Tag Archives: self-improvement

Heart Sisters is an amazing blog

A hand writing. Text: Bookmark Hear Sister for when you need it. A blog for women on heart attacks, etc.SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO PASS ON INFORMATION

I have been reading post after post on Carolyn Thomas’s blog, Heart Sisters, and I want to pass on the information that it is FULL of stories about how heart attacks and other cardiac events are different in women – and how bad we are at paying attention to some of the symptoms, and getting ourselves safely (don’t drive yourself, don’t let someone drive you – call 911) to the ER.

All about women and heart disease from the unique perspective of CAROLYN THOMAS, a Mayo Clinic-trained women’s health advocate, heart attack survivor, blogger, speaker on the west coast of Canada

My suggestion? Go visit – and read a few posts.

Then BOOKMARK the blog for the future, for when you may need the information from a woman’s perspective that will make you do the right thing.

The link above goes to the archives. I wish I’d had this information before today – everything I’ve been reading and writing was in reaction to the distinctly male style of research papers.

Medicine could really use an overhaul of how it presents information to women; meanwhile, we have Carolyn.

Real Fiction: How to develop empathy

Girl holding heart made of lights at night. Text: Use Real Fiction (trademark) to develop empathin vicariously. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt


Let’s start somewhere

NOTE: None of what I’m about to say is meant to ask for help or pity, and certainly not for special privileges. Just understanding. JUST. And, among those whose lives isn’t constrained, both happiness for what they have, and a little of that empathy for those who don’t have it.

Even though political events have made this development more urgent, I’m not going there: better writers than I are doing that right now.

I’m discussing the part of empathy associated with illness, chronic illness

When friends seem surprised that I’m still sick, I want to respond as a character in my novel, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY does:

“Has the word ‘chronic’ been marked in dictionaries as ‘Archaic’?”

They don’t ask this question of people who have ‘real’ illnesses such as Lupus or MS or Rheumatoid Arthritis, do they? If someone now lives with HIV, friends usually understand that there is no cure, and remission is bought by a DAILY regimen of pills under a doctor’s care.

They understand that many mental illnesses are chronic, and also managed with a drug regime – every TV viewer has seen the TV writer’s trope: a violent person who is turns out is to be pitied because he has a mental illness, and is ‘off his meds.’

Invisible illness – can’t see it, must be fake

But if you have one of the invisible illnesses, ME/CFS or FM or Gulf War Syndrome, that are not understood because they have been disbelieved by medical ‘professionals’ in general, you are expected to have made a miraculous and convenient recovery using supplements, alternative medicine, acupuncture, specialists, exercise, diet, or yoga, and are now back to full health because, the groups’ sick in-joke, “You don’t look sick.”

‘Chronic’ thus means ‘inconvenient’ to those inquiring, “Are you still sick?”

It doesn’t mean, ‘needs continuing care for symptoms that wax and wane and never go away.’ It doesn’t mean, to the friends, ‘let’s not forget her because she doesn’t have the energy to make new friends.’

And it doesn’t mean, ‘Advocate for her, because she doesn’t have the energy to do it for herself.’

Then something happens to THEM

And it is too late; they get a crash course in empathy – or not.

Until the ill one is their child, their spouse, or their parent or grandparent, and they have to provide or arrange for whatever care is necessary, ‘chronic’ is just plain inconvenient, unless it is also ‘malingering,’ ‘gold-bricking,’ ‘laziness (she’d get better if she just got out and exercised),’ or ‘playing the system so she doesn’t have to work.’

And then, unfortunately, once they understand, they are too busy to be useful – because they are taking care of said loved one, and the now know how much energy it takes to do that, and have little left for the advocacy that is so desperately needed. Catch-22.

Which brings me to the point of this essay:

There have to be other ways of developing empathy than suffering chronic illnesses in your own flesh.

One of the best – and highly underutilized – is fiction.

But not the special books for children – barely disguised non-fiction

‘Little Tommy has Cancer’ or ‘What Does Ostomy Mean’ or ‘You have diabetes – now what?’ – designed, usually, to help the child, school, teacher, or close friend understand what is going on with the child.

Not usually meant for the world in general, such a book might have a cover picture of a kid in a wheelchair, or with an oxygen supply device, or getting a shot. These books are necessary for the ‘different’ ones, the same as the Barbie with crutches is meant for the different child to see herself (as both handicapped AND held to impossible fashion standards).

They are less frequently bought for the kids who don’t have the disability, disease, or impairment – but are there in the library if necessary. These aren’t the fiction I mean, because they’re barely fiction.

Nor books (or movies) intended to promote suicide as noble

Those are just disgusting: if someone becomes broken their best option is to find a way to tidy themselves out of this world so as not to inconvenience their ‘loved ones.’

Ask any real family affected by suicide whether they feel loved by it.

Million Dollar Baby, The Ocean Within, Me Before You – it has become a trope.

I reserve judgment in the case of ‘intractable pain or depression’ – and I could not possibly judge the person who chooses this exit if it is truly intractable – though I often hope it means they have been unsuccessful at finding help. It is not a matter for fiction, because fiction always conveniently leaves out the real details. Horribly depressed and wracked by pain people can and do have ‘quality of life’ in many cases – when their need to stay alive for those same loved ones is their prime imperative. YMMV.

Alternate preventive empathy development made easy via REAL FICTION

In Real Fiction (TM) of the empathy-developing variety, characters happen to also have a disability, illness, or difference – but it isn’t the focus of the story, while always being there.

Real fiction offers the reader a way to understand without being personally overwhelmed.

The writer can go into the thoughts of the character to show inner strength balancing outer pain.

The reader is thus safe to explore the consequences and conditions set up by the writer, to understand more, to literally be a voyeur – or in modern parlance to inhabit a virtual reality – that allows the reader to experience the life of a disabled person from the inside.

This alternate reality is temporary, and can be left or abandoned if it becomes too much for the reader to bear.

Fiction allows the small details that are important to the character to emerge, rather than be lectured about.

A great example is the book (and movie) Ordinary People, by Judith Guest. A family tries to understand why their son attempted suicide – and the family dynamics digs down into the real cause.

Pride’s Children is designed to be REAL FICTION

One of the main characters is a former physician who has CFS (ME/CFS), and is no longer able to practice medicine (which requires energy and brainpower), but has retrained herself as a novelist.

The story shows the development of her change in the area of personal worthiness for her goals, triggered by an accidental meeting with a charismatic actor which then affects her whole life.

Is she correct in the assumptions she’s taken on as to her own value as a PWC (a person with CFS)? Will chronic illness limit the rest of her life? Can she hope for and desire what ‘normal’ people are allowed by society to want?

At least you don’t have to get sick to find out. You will just have to read.

And be patient. It’s taking the writer a while to finish the story.

What’s your favorite vicariously-lived life? Who would you have liked to really be?

Every writer’s nightmare: corrupted Look Inside

Red Christmas ornament. Words When your sale goes wong; check, check, check; Alicia Butcher EhrhardtGOTCHA! MURPHY’S LAW STRIKES

I deliberately picked clashy colors for the image, where I normally at least try to make something catchy and attractive, because I messed up (yes, I bear full responsibility regardless of whose fault it was), and it may serve as a cautionary tale to other writers.

And as a request for forbearance for readers – don’t always assume the mess you find online is because the writer is an unprofessional idiot.

And, if you’re kind, drop the author a note, saying, “You might want to check your Look Inside feature on Amazon, because it doesn’t look right.”

Trust me, they will (should) be more than grateful.

No, you can’t do everything. No, you shouldn’t be paranoid. But I realize now I’ve seen what happened to me on other authors’ book pages on Amazon – and made that exact assumption: if an author can’t be bothered to make sure their book looks perfect on the Look Inside feature, they must not be very good at anything else, either.


The marvelous Look Inside! feature

After all is said and done – cover, advertising, book description – the most important action call is the Buy button that occurs at the end of your sample on Amazon, at which point the buyer makes a decision on whether you can

  1. write professionally
  2. start a story well
  3. keep interest going

All the advertising in the world doesn’t fix something badly written.

And that sample is the clincher for readers who are now skittish about books which disappoint, from having bought other books and not reading the sample.

So the sample should be pristine, with no errors of any kind. No typographical errors. No formatting errors. No spelling errors. No punctuation, capitalization, or grammar errors.

And preferably both something intriguing, and evidence at the same time that the author will satisfy the reader’s curiosity as the story goes along (as evidence by raising at least a minor question somewhere, and answering it). So, quality.

Because all readers are looking for at that point is a reason not to buy.

Don’t give them one.

A perfect upload doesn’t ensure things will STAY perfect

When I created and uploaded the files for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, back in October of 2015, I worked my little tail off to make sure that the Look Inside feature was perfect.

Once it was, and all the previewers had satisfied me by showing exactly what I expected to see, I went live.

I then purchased the first copy, downloaded to my Kindle, and examined everything as if I were a customer.

I had done my due diligence – it looked just as I wanted it to.

And since then, I have been afraid to mess with it, because the 5 or 6 tiny typographical errors I eventually found (no book is perfect) were literally tiny – a misplaced comma, a dash which ended dialogue had its quotation mark sitting all by itself on the next line (thanks, MS Word) – and I didn’t want to take the chance of making anything worse.

Here is what happened:

Rather than attempt to tidy it all up, I will let you experience the panic, by putting in the text of the posts I made on my Goodread UK Kindle group author thread.

15 hours, 58 minutes ago:

WARNING: the look inside feature for the ebook, both US and UK (I have not yet checked the rest) is thoroughly broken – and I apologize profoundly to anyone who has looked at it, especially with a thought to possibly buying it, and found the horrible mess that I just found.

It never occurred to me (newbie gets bitten again by the obvious) that anything could change from the way it was when I uploaded it, bought the first copy, and checked it out – about a year ago.

I don’t know when this happened, but I will be spending whatever time and energy it takes to fix the disastrous formatting destruction on the Look Inside feature – the best place an author has to sell a book, because a reader can SEE whether there are problems.

I don’t know, not having bought another copy, and not recently, whether the problem is confined to the Look Inside feature, or somehow infects the copy a reader would download. My downloaded copy is exactly the way I set it up – so again, my apologies if you looked.

I didn’t do this – but it IS my fault not to have caught it sooner.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It’s MY name on the cover.

I go to fix. Pray for me.

15 hours, 54 minutes ago:

Please note: electronic Advance Reader/Review copies should not be affected – those have never left my hands until I email them to someone.

15 hours, 52 minutes ago:

Phew! The preview here on GR is unaffected.

14 hours, 32 minutes ago:

Amazon Kindle Senior Representative confirmed it’s not my problem, and they will fix it within 24-48 hours.

I have been told by other authors, over and over, to recheck these things – and did not. Let this kerfuffle be a lesson to me to not take anything for granted.

And if it saves someone else time and panic, that would be nice.

‘Check your files periodically, as if you were a customer.’

A few minutes ago:

Amazon’s swift author support came to my aid last night – when I got up this morning, the problem with the ebook Look Inside feature (the print was never affected) for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was fixed.

They told me last night it would take 24-48 hours, and I braced myself to worry. At 1:30 am, the formatting was still messed up when I went to bed.

The biggest relief last night was finding out that it wasn’t my fault – the file they had from me was uncorrupted.

I will probably never find out what happened, exactly, nor do I really need to know, since it wasn’t my fault, but thank you to the person who reported that the UK Look Inside was not looking good (wish I could remember where I put that notification); I checked later than I should have (I should check these things immediately), and maybe that explains why a 0.99 sale is not doing as well as I had hoped.

But all is well now, and I have learned my lesson: trust, but verify.

And it was an example of the amazing responsiveness I have received over this past year+ from the people who provide service for authors at Amazon. I’ve read of problems at B&N, and others – I’ve only had good service from A.

Admittedly, they somehow caused the problem – but I was asking them to fix it in the middle of the night.

The upshot?

It is fixed – for now.

I ran a sale without checking first (the last time I looked it was fine – really, I didn’t just not look at it for a year!).

I found out by accident that, yes, bad things can happen even if you don’t make any changes to your input files (so I should probably go fix that comma).

Someone may help you by catching a problem – and telling you about it – in which case, thank your lucky stars.

But I should have checked. I SHOULD HAVE CHECKED.

My apologies if you were affected – and hopes you will give me a second chance.

***** Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale wherever ebooks are available at 0.99 (equivalent in your local currency) until the end of New Year’s Day 2017.*****

Books make great last minute presents – an email from Amazon will announce the gift.

To purchase a Kindle book as a gift (from Amazon help):
  1. From the Kindle Store, select the book you want to purchase as a gift. …
  2. On the product detail page, click the Give as a Gift button.
  3. Enter the personal email address of your gift recipient. …
  4. Enter a delivery date and an optional gift message.

The best ‘thank you’ and encouragement you can offer a blogger is to buy their book(s), especially when they do not have a Donate button.

And nobody says you have to READ them (though I hope you would).

Please comment and share your horror stories – I feel like an idiot right now, and it would be nice to have company!

Vacation and chronic illness: the goal is survival


A view from the boat at the Grand Palladium, Riviera Maya


***** Kindle Countdown Deal Amazon US Oct. 10-Oct. 18, $0.99, IN PROGRESS *****

Please visit Pride’s Children on Amazon for your copy at a buck if you don’t have one, and give them for presents! It’s an easy way to make a recommendation.

The chronically ill person desperately wants to be normal – because normal is so much more fun.

I can’t speak for those who have always been ill, because they don’t have the memory of being ‘normal.’ But I can remember, almost three decades ago now, what it was like to go on vacation for the express purpose of having fun, taking a break from daily life, getting a tan or a snow burn, doing more exciting things and far fewer of the regular ones…

This is my first morning back from our first vacation in over two years, so, as I haven’t been blogging for a couple of weeks now, I thought I’d take the opportunity to capture the thoughts that a week at the Riviera Maya inspire – because if there’s one thing different for someone barely holding it together in ‘regular life,’ it’s going on a real vacation.

In no particular order:

Getting there: Airplane, taxi, private car, boat, bus…

I have an irritating combination of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a major mobility impairment (I do not walk well for any length of time – working on it). I think I would be dealing better with the CFS if I could do as I used to, and get out for short walks on a regular basis, staying well within the energy requirements. And I know I would have deal infinitely better with the mobility if I had more energy.

But what is, is.

To start the trip, we had to get from home in New Jersey to JFK Airport (from where there are far more non-stop flights), which means I started the trip by trying to nap in the car as husband did all the two-hour drive. I remember being an equal partner in the driving – and, as we both age, it would be nice to be able to help. Instead, as you can probably imagine, just getting to the airport has used up most of the energy for the day already.

The wheelchair IS available (always a concern when pre-arranging things), and I’ve gotten over that hump: me not being my slow self is a benefit to my family – whatever the loss of face from being pushed around (and I still feel it after all these years!), the gains in speed are worth it. There can also be some benefits – we often go through a shortened line for security, and have (and need every second of) advance boarding on the plane. My walker, Sylvia, is there for me to lean on – but needs rolling with us, and is one more large thing to deal with at every stage. On the plus side, more than once her seat has been used to transport baggage.

Then just somehow find a way of sitting mostly in one position from boarding to landing, and managing to get at least an hour of actual sleep to restore some of that energy, and we’re at the Cancún international airport for the next part: gathering of the party. Which, since their plane has been mysteriously delayed, requires sitting at an outdoor restaurant with all our stuff for two more hours, until son and girlfriend arrive from Houston, instead of hooking up within ten minutes as originally planned.

Find and negotiate for transportation to the hotel. REMINDER: if you can pay for things with your credit card, your bank usually has a far better exchange rate than almost anything you can generate on the spot, so use it if you can. But the rest of the world is not the US, and you must be prepared to accept lower hotel or taxi exchange rate if all you have is cash. Mexico has ATMs which will give you local currency – if you can find one. The usual perils of travel apply.

Finally, another hour+, and we’re at the Grand Palladium. Checking in takes no more than the usual (three tries to get acceptable room for the Houston contingent), and we end up, finally, at the dinner buffet.

Getting around at the resort

The biggest problem for me is that we love this resort – hugest pools, wonderful beach, great dining – but there is NO way for me to get to most of the places I want to be without an enormous amount of walking (with my trusty walker, Sylvia). We knew that even before we went the first time: TripAdvisor mentions it, the map shows it, and it is a plus for most people (given the array of eating opportunities). They will send you a trolley if you request one, but it can only get you to approximately where you need to be – so most times I opted for just walking the shortest route.

I am trying to learn to walk again, and I’ve walked this past week probably more than in the previous six months, and it was all agonizing, and that’s about the best I can say about it. If my current experiments fail, or I get even slightly worse, the next step will be a wheelchair, and most often husband pushing, and I REALLY don’t want to get to that stage. I am not a small person, and he already has his own limitations and aging. It may force us to consider an easier – and smaller – vacation destination. For now, I just loaded up on the extra ibuprofen (don’t tell my pain specialist – he’d have a fit), and gritted my teeth.

We finally got into a rhythm where the rest of the family would go on ahead, and let me get there at my own pace (which now includes frequent stops to put Sylvia’s seat down and rest). They didn’t like it – love you, family! – but it did help because they could stand in line if necessary. And the critical part for me was that if I was walking with family, I pushed myself much too hard not to always be the laggard, which increased both pain and a horrible new feeling of breathlessness. By the end of the trip we’d worked out a reasonable combination. Adjusting expectations is crucial.

Conclusion: I could have used the hotel’s help a bit more often, but did about right IF they let me do it my slow way. For next time – think very hard ahead of time, and use the trolley more often, even if I have to wait for it, because energy expended in walking can’t be regained, while energy expended in waiting is far less. And the hotel was uniformly helpful – when asked. Must give up some of the do-it-myself pride – which is still, after all these years, hard for me.

Days of sun and pool and never leaving the resort worked for me

I encouraged husband and offspring and potential new family member to do what THEY wanted to do (the kids did a wonderful day at Xcaret snorkeling through THREE underground rivers), and husband took them sailing.

While we older folk established a chair on the beach or near the pool (never worried a minute about STUFF at this kind of a resort), everyone spent the days as they wanted to – the kids did a lot of snorkeling in the salt-water pool – and I spent most of my time in the water.

And not just lazing: I am counting on neuroplasticity and slowly building up whatever muscles I have (because there is still some nerve conduction going on – maybe 30%) to improve my walking. I had counted on the pool being the exact depth for exercises I can’t do at home. So a good half of the time in the pool was spent – in Paradise – doing exercises and retraining muscles and brain.

Don’t sweat what you can’t change

I just ignored the parts I couldn’t do (didn’t go sailing this time, and have still, after five trips there over the past decade, not made it into the salt-water pool), and enjoyed every minute of the rest.

One of the days had a rougher-than-usual sea, and I got a nasty scare getting into the ocean (bit of a tumble) AND out of it (pushed very hard to get out before the next wave, and ended up not being able to breathe for a bit), and I almost let that keep me out of the ocean. But it was back to its normal calm later, and I did get a wonderful session in the beautiful blue-green water.

Marred by my only sunscreen fail. Kiddies: wear your sunscreen. Reapply every couple of hours, regardless of whether you’ve been in water. Don’t forget covering EVERY SINGLE AREA (I missed my lower arms ONE TIME and have spent the next few days slathering with green aloe gel). And let the stuff sink in as recommended. Wear a shirt part of the time even if you look like a dork. Tropical sun goes through less absorbing atmosphere, and will GET YOU. I never missed before, never had a problem – and it got me this time.

The cost to a chronically-ill person

Even in lowest possible energy-expenditure mode, vacations are a stretch. I never actually managed to unpack, used the same clothes more times than I had planned, didn’t find the after-sun gel until days into the trip, didn’t find my critical meds on the way home until it was almost too late…

The small things accumulated steadily.

I ate too much of the wrong things – half of the time from simple exhaustion (okay, the rest of the time from simple greed). Once I go down that path – eating more carbs than I can handle – it takes at least four days of eating very carefully to reverse the process. And there was no way to muster that energy in a situation where the level of exhaustion was very close to the edge, all the time.

The weeks of planning and packing took their toll (but now I have bathing suits!). I lost untold writing time because the arrangements had to be made with my good time (and even then I almost forgot to get us seat assignments for the trip there).

I lost track of where I am in writing NETHERWORLD, and will be doing a complete reset.

My guess: it will cost me another week just coping with the aftermath, and that if I’m lucky.

Would you do it again?

As often as possible.

Because I still can, and a day will come when I can’t.

Because the time with two of my three kids was priceless – and next time I hope we’re all together for the ‘annual family vacation.’

Because I have the feeling that a week of NOT stressing over what I couldn’t control, and being in basic survival mode (in a beautiful place, with food cooked by someone else), plus three of us in the room going to bed at a reasonable hour because we were exhausted (all of us), whether from fun or making it through, is a good thing (I’ve been going to bed WAY too late).

Because the soul needs beauty, and seeing coatis and mapaches and agoutis and iguanas and pelicans and flamingos in their natural habitat was wonderful (wish the idiot tourists would read the sign that says Don’t Feed the Animals Because it Kills Them).

I hope this brings me back to writing renewed.

And because it was, for all the effort and increased pain, fun.

We ill folk can get into small loops where pain and exhaustion are minimized – but so is everything else. Including fun.

***** Kindle Countdown Deal Amazon US Oct. 10-Oct. 18, $0.99, IN PROGRESS *****

Please visit Pride’s Children on Amazon for your copy at a buck if you don’t have one, and give them for presents! It’s an easy way to make a recommendation.

The same person who writes the blog posts writes the fiction.

Share your challenges with ‘vacations.’

Temporary halt in writing to catch up


I have 30 partial posts.

I have bunches more ideas.

I have the Author Photo series halfway done.

I am giving up on promotion for the immediate future – it’s up to those of you who read to poke your friends. I’m mostly hand-selling to people who I meet online who turn out to be copacetic – and that takes a lot of time.

This would be a great time to write the review you always planned to write, to give Pride’s Children to a friend – or to point a friend here for an electronic Review Copy.

The biggest new commitment is long-term dejunking.

Yup, and since I can’t do it, I have to make the decisions for my new assistant, who is vastly over-qualified for the position and a good friend – and this is planned to take 4-9 hours weekly for the indefinite future, or until this house has lost 80% of its current contents, with another 10% clearly labeled as already selected to be given away/junked.

The plan is to just keep doing this until every drawer, shelf, closet, wall unit, and underbed storage box is down to the minimum necessary. And basket. And garage. And basement.

Our plan – should it work out – is to move to a Continuing Care Retirement Community in the next couple of years – so we’re not responsible for a house.

Which means settling the last child, taking care of some problems, selling the house, and finding the place to spend the rest of our lives.

The benefits?

Someone else will become responsible for everything.

No stairs.

I’m not getting better or more mobile; I need to make the move before I can’t, or my brain goes even further and I can’t qualify to live in a CCRC.

I don’t want independence – I want convenience, and a pool, and a gym, and dinner, and medical rehab facilities onsite. I want the husband to have plenty of things he wants to do (me, I write), so finding the right place IS critical.

I want to be able to walk out my unit’s door, lock it, have arranged whatever supervision might be necessary with the staff, and go someplace else without worrying about the ice dam or the furnace going out or mildew or the ice maker or…

I loved doing all those homeowner things – when I was younger and not disabled.

What does this mean for the blog and the writing?

Probably not much, except for the first few weeks.

I’m not going to do anything organizing-wise without my assistant, and I’m going to try to be coherent while she’s here. So it should come out of the time I’m currently wasting because I have no energy to use it.

I’ve had assistants before, lovely people. It works.

It has just become completely shortsighted of me to try to force myself to do things the way I’ve been trying to operate.

It will be a bit harder with the husband retired, because he’s not used to having someone around. The benefits – a boost to MY capabilities – should compensate.

I’m the problem here, and the pivot point, and possibly the solution.

Wish me well – expect it will be a couple of weeks of less engagement online while I get the system sorted out.

It has already begun

The first day was last Wednesday. I made about a thousand decisions – but they all got acted on instead of being admired and re-stored. Good intentions get very little actual work accomplished.

Bags of stuff left this house, destined for the trash or recycling. Books went to the Friends of the Library, for their sales.

I have to go take a nap – she’s coming at three.

Remember – if you like the prose…

Try the fiction – written by the same person. See sidebar for link.

I promise – I’m working madly on Book 2, and have some shorter stuff to put up.

Using your writer RESET button asap


RESET just hit. Again. It’s been crazy – the day before yesterday I had to be coherent for over an hour in a meeting with the H/AC people – a sudden crisis because of an uh-oh! noise coming from the compressor/condenser/whatever they call the external unit, noticed by hubby when mowing the lawn.

Needless to say, I don’t do well without AC – my brain is as fragile as the chinchilla’s, and as useless when overheated.

And yesterday was the expected day from hell: with a whole bunch of incentives, all vanishing as the summer progresses, we bit the bullet and ordered the new system to be installed – immediately. Which meant they were here before 8AM on one of the hottest days of the year.

Did anything go wrong? Do we have AC?

They left by 2:30 – pretty amazing. It all works. We had a cool house by 3PM. Also amazing. Gizzy and daughter each had their room AC to keep them cool while they slept, sort of, as the gentlemen from A.J. Perri SLAMMED the door each time, about a thousand, they came in and out of the house. The whole house vibrates when you do that, and the sound is like having a two-ton piano dropped on the sidewalk behind you. I imagine, never having actually been present when they did it.

Note: when daughter or I leave the house, you can’t tell the door was closed, because we just close it.


It doesn’t matter – it still stops forward progress in my brain

Yesterday, all day after they left, I was completely fried and frazzled. Got almost nothing done except feeding myself. I couldn’t even get to sleep until 5AM. Naps and counted breaths and all my stretching yoga tricks – nope. Resisting carbs – nope. It is quite comical as I watch myself completely out of control – once I can watch myself. Which took until about a half hour ago.

So I just read my own post – this is why I write these things – and will continue the reset process with 1) starting to wake up daughter with sleep disorder, and 2) nap. Again. Until the process works, I’m back where I need to be, and I can function again. Which, if this comment is reasonably coherent, shows I’m starting to get to.


Is there a moral to this story?

I’ve been doing this for years, folks – and I still have to drag my brain out of the deep well it goes to hide – with the slightest provocation.

It still feels gut-wrenching, fraught with all kinds of dire thoughts and worries, and hours of simply not being human. I can’t describe it any better – maybe it’s that my brain is so full of debris, a special kind of debris from things I try not to let get in there in the first place, things such as having to make a decision in very little time, feeling pressured, worrying like crazy about the alternatives, worrying if we can afford it, worrying whether we can afford NOT to do it…

On and on for hours – and not stopping until we make the best decision we can – at which point the consequences will start.

What I am finding is that the cycle is shorter now. I KNEW I had written a post on having a functioning RESET process (as a writer, but that’s basically my life, so really everything). I read it with the beginning of the returning threads of whatever it is that happens in there (and which I wish would happen MUCH closer to the actual crisis, but I also wish to be 30 years younger and have a metabolism like a teenage boy (the skinny ones – I already have the other kind).

Sooner, rather than later, IF possible

This is the fastest I’ve processed.

Maybe I’ll learn – IF there is time (there wasn’t) – to set up the RESET process BEFORE it is needed.

There’s a thought. For when I have some extra energy.

Push the button, folks. The warnings sirens – like the ones the installers of our AC set off during the process of installing, I believe, a new CO2 detector – will stop eventually.

Do you know when to push your RESET button?

Everyone needs a functioning RESET process

reset buttonThe RESET process is key to psychological stability

The concept is incredibly simple: when everything goes to hell, you have to get back to some basics that you can trust, so you can get back to the place from which you look out at the world and can handle your life:

Your writing.

Your parenting.

Whatever threw you for a loop this week. Today. Right now.

When do you press RESET?

To start a RESET process, the crisis must be over; or, the crisis must have gone from acute to chronic, and have, finally, a tiny bit of slack. RESET cannot be pressed in acute mid-crisis; there you have to rely on whatever coping mechanisms get you through crises.

It doesn’t have to be much of a break in the crisis mode, and your basic reset process has to be simple enough to take hold quickly so that you can take advantage of the tiny lull to get back to solid ground.

The instinct to USE that space to RESET is the key to getting control of whatever I need to control.

These past two weeks have thrown all manner of things at me:

  • There have been six doctor appointments, five of them mine.
  • There was a crisis in the handling of my father’s estate, a place where making the time and effort would keep the process of claiming a life insurance policy from having its file closed.
  • There is the continuing saga of launching the last child, functional enough to take charge of her own life, and with a clear understanding of the necessary pieces; seemingly on track to be resolved, it has taken a hit.
  • Writing wasn’t happening at all because my good time had to be used for the crises, and I hate being at that point, because writing seems to be the only thing which keeps me sane as an individual, and not the member of some societal group which has a larger claim on my time.

I got to where I was going in tinier and tinier loops involving tiny bad decisions which were actually making everything worse because I forgot the simple principle of going back to the bunker, going back to Kindergarten (as animal trainers call it), finding the space to get reoriented and reset.

Bad patterns are very hard to break

There is a pattern, a very clear pattern now that I have not been able to interrupt yet: the day AFTER I overdo it (which is extremely easy if you have CFS and brain fog and exhaustion), the first session of the day will be total crap. I can’t get around it – it ALWAYS happens. I tell myself it is coming. I tell myself I should prepare for it. I tell myself I should take First Nap SOONER than the 2:20 which is my session length – and yet I always end up taking far longer than 2:20 before I can force myself into stopping all those tiny distractions, and getting myself into bed for the mental dialysis that is the POINT of my naps.

And I ALWAYS get to that First Nap in an agitated mental state that goes around and around in circles without solving anything.

What do you do in the state where you can’t hit reset?

So, back to the RESET button: because it isn’t going to fix itself until I take charge, and I’m incapable of taking charge in that state. Catch-22.

The RESET button/process is whatever works for you to break the cycle and get back to basics.

For a computer, it is RESTART. The computer is stuck, cycling, or not working well. So STOP. Reload the software/dump the buffers/clear the caches. For each process that was active BEFORE the RESTART, figure out whether it should be started up again – this is critical.

RESET button on this human

For me, it means to STOP the mental cycling that is driving me crazy so I can look at what is important and what isn’t, and pick up threads only to the most critical problems.

And the way I have which works for me is the slow counted yoga breathing I have taught myself to do, and which is attached to the most BASIC PRINCIPLE: everything in the world can wait for THREE calm breaths.

At the end of those three breaths, there is a tiny decision: am I ready to proceed with figuring out what to do?

The answer ‘NO’ simply means I need three more breaths, and the Universe can wait that long.

Eventually, the answer is ‘YES,’ because I’ve given my brain the space to stop cycling and RESET. It never takes more than 30-40 slow counted breaths: slow in and fill the lungs completely; relax and hold while counting eight heartbeats; let the air out as slowly as possible.

The EIGHT HEARTBEATS are what works for me. When I finally start the process of breathing, the heart is racing, and the eight counts are too fast. My brain is totally fogged. But the very counting of the hold phase, my own heart’s eight beats, slows it down. I often have to remind myself of the BASIC PRINCIPLE during this period – after all, I’m in a loop, and a mess, and a crisis, and frantic, and usually there are all kinds of things hammering at my consciousness.

But I also know, from years of practice, that in addition to the heart slowing, a second feature is going on at the same time: the cleaning out of the debris of thinking from my mind. It can’t happen while I’m allowing more input of any kind.

Is RESET possible, and is it reliable?

The combination – slowing heartbeat + brain dialysis – ALWAYS works.

The more I do it, the more it works.

The first three breaths are hard. But I’m also out of any other options when I get to this point, and I know it.

I don’t WANT to nap, to block out the world. I want to fix the problems and WORK my way back to sanity.

Too bad. I don’t care what I want. I know what I have to do: I have to close down the computer and block the internet and turn off the phone ringer, and I have to take three slow counted breaths while the Universe of Hurt waits for me impatiently, often requiring one last pass through the circling garbage in my mind before I can start breathing.

And as many more sets of three breaths as it takes.

It is a process which takes time, usually that 35-minute period between lying down, putting in the earplugs if necessary, and putting the eye mask on to block the light.

Rarely, I do it in less time – because that’s all I have.

Occasionally, it takes a second 35-minute period.

But it always starts to work as soon as I start that preemptive rest period, start the first in-breath, hold the first eight counts.

What happens AFTER you click RESET?

The difference, which I just went though, is amazing. Instead of all those clamoring thoughts climbing right back into the saddle and demanding attention, I am at a calm place that can ask them: okay, which of you has to go first?

And the answer is often: none. Because what I need is to stop, put them all on paper, start the meta process of thinking about thinking, and ONLY then picking up one to think about.

I take my time.

A blank sheet of scratch paper serves for a quick listing of the screaming meemies, and the writing starts the thinking of what options are available on each problem, and the listing gets quietly into doing the more obvious logical steps, and we’re off.

Back in a sane land. Back to where things can wait their turn, and wait until there is energy to actually do them, and in some kind of clarity of priorities and timelines.

I can handle them again.

That’s my RESET button. What’s yours?

From PLAN to PUBLISHED, writers make events HAPPEN


It’s the most fun work I can think of, being mistress of all I survey, but sometimes it’s still work, and it takes time, and is subject to all the interruptions Life has to offer.

For all that I didn’t start polishing Book 1 (Pride’s Children: PURGATORY) until I had a complete blueprint and a rough draft of the whole story all the way to the end of Book 3, I’m finding that the original blueprint – even the one from the Great Reorganization – is merely a sketch compared to what I need to actually sit down and write every day.

Suppose you’re building a house, and you have this nice little plot of land on a hillside, and you sit out there and draw a few lines of what it might look like when it’s finished, with a porch here, and a big window in the kitchen with a view of that magnificent dogwood tree…

The house is no more real at that point than a dream, and you can’t go into the bedroom which doesn’t even appear on the drawing, and take a nap.

There’s a bit of work to be done first.

The road from dream to reality is a long one

Once the house is built or the book is finished, it has the solidity that belies its complete lack of existence before that sketch, and somehow it doesn’t FEEL any different than the sketch did, but the concept has absorbed an enormous amount of human time and energy (and money or opportunity cost).

In Spanish we say, ‘Del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho,’ which means, ‘From words to action is a long way.’

Many books never get written.

Well, the reason I haven’t had much to say lately is that I’m just down in the trenches, doing the work, and it isn’t all that exciting.

But it’s incredibly necessary.

Blueprint/outline/storyform – don’t proceed without it

I’m a structuralist and an extreme plotter, partly by nature, and partly because, working on one tiny piece of the quilt at a time as I do, I have to know the pieces will fit together when I finish them.

Book 1 proved the worth, to me, of my methods: I did it exactly the way I said I was going to do it, and it worked and came together and connected and made sense.

Now for Book 2

The blueprint that I have, my Dramatica storyform and its ‘encodings’ – the sum of everything that I’ve put into the little text boxes which are the result of figuring out the structure behind this WIP, or what you might call events illustrating each structural point – was complete in concept, and even had placeholders for everything.

I had two choices: use the long-ago blueprint, and try polishing the rough draft.

Or go through every single piece and decide if it was still the best way to do that part of the story – or if it needed replacing with something better.

A lot was already good and connected and made sense.

What happens during writing?

But I’m more experienced now, and the first part of the story, a developing friendship that left its characters at a particular point with no obvious way forward, is finished.

The characters – big surprise – grew in the writing. Not changed. Grew. Things only hinted in my rough draft and master plan – happened.

That’s the only way I can describe it: until they are written in their final form, things haven’t ‘happened.’

And the blueprint for the next part needed a thorough going-over before being used to make the next set of things ‘happen.’

The eternal problem: picking up the story in the next book

Instead of choosing to understand and execute what I had planned back then, even if it was somehow part of the whole – which would have meant examining every choice I made in the storyform, and reading every bit of text I put in a text box so that I could write that better, I chose to delete most of it.

Not because it was ‘wrong,’ but because making it mine again as a whole would require that I remember why I put it there in the first place, and then that I take the time to decide if I still wanted it quite that way.

I foresaw that it would actually take me longer to go through the steps, for each entry, of figuring out what I meant back then and then deciding whether I still meant it quite that way and changing it to reflect Book 1 where necessary – than to trust that I have enough of the story encoded in my brain as a whole, and just answer all those prompts again from that gestalt.

This, I hope, will have the side effect of making the ‘new’ more connected when I start, and making the revisions – complete rewrites in most cases (as it was in Book 1) – easier when I’m working on my quilt squares.

I didn’t do that in Book 1, because I was too deep in revision by the time I really needed that one-ness, and so I found myself having to figure out whole sections AS I went.

I think this will be easier in the writing phase because I’m putting so much work into the planning phase.

And since I really need to write faster – and a major part of my time in writing the scenes in Book 1 was spent figuring out what and why – this may help me complete the next two books faster, so we can all have the whole story sooner.

Will this help Book 3?

Yes, this means I’ll have to do the same thing again for Book 3.

I naively thought I could do 2 and 3 simultaneously, and then pick up at the end of revising Book 2, and just move right into writing Book 3.

Until I realized how much work the re-planning is.

Book 3’s will have to wait.

I took extensive notes, and I’m feeling out my whole system (I’m not planning to stop writing after I finish the trilogy), and it shouldn’t be nearly as hard as for Book 2, since I won’t go through most of this questioning again, and just do it.

Learning to write is a process of finding out everything there is, and then selecting YOUR writing best practices, and finally getting practice doing it your way.

Even with refinements, and especially when you start out older, this system, if it works for you, is not going to get a lot of future change. This is one of the benefits of being more mature as a LEARNER. [And if some of you are out there, laughing at me because I’m STILL naive, so be it.]

Progress on preparing for writing again?

Those little text boxes for the Dramatica prompts? There are 71 of them, if you don’t count the character appreciations.

I’m almost finished with re-filling them, and I’m pleased that both nothing has changed – and they are filled better and more consciously and, what’s more important for me, more coherently.

They are forming a better ‘set’ than they would have, had I merely tried to remember what I was doing.

And – phew! – they have not hugely changed anything in the story that I care about.

And I have answered a bunch of niggling questions in my mind that I was putting off until ‘later.’

Character appreciations? What is she talking about?

The remaining ones, the character and character relationship apps? There are a LOT of them, but they tend to be shorter and smaller and more obvious – and require only a bit of thought or dialogue to reveal in the final version. Plus many of them carry over from the first book.

Only a few characters change from book to book. I use the Dramatica technique of handoffs: if character A represents something in Book 1, and then dies or leaves or the story moves elsewhere, then someone else is needed to represent the same thing in Book 2 or 3, and may express the ‘something’ differently.

To put that in more understandable terms: George has to go home at the end of Book 1, which will leave Andrew, just at the point where many things are heating up, without the childhood friend he trusts as a sidekick. Who will his replacement be – and how will the replacement deal with the pressures of the job – and will the replacement have the right stuff – and what will the consequences of the change be to Andrew? All questions important to the final end – and all planned in.

Hint: how is Nahrendra like George – and how is he George’s antithesis?

I’ll stop here, having talked forever about something few people will have any interest in.

But if you wondered why there weren’t more posts in between, when I have so many other things to write about, this is the reason: I’m putting in the work, and I need to stay focused until it’s done.

But trust me. It hasn’t been boring.

And it’s all necessary.

What say you? Does structure bore you or bear you up?


Relative silence doesn’t mean no progress


(Fuzzy image of a blue skirt)

I find that, being involved with graphics (learning enough Pixelmator to attempt a cover for Book 1 of Pride’s Children), I am finding myself with nothing to blog about, and I wondered why.

I think it is because I have nothing much to report yet, and the style of my posts has often been ‘reporting back from the trenches.’

When I learn something new that I think might interest or amuse someone else, then I write about it – and share the experience.

I hope there is at least something mildly useful to my readers in what I write about.

And that isn’t true of the graphics because:

Much of what I’m learning is how to achieve specific effects – and my experience of those effects are very much limited to using them for this one particular cover.

The cover isn’t finished – I have nothing to show so that a reader could see what I’m talking about, and graphics should be visual. That, and it takes a lot longer to describe something than to show it.

My level of experience in using graphics software is low and recent – I have nothing to ‘teach’ that a reader can’t figure out more easily than from reading my posts.

Statistically, most indies who design their own covers won’t be using Pixelmator on a Mac.

I read many Photoshop tutorials, but I’d be even lower on the experience ladder in that community, as I don’t have access to the program, have no intention of buying access, and definitely have nothing to add to the knowledge base.

Reading (and writing) are more common activities than doing detailed graphics – so I would expect a lot less interest in a graphics post UNLESS I had something amazing to show, quite unlikely for a beginner.

So I find myself in the position of learning widely and possibly deeply (much more than you would need to enhance photographs), and of keeping thousands of words of detailed notes so I can reproduce effects on a clean copy of everything once I have the ideas worked out, and of having nothing to say.

My notes have pieces such as:

“The shadows are too dark, and I lost the contrast with the arm – so the arm disappeared. Going back to basics I realized the top of the skirt is clumsier than the one I cut from Skirt 5 – but I’ve already put so much work into the skirt I’m hesitant to redo it. The palm of the hand needs some shadow – the reddish glow makes no sense.”


“Fix the right foot. Take picture of daughter’s foot at correct angle, and with light coming from the right direction for the figure and the sunset. Blur tool and paintbrush – toes fixed.”


“NEW important trick: to make a white-to-fade (transparent) gradient, http://on.aol.com/video/how-to-create-a-shining-orb—-pixelmator-172549845 teaches me how.”

Unavoidable interruptions – we all get them

In addition to all this pixel stuff, real life has taken a turn toward more stuff, and includes things like:

“Find a medical specialist that accepts our insurance, has an appointment within a reasonable time, and handles problem X, and has the right certifications.”


“Document EVERYTHING in the process of getting a major corporation to do their job, and send it to them, even though they are being pain about it.”


“Figure out how to use the automatic thermostat for the AC in the chinchilla’s room, install said AC, remember how the controls work, and this time WRITE IT ALL DOWN – it will be the same next year, as it was the last three – why don’t I have notes?”

Plus my assistants quit – and I’m non-functional in the areas I was depending on them, plus all their jobs now have to be reassigned to me, or I have to find someone else. Weeds don’t pull themselves (not that I’ve pulled many lately).

Not much to report

So that’s all this is: a post about why I have nothing much to say, all done in my inimitable long-winded style, filled with incomprehensible detail.

I miss having something to blog ABOUT, and chatting with people online when they comment, but I didn’t want you all to think I’d been IDLE.

Very soon this stuff will jell, and I will be moving back to the short path to publication I’m on, with something to show for all this immersion in an area definitely alien but fascinating.

Teach yourself as much as possible, then find mentors

I am immensely grateful to those who have taken the trouble to explain things with posts full of images and with YouTube videos – I wouldn’t be making ANY progress without them: this stuff is so different from the way I normally think and work and the Pixelmator has thousands of useful features – and VERY limited documentation about those features.

Full manuals seem to be a thing of the past, and I never find the coverage deep enough (the lone exception here has been Scrivener, which has a full manual that has almost everything you could ask in it) in programs, and the online ‘documentation’ which supposedly can be updated more easily I find appalling.

Maybe it’s the explosion of knowledge. So many features are being added that the documentation can’t keep up with the changes. Maybe it’s the expectation of new generations, something we already experience a lot of, that the features on a program shouldn’t NEED documentation, but should be intuitive and easy to learn (ha!).

Maybe I’m just too old for this. And I can’t deny the brain fog is a factor in slowing the process.

In any case, that’s what I’ve been up to: learning. Teaching myself (with help from J.M. Ney-Grimm, who has shortened the learning path more times than I care to count). Doing something that is not me, and liking it.

But not writing much about it.

All I can say is, “I’m working on it!” That will have to do.

What y’all been up to?

What the writer does when bored


Cover design is fun. And hard exacting work. With pixels. And typography. And photographs.

It doesn’t look like anything until it’s done. You will see it then. Right now, it’s a pile of mostly things that haven’t worked. Yet.

If you want to see how it’s done by a pro, read JM Ney-Grimm’s posts: go to the site, and type ‘cover’ into the search box. Read everything.

For your entertainment, and because my eyes are closing and I can’t write a real post but I miss doing it, a blast from the rather recent past:

My notes dated March 18, 2015 at 2:58 PM.

I’m sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for someone. Not for me – it is the someone’s doctor’s visit.

Me, I’m bored.

I just went through the process of finishing the most significant step of a project I was forced to undertake (civic duty and all that), and have gotten it to the point where I email the whole thing (in painful detail) to those who need the information to fix THEIR problem.

I was worried that I might be wrong – but going THROUGH the process and writing it all out showed me that not only was I RIGHT, but that the problem was way bigger than I had thought, and they had all the additional stuff WRONG, too.

So, vindicated for having undertaken the project, finally (it has been HANGING OVER my head for TWO YEARS), I feel pretty good – and I can get back to my writing.

Tools make it easier

Only all I have is the computer (no big external monitor), and the chiclet keyboard that comes with the MacBook (which I only use when FORCED to), and I can only see one page at a time or so, and that is not how I usually WORK, so I’m antsy.

I’ve done everything on the WIP that I can – and that’s saying a lot, because I’m writing/revising/editing the next-to-last scene, which is heavy. I need time, concentration, a nap first, and two hours in which I can let my brain assemble the pieces into a whole.

And I CAN’T do it here.

So I reread everything, and then put it away until I can get back to my desk.

I can’t sleep, work, go anywhere – and I will be interrupted in less than 15 minutes, so what do I do? I write this – and you guys get a post about what a writer does when totally bored?

The answer is: write.

If not on the computer, in a notebook.

I have been known to borrow paper and pens from a hospital nurses’ station and from the chaplain in a different hospital, to ask for writing materials in a hotel or a store if I didn’t bring anything.

Get the thoughts OUT of the HEAD, capture them on the PAGE, and the brain is happy and entertained.

The doctor comes out – I close the laptop. The doctor disappears again – I open it back up.

Really, this is a total core dump. And there’s nothing in the core!


Normal people play games on their smart phones. I don’t have one, and I’m not normal!

What do YOU do when totally bored? Are you a reader or a writer?

Early morning writing: becoming ME again


I have been battling early morning starts.

I got to the computer chair, but I wasn’t making the decision to block the net for several hours and get my writing done, even though that’s what I always want to do, and it’s the only time I can (before the world crashes in and demands things).

So I stopped to have a think – usually a good idea.

DATA: What is actually going on?

And I found that the first thing I was demanding of my bleary-eyed self was a huge decision: blocking out all my writing time, and getting to work.

And I couldn’t make that important a decision – yet. So I’d surf for a while, check the emails, searching for something ‘out there’ that would get me started, all the while dumping the vast garbage dump that is the internet (even when you confine yourself to a few well-known blogs) into my brain for composting.

Don’t even ask me to do yoga or go for a walk – the decision-making engine isn’t on yet, and I wake up stiff as a board.

It occurred to me I was going about it wrong: what if the answer wasn’t ‘out there,’ the trigger, the jump start, the on switch? What if reading and commenting and bookmarking – just because my brain wasn’t up to full speed – was actually physically counterproductive.

One of the most difficult jobs we do is to mine for gold nuggets from the tons of ore – because it takes brain power to mine, and the brain ends up loaded with stuff which must be cleaned out before it can think.

Copying my writing process: who am I?

I do that when I switch pov on my characters: I take some time to ‘become the character again.’ I re-read the character’s last scene, and the end of the previous scene (if the previous scene was a different character). I take the time, think it through.

What if the first thing I have to do every morning, as in every scene, is to become ME again?

Instead of looking at the early morning planning time as: check the to do list, pick the important stuff, load the brain up, whip it into action, hurry, time is running out – what if I see it as (though it doesn’t feel this way – maybe from years of assault?) time to remember who I think I am, and to let a positive attitude (preceded by smile and prayer) to creep into my brain BEFORE I subject it to the long list of things I WOULD do today (most of which won’t get done)?

Am I reinforcing my own brain fog?

What I really want: to write

I am a writer. That is a constant PLEASURE.

Regardless of how my writing time is spent, in principle I allow myself some each day – because that’s what I’d do if I had no pressures on me.

Writing is ME.

Writing is pure JOY – and I do it playing in my own mind, with only myself for company.


I don’t need those people I keep looking for on the internet, in my family, in emails which sometimes come but most often do not.

My best play time is spent alone, unless I’m too tired to enjoy it.

Writing is how I communicate with my soul, though I will confess: NOT all of what I think will ever get written. Someone may later read my words and be hurt. I can’t keep frustration – we all have it – completely out, but I try not to do it deliberately, and certainly don’t want people to be hurt by what I really think – which I do only part of the time, anyway. We ALL have relationships with other people which VARY by the minute. Relationships are the sum of what we feel and think PLUS what we let out, conscious that we are not perfect ourselves.

Now that I know what I WANT, what do I DO?

Behavior – which includes speech – IS in our control.

Even thoughts – indulge the thought or work to replace it with a more loving Christian one?

Think of a pink elephant in the room.

Now imagine painting nice blue spots on it with a big brush.

Controlling your thoughts isn’t that hard.

And not having to deal with the huge playground/temptation/bottomless pit that is the internet before I’m even human seems to help. A breather. For my soul.

Update after a week: It is working!

I block the internet for a half hour only, and use that time to just sit at the computer, wake up, start the day by becoming ME again.

I’m starting the day with a brain just a physically muddled – that has to do with the disease, and there doesn’t seem to be a way of modifying it (yet): not caffeine, not breakfast or skipping breakfast, not sleeping little or a lot.

But, the same way I become a character before I write from that pov, I’m becoming myself before I have to face the world with it.

After the half hour, I take a superquick (less than 10 minutes, with the timer on) look through the emails and ask myself if things can wait. 99% of the time they can – and it seems so much easier to re-block the net for a bunch of hours and get to work than it had been.

Lesson: keep watching yourself.

Somewhere in your own data may be the answers to your questions. You know yourself better than anyone.

Does any of this resonate with your process for getting started – and around you wasting your own time? Or is it just me?

Careful proofreading is painful – but doable


I want to:

1) have no typos in my published work, and

2) avoid pain.

These aims are incompatible.

Proofreading your own work: a professional promise

I just proofread an important letter I am writing to a corporation for a subject of public advocacy that is apparently something only I can do (if it fails, you will hear about it).

Two pages.

I’ve been writing it for two years.

A very nice German fellow who discovered something similar and wrote blog posts about it, requiring a major worldwide corporation to mend its ways, was kind enough to help me, and worked with me on the letter. A year ago. Yes, I’m that slow.

Needless to say, with that many iterations between two people, in English but with a German correspondent (whose English is far superior to my almost non-existent German) on one end, the document had a lot of tiny gotchas where things had been moved around, edited, deleted…

I almost rewrote from scratch – but would have lost many of the nuances we’d built in. No go.

Add in brain fog. It took a long while.

The mechanics of proofing, newbie version

So I threw it up, latest version, on the screen.

And I started into it with all the tools of the proofreader:

I changed the font – edited, took a screenshot after making the corrections [s].

I changed the font size [s].

I changed to italics – found out the new font didn’t have italics – lost all my formatting. So I replaced with a different font, and located the things which needed to be bolded for emphasis again [s].

I turned on Speech in Scrivener, and went bonkers trying to turn it off when it brought the first error into my ken. Speech is at the bottom of the edit menu, and has no keyboard shortcut.

I went into the preferences, edited the formatting bar to include the Speech icon.

I selected paragraphs one at a time – then Speech only reads the selected text. Whew. Much better [s].

NOTE: hearing your text read to you, even by the pretty-good speech facility, is excruciatingly painful.

I printed it on paper – oddly enough, that didn’t work for me, no more typos found – or maybe I should have started there.

It hurts – the pain is probably good for your character

I couldn’t face the job. Procrastination, according to Alan Lakein (How to get control of your time and your life) occurs for two reasons: the task is Overwhelming. Or the task is Unpleasant.

This was both. I’m only doing it because it is my duty as a citizen, and said corporation could squash me like a bug merely by waving an attorney or two at me.

I hope they don’t.

The results of proofing are worth the effort.

I did the job. Two letter pages, closely argued. Trying to sound intelligent and committed and with further resources to sic on them if they give me trouble (y’all will help, right?)

The letter is in the outgoing mailbox (snail mail).

My stomach still hurts.

Celebrate! Always celebrate victories, however small!

I celebrated with mozzarella sticks for lunch.

I cannot imagine proofreading a 150K word novel this way.

And that’s next week’s task. Ouch. Even with lots of promised help (thanks, Lily).

Proofing tips that have worked for you but are not on the regular lists? Favorite tips for proofreading? Thanks!

Thanks to Quozio.com for the quote software with the pretty text and pictures.

Writing tip: NOT jumping the gun

*A shorty.


Patience in writing is also a virtue

When a plot has events in it carefully laid out to happen in a particular order and sequence, I have found myself in the position of having a strong desire to ‘get on with it.’

To locate a piece of action, or a chunk of motivation, or a reward for the reader closer to the front of the story than it was originally planned.

This plays havoc with plots:

‘Grab the girl, already.’

‘Shoot the bastard.’

‘Is she STILL pregnant? Can’t we get that baby born?’

And then I remember process. And laying the foundation. And footwork. And good storytelling: keeping the reader wanting the next piece and in edge-of-the-seat, gripping, unbearable suspense – and I stop worrying so hard.

I worked things out in advance, and not much has changed. This can’t happen until that motivation, and that motivation until this other requirement, and that requirement until this prerequisite…

I worked back from the revelation to the steps necessary for the reader to BELIEVE the event when it happens, and there is a pace and a timing structure in place for a reason, and the reader is just going to have to trust me that I’m moving as fast as I possibly can, not dragging my feet, and getting her to a climax with a sense of satisfaction.

And, knowing that a Book is the first in a trilogy, she isn’t going to get the Happily Ever After (HEA) ending quite yet. But I will strive to have the Happy For Now (HFN) be a reasonable stopping place.

Don’t jump the gun – it leads to motive-less actions and hurried prose.

And Dei ex machina (if I’m doing Latin plurals right).

Enjoy the trip.


*Shorties: A place for the quick thoughts that don’t get a huge blog post.

Writing can’t compensate for no sleep

If your only problem is procrastination – or having to work a real job or take care of children, and that’s why you can’t write – some notes I took a couple of days ago will show you why I can’t write today – and why I’m so d*#&^d slow. Maybe it will make you feel better!

Note carefully: this is NOT a whine. It is an attempt to manage myself better. I try. Honest, I try.

January 5, 2015 at 10:48 AM

My REAL problem is and has always been that I want the appearance of making a free choice at all times – knowing perfectly well that my mind is subject to all kinds of constraints AGAINST free choice most of the time.

For example: right now. I resisted blocking the internet for over two hours, because I was unwilling to admit that I’m operating on autopilot, an autopilot set by a lifetime of bad habits.

How did this particular morning qualify as NOT free will?

Well, I finally forced myself to go to bed at 3AM. Not good.

I woke up at 8:30 (do the math), got out of bed (to keep me getting up as early as possible: one of my goals), took my pills, and told myself I would get right back to sleep asap, because that was the logical thing to do.

I didn’t turn on Freedom, and block the internet so I could start writing – because that requires willpower, and there’s no willpower possible in my mind when I’m this tired.

So, of my own free will (operating on what?), I decided to just check my email (not much there new since 3AM), catch up on anything new on the blogs I follow (thus stuffing my head with my debris I don’t have the capacity to process right now), and run a few Sudokus (KNOWING they would show horrible times which merely confirms what I already know: I’m too tired to write).

I think my mind does this because it knows perfectly well that I can’t write when I’m too tired.

But I hate having to rest, thus taking my mind out of the state of being in control for more time (the mind likes to be in control).

So, instead, the mind decides to use its control time ‘as well as possible.’ Which means… this is getting circular.

The root cause

For me, with the CFS and the brain fog, it is a constant battle between ‘taking care of myself’ like a baby, and ‘feeling human.’ Adult human.

My limitations don’t necessarily impose NEW constraints, but they definitely push me into the realm of overwhelmed much sooner and harder than if I were in my right mind.

Getting real control of my mind and myself involves doublethink: give up control and get some rest, and MAYBE you will get some time ‘feeling human.’

I hate resting – because even though it usually works, it feels like going backward.

And it comes down to the most basic part of being ill: I shouldn’t have to be. I’m still battling the basic facts of my life: I am not who I used to be, and will probably never be that person again, and I resent the heck out of that.

I don’t WANT to be noble and inspiring and writing IN SPITE OF CFS. I want to NOT HAVE CFS.

The consequences: I only hurt myself.

Da rules

Sigh. Again.

Okay. I’ve been up over two hours, so that means, according to the rules of my existence, that I need a nap.

I’ve managed to drink the protein shake BEFORE the nap – another rule – so that I’m not starving when I wake up, and then lose more time because the shake is cold and that makes me sleepy.

I turned the heated mattress pad on – another rule – so I’m not too cold to sleep if that’s what my body needs.

I’ve written SOMETHING – this – another rule: get started with the writing SOMEHOW.

I’m starting a new scene, which means – another rule – that I finished one yesterday, YAY/I’m awesome/fist pump required, and I’m slowly moving in the direction I insist I want.

I’m focusing on my mental condition and writing something down about it – another rule: get data whenever possible, to mine for long-term information about the self, to be used to refine that self.

I’m turning off the lights, sleeping the computer (so it doesn’t beep at me), putting the cellphone near me (so I don’t have to get up to answer it if it rings), getting the eyemask (so the light doesn’t keep me from sleeping/resting), making sure the industrial-strength noise-and-light-blocking headgear is next to my bed (in case some other human decides to make noise, like my neighbor with the leaf blower, or the garbage collection folks, or the tree-cutters-and-grinders – or the wind): rules. Rules. RULES.

Aargh! Please excuse me while I put myself to bed for my next nap. I’m getting grumpy again, and it might help.

When I get up, I’ll run through the ‘at least’ list – to revive my sense of gratitude because things could be so much worse – and get to work.

Scene 19.3 isn’t going to write itself, you know.

January 5, 2015 at 12:43 PM

Two hours! Two hours! That’s how long it took (not really surprising after that short a night’s sleep, but…Two hours!).
I’m more coherent, peeved at myself, woken up from a violent dream where I was trying to integrate all those pieces, and behind.

And since my housekeeper/assistant/whip-cracker comes at 3, I can’t just extend the writing time to compensate.

At least – 19.2 is finished – YAY!

At least – I don’t have to go to work.

At least – I don’t have a crying baby, or a sick kid, or a current crisis in the family (not an urgent one, anyway).

At least – I live in a heated house (the wind was a front which blew all night, bringing New Jersey’s temperatures down from 60 to 30 overnight).

At least – my lovely and capable spouse has us well supplied with food.

At least… the list is ENDLESS for the things I am thankful for and appreciate and don’t take for granted.

And one more piece of data – this post – registers the change before and after sleep (pay attention, Alicia!), showing how useful those darned naps are when your brain is brain-fogged and iffy and refuses to accept that we – it and I – are not the same as we were 25 years ago.

Not bad.

Maybe some day I’ll actually win this battle.

How about you – what do you keep having the same argument about in your life?

Problems using the daily writing time? Check your patterns

Things are rarely truly random – we are creatures of habit

I try to see patterns in my life, especially when I do inexplicable things. Things I KNOW will interfere with writing.

I know I need to get to bed by a regular hour. Then I will wake up early enough so that I KNOW there really isn’t much out there on the web of new content I MUST keep up with, and I’m in reasonably good mental shape: I use Freedom to block the web, and then get to work writing, using the early muddle-headedness in writing about writing, or in writing about why I can’t seem to get started on the writing today, and we’re off… and writing, in my safe little internet-blocked writing world.

And the system works its way reasonably quickly to actually working on the work-in-progress, and having something to say, and figuring out where to go next. Working the ‘process’ steps.

But late nights work out badly the next day.

I wake up at the same time – but without having anywhere near enough sleep, and get up and try to function anyway, sensing that sticking to a ‘usual’ time to be up is somehow beneficial, leading eventually to my brain always being up and ready at this time. Continue reading