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So, How’s YOUR Novel Coming Along?

By Susanne Marie Poulette

Yes, we’re already 5 days into NaNoWriMo, that is, November’s National Novel Writing Month.  This means that we only have twenty-five days left to write thumb-1330516229411-img_864150,000 words, that is, if we haven’t already put our noses to the grindstone, or more specifically, to the keyboard.

NaNoWriMo issues a challenge to write 50,000 words from the beginning to the end of November.  There are write-ins across the nation where future bestselling authors are gathered, hunched over their electronic devices, pecking away, each creating that coveted magnum opus that is sure to seal a deal.  Whether writers are grouped or individual, the NaNoWriMo website provides an online community of support and motivation.  The idea is to get the 50,000 words written. No procrastinating, no excuses, no kidding, period. The stated goal is first draft completion, not perfection. Editing and revision take place later on, during some other thirty day marathon.

I’ve noticed that some writers pooh-pooh NaNoWriMo.  Maybe they’re purists, or realists?  Others say it’s just the right catalyst they need to get their ideas from gray matter to finger tips.  If NaNoWriMo  motivates folks to follow their dreams, so be it.  I think writing leads us to discover our creativity and yields a sense of accomplishment, whether or not our coffee-stained, dog-eared manuscripts find their way to a bookstore shelf.  Writing for the pleasure it brings. 

What do you think?  I’d love to read your comments.

I know I couldn’t write 50,000 words of quality work with unforgettable characters in just 30 days. Hats off to anyone who has done this. You are a better writeslowboattochina_zpsd36485aer than I am. My own novel, coming along on the SS Slow Boat from China, has lived about 2600 – 3000 days, and is still a work in progress.

For anyone interested, Writer’s Digest has an online article, NaNoWriMo Prep: 30 Tips for Writing a Book in 30 Days, by Jessica Strawser.  Click on the boat to follow the link and learn more.   ~~


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Clifton Park – Halfmoon Library, October 2015. Photo by SMPoulette

Speaking of writing novels, and sorry about this lame segue, I recently had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr, thanks to the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library.  Doerr’s book, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE,all the light (2) has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 77 weeks, to date.  If you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil it. I will give the basics, however.  This story takes place in France during World War II, with a blind French girl, and a German boy with a genius for radio waves (which exist, but which we cannot see).


Doerr explained his writing process for this novel, and rather than thirty days, this one took a decade.  (Ten years! Be still my heart, there might be hope for me yet.) He described his writing as putting together pieces of a large puzzle, beginning with his time spent in France garnering ideas, imagery, story line, and characters, and his research in period history as well as the nature and physics of light.  His book is written from two main points of view, and his chapters switch between the two main characters, and then alternate in time, non-sequentially from before, during, and after the war.

Many of the 187 chapters are short, some just a single page.  Doerr said he did not write the chapters in the order that a reader would read them.  For instance, he worked on the ending long before he wrote the middle chapters. Sometimes he worked longer on the German boy’s sections, and then on the blind girl’s story, following wherever the muse took him.Anthon D

If  interested, go to Doerr’s website to read some of his work online, and watch actor Damian Lewis reading from Doerr’s story “The Deep.”  Click on Anthony Doerr’s photo to reach his website.   ~~


John-glasses-bw-high-res-199x3002John Irving has an interesting writing process.  He’s currently on tour with his latest novel, AVENUE OF MYSTERIES.  I caught his recent interview on the Tonight Show with Stephen Colbert.

Camera    Click on the camera to watch Irving explain his writing process.

story time clip artTo watch Irving having fun reading a bedtime story in a skit with Colbert, click on the chicken.  Full disclosure: this video might make you laugh.

It seems remarkable to me that Irving hand writes all his novels.  He explained that handwriting allows time for fewer mistakes, in a pace that he believes is right for him. Going slowly, he takes a long time to develop characters with whom one can sympathize.

Irving told  Shaul Schwarz of Writers Write that he irving-avenue-mysteries-30-45not only writes in longhand, but he uses both sides of the paper. He added that when he was writing THE CIDER HOUSE RULES he came to the realization that he writes best when starting with the ending of the story. Irving said this technique “never lets him down.”  He writes the last sentence of a story, and then “writes toward that sentence.”  Fascinating, but it boggles my linear mind.

Irving’s first novel, SETTING FREE THE BEARS, was published in 1968.  THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, Irving’s fourth, won the National Book Award in 1980 and was his first international bestseller. In 2000, John Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for THE CIDER HOUSE RULES.  For more about John Irving, click on his book to link to his website.    ~~



 cal for blogSo, I’ll ask again, how’s your novel coming along? No interest in writing?  That’s ok too.  Certainly, writers need readers, in fact we love them.  What would we do without them?

Whether writers are pounding out 50,000 words in thirty days, or taking more time, as described by John Irving and Anthony Doerr, the point is, just go ahead and do it. It’s your story, from your heart, you’re the boss of it, and no one can tell you it’s wrong. As my dear friend Peggy says, quoting Wayne Dwyer, “Don’t die with your music still inside you…”  If you have a story to tell, find your voice, take as long as you want, and enjoy sharing it in your own good time.  I’d love to read it.                                                 

©  Susanne Marie Poulette








Lions and Tigers, and BESTSELLERS? Oh My!



I came across an article on the Writer’s Digest website by guest author Kevin Kaiser, entitled The Dark Side of Being a Bestseller. My glasses almost flew off my nose with my sweeping double take. There’s a dark side to being a bestselling author? What a notion.

What a notion to consider while I’m still agonizing over yet another revision of my manuscript. Is my protagonist sufficiently scintillating? Does my plot suffer from Swiss cheese look-alike? Has my narrative arc drooped in the center like McDonald’s golden arch? Will it ever be good enough to snag an agent? Would anybody ever want to read it—never mind, pay money for it? As a writer, I stew over these and more issues, but I always soldier on undaunted. Until this.

What a notion, this dark side. Now I’ll be facing Heathcliff’s bleak, windswept moors, and groveling for more gruel in Dickens’ workhouse, if Heaven forbid, I become a bestselling author. If the day ever came, would I find the courage to muddle through it?


All kidding aside, I’ll share some excerpts from Kaiser’s excellent article:

A New York Times bestselling novelist once told me, “You’ll never be as free as you are at the beginning. It’s easy to forget how to take risks and write as if no one is watching.” She went on to explain how success creates a cycle that few authors know how to handle expertly, especially when recognition comes early.

Success begets success…authors who were once large fish in a small pond find success… find themselves surrounded by others who have sold more books than them, command a vastly larger platform…they often slip back into the comparison game…the game always leads to self-sabotage and fear. Fear of missing out, fear of not being successful enough, fear of being found out as a fraud…No amount of money will quiet those fears, which is why refusing to play the game at all is so important.

Only one thing really matters.
The point isn’t having written, as many are so fond of saying, but the actual activity of creating that matters most. You see, once you’ve released a story into the world it no longer belongs to you. The reader brings their world to the edge of yours and what they experience from there is a process we don’t control… It’s the love of the craft, our surrender to the art of exploring and illuminating new ideas that matters most.

Act Like No One is Watching
Write as if no one is watching. Write as if no one will ever read it or judge your work. That’s where the magic lies, and that is ultimately what readers want to experience, too.… You’re never as free as you are right now, and the beautiful thing is that you can choose just how free you really are.”

I encourage other starving writers to visit and read his full article.

bhakti bestseller

There’s a plethora of epic tales out there today, on websites, in books on publishing, news articles, and told at writers’ conferences, all decrying the current state of publishing. The chances of breaking in as a new author border on the miraculous. An experienced writer and expert on self-publishing recently told me that she felt her chance of being struck by lightning was better than getting her first novel publishing traditionally.

Authors whose books are picked up and sold by major publishing houses are required to do more and more of their own marketing, often with minimal returns for their investment. Since writers are usually writers, and not marketers, I wonder how much actual writing time is diverted from art to business.

Traditional publishing is a changing landscape today, affected by a variety of factors including successful self-publishers and low returns of digital book sales. Bestselling author and ghostwriter Michael Levin, at Ghost Business, suggests that the concept of bestseller means less today than it once did. As one example, he cites authors’ popular strategy of tipping the scales by using Amazon’s hourly sales recalculations to create bestselling status.                                                                                                                                                                                  

robert KDeepak Chopra cautions and advises us in his article for the Huffington Post, Advice to New Writers: Go Where the Readers Are (and Why You Cannot Trust the Best Seller List). He points to a fading publishing industry, citing declining sales of traditional books and rapidly rising e-books sales.

Chopra writes about the “disappearing best-seller:”

“For two weeks I’ve been on a national book tour to promote a new novel called God: A Story of Revelation. The book sold more than twice the number to make most bestseller lists in its opening week, and enough to stay on the lists the second week. But neither happened. God appeared on no lists, and the explanations varied: a computer glitch that failed to register sales, the down-grading of bulk sales when lots of people attend a single event.
…Even established writers feel aggrieved when they deserve to make the best-seller list and yet don’t. Book chains base their future orders on these lists, and the week’s best-sellers get prominent displays up front.”

In order to break in, Chopra advises new writers to explore alternatives to the old system: “…self-promotion and going where the readers are…new writers can find their readers, target them, and speak directly to them as never before. This is thanks to the Internet, Facebook, blogs, Amazon’s open policy about e-books, Facebook, and other social media. Like it or not, successful writers are probably going to turn into book entrepreneurs at the same time. Publishers are becoming more and more risk averse. In a few years, no writers will be given advances except the most guaranteed sellers. The rest will enter into partnership with their publishers.”

Chopra also encourages new writers “…not to write for praise… Write to be noticed, which means in the end writing from the heart.”

Deepak Chopra

So yes, there are dark sides, down sides, and risks in getting our books out there. But if we’re writing from the heart, as Chopra advises, then maybe we’re already enriched. With or without that best seller or best earner, can’t we feel some fulfillment in our journeys of sharing our stories? I was recently asked to write my goal for an upcoming writer’s workshop that I plan to attend. It’s not about fame or money, or the New York Times lists, but oh, that would be so lovely!  For me, it’s about writing better stories that will help readers to laugh, feel happy, and be uplifted.



To read Deepak Chopra’s article, click here:







Hitting the Writer’s Wall

By Peggy Morehouse

One day after running in yet another 5k, you decide you’re bored. You need a bigger challenge.

Maybe a half marathon?

Nah.  Half is never quite satisfying enough for me. A half a bowl of ice cream. A half a cup of coffee. A half-dozen roses. Half just leaves one yearning for more. So, you pick a really cool city and decide to run in its full marathon the following year. You find a group to train with. You log your progress. You rise early each morning and jog, jog, jog through heat and cold and rain.

After several months of focusing on your goal, you’ve finally arrived at the big event where you’ll dash 26 miles to the finish line.  Crowds will cheer, bands will play, beer will be poured, food will be served, and it’s all just for you. Then bam! Somewhere around the 20th mile you hit the wall. Your foot stops mid-air, but somehow manages to land on the ground. You can’t take another step. You wonder if limping across the finish line counts or if your medal will be denied. You wonder why you wanted to run in this stupid race anyway. You look around for one of those water stations that also hands out gel packs and a pep talk. It’s in sight, but your leg is cramping. You want to pull out your cell, call for a ride, and head to the beach. Your leg never cramps at the beach.


I’ve never run in a full marathon although I know several people who have. They all have a story about hitting the wall when they’re so close to finishing. Almost implausible after all that training, but I get it because I’ve hit the writing wall with my novel. I’ve spent two years with these characters on the Big Island of Hawaii and I’m tired. Tired of getting up at 4:00 a.m. to get my writing in before work. Like Bruce Springsteen sings in Dancing in the Dark, “I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book.”  I find myself leaving my laptop and looking out the window wondering what else is going on in the great big world.


But like the marathon runner who hits the wall at the 20th mile, I must break through. I’m on chapter twenty-two of my final re-write and it’s due to my editor on December 15. Am I really going to give up now to explore what’s on the other side of that window? For a bit of motivation, I looked up what one of my favorite authors, Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Edges, etc.) does when she hits the writing wall:

“Whenever I kind of have writer’s block, I don’t let myself stop writing, but I’ll back away and kind of approach things differently, like those old-fashioned college-writing-class exercises.”

Flynn went on to say that she wrote the beginning of Amy’s popular cool girl rant in Gone Girl to propel her out of a bad case of writer’s block. She also uses grilled cheese sandwiches to encourage her to the finish line. And, it seems like most marathon runners somehow manage to find the edge that makes them put one foot in front of the other until they can finally say, “The end.”

2013 Chevron Houston Marathon

Yay! they made it past mile 20!

Well, okay. Close the blog. Bring on the grilled cheese sandwich. I’m off to chapter twenty-three.



Some “Essentials” for Writers and Others

By Susanne Marie Poulette

I read a Writers’ Digest article entitled  Top 10 Essentials to a Writer’s Life.  Zachary Petit wrote about New York Times bestselling author Erik Larson’s ten essentials.  Yes, there’s a plethora of material out there on this topic, in writers’ websites, blogs, books, magazines and journals, but this one caught my eye.  I think several of these essentials apply to accomplishing lots of other tasks besides writing.

First, Larson has some fun with us, listing coffee, then more coffee, and then Double Stuf Oreos as three of his essentials. (I, however, would substitute the Oreos with Chips Ahoy.)

coffee oreosThen on the serious side, Larson provides useful suggestions such as: access to a good library, trusted beta readers, physical diversions when finished, and the importance of reading.  All pretty solid advice, eh? But the next three really tripped me up. They’re excellent recommendations, and if I could practice them, I’d probably finish my novel in under eight years.  Regrettably, for me, they’re as doable as climbing Mt. Everest or K2 in flip-flops.  Maybe that’s why I’m not on the bestseller list.  Here we go:

“A Sense of Pace…Write for three hours straight, without interruption, then stop.”

“Knowing Where to Stop…My favorite ‘trick’ is to stop writing at a point where I know that I can pick up easily the next day.”

“Blocks of Undisturbed Time…I set aside a minimum of three hours every morning, seven days a week, during which no one is allowed to intrude except to report an approaching cruise missile.”

How I wish I could do anything I choose for three hours straight without stopping.  Never mind seven days a week, or knowing exactly which paragraph closes up shop for the day.  If only I could manage calling it quits at optimal points, and ignore the ringtones on my phone, the chirp of new texts arriving, and the sound of my cat sharpening her claws on the sofa.  My water glass requires perpetual refills from the tap in direct proportion to the frequency of bathroom breaks. And on the best of days, my dusty furniture, thirsty plants, and cat-hair-flecked carpet beg for rescue when I look up from my keyboard.  Oh, to resist these temptations and emulate Mr. Larson!

...good, now what happens next?

…good, now what happens next?

Why is it, then, that creativity and concentration often hit at the most inopportune times?  Why doesn’t inspiration blaze like wildfire during dedicated writing time (à la Mr. Larson) with laptop powered up, shades drawn, and phone silenced—instead of times when I’m cruising along a highway, watching the clock in a waiting room, or shivering in a frozen food isle at the grocery store?  Rather than mundane activities, these are sparklers for me.  Everyday experiences spark new ideas, insights and stories. They’re real-life writing prompts.  This is why my car’s glove compartment is stuffed with illegible notes that I’ve jotted while stopped at a traffic light, and why I can’t throw out a used shopping list because there might be pearls of brilliance scrawled on the back. paper If I were organized, I’d keep my voice recorder handy, or carry a small notebook so I don’t look like a refugee from a paper recycling center.

It’s all the fault of my novel’s main characters.  They don’t respect my personal time; they just won’t quit. They hop around inside my head, talking up a storm and coming out with great stuff that I have to get down before it evaporates.  The free flow is amazing!  It’s the polar opposite of the blocks that come during those attempts at three-hour-without-stopping stretches.

As a case in point, I could have signed my life away at my Toyota dealership two years ago.  There’s a lot of waiting involved, when you’re buying a car.  After the big decision, you sit at the sales desk, passing chunks of time scratching your name on piles of papers like contracts, warranty forms, motor vehicle and insurance documents, while the salesperson rotates between you and some dealer inner sanctum.  So midway through my purchase transaction, I was struck by a miraculous bolt of commentary by my novel’s protagonist.  With the salesman off on his clandestine mission elsewhere in the building, I grabbed a paper from his desk, turned it over to find a clean side, borrowed a pen he had left behind, and started scribbling dictation from the narration taking place between my ears.  Head down and absorbed in writing, I quickly turned aside and signed on the highlighted lines each time my sales fellow materialized and interrupted my concentration.  And how annoying is that, just when you’re on a roll?

Later, and I have no idea how much time had actually passed—because I was in my writing mind, not my right mind—the salesman came back, clearly distressed. Somehow, he had lost my title and proof of ownership for the car I was trading in. Reluctantly and with an impatient sigh, I put down my pen and helped the poor guy who was spurting sweat like a sprinkler, despite the frigid blasts of air conditioning.

I felt really sorry once we found that I had been writing on the backside of my New York State Title Certificate, and hoped the employees at Motor Vehicles would enjoy the handwritten excerpt from my book.  Anyway, thank goodness for photocopiers…I couldn’t afford to lose such inspired text.

eb white


This brings me to my essentials for getting the job done. I only have seven, but then again, I’m not a bestselling author…yet.

If you can’t manage to work for three-hour, non-stop stints, then just take advantage of any opportunity when it arises and be grateful for it.

Always carry either a notebook and pen, or a voice recorder for those unexpected visits from the characters inside your head.

Always check out the used side of a sheet of paper before you write on it.

Never compose your prose on the back of a legal document.

Clean your house, water the plants, silence your phone, and lock up your pets before you get started.

Keep lots of tea and chocolate chip cookies handy.

Smile and celebrate your creativity and hard work.    cute-smiling-animals-33

For the Writers’ Digest article: