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Cheryl's Musings

Cheryl's Musings: January 2010

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Life: After THE BOOK


Photo: Inspiration Collage for VOICE

For those of you who don’t religiously read every oh-so-poignant word on this blog, here’s my latest news flash: I finished polishing my latest WIP enough that I sent it off to my critique group and agent (who wanted to see it at the same time as my crit group, honestly, even though I warned him that it was sure to be full of glaring typos and continuity errors….)

This all happened two weeks ago. I kind of figured—crazy me—that the time following would be, you know, nice and low key. Lazy, even. I’m thinking lots of time to read all those books piled from my bedside, time to pick up an unfinished article or two, time to start that PB class I’ve been meaning to take, and in between I’ll finish crocheting the shawl project i started over Christmas….

Yeah, right. It hasn’t happened *quite* that way because, like many writers I know, I perpetually overestimate the amount I can accomplish in any given period of time.

I’m not complaining—I like being busy. I love that a wonderful science writing project fell into my lap unexpectedly, giving me the chance to indulge my molecular biologist side. I love that I have a book proposal project elbowing for its share of mental space in my brain.

The busy-ness helps counter the strange post-partum feeling that comes with sending out  manuscript that I’ve lived and breathed for the past few months. (Yes, I even slept with it. Luckily my DH puts up with ink stains on the sheets from those times when I dozed off with pen in one hand and notebook in the other….and with the light flipping on at 2:00 AM because I had to jot down some fantastic idea.)

It also helps as I wait to hear back from an editor who requested a rewrite of my mg fantasy….

Of course, I have to finish all these lovely busy projects in the next three weeks, because as soon as I get feedback from my critique group I’m supposed to turn around a rewrite in a week because my wonderful and magnificent agent, Gary Heidt, loves the book and wants to go out with it ASAP. Hmm. Is that even possible? Guess we’ll find out!



A year ago, my sister showed me her new shoes—shoes her husband fondly calls her “Gorilla Shoes.” (They’re actually called Vibrams.)


They looked…weird.

And yet, a year later, I keep hearing about these things. I meet random people at the coffee shop who rave about them, I had a bicyclist show me how he’d worn holes through the bottoms—and my sister still seems to love hers. Even though I still think they look weird.

But I’m starting to get convinced about these weird-looking footgear, in part because of articles like this one, which reports that running in running shoes causes greater stress to joints than running barefoot or walking in high-heeled shoes.

I’ve spent the past six months working my way VERY slowly up to being able to run a reasonable time and distance. I’ve learned to love my runs. They’re the perfect time for me to ponder story problems; plus, they fulfill my desire to multitask because I’m fitting in exercise and getting the dogs outside at the same time. I find that running is starting to give me all those much-touted benefits that “real” runners claim: I have more energy, improved mood, and improved productivity.

But—I can tell it’s hard on my joints. I have to space out my runs to let my knees recover in between, and I worry about joint issues forcing me to stop again, which would be a major bummer. Maybe going “barefoot,” in weird-looking shoes, is the solution!

:) Cheryl

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Psychology of Burnout: the Parent-Child Connection

Cute Baby Boy Isolated on White

Burnout: who hasn’t been there at some time? You’re tired, feel like your current work isn’t meaningful, or you feel inadequate to meet the demands of work, life, or even what used to be your passion. NOT a fun feeling.

It’s also not a feeling exclusive to adults. In kids, the experience is known as “school burnout.” 

And—bad news here—if you’re feeling burned out, your kids are more likely to get burned out, too.

Recent research from the Academy of Finland found a clear connection between kids who experience school burnout and parents experiencing burnout at work, especially when the “burned out” parent is the same gender as the child. It seems that we, as parents, serve as role models for our kids in our experience of stress as well as other, more desirable ways.

I think about this a lot, because as a writer/mother/household manager/tutor/whatever-else-pays-the-bills-er, it’s easy for me to take on too much. It’s easy for me to get to that place of burnout, and I know I’m not the only writer in this situation. Writing is a tough calling. Wonderful is so many ways—but still tough.

This research reminds me that when I take care of myself, when I avoid burnout, I’m setting an example for my kids and helping them learn to take care of themselves, too. Here are a few resources on the how’s, what’s, and how-to’s of dealing with burnout:

How do you avoid burnout? In my house, the recipe seems to be a nice mix of exercise, healthy eating, hard work, and regular down time. I’d love to hear yours!

:) Cheryl

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The Writing Life: Endings and Beginnings

A few days ago, I entered a new (albeit familiar) realm of the writer’s existence: post-writing. That is, I finished the draft of my latest WIP that actually gets printed out and sent off to critique group and agent (and only to the agent because he said he really wanted to see it, even though it’s still FAR from polished.) It’s not a first draft—I go through the manuscript about a million times before I let anyone besides my beloved first reader/sweetheart read it—but it’s definitely not submission-ready either.

The first few days after sending my baby off, I caught up on all the things I’d ignored in order to finish that rewrite. You know: laundry, bill paying, reacquainting myself with those familiar-seeming people who share the house with me.

And now—I feel a bit lost. It’s time to pack away all those technicolor notecards and sticky notes I used to track plot and character edits.

rewriting_picI keep finding myself booting up the computer and opening the latest draft, ready to rewrite—only to recall that all rewriting is officially on hold until critique time.

For a writer, post-writing is kinda like that period just after a play closes for an actor. For weeks, you live, breathe, and eat theater. Then the show is finished, the set struck, and yet you keep wandering back to the empty theater expecting to find all the hustle and bustle still going on. It’s kinda weird. Kinda sad, but also kinda…freeing. For the first time in a very, very long time, possibilities bloom on the horizon.

I could start another novel…or write a picture book…or research a nonfiction piece…or take a class…or, or, or…!

Endings and beginnings go together, don’t you think?

Happy writing!

:) Cheryl

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How Are Those New Year’s Resolutions Going?


Here we are, more than halfway through the first month of the new year…so how are the resolutions holding up in the face of the real world? With ~88% of all resolutions ending in failure (according to a 2007 study by Robert Wiseman), don’t be surprised if you’re hitting a few bumps in the road.

I just read a great Wall Street Journal online article “Blame it on the Brain,” by Jonah Lehrer, that discusses the reasons behind “willpower failures”—and some strategies for improving your likelihood of success.  Here are some of the take-homes from the article, but I highly recommend reading the entire piece yourself:

  1. Willpower is a limited resource—like a muscle, it can only handle a certain amount of challenge.
  2. The part of the brain responsible for willpower, the prefrontal cortex, is also responsible “keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems”. That means that if you have to remember something or focus on another subject, you will have less available “willpower muscle.” (Check out the article for the effects of remembering 2 digits versus 7 digits on willpower…pretty cool stuff!)
  3. Since willpower is limited, the classic “New Year’s Resolutions” method of self-improvement is doomed to fail. Rather than choosing five aspects of your life to improve simultaneously, if you focus on one you’re more likely to succeed.
  4. Willpower uses actual energy—decreases the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. That means that exerting willpower requires a well-fed brain.
  5. Practicing self-discipline in one area—such as incorporating a daily writing or exercise regimen—makes it easier to practice willpower elsewhere. In other words, it looks like your willpower muscle, like your bicep, can be strengthened through exercise.

How are you doing on your New Year’s Resolutions? If you’re having trouble, you may be trying to do too much at once. Changing a habit or routine requires a lot of willpower—so pick one battle at a time and recognize that willpower is limited—and try again.

As for me—this article feels like an explanation of why my resolutions to eat better and exercise more are more successful this year than ever before. I’d already established the habit of tracking what I eat, one habit in my quest for a healthier lifestyle; and I’d already established a habit of intermittent exercise (if a habit can be intermittent!) This January, I really only added one habit to my life: getting up earlier for a daily walk or run. And I’m sticking with it.

That makes me happy :). Good luck with whatever changes you want to make in 2010!

:) Cheryl

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The Week’s Tweets on how to dodge subconscious blocks and WRITE THE STORY


WTS=Write the Story!

WTS #44: Learn to recognize procrastination! When you feel called away from the page, ask yourself why; you may need to keep on writing.

WTS45 What project do you procrastinate? Does it need a rest? The best writing comes from the heart. Find your heart=beat procrastination!

Speaking of procrastination, here's my current distraction... "Getting organized" can waste more time than it saves!

RT ElizabethSCraig: Is your writing flat and wooden? How to enliven it:

WTS 46: Sometimes if the words don't come quickly, you're trying to write the wrong thing. Step back. Approach the scene from a new angle.

RT CynLeitichSmith: "Is it clear what characters want? don’t want? what’s in the way?" -- great revision q's via #yalit author Brian Yansky

WTS 47: Feeling stuck? Check out GETTING UNSTUCK WITHOUT COMING Susan O’Doherty (review:

WTS 48: What would you write about if no one else could see? (inspired by GETTING UNSTUCK)

WTS 49: What voices from your past or present deflate your dreams? (inspired by GETTING UNSTUCK)

WTS 50: What story from your family or childhood can you never tell? (inspired by GETTING UNSTUCK)

Surround yourself with the positive to reach your goals:

Write The Story 51: A story is like an iceberg; 85% of the work is invisible. Trust the process; story groundwork isn't always visible.

If you’re interested, come join me at @CherylRWrites for Tweets to help you overcome creative blocks and thrive on the writer’s road!

:) Cheryl

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Still Rewriting…


…and I’m finding that rewriting is turning out to be a lot like my NaNoWriMo 2009 experience—that is, one portion of the rewrite will take SOOOO long that I’m convinced that I’ll never make my deadline (January 15th, to my critique group), and then the next five chapters will whiz forth as quickly as I can pen them. Which rekindles my hope that somehow, miraculously, I might finish rewriting and polishing the nearly-200 pages remaining.


But that brings me to my point (one you’ve probably heard before, but one that’s good enough to bear repeating):


I think that when you write a story, you’re crafting an iceberg of ideas. The bulk of the story hides beneath the surface; the actual words and chapters form only a small portion the writing work.

Put another way, sometimes when it seems like you’re not getting anywhere, you’re actually building a solid-but-unseen foundation for the rest of the story.

So: will I finish the rewrite in time to hand it out to my crit group on Friday? Only time will tell. But I know enough to know that it’s impossible to predict, because at any point the story may take off and write itself.

:-) Cheryl

PS: If you know how to make that story-taking-off-and-writing-itself thing happen, please let me know ASAP!!!



Show-Don’t-Tell Practice

iStock_000009339689Large As I crank through the rewrite of my current WIP, I’m finding an awfully lot of “telling” that I need to replace with some better writing. In the spirit of show-don’t-tell, I attempted to come up with five ways to show that it’s cold without saying “it’s cold.”

1. Let the character experience the cold: Gooseflesh prickles up my bare arms as soon as I push off the covers.

2. Let her observe the cold: Ice filmed the inside of the cabin windows. I started shivering even before my feet touched the frozen floorboards.

3. Let her think about the cold: I didn’t expect the day’s chill, not in June. If I’d bothered to check the weather, I might have brought along a sweatshirt or jacket. Instead, I’m here in shorts and a tank top, resisting the urge to curl into a ball or warmth.

4. Let her worry about the cold: As the sun drops beyond the mountains, shadows lengthen, bringing with them the sharp-edged chill of the coming night. It pierces through my thin sweater and I wonder how long it will take before I turn into a human icicle. I have to find the cabin. Quickly.

5. Let her discuss the cold: Brrr!” I tuck my hands into the sleeves of my rain slicker, drawing deeper into the sheltering overhang. “My fingers won’t bend, they’re so frozen.”

Not masterful prose, perhaps, but the exercise helped to get my brain moving in the right direction.

Do you have a technique you’re trying to master? A bit of concentrated practice can help you learn incorporate a new technique smoothly into your writing, the way a batter might practice hitting a hundred balls before the actual game. Pretty soon, the technique becomes second nature. Give it a try!

:-) Cheryl



Picture Sources

iStock_000011338536Large Pictures. They’re fun.  They make a piece of writing more appealing, make a blog post look more professional. But…most images you find on the Internet are the result of someone else’s creativity. Just as you and I don’t want to be plagiarized, neither do the artists and photographers who share their images on the web.

If you’re *not* an artist or photographer, though, where the heck do you find photos to spice up the appearance of your blog? Here are a few places to look.

  1. On the Flickr Creative Commons, a number of photographers offer their work for free—as long as you give them credit.
  2. iStockPhoto offers a wide variety of stock images for sale. If you’re looking for a specific and hard-to-find photo, this is a good place to look. You can purchase an extra-small image for 1 credit, or about $1.50.
  3. iStockPhoto* also offers a free image of the week, such as the one above, and free vector images of the month. What, you ask, is a vector image? It’s a graphic image made up of shapes and lines—which doesn’t sound nearly as cool as it looks. Here’s the November free vector: 

    These guys are a little tricky to use—you have to have vector editing software such as Adobe Illustrator, Freehand, or CorelDRAW if you want to change the image at all. I went the low-tech route: downloaded the file (it’s a .zip file), unzipped it, and opened the “.jpg” thumbnail image instead of the actual vector using Picasa photo software. I’m sure there’s a better way, but this worked and took zero extra time!
  4. stock.xchng is another stock photo site—on which most of the images (or all?) are free. (with certain restrictions. See the fine print here.) I haven’t used this site but might have to start doing so. Despite their somewhat alarming fine print, they’re affiliated with another well-known stock image company, Getty Images, which gives them the stamp of legitimacy.

* There are numerous stock photo websites; iStockPhoto is the one I’m most familiar with.



Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: a Woman’s Guide to Unblocking Creativity

For us creative types, feeling creatively “stuck” is one of the worst sensations in the world—and definitely no way to start off the new year. In previous posts and on Twitter, I talk quite a bit about ways to pull yourself out a rut, generate new story ideas, and inspire creativity. And most of the time, for most people, that’s enough to jump-start your writing and get you moving.

When you’re in a rut too deep to climb out of, though, it might be time to bring in the tow truck—and that’s what Susan O’Doherty does in her book Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued.

O’Doherty doesn’t offer a list of writing exercises or “creativity sparkers” in her guide. Instead, she draws on her background as a psychotherapist to explain what’s know about creativity and it’s development. She uses this information to craft a series of writing exercises designed to help the reader figure out the source of her own creative blocks—and how to overcome them. 

I didn’t come to this book as someone who feels creatively blocked, but as someone interested in the art and science of creativity. In fact, I often have the opposite problem: too many projects that I want to pursue simultaneously. Nevertheless, I found that I benefited immensely from the book’s exercises. They might be designed for women who feel stuck in their creative lives, but I believe they can provide anyone—male or female—with insight into their creativity and insight into areas where they might feel stuck.

Wherever you are on your writing journey, Getting Unstuck has something to offer you. And if you *do* feel stuck, in writing or elsewhere in life, it’s a must-read!

:-) Cheryl

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Anyone else have this problem?

Urban Gardener This is my first real day back to work since before Christmas. Not that I didn’t work over break—I had a few deadlines and projects that couldn’t just go on hold—but with a house full of kids and relatives, food to cook, people to see, presents to buy, presents to wrap, Avatar to see…well, there wasn’t a lot of time leftover for writing.

And if you know me at all, that’s saying something! I tend to write in the midst of everything.

So…I’m starting off the New Year with an impossibly long to-do list. And I’m having trouble engaging with it. In fact, I’ve discovered that it is MUCH more fun to look up new organizing software and make new lists than it is to actually *do* any of the things on my various lists.

Anyone else have this problem? Anyone else with an iPhone who has this problem? Because there are WAY too many cool-looking apps that promise to organize your time, money, projects, to-do lists, sock drawer, and more, and you could theoretically spend hours reading through them all.

Just sayin’.

:-) Cheryl

PS: No, the picture doesn’t really have anything to do with the post. But I really, really like it. Doesn’t she look happy? Plus there are sunflowers. Everything’s better with sunflowers. Happy New Year!

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The W26T3 Strain*, cont.

Yat-Yee tagged me with this crazy (but fun) survey/note/whatever-it’s-called a few weeks ago. Here goes!

1) What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

A YA fantasy/paranormal (I haven’t decided which it is, yet.) Part of a book titled BUTTERSCOTCH HILL, all about a girl who finds a family of little people living in her dollhouse. Coincidentally, THE BORROWERS was one of my favorite books at the time….

2) Write poetry?

A little.

3) Angsty poetry?


4) Favorite genre of writing?

YA and MG, fantasy and contemporary….that’s one genre, right?

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?

The Lord of Darkness. (Yes, that was really his name. He had no discernable motivation beyond feeling evil. Hey, what can I say? I was in 7th grade….)

6) Best plot you've ever created?

The one I’m currently working on, of course :)

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?

The unexpected sister. Or the bear falling through the skylight, although I had help with that one.

8) How often do you get writer's block?

Writer’s what?

9) Write fan fiction?


10) Do you type or write by hand?


11) Do you save everything you write?

Pretty much. Just in case. I’ve stopped saving all the printouts, though, in the interest of regaining some much-needed closet space.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?

Nope. I have too many other ideas waiting in line!

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?

That depends. What am I writing right now?

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?

Depends who you ask.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

Yes, altho my definition of romance seems to be a bit tamer than the rest of the world’s.

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?

Caves. I mean mountains. Or the ocean. Or what about underwater caves?

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Rewriting current YA, polishing MG fantasy, working on NF book proposal, polishing NF science book for kids, drafting another kids’ NF science book….have I ever mentioned that I have focus issues?

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?

Yes. They made me very happy :-)

19) What are your five favorite words?

Do I only get five? Here are a few of my current favorites:

  • floccinaucinihilipilificator (because I had to go on a treasure hunt to discover the meaning)
  • steotopygia (because it just sounds so cool)
  • bracelet (used as a verb)
  • undulate (I love the way it sounds)

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?

Um…is this a trick question?

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?

Pretty much everywhere.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?

Not usually, but occasionally a great idea will present itself.

23) Do you favor happy endings?

Definitely! Why do you think I write for children?

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

Not usually, although it does occasionally distract me :).

25) Does music help you write?

No! But it helps me get in the mood *before* I write.

26) Quote something you've written. Whatever pops in your head.

To quote Yat-Yee, “Uh...” Nothing springs to mind!

*Dubbed the Write 26 Things and Tag 3 People strain by Yat-Yee Chong. I’m now supposed to tag 3 people, but most of the folks I know have already been tagged. Any takers?

:-) Cheryl

PS: I’m tagging Timanda!


New Year’s Resolutions

1208566_27300389 Depending on your source, somewhere between 40 and 70% of Americans will make New Year’s Resolutions this year…and most of those resolutions won’t be kept. Do you make resolutions?

I find that resolutions can give me focus for the year ahead, help me stay on track when I get busy and distracted (usually somewhere around January 12.)

At the start of 2009, one of my critique group members collected resolutions from everyone. Did I make them all? No. But I definitely pushed harder in my writing life last year, knowing I’d have to report back to my writing buddies at the end of the year!

What resolutions will challenge you to grow as a writer in the New Year? A resolution to write every day for 20 minutes? To read a book a week? To attend a conference or retreat?

There’s an art to creating resolutions to inspire rather than backfire. For more info and insight, check out these resources:

Good luck, and happy 2010!

:) Cheryl