Nov 30, 2017

Dealing With Writer's Block

I knew this would eventually happen.  After five years of constant obsession over writing, editing, and improving my craft, I knew I would eventually hit a wall.  And, in true Susan Allred fashion, this writer's block is spectacular. Not spectacular as in, "this is so much fun I must do this every winter." More like "is this ever going to end? I have stories to write this century."

And it hasn't been just novel writing. The inspiration for our mystery game business has dried up, I have difficulty editing for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and I posted all of 238 words for NaNoWriMo in the month of November. Sigh. That's still 238 more words than I wrote in October.

Every day I sit at my computer with a list of different topics I could be writing about. And every day, I stare at a blank screen. I've plotted my Tim Reaper book twice, hoping to get the creative juices flowing. I've read other author's books. I've listened to a variety of audible books. I consider story lines as I'm driving and falling asleep, and have post-it notes all around my work space with ideas and prompts to motivate me to work.

I pray. I read my scriptures. Yesterday I went to the temple in hopes of finding the peace I need to begin working again. This blog is the closest thing to writing I've done all month. I'll take it.

As I struggle to find the creativity I need to push through this quagmire of creative mud, I'm reminded of those in the scriptures who endured hardships much more difficult than mine for years, sometimes decades, before finding relief.  I'm reminded that this minor struggle is a twinkle in the fabric of time, and it will pass. 

Until then, I take a deep breath, set my stories aside, and focus on my family during this holiday season.  Maybe what my mind is really telling me is that I need to spend more time with the little ones while they're still in my home. Make new Christmas memories, bake cookies, visit friends and loved ones, and serve those around me. 

What is a few months of writer's block if it means strengthening family and relationships and truly celebrating the birth of our Savior? So, I guess for now, I will continue to plot my stories while they're fresh in my head. And the true writing will begin in January. Sigh.  This too shall pass.

Nov 25, 2017


Does the God of all the universe and all within the expanse of eternity care about my measly writing goals? Does it matter one bit if I craft a perfect paragraph, finally locate the key to my research, design a stunning book cover, type The End on a manuscript?

In the same way I cheer on my young grandchildren when they learn a new skill or stretch in anyway, I think He does. I think the act of writing, of linking words together  like beads on a string is a significant part of eternity. There’s a lot of dark influences in the world; anything we can do to push back the darkness even a little bit is worth doing.

Dieter F Uchdorf said in October 2008:
“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.
Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty.
Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty—and I am not talking about the process of cleaning the rooms of your teenage children.
You might say, “I’m not the creative type. When I sing, I’m always half a tone above or below the note. I cannot draw a line without a ruler. And the only practical use for my homemade bread is as a paperweight or as a doorstop.”
If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are spirit daughters of the most creative Being in the universe. Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination.
But to what end were we created? We were created with the express purpose and potential of experiencing a fulness of joy. Our birthright—and the purpose of our great voyage on this earth—is to seek and experience eternal happiness. One of the ways we find this is by creating things.”
How does this apply to writing? Have you ever found yourself caught up in a plot line, enthused about  how well that part turned out, felt a swelling sense of accomplishment reading over words you personally strung together? In a very small (but valuable!) way, that’s a shadow of God’s creations. After the earth was created, Genesis records the Creator stepping back and saying, “It is good.” Not spectacularly overwhelmingly awesomely wonderful, but good. Our writing is like that. Perfection is a process. Anything we learn in this world becomes part of us, our very being. Learning to expand our skills in communication and expression is not sneeze-worthy.

In Alma 34 we read:
 Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
 Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
 But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.

I don’t have flocks or fields or crops. I’m not really an animal lover, and this is the first year in twenty-seven I didn’t plant a garden. What I do have is a desire to write. For a while, I felt funny praying for help in my writing, but old Alma had a point; if it matters to me, it’s worth praying over. 

Sometimes, usually in that place between awake and asleep, inspiration will strike me and I’ll pick up paper and pen. Ideas for a new book, a plot twist, a way to untangle written dialogue, a nudge to write that article I’ve been putting off; often, ideas flow faster than I can write them down, like a waterfall of inspiration. Irrelevant things, perhaps, in the scheme of things, but it’s a reminder that my attempts at creating are noticed outside of my own mind. Sometimes I can sense a heavenly cheering section, encouraging me on, imperfect though my attempts may be. 

Waffling about writing? Feeling like you’re not good enough? Get back to it anyway! And don’t forget to pray. Help stands waiting, I’m certain of it. 

Nov 14, 2017

Lost in Life Events

by Terri Wagner

Once upon a time not so long ago, I would get up at 4:30 am, exercise, shower, commute an hour one way, work, get home, walk the dogs, jump on the computer and write for hours. What happened? In at least two years I've written maybe 10 pages. Re-reading them recently, they are good. But I have little desire to continue the story. Tried working on another story....nothing. It's like I caught something worse than writer's block. Has anyone else experienced this?

In a sleazy effort to redeem myself to my writing partner, I started the ole life-events routine. You know how it goes...things have been so difficult. Work is just crazy. Dad passed away (that maybe legit), losing my furry pals, moving back into my house, dealing with financial concerns about the get the picture.

A more honest assessment would be Netflix. What an invention. It's almost like Star Trek. I dreamed about just asking the computer to play a certain song, video, TV show, movie, endless possibilities. DVR is another great distraction. I could go all spiritual and say I'm a gospel doctrine teacher and lately I've had to do every Sunday (I have a sorta partner, she's gone a lot). I could say I'm working on being more physically fit, but the truth is....the desire is gone.

So how do I get it back?

Nov 11, 2017

Who Cares About Cookie Cutters?

Who Cares About Cookie Cutters?

Well, I do. They're common enough tools, but I value those snippets of bent metal, from the early tin ones to the modern steel or aluminum ones. Don’t get me started on the tacky plastic ones; they have no soul.  I own about 300, and the collection goes on. Some are my great-grandmother’s, my grandmother’s, my mom’s, mine from my childhood. Others are  travel souvenirs: a moose from Alaska, a palm tree from Florida, a sea turtle from Hawaii, a crab from San Francisco, a snowflake from a magical December getaway in the mountains. Each has a memory, a story in its shape. 

When we designed our house, pushing out the bow window left a weird overhang, a flat wall about 15 feet long and ten inches tall. The builder lamented, “It’s holding up the roof. I just can’t fix it!” Fix it?! Clearly, that was designed for my cookie cutter collection to be displayed, part of it anyway. In the center is my family. I found a cookie-man, a cookie-woman, a cookie-girl, and two cookie-boys, one smaller than the other, representing my daughter and two sons.  I arranged them under a temple cookie cutter, and above a sideways broom. That’s a nod to my southern years; jump the broom, get it?

My latest book is a multi-generational  story told through the perspective of an elderly woman, the keeper of the antique cookie cutter collection. I’m enjoying the research phase! Did you know the most –expensive cookie cutter, called Running Slave, sold for nearly $8000 in a heated auction? As I bring the story from Queen Charlotte’s period to current times, my heart is drawn to the generations of women who baked cookies for their families. Some were servants in England, other indentured servants in the New World, some slaves in America through no wish of their own. Mothers made cookies for their children, early nurses gave the harder ones to fussy babies to teeth on. Some women made them to sell, including a couple of enterprising women who used their baked goods as a way to slip messages under the noses of King George’s troops in Boston, triggering the timing of the Revolutionary War.

My own mother always had cookies in the cookie jar.  Mom is an orderly soul; she likes identical cookies.  When I was a child, milk and cookies was a common way to sit with a  child after school and ask How Was Your Day, Honey?  One of my favorite memories was when my family was traveling when I was a child. We stopped for a gas in a very small town somewhere in the Midwest.  As soon as we stepped out to stretch our legs, we were engulfed by an overwhelming lemon-cookie aroma. The gas station attendant laughed and said Ma, the owner of Ma’s Cookies, always turned her vent fans toward the gas station when she noticed travelers stopping, and wouldn’t we like to go to her bakery across the parking lot? We drove away with warm lemon cuts outs, bags of them.

A simple tool, it’s unlikely many people count cookie cutters as anything worthwhile, just a faster way to make same-shape-same-size cookies in a hurry. I see the story in them, a memory tied up in each. And I find it hard to talk about cookies without wanting one, so here’s a recipe for you:  

Sugar Cut Out Cookies
·         1-½ cup butter  
·         2 cups sugar
·         2 whole eggs
·         2 whole eggs yolks
·         4 teaspoons vanilla extract
·         2 teaspoons almond extract
·         4 cups all-purpose flour
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         1 teaspoon baking powder

In a mixer, beat butter and sugar until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add in 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks and mix until combined. Mix in  vanilla and almond extract until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly (about a cup at a time) add flour to butter mixture and combine. Just mix ingredients until they are combined, so as not to toughen the dough. Cover and chill at least one hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough out, cut out cookies, and bake for 6-8 minutes. Drizzle with a simple glaze or frost as desired.

Glaze:  stir one cup powdered sugar with enough orange juice or milk to make a pancake-batter consistency. Drizzle over cooled cookies with a fork. 

Nov 8, 2017

Business of Writing Workshop

by Marsha Ward

During the last half of October, I took an epic road trip to attend an 8-day workshop in Lincoln City, Oregon, hosted by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, two writers I count as mentors in the business of writing. I've learned so much over the past four or so years by reading their blogs regularly, but an opportunity came up to attend this workshop on the Oregon Coast and meet them in person, and I had to jump on it.

The venue for the workshop was the Inn at Spanish Head, a ten-story resort hotel on the beach built into a cliff. On the landward side, the reception area is on the ninth floor. The conference room is on the fourth floor. I wasn't the only one who became confused about whether one went up or down when entering the elevator.

The overall theme of the workshop was Time, since it's in such short supply for writers, whether indie, hybrid, or traditional. From 7 pm on October 21 to 9:30 pm on October 28, in three sessions a day plus late-night networking, I, and about forty-nine other professional writers, madly took notes on such topics as productivity, tracking output, deadlines, writing process for both linear and non-linear writers, health, separating the businesses of writing and publishing, making short- and long-term business decisions, structures of corporations, estate planning for authors, copyright, trusts, triage as a business plan, branding, virtual assistants, and the true meaning of hybrid.

Faces erased at the request of the participants.
Please note that we covered that extensive list of topics by the end of Monday's sessions. There were a ton more each day, and I'm still working my way through the incredible amount of knowledge and information. I expect it will be a year-long endeavor.

One thing that was impressed upon us is that we must not make any business decisions and change up our plans for at least the two weeks minimum that it will take for our brains to heal from exploding with the input of all the new facts. Another was that "should do's" and "supposed to do's" are deadly, evil beyond imagination. We must choose to do only what works for our style and methods of writing and publishing.

Since I traveled for several days before arriving home, my brain still hasn't adjusted to all the new knowledge. I have my work cut out for me as the holidays approach. I must not be pressured, though, by my inner panic to DO SOMETHING NOW! I have to study and decide what will work for me.