by how friendly and helpful people are when I contact them.

But nothing takes the place of sniffing the air, feeling the plants, and talking to the people who actually live there. In Sisters, there are five places I need to go: Sisters Inn, Martolli’s Pizza, Paulina Springs Books, the feed store. And I need to drive out the road I’ve picked for the ranch to see if it’s actually possible to set part of my story there. If not, I’ll talk to the residents and figure out a different location.

I’m sorry I can’t go to Afghanistan and taste the dust. My budget doesn’t allow for that.

Sometime in 2015, I need to schedule the Oregon trip.

© Skye Blaine, 2015
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Filed under disability, fiction, Musings, writing, writing process

final, final edits

editingIt is my understanding that there are three kinds of writers: native storytellers, wordsmiths, and the rarest-of-rare, those born who are proficient in both. Native storytellers can blast out a first draft–they have a natural sense of story arc. Wordsmiths–I am one of these–love editing and rewriting, and agonize getting the story down on paper. The language may be lovely; the story arc may have flaws that take multiple rewrites to solve. The rare writers born with both skills–perhaps one or two in a generation–are truly blessed.

I heard an apocryphal story of a writer racing down the sidewalk behind his or her editor–who is carrying off the book to be published–crying “I just need to make two more changes! That’s all!” That would be me.

The memoir, Bound to Love, is undergoing one more read by my husband, who is quite good at finding typos, and then will go to a precious editor friend for a final read-through before publishing. After twenty-three years (I had to learn to write), ten rewrites, and one professional editing a few years ago, I’ve got to call it DONE.

My novel, Call Her Home, is undergoing a second rewrite now. I started it fifteen months ago, and I hope to have it completed by the end of 2015.

I plan to spend 2016 framing my blog posts  as a manuscript from http://www.theheartofthematter-dailyreminders.org. A blog is very different from a book; the material requires serious rewriting, finding the frame, and giving it shape. A big, big job.

© Skye Blaine, 2015
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fistfuls of heart

My old friend Margaret Barkley wrote this poem about the writing process. I asked her if I could share it here. Please do not forward it on without her permission.

Fistfuls of Heart

If everyone has something to say,
how is a writer different?

The desire to write, to commit words to paper,
is like deciding to let your own arm reach
down your throat
and muck about with your insides,
grabbing fistfuls of heart, teeth, and
half-digested longing,
and pull it out for everyone to see.

And I wonder why I have
some resistance…

Just sit in the chair, they say.
Just write.

And I do, but I’m dodgy about it.
There is always something safer to do,
like laundry, for example,
that extracts no blood at all.

Maybe all prophets and storytellers
are reluctant – I don’t know about that –
but I know that there comes a time
when there is a clamor of words in order
from within, saying –
Hey, write me down!

and they harass me till I do.

© Margaret Barkley, April 16, 2015

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Filed under Musings, poetry, writing, writing process