I have a tendency to go grim in my stories. It’s something I need to keep a close eye on, and one of the reasons that I write Romance (they have to get to their happily-ever-after!). I find that if I don’t feed that part of my muse, though, it gets…demanding.

The weird thing about it is that I can write creepy and even gory scenes in my own works, but if I read them or see them in other stories they’re hard to take. I’ve even had to stop reading a story or watching a show when events take a gory and dark turn. A friend called me out on this once, and I explained that if the character is someone (or something) that I control, I don’t find them as frightening and the situations don’t bother me as much.

I talk to my characters in my head as well as on the page. When my own stories become too intense, I’ll sometimes imagine myself in the scene shouting, “Cut!” Then everyone breaks character and pats each other on the back and talks it through. At one point, a villain actually seemed abashed and asked the others if he was going too far, and they all reassured him kindly. He’s still super creepy on the page.

Writing Romances frees me to go grimdark when I need to. When it happens, I can just remind myself that, in the end, the protagonists will get their happily-ever-after.

Nostalgia—or a Message?

I had the opportunity to catch up with a friend recently and they asked my dearest question. What are you writing lately? The conversation somehow trailed back to earlier ideas—stories I haven’t thought about in years and never wrote down but was excited to tell them about.

The next day, another friend triggered a memory of the second first draft I completed. There are other story ideas that have been rising to the surface. Too many to ignore. It seemed like nostalgia at first, but the more this is happening, the more it seems like a message. My muse is trying to tell me something. She’s reminding me that I have many, many stories to write.

There is no time for self-doubt, no time to let my critic stand in the way of my words. I need to get these stories down, polish them up, send them into the world—and move on to the next. The more I keep this in mind, the easier the words will flow. I need to remember there are so many stories waiting in line for their turn!

Letting Them Go

When I first started writing, I was so protective of my stories that it bordered on paranoia. I had spent my entire life developing a huge High Fantasy world to write in, but was only scratching the surface of what it meant to create stories that had beginnings, middles, and ends. Eventually, I realized that my fear was fueled by a feeling that those first stories were the only ones I would ever create—that the love and time and work poured into that world over decades could be taken from me somehow.

I rewrote the first book a ridiculous number of times, learning with each iteration, obsessing to the point that I became stuck. I spent years on it before I finally understood that if I was ever going to get anywhere, I needed to move on. I couldn’t sit at my writing desk fiddling with that one first completed story, no matter how much I loved it (and I do love it).

The second book in that setting didn’t really work. I was too close to that world and there was so much of it. I wasn’t ready to parse through it all to find just the bits that I needed for each story. The second book came out only half-formed.

I could tell that something was wrong. So could my muse—my writer’s intuition.

She started sending me incredible dreams and amazing fleeting visions. I’d walk past a tree and do a double-take. Did I just see…? No, it’s just a tree. I’d see a shadow near a storm drain and sit up straighter. Was that…? No, those aren’t real.

My imagination went into overdrive, my mind’s eye layering possibilities onto everything my physical eyes could see. I never lost touch with what was actually real—it was more like a dam in my mind burst and everything was drenched in “What Ifs?” What if you could use the hole in a bagel as a Fairy Stone? What if that big black dog standing absolutely still at the end of the street is actually the Black Shuck? (I am so going to use those ideas in a story someday…).

The second true book emerged. A contemporary urban fantasy about the Sidhe. It had a beginning, a middle, and an ending that needed so much work—but all the parts of a story were there. It felt amazing! Not only had I finished two real books, but I had used my degree that everyone said I was crazy to get (English Literature specializing in Irish Folklore). I learned that I could create an entirely new world in a relatively short amount of time. A world rich enough to support my characters and their victories and travails.

That knowledge created infinite possibilities. It set my muse free.

Half-way through writing the second true book, I had an existential writer’s crisis. I realized that the story wasn’t primarily about the external events happening to the characters. It was more about their inner journeys, including how they were falling in love (which was a very, very bad thing for the rest of that world). Shifting the focus to their love story lit a spark of fascination in me that I don’t think can ever be extinguished—and I wouldn’t want it to be! I realized that I wanted to write Romance.

With that epiphany, the books started to come more easily, my enthusiasm speeding them into creation, until I finally felt that one was ready to send off into the world (Good luck to you, Wandering Soul! May you find loving homes in the minds of many awesome readers!)

If I hadn’t let myself move on from that first book—if I hadn’t let it go—I would have been trapped in the fear that I only had one story in me, one world. Now I know that couldn’t be farther from the truth.


I couldn’t have picked a more perfect time to give myself that negative space—moments of emptiness waiting to be filled. This spring has been gorgeous!

I found this delightful fairy grotto in my own front yard.

Fairy Flowers

The lilacs were amazing this year. Their sweet smell surrounded me every time I walked outside.

Spring Lilacs

The first flowers are giving way to irises and peonies, and the trees are now holding my attention most.

The other day, I sat in my front drive while waiting for a tow truck and gave myself a moment of negative space. Instead of checking email or thinking about the day or fretting about why I needed to call a tow truck, I listened to the wind in the trees and watched the sunlight play across the dew-heavy grass. I couldn’t have enjoyed that moment of serenity if I was keeping myself busy every second of every day.

I need to give myself time for What Ifs? and the even more intriguing—What’s Next?

A Season of Light, A Season of Darkness

I love that so many cultures celebrate light during the darkest days of winter. We string up electric lights, snuggle near fireplaces, and gather around the hearth to share food, drink, and stories of our experiences.

A few years ago, I realized that people often overlook the darkness surrounding them in the colder months, and the gifts it brings. Restfulness, sleep, and dreams are all helped by darkness. Sitting in a pitch-black room, the darkness is almost palpable. Without sound or light vying for my attention, my mind has a blank canvas to project perceptions onto. The inky void around me feels like it goes on forever, and my imagination ignites.

Rilke said it best:


The Magic Pencil

I sat down to write the other day, and couldn’t find my pencil. I specifically bought this pencil for my writing. While allowing myself to search for a few brief moments, I realized what trouble I would be in if I had turned this basic tool into a Magic Pencil, an indispensable tool that was vital to my writing process. If I had attached too much significance to it, my writing session could have been over before it began. This is why I don’t let myself form muse-attachments anymore.

Early in my research into writing, most of the people who mentioned this phenomenon were in favor of it. They said to write in the same place every day, at the same time. They advised having an inspiring picture, a special notebook, or other triggers to your creativity, all symbols meant to tell your muse, your writer’s intuition, “Now is the time to create.”

I’ve worked with symbols and the subconscious quite a bit in my life, and only one writer pointed out the danger of this plan. What if your schedule suddenly changes and you lose your key writing time? What if you move? What if you lose your magic writing pencil?

I used to have an entire room dedicated to my writing, with a huge desk, drawings of my characters on the walls, maps, charts, all kinds of triggers for ideas. I had special gorgeous journals and favorite fountain pens. Over time, the journals became spiral notebooks, the fountain pens became mechanical pencils, and my desk turned into a portable plastic folding table I can set up anywhere in my home in two minutes. I’ve never been more productive.

I let myself write free-hand, type, use dictation software, pens, pencils, journals, notepads, napkins; whatever is in arm’s reach becomes my writing tools, and I am never at a loss. I write at coffee shops, in bed, at the library, on the floor, in the kitchen, on the couch, at the park. The various scenery isn’t a distraction. It feeds my settings, enriches my descriptions, and reminds me that writing is a vital part of my life, but not my entire life. It lets me write anywhere, anytime, and maintain balance.

Symbols can be motivating and helpful, especially when you’re starting out. But it’s important to be conscious of how you’re using them.