by | Apr 18, 2018 | Gayle Lynds, The Writer's Life, On writing | 8 comments

Unless kids, cats, dogs, pizza, or a new hip arrives

Gayle Lynds:  There’s an old saying in an author’s life — writing is 10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration.  So what do you do when you run out of perspiration!?!  I recently had complete hip replacement surgery.  So did 94-year-old Prince Philip.  He’s my hip hero, and I’ll bet the hospital gave him the same ugly white socks to wear that mine gave me.  Still, my new hip is grand.  I hope his is, too.  I move easily and am pain free.  Dare I believe my hip is bionic? 

But, oh, the ongoing recovery from surgery!  I feel as if I’m an 8-cylinder Jag operating on a lawn mower engine.  Where’s my energy?  Worse, where’s my mind?  I didn’t realize I’d have anesthesia fog, or meds fog … or whatever the heck it is.

Then last night I had a revelation.  I was curled on my side, my forehead pushed against my husband’s shoulder for comfort.  As I lay in a semi-haze, images started appearing in my mind.  The faces of strangers.  Houses.  Mountain landscapes.  A cargo ship.  As I watched the cavalcade I realized I was witnessing my imagination at work.  I’ve always been visual, and I create from that.  Hallelujah!  Does this mean I’ll be able to write fiction again soon?  

Tell me, dear Rogue sisters … how do you get your groove back!

S. Lee Manning: When I’m in the zone and writing every day, I hyper focus. The writing is all I think about — even when I’m not writing — and I’m probably more than a little boring to be around. It’s part of the curse and maybe the blessing of ADHD. So, when I get out of the groove for any number of reasons — illness, travel, family emergencies, stuff on the news that has me transfixed like a deer in the headlights — I find myself floating in a sea of anxiety and self doubt, asking — how could I think I had the ability to be a writer? No one’s going to read this garbage, and what did I think I was doing, writing books? Concurrently, I damn myself for being lazy, for not writing as much as other writers, or for lacking ability to focus. Yada yada.

So, here’s my five-step plan …
     1. Forgive myself for lapsing. It’s how I operate. It’s how I’ve always operated — and I get things done — eventually. Stop calling myself names. Chant it like a mantra. I am not lazy, and I am not a screw-up.  
     2. Ask someone close to read what I think is garbage — because usually, even if there are flaws, it’s not garbage. And if it is, my kids or my husband isn’t going to tell me.
     3. Turn off the TV. The TV has always been my refuge when depressed or anxious — and I have wasted too much time, curled in its warmth.  
     4. Write something short. A post for Rogue Women Writers. A comment on someone else’s post. Anything that forces me to use words and form coherent thoughts.  
     5. Go back, revisit, edit whatever I was doing when I was in the zone, until I get into the mindset that I can go forward.

Sometimes the entire process takes a few days, sometimes a few weeks, but in the end, so far, this has worked for me.

Gayle:  What terrific suggestions, S. Lee.  It’s a Five Step Program for those of us who’ve fallen off the writing wagon.  Ah-hem.  That’s me.  In my mind, I’m leaping for the first rung on the ladder.

Karna Small Bodman: Interesting question, Gayle (first, so glad you’re getting back on track).  Now I figure with your imagination, combining mountains and a cargo ship, perhaps a great setting for your next thriller could either be Rio de Janeiro or Hong Kong — two exotic places where nearby mountains cascade down to the sea. 

Gayle:  You’re giving me chills, Karna.  I wrote about mountains and a cargo ship in The Last SpymasterI can actually remember writing.  So that’s where my dreamy sequence must’ve come from.  Wahoo!

Russian Embassy, Washington: Look for spies!

Karna Small Bodman:  You’re on your way!  For me, getting back in the groove after an hiatus is sometimes through a setting, too. For example, we spend spring and fall in Washington, DC and I recall being invited to an event at the Russian Embassy. As soon as I had a chance, I grabbed a piece of scratch paper from my evening bag and jotted down descriptions of their unsmiling security guards, the foyer where ID’s were checked and double checked, then the grand ballroom where vodka was liberally poured for all … and imagined my hero having an encounter over in the corner with a Russian spy he was trying to “turn.” 

It’s all about keeping your eyes — and mind — open at ALL times.  Now, sit down, Gayle, and conjure up a great plot — can’t WAIT to read your next one.   

Gayle:  You’re so right that that’s what I need to do, Karna.  Spasibo!

Chris Goff: Isn’t it amazing when you start moving better? I didn’t have a hip done, but I had a knee done, and it was like getting a new lease on life.

Chris knit this fab McKinlay Tartan Sweater. Wow!

Usually when I struggle to write, I don’t let myself write. Sort of like when you feel like sneezing but try to make yourself sneeze, you can’t sneeze. Sort of like reverse psychology. I tell myself I don’t want to write. Anytime I find I want to write something, I don’t let myself. I go to the pool or gym. I go play tennis. I go for a walk.

I knit a sweater. I have a thing for knitting baby or kid sweaters. It feels like such an accomplishment, and it’s a lot faster than knitting a sweater for an adult. This is a sweater I made for my niece. She and I are both McKinlays, and this is the McKinlay tartan — or the closest I could come with yarns from the Lamb Shoppe. It took me a while to figure out the pattern, and there was a bit of tearing out involved, but I love the end product.

This Easter I painted blown-out eggs.
I go to great lengths not to write. The thing is, I hate being deprived, and it doesn’t take long for me to get antsy. Then I want to write. Let’s face it, we’re professional writers. We have to write. So when all else fails, I set a timer, and sit and stare at the screen, and tell myself I can do anything for an hour.

Gayle:  I’m not gonna write.  I’m not gonna write!  I’m not gonna write???  Oh, no!  I want to!

Jamie – runner, author!

Jamie Freveletti: Well, I can’t knit but I’ve always wanted to learn, so perhaps, Chris, you can teach me! And I love Sandy’s suggestions, especially forgiving yourself for the lapse. I tend to beat myself up for the words I didn’t write, so I’ll have to remind myself that it’s a marathon not a sprint. Which brings me to my method – I run! When I’m stuck I slap on the running shoes and hit the track. As I do, I wear earbuds and listen to music and inevitably my mind starts churning with scenes and ideas. It’s kind of odd, but perhaps the movement shakes things up. Whatever it is, it works every time! Great to hear that you’re healing Gayle!

Gayle:   Ah-ha, movement.  You’re right, Jamie — and I have fond memories of my running days.  As soon as I get out of physical therapy, I’m gonna hit the pool for my new fave — deep water aerobics!

Lisa Black:  Love the Easter eggs! I have a very regimented approach to writing, I think, and that is both a blessing and a curse. I don’t start until I have a solid plan in mind (which is, somehow, never solid enough and halfway through the first draft I’ll be berating myself for starting before I was ready), but once I start I have myself on a strict word count requirement for each day. That is suspended only for vacations, major holidays, and if Cape Coral happens to have a homicide that week.

Lisa, forensic scientist, author!

So I usually don’t have a problem until the second draft, where I don’t have that definitive method of charting progress … then the procrastination sets in. By this point there are household projects that have been neglected and other work that has piled up and on top of that I’m bloody sick of the whole thing and never want to see the horrid concoction that no one is going to want to read ever again. (I’m at this stage right now, as you may have guessed.)

I agree with the forgiveness aspect; this is where I cut myself some slack and let myself take a day or two or three to think through something that isn’t working. Eventually an idea will surface. And if I’m really lucky, it will be something that doesn’t require a lot of rewriting!

Gayle.   You are where I want to be right now, Lisa.  I love second drafts and revisions. Can we trade???

KJ Howe.  Research fuels my writing passion.  Meeting experts in the international kidnap and ransom field provide excellent fodder for what can and does happen across the globe today, and then I get to write about it!

Gayle.  Thank you, KJ, for taking time out from your whirlwind book tour for your new Thea Paris thriller, SKYJACK.  And you’re right — research fuels me, too.  But first, I can’t wait to read SKYJACK!

Robin Burcell:Oh, my! What a good question, Gayle! (And glad you’re feeling better!) For me, I find the biggest obstacle I have is me. I was in Anaheim recently, where I heard DP Lyle, MD, say that another writer (name escapes me) says that the single best advice is Bum Glue. In other words, plant bum in chair and simply start writing. That seems to work for me.

Robin, clearly not in her chair working!

My problem is that my glue doesn’t stick. It’s always an excuse: oh, if I had a better desk (like one that doesn’t get messy), or I need to clean the pantry (like I’m big on cleaning. Ha! Trust me, I’m not). In other words, it’s like my mind is actively searching for ways to not write. One thing that really helps is a contractual deadline fast approaching. But it’s amazing how much time I can fritter away when that deadline is weeks away. When it’s on the horizon, we’re talking 15 hour days!

Gayle.  My heart speeds up at the thought of 15-hour work days, Robin.  You’re inspiring me!  Those were some of my happiest writing times, but then I also ended up with back surgery and now hip surgery because of Bum Glue.  But I regret not a moment of it….

We’d love to hear your tips and tricks! So, Rogue Readers, have you ever lost your groove? And if so, what did you do to get it back? 

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Jean Jenkins

    Am sort of where you are, Gayle – getting used to meds when I've never taken meds at all. It does fog the mind. I've begun making quiet time before sleep and taking walks (in my mind) with my character. Sometimes there are words but sometimes the experience is only tactile. And it's working; I'm finding my way back to her.

  2. Anonymous

    I impose an expiration date for my small break between bouts. You make your own deadline after you re-charge. AND don't feel guilty for the Re-charge Time! Ya need both!

    Laura H.

  3. Leslie Budewitz

    Glad to hear you're both recovering, Gayle and Chris! The 5-step plan is a good one. I asked some friends a similar question recently, and advice from one of them might help you, in particular, Gayle. In addition to forgiving yourself and doing something every day to stay connected to the work, like research or a blog post, she said 'Remember that you've been a productive committed writer for years now, and you still are. The words WILL come again."

    Best wishes!

  4. Robin Burcell

    I really like that 5-step plan, too, Leslie. I might have to print that up and put it on my desktop!

  5. Lisa Black

    Yes, please Gayle–take this thing over for me!! I'll even throw in some cupcakes.

  6. Robin Burcell

    Hey, how do I get in on this cupcake thing?

  7. Lisa Black

    Take this mess of a manuscript and make it as good as the stuff you write!! I’ll even make my specialty—caramel chocolate walnut with homemade frosting!

  8. Robin Burcell

    Hold the walnuts and I'll be the first one in line!