The history of the English language — another exciting aspect brought to life

Researchers bring Old Norse language back to JORVIK Viking Centre –


Big, Deep Thinking and Writer’s Block

Have you ever been writing a story for which you believed you had a nice message or moral, all under control, you knew just what it was you were trying to say with the story, just like you’re supposed to, but at some point THIS happens: suddenly you realize you’re writing about a whole lot more than you realized, you’re writing about world events and oppressions you’ve witnessed and the nature of civilization–and now. . .you’re filled with a paralyzing dread?

Yeh, me, too, all the time. Sometimes it begins to hit a little too close to home: my story stirs up anger I thought I’d dealt with logically, or it brings to light the embarrassing fact that my political views aren’t as well-established as they should be at my age, past the half-century mark. Sometimes I realize I’m writing about someone else’s pain I’ve witnessed first-hand–and how dare I speak for them, how is it even possible?

As if we needed another reason to have writer’s block

Of all the writer’s blocks I’ve ever experienced or talked students through, this is the Whopper. My biggest personal demon. It’s the fear of Thinking Too Much.

Something happens when I start to Think Too Much–and like an invisible mine field, I can stumble on it any time, but I’ve learned the most likely terrain: reading about the way the human mind works and thinks and communicates (something I must do from time to time in light of my own neurological peculiarities), reading really mind-blowing science fiction, and writing out of pain.

Most of the time I fancy myself a gentle guru when I write, much like the teacher I once was: the approachable grad student sitting cross-legged on the desk asking questions, discussing the answers, poking the young folk where their concerns were and waking them up to connecting with the written word. Well, surely I’m experienced enough a teacher to know what I want to say and write neatly-packaged messages in my stories that gently teach the lessons I’ve learned in life.

Then comes the reckoning: the story’s too dull or too distant, and I have to explore more deeply what it was that prompted me to begin to write it in the first place, so I look at the parts I’m passionate about, and. . .you know the rest. Here opens the can of worms, here releases the floodgates–a flood of wriggling, wayward worms shooting out over the dam, glistening for a moment in the sun before crashing into the roiling depths below. It’s not neat, it’s not pretty, and it’s certainly not controllable.

This is the sort of thing I have nightmares about!

And I can tell you exactly why it’s so frightening, why it’s enough to cause writer’s block: it’s because suddenly I feel the terrible weight of responsibility that comes with Big Thinking, the responsibility not only to think it through but to translate it into something of use to others.

Of course, that’s not always the way we thinking humans respond to new insights into our own power–our creative power to make connections, to appeal to readers or listeners. There are plenty of folks out there who only see that they have a grain of intellectual prowess, and now they’re going to use it–for their own good, even if it means using their abilities to manipulate how others think, without actually teaching them, or to manipulate how others act–but only with the intent to separate them from their money.

But then there’s the rest of us, people with halfway-decent hearts who are compelled to see our new-found connections all the way through to the truth, however frightening or demanding that truth might be. In this sense, such moments of writer’s block are far more than that: they’re those moments in life when the enormity of a task paralyzes us, even as we’re tortured by the need to act and make things better.

Guru Gabriella:  approach and be enlightened

I suppose now I should tell some great guru secret, how to learn to strike while the iron is hot and seize the moment of passion to write about something without succumbing to the fear that “one solution will only lead to two more problems and there will be a whole lot of ontological angst I could really do without along the way”; there’s just too much work to do out in the garden. But I don’t have that answer, except to say: yes, undoubtedly and in my experience one solution WILL lead to two more problems and yes, sometimes you do just have to suck it up and suffer as a writer.

However, I do know that the one thing it’s in your power to do is–and this will sound fairly trite and pseudo-zen–to focus on your bigger goal: your honest will to preserve and protect what’s good in life as you know it. If you can’t see the forest for the trees, don’t merely obsess over counting the trees; look up once in awhile and revel in the sky.

How I know that the pain can suck, it can REALLY, REALLY SUCK

Tonka, 2000-2016

Six month ago I lost the best friend I ever had. And don’t be fooled, just because it was a bold and fearless and loud Siamese cat who went everywhere with me like a dog on a leash or in the car, it was a LOSS of the very last magnitude; I still feel empty, like half of me was ripped away, losing this companion who saved my life when I was at my lowest and feeling cursed with learning the immutable, medical explanation for why I had always been a freak in my own head and there was no cure. But it all comes back to that maddeningly glib question: if you had to do it all over again, would you think it was worth the pain?

Fifteen years of life as magical as anything I ever knew in childhood, living in the moment, seeing through the eyes of a miraculously purposeful creature who never backed down from anything–yes, I’m thinking it was worth it.

So it is with your writing. Some days the anger and pity and hurt and fear can be too real, and you certainly don’t want to expose more of it. Some days you just want to shut down and watch a House Hunters marathon while curled up in your favorite Hobbit blankie, slamming back tea and cookies. Or whatever you do. Avoiding the six o’clock news.

But then an example of an injustice or of some wrong-thinking will creep into your radar–some totally heinous plot twist in your favorite show or something the President tweeted or something, and you’ll have that irresistible urge to open your mouth and your laptop again. And watch out, world.

. . .So am I all alone in this particular kind of writer’s block? What things have tail-spun you into a real metaphysical impasse, and how did you get back out of it again? I’d love to hear about it, thinking human to thinking human.

Intense Emotional Flux–or, the Virtue of “Let the Draft Sit”

The Right Writing House — Part III

Apparently underwriting a mortgage these past couple of years is one step less involved than landing a man on the moon, and the exercises in repetition are just as rigorous. AARGH!

But at last, within two weeks I’ll be ensconced in my shade-wreathéd oasis, the little town bungalow with the secret half-acre garden hidden behind, and a bright and airy writer’s loft.


Too bad I’ve completely stopped writing since the whole spectre of home-ownership first shimmered into view some six weeks since.

I’m not certain if Intense Emotional Flux even is an excuse to stop writing, though that’s somewhat more legitimate than the fact that I’ve had to bury my writing laptop (and other valuables) deep in dresser drawers during this time my condo has been shown to potential buyers.  (But it’s so inconvenient to retrieve it and have to hide it again!)

However, this longest-hiatus-since-I-began-to-write-again has afforded some writing benefits in the form of insight into the Let-It-Sit phase that is supposed to follow the parturition travail of the First Draft.

The longest month of your life

The gestation period for this First Draft was three months with final delivery achieved on January 31st. I dutifully avoided cracking open the file for the entire proscribed “one month “let-it-sit” (albeit the shortest month, even in a leap year). It was difficult not to be pre-occupied with the development and nurturing of my “baby”, but I amused myself drafting scenes for a sequel, so the traumatic separation from the world I’d created was not exactly absolute.

March came in like a lion, and so did my First Revision phase. I went at my draft with all the fury of a turkey buzzard first on scene for road kill.  I considered my First Draft fairly polished because I had had an OUTLINE.  I was so on top of things.

So of course it didn’t worry me one bit that my changes were minor, the tweaks grammatical and a few for continuity. Some of the dialogue was spiced up a bit.

Until about halfway through when I realized what a boringly mundane pile of lake pebbles I’d constructed. You know the fun of rock hunting along a shore? A single pebble can be amazing, a microcosm of Creation–for a time. But by the next day you just want to fly a kite or go skinny-dipping again or something different.

My first draft went from beginning to end according to the outline but there were no twists and turns–of the sort one can only insert after seeing what one has written. HAH ha HAH ha HAH!  Who was I to believe that, after a decade of scarcely putting pen to paper, I could spit out a draft in three months, wait a month, and know everything there was to know about polishing it up?  Warning signs to look for (Karl Popper wisdom* aside):  if your own draft bores you, it needs more than tweaking.

Emotional flux–or just the gears grinding?

So along came the house of my dreams and a GENUINE Let-It-Sit phase, and perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, because that Draft has never really been far from my mind. I don’t know if it will ever make it all the way to Polished Final Draft phase, fit for public consumption, but I’ve had all kinds of genuinely creative ideas about what’s missing from the story, ideas that never could have developed while I was bent over the draft tinkering away.

I could have been writing these past few weeks, working on other things, keeping the flame lit even as I considered my Draft from a distance, but still, the point has been made:  there’s more to writing creatively than Draft 1, Draft 2, Draft 3. . .What worked for me in grad school doesn’t cut it for novel-length fiction. That sucker can always be more complex.

Here come some more lame excuses, but I still have one giant relocation ahead of me, cats to hand-hold and placate, new roommates to get used to (I’ve chosen to leave the ivory tower), and time for writing will continue to be erratic for about another month. The Right House to Write In had better pay off, though. Emotional flux is no less and no more interesting than a new pebble.


* ‘No book can ever be finished. While working on it we learn just enough to find it immature the moment we turn away from it.‘ –Karl Popper



The Right Writing House–FOUND!

Small town in front, private park in back–couldn’t be more perfect.

I didn’t mention my hopes last blog but this was the “impossible house” I was imagining as I outlined my wish list for the house search:  it was on the market, but for a variety of reasons I couldn’t make an offer YET, I didn’t have my ducks in a row. My heart was broken. Forget the house:  this was everything I ever wanted in a yard.  It stretches WAY back–to include a little wooded area.  I dreamed of English gardens on the back half with a path winding through.

And a white gazebo.

But sadly it came on the market before I was anywhere near ready! My radius of search was SO TINY–what were the odds I’d find another that fit every desire?

THEN, with a little help from friends and family and a great realtor and mortgage broker who did magic, and after I had given up all hope, darned if those ducks didn’t line up like first-rate soldiers.  Straightened up and quacked right. It was a mad race in this seller’s market to make that offer before anyone beat me to it.  And here I am, over my head financially perhaps, but a half acre of my own to live out and retire in my second half century on earth.

I’m normally fiscally cautious:  head down, move along, play it safe.  But the few times in my life I’ve taken that leap of faith into the abyss of financial uncertainty, it’s been SPECTACULAR.  It’s not like I have any innate intuition, and my timing sucks more than anyone you’ve ever met, but I seemed to have it when it counted.

Such as the day my dad kept asking me in disbelief, “Why are you PACKING? You don’t have the tuition!” –for grad school, well, had I not pushed on in a kind of delusional trance I’d never have gotten that full-ride assistantship and fellowship the day before classes began.

I keep waiting for the spectacular leap to fail me. . .Check back in a couple years when the dust settles.  Because it’s all or nothing now.

Here’s the blank canvas, a writer’s retreat in the middle of town.  I know I’m lucky, but just like always, it’s going to be a lot of work to make luck stick.


Finding the Right House for Writing

First move in 15 years. . .and counting

Lately writing has taken a back seat to re-locating. The plan had always been to live in my top-floor apartment-style condo for some time before finding a little house to retire to.  Well, retirement’s at least 2 decades away, but one needs to plan.

As much as I love the birdsong and many trees in this lovely, walk-worthy area near the edge of my small-town, those birds compete with shared-building life, kids’ shouting in the pool not far from my balcony, kids’ shouting in the yards, noises from the 5 softball fields by the elementary school across the street, and all the usual noises of many people living in close proximity (and some of the more mysterious and likely illegal ones).

I’m claustrophobic by nature. Many writers and independent scholars are.

As I explained to my Realtor what I wanted in a home, the Top Four demands had nothing to do with the house itself. More  large trees, more birdsong (inspires my writer sensibilities); private outdoor space (for the writer with a laptop), quiet neighborhood near downtown (well, duh); not a corner lot (wasted outdoor space that could be private).

I don’t much care about the house. With imagination and working plumbing one can pretty much live with anything.

But the market is really wrenching for the Buyer this year. No contingency offers (and I’ve already found the perfect downtown yard with small house!), which means. . .one has to find a place within a tiny window of just a few weeks after one gets a purchase offer on her own house!  And my searching radius is only about a mile. How often will a suitable place even come up for sale?  Half a dozen in a year at best?

I’m hearing stories of whole families having to live in temporary housing just to find/wait for the right home. I swear that moving a couple of kids around would be easier than my moving my elderly cat with medical issues and the other one. Living back in my parents’ basement at age 51 here in town with two cats and THEIR two cats? 

But this is what I may need to do to find the perfect writing home for the rest of my life. Wish me luck.

What are your concerns when finding the Right Place to Write?





Re-post: Working with a cover artist, Part 1 — A Lonely Indie Writer’s Best Friend

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