Category Archives: Megan’s Posts

Writing With Soap, Tea, and Sequins

I have a bar of soap on my desk. It’s not for washing my hands. It’s not there by mistake. I bought it a couple of years ago at a quirky little handmade soap shop with a half-dozen other bars, intending to give them out as little gifts whenever a little-gift occasion came up. I did give the rest of them away, but not this one. I loved the scent, fresh and clean, but also like the ocean and crushed mint. And then I realized that the quirky soap shop owners had decided to call this particular scent ‘hangover,’ and I’d just never found anyone I felt good about giving it to. So I kept it, and it gravitated to my desk because its scent made me happy. Soon it didn’t just make me happy, it helped me kickstart my brain. Whenever I’m pondering a scene, I just reach over, grab the soap bar and inhale its ocean-mint scent, and changing one sensory input gives my brain a little jolt and helps me approach my writing with a fresh perspective.

I also have a blackberry sage tea canister that serves a similar purpose. The scent of the tea—leafy, fruity and bitter—lingers in the tin long after I’ve steeped the last bag, and its aroma has the ability to shift my mental focus and give me the nudge I need to think about my writing in a different way.

I like to keep something tactile nearby to work with my fingers while I think. It used to be one of those desk magnet things—until my children carried the little pieces away. Now it’s a slap bracelet with reversible sequins which one of those same children abandoned on my desk. Sequins aren’t really my style aesthetically; I’m more of a natural fibers kind of girl, but if I see reversible sequins, I must touch them, run my hands up and then down. Every. Single. Time. Addiction, y’all. But also a physical prompt to shift my perspective and renew my mind.

There are plenty of ways to shake up your environment in order to shake up your mind and your story. You just have to find the one that works for you. Change the lighting in you room. If you usually stick with a bright overhead light, try softer lamplight or natural light. Open a window. Light a candle. The oppressive heat of summer here has just been replaced by the invigorating chill of fall mornings, so I’ve moved my writing outside today. All the birdsong and fresh air has kept me going for a solid hour already. 

What props or techniques do you use to renew your mind while you write? 

Writing Into the Unknown

Megan Norris Jones

Some people have compared our nation’s experience with the pandemic to the grieving process. Denial (that’s just in China!), bargaining (let’s stay home for a couple of weeks, and then this will all be better), anger (you can’t make me wear a mask!), depression (I’m going to get it no matter what I do), and acceptance. I’m not sure what acceptance looks like because I don’t think we’ve gotten there. 

From a creativity perspective, these months of upheaval and uncertainty have definitely affected my writing life, bringing it almost to a standstill. For a while, everything else was blocked out by the enormity of the pandemic. Events popped up on my calendar, and I just deleted them. Nothing was going to happen. All I did was devour news about the coronavirus. Even areas of my life previously devoted to writing shifted to focus on the disease. Half our weekly WriteOwls phone call was consumed by discussion of the pandemic. I quit reading fiction. I quit watching television and movies. I stopped midway through an audiobook. I sat down to write in fits and starts, but I didn’t produce much. I developed a hyperawareness of the fragility not just of my physical life but also of the activities and relationships that once filled my life.

Sure, some of my writing problems were scheduling issues, since the time I had blocked out for writing didn’t exist any more, and instead I was suddenly shifting to homeschool mode. But I can always stay up later or get up earlier to make time to write. I just wasn’t in a headspace for creating stories in the face of so many unknowns. Even when I was at the bargaining stage of hoping for a return to normal before the school year was out, I knew deep down that this experience was reshaping our culture in profound ways that I couldn’t yet identify. And if the whole world changed, then would the stories I’ve written and am writing even make sense in that new world? Continue reading

When the Words Won’t Come

Megan Norris Jones

If you write, then you’re a writer. You don’t have to wait for the validation of publication, starred reviews, or the best seller lists. Writers write. But what happens when you get stuck, when you’re not writing? If a person who writes is a writer, then what is a person who stares at a computer screen and then decides that she’d better go do the laundry?

We all have those moments/weeks/seasons when the words won’t come. Don’t panic. There’s no need for an identity crisis. You are still a writer. You just need to use a little bit of your creativity to come up with something that makes you step back and consider the whole story, instead of that one little element you’re stuck on, something that reminds you what makes this story worth writing in the first place.

Here are a few techniques that have helped me:

1. Write the jacket copy. Jacket copy is those two to three paragraphs on the inside flap of a hardback or on the back of a paperback that introduce potential readers to your story and convince them that they have to read it. This exercise will help you home in on the best parts of your story because they’re what’s going to sell your book.  Continue reading

When to Stay the Course and When to Move On

Megan Norris Jones

We’ve all been there. That moment when a new story takes shape, and your mind is alive with all the possibilities of creation. It’s brilliant, so shiny and bright, and you just have to start writing it now. Because, honestly, that story you’ve been slogging through for a couple of years now is looking pretty tired. It’s probably not The One, so it’ll be best all around if you dig into the new story right away.

Maybe yes, maybe no. I’ve made both choices: abandon a manuscript that just doesn’t have what it takes or stay the course till it’s finished. An idea that hasn’t been written down yet will almost always look better in your imagination than the reality of clumsy words on the page that never quite tell the amazing story that lives in your head. Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and move on to something more promising, but if you don’t learn to finish what you’ve started, you’ll never actually write a book. 

So how do you decide which to do? Here are some points of consideration that have helped me.

1. Is the underlying idea of your story strong enough to carry an entire book?

Sometimes I have an idea that seems really great, but when I sit down to write it, that great idea isn’t really strong enough to undergird an entire novel. The first manuscript I wrote was like that. I wrote a draft, polished it up a bit, and took it to my first writers’ conference. Once there, it was a terrible shock to discover that my little novel was terribly thin. The idea simply wasn’t interesting enough to keep anyone reading. If I were to ever have any hope of publishing it, the spit shine I’d given my first draft wouldn’t do. It required a complete overhaul, down to its premise. I could have kept the characters and story world I’d created, but that was about it. I discovered that I wasn’t so attached to those characters to make the work worthwhile. I let it go. Continue reading

A Good Goal Makes Me a Better Writer

Megan Norris Jones

The beauty of Write by Midnight is that it allows each of us to set our own goals for the month of February. The only requirement is to write every day by midnight. Writing every day this month will be a challenge in itself, since I have some traveling to do, but I wanted to set a more specific goal for this month-long focus. I’m currently revising a manuscript that I’ve been working on for longer than I like to think about, but Scrivener politely reminds me every time I open it by popping up a “Document created on” date. I’m not going to tell you when it was. It’s embarrassing. And it’s time I finished this puppy up.

I was three-quarters of the way through this revision at the end of January, but Act III needed a complete rewrite. I already had about 6,000 words in Act III, but I anticipated needing closer to 20,000 to finish it. That meant I needed to write another 14,000 words to complete this draft. February has 28 days, which meant I needed to write about 500 words a day, 3,500 words a week. That’s doable, but a stretch for me. I usually only get in two to three solid writing sessions a week, with other days just fifteen minutes or so between activities to keep my head in the story. Continue reading