Category Archives: bad writing

Turning off the Writing Blocks

house-mouse-mus-musculus-coloured-mouses-in-hamster-wheel-B1YTC6I work with a bunch of writers in a program called Memory to Memoir, and I mentor two writers each year for a year, thanks to a grant from the American NewMedia Foundation (thanks Debra Hallock). And I write, so I’ve seen a fair bit of the things that get in the way of writing, those little foxes in the vineyard, demons of destruction–whatever you want to call them. Here are a few of the most common blockades for  writers:

The Inner Critic: You’re doing it wrong, you haven’t got anything interesting to say, you’re not smart enough/sassy enough/sexy enough/strong enough. ENOUGH. You are enough because you are. Best way to deal with these bitches (who seem to travel in swarms) is to get a little medicine bottle and label it inner critic voices. Every time one goes off in my head, I open the lid and blow her into the bottle. A friend has an imaginary brick. When the girls show up, she picks up her brick and scatters them like roaches fleeing Raid.

The Hamster Wheel: You’re gonna write, of course you are–as soon as you earn the time by doing just those few little chores that have been hanging around and you just can’t sit down with a clear conscience until you’ve done them…. Make a list of things you need to do. Now prioritize the ones that have to be done to keep your world from blowing up. Literally, put numbers next to them. “Write something today” is not allowed to be below number four on that list. Now do the things above writing, and then write before you get to number five. Write for an hour at least.

The “I’ve Only Got an Hour” Fritter: You’ve only got an hour, and then you have to leave for someplace. Fine. Set a timer for 59 minutes, sit down, and go at it. The timer will keep you from forgetting to leave. Meanwhile, you can write with freedom of mind.

Oops I Forgot Syndrome: Similar to but kinda like putting a spoke in the hamster wheel, these are the “oops I forgot” moments that intrude on writing time. “I forgot to call my mom back; I forgot to get the laundry out of the dryer.” Keep scrap paper or a notepad by your writing area. Jot down the “I forgots” and let them wait there until you’re done. You have a note to remind you.

Interruptions: First, find a place where your family and work aren’t going to hunt you down, if you can. If not, establish an in-house writing zone in both time and space. Then establish the rules. Kids can’t show you blood? Don’t knock. Spouse needs to know RIGHT NOW? Then you get more time tomorrow while s/he watches over the rest of it. That’s the deal. If you have a home office, but closing the door isn’t enough, put up a color sticky when writing. When the family sees purple, they know you’re not to be interrupted unless the house is on fire. Make sure the family respects this, and you do too. Don’t blow off your time in there. It’s being paid for by other people who respect you enough to give it to you. That’s important. And validating.

These are the biggest writing bugaboos I see day to day. What are yours?



Filed under bad writing, between books, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

How to Make Writing Time

Making Writing Time

So many people have said to me since starting this writing residency, “What discipline! How do you do that?” Well, for one, this is my full-time job right now. A lot of people have inconvenienced themselves to give me these three months: my board at work, saying “Go and we’ll give you a three month leave of absence; the cat rescue team saying “Go, we got this!” and my husband saying “Of course I can run the bookstore by myself; where do we keep the bleach wipes?” Amy and Shawn have opened their lovely apartment (AND endowed me with bathtub privileges!) It’s not to be taken lightly.

But say you’re not tucked up in a cozy flat with your fingerless gloves and your month-long supply of sparkling water typing away. Say you have a day job and kids and responsibilities… how do you make writing time?

Here are some tips—with a caveat. You’re the one who knows your personality. Tweak, test, reject what doesn’t work and embrace what does.

  • Whether writing is your hobby or not doesn’t matter. Don’t call it a hobby. Make time for it because you need to, not because it’s “fun.” Your need is justification.
  • Some people can write in the little empty spaces between stuff they have to do; others need a good clear run. When I’m drafting, I need three days or so to get some outlines down and start chugging, or it’s no good. But I have a friend who drafted the book on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 6-8 pm over the course of a month. Whichever one you are, find the recurring time in your week, or block out a three-day weekend, and WRITE IN YOUR CALENDAR THAT YOU ARE BUSY. This is not “if I can” time. This is “nobody else gets in” time. Drafting is harder for most people than editing. Most people find editing easier to do in the between spaces. It is also easier to use the between spaces once we prove we need them because we have a first draft. Whichever kind of writer you are, block it off in your calendar and lock yourself away.
  • Where to write is harder for women with children than anyone else. You have to get out of the house. If you like white noise, go find a diner that will let you buy one cup of coffee. I drafted my second book in a Chinese buffet restaurant by going in after 2 and staying to 5, nursing a diet coke. The waitresses were sweeter than anything, and I stayed away from their rush times. A friend wrote her novel at Starbuck’s. JK Rowling wrote her first draft in an Edinburgh tea shop, one pot at a time, her little daughter sleeping by her side in a stroller. Get out of the house if you are a mom, OR if you work from a home office. Don’t try to use your office/living room/kitchen table to write unless you can guarantee its privacy and lack of distractions.
  • If you can’t get out of the house, but are a night owl or morning person, here’s an alternative: after the kids are in bed or before they get up, stay in your pjs and go in your (hopefully empty) spare room or to the kitchen table. But be in your pjs, seriously. It keeps you from doing other “needed” things with your time; psychology or something. Do not get dressed until you’re done writing. Set a time, get up early, stay up late, cut a deal with your spouse or oldest child.
  • Set a word count. I require 5,000 words per day when writing is all I have to do, minimum. That’s not a lot. I also type very quickly (background in journalism) and usually have ideas in my head before I sit down. Some people are planners, others discoverers. Whichever kind of writer you are, set a realistic word minimum for each time you have blocked out in your calendar. If you don’t know what would be realistic, take an hour, sit down, and write as you would like to write. Then count your words and add half again. (If you wrote 800 words in an hour, your average speed will be 1200 when you’re up to speed.) Starting is harder than going on. You will get faster, so add half to get a realistic speed.
  • DO NOT EDIT TO EXCESS. Draft your essay, novel, memoir, speech. Draft it, THEN go back and edit it. Worried you changed the main suspect’s hometown half-way through? Leave it for now. As Nora Roberts says, “You can fix anything but a blank page.”
  • Do not show your first draft to anyone. You may be tempted to show people parts of all of it as you go. You’ll think ‘if I wait until he gets back to me, it will go much faster with his feedback.’ IT’S A TRAP. NO. Part of the reward of finishing is to get to share. But also, first drafts are not for public viewing. They’re for finishing so you can build your story in this shaky foundation. It’s fine that it’s shaky.
  • Don’t let word count drive your words. The point is to be in front of the keyboard (or writing on your legal pad, whichever kind of drafter you are). You have to make space for it, and then it happens. No one stands in front of a stove saying, “Dinner, dinner. Sometime.” They make time to make it. Same with writing. Put fingers to keys and let the movie in your head unfold.
  • You are not allowed to give up on an idea that has less than 10,000 words in it. You know who you are: you start a novel, decide it would be better to work on a memoir, no crime fiction is where it’s at, you’ve always fancied writing a Western… Finish one of them. Even if it’s to get it out of the way so you can start the next, you may not stop one project mid-paragraph to begin another. Because I said so, if your inner gremlins ask why. Tell them I said you weren’t allowed.
  • Do not get up to get a drink. Seriously. Like the pajamas, this is psychology. If you don’t take it with you to the keyboard, you’re not allowed to fetch one until you’ve written at least an hour. Again, refer any gremlins threatening to die of thirst to me. Got your back on this one.
  • This goes doubly for straightening pictures, closing the blinds so the furniture won’t fade, taking care of that online bill, or anything else that doesn’t involve an immediate need to go to the hospital. It will wait. This is writing time.
  • Turn off the Internet. Disable it on your computer with that wireless button nobody uses any more. Or close it down. Anything you have to do. Do not go into a private room with a set time limit and open the Web. If you hit a research point in your story, write XX, highlight it in yellow or turn the XXs red, and keep writing. You can find it later. NO INTERNET during the initial writing phase.
  • Set rewards. Carrots work better than sticks; “don’t have tos” can be both! Enlist family members. “If I make 3,000 words by Friday, my husband is taking me to dinner.” “If I get to 10,000 words by my mother’s birthday, she says I don’t have to help her clean the garage this Spring.” Rewards can be simple and cheap: when I get 4K I can call my best friend, do my favorite craft activity, garden. Whatever truly is a reward to you. Don’t use “have tos” for rewards. Use “want tos” or “escape froms.” And you will find, as you write, that writing becomes more and more its own reward. Like any activity, it becomes more fun as it gets easier.

That’s it. Those are the the ways you get a draft done. Any questions?




Filed under bad writing, bookstore management, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore

angelSo here’s my problem…..

I started reading this book, thinking it would be funny, I could review it for Christmas and be timely and relevant and it was short and I’d finish it quickly….

…and I didn’t like it enough to finish it. I didn’t even get to the brain-eating zombies the Angel raised when he got confused by the wishes of the wrong child to have Santa raised from the dead after he’d been whacked in the face with a shovel by a Christmas-tree-stealing do-gooder whose friend wields a broadsword.

That enough about plot summary? The plot could best be described as “smoke pot while watching HBO all night, then write.” Yeah, hilarious. Not.

What’s funny about a bunch of stereotypes slouching toward Bethlehem in an overwritten “ain’t my word use clever” streams of unmerciful-undead never ceasing?

I never read any of Moore’s other books. Tom Robbins kills me, so funny, so kooky, so Lewis Carroll on  a good day. Moore, apparently, is meant to be like him.

Still waiting to see that parallel line meet itself….

So I’m sorry to tell you that I have no Monday book because I backed the wrong horse, and didn’t have time to start over.

All I can tell you is, save yourself. If you like character driven plots, well, his characters are as thin as the paper they’re written on. His plot is driven by wild horses running away, and I’m not going to be looking for any more Moores.

Go watch Alias Grace. It’s way better and you can crochet at the same time.


Filed under bad writing, between books, blue funks, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, Uncategorized

Nicely, nicely does it – – –

Jack’s guest post a combination of the Monday Book and his usual Wednesday one –

This isn’t about a particular book, or even a specific range of books – it’s about how I was introduced to books and how they’ve played into my view of the world.

When I was attending high school and college to gain my basic English literature qualification I was following a curriculum that had a clear direction with no place whatsoever for Scottish authors, poets or playwrights. We had to study Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens, although Walter Scott was allowed. I think Scott was OK because he more or less invented the notion of a romantic ‘previous’ Scotland that no longer existed and that was acceptable.

What’s strange about this is that the Scottish education system has always (since 1707 and the union of parliaments) been completely independent from the English system. My guess is that the UK government always made sure that they had folk in positions of authority in place to make sure we toed the line. Not surprisingly I found all this a bit confusing.

But I had a wonderful English teacher at high school called John (Baldy) Forrest who had little interest in set curricula and a great love for the works of Damon Runyon. Baldy would stride around the classroom on a Friday afternoon (the fact that we were the ‘no hopers’ and it was Friday afternoon probably emboldened him) wearing his required academic gown and read sections of Runyon’s short stories aloud in a convincing New York accent – a bizarre sight indeed. He had sewn a block of wood into the side panel of his gown and would whack inattentive pupils on the back of the head which only endeared me to him more! The fact that I can picture him and recall his name is a great testament to his teaching abilities and ongoing legacy. If he’s still alive he must be well into his nineties but I doubt he is – RIP Baldy.

Later I attended evening classes in the local college I ended up working in for over twenty years and once again (no longer a ‘no hoper’) attempted to gain my Higher English qualification. We were a mixture of ages, and beneficiaries of the excellent Scottish system that left doors open for late learners. I am mortified to say that I can’t remember the name of the young teacher but he re-introduced me to Shakespeare and specifically Macbeth. I can still recite lines from ‘the Scottish play’ and it got me interested in Scottish history (something else we weren’t taught in school). But he also introduced us to ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. These are American classics that both link to poems by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns.

Now I can appreciate Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens because I’ve read Burns, Grassic Gibbon, Runyon and Hemingway.

What have I learned from all this? The best teachers don’t slavishly follow laid down curricula and learning doesn’t have to only take place in the classroom or lecture hall.

BTW – Scott wrote bodice rippers and fake ballads!


Filed under bad writing, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: ENDGAME by James Frey

well-this-sucksOh dear God in Heaven, Frey, you make up a memoir about drug addiction and somebody gives you the keys to a fictitious city????

How many ways is Endgame bad – the writing that has characters doing abrupt turns from their previous hopes and dreams, all in the space of one sentence? The conceit of hiding a treasure hunt inside, along the lines of that golden rabbit buried a couple decades back, and getting people to buy the book so they can do the math and be one of the treasure hunters? The really, really stupid plot device of 12 ancient lines who all know about themselves but not each other, and who have successfully passed this secret from family to family without anybody else knowing? Kids killing each other – wow, where did you get such a great new idea in YA fantasy?

Shall I go on, or do we now have enough reasons to leave James Frey’s book alone? He’s the guy who wrote A Million Little Pieces in which he claimed to have had dental surgery without anesthetic, crawled into a crack house within weeks of getting clean in order to carry his girlfriend out and enroll her in a program holding a spot for her, and been taken into the fold of a gangster who treated him as a son during their rehab. At the time I was reading Pieces I was working with addicts in a literacy program, and I remember thinking about halfway through the book, “No way, man. He’s lying.” Which turned out to be what everyone else thought, too.

Give it up, world. There is no taste, no truth, and no future. The Sky Gods are coming for us all, unless we’re one of those ancient lines or found the golden rabbit.

Short version: this book sucks.

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Filed under bad writing, between books, Big Stone Gap, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, post-apocalypse fiction, reading, Sarah Nelson, Uncategorized, writing, YA fiction

Because Nothing Clears the Air like a good Murder

May 2016 murder 054Last fall when Big Stone was going crazy on itself, we got a nasty letter from the town council saying our lawn was out of order with town order and we’d be fined if we didn’t fix it. Jack called the town planner out, and the poor lad looked things over and said, “Well, this is embarrassing. The part that’s out of order is the part we were supposed to be cutting.” The next day some guys came and cut the verge.

But a couple of days later, a town councilor who shall remain nameless visited the bookstore for the first time in our ten-year-history and offered town resources to cut our herbarium and wildflowers down. “At no cost to you, and they can be here in ten minutes.” We explained again that the seeds had been a wedding present from the Quakers in Scotland, and the unplanned look was deliberate. The councilor left graciously–perhaps unconvinced, but graciously.

May 2016 murder 012Garden Gate, as we came to call it, was silly. Not malicious, just silly, involving misunderstandings about heirloom seeds and personal choice and English wooded gardens. So never mind about that. The fun part was planning a murder mystery based on it.

Heh heh heh.

Fourteen gardeners gathered last night to provide The New Bookstore Lawn, paid for by Big Stone’s new tourism fund. Unfortunately, half were Baptist and half Methodist. Plus we all know what happens when John Bach’s bookstore has more than a dozen people in it at a time…..

Sure enough, Paxton face planted into her salad, and the whodunnit was on. Perhaps it was the hats, or the cupcake-fueled sugar craze, but the attendees were never more in character, and the one-liners flowed faster than red wine. Poor little Girl Detective Margaret Bach coped with her helicopter mom and a room full of flower power as best May 2016 murder 019she could, while Swinger Jimmy begged her to smell his hands, and Grand Mother of Snap Dragons Peony Overbloom snarled at church lady Joy Abounder, “No shit you’re having an affair with my husband! Who do you think engineered it? He’s the most boring man I’ve ever known and you bedding him gives me more time in my flower beds!”

It was that kind of night. Hippie Hannah pepper sprayed people with No Terra oils. Town bimbo Poppy Upster sold secrets on Facebook. Halfway through, the murderer–confused by improvisation rather than scripting–confessed. The undaunted steel magnolias continued unearthing a blackmailing, secret bigamist marriage, and church funds embezzlement before the murderer was finally allowed to repeat her confession, backed by the olfactory powers of No Terra oils.

We blow off more steam this way, and it’s so fun. But bad news, good people of Big Stone: the toilet stays. It’s postmodern ironic. And full of petunias. The rest of us, we’re full of belly laughs from last night.toilet flowers


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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing


toilet flowersToday’s blog is the character list for our upcoming murder mystery on Friday, May 13 starting at 7 pm. Wendy has way too much fun writing these. Jack fears she will snap one of these days on the line between fiction and reality…..

The bookstore lawn has long been the talk of the town. Some find their toilet flower container post-modern ironic, others call it disgusting. Then there’s the English garden herbarium, and something called heirloom seeds brought over from a Quaker Peace Garden in some remote Scottish village? All very quaint, but hardly up to standards. So the garden clubs have been sent in to help. John Bach, bookstore owner, finds himself caught between feuding clubs: the Superior Gardener Club of the Ladies of the United Methodists, and the Gardener Superiors of the Southern Baptist Ladies’ Society, Eastern Division, Virginia Chapter.

It’s gonna get ugly, and that’s not just the designs and still life in pot arrangements and perennials on a plate they bring to the meeting. When the Methodist president goes face-down into the fertilizer, whodunit? Come join the fun in PAXTON’S PUSHING UP DAISIES, the 15th Murder Mystery held at the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.

When you see the part you want to play, send Wendy a PM on Facebook, or comment here. We regret to say that all parts are assigned, so if you’ve not already asked for one, you are welcome to watch but we can’t offer you a live role. Also if a part is in bold, it has an assigned person. Thanks!

Superior Garden Club President (Methodist) – Paxton

Garden Club Mother Superior (Baptist) Peony  Large – As bombastic as the scent of honeysuckle, and just as strangling. Can you get a word in edgewise? Perhaps she’s the intended victim – people would certainly stand in line to do things to her with a trowel. VIRGIE

Assistant to Superior Garden club Baptist President, Violet Shrink – She has good ideas, if you could hear her. How can anything bloom in the shadows? And is it true she and Paxton were best friends in high school?

Earth Mom and fey Baptist, Hannah Hephzibah-Eleanora Smith – Never underestimate the power of Epsom Salts and good clean living digging in the dirt; but what else has she been digging up? VICKY

Loud Male Chauvinist Council Guy who keeps addressing everyone as ‘Dear’ Christopher Love – here to oversee the competition John Bach didn’t know he was running HARRY

Nerdy swinger just there to pick up girls: Jimmy – He’s like a bee in the flower garden, but maybe he’s the one getting stung (Jimmy Brown)

The Proper Horticulturalist, James, a widower – Is he one of the garden ladies’ fancy man, or does he really know that much about how to make something come to life? JAMES RYAN

Prepper, grow food while you still can, Primrose Evergreen – It’s all going to end badly, like, tomorrow. Of what use are flowers at the end of the world; produce ornamental edibles! Too bad she’s got the wrong idea about some of those poisonous blossoms.

Flirty girl, bimbo, Poppy Upster – Pushing up daisies? No, pushing up something else. Did Paxton’s husband really date her in college? SANDY

Peggy Dunn Good Bach – Margaret Bach, Girl Detective, brings her mom this time! She’s John Bach’s sister-in-law, this helicopter mom determined her little Daisy is getting in the Junior League, come blossom blight or high water. Her daughter will provide the winning garden design, or someone will die trying. The fact that Margaret isn’t interested in flowers is neither here nor there.

Hat saleslady, Ima Millner – Garden, schmarden, she just wants to sell hats and she’s got the wrong idea about this garden club thing. But maybe she’s got a couple of other wrong ideas as well; did she crash this party on purpose?

Sweetness and light to the point you want to drown her, Jonquil May– How can you not love this sweet child? Easy. Can anyone be this nice, or is she a plant? ERIN

Passive aggressive poisonous criticizer Ivy Sue Mac– “Oh, what an… innovative arrangement, dear.” If she said something nice to you, you’d know you had a terminal illness.

Overly enthusiastic gardener, Joy Abounder – The quintessential church lady; when she says “Bless you” it sounds as though it starts with “F” JERRY LOU BROWN

Social Climber Hyacinth Bucket – She came from the dirt, so it’s only natural she should use gardening to rake her way to the top; was Paxton in her way?



Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Hunger Games, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch