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My Writer's Journal

Where Ideas Come From

The question I'm asked most often: "Where do you get your ideas?" My answer is glib: "They're all around me. It's just a matter of recognizing them." And that's true, to a point. But not every idea is a good one, or one I want to commit to for at least a year of hard work. That's the place I'm in now - lots of golden ideas floating around, but when I reach out and catch one it suddenly loses its glitter. I discover that somebody else has already done it, no doubt better than I could do it. Or it's truly a fascinating subject, but not enough people have heard of it, and a book could disappear without a trace.

I'm fascinated by Cixi, empress of China at about the same time Victoria was queen of England. While most people have heard of Queen Victoria, Empress Cixi has hardly any name recognition, unless you happen to be interested in Chinese history. Hatshepsut is another terrific subject. Many know about Cleopatra, but how about an Egyptian queen who lived centuries earlier?

These days I'm reading a lot and thinking a lot, but not writing. One of these days, though, something will click, it will be perfect, I'll be hugely excited, and off and running again. Read More 
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The Organized Life

I'm entirely predictable. I live my life by a schedule. I wake up at the same time every morning (6 am), put on my ugly old walking clothes, and take off on the same 3-mile loop; I know most of the dogs along the way, the same bicyclists wave, the same people on their way to work say Hi. My body stays on the same route, but my mind wanders. It's fine.

Shower, dress, breakfast (oatmeal), newspaper. Check e-mail by 9 am. Break for lunch at noon. Gym Mon-Wed-Fri, except this summer when I had to finish VICTORIA and cut back to Mon-Thu; grocery shopping and errands on the way home. Back to work until 5. Evenings spent reading. Asleep by 10. Variations on weekends, but writing and reading still take high priority.

It sounds boring, I know. My husband thinks I'm a little bit nuts; he doesn't operate that way. Still, it works for me. I get a lot done. It's different now, when I don't have a deadline looming. More time for reading all kinds of things, not just research material. And I actually did clean out the refrigerator. Read More 
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Emerging from the Cave

VICTORIA went off to Editor Paula late Wednesday afternoon, and I emerged, dazed and blinking in the sunlight, from the cave where I have been laboring on the manuscript for weeks. Yesterday I went out for breakfast, something I never do during the week, because mornings are my best writing time. Then I came home and started working through my list of stuff I have neglected while my focus was almost entirely on the book: clear desk; file stack of papers; pay bills; send cousin a birthday card; order filters for the vacuum cleaner. I owe three people long emails; my Facebook page is way out of date; I haven't put anything in my Writer's Journal for a full month. And what's that funny smell in the refrigerator?

Finishing a manuscript brings mixed feelings: relief, of course, because I really did figure out what the story is and how to tell it, but also misgivings of several kinds: What will the editor have to say about it? It may be weeks until I have her response, although we're already debating the title. I hated VICTORIA CONFESSES, and now so does she. I tried VICTORIA RULES, but that didn't hit the right note. So I floated VICTORIA REBELS; let's see if it sticks.

The other thing is, there's now a big empty hole in my life. For the first time in many years, I don't have an immediate project to dive into. WHAT IF I NEVER GET ANOTHER GOOD IDEA? I think I'll go clean out the refrigerator and see if inspiration strikes. Read More 
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