I Write Because I Can’t Afford Therapy

If I could afford it, therapy would be preferable, but that would mean finding a decent therapist. I’ve had little luck with healthcare professionals, so when I heard therapists often suggest journal writing to those dealing with stress and anxiety, I thought I would give it a try.

It turns out journal writing isn’t my thing, so I moved on to writing novels. Murder-mystery novels, to be precise. This type of writing is helpful in several ways.

I Can Control the Outcome

I just finished my fifth novel, and as I wrote in my last article, I felt a little morose. However, a sense of accomplishment soon followed. Not just from finishing the book, but from the ability of my characters to solve the problems I put in their hands. As the author, I’m able to control the outcome, even though my characters can surprise me and take the story in a direction I never intended. But that’s part of the fun, and I learn something new along the way.

But as therapy, does it work? It’s safe to say that after ten years of writing novels, my mental status hasn’t changed, but I’m enjoying the process.

I Can Kill Off Any Problematic Characters

I write murder mystery novels because when I’m working a corporate gig and I’m feeling frustrated, I can always open my laptop and kill off a character that’s misbehaving. Since murder in real life is unacceptable, I use my imagination, think of someone I despise (several people in government come to mind), and get creative—and sometimes brutal—with a character’s death. My co-workers know this about me. In fact, some ask if I have killed them off yet. Some have suggested ways in which they could meet their untimely death. Yes, they’re just as sick as I am.

Good therapy? You bet!

I Can Work Out My Issues Through My Characters

Any issues I’m facing in my life, I can have one or more of my characters work them out for me. In fact, most of my characters have at least one of my flaws—one that nags at me or holds me back from fulfilling my dreams. They find a way around these failings and sometimes use them to their advantage. Of course, they have only one or two flaws, while I have a plethora! Still, my “therapy sessions” should have paid off by now. I guess I’ll just have to keep writing until I see some progress. I’ve heard successful therapy can take decades.

Starting a Novel Feels Like a Fresh Start

I will soon begin working on my sixth novel, the second in the D&K Mystery series. I’m unsure who will die first. There are always plenty of choices, but I’m keeping my options open until I see where my lead character takes me. She won’t be hard to follow because she’s a lot like me, having more than her fair share of flaws.

She could use some therapy.

Handwriting is an Incredible Tool

Handwriting is an incredible tool

I detest the blank document on my laptop. The cursor is mocking me—blinking on and off, waiting impatiently for me to do something.

I much prefer the blank page of a college-ruled notebook. What’s the difference? For one thing, there’s nothing there to mock me—just beautiful white paper with lovely horizontal lines waiting for me to begin writing—whenever I’m ready.

Handwriting Studies

There are plenty of studies that suggest writing by hand helps the brain. One of those studies recently caught my eye. The research from Johns Hopkins University indicates handwriting helps adults learn literacy-related skills faster and better than trying to learn by typing or watching videos. Writing by hand prompts the brain to focus more on the words, allowing for better understanding.

And some physicians claim the act of writing is an excellent cognitive exercise. So, if you want to keep your brain sharp as you age, skip the laptop and cell phone and go with pen and paper. Your brain will thank you.

For All the Artists Out There

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests writing morning pages to get the creative juices flowing. These are stream-of-consciousness pages. They don’t have to be pretty. They’re a chance to get any negative thoughts out of your head that may be blocking your creativity.

It makes a lot of sense, and I did these morning pages for over a year, but I often found I didn’t have enough thoughts floating around in my head to fill three pages. I’m a woman of few words, and in the morning, I don’t want to dwell on the negative stuff. I want to get to work.

So, now, my morning pages (or afternoon pages, or evening pages) consist of a few lines of ranting about whatever is bothering me. Then it’s onto the chapter of my book that just won’t come together or the blog post that I’ve waited until the last minute to write.

My Process

I’ve always enjoyed writing by hand. It feels natural to me. So, when I need to jumpstart my creativity, I pick up a pen and a notebook. It works like magic. The ideas flow from my brain, down my arm, through the pen, and onto the page. And when a line of prose doesn’t work, crossing it out with my pen is far more satisfying than pressing the delete key.

Plus, I can stop the handwriting process mid-sentence if I want and switch to my laptop to finish a piece. This works well when the scene (or article) becomes clear in my mind, and the words are coming faster than I can write them by hand.

I’ve also found that typing what I’ve already handwritten into a Word document is a great way to start the editing process. No time has been wasted.

It’s a great process, and there’s even some science to back it up.

So, blank page, I’m not afraid of you. Not when I have my trusty pen in hand.

Nowhere, Yet Everywhere

I’m in the middle of nowhere, yet I’m everywhere. I’m a part of everything. All my senses are engaged—awakened and happy.

Sitting on the front porch, I lean back so I’m staring up at the night sky. It’s dark, and the stars are numerous. They are crystal clear when not competing with the glare of the city lights. They are happy to be center stage, and I’m their grateful audience.

Occasionally, clouds roll in, briefly blotting out the sparkling display and depositing large raindrops that splatter on the porch rail that I’m using as a footrest. I’m getting wet, but I don’t care. The rain cleanses my surroundings, and I take in the fresh scents it stirs up as it nourishes the soil and foliage. I feel the rain splatter against my bare feet. It’s cool, but I don’t bother to move. I’m enjoying the sensation of it hitting my toes and tickling my parched soles.

I’m drinking pinot grigio from a margarita glass, not worrying about proper wine etiquette. The beverage is scintillating, causing my taste buds to dance as they enjoy the crispness of limes and green apples.

A friend is reading a book of poetry—Yeats, I believe. I can’t say I’m a lover of poetry, but having someone read it to me, someone who loves the art, loves the meaning and the cadence, makes me appreciate the rhythmic writing and the emotional response it’s meant to invoke. The sound of my friend’s voice conveying the words written so long ago alternates between comforting and exhilarating.

And the stars—oh, those beautiful stars—are my light and the main attraction. Their twinkling and dancing make me appreciate this moment more than anything.

I’m not nowhere. I’m everywhere. My senses are alive, and I’m a part of everything.

4 Behaviors of a Book Addict

I’m a book addict. I admit it.

I recently took a few days off to enjoy a mini vacation for my birthday. And during my too-brief excursion, all four of the following behaviors of a book addict applied to me.

1. I had one bag devoted to books.

I was only going to be gone for a few days. Just how much reading did I think I was going to get done?

Honestly, that’s not the issue. The truth is I never know what kind of mood I’ll be in. Will I be interested in reading a mystery novel? Or will I be interested in reading about space? (A little Neil deGrasse Tyson or Stephen Hawking, anyone?) Or will I want to read a bone-chilling thriller?

You see, knowing which books to bring along is often more laborious than knowing what clothes to pack. A meteorologist’s forecast can help with the wardrobe decision. I have yet to find someone who can help me predict my reading mood.

2. Before reserving a hotel room, I verified there was a bookstore nearby.

Just in case I didn’t bring along enough books to cover all possible reading desires. Okay, who am I kidding? I would have gone to the bookstore even if I had every scenario covered. I was on a mini vacation. Going to a bookstore is a given.

3. I came home with more books than I left with.

Another given.

Bookstore in proximity + vacation cash = new books.

4. I never left my hotel room without a book.

I often have nightmares about having a few spare minutes to read and not having a book with me. That’s something no book addict should ever have to endure.

No doubt about it. I’m a book addict, and I’m darn proud of it.

Now point me in the direction of the nearest Barnes & Noble.

Action: The Killer of Self-Doubt – Part 2

ACTION: The Killer of Self-Doubt

Self-doubt has me by the throat. It has me in its grip and won’t let go.

I’m approaching the finish line for my fifth novel, and I’m doubting myself again.

Am I any good at this writing business?

What if this book is the worst I’ve ever written?

What if no one likes it?

I’m in full-blown panic mode before I realize I’ve been here before. I’ve written about this very problem. It’s in my blog.

In August 2019, I wrote a blog post titled ACTION: The Killer of Self-Doubt. I had just finished my third novel and was knee-deep in my fourth when that little voice said, Your last book was garbage, and this one won’t be any better.

I wanted that little voice to be quiet. But how could I stop it from saying those horrible things?

That’s when I discovered that taking action was the best way to silence my self-doubt. Doing anything to move forward with a task or goal would be enough to boost my self-confidence. All I had to do was write, and that nagging little voice would take a break and leave me alone.

Reading that blog post helped me get through today’s crisis of uncertainty. If an article I wrote two years ago is helping me now, maybe I’m not such a bad writer after all.

Take that, self-doubt!

It’s Not Heaven, But It’ll Do

On the beach reading

I’m sitting on the beach, just chillin’, baking in the sun with a cool breeze blowing in off the water.


My fifth novel still isn’t finished, but I don’t care because my toes are either in the sand or in the water. Every so often, a thought flits through my head about something that is missing in a scene. I take a few minutes to jot it down, then go back to sipping my Piña Colada and burrowing my toes deeper into the sand.

Yep, this is heaven.

Maybe I’ll let book #5 rest for a bit. After all, it takes place in Phoenix, Arizona, and since I’m lounging on a beach, listening to the waves break, and watching the water lap up to my chair, it isn’t easy to write about the asphalt, concrete, traffic jams, and searing heat I left behind.

Perhaps I’ll start on a new book. Something different. Maybe it takes place on the beach. But will writing a murder mystery ruin the tranquility of this place? And bring my bliss to a screeching halt?

How about a romance? I’ve never written a romance novel before, but there’s no time like the present. And a romantic story would, without a doubt, fit in with my current locale.

Yes, this is truly heaven.

It’s also a big fat lie!

I’m still in Phoenix, trying to stay hydrated, trying not to overheat. Trying to keep cool—and not lose my cool—as people call with questions that I’m sure they can find the answers to elsewhere. I’m trying to remain calm as a man pulls up to the house next door and yells to my neighbor from his car, bellowing loud enough to be heard over his blaring stereo. Here’s a thought. How about turning down your stereo so you won’t have to yell?

I thought about sticking my head out the door and telling him just that, but I would just be adding to the noise. Not to mention adding a few points to my blood pressure. Besides, someone once told me you can’t change the behaviors of others, only how you react to them.

So, instead, I’m making myself a Piña Colada, plugging earbuds into my phone, and opening up the Nature Sounds app.

Relaxing Ocean. Just what the doctor ordered.

Taking the drink into my bedroom, I turn off the lights, relax into my chair, and close my eyes. With drink in hand and the sound of breaking waves in my ears, I’m back on the beach.

It’s not heaven, but it’ll do.

It’s Hot!

It's hot. Even for dogs.

It’s hot. And I’m cranky. (Usually, I’m just cranky.)

That’s about all there is to say when it’s 100° at 9 a.m. and 117° by 2 p.m.

Air Conditioner Don’t Die on Me!

My air conditioner clicks off for about 30 seconds before it starts up again. Not good. I’m sitting here praying it can handle the stress. Please, don’t die on me now!

And the more it turns on, the more I see my electric bill soar. I hope I can afford to pay the bill when it arrives. I may need to get another job.

I’m Rationing Food

I’m starting to ration food. Not because I don’t have the funds to buy more. It’s because I don’t want to drive one mile to the grocery store. It’s not the drive that I mind. It’s walking from the car to the store that worries me. But what’s worse is walking from the store to the car and standing in the hot, blazing sun as I load the groceries into the trunk.

Sure, I could order groceries online. I could pick them up and have a store employee load them into my trunk. I could even have the groceries delivered. But the thought of having someone else suffer in the heat, doing something that I don’t want to do myself, doesn’t sit well with me.

So, I’ll just have to make do with what food I have. Hopefully, I can make it last until Monday, when the temperature is expected to dip below 110. Break out the jackets!

Even the Pool Doesn’t Help

I hear the neighbor’s kids outside in the pool. Less than 30 minutes later, they’re back inside. It’s a bad sign when kids don’t want to stay in the pool.

There is a Bright Side

But in all fairness, there is one good thing about Phoenix in the summer. The weeds can’t survive—no pulling or spraying is required. They die on their own. Or maybe they’re just smart enough to stay underground until it cools off. Smart weeds.

Yes, my brain is fried.

It’s hot.

4 Reasons for Not Finishing My Novel in 2020

I just read an article on the Writer Unboxed website titled “6 Plausible Excuses for Not Finishing Your Novel During the Pandemic.” Great article. Funny and entertaining. I loved it.

One problem, though. Not one of the six plausible excuses in the article explained why I hadn’t finished my novel during the pandemic. So, I decided to come up with my own list, with one minor change. A friend told me the other day that since I’m still working on my book, I had “reasons” for not finishing it in 2020, not excuses. Okay, I’ll buy that. Let’s see if any of my “reasons” resonate with you.

Reason #1: “I wasted precious time looking for toilet paper and baking ingredients.”

During the early days of the pandemic, some items were hard to come by—toilet paper, flour, and yeast were the most problematic for me. I had to buy a 25-pound bag of flour because I couldn’t find anything smaller. (Does flour have an expiration date?) My son and I made anything we could think of that would require flour. Cookies, cakes, and biscuits. Oh my! Baking is hard work and left no time for writing a novel.

Reason #2: “If I’m going to bake, I might as well cook, too.”

Of course, if I was going to spend time baking new creations, it made sense that I would work on my cooking skills as well. I bought new gadgets—a crockpot/rice cooker combo was my favorite acquisition. So many things to do with that little gem! I spent hours searching for new recipes and even more time at the grocery store looking for ingredients I had never heard of before. Once again, there was no time to work on a novel. But the food was incredible!

Reason #3: “I’ve always wanted to have a podcast. No time like a pandemic to start one.”

I had no idea what I was doing, but it seems I’m not happy unless I’m working on a project that requires new skills. It required a lot of research, asking many questions of experts, and rounding up friends to help me with my endeavor. Again, no time for writing a novel. Oops.

Reason #4: “More people are reading. I should save them some money and create a boxed set.”

I packaged my first three novels into a boxed set and set the price as low as possible. Again, I’ve never done this before. It was new and different, and I love a challenge. The fact that doing something new takes up a lot of time, I didn’t get my novel written. Sad but true.

So, what do you think? Did any of these reasons (not excuses) sound familiar? Did I help anyone justify NOT getting their novel written in 2020? If not, what reasons (or excuses, if you prefer) kept you from getting the work done?

3 Things I Learned from Journaling

Child journaling with quill pen

I started daily journal writing several years ago, although I’m not sure what I do can be called journaling. I follow the advice of Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way and write ‘morning pages’ and dump whatever is in my brain onto sheets in a cheap notebook.

Whatever you want to call what I do every morning, this is what I’ve learned from the practice:

1. Don’t buy fancy leather-bound journals.

I won’t use fancy journals. I like them. Most are beautiful, and that’s the problem. What am I going to do with them when they’re full?

I’m not one to keep things unless they serve a purpose. And keeping full journals doesn’t make sense to me. Besides, I feel like leaving evidence laying out in the open. Why would I do that?

Anything I’ve written that isn’t part of a book that I’m trying to sell gets shredded. That’s my rule. I haven’t disposed of any of my journals yet, but it may be impossible to shred a leather-bound journal when the time comes.

2. I can write two pages first thing in the morning. That’s it.

According to The Artist’s Way, morning pages should be three pages long. Sorry. I did that for months but had trouble getting the third page done. Then I thought, what’s going to happen if I write only two pages? Will the journaling police show up at my door and haul me away?

I decided to take my chances, and now I write just two pages each morning, and the stress is off. But I admit, some days two pages is still a lot. I’m a woman of few words (most of the time), so filling up two pages with what I’m thinking about early in the morning can be a challenge.

3. I’m an editor even when writing down random thoughts.

I worry about how things sound, how readers may interpret them.

Readers? What readers? It’s my journal. I don’t want anyone reading it, not even me.

But I still worry about someone coming along and reading my pages, so I make it a point not to use names, only pronouns—he, she, they, etc. I even stay away from saying “my sister” since I have only one, and it would be obvious who I was writing about.

So, using pronouns is the best I can do to protect the innocent (and possibly the guilty). And if someone still feels I was writing about them, that’s their problem. I mean, how narcissistic does one have to be to think I’m always using precious journal space to vent about them?

In the end, I’ve decided it’s not something I should worry about. If people are reading my journals, I’m probably dead anyway.

More on Journaling from Sheroes of Small Business

If you want to learn more about journaling, please join Delores Garcia and me on the June 8th episode of the Sheroes of Small Business podcast. We discuss this topic from different viewpoints and experiences. (SPOILER: I’m a little more serious on the podcast. But just a little.)

What is a Viability Advisor?

crazed female writer

It’s Friday, and I wish I could say I’m happy about it. But this week has been—to put it nicely—awful, punctuated by a Thursday that was horrible in so many ways. With the help of a friend, I’ve determined that I can no longer be responsible for making my own decisions. Therefore, I have hired a Viability Advisor.

What is a Viability Advisor?

To be honest, it’s something I made up. I didn’t want to call this person a Life Coach or a Business Consultant because neither term would explain what this person’s duties would encompass. A Viability Advisor will be responsible for helping me make intelligent life and business decisions.

In other words, I can’t afford to hire a Life Coach AND a Business Consultant, so I’ve combined the two and come up with the illustrious title of Viability Advisor.

From this day forward, I will have to run all life and business decisions through my Viability Advisor, whose job it will be to determine if the task or project I’m thinking about embarking on will do one or more of the following:

  1. Make money.
  2. Bring joy.
  3. Help humanity.
  4. Make money.

Yes, that’s correct. Make money is on the list twice. That’s because I’m tired of working for free. I’m sure any entrepreneur or writer out there will know what I’m talking about. We help friends or family members out of the kindness of our hearts (i.e., we’ll feel guilty if we don’t), or we get a harebrained idea that sounds like fun but doesn’t have a prayer of bringing in a single dime. I’ve decided I want another opinion before putting in a crazy amount of time on these projects. I want someone to warn me before I get to the end of the week or month and discover I’ve fallen short of my income goals.

What does a Viability Advisor do?

I will take every task to my Viability Advisor, and she will determine if it’s worth my time. If no money is involved, she will assess if it will bring joy or help out humanity enough to forgo any monetary gains. Otherwise, it won’t pass the viability test, and she will advise me to scrap it.

I’m hopeful that my Viability Advisor will help me fend off future awful weeks like the one I just had. But if not, I will at least have someone else to blame.

Desert Deception - Short Story Cover