12 days of ( Writing ) Christmas

Christmas songs—Christmas songs—Christmas songs!
Here are a few lesser-known favorites of writers everywhere. 

( sing to The Twelve day of Christmas)

12 days of xmas

( sing to Jingle Bells )

social media

( sing to Frosty the Snowman )

scribbly the writer


( sing to Santa Claus is Coming to Town )

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Merry Writing!

Related Posts: Readin’ & Writin’ and Rock Your Writing

Garden of Symbolism

field of flowersNature is a symbolic powerhouse that can add depth and complexity to a novel. ( See the Symbolism post for how and why you might want to include one or two.)


Plants and trees and all-things-nature may be used in a variety of literary ways! As:
  • a metaphor
  • a symbol
  • foreshadowing
  • an allusion
  • a plot device
  • characterization
  • the literary device favorite—irony

A Few Leafy Considerations

  • Flowering suggests a blossoming or awakening of a character’s personality, intellect, morals, understanding, love etc
  • Metaphoric or symbolic indicator of something—like an idea, problem, conflict, ideology, morality, opinion, attitude—that is dead or dying
  • May foreshadow a character’s or conflict’s demise
  • Characterize an aspect that is dead/destroyed within a character’s soul or heart
New Growth
  • Denotes new beginnings, fresh starts, renewal, hope unless
  • The growth is deleterious or harmful
  • May convey the root of a problems coming to the surface
  • Reveal the unearthing of a problem or situation
  • Characterize the importance of character’s culture
Yellowed or drying leaves
  • Indicates or foreshadows that a character or situation is dying
  • Suggests the approaching end of one’s life or goals or hope
  • A tricky or hurtful problem or situation
  • Characterize a person’s temperament
  • Foreshadow problems


  • Consider type—thorny, thick, invasive, wild, sculpted, overgrown—may indicate the type of problem/conflict OR
  • Reveal a character’s personality OR
  • Foreshadow any of the above
  • Hedges enclosing a space may reveal the boundaries of a character or situation
  • Does the character leap over them? Crash into them? Trip over them? Plant them? Tend them? Cut them down? Trample them?
  • May be a biblical allusion to the Garden of Eden
  • Consider what’s growing in the garden. Plants? Rock garden? Cactus? Full of statues? Fruit trees? Vegetables? Flowers? Herbs?
  • Symmetry suggests  beauty and a well-rounded intellect
  • Is it well -tended, wild, gone to seed, in ruin, meticulous?
  • Is it a secret garden?
  •  Gnarled limbs may reveal a complex problem
  • Hint at the strength or weakness of a character ( Does the trunk bend with the wind? Is it stunted? Does it overshadow other trees? )
  • Suggest the strength of a character’s heritage/culture
  • Is the tree symbolic? See Tree Symbolism.
  • Indicate soaring ambitions
  • Does the character climb or swings from its branches?
  • Do they denote character like the “Four Skinny Trees” chapter found in House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros?
  • Pastoral or idyllic atmosphere ( unless its full of zombies or raptors )
  • Wild beauty
  • Think Bronte!
  • Desolate and dreary but can be tragically romantic
  • Something to be crossed
  • A great place to ponder one’s life
  • Add fog for some Gothic-style brooding
  • Are invasive, taking over and often obscuring or smothering other plants. Does a character or culture or conflict encroach upon your character?
  • Are they poppies  ala The Wizard Of Oz?
  • Do they have thorns?
  • What’s the symbolism behind the species?
  • Are they wilted?
  • Are they common? Read the short story Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck for a symbolism-packed flower
  •  Or exotic like the very symbolic and tattoo-favorite lotus flower?
  • Is it the red rose of love or is it the “Sick Rose” of William Blake’s evocative poem?
  • Does it grow with others? Or is it  a single triumphant daisy growing from a crack in the pavement?
  • Are the blooms wilted? Or have the buds been nipped off?
  •  Unwanted and ugly unless…
  • They are beautiful weeds, in which case they suggest the beauty in something unwanted and ugly
  • Are they a metaphor for a character’s persistent problems?
  • Are they a symbol for the character’s troubles in life?
  • Does the character try to get rid of them or let them take over?
Wide paths
  • The physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychological, moral choice is easy
  • It is a common or frequent choice
Narrow paths
  • The physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychological, moral choice is difficult
  • It is an uncommon or infrequent choice ( The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost )
Streams and ponds
  • Pastoral and charming…usually
  • Can symbolize the conflicts in a novel
  • They can be large or small, cold, frozen, fraught with danger, or harbor giant brontosaurus-type creatures
  • In the 1999 movie Lake Placid, the idyllic lake is anything but placid! Can you say irony?
  • How fast is the water moving?
  • Is it the complex symbol found in Huck Finn where the Mississippi divides the racist east from the wide open west AND where direction denotes bias AND is the only place where Jim and Huck are free from prejudiced eyes?
  • Is it “The Bitter River” of the poem by Langston Hughes?
  • Is it the river from Fahrenheit 451 where Montag jumps into to save his life and that symbolizes his intellectual rebirth?
A FEW ADDITIONS ( not nature but often found with nature)


  • Like all doors, arches, and entry ways, gates signify movement from one realm—physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychological, moral— to another.
  • Is the gate connected to a white picket fence ( a perfect American family )?
  • Is the gate wide ( easy ) or narrow ( difficult ) ?
  • Is the gate fancy or plain? Ancient or new?
  • Connectors of two different physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychological, moral, cultural worlds
  • Broken bridges therefore reveal the schism or rift between the two
  • Often haunted
  • Check out Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” for  sophisticated bridge symbolism
  • Is it a primitive rope bridge? The Golden Gate? Quaint covered wooden? Modern steel?
  • Often places of danger
  • What’s under the bridge? Troll? Water? Dry creek bed? Deep ravine?
  • How far down is the drop from the bridge? ( the farther the fall the more dangerous )

See how much FUN you can have with the natural world?

Related links: Symbols & more symbols; Rock Your Writing

ABC’s of Writing

blocksAim high. Ambition + Ability = Accomplishment

Block out time for writing. Make it a habit.

Characterization. Names, dialog, physical descriptions, and actions all contribute to revealing character. For an in-depth look click CHARACTERIZATION.

Despair not! No matter the path you choose ( self-publishing or traditional ) there’s lots of roadblocks, detours, potholes, and flat tires along the way.

Edit-edit-edit! Then edit again! See Manuscript Clean-up and Most Commonly Confused Words.

Foreshadowing is achieved many different ways. Weather changes, location, illness, names, description of a seemingly innocuous person/event/object, a character’s word choice, change in syntax, and a character’s subtle reactions are just a few.

Grammar rules must be understood before breaking them.

Handle criticisms, suggestions, and rejections with grace.

Ignore the haters, naysayers, cynics, and anyone not on Team You.

Just get rid of just, that, really, very, who ( Sally, who sits under the tree vs Sally, sitting under the tree), am/was/were, being, seem, suddenly, then, finally, even, was, & it. Here’s a few abstract nouns to replace that pesky IT .

Kvetching. Keep your complaining under control—at least on social media. Rant all you like in private.

Learn the craft of writing. There’s lots of seminars, classes, and books on the subject.

Make the most of your writing time. Here’s how I make time to write while working a day job.

Never give up!

Organize your files, folders, research, drafts, queries, ideas, etc. See Idea Vault.

Plot. Have one. Plots need:
  • Protagonists with a weakness & a need that triggers a crisis.
  • Opponents/Antagonists ( more powerful in some way ) preventing a protagonist from the desired goal. Antagonists thwart the protagonist in a profound moral/intellectual way.
  • Plan/Quest/strategy to beat opponent. This is the rising action and contains a reversal/failure, surprise, and/or critical choice.
  • Battle/Climax is the final conflict with opponent.
  • Self-revelation/epiphany is the fundamental change. The protag, seeing his true self, moves to either a higher or lower level or morality.
  • Resolution/New Equilibrium is the new normal for the protag.

Quit bitchin’ about writers’ block. See Rx for Writers Block.

Read works in your genre and in other genres.

Syntax can develop ideas, simplify, obscure, imply relationships, connect abstract ideas, manipulate tone or mood, suggest irony, reveal character, create suspense/surprise, break flow, provide rhythm, add variety, and organize ideas. It’s powerful. Learn from the masters.

Thesaurus misuse. Synonyms may be close, but not close enough. Words have a denotation ( the dictionary definition ) and a connotation ( the emotion the word evokes ). Select with care!

Utilize the web for research. PDF’s of old texts, virtual tours, Google satellite, YouTube clips, Harvard lectures–the web is a powerful research and/or fact-checking tool. Pay attention to the URL: .org’s, .edu’s, and .gov’s contain more scholarly information.

Verb it up! Active verbs energize a manuscript.

Word order. Every sentence should not have the same part-of-speech pattern. The last read-my-first-page link I clicked began either with a gerund (verb +ing) or noun ( I ). I stopped reading after the second paragraph.

X-rated language can turn readers on, turn readers off, become repetitive, convey mood, reveal character, or be merely a writer’s word crutch. Use judiciously.

Yakking on Facebook & Twitter is great—but don’t let it be an excuse for not working on your manuscript.

Zealous dedication is required for success. In Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers, he says mastering a skill takes 10,000 hours.

Talkin’ Turkey


turkeyOr How to Carve Out Time for Writing When You Have a Day Job!

Oh, and it’s not JUST writing your novel! Building a social media platform and blogging gobbles up time as well!

So in the honor of Thanksgiving, this blog is dedicated to the many thankful ways this mom-teacher-author makes time for writing.

Writing a novel is a big enough task to swallow, but blogging and tweeting and social media-ing ( yep, I made the word a verb ) means biting off more than you can chew and often having to spit out those chores that are burning yummy writing time.

Here’s my recipe.

 Prep time before work
  • Send out a tweet or 2 while eating bowl of oatmeal
  • post latest blog on Facebook groups ( Monday is a BIG day–make sure to use the #MondayBlogs hashtag)
  • look at last words I wrote of work-in-progress so next scene can marinate while commuting
  • tweet while standing in line at Starbucks
  • note any ideas/keywords/phrases after car is parked
Preheating the creative oven during work
  • tweet or check tweets while walking to bathroom or during passing period
  • any flashes of brilliance are stored in one of my idea vaults ( See Idea Vaults )
Stuffing in the social media data during lunch
  • check Facebook and Twitter
  • read blogs or articles
  • check email
  • save links or forward links to read at home
Basting those priorities while driving home and while running errands ( bank, grocery store, dry cleaners)
  • deciding the best use of my time for the next few hours

Carving those juicy hours. I have only about 3 hours before the brain shuts down and the eyes glaze over, therefore I maximize whatever the brain is capable of.

  • Sizzling hot brain: Excels at plotting, outlining, and writing first drafts. Dinner isn’t happening! Neither is laundry nor any other household task. The phone goes unanswered. I respond with hand signals. ( See Hand Signals for Writers.) This is PRIME time.
  • Room temperature brain: Handles re-writes, editing, and blogging. Making dinner, throwing in a load of laundry, talking to kiddos and hubby,  paying a bill–these don’t require creative intensity. Interruptions are OK, and the family gets dinner.
  • Refrigerator Brain: Capable of tweeting, liking, and commenting on various social media platforms. Cold brain is also good for pinning photos on Pinterest, reading blogs/articles, researching, annotating, reading, and trashing spam. This is my “down time.”

Those three hours during the weekday are deliciously precious. I don’t watch TV; however, I will watch something on Netflix while on the treadmill.

The Smorgasbord Weekend
  •  This is the time I get the most accomplished and when the most progress is made on a manuscript. I work from morning until my vision gets blurry because without the 1 &1/2 hr commute, the 200+ student questions, and 5 am wake time the ol’ sizzling brain stays hot.

Why it’s gravy: I love writing and enjoy the entire process so it’s not work—it’s a joy.

Writer’s Hierarchy of Needs

Psychologist Abraham Maslow is best known for his theory about human motivation, aka the hierarchy of needs. He believed that basic needs must be fulfilled before an individual can progress to higher levels. For example, an individual cannot realize their self-potential ( the highest level ) if the basic necessities of food and shelter are not met.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Anyone who’s ever taken a Psychology 101 class is familiar with the conceptualized pyramid denoting the levels.

Well, it struck me that writers have a hierarchy of needs of their own that must be satisfied  before they can hope to achieve creative greatness.

Writers hierarchy of needs


Physical needs: Writers don’t need much–our minds are full enough. However, coffee to awaken the Muse, snacks for feeding the Muse, a computer ( or notebook and pen in a crunch ) and the happy hormones found in chocolate are writing staples.


Safety: Internet connections help us research and connect with friends. With a flash drive or Cloud we rest easy knowing our masterpiece is safe from virtual viruses. Any writer losing their work or revisions to a computer crash remembers the agony of their genius vanishing like dust in the wind. ( cue “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas )

Love & Belonging: We might be solitary folk, happy retreating into our creative cave, yet we need the fellowship of FaceBook , Instagram, Google +, LinkedIn, and Twitter. We seek validation not only from other writers but from reviewers, readers, and  friends. There is safety in numbers, in belonging to groups where the written word reigns supreme and reading is revered!

Esteem: We are fragile sorts, our egos crushed daily by plot flaws, meager word count, and scenes refusing to flow. So thus we turn away from the story, casting our attentions to the Likes, Tweets, ReTweets, and hits on our social media. Sadly, they validate us, at least for the moment. And when our confidence is lifted by enough Likes and RT’s we venture back into our novel.

Self-Actualization: Having attained our needs we are now eager to plunge into the story. We conjure the Muses and force them to do our bidding. Words flow from our brain, pass the heart, and course through our fingertips. Reality vanishes and we are happy, our Zen restored.

 So should you experience the horrors of writer’s block, fear not!
It’s not you!
Your Pyramid of Writer’s Needs is not being met! 


Related Links: Readin’ & Writin’ & Rx for Writer’s Block