Sideways Up The Slope by Shan Jeniah Burton

What do you do when you’re stymied, and it seems like nothing is getting you any closer to achieving your goals?

Sometimes, I find answers in the efficiency of nature.

Take the sidewinder rattlesnake. Here’s a video of her in action. A note for the squeamish – nature doesn’t offer grocery stores. Like all wild predators, Miss Sidewinder has to take other measures if she wants to eat.

You’ve been warned.

The sidewinder makes forward progress…by going sideways.

How does that relate to my trickiest writing issue – revision?

For many years, I had no real idea how to revise. I poked aand tweaked, but I was missing major pieces of the puzzle. They didn’t fall into place until I channeled my inner sidewinder.

Yup – I “went sideways” up the steep sandy slope.

Miss Sidewinder has venom, but she also has a problem: she lives in a climate where she stands out.

When I first tried to revise a novel, anyone who looked could see the tracks I made. Where revision should look seamless, mine was as obvious as a snake sidewinding her way up a sand dune.

Miss Sidewinder has to conceal herself to catch her dinner. She digs herself into the loose sand, where her coloring helps her blend in. The horned scales over her eyes keep sand and glare out.

I needed to learn how to immerse myself in word-sands, and wait for my prey. I hadn to observe carefully, so when the right prey came along, I’d be ready to strike. Instead of horned scales, I have an adaptable human brain. I can learn things that help me capture my quarry – revision that goes somewhere without being obvious about it.

Miss Sidewinder uses her lateral movement to scoop out the sand. Once she’s wiggled a hollow out, she curls into it, letting the sand slide back in to cover her. Then she waits for her moment.

I went sideways, too. I read a book called Rock Your Plot, and learned about key elements like story structure and the need to understand my character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts. That led me to Rock Your Revisions, and I wiggled out a hollow in my mind and settled in.

Eventually, seeing what needed to happen in revisions got a lot clearer – and the drafts I’m creating with my new plotting know-how are faster and cleaner right from the start. My prey is easier than ever to catch.

Miss Sidewinder also has an inborn imperative to perpetuate her scaly species. Once she gives birth, Mama Sidewinder stays at the little burrow, guarding her young.

Mama’s Little Sidewinders are cold-blooded babies. The desert outside the burrow is too hot for them to survive at first. Their underground home is too cold. Mama can’t share her body heat, the way warm-blooded critters can.

Caught between deadly extremes, the baby snakes do something amazing.

They work together, forming a net at the entrance to the burrow with their tiny, writhing bodies, and regulate their collective body heat to a very constant temperature . Each baby takes turns, always moving, and, together, they do what’s needed to survive.

There’s something to be said for banding together, networking to reach the collective good, with every member making contributions and reaping rewards as others do the same.

After NaNoWriMo 2015, three other local writers and I formed a critique group. Our goal is to each submit one piece weekly, and critique the works of the other members. I also do beta readings and reviews for other members of the writing community.

This might seem like a sideways approach. I have several WIPs of my own awaiting revision. Surely I could get through them faster if I weren’t spending hours each week offering input to other writers, right?

Maybe not.

I want a sustainable writing business that brings in a modest income. I need to learn how to revise as efficiently as Mama’s Little Sidewinders maintain their body temperature.

If I only revise my own writing, I’ll always know what I meant to write. I might see that rather than what’s actually there. I would always know the backstories, and the process of creation, and I’d cut myself slack whether I meant to or not.

Joining a group where I give three critiques for each piece I submit quadruples my workload. ButI want to become proficient at the principles that will help with all revisions. The distance and objectivity of critiquing and beta reading for others gives me lots of practice where I don’t know the “inner core” of the story – the vision only its creator can have.

In return, I get critiques from my three partners. Each has a unique way of reading and specific skills that mean that I get three distinct opinions on each piece I submit. I’m learning a lot from the comments and questions I’m getting, and from reading and critiquing their work.

We are all sidewinders in ROW80! By setting our own goals, being accountable, and by visiting one another to offer kudos, encouragement, or commiseration, we’re banding together like Mama’s Little Sidewinders, in a network aimed at collective success, but which relies upon each individual doing their part.

Let’s slither sideways up the slopes of our writing challenges, and band together for the common good as we move into the final weeks of Round Three, and beyond.

Write Anything–Even If It’s Wrong by Eden Mabee

Hi, all! Hope you don’t mind, but you are now my test subjects for an experiment. I want to know: Is it really better to “do (write) anything, even if it’s wrong“?

See, my husband spouts this (witticism) all the time: when we’re discussing plans for the new kitchen design or what we might like to plant in the garden, where would we like to go on vacation… basically for all things. A lot of it is in retaliation… self-defense(?) for my Analysis Paralysis (and his, and our son’s… it’s really a family epidemic here at Chez Mabee).

So, as I’ve been suffering another bout of The Other Writer’s Block lately, I figured I’d do something about it this time, and I would take you all with me as I did. I am going to try out Writing Anything, even if it’s Wrong. Because if I wasn’t writing this post, I have nine drafts I started and tossed in my recycle bin on such topics as: Writing Begets Writing, The Process of Habituation, Is Too Much Positivism Hurting Your Progress, Why So Negative

Any single one would be an excellent sponsor post. But each time I pull one out, I reach a point where I can’t get beyond my research and note taking to condense the expansive ideas into a coherent post. Perhaps they haven’t percolated in my mind enough yet; perhaps I don’t understand them as much as I feel I do; maybe they just aren’t speaking to me… no, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as drafts, if that were the case…

No, in this particular case, I know exactly what is wrong.

I know (meaning I feel) I can’t do them (or you all) the justice they deserve. These are such important topics, after all. And this is a sponsor post, damn it! I can’t just toss out some word, half-cocked and hope that they’ll come off as something meaningful. I owe it to you,, to my craft to be careful, to make sure all my Is are crossed and my Ts dotted–wait!

Ain’t it cute?

The point is, to use Shan Jeniah’s wonderful phrase, I have this obnoxious pet in the house called the Chimera of Perfection (don’t get one if you can… they eat everything, take up the bed every night, sit at the corner of your vision demanding attention and fuzzles when you most need to get some work done). I don’t know how he got here. Yes, I do have a bad habit of caring for strays (as anyone who has ever read my blogs about the backyard cats and strange couch-camping roommates can attest, but I think I would have at least seen this thing before it moved in.

I admit, I’m a bit intimidated by this guy. How do I get him to move out without risking life and limb? It’s not like I can refuse to feed him; he just raids the cupboards on his own.

But something needs to be done. I’m a sponsor this ROWnd, and part a sponsor’s duties involve writing a post to inspire our fellow ROWers. Why did I accept being a sponsor if I knew this post was going to be such a trial? I mean, I struggle with this issues every time I sponsor. I dread it. I waffle, I bitch and moan, I make a ton of “possible drafts”… I always submit my pieces late (Kait just loves me). But I do it. I’ve done it several times. And I’ll keep doing it.

What does one feed these anyway?

Because I find, even when I struggle with the post, that the act of making myself write something… even when it’s wrong, inspires me to try harder. Because getting those words down is a powerful act. Determination and action are the basilisk’s* stare to the chimera’s talons. And though it can be hard to move that rock that’s been holding you down out the door and into the yard for the birds to perch on, it’s energizing. You won’t believe how strong, how capable you are after you’ve done this.

Wait… one need a gorgon to do that. Ah, well–just proved the point…

Write something, write anything… even if it’s wrong.

(*Don’t worry… you can always get rid of these by judicious application of weasels!)



Eden Mabee

Why I Love Camping by Steph Beth Nickel

There’s the sleeping outside no matter what the weather … No, that’s not it.

There are the l-o-n-g walks to the bathroom … Nope, not that either.

There’s the wide variety of wildlife you may run into on your way to said bathroom, especially at night … Hey, I like wildlife, but not creatures like raccoons, skunks, and bears who may not take kindly to being surprised.

How about the coin-operated showers with boxes just a little too far to reach when you’re soaking wet and need to add another quarter because the shampoo is still in your hair? Not so much.

Wait! Maybe I should have given this piece the title “Why I Don’t  Love Camping.”

But there is a type of camp that provides almost all the fun and none of the inconveniences of actual, real-life camping, the kind without soggy tents, distant bathrooms, skunks, bears, and soapy hair.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about Camp NaNoWriMo.

Unlike the original NaNoWriMo, camp takes place twice a year: once in April, when nobody (or only the extremely hearty) wants to go camping in my neck of the woods (pun intended) and July (for those of us who aren’t out doing “the real thing”).

Instead of committing to writing 50,000 or more words in a single month, Camp NaNo allows you to choose a goal as low as 10,000 words, much more doable. Another perk: As I understand it, the powers that be at NaNoWriMo expect you to write 50K words in the same project. With my eclectic sensibilities, writing a total of 10-15K on a variety of projects works way better for me.

Like out-in-nature camping, you can choose to be in a cabin, either with a group of friends or random strangers. Thus another advantage over the OIN variety. Actually sharing a cabin with total strangers could very well prove to be a bad idea—dangerous even. (Plot idea!)

And with a cabin full of fellow writers, they’re gonna notice if you’re not writing—as long as you don’t fudge your daily word count tally. This accountability and the arrow that moves closer and closer to the middle of the target are great motivators.

The stats page shows not only the individual’s progress but also the progress of the cabin. Are you and your fellow campers on track to “win” the challenge? I like working toward common goals and attending Camp NaNo is another way I can do that.

The wind can howl. The snow can fall, which it did a short time ago. The critters can roam freely about. No problem from my perspective.

I’m in the midst of Camp NaNo and having a blast. No bears. No skunks. No raccoons. (Though there is the frequent chirp of crickets, but those are for my daughter’s bearded dragon.) And one more thing: my bathroom is right downstairs.

Why not consider joining me in July. Hope to see you then. Maybe we can share a cabin. (It’ll be safe. I promise.)

Find out more at


Steph Beth Nickel


Inspiration and Perspiration By Tonya Cannariato

One of the questions I’ve seen floating through this group roughly boils down to “What inspires you?” I think it has equal parts to it of “What pushes your imagination’s boundaries?” and “What are you hoping to achieve?” Together, this triumvirate of questions should be part of the mental background that percolates through a writer’s life to help them determine what makes all the effort worth it.

Because committing to a regular practice of putting words on paper (or screen), improving story-telling skills, and learning the arcane rules of grammar, structure, and good writing means there are hours of days, weeks, and months that don’t get the author’s attention. Times when phone calls go unanswered, furbabies don’t get their pets and walks, children and spouses suffer absent-minded neglect. What is so great about writing (and improving as a writer) that makes this worth it?

There will never be a one-size-fits-all answer to these questions because the trade-offs are real. Time is a zero-sum game and the clock is a harsh mistress. For myself, I tend to try to squeeze the most number of hours out of a day as possible, and consequently spend most of my time some level of tired. I’ve been having to clean up small protest messes from my dogs because between the weather and my recent writing spurt, they haven’t been getting the longer walks they crave.

Of course, that means I’ve been sitting for longer stretches than is entirely healthy for me, too.

My problem is: My imagination takes off at the slightest hint of something interesting. And everything is interesting. Snippets of conversation overheard in the check-out line. Headlines proclaiming scientific breakthroughs and accompanying stories that speculate the sky might fall because researchers are stretching the boundaries uncomfortably far. Even my dreams, which variously involve strange aliens or colleagues, have brought me story inspirations by the bucket load.

The challenge, and the skill, comes in balancing inspiration with the commitment to sit still and commit it to paper with as much skill as you can muster. First draft, revisions galore, editorial passes, I’ve discovered that even after you’ve blessed a manuscript and sent it out into the world, there can be a strong temptation to call it home and make additional revisions.

My reward: I get to see my name in print. I get to claim a completed creative work. Sometimes, I even get to earn some money for having invested all that time and effort (and money to pay for editors and cover artists).

There was a blog post recently in which an author had set herself the goal of becoming a New York Times bestselling author. She made it onto the USA Today list of top sellers, but fell short of the other goal. In the process she learned about the simultaneously mercurial and seemingly capricious process that goal requires enduring. It made me realize that while I’m in my writing career for the long haul, I have no interest in submitting to a system so arbitrary.

So while you’re furiously pounding on the keyboard, and quietly ignoring the rest of your life, think about the trade-offs. Think about what your goals are and what it is about them that makes you happy. Because for as many sacrifices as you make to reach your word count or publication goals, it would be a shame to reach what you thought was the culmination only to face a crisis of self—understanding that the reward you thought you wanted wasn’t what was actually going to satisfy you.


Tonya Cannariato

What’s Tucked Away In Your Writer’s Toolbox by Shan Jeniah Burton

Do questions like this one make you feel a little twitchy? Like maybe I’m going to say that if you don’t have this or that in your writing go-tos, you’re not a real writer, or you’ll never be successful, or you’d better get a second mortgage or a fifth job to pay for this laptop or that program or the other seminar, because, obviously, NO ONE can be a writer without them?

Well, you can take a deep breath, because I don’t write (or even believe in!) that kind of post. In my opinion, what makes anyone a writer is WRITING. If you’re reading this, odds are really good that you are already a writing writer, or that you’re serious about becoming one.

So, instead, let’s talk about what you already have, tucked away and maybe forgotten in the corners of your tool box, your closet, your mind – anywhere you find the bits and pieces of unnoticed life that could feed your writing. Not sure you’ve got any? Maybe you do, but you haven’t ever thought about them that way.

What are these bits and pieces? Well, they’re different for each of us.

These tools don’t cost anything but our attention, and our willingness to be open to what they might offer. They’re all around us, and within us, in our experiences and memories.

To give you an idea, here’s just one of mine – the one that tickled my mind until this post came out.

My Accomplice has something of a man cave in our garage. He often goes there late at night, after the restaurant closes. He putters, and has time for his own thoughts. Sometimes he wants to be alone, and others, I join him for a while, if the kids are asleep, or busy with their own things. We talk about whatever, and connect, or listen to music together.

The other night, when I went out, he was playing a new local radio station. A song came on, and I knew that I knew it but couldn’t place it – until the chorus…and then I sang it word for word, and well. The next song? I could sing that, too.

I was into the third or fourth loved-but-forgotten tune when I began to imagine a scene in my current novella-in-progress, where I knew two people from very different backgrounds were going to dance and fall in love. I hadn’t known what music they would listen to, until I heard that station. I had envisioned a rather stuffy, lifeless scene – but this music, the playlist of their evening, had them laughing and clowning and clinging together- alive and lit up by the music and each other. They experience the music differently, but it binds them together.

The songs on the radio in my garage were a tool, for me. I could have listened, and enjoyed, and that could have been that. But because I noticed my imagination being triggered, and opened up to it, I have a scene that’s richer in detail, in life, in magic, and in music.

I needed to know the music. I needed to feel it, in myself, before I could feel it with them…

Once I did, the music became my tool to chisel into the soul of the scene, and this new love.
I hadn’t thought of most of these songs in years, but I remembered them as soon as I heard them. I could sing along word for word, note for note. I could remember school dances and skate parties, being a new mother, being newly in love…and those are the tiny, real details that unlocked what my characters were feeling, as they danced. More, that feeling led them down a path that’s not in my plotted outline, but which deepens and adds emotional impact to the story, so that this scene does more, and better, than I thought it would, during the planning phase.

Will I mention every song by name, in the final draft? Probably not. I don’t need to – what they listen to is less important to the scene than the way they’re transported by the music and each other, and what’s building between them. The names of the individual songs are more important for me than for them. 

The tools here are all part of my everyday life. I didn’t seek them out; they’re too common for that. It was my Accomplice’s need for a personal space, and both of our need for connection. It was an overlapping musical palette that allows for us to enjoy enough of the same music that we can listen to the radio happily, together. It’s that I love to sing, and he enjoys listening to me sing. It’s that he found that station, on the battered old boom box cast off from somewhere I’m not sure I ever knew, and the kids being otherwise occupied.

Just life, on that night.

These tools that are all around us, and usually free. The way the morning light shines through new spring leaves. The way evening shadows fall across the lawn; the scent of food cooked on the neighbors barbecue, or the scent of rain or snow on the way. The texture and curve of a baby’s cheek, or a curled cat. The sound of a favorite bird, or a sudden laugh. The taste of that first real kiss (I can still taste mine, as clearly as if I’m standing on the back steps of a library that isn’t a library anymore. Grape lip gloss – mine, not his! – and something indefinable that said ‘desire!’ in a way that was new, dangerous, and thrilling).

I’m sure you have a collection of your own, just waiting for you to dip into and explore.

So, I’ll ask you again – what’s tucked away in your writer’s toolbox?


Shan Jeniah Burton

Changing Up The Way We Do Things…Maybe

Hola ROWers.  I’m breaking the posting schedule today to pose a few questions to you, the ROW80 community.  When I started this blog back in 2010 (holy crap, has it really been going that long?), I tried to set things up in as simple a fashion as I could in order to try to engender a community of like-minded writers who were into accountability and challenge, but without the one-size fits all goal of something like NaNoWriMo.  Over time, I’ve changed very little other than to give the site a couple of makeovers.

All this time, I’ve had my sponsors (and hopefully more of you) cheerleading each other in the comments sections of your individual posts–which has been successful more on some fronts than others.  Some of my past participants wanted a Facebook group, so we made one of those (even though I rabidly hated Facebook at the time).  And we’ve got a hashtag (#ROW80) over on Twitter.  And I admit…I hang out over there a lot more than I do poking around blogs.  I am, in fact, terrible at responding to comments in general on my own blog unless a direct question is asked.  But I’m VERY active in social media and cheerleading over there.  I’m sure if anybody here had a clue how the heck to use Google+ (I sure don’t), somebody could start a ROW80 circle or whatever over there.

That brings me to point 1.  I just read this post by Michael Hyatt about why he’s removing comments from his blog.  I think it’s well worth a read.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

I like what Hyatt has to say, like the idea that removing comments forces the discussion into social media and makes it SOCIAL.  That’s directly in line with the idea of community.  But hey, it’s not just me here and I want y’all’s input.

Edited to add this from the comments below because I think it helps clarify what I’m talking about and the logic behind it.

No no. The linkies aren’t going away. The blog posts aren’t going away. That part works and I have no intention of changing it. As a sponsor (or otherwise general cheerleader), you’d still have that to go off of.

The ONLY thing that would change is that there wouldn’t be comments HERE. So instead of conversation about the inspiration topic of the week taking place in a thread here, they’d be out in social media on FB or Twitter or wherever–where other folks who are not already part of the ROW80 team will see them and (hopefully) ask about them and follow back to the blog and decide to jump in to join us.


One of the other things I was considering is having a semi-regular post during the round wherein fellow ROWers with new releases can submit their book to notify fellow ROWers that it’s out (we aren’t big enough for this to be a weekly thing, but maybe a couple times a round?).  Would y’all be interested in that?

So speak up, folks!  This is YOUR community.  Feel free to make your case in comments (and yes, I realize the irony of that, given I’m talking about yanking them) or over at Facebook or on Twitter.