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Cheryl's Musings

Cheryl's Musings: May 2010

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road



Since I’m working a book for middle grade kids right now, I have the irresistible urge to spy on…I mean, pay attention to…my 11-year-old and his friends.

What do 11-year-olds spend their time doing? It’s an excellent question for the children’s writer to ask, so I thought I would share my research with you.

Eleven-year-olds train their boxers to lie in the hammock:Photo_051310_002

They climb trees, spend hours online researching the best cards for their next Magic: the Gathering deck, ambush their older brothers with homemade rubber band guns, work on their tree houses, and create elaborate ropes courses in the back yard.


Ah, gotta love summer….

:) Cheryl

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Hope and Inspiration on the Writing Road

laura My friend Laura just showed me the new-new-new-new-new beginning for her YA novel Bone Temple. It’s the result of much soul-searching (and head-banging?) after reviewers at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference pronounced the old opening unsatisfactory. (I disagreed :).)

The new opening—the one I didn’t think she needed to write—is magical. It’s engaging, curiosity-inspiring, and absolutely perfect.

Laura is one of my favorite YA fantasy writers, which is unfortunate for most of the world because she hasn’t yet “broken into” the YA publishing scene. Luckily for me (and my kids, who occasionally kidnap her manuscripts when I bring them home for critique), I’m in her critique group and get to enjoy her stories. I’ve gotten to watch over the years as her writing—always very good—deepened and became more magical.

In case you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m an avid Laura fan. If her books were in print, I’d own every single one…and this latest surpasses them all, with words, character, setting, and story twining together like strands in a cord. It’s the kind of book that makes your heart ache with both sympathy and joy, the kind of book that takes you for a gripping ride and ultimately satisfies.

Laura exemplifies the many reasons that my writing friends are so dear to me. It’s not just that we get each other (which we do) or that we’re crazy in many of the same ways (which we are); it’s also that, as I watch Laura’s writing journey, her ups and downs along the way and her amazing growth as a writer—it gives me hope as I travel my own writing path.

:) Cheryl

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Food for the Soul

soup Does food affect your mood? It does for me, but I didn’t realize how much until I thought to ask the question. Beyond its obvious ability to taste good, provide energy, or give me a stomach ache, food can trigger a remarkable number of emotions and mental states. Popcorn makes me think of drive-in movies (happy); corned beef and cabbage brings back unpleasant childhood memories, even though I think the stuff is tasty (now. Not then). Particularly salty or greasy foods prompt me to eat quickly, whereas particularly flavorful foods, of any sort, trigger me to slow down and savor—an attitude that tends spill into areas of my life beyond eating.

I’m thinking these things for two reasons:

  1. Sometimes my mental state distracts me from writing (a bad thing), and
  2. I just ate a scrumptious bowl of split pea soup that leaves me feeling warm, well-fed, and content (good things).

I’m fully cognizant of the fact that if I eat junk food for lunch, my energy will crash an hour or so later and I’ll get nothing done, but I hadn’t considered the possibility that a simple bowl of soup could stoke my mental energy as well as recharge me physically.

Next time I’m tempted to slide through lunch on coffee and a few chips, I’ll remember this.

As for the soup—it’s a recipe from my new favorite cookbook, Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure, by Lorna Sass. She takes a standard recipe for split pea soup, takes out the ham, adds lots of herbs and spices (fennel is the most surprising and works really well with the other flavors) and adapts it to the pressure cooker, so cooking time is only 7 minutes even at Boulder’s higher elevation.

If you’d like to try some of her other recipes,  check here for a scrumptious selection she’s posted online.

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Collaging the Subconscious

Yesterday, two of my critique group friends and I got together to make collages for our current book writing projects.





This is one of my favorite creative thinking exercises, because I always learn more about my story in the process. This board leans against the wall above the desk where I write, where it will provide encouragement, inspiration, and a continuing reminder to take a little time each day to spend time with this book.

…speaking of which, I think it’s time for me to go get started!

Happy writing!

:) Cheryl

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Nature Writing Class: Week 1

mebysavie This past week, I began an online nature-writing class with a fellow science writer I met at the May 2010 Writing Away Retreat, Wendee Holtcamp. Our first week’s assignment: start a nature journal in which to record observations about a specific location.

This seemed fun to me—but a little old hat. I mean, as a writer, I do this already, right? I practice noticing details such as smells, sounds, colors and textures, the mood a place evokes in me.

But—because I’m the kind of person who does every exercise in a class (and most of those exercises in writing books, too)—I picked my spot and christened a new notebook. Besides, did I mention that it sounded like fun? I had an officially sanctioned half hour to sit outside and absorb nature.

The spot: the wooden slat lounge chair by my front door.

The time: late afternoon, on a cool, cloudy May day

I sat without writing for ten minutes (as instructed—I even used a timer) and just…observed. I breathed. I noticed the moisture in the air, scanned for manmade sounds and then let those sounds fade into the background.

nestAnd then I wrote. And wrote. And discovered all sorts of wonderful details about this place, mere inches from my front door, that I thought I knew—including three birds’ nests, one abandoned, one occupied, and one still a work-in-progress.

It was wonderful.

It made me think:

  • …How much detail can I capture about a place by paying attention that I miss if I’m not wearing my observation hat.
  • …How valuable those details will be for my writing, if I ever need to write about my yard, or the birds I observed, or the garden, or even another like it.
  • …How I’ve visited other places and then, later, decided to write about them…only to discover that I can’t remember the details as well as I thought I would.

I want this practice of nature journaling to become a habit—and I’ll start collecting notebooks of setting detail to bring my writing to life, whether I’m working on nonfiction or fiction.

:) Cheryl

PS: If you’re interested in delving more deeply into the art of nature writing, check out Wendee’s class. It’s so jam-packed full of information, market analyses, and writing resources, it’s worth the cost even if you *don’t* do the assignments. I’d recommend doing the assignments, though. They’re a blast!

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Inspiration from bestselling author Jodi Thomas

I had the opportunity to hear bestselling author Jodi Thomas speak at the 2010 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I have to tell you, that lady is a bundle of fire and comfort rolled up together—the perfect combo to kick your writing butt into gear.

She encouraged us to reclaim the “I can do anything” attitude we had when we were toddlers. Want to be a writer? Here’s a recap of what it takes:

  1. What do you want to do in life? Set your goals and start working toward them.
  2. Always tell people about your goals.
  3. Be honest with yourself. Or, as she explains it “Never walk anywhere you wouldn’t go in your Sunday shoes.”
  4. Never defend your writing.
  5. Have a deadline? DELIVER.
  6. Always believe in yourself.
  7. Never stop growing.

The ultimate secret of being a wrier? A writer WRITES.

If you ever get the chance to hear Jodi Thomas speak, do. She’s funny, wise, and inspirational. Or join her at the Writer’s Academy for intensive work on your craft.

Favorite Jodi quote : Are you a wishbone, a jaw bone, or a back bone?

I’d like to be a backbone.

:) Cheryl

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How I write blog posts

IMG_0681 Blogging inspiration seems to be feast or famine for me. It seeks like if I sit down thinking “I have to write something to post today,” my blogging brain remains empty. If, however, it’s past midnight, I have to get up early the next day, and I’m supposed to be sleeping, suddenly I have five million ideas that MUST BE WRITTEN DOWN RIGHT AWAY OR THEY WILLO BE LOST FOREVER!

Just thought I’d share.

:) Cheryl

PS: Anyone else out there love Spring? I guess nature supports the feast/famine ideology, because right now I’m reveling in a feast of flowers. It’s heavenly….

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Wolf Whistle Update

Picture 129

When I was about seven, everyone in the world knew how to whistle besides me. Seriously. My whole first grade class, my friends, never mind my father who could summon us kids from the farthest corners of ur100-acre farm with his piercing “whee-oo-wheet!” (That’s tech-speak for his distinctive whistle.)

Whistling was the bane of my existence. I puckered and practiced every day for absolutely EVER.

And when, finally and miraculously, I learned to whistle, I continued to practice every spare moment—and since I had to walk half a mile to the bus stop, I had plenty of time to perfect my pucker. I learned to whistle every song in every musical I knew. I whistled piano concertos (hard, because it’s difficult to choose a single note melody line) and flute pieces (better, because the flute plays only a single note at a time, but the range can be tricky), and all my choir pieces.

I became a really, really good whistle. Not that there’s a lot of call for expert whistlers (ooh—wouldn’t that make an excellent character quirk?) although I was psyched when I learned that someone whistled part of a Billy Joel piece.

But I digress.

The point it: I got really, really good and, miraculously, everyone else in my life forgot how to whistle. Suddenly, I was the only one I knew who whistled. I was a surprise to the hordes of non-whistlers. An anomaly.

You might think there’s a lesson coming about perceptions versus reality, or how kids can be self-conscious or some thing. There’s not.

I just wanted to point out that, now that I’m adult, the scenario is repeating itself with respect to the wolf whistle (you know, two fingers in the mouth, piercing, turns heads.) Although I’m working on it, I’m still unable to accomplish this whistle while apparently everyone around me can. Amazing, isn’t it?

Go figure. :) Cheryl

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The Week’s (Weeks’) Tweets on how to bypass roadblocks and WRITE THE STORY!

WTS=Write the Story! Why? Because it's fun—rewarding—excruciating—fulfilling—and ultimately cheaper than therapy :) Happy writing!


WTS 75: Set small writing goals for "stolen moments".

Awesome series on creative blocks and how to tackle them at LATERAL ACTION:

Finally, I have the excuses I needed to become a bookstore employee: (I already handsell children's lit on each visit!)

WTS 76: Need ideas? Take a creativity nap. Find a cozy spot, a pen & paper, and a story question and drift to answers.

WTS 77: If your productivity lags, try setting a deadline for yourself. Ever notice how we can hit deadlines at "real" jobs? Same idea!

Visit MEN WITH PENS for an inspirational read titled "How to Improve Your Writing"

I think I'm channeling Meg's mom from Wrinkle in Time: mixed glue and dried beans in a pie tin during dinner prep 2nite (craft inspiration)!

SCBWI members: log onto SCBWI website and paste in this link for info about Rocky Mtn Chap's 2010 scholarship: http://

Wisdom from author Linda Rohrbaugh, #PPWC 2010: Even a poor plan, properly executed, will work. it's all in the execution. #writingtips

Inspiration from bestselling author @jodithomas: "Are you a wishbone, a jawbone, or a backbone" when it comes to writing? #writing

If you haven't yet,check out Elizabeth Gilbert's (Eat, Pray, Love) TED talk on creativity:

@amyfries writes on how Mind Wandering Enhances Creative Problem Solving:

WTS 78: There's nothing like extended time with other writers, editors, and agents to inspire and grow you as a writer

:) Cheryl

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Hiking Inspiration

When I have a story problem/question to consider, I can usually find inspiration most quickly if I step away from my desk.

IMG_0714So that’s what I did this morning: stepped away from my desk and into the mountains a bit of hiking inspiration before snow* hits later today or tomorrow.

The result? I returned home on a hiking high, with a few cool new ideas, ready to tackle today’s to-do list. Plus I have a few pics to share**, so you can be inspired vicariously.

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*Yes, it’s mid-May and we’re expecting more snow. What can I say? That’s Colorado for you.

**Inspired by the photo-filled blog of my new writing friend, Wendee Holtcamp. Visit here to see her photo of us hiking together during the Writing Away Retreat.

:) Cheryl


Just had to share…


For the full story, visit:

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Writing in Breck

imageI left my husband, two boys, and two dogs to fend for themselves for several days while I headed to the mountains to work hard on three different WIPs*, eat thee gourmet meals a day courtesy of our lovely hostess, Cicily, lounge in overstuffed chairs in front of the fire, meditate in the hot tub….


I do feel a smidgeon of guilt for having such a wonderful time without my family, but they’re the very best family ever to let me go and work so very, very, very hard.

Really :).

I took a fantastic creativity hike up the mountain behind the house, which resulted in plot ideas galore for the new novel—a novel that is, as yet, only a hodge podge of characters, settings, and concepts. Here are some of the bike “terrain park” obstacles I discovered atop the mountain behind the house:



Happy writing!

:) Cheryl

*because I’m an optimist. Yes, let’s call it that—sounds much better than crazy.

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Iced Toddy, anyone?

I made the mistake of trying a new drink at the coffee shop this afternoon: an iced toddy. It’s coffee, sort of, but brewed for a very long time in some special way that means it’s very low acid. The result is exceptionally yum.

It’s also super-duper caffeinated, which means that here I am, at 11:40 at night, with visions of characters, quirks, and plot twists dancing about in my head. Oh, well. There are worse ways to spend a late night. I’ll just be tired tomorrow, which could be problem because…I’ve gotten a last-minute invite to join the lovely Cicily Janus at the May 2010 Writing Away Retreat (as opposed to the June retreat, which is in Australia…!) I didn’t think I’d be able to go, but through a combination of favorable winds and flexible family, I get to head west tomorrow.


I’m leaving first thing in the morning. Right after packing. And shopping. And, oh yeah, that oil change. but then—then, there will be no stopping this writer on her way to Breckenridge for some serious writing and retreating.

:) Cheryl



And now, for something completely different!

whistle Phew. It seems like I’ve been writing a lot of loooong posts lately! I’ve pulled together some good info, I hope—but I feel like it’s time for some lighter fare.

Such as:

  • Weird and cool science news (which I’ve been reading a lot of lately)
  • Awesome books to read (which I’ve also been reading a lot of—an extremely pleasant occupational hazard)
  • How to wolf whistle.

I mean, informational blog posts are great and all, but that can’t be all we read, right?

Confession: I don’t actually know how to wolf whistle, but it seems like such a valuable skill that I just had to mention it. You may be wondering: is there, in fact, an eHow article on Wolf whistling technique?

Yes! There is! There’s also a wikiHow article as well as a number of How-To videos like this one. (I love living in the computer age….)

Challenge for the week: now that I’ve uncovered these amazing resources, can you learn to wolf whistle? Can I? Can I do so without convincing my friends and family that I’m nuts?

I’ll update you next week…

:) Cheryl

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