Story = Speed x Time

When I turned fifty, I realized more than half my life was over, and I still hadn’t pursued my childhood dream of writing a book. I’d buried this desire deep under a pile of worthwhile obligations, self-doubt, and busyness—much of which amounted to mere people-pleasing. I put everything ahead of the dream.

But when I celebrated that milestone birthday, I felt a sense of urgency. I didn’t want to reach the end of my life never having tried. So I made writing a priority.

The Plan

If I really wanted to publish a book, I had to find the time to do it. It came down to numbers:

500 words x 160 hours = 80,000 word novel

If I can write 500 words an hour, I told myself, I’ll finish my first draft in 160 hours. Writing an hour each day, that’s 160 days.

Or maybe, I thought, I can dash off a thousand words an hour and finish twice as fast.

1000 words x 80 hours = 80,000 word novel

At this rate I would complete the rough draft in less than three months. I liked that plan.


The Problem

After an enthusiastic and naïve launch, I nose-dived into reality: most days I didn’t have an hour of quiet leisure to write.

I had read all the advice to

write first thing in the morning,

guard your writing time,

find a quiet place.

But for me, these wise recommendations became excuses for not starting each day. The reasonable voice of Resistance* would tell me, “It’s noisy in the house. And you only have fifteen minutes before you have to cook supper. Might as well check Twitter instead.”

A few months ago, after I failed to write for several days and the frustration mounted, it hit me: finding enough time is less about changing my circumstances and more about changing my thinking. Finding enough time starts in my mind.

Don’t Despise the Day of Small Things: Snatching Bits of Time

My insistence on perfect conditions was keeping me from using what time I had. I’d made a few erroneous assumptions:

1)      I need solitude.

Of course, it’s easier if I’m alone and the room is quiet and no one is interrupting. Yes, it’s less efficient to write while surrounded by distractions, but maximum efficiency is a luxury. Perfectionist thinking told me I couldn’t be creative unless I had seclusion. This is false.

2)      I need a large block of time.

Nope. I can do things in spurts. Ten minutes here. Five minutes there. An hour-long session would be the bee’s knees, but I’m amazed by how much I can accomplish piecemeal. Again, I had to drop the all-or-nothing thinking.

3)      I need a designated place and hour, i.e. my easy chair in the morning with the cat by my side.

Now I snatch moments in various places. I write on the go. I have Microsoft Word on my phone, and if I’m sitting in the waiting room at the ophthalmologist’s office, I compose a few sentences or jot down a few notes.

If, like me, you can’t follow the recommended practices of other authors, don’t despair. Find what works for you. If you can take activities off your schedule, do it. If you can delegate tasks, do it. If, instead of cooking, you can order Chinese takeout, make that call. Then, after you’ve cut the deadwood from your to-do list and your calendar, find a way to write with your life as it is, not as you wish it could be.

I’m curious to know if other people struggle with this. Leave me a comment if you have other thoughts or suggestions.

In the next post I’ll talk about Speed.


*Author Steven Pressfield talks a lot about the evil monster Resistance in his books on writing. You can find him here.



Bee’s Knees, and Other Swell Expressions

I woke up this morning in a contemplative mood. I was pondering grief, death, and the etymology of the phrase bee’s knees.

What in tarnation does it mean? Do bees have knees?


I was certain this expression, which means “fantastic, supreme,” must be an Americanism from the 1920’s, a renaissance for slang.

Fiddlesticks! According to language specialist Matthew Male at Future Perfect, it isn’t American at all. The term derives from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.   

” . . . that but this blow/Might be the be-all and the end-all. . . ”  (I.vii.4ff)

The phrase “be-all and end-all” became a popular saying. It was so familiar that people shortened it to “the B’s and E’s.”

“B’s and E’s.” Say that five times really fast. What does it sound like? Right ho! There you have it.

That brings me to swell. says it was first used to mean “good, excellent” in 1897, much earlier than I thought:

“The riverboat was swell!” said the dapper gentleman in the white, straw hat.

Later, in 1930, it emerged as a stand-alone interjection:

Joe asked, “How was the grammar lecture?”

“Swell!” George said, beaming.

A synonym of swell, and one I’ve also wondered about, is hunky-dory. According to, the first record of this expression is from an American (with possible Irish influence) song. Again, it did not originate in the Roaring 20’s but much earlier: 1862. Here are the lyrics which I quote from the website:

Hunkey Dorey

One of the boys am I,
That always am in clover;
With spirits light and high,
‘Tis well I’m known all over.
I am always to be found,
A singing in my glory;
With your smiling faces round,
‘Tis then I’m hunkey dorey. 

And on that note, I will sign-off, hoping your day is the bee’s knees.



The Cranky Cure: My Favorite Writing Podcasts


I’ve never been called a stellar housekeeper. No doubt this is due to my high tolerance for disorder and dirt.

But I have my limits.

When I can scrawl my name in the dust on the hall table, I know it’s time to pull out the Pledge. But as I’m dusting, I’m thinking, I wish I were writing!

On these days, when I’m frustrated with the necessity of housework and other chores, I console myself by multitasking with a podcast about writing. I feel super productive (and less grumpy) as I simultaneously clean the house and learn how to clean up a manuscript.  And washing yesterday’s dishes is infinitely more entertaining while I’m listening to Brandon Sanderson discuss limited third person point of view.

Here are my favorite writing podcasts in no particular order:

1) Writing Excuses

Hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. This is the first writing podcast I ever heard, and even in my literary ignorance, I knew I’d stumbled upon a treasure. The site has archived twelve seasons of episodes covering a slew of writing topics. And lucky for us, they continue to post a new program every Sunday.

2) The Creative Penn

Joanna Penn is the authority on self-publishing and becoming an author entrepreneur. Many of her podcasts focus on the business side of things, but a fair number also tackle creative and writing topics. I could listen to Joanna’s lovely British accent all day, and sometimes I do.

3) The Worried Writer

I found this one only a few months ago, but from the first episode, it became a favorite. Sarah Painter, aka, the Worried Writer, interviews authors about their writing processes and concerns. Her advice about overcoming fear-based procrastination and her encouraging, gentle Scottish voice have helped this anxious scribbler many times. New programs post on the first day of each month.

4) The Story Grid Podcast

Tim Grahl and editor Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid, discuss various details of novel writing as Shawn guides Tim from page one of his story to “The End.”

5) The Bestseller Experiment

These guys win first prize for Zany British Humor, or rather, humour. The Two Marks–Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux–interview big-name authors about the writing process and publishing.  Highly informative and entertaining. They will make you smile.

I’d love to hear about other good writing podcasts. If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments.




Slowing Down Long Enough to See

I have a few phobias: spiders, public speaking, roller coasters. And I should probably add to the list, blogging, because I’ve had this account for three years but have been too afraid to post on it.

Until today.

This blog is dedicated to small things, like this gorgeous specimen my son and I encountered on our walk today. It’s February, but this copper-colored grasshopper is getting a jump (sorry) on spring.grasshopper

Photo by Daniel McLendon

I’m finding that the slower I go, the quieter my mind becomes. And the quieter my mind is, the more I notice.

This blog is also about words. I plan to pass along helpful articles and books I come across in my journey to becoming a better writer. Maybe they’ll help you, too.