Travel Journals



Challenging is the best way to describe writing while traveling. Routines are disrupted, changing time zones can be wicked hard physically, and with ADHD the distraction of new places can make it very difficult to focus on writing. If you are traveling with your family, kids, or even with other adults it can be difficult for them understand why you need to have time alone to write. Negotiation is critical for having an enjoyable trip and getting the creative time you need. I am grateful that my family understands that I need to take time out to write, and I am careful to not let it keep me from enjoying the moment.

Taking time to get out of your head to see and experience the world around you provides raw material for writing. Travel brings with it the opportunity to see new things, taste new foods, experience new cultures, and to meet new people. Take advantage of these experiences and collect your impressions in a travel journal, notebook, or other writing tool of your choice. I prefer paper for travel as I never have to worry about not being able to record my thoughts because of a lack of electricity. Small notebooks are great for this, and I am very partial to 5×8 hardcover sketch books. These kinds of books become a permanent record of my travels, fit in my flat filing system that I talked about here, and are unobtrusive. Although I adore fountain pens, I only carry cheap ball points while traveling, they don’t  leak and are easy to replace if lost or broken.

Embrace the chaos that travel brings. Record your thoughts, feelings, and impressions. Capture bits of overheard dialogue and make character sketches. Use what you experience to enrich your writing.  In the past I have relied on a small point and shoot camera to record pictures as resources for my writing, this trip I am using Evernote to take pictures and write extensive captions so that I remember where and why I took the photo. No matter what you are writing having images to remember your experiences is invaluable. If you are Blogger this is a fantastic way to collect images for future posts as well as generating ideas for your blog. If you write fiction it is great to use images as part of your character and location sketches.

Enjoy your trip. Make memories. Record your life. Use it all.

Filling the Well

Taking time to think, plan, and rest is a key part of the creative process. I call it filling the well. It doesn’t have to involve travel but it makes it way more fun if you can leave your everyday responsibilities behind. I can’t say that traveling with four-year-old twins is easy but seeing the world through their eyes is a wonderful way to see old things in new ways.

I’m taking some time to fill the well. Take some time to fill your well. See you next week.

New Beginnings

Ha Long Bay 2009

Each  year I look back at the written list of goals taped to my desk. Some goals are always on the list. That doesn’t mean I didn’t accomplish them, some goals have no end point, such as being a supportive partner and a healthy person. Checking off a big goal always feels great. Looking back over the year and seeing check marks and lines drawn through a goal always makes me smile. I limit myself to ten big goals per year divided between Self, Family, Financial, Health and Community.

I don’t make resolutions, I make plans. Each goal gets broken down in to tiny little baby steps. I don’t get overwhelmed if I make tiny changes. I also know that small changes add up. Each day, I make sure that I have done at least one thing to move me towards my goals. It prevents me from becoming discouraged when life gets complicated. So many people say they want to write but don’t write down their writing goals, fail to make a plan, and then wonder why they don’t accomplish their goal.

If you want to accomplish a goal, make a plan. Break your plan down into small steps. Don’t discount the power of small steps. How small? When the kids were babies and I stayed home with them, if I managed to get 250 words written per day I was very happy. Even 250 words adds up, and keeps you moving forward. It can seem that life is conspiring with evil beings to thwart your best efforts to keep going. A parent becomes ill, a partner has surgery, your kids get sick, you get sick, the dog gets sick, and so it goes.

The key in all of this is to keep moving, as best you can. You might have to stop and take care of your family and yourself, but don’t stop forever. Pick up your notebook and get going again, don’t feel like you have to stop forever because you stopped for a while.

As part of my planning process every three years, my partner and I sit down with a bottle of wine and markers and draw a joint three year plan on poster sized paper. We dream, get silly, drink, and have fun. I post the picture behind the door in my office, right over my big calendar that I talked about in this post about how to keep track of multiple projects

It is not pretty to look at, but when we look back at the old one when it is time to do a new one, it is pretty amazing how much we have accomplished. Why? Because we verbalized what we wanted to do for ourselves and for our family, which means we work together to support each other in our adventures.
It also reminds us what our priorities are, which means we funnel our time, energy, and financial resources into our plans and dreams. Making plans is the difference between accomplishing anything and accomplishing nothing.

People get hung up making plans because they try and force themselves to conform and write a numbered straight list, editing themselves as they go, afraid of writing down what they really want to accomplish.

This year, loosen up, get out your big paper, markers, beverages of your choice, and have fun.
Dream big.

 Have a safe and happy New Year.

The Siren Call of NaNoWriMo


October is the lead up to the annual craziness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). For those not familiar with NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel starting November 1 and ending November 30.  I completed NaNoWriMo last year and it was so much fun that I am finding it hard to resist this year.

Why would anyone set a goal of writing 50,000 words in a month? For me, it was just to see if I could do it. I have no problem coming up with stories, my problem was not putting writing first.

So many other things in our lives compete for out attention: partners, children, work, pets, television, movies, books, sports, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. What NaNoWriMo did was force me to keep to a schedule. In order to finish I had to make my word goal for the week, no matter what. I learned to let things go, to not stress about anything except getting words on paper during the month of November.

It helped that my partner was traveling for most of the month of November, so I had evenings free after the kids went to sleep. I created an outline and some character sketches, as well as a daily word/weekly word count calendar before the contest started. I was not able to attend any of the local meetings with other participants, but was supported by a robust on-line community, and another friend that was doing NaNoWriMo.

I was asked by a fellow writer “Why? Why do it? What will you get out of it?”
I thought that I would just get the satisfaction of meeting a goal, and having 50,000 words to work with, but I ended up with so much more by completing NaNoWriMo.


I gained freedom.  

I had a fun. Real, honest to goodness fun, writing. I did not edit myself.  I didn’t worry about what anyone would think. I just kept going, and did not look back.

I had not written that freely in years. I remembered how to write fast. Something I had learned writing my master’s thesis and forgotten.

If you are a writer, or think you would like to be, give  NaNoWriMo a shot. If you don’t make your goal, you are the only one who will know. If you finish your novel, you get so much more than just a cool computer badge that says that you did.

NaNoWriMo is a great organization that encourages and supports creative writing for kids and adults. Check out their website  and sign up while you are at it. I will be cheering for you.


Embrace Your Attention Issues: Terese Ramin Interview


The bar. Again.

I met Terese Ramin at my first writers’ conference. Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling 2012 to be exact. I was loitering at the bar waiting to register. I noticed Terese’s conference badge, and struck up a conversation. She was presenting at the conference. We spent
most of the evening laughing, talking, and getting to know each other over
fries and good beer.

Terese is gracious,
encouraging, and supportive. She is also has ADD/ADHD, and is a successful novelist, and editor. She very kindly agreed to do an interview for this blog.  I have enjoyed Terese’s books.   This is the link to Terese’s Amazon page.   Her biography follows the interview.

1. When were
you diagnosed with ADD/ADHD?

 Terese: **I
was officially diagnosed with ADD in 1996 when I took my son for diagnosis at
his high school’s request. I took the test with him to be supportive.
Was there a specific event that caused you to seek a diagnosis?
son’s high school requested that he be tested (and put on medication).
Do you think having a diagnosis helped?
Terese: **Yes,
it helped *me* realize what had always held me back / been “wrong” with me, and
why there were “bad conduct” marks on my school records. Girls didn’t have
ADD/ADHD when I was in grade school.
Have you faced any discrimination because of your diagnosis?
Terese: **No.
As an adult, the only people who know about my ADD/ADHD are those I choose to
tell. And since being ADD/ADHD affects my entire life, I let people know. My
son, on the other hand, didn’t want people to know, didn’t want to take meds,
etc., because it would have labeled him in high school as “one of those kids”
who got called out of class to take a prescription medication. We worked with
his ADD/ADHD in other ways and, boy, am I glad! He’s very successful as a
teacher now.
How did you organize/ focus yourself to write books?
Terese: **When
was first diagnosed, I saw a therapist who gave me suggestions to help keep me
focused – creating a CD that looped with the question “Are you on task?” played
at 5 and 10 minutes  intervals.
also used a CD called High Focus that essentially
plays white noise. It was highly effective, especially played softly. I also
used guided meditation and a couple of “In the Zone” CDs that are used to help
athletes maintain focus while they work out.
What is the biggest challenge for you when writing a novel?
Terese: **Oh
man. <G> For writing a novel, I need to get to the place in the book
where I can go into hyper-focus. Hyper-focus is something I’m good at – as long
as I’m being stimulated by what I do, or as long as what I’m doing is a
relatively simple, repetitive task (I’m a great editor due to hyper-focus, and
I’m pretty good at detail work – as long my brain doesn’t decide the details
are boring.) Boredom is my biggest problem.
thing that works is for me to be able to get up and wander around doing simple,
non-thinking tasks as I write – taking care of the laundry, loading the
dishwasher, dusting, etc. Those are things I hate to do, but when I do them
during the process of working on a novel, I don’t have to come out of the
“zone” or the story to do them. Doing
simple tasks allows me to daydream the next line, paragraph, or scene, and
return to the computer able to write a few more pages.
Are you an Outliner or Pantser?
Terese: **HA!
I wish I could outline a novel or create a beat sheet, then just fill in the
blanks on the pages. The moment I start to do that, my brain screams “lunch!”
and refuses to budge – it’s that boredom thing or the restless ADHD thing
kicking in: an outline causes me to tell the story to myself, which means I’ve
already written it, which means “bored now” when it comes to trying to write
all 70-85,000 words.
counter this, I give myself a blurb to remind myself where I need to get to
from here, post that on the wall where I can see it, and slowly make my way
toward the end goal: a completed novel.
How do you handle the distraction of the internet?
Terese: **Badly.
I have a routine of getting up in the morning, handling my email, reading the
online news, doing a little Facebook / Twitter / social media to keep my name
out there, but that means I also use up my best creative time. I might be
finished with all of those internet things by 8 a.m., but then the dogs need
attention, there are dirty dishes that need attention, the laundry needs to go
into the dryer, etc. It would be far better for me to revise that routine and
start with writing, but it takes a long time for me to create a routine that
works for me. It’s much easier to fall back on the routine I have. The bottom
line is that I’m much much more productive
if I follow a daily routine, but creating the right routine takes thought and discipline that I sometimes don’t
Do you think that it would have been helpful to be diagnosed at an earlier age?
in today’s climate, yes. Back when I was growing up? Maybe – at least then my
parents and teachers would have understood the reason for why I was the way I
was. But being diagnosed earlier – especially back in a time when using
ADD/ADHD medication properly was still pretty new – might also have meant being
medicated, which brings up a whole new world of issues.
What advice would you give writers struggling with attention issues?
Terese: **Embrace
your attention issues. I look at my son who’s always done seven or eight things
at the same time – and that worked for him. When he was in school, if he wasn’t
listening to at least one sporting event, playing the guitar (or the bassoon,
or something), reading a book, talking on the phone, trolling the internet AND
doing his homework, I knew he wasn’t getting his schoolwork done. He’s never
needed to be medicated and I’m proud of the man he’s become.
I also look at the way he innately handled his ADD/ADHD and I realize that my
own process of staying in the zone by doing housework while I’m writing is much
the same thing. I just need to “stay on task” get back to that routine.
 I hope that reading Terese’s interview inspires you to start writing if you haven’t and to keep going if you have stopped.
Terese Ramin is the award winning
author of eleven novels and numerous short stories. Her autobiographical essay,
“Two-Puppy Theory”, is included in the anthology The Sound and the Furry, sales of which benefit the International
Fund for Animal Welfare. The Cured,
her most recent release with author David Wind, is her first suspense-thriller.
Her next release will be an urban paranormal romance with writing partner Dawn
Aside from writing, Terese works
as an editor, ghost writer, book doctor, and a paranormal investigator. She
lives in Michigan with her husband and a bunch of rescued dogs.

The Books that made an Outliner Out of a Pantser

As a reformed pantser, I outline the hell out of whatever I have to write. Short story? Yep. Essay? Yep. Novel? Oh yeah. Blog posts? Yes.  I gave you the reasons why last post. So how did it happen? What miracle occurred? I found a system that worked, for me, it may work for you too

The Books that made an Outliner Out of a Pantser

These two books are responsible.  They present systems that are easy, adaptable, and usable. Other books on the craft of writing assume that you have basic organizing skills, something that I, along with most people with attention issues lack. (If you want to know how bad it is, I label the shelves in my refrigerator.) Using these two books, I have been able to finish projects large and small without getting lost, distracted, or derailed.

Outlining your Novel by K.M. Weiland ( presents compelling arguments for using an outline, along with step by step instructions in eleven concise chapters.  The usefulness of this book lies in the end of chapter checklists. If you follow them you will stay on track while you outline. If you choose to use this book, buy a hard copy so you can mark the checklists, underline and make your own notes.
If you are like me, I was overwhelmed creating a coherent storyline, and struggled with keeping track of my character names, their physical features, and motivations. The chapters  devoted to story structure will help you wrangle your ideas into a workable form. The two chapters that K. M. Weiland devotes to character outlining and development will help you keep track of your compelling characters.

I used this book to outline my NaNoWriMo project, and I can say that if I had not I would not have been able to crank out 50,000 words in a month.

If you only have room for one book about outlining in your library, buy this one.

If you can spare the space in your library for two books, invest in The Writer’s Compass by Nancy Ellen Dodd (  This book is about finding the why and how of your story by creating a story map. This is the book to read and re-read when you feel like you are just banging your head on the wall trying to write with a job, kids, partner, attention issues, etc. If you have had a long lay off for whatever reason, The Writer’s Compass  will help get you back to writing.
As a visual learner the story maps work well for me to start, but I needed more structure to in order to keep my stories on track and keep track of my characters.

For people who are wondering if they really can write, or want to and can not figure out how to go from thinking about writing to doing it, this book is wonderful.
If you all ready have the writing habit, and have scribbled stories since you could hold a crayon, or were an English major this book may seem simple.  As someone who has spent most of my life scribbling, but lacked direction this book was truly helpful.
Still looking for a way to organize your writing? If you don’t have one, give one of these try. Do you have a favorite outlining book or system that you would recommend?


Oahu 2013
Next post: The Black Hole of Research- Are We There Yet?


In Praise of the Spiral Notebook

In Praise of the Spiral Notebook
Wayne County Fair  2013

Today I am on the merry-go-round.  Going around in circles, wondering when the ride will be over,
can I really reach that brass ring with out falling off? My plan for a productive morning totally blown by snow, ice, more snow, and kids home from school. The precious 2 hours and 45 minutes I usually have to work on my current writing project? So not happening.
What do I do when my writing schedule is interrupted by children and other acts of nature beyond my control?  I grab a spiral notebook, the cheaper the better, and a pen. I leave it out where I can scribble down ideas that bubble up as I play with the kids, wash dishes, and watch the snow fall.

I have tried 3X5 cards and sticky notes but the kids and the dogs chew and eat them, respectively. If the cards/notes survived the omnivorous kids and dogs, I had a really bad habit of misplacing them or washing them.
For those of us with attention issues having a place to capture your flight of ideas is essential. Using something that does not depend on an external power source, is easily replaced and inexpensive is freeing.  Writing in my spiral notebook provides these five benefits.

  •  I feel as I am really working even if I am not at my computer, hammering away at my current  work in progress.
  •  I can capture thoughts and ideas for my work in progress and new story ideas.
  •  When I face the blinking cursor I have a clue what I wanted to write.
  •  I don’t have to worry that my notes will be lost, chewed on, or otherwise become unreadable, although I do advise NOT pointing a freshly fed infant at one’s research notebook!
  • A spiral notebook feels private in a way that electronic notes do not.
So am I an unrepentant Luddite? No. I love my Mac, and Evernote is my favorite app. Do I need a private, portable, unbreakable, cheap way to keep up with thoughts, ideas, scraps of information and whims that pass though my head on any given day. Yes, and I can buy them ten for a dollar at back to school sales.  Do you have a favorite way to capture your ideas? Are you rethinking your system? Do you have a system?

Do you have any 3X5 cards?