The internal writer paradox

For a few years, I was on a tight publishing schedule. One short or novella every month, with the occasional month off in between series.

This was a lot work. I don’t think anybody who isn’t a writer can truly understand how much work it was. I was writing stories 12 to 18 months before publishing them. Workshopping them for months, and then polishing and publishing. This includes making covers, formatting, and so, so much more.


Then I stopped. I wanted to get back to my novels. I wanted less deadlines and more creativity.


One year later, and I have written anything over a week. But I have been writing.


None of it is being typed, but I’m writing and rewriting scenes in my head, like constantly. On the plus side, I’m still working. On the downside, no words on paper.

Also, I keep burning dinner, because my brain is in the Haven, not in the kitchen.


So while I know, intellectually, that I’m writing, emotionally… that number counter isn’t going up and that chapter is still in pieces. Keeping up morale for the job is hard when I don’t have tangible things to focus on, yet I don’t see the point of writing the damn chapter until I’m sure of where it’s going.

I’m getting caught in my own paradox of working, but not writing.


That endlessly blinking cursor can be a such a burden some days. And even though I know that when I get back to work I will likely have two or three chapters properly arranged and ready to go, I’m still not writing.

And there really isn’t anything to do, except keep working that dialogue and working through the brick walls of “but character A wouldn’t do that” and “Character B wouldn’t be there.”

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have every little thing worked out and can get some words on paper.

At very least, maybe that means I won’t burn dinner.



author photo cropped
Kate Whitaker writes for fun and profit from the woods of the Olympic Peninsula. You can most likely find her sitting at her kitchen table yelling at kids as she tries to figure out a new way to kill made up monsters. She has a newsletter and a comic, and you can follow her on twitter.

The Naughty Heart

Louise Redmann - Unpenned

Have you ever looked at the heart shape properly? I mean, really looked at it?

It’s naughty.

It’s sexy.

It’s romantic.

It’s everything it’s supposed to be for representing love.

Look at it this way:

heart photo

We can imagine the female anatomy – breasts leading down to the vulva – the bottom is even in a V shape, and if you turn the heart on its side, the top looks like a B!

Yet if we turn it the other way up:

– lo and behold we have a pair of testicles, and the suggestion of a man’s love member (since it’s February, I’m not going to use the word ‘penis’ because it’s not a particularly lovely word…).

So what’s the history of the heart-shape as we know it?

Some scholars argue that the shape originates from artists trying to depict the heart with three chambers, according to ancient medical texts…

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A Writer’s Life

“You look crazy.”

“Huh?” I say to my well-meaning husband. His  words, while amused and affectionate, have pulled me from my world. Doesn’t he know that I have dialogue to run?

“You’re talking to yourself. Your hands are even moving.” Full disclosure: my bio-mom’s family comes from Sicily, and people who study such things, know exactly which village by my hand motions.

I roll my eyes as I lose the thread. Edie had been talking smack, but it’ll have to wait. “Do you need something?”

“No.” He’s smiling at me.


“Do the kids need something?”


“Then why are you…” I don’t want to say “bothering me” but that’s the phrase that’s attempting to escape.

He smile at me. “You look crazy.”

“And?” My patience is wearing very thin at this point.

“Well, we’re at our son’s robotics competition and you’re walking around, talking to yourself.”


I heave a huge sigh. “There are four teams ahead of him. I  know what’s going on.”

“How’s the scene going?” I can tell he’s trying not to laugh.

“Not well. I’m not exactly sure who’s POV to use, or if I should cut directly to the action. Right now, I’m contemplating a quiet scene, and I don’t know if that’s right for the overall story. So I’m trying out dialogue.” I glare at him. “Did you need something?”

He finally laughs, soft chuckles that don’t carry far. “Yes. You. In this moment. And not looking crazy.”

My fingers drum on my twitching leg as I stare blankly at the stage where a small cube with arms manipulates Legos.

(Full disclosure: This video does not feature my kids or their robot.)

Two seconds later, Marley is clutching his guitar and flirting with Brenda. I’m not sure if this scene will work either, but I’m enjoying the hell out of their banter. Those two are always good for lightening the mood. And the book has been fairly heavy so far…

“You’re doing it again.” He’s laughing out loud, now.

“I really don’t care.” I try to hold on to the scene, but talking banishes the image of Marley laughing on the beach.


“Do you really wander around talking to yourself outside of the house? Don’t you realize how crazy you look?”

Our youngest, all of seven, though cynicism and emotional manipulation makes him seem at least two decades older, plops into my lap. He munches on a granola bar and flaps a hand at his father. “Yeah, but, dad, mom is crazy. How did you miss that when you married her?”

My husband loses it at this point, and his big-belly laugh echoes in the gym. My two oldest children glance around the makeshift divider that has been erected. We smile and wave before turning our attention back the robots.

I make it through the end of the round, but once the setup for the next round starts, my mind is, again, in the Haven. This time, I’m trying a fight practice scene with Barb and Matt.

“You really can’t help it, can you?” My husband heavy, warm arm slips around my shoulders.

“What can I say? I’m a writer. Also, still not sure what the next scene should be…”


author photo cropped
Kate Whitaker writes for fun and profit from the woods of the Olympic Peninsula. You can most likely find her sitting at her kitchen table yelling at kids as she tries to figure out a new way to kill made up monsters. She has a newsletter and a comic, and you can follow her on twitter.


What makes a writer? by May Burnett


Inventing stories and scenes inside the mind is one of the hallmarks of the writer, a habit we share with many people who never bother to write their ephemeral creations down. However, not everyone does it. Quite a few simply cannot if they try. I have even met people who seemed unable to follow a simple “What would happen if…?” scenario, getting upset that I was wasting their time with something unreal, even though we were just chatting over lunch. Perhaps they were never told stories in their childhood, or discouraged from using their innate imagination, and I can only pity them. (It seemed more tactful to change the subject, than try to discover the origins of their inability.) Continue reading

Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon: (Another) Review.


I know, I know, this is a concept that is discussed time and time again! But the more I learn about writing, the more I understand what this simple plan can bring to a novel.

Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) by Debra Dixon was the first writing craft book I bought, and now having read several other excellent books, this is still the one I repeatedly come back to. Why? Because for my easily confused, pantser brain, the message is simple.

The premise of the book is that a plot can be broken down into three parts:

A character wants a goal, because he/she is motivated but conflict stands in his/her way.

Typically, a character will have both an external and internal GMC, with the internal outlining a characters emotional arc. “If you can see it, touch it, taste it, hear it, or smell it . . . that’s external,” the book explains and uses movies, such as The Wizard of Oz, to demonstrate the idea:

External: Dorothy wants to go home, because Aunt Em is sick, but the wicked witch stands in her way.

Internal: She wants to find a place where she’s happy (think Somewhere Over The Rainbow), because she’s miserable and always in trouble, but she doesn’t know what she really wants.

As a pantser with aspirations of becoming a plotter, I’ve tried The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson, The Six Stage Story Structure by Michael Hague, but my disorganised, right-brained mind, always rebels. These two GMC sentences, however, I can manage and never start a story without having them in place. It provides the essential who, what, why and why not.

“If you can trace every action in your book to a unique character’s goal and motivation, then the character will create the plot right before your eyes.”

I have found this to be true. Not only for the story as a whole, but also at scene level. When I get stuck, it’s almost always because I’ve lost sight of what one or more characters want, and why.

“Every scene should illustrate a character’s progress toward the goal, or bring the character into conflict with opposing forces, or provide the character with an experience that strengthens or changes his motivation.”

But, although at the most basic level those sentences may appear easy, they are not. It’s easy to confuse internal with external, or to discover your character goal is actually her motivation. Or the GMC may be beautifully laid out in the first chapter, but then there is no follow-through, especially if you’re writing romance like me. It’s very tempting to get distracted by the developing relationship between your characters. The romance maybe the heart of the story, but it’s not, the book stipulates, a character goal:

“The heroine’s goal in a romance novel is not to fall in love and get married. Ditto for the hero. The last thing on their minds is meeting a soul mate. In fact, it’s darned inconvenient. Romance will be a conflict for your characters.”

The book additionally covers  black moments, scene development, query letters, turning points plus a breakdown of the movies Casablanca, The Client and Ladyhawke. Also included is an example of Miss Dixon’s own query letter for her book Mountain Mystic.

Every writer has to find their own way, and different things click with different people, but this is the book that works for me. Debra Dixon is known in her own writing for pushing the boundaries of category romance, in particular with her book about a hit woman, Bad to the Bone (1996), which I recommend it to anyone wanting to write in this field.

For help outlining GMC and additional character development, the Mid-Michigan chapter of the RWA has a great chart here:


Lizzie Hermanson is a wife, mother and talented procrastinator. She writes contemporary romance when her cat isn’t hogging the keyboard and loves Happy Ever Afters. Find her @lizziehermanson


Balancing Characters


I’m making soup, tonight. Pumpkin soup with some other veg, turmeric and cayenne. I’ve made this soup several times over the past two months because I like it of an evening and it’s healthy. Why am I waffling about soup? Because the other day I changed my recipe – I left out parsnip and it changed the balance of flavours in a way I didn’t like. So today I’ve added it back in, with a bit more for good measure 😀

I think writing a story is about balance. We can add too much internal thought, or too little internal thought, and the flavour of the story will change. We can add a dollop of spice, or too much spice, and the flavour will change. So the questions must be asked: What kind of story is it? And do we want the story to fit genre, or not?

We need a balance of characters to represent different aspects of the story. Maybe we have a character who always sees the humour in a situation and maybe we need a pessimist to balance out the humours. Maybe we have someone who thinks they know it all only to find out they don’t, and someone who thinks they know nothing when, in fact, they know more than they think they do.  Maybe we have a protagonist and antagonist, but do our other characters balance each other? Each character should bring a different flavour to the story, and, depending on how strong we want that flavour to be, we can enhance that quality or dilute it a little.

So, with balancing characters in mind, let’s play a game of word association. I’ll begin by putting a characteristic down, and let’s see where we go in the comments!

My word: ‘Know-it-all’

What comes into your mind? Or if you want to change characteristic, write a new one and we can all say what comes into our heads. This is a useful tool for adding depth to characters, too:)

Happy NaNoWriMo!

For those not in the know, it’s National Novel Writing Month.

One month, 30 days, 50,ooo words… GO!

I really love NaNoWriMo. I’ve written several first drafts doing this, and actually won half the time I’ve done a WriMo. This year, I’m playing a bit of a NaNo Rebel.

I’ve not writing a novel, as much as a series of short stories for my newsletter.


Because shame is for people without student loans!

Which kind of helps me feel more accomplished. Every day, I’ve writing one story, minimum, usually one and a half. So every single day I get that little thrill of not only hitting word goal, but also of finishing something. Not to mention, I’ll end up with about three years worth of material.

And it’s the little things that make live worth living.


So little, so worth it…

I recommend NaNo for anyone looking to get into the habit of writing, for experienced authors who need a swift kick in the butt to get that draft written, and for people who just love a challenge.

Are there downsides to NaNo?

Does a bear poo in the woods?


Charmin has told us that the answer to that question is YES.

Your draft will be messy and need extensive editing, but… for me, that’s any first draft. NaNo is basically how I normally write, but on a caffeine high. I bang out words until it’s done, then I refine. It’s just that once a year, a whole ton of people cheer me on.

And it feels good to know just how many people to see words on paper.

So yes, if you aren’t doing NaNo, I encourage you to give it a shot next year.

If you are doing NaNo, wanna do some word sprints?


author photo cropped
Kate Whitaker writes for fun and profit from the woods of the Olympic Peninsula. You can most likely find her sitting at her kitchen table yelling at kids as she tries to figure out a new way to kill made up monsters. She has a newsletter and a comic, and you can follow her on twitter.

Creating a Novel…This is the way I roll…

Do you ever wonder where an author creates, imagines, and unfolds the story that has to be told? Like a few of my author friends, I find myself jotting down notes on just about anything on hand. Even using grocery or restaurant receipts if I’ve changed purses and forgot to toss in my trusty notebook. Without pen and paper, I’ll never keep remember the one line that’s a must for my story.
A vast majority of my writing has been spent in the comfort of my oversized recliner. And thank goodness it’s big because I share the space with my precious apricot poodle named Macy. She happens to think she shares the space with me instead of the other way around. I couldn’t resist sharing her usual spot with her head sprawled out on my keyboard.
Other favorite places to write include, my bed (especially in the mornings) or enjoying beautiful cool temperatures on the patio. Too many hours to count are spent at the dining room table with dozens of hummingbirds swarming the feeder. There’s something about those beautiful birds that help me relax so I can get through the pits of hell AKA writers block. (Notice the Sonic drink….keep reading and you’ll see they are everywhere!)
…And for those moments the story takes off in my mind and I’m all to thankful when I’ve harbored my laptop deep inside a too-big of a purse while sitting at places such as Sonic. (Don’t judge me, LOL!) Several of the best scenes I’ve written came from sipping a Route 44 Coke Zero in the middle of cars zipping all around 🙂
And then there’s the junk food that help make it happen, LOL!!!
For the most part creating characters, plots, and scenes are fun and exciting…but it can also be a pull your hair out/bang your head against the wall journey. Along the way of writing, editing, and re-writing, I found I needed a place to be serious. Where I can shut out the world, and focus with a do-not-disturb sign on hand. With the house still filled with kids, I didn’t have a room to spare to call mine. However I did have a place! Several years ago, we purchased an inexpensive armoire from Wal-Mart and placed it in our foyer for an old desktop. There’s a partial dividing wall separating the area from the living area. Since no one ever uses this space anymore, I decided to stake claim and call in my own. With a few small purchases to brand it the way I wanted, I now have my own writing cave. Yes, it’s tiny…but it’s mine! And I adore it.
There’s a ton of dreamy writing spaces on Pinterest and I have some on my boards. Browse over and enjoy 🙂
And for Kathryn L. James, this is a sneak peek at how it’s done!
Happy reading and writing!
Until next time,
Kathryn L James (KJ)
Kathryn James lives in a southern small town with her husband and kids. Being a hopeless romantic, she loves to read and write about bad-boy sexy alpha males and a strong heroine. She weaves her characters along a roller coaster ride full of angst before they reach their HEA. The beach is one of her favorite places to relax and write. But most days, when she’s writing, you can find her snuggled under a blanket in a recliner with her sweet apricot poodle curled up beside her. She’s loves diet coke, and is certain it helped her stay awake pecking away on her laptop writing her debut novel Crazy Beautiful Lies and a short Crazy Beautiful Kiss in an anthology Story of a Kiss. She’s currently working on a wicked hot novel, Chasing Wicked. 
To connect with Kathryn:

Pets in Romance, by May Burnett

Many writers and artists keep or have owned pets; there seems to be a special affinity between cats and writers in particular.  They provide companionship in what can be a rather lonely profession. In this collection (under one of my other pen names) you can find some quotes from famous artists about their pets.


How a person feels about and treats animals is an excellent gauge of their character, a fact that has been exploited by fiction writers countless times. A responsible, nurturing person – the kind who will make a first-rate spouse and parent – is fond of, and looks after their pets. On the other hand, a single kick at an animal will signal, irrevocally, that readers are supposed to hate a new character.

In Georgette Heyer’s classic romance The Grand Sophy the heroine, Sophy, arrives at her aunt’s town residence not only with her Spanish stallion, but a dog, a monkey and a parrot (the latter two as gifts for the children). From her very first entrance you know this is no ordinary young lady.

In another book by the same author, Frederica, an unruly big mongrel named Lufra chases the cows in Green Park as Frederica walks him, and is only saved from the authorities by a noble marquis, who pretends that the animal is a rare “Beluchistan Hound” smuggled into the country at great expense.

In Arabella, the elegant Mr. Beaumaris accepts an ugly mongrel as his constant and incongruous companion, shocking society, because he did not want to disappoint the girl he is courting.

These incidents provide occasions for the future romantic interests to interact and show their mettle – they also remain in readers’ memory long after more generic romances have faded.

Perhaps conforming to a paticularly British prejudice, in Heyer’s works you can tell the good guys by their having dogs, while the villains tend to prefer cats.


Of course pets can be an interesting addition to any genre, not just romance. In J.D. Robb’s (aka Nora Roberts) In Death series,  Eve and Roarke have a tomcat. Cats and dogs feature prominently in “cozy” mysteries. Shifter romances on the other hand rarely feature pets, since the main character is half animal himself or herself.

In my own romances I have also used pets here and there, mostly dogs. In Margaret’s Turn, the hero gives Margaret a guard dog after a burglary, an early sign of his desire to protect her. In Catching a Rook, the hero’s unwanted fiancée dislikes dogs, so he sends for his favorite hound as one of several ploys to make her cry off. Here the animal serves to underscore their incompatibility.


While animal characters cannot talk,  depending on a writer’s skill they are excellent foils for the human characters, and can be highly memorable in their own right. Think of romance books and films you have enjoyed, where a pet has played an important part … why not include one in your own next story or novel, if it fits?

Before I say good-bye, here is a foto of my own dog Millie, who keeps me company while I write and edit, and ensures that I go out and get some fresh air every once in a while. She is a soothing and lovely dog, the best-behaved I have ever owned.


May Burnett writes historical romance series as well as fantasy and non-fiction (under other pen names.) She lives in Austria and loves animals.