Go ahead, distract me


Distraction is the enemy of the writing process, and it’s a wily enemy.

Because we do a lot of our writing at home, we are subject to a particular virulent strain known as Domestic Distraction (DD.) When we sit down to write (often hiding from our children and other family members) we can pretty much predict the ambush.

Actually, Cathy just sent me this email describing a recent writing session at her home:

“Well, right now I’m trying to work, and I have four kids running in and asking for popcorn and drinks. And one of them is 14! And the phone keeps ringing. And the dog is barking. I had a dentist appointment this morning, and now the renovators are coming in half an hour and I have to get the whole kitchen cleaned before they get here. How much writing do you think I’ve actually done today? Slightly less than tweet-length.”

Sounds about right. Sometimes it really is best to get out of the house to write. Go to a coffee shop. Try the library. Anywhere that the people won’t mean anything to you, and the surroundings will mean even less.

But if you can’t slip away, you might as well laugh. Here, in no certain order, are some of the recent issues that have had the temerity to disturb us at our writing desks.

  • The house is too cold. It’s winter. It’s New England, but seriously my fingers hurt.
  • The dog wants out. Now he wants in. Now he wants back out.
  • The neighbors’ kids are really into screaming. In their backyard. At full volume.
  • My 5-year-old has been too quiet for too long.
  • My 5-year-old has been unbearably noisy for too long.
  • Ah, the always inspiring: “Mommy, can you come wipe my bum?”
  • I need coffee.
  • I’ve had too much coffee.
  • Man, a turkey sandwich sounds good right now.
  • I’ll just check Facebook for a second

Care to share your own DD?

—  Karen


Write Despite Book Giveaway Winner


The comments are all in, and Author Hardy Jones has chosen the winner who will receive a free, signed copy of his novel, Every Bitter Thing.

From Hardy:

All of the responses to the “Perseverance and the Writing Life” were strong, which made my selecting only one for the book giveaway difficult. In the end, I choose T.D. The comment was well written, thoughtful, and clearly expressed T.D.’s desire to persevere. For all who left comments, best of luck with your writing and your submitting!

Congratulations, T.D.
Now come out from behind those initials and claim your prize.
Hardy is popping your book in the mail today.

And thanks to everyone who participated.

Structure: The Lost Art?

I started college as an art major. I lived in a small town and began a long educational stint at a small college, which had exactly two art professors. One was the 3D instructor—pottery and sculpture, which I was not so into. I wanted to draw and paint. So I spent most of my time with the 2D art teacher—a gruff, critical guy who seemed to never be able to explain exactly what was wrong with a piece, just that you hadn’t put enough of your “soul” into it, or you needed to “color outside the lines” more. He was also into trash. “Found objects” were his medium, and he could often be spotted rooting through the bins outside the art building scavenging treasures to incorporate into his “art.”Found Art

I say “art” in quotes, yes, because I could not tell exactly what his art was. One creation he displayed proudly in his office was a board nailed on the wall holding a tangle of red wires, some prickly stuff that looked like steel wool, and clumps of brown feathers. His students dubbed it (behind his back) “Road Kill in Mixed Media.”

One day, when we were reading about Picasso and how he’d progressed from realism to abstraction during his career, I came across a line that went something like, “Realism provides the foundation for mastery which then allows artists to expand in whatever direction they choose.”

There. That’s what I’d been sensing all along. I pointed this out to my professor and said, “I feel like I need to know how to paint something realistic first, before I try to weird it up.”

He was, to put it mildly, offended. More like defensive. Actually horrified. He blurted out that this was a bourgeoisie concept that had been around for centuries and it was, essentially, crap. Learning the basics, he said, would only enable you to produce cookie-cutter, formulaic art. Then he fell back on his favorite dada-ist phrase: “Anything the artist spits is art.”

Okay, really? Not only is this gross, but come on. Whatever you throw out into the world is golden just because you proclaim yourself gifted? That’s crap.

I ended up changing towns and colleges and majors until I finally got a degree in creative writing. I took countless workshops, all of which were eye-opening and useful. Yet in all the talk of novel writing (and there wasn’t much—we concentrated mainly on short stories) there was still very little teaching of structure.

I still feel kind of bitter—okay, plenty bitter—about that. Because to this day I’m still struggling with it. I get that people don’t want to teach something considered too conventional. But I’ll take formula over floundering any day. Like Picasso said, I’d rather come to learn something so well that I can then break apart its underlying foundation and have it still support all the crazy cube-like heads and feet above.

The book I’m reading now (Save the Cat!, which I’ve mentioned previously) gives such strict guidance on structure it tells you on what page a key element in your story should take place.

Actually, your script—this is a screenwriting book. I wish this guy would write a how-to on novel structure and tell me on exactly what page my main character should make a life-altering decision, or bottom out, or find enlightenment.
No spitting

My old art professor would spit his artistic saliva at me for that one. But I’d rather have the tools to create what will stand upright and endure, not what’s become a mass of wires and feathers that I have to now go back and try to pry up from the roadside.

It’s so much easier if you build the foundation from the start. Structure, I’m starting to think, is EVERYTHING.

What do you think?


Persevere and Win a Free Book!

Heading into a new year, we here at Write Despite have been thinking a lot about perseverance. Lately it seems that this quality, more than any other, is responsible for whatever good fortune we’ve had. We consulted Merriam-Webster for an exact definition.

Perseverance:  continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.

That’s about as accurate a description of the writing life as we’ve ever heard. But we thought we’d ask our old writer friend Hardy Jones, author of “Every Bitter Thing” (still love that title), to weigh in.

Please post a comment on Write Despite about an instance in your own writing life when perseverance has paid off—whether it’s an acceptance letter or nailing the perfect sentence. Hardy will select one respondent to receive a free copy of “Every Bitter Thing.”

FullCover copy

“Perseverance and the Writing Life”

Why write and continue to do so when one’s attempts have been met with rejection? Early in one’s writing life, perseverance—it could be argued—is one’s greatest trait. Writing can always be improved, but not if a burgeoning author throws in the towel before that writing has blossomed.

Gustave Flaubert said, “Writing is a lonely life, but the only life worth living.” Writing is lonely; it is you, your ideas, and (most commonly) a computer. The daily grind of writing can be lonely, but this is why it imperative that an author love his or her profession. Remember: No one forced you to be a writer. You can walk away at any moment. While the act of writing can be lonely, the life of a writer does not have to be lonely. Teachers, mentors, friends (authors and non-authors), and family can provide a support network. One must remember that, in the end, it is you and your ideas sitting alone that will create your story, poem, and eventually your book. If one perseveres.

Alfred Kazin said, “In every real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas is a curious anticlimax.”  Presumably we all write to publish, to see our work in print, and to have an audience. But keep in mind that even the most prolific authors write more than they publish. Therefore, it is the act of writing that must sustain us, not seeing our name and work in a journal or on a bookshelf. As long as you enjoy your work (enjoy does not mean you are always happy with it, but the process is not deflating), are learning about yourself, then you are growing as a writer.

While the world tells us we cannot write, while the world tells us to focus on more realistic goals, while we tell ourselves we cannot do it…remember that perseverance will get us through those angst-filled moments.

And So it Ends…and Begins


headshotFrom Cathy:

Hi and Happy New Year, everyone!

Where to start? Well first, a HUGE congratulations to Karen. Read on for her big announcement below. So excited for her!!!!

Last year at this time, I wrote that this challenge “is about the work itself, not so much the final project.” I guess I’m glad I wrote that because, for me, the final project isn’t exactly what I’d envisioned. Maybe that’s because, drum roll please…I couldn’t stick to 20 minutes of writing a day.

There. I’m glad that’s off my chest. I did write every day, faithfully, for three months and it nearly killed me. After that, I wrote as much as I could manage. And I’m still doing that.

So here we are, the year over, and what have I achieved?

I wrote a third of a new novel. And copious notes and an outline. Then I put it away because I couldn’t think about it anymore, and found that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Parts of it, at least. So I’ll continue. But in the meantime…

I did a couple more rewrites on the first book, and got a couple of in-depth, extremely thorough reads on it from a couple of friends and now I know what direction that will take too. And these same friends helped me rework an old  story I submitted to a Glimmer Train contest. It didn’t win, but did place in the top 25 (out of more than a thousand submissions). So I feel pretty darned good about at least being a finalist, and can’t wait to get that story back into circulation.

All that aside, this challenge has brought my writing to the top of my priorities list. It’s no longer something I plan to do at some point. It’s something I’m constantly doing. I may not actively be writing every day, but I’m thinking about, reading about, and planning on writing every day. And that’s a huge leap for me.

Oh, and I started painting my new office yesterday (YES!). Pictures to come. I got a laptop for Christmas (my first ever!) so I should have no excuses now. But I’m sure I’ll manage to think of plenty.

Thanks to all of you for sticking with us through this year, and we hope you’ll stay around. It’s been great getting to know so many talented people through this blog. If you’re still slogging through your own year of writing, or if you’re just beginning to jot a few things down, I wish you a new year filled with creativity and patience and time and lots and lots of lovely words on pages.

Write well, everyone!

–Cathy Cruise

Karen-Guzman-300x228From Karen:

In the final days of 2013, it happened. My novel is being published. No kidding.


I received the news via email from the Press’ wonderful editor, Michelle Richmond. Homing Instincts is scheduled for publication in September 2014. Overjoyed and blinking in disbelief pretty much sum up my current state.

And grateful—hugely grateful to Fiction Attic Press (please “like” them on Facebook and comment) and to my writer friends who have been such an invaluable source of support—and editing. No one more than my Write Despite co-host, Cathy.

The Write Despite challenge kicked my writing into high gear. I produced more, got rejected more, scratched my head more and kept trying to figure it out. The process, I’ve learned, is the teacher.

I do have a confession: I did not technically write every day for 20 minutes. I tried.  I have become much more disciplined and better at squeezing writing into every available minute when my brain isn’t fried from the day. And it has really paid off.

We’re taking Write Despite into the new year, and I hope you are all coming with us. We’re tweaking our mission.  The challenge is no longer to write 20 minutes a day—although please continue if it’s working for you! Write Despite in 2014 is broadening its charge: WRITE as much as you, and whenever you, can—DESPITE the world and all its distractions. If that means every day, God bless you. If it means just three days a week, we think He’ll bless you anyway.

Seriously, doing your honest best is always good enough. And we’ll be here to help, sharing our journeys, our resources and “a-ha” moments. You’ve all made a difference in our writing lives. Let us make a difference in yours.

Joy and peace in the new year, my friends.

–Karen Guzman