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My Writer's Journal

What I do all day

When I first started to write, many years ago, nobody ever really believed I was working. I was at home, wasn't I? So I must be available for telephone chats, lunches with friends, afternoon movies. But I have always been very well organized, and I do keep to a strict schedule. It sounds dull, boring, and repetitious, but it gets the work done.

6 am: alarm goes off, if I let it. Usually I get up a little earlier, throw on old clothes, and take off for a 2-1/2 mile walk around my neighborhood. I've been doing this for 25 years; figure I've covered more than 15,000 miles.
8 am: showered, dressed, ready for breakfast (oatmeal; always oatmeal) and the morning paper.
9 am: at my desk, checking e-mail, ready to write.
12 n: lunch (available Tue & Thu to go out)
1 pm: M-W-F to the gym for an hour, then errands; T-Th, back to writing
5 pm: watch TV news, cook dinner, eat, clean up
7 pm: answer email, letters, odd jobs
8 pm: read
10 pm, or earlier: SLEEP!

Weekends: a little variation, but not much; dinner out, friends in, Sunday concert, chores.

And I'm never bored. Ever. Read More 
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Life Is Good

OK, I complain a lot, but I'm feeling MUCH better today. Revisions of CLEOPATRA'S SPELL are done, 248 lovely pages ready to go out electronically and in hard copy. That will not be the end of it, for sure. Editor Paula will go through it, ready to pounce. We've been having an on-going argument for months about the use of contractions: I'll, wasn't, there's. I think they should be used in conversation between Cleopatra and her sisters and friends. Paula says they shouldn't. We'll see.

Then, when we're both satisfied and have reached a compromise of some sort, the manuscript will go off to a copyeditor, who will comb it for grammatical errors (I do dangle a participle from time to time) and a fact checker, who will search out errors in dates or other historical inaccuracies. I'll have to come up with a bibliography and a family tree. Just when I think it's finished, there will be still another question. That's how it is.

Meanwhile, my head will be completely wrapped around Mary, Queen of Scots. A first draft is due July 1st. I hope I make it. But if I don't, count on it--I'll be complaining again. Read More 
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Pressed for Time

Everybody feels this way at some time: not enough hours in a day, not enough days in a week. I'm definitely feeling that way now. Too much to do, too many projects going on. For instance:

CLEOPATRA has come back from the editor, who has had the manuscript since January 11. It is 222 pages, with corrections on almost every page, some of them major (e.g., requiring a new chapter to be added). Deadline? June 1.

Also: a first draft of MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS, half finished as I write this, is due--guess when? June 1!

Book signings to be organized for THE BAD QUEEN; both in June.

In addition - we're getting ready to move, the house is for sale and has to be "show ready" at all times, and we're moving to an unfinished loft that hasn't been completed yet and has to be checked daily. Estimated move: July 1.

And I've been trying to get my Facebook page up to date, Twitters tweeted, emails answered, bills know, LIFE.

So when somebody asks, "Could you please read my manuscript and help me figure out what to do next?", I have to take a deep breath and say, regretfully, "No."

You do understand, don't you? Read More 
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Hardest Thing(s) About Writing

I'm often asked, "What's the hardest thing?" Most people assume that it's getting ideas or getting published. For me, it's dealing with criticism.

There are two kinds of criticism: BEFORE the book is published and AFTER the book is published.

BEFORE a book is published it goes through several rounds of editing. The first round usually deals with plots that don't quite work, characters that aren't quite believable, clumsy prose, chapters that need to be move around, ideas that need to be thought through. The next round gets into the finer points: too much description or not enough; dialogue that sounds too young to fit the character, or too old, or too formal, or too colloquial; not enough emotional content, or too much melodrama. The third round involves fine-tuning all of the above. Later, fact-checkers make sure dates are correct and there are no factual errors; copy editors check the spelling and grammar (the Grammar Dragon would be proud). At last, the book is ready to go to print. I'm used to this kind of criticism, because it's always positive and usually helpful. It goes with the job.

AFTER the book it's a different story. It used to be that teachers and librarians and regular book reviewers gave their opinions of a new book. Now everybody gets to express an opinion. This is when I get really touchy...and sometimes grouchy. I get lots of email from readers who love my books, or at least like them well enough to tell me so, but there are apparently plenty of people out there who are not so favorably impressed, and they are not fainthearted about saying so in a very public way, like on And it's way too late then to do anything differently.

The strange thing is that I can quote the bad reviews almost word for word, but I have a hard time remembering the good ones. I guess I need to develop a thicker skin, or not read the reviews, or just not care. What do YOU say? Read More 
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