How to Recapture the Joy of Writing

If you read my December 17, 2018 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/17/to-write-or-not-to-write/, you know that I was considering giving up my ambition of writing and publishing a novel.

After much prayer, soul searching, reading some blogs and articles about writing – as well as reading many encouraging comments from my blog readers – I have decided to recommit to writing my southern historical novel.

Working title: The Spanish Coin OR The Doubloon

The working title of my book is The Spanish Coin, which refers to a gold Spanish coin – a doubloon – that shows up in a Carolina backcountry community in the 1760s. There is a murder, after which the coin is missing. Is there anyone in the small community who is not a viable suspect?

That’s the story I’ve been working on off and on for more than 10 years. I’m not getting any younger, so I’d really like to finish writing it. I would also love to get it published. That’s why I wanted to recapture my joy of writing.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Rewards

Several hours after posting my blog on December 17, 2018, I read an article that was just what I needed. The link to “How to Restore Your Love of Writing” is https://writersinthestormblog.com/2018/12/how-to-restore-your-love-of-writing/. The article was written by Colleen M. Story, and it addressed much of the problem I wrote about on December 17, 2018.

In her blog post, Ms. Story explains that there are two kind of rewards writers seek: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic refers to the rewards the world gives us, while intrinsic refers to the rewards we get from within ourselves.

First, I needed to discern which type of rewards I wanted. Ms. Story offered several questions that I asked myself. Those questions led me to conclude that money would be great, but that’s not what is driving me. It is a sense of accomplishment that I seek.

What led me to start writing in the first place? It wasn’t money. Those who think, “I’ll be a writer and get rich” are setting themselves up for crushing disappointment. Some writers make the big bucks, but they are the exception.

What led me to start writing was an innate desire to put my thoughts on paper. I kept journals as a teenager and sporadically as an adult. I took a creative writing class in high school, but I never considered writing as a possible career.

Another blog post I found helpful

Several days later, I read the December 19, 2018 Writers in the Storm blog post:  https://writersinthestormblog.com/2018/12/top-10-writing-success-tips-from-ray-bradbury/. In it, Jenny Hansen lists her 10 favorite writing success tips from author Ray Bradbury. The five that resonated with me were the following:

            Do the work.

            Do what you love.

            Embrace your emotions.

            Read.

            Get out of your own way.

And, of course, my blog readers inspired me

I received a number of comments about my December 17, 2018 blog post, and I took encouragement from each one of you.

Since my last blog post

I have started writing a short story set in colonial America. I’d like to publish a book of short stories set in colonial America – my favorite place and time in history.

Until my next blog post

I’ll try to take Ray Bradbury’s advice and get out of my own way.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, by Alan Alda.

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, by Alan Alda

If you’re a writer, I hope you know why you’re writing. I hope writing gives you joy.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Have you ever lost the joy you once had for an artistic endeavor, a favorite hobby or pastime, or your once much-enjoyed career? How were you able to recapture that joy?

Janet

How to State the Obvious

I keep a notebook in which I write down sentences I like in the books I read. There’s method to my madness. I’m trying to learn how to write good prose.

In my May 7, 2018 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/05/07/reading-in-april-2018/, I wrote about reading The Last Child, by John Hart. In that novel a sentence jumped out at me as a clever way to state the obvious.

The Last Child, by John Hart

“He reached inside and caught the bat where it leaned against the doorjam. It had dents and scars from a time he beat the television to death over a fumble in a playoff game.” ~ from The Last Child, by John Hart

What a great way to say Burton “Jar” Jarvis is crazy without saying, “Jar is crazy.”

Since my last blog post

I have worked on my novel outline and rewritten the first scene. I think I have some plot problems figured out. If you’ve read my blog recently, you know this is a breakthrough for me. For instance, in my December 17, 2018 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/17/to-write-or-not-to-write/, I revealed that I was having doubts about finishing my novel. I hadn’t seriously worked on it since June.

Being the early days of a new year, I was also inspired to weed three cookbooks out of my collection. You have no idea how surprising and necessary this accomplishment is. It’s a start.

Determined to get back to my genealogy hobby, I scanned more than 100 family photos into my genealogy software program.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading In the Woods, by Tana French.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

What are your hobbies?

What are you reading?

What are you writing?

Like “Jar,” have you ever beaten a TV to death over something that came on the screen that you didn’t like? If you have, you probably need to be in therapy instead of reading my blog. Correction: You probably need to be in therapy in addition to reading my blog. Please don’t stop reading my blog!

Janet

Books I Enjoyed in December 2018

The Dream Daughter, by Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain broke away from her usual form of writing novels and did a great job with time travel in The Dream Daughterr. The book begins in 1970 with a pregnant woman, Caroline Sears, finding out that her unborn baby has a heart defect.

The Dream Daughter, by Diane Chamberlain

It turns out that Caroline’s brother-in-law has come to 1970 from the future. He knows that if Caroline can find her way to the future, her unborn daughter can have fetal surgery – the unthinkable in 1970.

I won’t give away any details of Caroline’s journey. I’ll just say things don’t go smoothly. This trip across decades will keep you turning pages.

There Was an Old Woman, by Hallie Ephron

The title of this book caught by attention and immediately took me back 60 years to nursery rhymes about the old woman who lived in a shoe and the old woman who swallowed a fly. I’d never read anything by Hallie Ephron, so I decided to give There Was an Old Woman a try.

The story involves multiple generations, with an emphasis on several independent-living octogenarians. Things in the neighborhood keep disappearing. What’s happening? Who is doing this? Is it the strange man across the street?

There Was an Old Woman, by Hallie Ephron

Thrown into the mix is a subplot about the B-25 Mitchell bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building on July 28, 1945. Ms. Ephron sheds a light on that much-forgotten event by making one of the main characters in the book be a survivor of that plane crash. I must admit, I did not know about that tragedy in which 14 people were killed.

There Was an Old Woman is categorized as a thriller, but it did not come across to me as such. It’s more like a neighborhood mystery in which the daughter of one of the 80+-year-olds is forced to come home and deal with her mother’s illness and neglected house. The book has received an interesting mix of 1-star and 5-star reviews, with most reviews falling into the 3- or 4-star categories.

Undaunted: Surviving Jonestown, Summoning Courage, and Fighting Back, by Jackie Speier

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this memoir by United States Representative Jackie Speier of California’s 14th congressional district. I was not aware that Ms. Speier survived the Jonestown Massacre, so that fact alone drew me to this memoir.

Undaunted, by Jackie Speier

What a life Ms. Speier has had! When she was 28 years old, she worked for California Congressman Leo Ryan. She and others accompanied Ryan to Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana on November 14, 1978 to rescue individuals being held there against their will.

Those who are old enough to remember that fateful event know that things rapidly soured upon the delegation’s arrival. Congressman Ryan was murdered and Jackie Speier was shot five times and nearly died.

For someone like me who is a history and political “junkie,” this memoir was compelling and inspiring. Ms. Speier writes about her widowhood, motherhood, her lifelong work in politics, and her 40-year determination to overcome the scars she has from her Jonestown experience.

Since my last blog post

I continue to receive encouraging comments in response to my December 17, 2018 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/17/to-write-or-not-to-write/. I appreciate each and every one of them and each and every one of my blog readers. I have a more positive attitude about my novel in progress since being bolstered up by so many of you over the last three weeks.

The holidays turned out not to be conducive to my getting back to putting words on paper (or the computer screen, as the case may be.) I’ve mulled the story over and over in my mind, though, and I intend to get back to writing that book this week. I need my blog readers to hold me accountable!

I’ve read many helpful blog posts and articles this week about the various facets of writing. One in particular hit a chord with me, but I’ve misplaced the link to it. The piece recommends that an aspiring novelist publish one or more short story collections in order to build readership. I’m kicking around that idea. It makes sense. The theory is that more people will want to buy my novel if they have read and liked my short stories. I needed one more project!

Call me a klutz if you want to, because I think I qualify. In the last four or five days I’ve broken a toe on both feet, but not at the same time. Don’t laugh; broken toes are painful.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Reckoning, by John Grisham.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time. I hope I do, too!

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Have you read any books recently that you’d recommend to me and my blog readers?

Have any of you writers had experience – good or bad – in publishing short stories to build readership prior to publishing your first novel?

Janet

15 Books that Entertained, Educated, or Changed Me in 2018

Books can entertain, educate, or even change one’s thinking.

When I looked back over the list of the 56 books I read in 2018, I was amazed at the variety and the things I learned. I learned some history while I was entertained, and I hope I learned something about writing. Several of the books changed my thinking. You can’t ask a book to give you more than that.

The books that entertained, educated, or changed me or my thinking in 2018 are listed here in alphabetical order by author.

Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Korbel Albright

The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

Climbing Over Grit, by Laleh Chini and Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi

Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

Sea Prayer, by Khaled Hosseini

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz

Fighting to Win:  Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers

The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James

Undaunted:  Surviving Jonestown, Summoning Courage, and Fighting Back, by Jackie Speier

The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

Educated:  A Memoir, by Tara Westover

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

Since my December 17, 2018 blog post

My December 17, 2018 blog post was more than a bit pessimistic. The title described my current dilemma:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/17/to-write-or-not-to-write/.

I have heard from a number of you since then. You have offered encouragement and helped prop me up. Knowing I have blog readers in quite a few countries from around the world in addition to those in the US who cared enough to take time to leave comments has boosted my morale and helped me to determine that I must continue to work on that historical novel I’ve worked on off and on for a decade.

Even if there are days I can only write for 15 minutes, then that’s what I’ll do in 2019. Slowly but surely, I will finish writing that book!

For those of you who read my blog from last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/24/do-you-believe-in-miracles/, I hope you were moved by this real life story from 40 years ago.

Until my next blog post

At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading At Home on the Kazakh Steppe:  A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. You can check out her website at https://janetgivens.com/.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it and I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

What are some of the books that educated you or changed your life or your thinking?

Happy New Year!

Janet

Do you believe in miracles?

I used to think that miracles all happened 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ physically walked the earth as a man. Since December 25, 1978, I’ve known better.

My brother’s family (him, his wife, 12-year-old son, and 10-year-old daughter) drove from Georgia to North Carolina for Christmas. Beth – the daughter – had been sick and they’d given her aspirin and put her to bed at the home of my sister-in-law’s parents. It was the afternoon before Christmas.

A couple of hours later, they tried to wake Beth up, but she was unconscious. They rushed her to the nearest hospital. The doctors and nurses were baffled as to what could be wrong with Beth. At random times, she would scream out and it would take several adults to hold her in the hospital bed.

Suddenly, on that evening – Christmas Eve – the pediatrician on the case suddenly remembered having seen a similar case while in medical school. He ordered specific lab tests and rushed the vials to the lab himself.

When he came back to Beth’s room, he told her parents and brother that there was an ambulance waiting to take Beth and her mother to Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. He told them that Beth had Reyes Syndrome. He told them that some children survive it and some don’t. There was no cure for it, and he couldn’t guarantee that Beth would survive the trip to Duke.

My brother and nephew drove the 125 miles to Durham after being told not to even think about trying to keep up with the ambulance.

Arriving safely at Duke, Beth was placed in the intensive care unit for children. The family was told there was nothing to do but pray and wait. Pray, we all did.

The next morning was, of course, Christmas Day. After a sleepless night, my mother, sister, and I rose early and drove to Durham. This was before cell phones and texting, so during that two-hour trip we had no idea what was happening with Beth. We didn’t know if she would still be alive when we got there.

When we arrived at Duke Hospital’s pediatric ICU, we were greeted with smiles. While the nurse was in the room checking on another patient that morning, Beth woke up and asked, “Has Santa Claus come yet?”

Little was known then about Reyes Syndrome. The connection between it and children taking aspirin had not been established. None of us had even heard of the illness.

The doctors at Duke kept Beth for more than a week to continue to test and observe her. They followed her grades in school for a year. They were looking for any sign of brain damage. There was none. They told Beth’s parents that they had never seen a child come out of a Reyes Syndrome coma so suddenly or completely. They said there was no medical explanation for it.

Beth returned to Georgia and continued to have a perfect record in school. She went on to university and earned a degree in math before having a rewarding career in Information Technology with a major airline. She married and is the mother of two high school and college age daughters.

I cannot imagine how our lives would have changed if Beth had died in 1978. She is a joy in the life of everyone she knows. I can’t imagine life without her husband and their two daughters.

And I can’t let a single Christmas pass without remembering Christmas of 1978 when I learned that miracles do still happen.

Janet

To write or not to write

With just two weeks remaining in 2018, I’m taking stock of my life. I’m at a crossroads of sorts. I feel like I’ve floundered much of this year. I’ve lost sight of my purpose. I haven’t worked on my historical novel manuscript since June.

I’ve been a bit of a caregiver for my sister for the last six weeks since she had surgery. As she daily regains energy and feels more like herself, it becomes acutely clear to me the difference between a typical illness or surgery and a chronic illness.

I heard someone 20 years my senior recently lament her lack of energy after having surgery. Such comments as, “I just want my energy back” stuck in me like a dagger. A chronic illness robbed me of my energy in 1987. It never came back. Chances are it never will.

I’m taking stock this month. Do I have what it takes to write a novel? The desire is there, but it takes hundreds of hours of mental work to write a novel. I have worked on it off and on for more than a decade.

The pressure I’m putting on myself about writing that novel is just that – pressure that I’m putting on myself. I want something to show for my life. I want to see that book on the shelf, my name on the spine. But that’s not enough. That’s not the reason one should try to write a novel.

 In order to write a novel, a person has to have a fire in his or her soul, a passion for the story, the realization that they can’t not write the book. Pardon the double negative, but I’ve heard it expressed in those terms so many times. “I have to write because I can’t not write.”

There is a story in me that’s been trying to see the light of day for more than 10 years. Only time will tell if I have what it takes to put the words on paper and push it out the door.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.I just finished reading The Dream Daughter, by Diane Chamberlain. Unlike any of Ms. Chamberlain’s earlier novels, this one has to do with time travel. That came as a surprise to me. I like the idea of time travel, and Ms. Chamberlain did a great job with this story.

I was eager to start reading Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, A Spark of Light. The premise held promise and I thought if any writer could write a soul-searching novel about abortion, it would be Ms. Picoult. I was disappointed in the book. I think I would have liked it if it had been written in chronological order; however, it covers 11 hours, begins with hour number 10, and works its way backwards to hour number one, which is followed by hour number 11. The way the material was presented did not appeal to me. I was tempted to read the chapters in reverse order, but I wasn’t in the mood to do that after having started with the first chapter.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and the physical energy to reach your goals.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

I’ll try to write a more upbeat blog next week. When I started blogging more than seven years ago, the purpose of my blog was to share my journey as a writer. The journey has stalled recently, but maybe I’ll get my second wind in 2019.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Have you read A Spark of Light, by Jodi Picoult? What did you think of it? Did you find its being written “backwards” appealing or confusing? I have enjoyed every other Jodi Picoult book I’ve read, so I was surprised when I had no desire to read beyond the second chapter of this one. The book has gotten mixed reviews online.

If you’re a writer, what pulls you out of the pit of self-doubt when discouragement tries to overwhelm you?

Janet

Good Books Read in November 2018

I took an unexpected respite from my blog last week, but I’m back today to tell you about the three books I read in November. I look forward to my first blog post each month because it gives me a chance to review my reading during the previous month. I hope you enjoy those blog posts, too.

Before the Storm, by Diane Chamberlain

Before the Storm, by Diane Chamberlain

As a rule, I prefer stories told in chronological order. Once in a while there was a chapter in Before the Storm set in 1991 to give backstory. Otherwise, I liked the book. The main character, Andy, is a teenage boy with special needs. He attends a youth activity at his church one night when an arsonist sets fire to the sanctuary. Three people died in the fire, but Andy led many others to safety.

Andy is proclaimed a hero, but the police and community are eager to find the perpetrator. One thing leads to another and Andy is charged with the crime. Did Andy set the fire? Did Andy have anything to do with the fire? How will Andy prove he is innocent when all evidence points straight to him?

When I got to the last 100 or so pages, I couldn’t put it down. I did not see the surprise ending coming!

This is the fourth novel by Diane Chamberlain that I’ve read. If you are interested in reading what I had to say about The Silent Sister and The Stolen Marriage, please look at these two blog posts of mine from 2017:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/07/17/reading-south-africa-and-south-carolina-novels/  and https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/10/02/some-great-september-reads/. I’ve also read Pretending to Dance, by Ms. Chamberlain.

The White Darkness, by David Grann

The White Darkness, by David Grann

Last August I read Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann. You can read what I had to say about it in my September 4, 2018 blogpost, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/09/04/holocaust-survivors-and-osage-murders/. Recently, when I saw an ad for the new movie, “The Old Man and the Gun,” I was curious about its backstory. I discovered that the movie is based on a book by the same name that was written by David Grann. It wasn’t available at the library, so I checked to see what else he has written. The White Darkness was on that list, so I checked it out.

 The White Darknessis the remarkable story of Henry Worsley’s obsession with the Antarctic. He idolized Ernest Shackleton, who was a pioneer in polar exploration in the1800s. Shackleton aspired to be the first person to reach the South Pole. He also wanted to be the first person to walk across Antarctica. He was unsuccessful in those attempts, but his journeys inspired Henry Worsley to try to do the same.

This nonfiction book is the story of Henry Worsley’s two treks to Antarctica – one in 2008 and the second in 2015.In 2008 he went with two descendants of Shackleton’s crew members, but in 2015he went alone.

This 150-page book is filled with photographs of Antarctica. I’ve never studied the geography of the Antarctic,so in reading Henry Worsley’s story I also learned about the continent’s plateaus, ice shelves, and towering mountain ranges.

The Shadows We Hide, by Allen Eskens

The Shadows We Hide, by Allen Eskens

I am a huge fan of Allen Eskens’ novels, and this one did not disappoint. As I waited to rise to the top of the waitlist for it at the public library, I kept thinking, What if this book isn’t as good as his first four books?

Mr. Eskens’ first novel, The Life We Bury, featured a young man with autism. His older brother, Joe, rescues him from a physically-abusive situation involving their mother and her live-in boyfriend. The Shadows We Hide is a sequel to that2014 book. Joe and his girlfriend are still caring for the autistic brother when Joe’s father, whom he’s never met, dies under suspicious circumstances.

In The Shadows We Hide, Joe t. ravels several hours to the town in Minnesota where his father died. Although he’d never met the man, he needs to find out what he can about him. Joe soon finds himself the subject of a murder investigation. One thing leads to another until Joe is the target of a killer.

Woven throughout the book is a continuation of the estrangement between Joe and his mother which happened in The Life We Bury. Always in Joe’s heart is what is best for his autistic brother. It is not necessary for you to read The Life We Bury before reading The Shadows We Hide, but you might have a richer reading experience if you do.

Finishing an Allen Eskens novel is bittersweet for me. I can’t wait to see how the story ends, but then I know I’ll probably have to wait a year until his next book is published. I’ve read each of his novels as soon as they were published. Needless to say, I’m a fan of his writing.

Since my last blog post

November was extremely busy.  Well, busy for someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. December promises to be even more hectic. I might explain what I mean by that later this month.

Until my next blog

I look forward to reading more good books and starting some Christmas baking. I hope you have a good book to read.I’m reading Look Alive Twenty-Five, by Janet Evanovich. I needed something light to read before I start reading Diane Chamberlain’s latest release, Dream Daughter. As usual, I can’t keep up with all the books I want to read.

If you are a writer, I hope you make time for your craft this week. I need to look in the mirror and say that to myself!

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Have you read any good books lately? If you’ve read any of the books I mentioned today, I’d like to know what you thought of them.

Janet