How Painting made me a Better Writer

My watercolor adventures produced a fair amount of failed paintings. Notably lopsided buildings, pale colors, awkward brush strokes and poorly placed objects.

After rinsing my brushes and stowing my pallet, I darted to my laptop filled with insight and inspiration. Here are my take-aways.

Use the whole canvas

New ideas for our W.I.P. flash brightly and serve as excellent high-level concepts. But that alone doesn’t make an 80,000-word manuscript. White space awaits character development, exposition, sub-plots, snappy dialog. And the beloved hills and valleys (the wild ride, I like to say.)

In painting, I imagine Van Gogh’s swirly clouds as the precipice for The Starry Night. Alone they are breathtaking. Add the arch of stars and moon framing the sky. Next the quiet city tucked against the mountain ridge. Paint a tree or two in the foreground to show depth. All built around the infamous swirly clouds.

Take away: Flesh out your bright idea. This takes time and hard work. Map out your plot, sub plots. At least determine the beginning, middle and end. The site How to Write A Novel provides popular techniques to do this. And don’t forget the wild ride.


No character should appear ink black or alabaster white. In painting you can create infinite shades of red. Contrasting or harmonizing colors deepens the sub context, creates emotion on the canvas. In writing your characters must jump off the page, believable and intriguing. When your characters speak, show their inner array of colors. Characters are meant to collide (conflict) and snuggle up to each other like blue and blue green sitting cozy on the color wheel.

Take away: People watch and take notes. Give your characters flaws, and visual interest discerning them from the average Joe. Create characters with desires and demons. Often writers pattern their protagonist after an actor or person they know. Give them cracks and unearth a unique character.


Flat color on the canvas shows the painter’s inexperience. It takes time to learn to create shadows, light the fall leaves with the last drop of summer, or paint a ripe apple so real you could pluck it off the canvas. In writing your characters and scenes fall flat without sound, taste, touch and sight. Breathing life onto the pages doesn’t happen on your first draft. Focus on writing your story, then color the pages.

Take away: Expose the underbelly of a character. Show sorrow that aches bones. Color your pros with strong verbs and paint emotion. Take readers down an unexpected road. Don’t button up the storyline so tight it becomes unbelievable. Let it breathe. Leave readers craving more story on the next page.

View the masterpiece

Most paintings are best viewed from afar. Lines, shapes and color meld into one that the eye might miss in a close-up view.

Writing a book is like viewing a painting up close. Once you have created your masterpiece, tuck it away for a month. Clear your thoughts. Maybe take up painting. When you return to your story, I promise light will shine in areas you missed first go around.

Take away: After a month or more, print your manuscript. Slip into your favorite chair and read with new eyes. Soak up your story line by line. Let other writers or professional readers view the manuscript. Be open to criticism and consider edits. You’re almost done. Bravo!


Beyond a Shadow of Doubt

Image result for storm cloudsSometimes doubt looms above my laptop, shadowing my 12pt. font. Words scatter, no longer making sense. Fingers linger on the keyboard and I slump from the weight of it all.

A bad writing day stunts my writing life, which up until now includes three long ago romances, one promising (at least I think so) women’s fiction. And a sparkly new novel which of course is fantastic.

On those cloudy days, I admit, I sometimes retreat.

More often I fight.

Here’s how.

Nosedive into a book that inspires. Read a chapter. Laugh or cry at the pros. Allow the words to seep into my writing soul.

Change my geography. Ditch the office for a beloved niche. Challenge that cloud to find me. Ha!

Reboot the brain. Do anything besides checking emails. A warm up on my tea sounds about right. Did I let the dogs outside? Forcing our thoughts elsewhere gives rest to my fighting spirit bruised by my inner Doubting Debbie.

Shift to another creative process. Admire art on the wall. Grab a pencil and sketch the sunlit tree outside my window. It’s my theory of milk and cookies: eat cookies and you crave milk, only to desire another cookie and so on.

Biting into another artistic endeavor will steer you back to writing.

If the darn cloud prevails, open an umbrella. The sword, they say is mightier than the pen. I’ve found brandishing the pointy tip of an umbrella punctures my cloud.

All imaginary of course. But isn’t’ that what writers do best?


Dear World,


Desire dies a slow death.

It’s difficult to dismiss a life-long dream. It dwells in our bones. It laps against our feet , awakening our toes like frigid sea water.  It infiltrates our DNA, becoming apart of us.

How then, I ask, do you wash it away?

You don’t.

You’ve heard of a drug addict who gives up cocaine and turns to alcohol. Or the gambler who leaves the tables and takes up chain-smoking.  We trade one passion for another. Even the healthy passions. We can not deny something that makes our soul sing. We can not deny the soul, no more than denying the body. Food, regardless of its form keeps us alive, waking up tomorrow morning and the next.

I consider myself lucky to have found my passion. Without proper water and feeding, I’ve discovered it gets hangry, restless and eventually wilts, no different from a flower.  Sometimes when life gets in the way, I water it just enough to get by. But to intentionally stifle it?


We’re designed to enjoy life, not plod through a daily list to check off. For some passion simmers. Short bursts of brilliance bubble to the surface. Others require a surrogate with their own brilliant ideas (think Pinterest). Inside me glows a neon sign and I haven’t found the switch to turn it off. And I hope I never do.

I may have told you it’s over, but it was a lie.

Dear world, lion 

Are you ready to hear me roar?

















Disappointment Doesn’t fit in a Duffel Bag

Disappointment is bulky. Sometimes  with rough edges.

duffle-bags If the big ‘D’ proved easy, we would stuff it inside an easy-to-carry duffel bag. Maybe even a purse. Instead, the weighty load requires a backpack cinched tight around our middle. The shoulder straps dig into our skin and press down. Sitting, shrugging off the drudgery, isn’t easily accomplished.

Disappointment requires a response.

Saying, “Yes, I know you’re there, stuck to my back, depressing the hell out of me,” isn’t sufficient. Disappointment is chatty. She won’t relent until you give her what she wants.

Foremost, she demands we carry the burden for a time. Much like treading around the house in new shoes. At first, they pinch toes, rub against tender skin. Only walking stretches the inner structure of the shoe.

I’d like to think, at my age, I’m all stretched out. Or, maybe I’m not up for the exercise. Like a shadow, my disappointment has followed me everywhere this week. I’ve walked miles while she whispers in my ears. Much of what she says, I don’t want to hear. She even pokes me in the gut until my stomach aches.

Finally, the other day she let me peek inside the backpack. On top I found a mirror. Everyday she asks me to look at myself. Some days, I discover something about me I didn’t know.  Who knew? Well, I suppose she did.

To my surprise the backpack seems lighter today. And she’s tempered her chitchat. I smiled today. I suspect the big ‘D’ is shrinking.

That is my hope.







Fake it ’til you make it

Imagine a beach. Warm white sand, water lit the color of sea glass, clear and lapping over your toes. And a cocktail in your hand.  Or maybe a rustic cabin between two valleys gently resting in tall grass. Depending on your mood, throw in a blazing fire or Fabio; your choice.

Like me, you probably think getting away to that perfect place and leaving the frantic pace of life behind, clears cobwebs.  As if shedding yesterday’s agendas and tomorrow’s struggles will somehow make you swear less, pay attention to your spouse more, or rid a nagging pain in your lower back.

Well, I hate to admit it, but it’s true.


For ten glorious days I vacationed in the Hawaiian Island. After a day of reminders flashing behind my eyes like a ticker tape, my shoulders began to relax, and I started to see the world around me in a new light. I’m sure I might have seen the same things even under duress, but now I had time to savor the simplest of anomalies, linger on beauty unfettered, and contemplate nature’s blessings. Vivid pictures that are creased in my memory are:

The strength of a palm tree against a hearty wind.

An unopened oyster mottled in sand; nature’s secret ingredient that knits together a pearl.

Imperfections in craggy lava, hardened and rough against my feet as I climbed to witness a blowhole display its power.

How sea salt fills your nose and you miss it when you awake to closed windows.

Not everyone can can get away. I get that. Life has a way of chaining us to timelines, cashflow, and other people. If a vacation isn’t in your near future, my suggestion for you is to fake it. At Weight Watchers, they covet the term. Basically it means to pretend like you ARE following the plan even when you stray. This way, they say,  it’s easier to jump back on the plan.

How to fake it, you ask?

The obvious: step away from the electronics. Then, jump into a car, or on a bike and find a sliver of paradise. If you require a bit more imagination, add a mantra and start chanting away days before. Dress the part; if you want to lounge on a tropical island, don’t wear jeans. Take visual aids. The more you play the part, the more fulfilling the time away will become . Fellow writer, Joan Dempsey, recommends Headspace.com, a daily meditation app to jump-start your day; a perfect start to your playdate in paradise.

If you’re saying to yourself, YES, I desperately need this, commit to the time away. Calendar it, and then the day of toss your calendar in a drawer along with your phone and fake away.


I’m Dreaming of a Gray Christmas


Bright shiny red bulbs.  Twinkle lights on trees. Fragrant green garland. Are you seeing it, Christmas in technicolor?  What a wonderful time of year, but everything is not always shiny and bright. Oh, it may be on television, in the malls, or in the neighbor’s front yard, lighting up the entire block.

I’m just a girl, standing in front of…Santa, asking for gray this season.  Why gray, you ask?

This underrated color is a combination of white (as in brilliant glistening snow, and black (the lowest of lonely stocking presents: coal). 

Basically, I’m searching for the middle ground this season. 

This hard to find place is where the presents are not the perfect one of kind thingamajigs on your kiddo’s list, where every dessert isn’t handmade, and where you haven’t searched through Pinterest for the dreamiest tablescape.

Gray, touted as the perfect neutral, is a color that creates expectation.  I like that.  It is often the backdrop used by designers and photographers alike.  This, of course makes the subject matter stand out.  Isn’t that what we want, to see the true beauty of a singular moment? For me that may be my daughter’s smile when she opens my handmade gift, or watching the trollop of my son’s clumsy puppy paws, frolicking in spent wrapping paper.  Or sitting on the sofa sipping hot chocolate on Christmas Eve and seeing ten stocking feet propped up on the coffee table as we watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

In year’s past, I’ve worked magic, or so it seemed, and created many a glitzy Christmases. A good shake of the snowglobe and another holiday vision awaits, bigger, brighter, better.

For this year, I’ve decided to roll down my stockings and rest the reindeers, because I’m certain that somewhere between brilliant white and the blackest of coal, the loveliest shade of gray exists.   

LATEST POSTS, Uncategorized

Bingo was her Name-O

bingo       It was a wooden board with a groove to hold a bingo card.   You know, the hard cards with the slide-thingies that covers up the number with a transparent film. For easy transport, the board folded in half.  And it was sold at JC Pennys.

I remember circling the display with her and finding a half-dozen boxes on the bottom shelf, right inside the store entrance. If I glanced up to see her reaction at seeing the boards, her boards, I don’t remember.

I also don’t remember any discussion about the invention.  Just the trip to the mall.  I’m sure there was plenty of hubbub. Maybe, being a teen, it whizzed over my head.  At fourteen, I had other pressing things on my mind: the zit on my chin. Did Critchfield like me?  Why wouldn’t that weird feeling (later I learned it was anxiety) go away?

Today, while driving to sister’s breakfast, the idea for this blog surfaced. It was more of an epiphany really.  My mother, Lois, was an entrepreneur!  She had passion in her bones.

Like many kids, my parents weren’t real people with feelings, wants, and desires.  My mom’s side of the family, the Barfoot clan are gentle spirits.  I know I’m generalizing here, but it’s true. They are truly kind and generous folks, Canadian and cozy.  A cup of tea is always nearby, along with a comfy sofa. And maybe toast.

          Before this light bulb moment, I never considered my mother much of a go-getter.   But as I parsed apart her Bingo invention, much became clear.

This gambling pursuit that requires staring at numbers and willing B-22, or G-56 to be called, is serious fun. Even glancing at your neighbors cards, and swearing under your breath when someone else yells Bingo, is fun. The snacks are high calorie and plentiful. The conversation lively.

Today I’m declaring that our collective love of bingo is thanks to Lois.   She might not have been the first in the family with Bingo in her blood, but she had the passion to dive deeper and dream up an invention.  I’m certain that there were wooden bingo boards before her invention and after. But she did it! And I love knowing that my entrepreneurial spirit may have stemmed from her side of the gene pool.


A Cup o’ Ken

Growing up, every morning my father brought me tea.  Super hot and bitter strong.  Often tea leaves floated in the creamy milk swirling on top.The recipe was simple; scalding hot water, loose tea steeped for hours, a splash of milk and something else. But that will come later.

As you can imagine it was a rude awakening when I moved out of the house.  That first morning, rousing myself awake, staring at untouched boxes, and realizing there was no tea to jump-start my day.

Funny, tea not only wakes me up, it helps me sleep.  The same caffeinated warmth spreads over me like a blanket, settling my thoughts, somehow signaling to my brain that the day has ended.

During the day, when I’m hungry and shouldn’t eat, tea makes me feel full, at least for an hour or so. Or if I’m troubled, tea is pure comfort to my soul.

I could say that tea, black and strong, is my vice.  It is the answer to every question.  Just like in the Godfather (at least according to You’ve got Mail), the answer is always, take it to the mattresses.

This elixir in a cup that fuels my sleepy form, fills my hungry belly, calms my wearing bones, and feeds my soul was delivered to me bedside, starting at age five from a man who never said I love you.  Lucky for me I married a man who no, doesn’t bring me tea in bed, but continues the tradition by sharing a cup with me day and night.  One day a few years back I shared with him that my father, Ken, never told me he loved me.

Marc smiled and said, “He showed he loved you every morning when he brought you tea in bed.”





Owning It


Compared to many other countries, we, the rich folks, own a lot of things.  But I’m not talking about things.  I’m talking talents and gifts that we are good at.  Often, the problem is we don’t want to claim them, thinking we’re not worthy, not good enough at whatever it is to own it. That might be construed at bragging.  The word, bragging conjures up an arrogant person.  As they boast on and on about their Thing, their head swells with each word until eventually they float away.  Good riddance!

I believe there is something short of gloating and beyond modesty that we can be and own our gifts.  This is why we must own them:


  • Everybody yearns to be good at something.  It is said that we should do one thing really well.
  • Our gifts make our heart swell.  With pride, accomplishment.  Often times, a sense of peace.
  • Owning our gifts usually motivates us to press on, farther down that road.  Our spirit is lifted and by nature we desire to do better, be better.


So what aren’t you owning? Say it out loud and own it.  Say it with conviction, the words almost guttural as they pass your lips.  When you say the words carved and heavy as stone, you should feel them rush out of your chest, leaving no room for doubt.

With that said, I am sharing a picture of my desk.  After dinner the other night, I couldn’t wait to get back to my office to write. Before I sat down I stood looking at the mess.  In that moment, Jeopardy wafting into the room from down the hall, dinner dishes untouched in the sink and the dogs in need of bath,  I owned what I had been skirting for some time.  I AM A WRITER!

What do you need to own?  I am passing the microphone to the next person who reads this.  What’s your shout out to the universe?  Don’t be timid.  We are full of god-given gifts.  What’s yours?

Let me know.  I’d love to celebrate your gift with you.







Why Aren’t you ….

Beautiful smiling cute baby

smiling more.  I’m not talking about the closed mouth, slight turn of the lips smile you give the checker at the grocery store.  Or the millisecond one you offer the driver who pulls up next to you as and you grip the steering wheel, willing the light to change.

I’m talking about a full monty, teeth barring, cheek pinching, ear to ear grin. 

Really, how often do we wield that smile?  I know. . . it’s reserved for special occasions.  Weddings, birth of babies, raises, when that dress in the back of the closest fits again, or in my case, an agent wanting to see my manuscript.

Is the perfect smile like the newest hardware release where there’s a limited amount available?  Are you holding onto smiles that might change a person’s day, or at least influence a singular moment as they bask unexpectedly on your pearly whites?

Facial muscles.  That’s all that is required.  The cool thing is giving this simple gift benefits you.  A few of my favorites are:

makes you more attractive

releases stress

boosts your immune system

lowers blood pressure

helps you stay positive

My challenge to you;  grin like you just won the lotto, until your cheeks hurt.  Do this at least 5 times a day for 7 days.  Post your results and comments. 

*** My results below – do you have a story that beats mine?***

Think of all the things 35 smiles could bring.  Brightening a gloomy day, halting a tear from leaking out, giving someone a reason to try harder, making a stranger feel loved.

On a personal note: I recently attended a meeting with  a small group of writers that share their struggles and highs over a cup of coffee.  A new woman sat down next to me.  She was bubbly,  full of ideas and passion.  I left thinking… next time I’m having what she’s having!   But once I got home and sat behind the computer, what I remembered most about her was her non stop smile.  So that’s what I’m having (big ass smiles), at least for the next 7 days.   


Sadly, I didn’t make 35 smiles.  But when I purposely spread my cheeks to maximum girth, I felt an instant boost in my mood.  Even if the smiley face was directed outward, somehow it seeped inside me, all the way down to my toes.  I was visiting a grieving friend where happy thoughts were deep in the cracks and hard to find.  She played with me and we smiled, most of the time, at each other.  Then we would laugh.  It was great!  What did I learn?   That quality always trumps quantity.  Sometimes, one great big ass smile is all that is needed.