The Icky Life of a Writer: Writing Process Blog Hop

Writing is a glamorous job: an office with an antique oak desk, dark-rimmed glassed, whimsical scarf, typing away in an ecstasy of inspiration until voila! A novel is written, which becomes a best-seller and is made into a movie starring a man who looks good enough to eat.  All of this is done while drinking like a fish and/or consuming copious quantities of illegal drugs.

So I’m told, anyway.  Never tried it.  At least I got the dark rimmed glasses.

The writer in her natural habitat

Kim Rempel, a fellow “Inkster”, a hawk-eyed editor with a (self-proclaimed) built in BS meter, and a knack for writing articles that touch hearts, graciously shanghaied invited me to share my writing process as part of a blog hop.  I don’t know what a blog hop is, but I’ll do my best.  Be sure and read her post about her ‘beastly’ writing!  She may already be regretting that she asked me to do this.

It’s an Icky Process

My writing process is… untidy.  Today my ‘writing uniform’ is blue scrubs, hair frizzy from the steam of cleaning my process room, and stinky purple socks. My desk is my knees, my office is a stainless steel bench.

One day I hope to have a studio, complete with an espresso maker and a big picture window and a sound system that plays Bon Iver in crystal clear surround sound.  Then I’ll be able to close a door and write for three hours straight.  But right now, I accomplish what I can, under everyone else’s noses.

Blog posts come from jokes with colleagues (head-swapping, for instance), from books I read I the bathroom, and from things I meditate on while my coating pan is running. They’re written on my iPhone while on lunch-break, edited on the next break, and posted when I get home.

Scenes for my novel are imagined in my head while working, and written at 1:00 am after a late shift.  Sometimes I temporarily become these characters and let them ‘see through my eyes’ as I work. That can be fun or traumatic, depending on the circumstance. In this way I learn to know my character. It is a bit like an actor talking about being ‘in character.’ The good actors make you believe you are that person, and I strive to do the same thing with my characters. For me, the characters ARE the story.

Social networking is done while brushing my teeth, on the breaks when I’m not writing blog posts, and on the toilet.  TMI?  It’s the icky truth.

Now, what else was I supposed to say?

What am I working on? I am in the mid-stages of editing an apocalyptic/zombie/love-story. I hope to publish late June, early July.

What makes me different? I doubt there has ever been such a character-driven zombie novel.  In spite of the guts, guns, and gore, it is a love story at it’s heart.

Why do I write what I write? I write what fires my imagination. I get a kick out of taking a scenario, adding a big twist, and seeing what happens. For example, I work in a pharmaceutical plant. I once asked myself “What if we were manufacturing humans?” That idea became an entire novel–next in line to be edited after the one I’m working on.

And that, my friends, is all.

Ashely Kaboha is a photographer who is also participating in this blog hop.  Her photos are BEAUTIFUL, and she has a real passion for helping women discover their own unique beauty.


Sir Snodbottom and the Throne

I hope you’ll indulge me a little silliness.  The following was the result of a writing exercise my writing group did the last time we met, entitled “The Christmas I’ll Never Forget”.  This is entirely fictional–after all, they said I didn’t have to write the truth.  I don’t, as a rule, write short stories, but here it goes: 

“What in heaven’s name?” Mom pointed the spatula at the lumpy, bumpy package that was about the size of my little brother.  It was not my little brother, but that would have been cool.

I was busy hip-checking it into the corner behind the tree, but I paused in my exertions. “Huh?”

“What is that?” She poked a finger in IT’s direction and waved the spatula. A piece of cookie dough flew off. It hit the floor and Buster the pug ate it.

“Mom,” I said. “It’s Christmas. I can’t tell you.” The package, wrapped in brown paper, not colourful Christmas paper, could not be hidden.  I had used this line on my little brother already.

“Well don’t…” She sighed. “Don’t knock over the tree, Avery. The angel’s about to fall off.” She reached up and pushed at it with one floury hand. Then she turned and marched back into the kitchen, Buster waddling behind her, smacking his lips.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

The present wouldn’t go any farther in the corner. There it would sit, like an overgrown turd. Maybe if I put a bow on it…?

It had cost me my entire piggybank, and selling my Sidney Crosby card, and cleaning Grandma’s driveway four times, and vacuuming all the sunflower seed hulls from Grandpa’s big Lincoln. It had taken me an hour to walk it, in a wheelbarrow, from Field’s Hardware Store to home. I had to pause several times to rest my arms and I had slipped once and nearly tipped it out. It couldn’t break. It was Mom’s gift.

You see, one fateful evening when she’d been out with my Aunt (Christmas shopping, I think), my brother and I had been playing knights and dragons. I was Sir Snodbottom the Valiant and he was the evil dragon, breathing fire and seeking whom he may devour. I chased him into his lair, the glass-walled shower, and stood outside, waving my mace and taunting him.

“Come out, you big baby!” Lord Snodbottom said, shaking his mace. “Come out and fight.”

“No!” came the muffled voice of the dragon. “Leave me alone. I don’t want to play anymore.”

“Come out, you big baby! You can’t hide forever.”

“Yes I can.”

Thus it continued.  Lord Snodbottom began to grow weary and decided to take a few practice swings with his mace, which was actually Mom’s metal kitchen hammer. His swings became a little too vigorous and the mace collided with the throne—the toilet.

What was that?” the dragon squeaked, deep in his lair.

Lord Snodbottom took one look at the great gash in the porcelain throne and fled.

Thus the package. Mr. Fields sure had given me a funny look as I’d laid my money on the counter, and another as we lifted it into the wheelbarrow. I didn’t care. I was Sir Snodbottom, and I would redeem myself.

Christmas morning arrived, and while my little brother and Buster capered around the Christmas tree, I tugged the package into the center of the living room. Mom and Dad came out of their bedroom in their bathrobes, rubbing their eyes. I pointed. “Open this one first.”

Mom glanced at Dad, and Dad grinned. By her expression, I could tell she thought it was some odd prank, or a clay sculpture I had made in school, like last year.

She pulled away the brown paper, and there was a shining new toilet.


Comment Section Wars: 3 Ways to Rise Above

Deborah Tannen calls it “argument culture”: a “pervasive warlike atmosphere that makes us approach anything as if it were a verbal fight” (1). I call it “comment section wars”, and I am not immune to it.

I recently read a blog article, written by a Christian brother, defending the contribution of Christianity to science. He had some good points but his tone was, unfortunately, caustic.

You can imagine the shouting match that followed in the comment section.

I scanned through pages and pages of comments, Christian versus Atheist—some well reasoned, others showing high levels of cognitive dissonance, and many containing offensive stereotypes. No one was convincing anything of anything, and the more I read, the more my ire rose. I’m angry about this because a debate like that is so futile, but people keep on starting them as if they’d help. Instead, these arguments only breed greater animosity between parties, fueling the stereotypes they hold of each other.

But, I do believe that ideas should be discussed, shared, and refined by interaction with others. Social media is one of the most convenient ways to do so, and I’ve already been blessed by my online interactions. So, if we’re going to get into comment section debates, lets do it right. Here are three ways to be more effective in a online debates.

1. Lay aside your ego.

Is this about winning, or about discussing ideas? If it’s about winning, you’re probably in trouble.

Why? “You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph” (2).

If you don’t care if the person walks away hating you, then fine. But I guarantee this: You have lost your chance to influence them.

2. Remember that they are ‘a mother’s son’.

Online it’s more difficult to see, but the person on the other side of the debate is just as human as you. Like you they have dearly held beliefs, which they hold for more reasons than “they’re an ass.”

Give them the benefit of the doubt. They may have put research and considerable reasoning behind their beliefs. They may have experiences under their belt that have led to their conclusions.

Even if they don’t, and their reasoning is flimsy and poorly put together, they are still a human with hopes, feelings and desires, and they deserve respect.

3. Seek first to understand.

On the most pragmatic level, how do intend to demolish their argument if you don’t understand it?

But seriously, the greatest respect you can give your opponent is to hear them out and fully understand their position—as in, you could repeat the heart of their argument back to them. As in real, empathic listening: understanding their frame of reference and how they feel (3). This may require getting them to explain more, rephrasing what they say back to them to see if you understand (“What I hear you say is X. Is that correct?”). You’ll need to pay attention to what they’re feeling and, at times, reflect it back (“I can see this frustrates you”).

Empathy doesn’t mean agreement. It’s not caving, it’s understanding (3). Once your opponent feels truly understood, they are more likely to hear you out.

I love how available information is these days—blogs, YouTube, Twitter. I enjoy the interaction with fellow authors and readers on those sites. But these mediums of communication can’t be used to their full potential if we’re using them to fight.

I recently chastised a fellow member of a Facebook writing group in a comment section. I don’t recommend that. As soon as they’d replied, I was sorry I’d started it. But, in a show of good character, instead of getting angry they asked me what I found offensive about what they’d said. By that time I’d recovered my good judgment and did my best to reply both truthfully and civilly. We ended the debate (as best I know) in good standing with each other, each having learned something.

Following the three things won’t guarantee that your debate ends in agreement, but we will, at least, end the debate with a good conscience, having not hindered the progress of our beliefs. Perhaps an encounter with a respectful, caring individual will go a long ways toward the changing of their mind.


(1) Muehlhoff, Tim and Todd V. Lewis. Authentic Communication: Christian Speech Engaging Culture. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Academic, 2010.

(2) Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Special Aniversary Edition. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1936.

(3) Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Free Press, 1984.


No Stupid Questions? Oh Yes There Is.


I’ve been told there’s no such thing as a stupid question. And I suppose that’s true, at least in spirit. What they meant was “If you don’t know, ask. Don’t blunder along in the dark.” And trust me, I’ve done far too much blundering. It takes a certain humility to learn—the humility to admit you don’t know everything. But, there really is such a thing as a stupid question. Lemme ‘splain.

This not a stupid question:

At a previous workplace, a meat shop, I was tidying the store when a well-dressed gentleman walked in.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Could you tell me what a heritigeebuseeness is?”

My mouth opened and shut. “Pardon me?”

“A heritigeebuseeness.”

I guessed by the accent that he was new in town. I really didn’t want to embarrass the guy, but I hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was talking about.

Be cool, Geralyn. You’re a professional.

“Um, I’m not sure if I understand,” I began. “Could you explain what you mean?”

“The sign outside the door says heritigeebuseeness. What does that mean?”

I looked up into his eyes, gripped my broom and wracked my brain. The sign. The sign. Oh! The plaque outside the door! “You mean a heritage business? Oh yes, that means that this building is very old, built in 1914 I think. It used to be a bookstore.”

“Ahh.” He nodded and smiled and took his leave.

That is not a stupid question. He didn’t know. How else would he know if he didn’t ask?

But this is a stupid question—one I had to answer twenty times a day. “Is your boss busy?”

Umm… self-evident.

Trumped only by: “Is your boss tied up right now?”

It was the mayor of my small town who asked me this and, being an ass, I replied “No sir, we don’t make a practice of tying him up.”

But I think my favorite dumb question came from a middle-aged fellow who came in one afternoon with his teenage daughter. I did my thing, asking “is there anything I can help you find?” And he said:

“Which of these cheap roasts can you cut into nice steaks?”

I blinked.

To make a nice steak out of a cheap roast takes either a) serious cooking skills or b) magic. Basically, you get what you pay for. I looked at the assortment of rump roasts and cross ribs. “You mean for barbequing?”

“Yeah. The lady at the grocery store cut up a roast for me into nice steaks—a cheap roast.”

Well, good for her. “Do you remember what it was called?”


“Well, nothing I have here really cuts into nice steaks. I suppose we could cut a top-sirloin for you. That’s probably the cheapest option. But I have some nice sirloin steaks right here.” I pulled a couple from the cooler.

He shook his head vigorously. “No! I want you to get me a roast and cut it into steaks.”

“But it would be the same thing.”

“But a roast is cheaper.”

“I can’t do that.”

The guy looked at his teenage daughter. “What a little shit.”

Steam threatened to blow from of my ears. First he tried to con me into selling him good meat for cheap and now he was calling me names!

Be cool, Geralyn. You’re a professional.

I decided to appeal to a higher power. “Let me ask the butcher.” Henry happened to be nearby so I told him what this guy was looking for.

“Hmm…” Henry strode out into the storefront. “Well, we could cut you a top sirloin, but we have these nice sirloin steaks right here.”

The customer crossed his arms. “No, I want a roast cut into steaks.”

“But we’d just charge you the steak price, so why don’t you…”

“They did it for me at the grocery store.”

Henry stood his ground. “Well, I can’t.”

So, out went the man with his daughter trailing behind him. I felt vindicated, and I never saw that guy again.

The way I see it, the question is only as stupid as the attitude behind it. If you genuinely want to learn then there really isn’t a stupid question. However, if you ask a question, you need to be ready to accept the answer. I’ve caught myself doing this before. I belong to a writing group and when we meet, we critique each other’s work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to a critique and gone “yeah, whatever”. As Jerry Harteis says, “Of all the opinions I like mine best.”

Now that is dumb. I know I can’t please everyone, but if I’m going to discard critiques because I don’t like them, then why am I wasting time with a writing group? Learning requires humility.

Its not as if we should blindly accept the answers we’re given.  We must compare the answer given to the results of the answerer. If they’re a hundred grand in debt and living paycheque to paycheque, I wouldn’t take their financial advice, know what I mean? But if the results they have back up their answer, I’d better give it serious consideration.

So, I suppose, it’s worth displaying a little ignorance now and then. But keep in mind: there really such a thing as a stupid question.

I’d love to hear from you. What’s a stupid question you’ve been asked?