I was accepted to Taos Toolbox Workshop

I get to participate in the 2017 Taos Toolbox Workshop!

One (thousand) exclamation(s) does not cover my utter surprise and excitement at getting the news.

And then, doubt.

Spending-guilt. Do I deserve to go? We can afford the expense, but still it’s a lot of money and there’s no expected (monetary) return-on-investment.

Mom-guilt. Both of my teenagers are going through awful life challenges right now. What if there’s another crisis while I’m gone? On an intellectual level, I know my husband can handle it. But still…

Imposter Syndrome. I have learned the identities of several other workshop students, and they are amazing authors with long lists of published works, or have been to audition workshops like Clarion, Odyssey, and Viable Paradise before. But, in the last year I’ve gotten much better at not letting myself be intimidated by (for example) a room full of Clarion West graduates. Also I’ve never met another writer who didn’t experience imposter syndrome to some extent.

Going to Taos Toolbox Workshop is, for me, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I know I will make the most of it. I know Nancy Kress is a fabulous teacher, and I’ve heard wonderful things about Walter Jon Williams. I look forward to meeting guest lecturers George R. R. Martin, E.M. Tippets, and Steven Gould.

I’ll fill my brain and notebook to overflowing with as many tools as I can.

I have issues, Deadpool

Daughter A’s thrift-store find.

New Year Goals: 2017

Microsoft main campus trail January 2017

Along the trail when walking my dog this morning


Today was a clear, sunny January day in Western Washington. The kind of day that makes you run out in your short sleeves and sandals.

Then you run back in the house, because it’s bloody 27˚F outside and everything is frozen. You put on a warm coat, gloves, and socks. Then since this is Western Washington you put your sandals back on and go outside.

January 1st whooshed past, smelling of popcorn optimism for the new year. So this is the semi-obligatory goals-for-the-new-year blog post.

My writing goals for 2017:

Goal 1: Get my novel ready to submit to agents.
This will be occupying most of my writing time. Although I finished my zero/first draft last June, the next draft of that novel is going very slowly. It’s only about one-quarter done, and I am far from happy with the beginning. I think the problem is that this novel, the characters, the plot, etc., crystalized in my head as I wrote it.

So my plan is to finish the current/second draft by April, and get two or three beta readers to give me some feedback while I take a break. Then another rewrite. After that more beta readers and hopefully ship it off to agents by the end of the year.

Goal 2: Attend a writing workshop in June.
I applied to Taos Toolbox. Chances are slim that I’ll get it, since acceptance is audition-based, and there will be lots of competition because the instructors are amazing and the special guests are famous. So my back-up plan after I’m rejected is to register for Cascade Workshop which is local, run by some fabulous people, and they always have great (though less famous) presenters.

One important thing I learned from applying unsuccessfully, three years in a row, to Clarion West workshop is that dreaming and hoping to attend a prestigious workshop is crazy-making, wasted energy. I should be writing. So for Taos, I edited the first 10k words of my novel to the best of my ability, then sent it off with my application, and went back to writing.

Goal 3: Write and submit three new short stories.
My plan is to do this during my break between the current re-write of my novel, and the next re-write. At the moment, I only have three short stories circulating to markets.

Goal 4: Critique other writers’ work on a weekly basis.
I’m a member of two critique groups, but sometimes they go on hiatus and I get out of practice. But I can take advantage of other critique forums where I can both supply helpful feedback and learn about craft.

Goal 5: Keep track of the books I read.
And write reviews. Because reviews make a difference.

Goal 6: Keep track of my non-writing goals and activities.
This is a new one.
I have other things going on in my life besides writing, including raising two teenagers. Life happens, and when I inevitably get slammed by other responsibilities it’s way too easy to beat myself up because I haven’t met my writing goals.

Villain POV and editing

I can’t believe it’s already the end of September. My eldest daughter got married one month ago, and my twins have been back in school for three weeks.

Writing the second draft of my novel (which I’m calling the first draft since I’m calling the novel-like pile of words I completed my zero draft) is going much slower than I expected. I think this is because when I wrote that initial draft I did more “discovery” writing than I thought – the story crystalized as I wrote it.

It took me two-and-a-half weeks to write/rewrite the first 5000 words in which I introduce two of the three POV characters, their goal, the world, and foreshadow the third main character.

I got stuck when I started writing/rewriting the next chapter of the novel in which I introduce the third POV character, his goal, another part of the world, and the main villain. I realized I had no idea how this third hero would interact with the villain initially, before he is aware of their conflict. In my first/zero draft I worked out the what/why/how for the villain later, but not so much in the beginning.

My solution: Summarize the novel from the villain’s point of view.

That brought so much of the story into focus for me. It also clarified the motivations for another character… the one who betrays my main characters.

Miriah Hetherington maple leaves

It’s Autumn! Teddy gets to help rake leaves.

Zero to First Draft

I mentioned in my “Still here and blogging” post that I finished the zero draft of my novel on 5 June 2016. Let me just pause to relish that statement…

Woo-hoo! I finished the zero draft of my novel!

All the best writing advice says that it’s a good idea to let that zero draft cool off until the writer can muster enough objectivity for the next step which is editing the novel. (Cooled off. Check.)

The next step is to edit that roughly novel-shaped pile of words to the best of my ability. (The following step is recruiting beta readers and other writers for feedback/critique. Then more editing.)

But, where do I start? I had a hard time wrapping my head around the entire 115k words of novel draft. It’s tough to hold the whole slippery thing in my mind all at once. Do I start editing at the beginning? Do I jump around in the middle, using the notes I made to fix the sudden shifts in plot and character motivation and loads of other stuff? I haven’t really seen any writing advice about the nuts and bolts of digging in to a messy zero draft and turning it into a coherent first draft.

So, this is the approach I came up with for editing my zero draft:

First, I read through the zero draft and summarized everything as it is. Including that chapter I knew would have to be thrown out and rewritten the moment I finished it. Mistakes and all, even the first chapter that doesn’t work anymore now that I know exactly how the novel ends. My summary consists of about one sentence per section, so there’s a paragraph for each chapter.

My next step is to write a chapter-by-chapter summary for the novel’s next draft. This will serve as a detailed outline when I begin re-writing and give me a tool for holding the entire novel in my brain at the same time. So far, I’m up to chapter 4 of 18. I hope that the two outlines will serve as a map from where I am to where I want to go.

How do you handle the first revision of your zero-draft?

Barley Thrasher we saw 17 July 2016 near Alchi, Leh district of Ladakh, India

Barley Thresher we saw 17 July 2016 near Alchi, Leh district of Ladakh, India

Volunteer time

Another distraction to add to the list of reasons I hadn’t updated my blog (to continue from my last blog post) was my volunteer work with Slighe nan Gaidheal and the every-other-year Fèis event (a five-day festival) in June.

I have been Slighe’s volunteer treasurer for almost six years. My second, three-year term on the Board of Directors ends on October 31st. And then I will retire.

The Scottish Gaelic language, or Gàidhlig (sounds like GAL-ik) as it’s called in that language, fascinates me. I feel that understanding the gaelic languages gives me a window into the Celtic mind and heart.

Gàidhlig was very nearly wiped out, in the systematic way that languages spoken by the poor and powerless often are (*). But in recent years the language is experiencing a resurgence. That is due to several factors including UK government support and the willingness of many families to enroll their children in the new Gàidhlig emersion schools. Also, all over the world there are individuals and groups learning to speak Scottish Gaelic. For the last twenty years, Slighe nan Gaidheal has nurtured a persistent community of Gàidhlig learners and speakers in the Pacific Northwest.

So after my husband and I began taking classes in Scottish Gaelic through Slighe’s excellent education program more than seven years ago, I wanted to give back to this little community. So I enthusiastically volunteered to help with the 2010 Fèis. Then I ran for and was elected to the Board of Directors.

The treasurer position is not difficult, insofar as anyone who can balance their checkbook and learn to use QuickBooks could do it. The critical requirement is consistency – checks have to be deposited and bills have to be paid on time. Slighe is a small non-profit with no employees, so there are not that many transactions to keep track of. Except during a Fèis – then it gets insanely busy and sorting out the financial end of things can easily take up every spare minute for several weeks.

My enjoyment in working with this volunteer organization has been strongly influenced by the dedication and attitude of the other volunteers. When all the volunteers show up for meetings and do their jobs to the best of their abilities when they say they will do them, it can be a wonderful and energizing experience.

I don’t enjoy this volunteer gig anymore.

I feel that the best reason to volunteer my time to an organization is because I love what the organization does or stands for. For almost six years I have accomplished an ongoing task that is critical to the continued existence of Slighe nan Gaidheal, so I feel good about that. Slighe has many responsible and devoted volunteers whom I have enjoyed working with over the years.

It’s time for me to retire from the Slighe board. Three months left to go.

Fort Worden, June 2016

Fort Worden, Fèis 2016

(*) The majority of Scottish Gaelic speakers are, now and historically, white. In my opinion that is the main reason it survived compared to, for example, Native American languages.

Still here and blogging (sort-of)

Reasons I have not updated my blog in four months:

1. I was putting all my writing energy into finishing the Novel.
(And on 5 June 2016 I DID finish the 115k-word, zero draft!)

2. End of school year chaos.

3. My husband and I took our twins on a family vacation in northern India for three weeks.

4. The illness I picked up in India came home with me and has been hanging around for one-and-a-half weeks (so far).

5. My oldest daughter is getting married four weeks from now.

More blog posts to come…

Miriah Hetherington visits Tak Thog Gonpa, photo 15 July 2016

Statue at Tak Thog Gonpa, photo taken 15 July 2016

Novel Progress: 75k

Today I passed 75,000 words on the initial draft of my novel. Based on my outline, I think I’m on target to reach “The End” at around 100k words in the middle of May.

Writing a novel is hard. And yes, that’s not a surprise to me. But, still… even when I love the setting and characters, writing about them in the same story day after day… it’s hard.

I’ve been sticking to my plan of not taking any breaks to write sneaky distracting short stories. I admit that I’m toying with the possibility of taking a small break to edit a previously written short story that is set in the world of my novel – so I can submit to an open call.

Lake Quinault Rainforest Writers Retreat

Lake Quinault, 27 February 2016, Rainforest Writers Retreat

In February I got to go to the Rainforest Writer’s retreat, and boost my progress.

I’ll be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo during the month of April, and I’m hoping that will help me keep up my slow but steady pace.

If you are a novel-writer, what was it like to write the first draft of your first novel?