On Cat Butlers, Regency Romance, and Murder Mysteries: Author Interview with Catherine Lloyd

Death Comes to the Village

Catherine Lloyd Author

On a lucky trip to the library a few months ago, I pulled Death Comes to the Village off the shelf and quickly hunted down the next two novels in The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries series (Kensington Books).

There’s nothing like writing your own first novel to give you an appreciation for all authors. One of my goals this year is to reach out and thank those writers whose books I’ve enjoyed. That’s how I “met” New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Catherine Lloyd. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her books and her writing process.

Death Comes to the Village        Death Comes to London      Death Comes to Kurland Hall

Congratulations on the success of The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries. You write under a pseudonym (Kate Pearce) as well. Do you have a preference for one genre over another?

Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to write something different. I also write romance, but they are very different entities. With romance it’s more about the love story and the character’s romantic arc. With the mystery, the plot is more front and center, and the characters don’t have to be quite so romantic.

I don’t really have a preference for one genre. They speak to different sides of my brain and my writing process. I’m lucky to get the opportunity to do both.

You’ve previously said it took you five years to get your first novel published. Can you describe those five years; the successes and setbacks?

Yes, that was back in the days before self-publishing in its present form existed, so the process was literally to send off lots of submission letters with a stamped addressed envelope and wait for the reply in your mail box. It took me a while to find my first agent, who then immediately died, and a little longer to find my second agent. The third one was the charm. Once I’d sold a couple of my romance novels things did start to get easier, but it took me 5 complete manuscripts and almost five years to get there.

Sometimes it was difficult to keep going. At one point I almost gave up, but decided instead to be braver with my writing and really write what I wanted to rather than what I thought was the popular thing. That proved to be the right decision for me. I also learned how to deal with rejections in a more private way than anyone who self-publishes these days and has to deal with reviews on amazon etc.

With the mystery series things happened a bit differently in that my current editor asked me if I’d like to write something else for the same publishing house. I went home to think about it, and submitted a proposal for the cozy historical mystery series. It combines my knowledge of the Regency period with my love of Agatha Christie in a perfect way.

How did you develop a knowledge of the Regency Period?

Well, I grew up in London with a mother who did her teaching qualification in history, and always talked about places we were visiting, which inspired a great love of the past in me. I also did my degree in history, so I know how to research a time period. I read voraciously and loved Rosemary Sutcliff, Dorothy Dunnett, Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I gained a sense of what I wanted to write from there, and the rest I just research as I go. It really does help having been born in England with the history all around you.

You say you went with what you wanted to write rather than what you thought was popular. What did you think was popular? What were you trying to write?

I was originally trying to be Jane Austen or write more cookie cutter romance.  I couldn’t really be Jane, and I’ve always had something of a subversive nature, which meant that my historical romances always pushed at the boundaries of what was acceptable. (I was more interested in writing gritty dark romances with multifaceted heroes with questionable sexual proclivities than the standard Alpha male. LOL.)

For my mysteries I wanted to write something that wasn’t centered in the city of London with a strong male protagonist. I wanted to write a cozy mystery set in the English countryside where the hero and heroine are unconventional in a different way. I researched what was published in Regency mysteries, and I found a nice little niche for myself.

What was your mindset during those years? What made you persist?

I think I just wanted to communicate. I knew that writing was the piece that made sense of who I was, and I was determined that I’d eventually get published. I couldn’t not persist if that makes sense, but I had to give myself permission to be brave, and think outside the box. Getting angry at all the rejections helped sometimes as well.

What does the physical process of “thinking outside the box” entail? Do you make lists, brainstorm, try scenes from different angles, etc.?

No, I just write and let my brain noodle away at what will happen next. Sometimes if I’m aware there is a problem my unconscious will happily provide me with a solution when I wake up. Sometimes I can see a scene is wrong, and I’ll go back, try it in a different point of view or look for where the problem starts, and write on from there.

For me thinking outside the box means more that I look at my strengths as a writer and I commit to using those strengths and not compromising when I write by worrying about the market too much or what I ‘should be writing.” You have to be aware of what is popular, but you can’t follow trends, and make yourself miserable writing things that don’t work with your writing style.

How does penning your own books affect you as a reader? Are you able to read and get lost in stories?

It depends on the story. A fantastic author who can pull me in, and not let go makes me very happy. I do have a tendency to work out the plots ahead these days though, which sometimes even annoys me.

What books are on your to-be-read pile now? Favorite type of story to get lost in?

I have eclectic tastes. I currently have:

Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes.

Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison.

Get A Clue by Jill Shalvis

The Roads of Taryn McTavish by R. Lee Smith

Dark Angels by Karleen Koen

I’ll try anything, I like to see how other authors do things especially in literary fiction.

Being a full-time author is a dream for many writers. What is one thing about the reality that would surprise most people?

I think it can be quite lonely, and that you have to establish boundaries to either protect your writing time, or not let your writing time take over your real life. For me, it’s also my job. I sit down five days a week and write. That’s what I do.

Aspiring writers have a fascination with the writing process of a published author. Do you care to share any special aspects of your process or your opinion on this fascination?

I plot my mysteries quite extensively, and talk them through with my editor. The end product sometimes doesn’t have a lot to do with that initial synopsis, but the basics are there. I like to be surprised when I’m writing, and I like to follow off down trails that appear and use them to make the book better.

For my romances I’m even more vague because I really enjoy writing in the moment and discovering the emotion along the way.

My husband sometimes taps me on the head and says, “Where does all that stuff come from?”

Answer: I have no idea.

How much of real characters in your life make it into your books?

None in the sense that you’d recognize anyone. I do, however notice small things about people, their body language, the way they accent certain words etc. etc., and those things sometimes creep into my writing. I am fairly famous for eavesdropping in restaurants.

What’s the best or worst piece of writing advice you ever received?

The best? Write the book. Repeat.

The worst? Write what you know.

Why was “write what you know” not good advice for you. Can you elaborate?

I meant it in the sense that most of us live fairly unremarkable lives, and can’t time travel back to the Regency or out into the future. To me my imagination was my escape from the everyday, and it’s where all my best ideas come from.

Something readers would be surprised to learn about you? Any hidden talents or obsessions?

I’m British, but I currently live in Hawaii. That’s fairly unusual I think. I love to knit. I make hats and scarves and Outlander cowls and send them overseas to the cold people in my life.

If time and money were no object, describe an ideal day for you:

I’m pretty lucky actually. I get to live on the Big Island of Hawaii, with my lovely husband and daughter, three cats and fluffy little dog. I can get to the ocean in ten minutes. I love my job. I can’t really think of anything else I’d want except if I were a billionaire, I’d have a cat butler to let the cats in and out because they drive me nuts.

Lastly, if you could get newer writers to understand one thing about writing a book, it would be:

It’s hard work, but if you get it done you will learn so much along the way that even if it sucks, (and first books often do), the next one will be better.

A big thank you to Catherine for her time and generosity! Look for Book #4 Death Comes to the Fair, set to be released November 29, 2016.

Visit my #BooksByTheBed page for my take on the first three books in The Kurland St. Mary series.

For more information about Catherine and her books, check out her website. If you enjoy edgy romance, check out her Kate Pearce Novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Thoughts on “On Cat Butlers, Regency Romance, and Murder Mysteries: Author Interview with Catherine Lloyd

  1. Just finished today the third of the Kurland St. Mary mysteries and loved all three – it’s a long wait until the next one

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Five Words That Will Change Your Writing Life

Aha moment Do the work

Hard hat

You have questions.

And the internet is a rabbit hole of answers.

When is the best time to write? How do you tackle revision? Should you write in the morning? Do you need a Mac or is Windows still ok? Word or Scrivener? Music or no music? What kind of music?

Suggestions are everywhere.

Truman Capote only wrote lying down. Philip Roth writes standing up. Writing in long hand boosts creativity. Your desk should face the window. Your desk should never face the window.

How do you know you’re doing it right?

On a snowy night in late March, I  sat with two other writers in an Irish pub discussing our works-in-progress (all first novels, two Women’s fiction, one hard Sci-Fi).

We all needed answers.

I had a new chapter to workshop. The Sci-Fi guy, a proud new dad and entrepreneurial mogul, was making progress but wanted to write more consistently. The other WF writer, an MBA and busy VP Marketing executive by day, had just finished her rough first draft and was “stymied” by revisions.

Creative Commons: www.skinnyartist.com

We tossed around suggestions over appetizers and a vodka tonic (don’t judge—the drive in from the suburbs was horrendous).

Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” method which I saw him describe in a TV interview, struck a chord with Sci-Fi guy. I’d brought along four books on revision to help MBA tackle her second draft. Sci-Fi guy produced a three-foot long stapled printout from Scrivener illustrating how he kept track of character arcs and timelines, because I’d lost count of the draft I was on.

This was good stuff. Stuff we could act on.

Aha moment Do the work

Creative Commons: blogs.worldbank.org

Still, we pondered. Were we doing it right? Maybe we should try that new book or class! Then Sci-Fi guy said something that we strained to hear over the music and revelry of the pub:

“Or, we could just do the f$#king work.”

My eyes locked on MBA’s, and together we turned to Sci-Fi guy, not sure we’d heard him correctly.

The look on his face was what I imagine Ben Franklin looked like when his uncredited minions helped him discover electricity. It was a literal “Aha” moment.

I resumed my book recommendations, pointing out a chapter MBA might like on setting. Sci-Fi guy grinned at us (I’d say maniacally but, you know, adverb) for a few seconds. Then he interrupted, louder this time:

“Or, we could just do the f$#king work.”

No problem hearing him this time.

MBA: “Wow, this meeting just took a turn.”

Jack Nicholson The Shining

We all laughed, until he said it again.

Sci-Fi guy: “I’m serious. We need to just do the f$#king work.”

Maybe a rowdy Irish pub wasn’t the best place for a critique group, now that we thought about it.

Fast forward two weeks to a snowy April night (that’s right, snow in April . . .my kind of town, Chicago is…), MBA and I sat in the same pub and shared an order of fries.  She provided specific, generous insight that helped me interpret feedback I’d received from a professional editor

Then MBA said she had a question for me.

MBA: “What notebooks do you use? Like, how many different ones and how do you organize them?”

I laughed out loud, repeated Sci-Fi guy’s memorable suggestion and then said, “No, seriously. I have like one for the novel, and another for interviews. . .”

So what’s the point? The point is you have questions. You need advice. You need to learn craft. And you will find endless answers. That’s what fantastic blogs like Writers Helping Writers and Womens Fiction Writers and Bang2Write and are for.

The point is no matter how far you are into your essay, or memoir, or novel, you may always feel you’re doing it wrong.

The point is no matter how many books you read, or how many lists you study, or how many podcasts you listen to, no one way works for every writer.

In an interview on Writers on Writing, Author Sari Wilson put it this way:

“The process has its own intelligence. Committing to the process through all the different obstacles that are presented has its own logic and its own power, and it will take you through the process. There will be an end.”

In other words, the doing of “it,” whatever “it” is, teaches you how to do “it.” You have to DO. You have to mess up.

All the “Habits of Great Writers” lists and viral posts in the world can’t change that.

Sometimes you’re just scared and stalling. How can you tell the difference? How do you get from stalling to writing?

Just Do The F$#king Work

Here’s the best of what’s worked for me:

Set a goal. Any goal.

What should yours be? Who cares? Time spent, words added up. It doesn’t matter. My first one was 500 words a day/5 days a week (flexibility was key).

Refer to a few trusted guides (don’t overload).

Go for tried and true, review recommendations. In the end, the voice that speaks to you matters. I like Wired for Story, Immediate Fiction, and Stein on Writing.

Stay in touch with your project as often as possible.

Don’t fall prey to the drift. I like Seinfeld’s approach. When I had the flu, it all went to pot. Touching it every day makes it easier to get back in. Staying in touch can mean reading a paragraph, or rewriting a whole chapter. You decide.

Practice. Reading about how others do it isn’t enough.

Find a suggestion that resonates? Put down the damn book and go try it. Then and there. Share what worked and what didn’t with your peers.

If you believe you don’t have time to write, keep a time/activity log.

I claimed to want a writing life as I munched on popcorn watching The Voice for the third time in a week. That’s not writing, that’s lying. Make your intentions match your actions.

Make contacts with writers you admire who will call you on your BS.

Go out on a limb. Take a class. Go to a conference. Be brave. Be bold. Have business cards or a pen and notepaper (you’re a writer, after all). Get contact information. Email people. Invite them for coffee. Bam!

Eventually, as Sci-Fi guy knew, we all just have to do the f$#king work. And that’s the only answer you need.

Are you ever guilty of avoiding the work? How do you get back to it? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “Five Words That Will Change Your Writing Life

  1. How do I follow you on Word Press?

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REJECTED: Too Tired to Inspire

Tired kid
Tired kid

Creative Commons Image – Click on photo for source

For about a week, I’ve been contemplating an inspiring post about things that amaze me. But here’s the thing, I have a full time day job, and I’m committed to finishing this latest draft of my novel sooner rather than later. I’M TIRED PEOPLE.

Especially today. My husband and I dogsat last night for my daughter’s two dogs. We love these rent-a-pet opportunities. Throw a stick, scratch a belly, and then wave goodbye.

Thor and Ruger

Last night, her slightly neurotic boxer and fluffy mixed-breed slept over. Thor, the boxer, decided that 2:30 a.m. was a good time to slink over to my side of the bed and lick my hand. I was up Netflix-ing for the next four hours.

But writing this book is something I want to do, so instead of catching up on sleep, I brainstormed the rest of my outline.

All of this whining brings me to the topic of my post today. Sometimes writing things and flinging them out to the universe isn’t always gratifying. Sometimes we’re rejected by the very people who once accepted us and validated our writerly existence.

But I’m trusting all the legends out there,  all the novelists who tell us persistence is the key. So I’m persisting. And yawning. Which is why today, you’re getting a previously unpublished essay instead of my amazingly useful post on wonderous things that amaze me.

This essay was my second submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was rejected. The essay made my sisters cry which is one of my litmus tests. It did not make me cry. Maybe it will make you cry. Maybe not.

Maybe you’ll instantly know why my first submission to the Soup people was accepted and why this one was rejected. Maybe not. Probably not.

I don’t have the energy or desire to resubmit or rewrite this particular piece. I got it out of me and—to paraphrase a lovely novelist I interviewed this week—made it an artifact. This time that was enough.

It’s a true story. Names changed, etc.. I hope it speaks to you.

Remember to just keep “making stuff.” (Yes, that’s from Big Magic by our friend Liz, and yes, I resisted reading it because everyone’s reading it, and yes, now I have bent over every other page because it speaks to me…damn you, Liz!)

Here’s my rejected piece:

Lessons Learned

Had I known that sunny September day would set a course for the next 17 years of my life, I might have thought twice about attending the Parent Volunteer meeting. My brown-eyed girl was starting Kindergarten and I was determined to get involved. I left her two-year-old brother with a neighbor and dressed in my best mom uniform, khaki capris and sandals.

The gymnasium was set with folding chairs and long tables littered with sign-up sheets. There were paper cups filled with lemonade and rows of sparkly sugar cookies and grownups having conversations! I’d escaped the confines of stay-at-home-mom, venturing into the land of Moms Who Help. It was a vast land with its own politics and customs. Our comfortable community in a desirable school district had the unusual problem of fielding too many volunteers. Assignments filled quickly.

Our leader for the afternoon ended her welcome speech by reminding us that there were always areas in need of more help such as the Read-A-Book program. We had a diverse student body many of whose parents did not speak English in the home and did not have access to reading materials. Those volunteers selected would choose books and read aloud weekly to children in need of special attention.

It seemed like the perfect fit. We’d read to our kids from an early age and my daughter would see me helping her classmates. I put my name at the top of the list and selected a few other events as well. I would help stock the Book Fair and come in once a month for Art Parent, whatever that was. I also filled out a lottery form for Room Parent, the most competitive category. Those lucky folks that planned all the classroom parties were chosen in an annual drawing clouded with rumors of fixed entries and other shenanigans.

Throughout the next 17 years, I read to many of my children’s classmates and served as room parent more often than not. I chaperoned field trips to museums and zoos, spotted climbers on the knotted rope in P.E. classes, filled water balloons for orchestra camps, fed referees at wrestling tournaments, grilled bratwurst at football games and demonstrated sculpture to third graders using Hershey Kisses and toothpicks.

The assignment that resonated the most was the reading. It seemed such a simple thing. Each reading day, I’d choose a book from a cabinet in the volunteer room. I’d pull the pocket folder belonging to my student and record the book title. After reading, I returned the folder noting any comments the child made about the book or any requests they had for the following week.

We sat wherever we could find a spot. We’d plop down on big bean bag pillows in a carpeted hallway, a corner of the library, or a special sunny nook with no lockers off the office corridor. Most of the children spoke English but didn’t read much at home either because their parents didn’t have the time or didn’t speak English.

Each year, every session started out tentatively as I got to know my students. They’d ask whose mom I was and slowly, over weeks, they’d relax, revealing their personalities. Some demanded the same book each week. Some wanted me to scour the library to find a special title. Then there was Jake.

Jake was in my daughter’s fourth grade glass and according to other classroom parents, was likely to end up in juvenile detention before making it to high school. He was always in trouble. He swore. He was high energy. He received poor grades. He was troubled by most every definition and was assigned to read with me as his parents didn’t speak English at home.

The first day I called his name, he slapped a book off a classmate’s desk on his way out to join me in the hallway.

“Hi Jake,” I said.

“I hate reading.” He said.

“Good, you don’t have to read. You can just listen if you want.” I slid down the wall to the carpet wondering how I got so lucky to have him on my list.

“Maybe.” But he also sat down, three feet away from me as if he might bolt at any minute.

“I heard you like Goosebumps?”

“Whatever.” But he wasn’t punching anyone or trying to run away.

I opened the book and began to read. Occasionally, I’d sneak a peek at him. He had the spiky bangs in fashion with a lot of the boys. He had giant brown eyes and an 18-inch tail of hair down the middle of his back, the rest of his hair cut short to match his spiky bangs. The tail definitely stood out and I learned other students often teased him about it. The radical hairstyle contributed to his aura as the bad boy of the grade school set.

Our first meeting was deemed a success by his teacher. I could see a change as I called him each following week. He no longer acted out on his way to greet me. Instead, he practically ran and sat so close I could feel his warm skin and smell the baby shampoo his mom used on her special boy. He was always cheerful and seemed well-cared for. I didn’t understand the source of his behavior problems. I was just there to read.

One late spring day, we were finishing our last book of the year. I’d bought each of my students a book as a parting gift and I handed him a new Goosebumps paperback. He didn’t say much just twirled the long tail of hair. I took a risk and asked him about it.

“That must have taken a long time to grow, huh?”

“Yeah, my mom won’t let me cut it.” He didn’t let go of it and rubbed his other hand over the book cover.

“Really? How come?” I didn’t want to be nosey but I was intrigued.

“I was really sick as a baby and my mom told God if he let me live, she’d never cut my hair.”

I swallowed past the lump in my throat and finished reading. When I got to “The End” I closed the book and listened as the muffled sounds of a busy science lesson drifted through the closed classroom door. Other than that, our little alcove in the hallway was silent.

Then I heard Jake clear his throat, “Thanks for reading to me. Maybe I’ll get you next year.”

As my tears threatened to overflow, I risked possible rejection and hugged him. He hugged me right back.

My volunteer efforts on behalf of my two children and several school buildings have had splashier successes. In truth, I’m not even sure that my reading with Jake made any impact on his life other than those few hours we spent together in quiet enjoyment of a good book. What I am sure of is the valuable lessons Jake taught me.

Everyone you meet has a story and usually, you’ll never know what that story is. Secondly, any effort expended on behalf of another human being has the capacity to improve a life. In this case, that life was mine.

11 Thoughts on “REJECTED: Too Tired to Inspire

  1. Well, I liked it Suzanne! A valuable lesson to be reminded of. Who knows what the peeps at Chicken Soup were looking for, anyway? Doesn’t mean they didn’t like it, just that they liked something else better!

    A lovely story, though. <3 🙂 <3

  2. ksamudio on February 29, 2016 at 4:01 pm said:

    Yes, I love it; yes, I did get teary (even before the vow his Mom made to God – it hit me when he sat so close you could feel his warm skin/baby shampoo/Mom’s special boy); yes, I feel confident that you did have an impact on Jake – I’m betting he has never forgotten you, Suzanne the kind reading Mom!

  3. As we ride the life river we pass over stones we may never see again, unaware that our motion has changed their position forever.

  4. That’s a sweet story, Suzanne. I was still thinking about it the next day and the day after that. I think that’s the mark of a good story–one that stays with you! I bet you could find another outlet for it.

    I can also relate to your tiredness and your faith in the power of persistence… in spite of the tiredness and occasional disappointments. It’s all part of the process.

    P.S. I look forward to reading about things that amaze you some other time. 🙂

    • Thank you, Jennifer! I know we all have this limited time and energy quotient to spend on our activities, thoughts, pursuits. How we allocate it can affect what we finish, submit, etc. Pondering the “amazement” thoughts some more. Many thanks for chiming in, especially on the persistence and the process!

  5. Hi Suzanne! I’ve been getting many rejections lately as well! I have to remind myself how many times I have been lucky to get acceptances, which means someone else got the rejections! So I rejoice for those who are getting the “yes” this time around!

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8 Signs You Might Be in “The Dip” and How to Write it Out

Winter hike writing setbacks
Frustrated Writer

Photo by Don https://www.flickr.com/photos/fallingwater123/

I was stuck inside for the third day in a row, planning which blanket to cover up with before watching the seventh hour of The Voice. I scrolled through Facebook and read a post from a fellow writer offering hope to another writer in the doldrums.

“Poor thing,” I thought. That couldn’t be me because I’ve been on a straight path upward, no detours or setbacks. Since I got the guts to call myself a writer last spring at the non-ingénue age of 48 ½, my signs from the universe all confirmed that I’m not wasting my time on this whole writing thing.

I clicked on author Kristen Lamb’s blog post and recognized myself in the photo – a dark-haired writer with her face in her hands. The recognition called me to read on about the “span of suck” that is “The Dip” and how it might not be such a bad thing.

What are some signs this might be you?

  1. Everything’s been going your way and then it’s not.

This would be the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” scenario. I’d had a lot of mini-victories but then a few rejections came my way.

  1. You’re not actually writing.

I was back to talking about writing. Reading about writing. Not getting much writing done. A recent blog tour I’d signed up for ended and I didn’t have fresh material for my blog. Worse, I had no desire to create fresh material.

  1. You’re current project seems impossible to save.

The second draft of my WIP was under way but I suddenly became sure I didn’t have the talent or creativity to figure out plot issues, add interesting characters or finish it.

  1. You begin Fraud-Fretting.

Maybe it’s the alliteration but I loved this term. I was all of a sudden positive that having sold a few pieces, gotten a local byline in the paper, finished a first draft of a novel all added up to something other than being a writer. Maybe it meant I was a plumber?

  1. You withdraw socially from your writing peers.

Whether you’ve been connecting online or in person, all of a sudden, you don’t want to face the people who are really doing it. You begin wondering if cable will air old episodes of The Voice or American Idol which will help to take your mind off what you’re not accomplishing.

  1. You stop showing up.

You haven’t been at your desk in days. Your laptop is fully charged and you intend to conserve energy by not turning it on. You’re all thumbs so don’t even try to pick up a pen or pencil.

  1. You pray for the cold snap to continue so you can remain covered on the couch with a semi-plausible excuse.

Those talent shows are not going to watch themselves.

  1. Your hair has been in a greasy pony tail for days and you have food stains on your sweatshirt.

This could be more serious – rely on your family for indications.

How do you get out of it?

  1. Give yourself a break. Kindness works. Don’t berate yourself into a deeper dip.
  2. Set a time limit. “I will give myself 3 days to wallow,” etc.
  3. Hold a pen or pencil (do not point the sharp end at your heart) while watching The Voice or Idol.

    Winter hike writing setbacks

    Winter hike – Fresh air tonic for the writing blues.

  4. What have you been dying to write? If it’s not the WIP or that’s too scary to face, write something for fun. Send a raunchy email to your BFF gossiping about that horrible woman in your office.
  5. Call a mentor, coach, teacher so they can tell you how normal this is. Do not call your mother who will either tell you how beautiful you are (having not seen your greasy pony tail) or will give you the number of her friend that can get you a good job.
  6. Confess your doldrums to your best social media friends. Sit back and watch the inspiring quotes and memes roll in.
  7. Revisit what made you want to do this in the first place. Successes? Bylines? That poem that made your friends cry?
  8. Breathe. Move. Fill the well. Go to a movie. Dance to your favorite song. Have sex! Eat chocolate! Re-read your favorite book.

I tried all of the above. Not necessarily in order. Number four gave me the start of an essay I’d been holding inside. Yesterday, a trusted mentor confirmed that my fears were shared by “real” writers at all stages. Intellectually I knew this, emotionally I needed to hear it.

Staying in “the dip” isn’t an option. Nature doesn’t work like that. Setbacks become permanent only if you quit. Something better is coming. Will you be ready for it?

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “8 Signs You Might Be in “The Dip” and How to Write it Out

  1. Kristen Lamb on March 3, 2015 at 10:18 am said:

    Thanks for the shout-out and this made me laugh. Love how you riffed with it. We ALL hit this place. Sometimes it’s just knowing it goes with the job that helps. It isn’t permanent.

    • Lovely of you to comment, Kristen! Really enjoyed your blog. Happy to say I was up and writing this morning. Thanks again for stopping by!

  2. barb armstrong on March 4, 2015 at 8:52 am said:

    Yes I am your Mom and I understand the doldrums dip, believe me! However, It would be a shame for you not to wallow a day or two and then continue on with your fabulous self because I am sure you give other people a lift most of the time. They really look to you to boost them up and cheer them on so snap out of it and get to work and always remember that I am sure you were put here to make the world a better place and you do!

    • Mother!! Hello and thanks for telling it like it is (or how you think it is :-)) I was hard at work this morning, so there! Love you!

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To All the Doubters, Disbelievers, and Fraidy-Cats: An Open Letter

cinderella getting dressed

Dear Undecided:

I can tell you you’re a writer, and your bff, mother, or creative writing teacher can tell you you’re a writer. But that doesn’t count for anything. That uncertainty about whether or not writing is the thing or your thing, whether or not you’re really “called” to do it, “driven” to do it, etc., is all the inner gremlin.  It just is. It’s the voice of doubt and fear masquerading as a logical, practical mind-friend helping you not to waste time.

For example: If writing were your thing, you’d wake up with fully formed stories in your brain and bluebirds would remove your nightdress and usher you into your writing sweater. The friendly cat would rub your ankles and nudge you to your gold-plated writing chair where with ink and parchment or blood and rice paper, you would let flow all the fully formed, writerly thoughts that would bring instant fame and gratification.

cinderella getting dressed

Or, if you really had a passion, surely you wouldn’t hem and haw or see and saw or procrastinate or start and stop or leave things unfinished.  Surely, if writing were what you were called to do, you wouldn’t go months and days and weeks and hours without writing and you wouldn’t feel like you had to push yourself or make yourself do it. If you loved it, you would be doing it.

That is all self-doubt, commonly known as the inner critic. By now, your mid-40’s, or your mid-20’s or late 70’s, you know you have a way with words. You’ve impressed enough customers, friends, relatives, etc., by your ability to craft a well-turned phrase or disarm someone with wit. Not knowing if it’s your thing is really just fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that you won’t be good enough. Fear that you’re not far enough along.

Meow

 You have much to say. You have a unique way of saying it. All of your characters will be you at least a little, at least at the beginning. You are protecting your squishy milk-chocolate center with a hard candy coating of “I’m not sure I should be writing.” But you have something to say or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Or, you’ve already written many things but not submitted. Or submitted but haven’t been published. Or published but not by a “real” publisher. Is this you? Moving the measuring stick as soon as you reach it? Or maybe not finishing things. Filing them away in the drawer or on a bad day, in the trash.

It isn’t perfect. It can stand a good edit. It is emotional, evocative, descriptive, intriguing, surprising. Don’t be a chicken. It’s time to do some writing every day or five days a week or one weekend every month or whatever works in your life.

#BAWKBAWK

Most “real” writers aren’t all called to write. They make themselves write. If I’ve read anything consistent in all the different methods of world-famous writers that is it. They force themselves to go to the desk, cafe, kitchen table, etc. No bluebirds drop a quill in their itchy palms then dart out of the way of their brilliance. They commit to skipping The Good Wife until they hit the 750 word mark. They cancel lunch with their friends and keep the bottle of wine chilled until they end that chapter.

OK – I realize now I’m ranting….but I had to call you out on the “not sure” thing. You say it comes and goes. Hmmm – is it possible that it comes when you’re actually writing and goes when you’re actually not? If so, you’re not alone.

 

epiph·a·ny noun -i-ˈpi-fə-nē-

I found that I had all this longing surrounding writing. I wanted to know that I had talent or that I could write or that it was just a pipe dream. So I started keeping a mental accounting of when I felt least fraudulent or most like a writer….and I had an epiphany.

I felt most like a writer not when I saw my name in a magazine, not when my uber-talented sister told me I was brilliant and not when I got a laugh sharing a piece in a workshop.  I felt most like a writer during the act of writing. If I was sitting at my laptop typing or with a notebook and a pen and words were coming out of my fingers – I felt like a writer.

SECRET TO WRITING

Now it’s much less dangerous and we’re less vulnerable when we’re thinking about writing or talking about writing or any of the activities that aren’t really writing. To quote Amy Poehler “The talking about the thing isn’t the thing.The doing of the thing is the thing.”

Don’t wonder or wait for any kind of confirmation that it is your passion. Just do it passionately and you will have your answer. From the outside looking in, I know you haven’t been able to live without it for very long. If that’s not the definition of a calling I don’t know what is.

Thanks for listening. Now go write something. Start here…send me a note.

 

 

3 Thoughts on “To All the Doubters, Disbelievers, and Fraidy-Cats: An Open Letter

  1. Pingback: If You’re Doing This, Knock it Off! | Suzanne M. Brazil

  2. Suzanne – You continue to impress me with your words! I’d say this idea could be applied to a lot more than just writing! Keep up the good work.

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