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A Life Less Ordinary

IWSG Writing Update July 2017 – Picking up the Pace

Every first Wednesday of the month, the IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) encourages writers to share their fears, thoughts, progress, struggles, excitement, encouragement or anything really about their writing. A different question is posed each month, as a writing prompt for IWSG members. Answering it is optional. For June, that question is “What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started writing?”

This amazing, supportive group of writers was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Today, the inspiring and accomplished co-hosts are Tamara Narayan, Pat Hatt, Patricia Lynne, Juneta Key, and Doreen McGettigan. Feel free to swing by their sites and see what they are up to. Don’t be shy.

It is July already (hurrah for summer!) and after a hectic two months of visiting friends and family (and dealing with heaps of important things and complications) in Massachusetts and Belgium, Mark and I are kind of settled in Oakland, California for a three-week house and pet sit. It has been an enjoyable and productive two weeks so far and soon, we are on the road again. Or better, the tracks… We are jumping on a train for 60 hours, first from Oakland to LA, then onward to Little Rock, Arkansas. We are on a little mission, which I will reveal in a few weeks. I hope for one thing on that train ride (well, actually a few things): that I am able to get a lot of writing done (and that we manage to sleep OK in our seats, eat relatively healthy and don’t smell too badly without a shower).

My black shadow Stella, loves to lay on my lap when I work – not too distracting…

I promised myself to pick up my pace/pen/keyboard again once we started this period of relative calm, and I have. Every morning I try to work on my memoir about our last decade of roaming about, mostly on the water. I’m not saying I succeed each day, but I have made a little bit of progress, one first-draft chapter at a time. I am now at the part where Mark and I are crossing the dreaded Pacific Ocean on a three-week journey without land. Being at this last half in the book means that I have a lot of notes, blogs and emails to consult, because it was an extremely challenging period; I put it all down at the time. My newest conundrum is: do I write from memory first (which I have done in many chapters, only to make some serious edits after reading the true accounts in my sailing blogs, but writing “fresh” is something I enjoy), stick with my current “non-influenced” voice and correct afterwards?  Do I read my notes and pick the best sections to copy, paste and rework? Or, do I immerse myself in the existing stories and then retell the important sections in the book based on what I read? Something to consider the coming week. I appreciate any feedback about this.

When Stella gets comfortable with her chin on my arm, it becomes a bit tricky to use my mouse and type!

I also finished reading the book “Chapter after Chapter” by Heather Sellers, which was picked by the IWSG book club and was supposed to be done the end of May. While she has some interesting insights, I find myself getting demotivated with this whole book process, realizing – based on her tips and anecdotes – just how much work is entailed. And I am only talking about the writing part, not the publishing or promotion endeavors! She is a very committed author, as most are, I’m sure. Otherwise, you don’t make it in this writing world. I don’t think I am one of those serious full-time writers and prefer to tackle this project at my own pace. I should definitely take her advice of “Stop reading all these books on writing and write, write, write!”

When Stella wants to share my desk to guard off anyone passing by, I am officially distracted. 🙂

This brings me to the IWSG question of this month. Since I never had any lessons or help with my writing and miss any English literary background (I was raised and schooled in Flemish speaking Belgium), I am thinking about what I learned after all these years of scribbling in both languages – diaries, notes, reports, blogs, emails, articles, and now this memoir. I guess it would be to always use my own voice and to not repeat words. It wasn’t until recently that I also realized that, while writing used to be mostly fun, I often see it as unpaid work now. I don’t mean that negatively or badly. I – naïve me – just never expected that writing a book would take so long, require such commitment and involved so many steps and processes. It doesn’t help that I am distracted easily (does this happen with other hobbies/ professions as well?) and regularly find “better” things to do. Yes, I am serious about this book, but I also have a life to live, an alternative one at that, with lots of travel, pet attention and changing factors. As long as I can live with the idea that this project will be a multiple-year one (and actually be OK with that fact), the end result will follow! 🙂

Our ever-changing surroundings: the city in the background is Oakland and behind the fog, San Francisco is hiding

Any writing lessons you have learned or tips you can share?



  1. You have such a rich history. It is wonderful, English and Belgium. Languages floating in your head English, Flemish and maybe even French. I hope you go with your own voice. Capture the people through your way of telling showing what you felt, what you dealt with, and what you’ve overcome.

    All the best with your memoir.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G at Everything Must Change

    • Thanks for the advice and encouragement, Pat. Happy to use my own voice, I just hope the reader doesn’t mind some sarcasm and invented words. 🙂 Do you have a “writing” blog I can check out as well?

  2. I have no idea what to advice re the memoir but I am sure you will figure it out in no time X

    • For now, I am hoping it figures itself out as the story and chapters progress, Claire. 🙂 Thanks for swinging by.

  3. It is a lot of work but it’s worth it.
    Write whatever way keeps your fingers flying. If it’s the highlights, write those and add details later. As you remember big things, the little things will resurface.

    • Thanks for the good advice, Alex. You are right! Putting too much thinking into it and weighing options block the process and progress.

  4. Well at least you’re working on it and making some progress. I haven’t made it past page five and that was a year ago 😆 One day, I’ll get serious but for now, there’s too many distractions.

    • Funny you wrote about starting a book as well, since I just suggested you do on your last blog! 🙂 Go for it! You have so many stories in you and based on all those blogs you have been producing, writing comes easy to you as well, Ingrid! I hear you about the distractions, though. And that won’t get any better this summer!

  5. Kudos to you for writing and traveling. I had a hard time focusing when I went on vacation. No writing done. Happy Traveling & Writing. Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

    • Thanks, Juneta. It is a tough combination, especially because I enjoy both – but traveling (if it means sightseeing and not driving, flying…) still a bit better than writing. 🙂

  6. I am still too timid to begin tackling a memoir about a 6 month experience, I can only imagine how daunting it would be to scribe a 10-year journey through countless settings and cultures. And I don’t envy you the 60-hr train cross country train ride. Did that a few years ago and still gives me shivers to think about being trapped in a cramped AMTRAK for 5 days.

    However, you have already demonstrated far more writing talent and patience and flexibility than I have, so I’m sure this will be yet another productive adventure to add to your already exciting journey.

    Can’t wait to read it (and if you’d like an eager beta reader, you know where to find me)

    • Gabe, thanks so much for offering to be a beta reader. Be sure to understand what you sign up for. 🙂 Whenever I get to a point I feel comfortable sharing the first or second draft, I will gladly take you up on the offer.

      Don’t say these things about the Amtrak experience!! Did you know one derailed recently and that, under the Trump administration, the long-distance rides are in big danger of being canceled out? We did book our tickets way back, so there is only going forward with it now. Flying or a one-way rental would have been too easy (but mostly expensive), right? 🙂

      I do think writing a memoir about a shorter period of time (and doing it chronologically) would be a bit easier. We have so many experiences and scary stories that could make memoirs in themselves… Yeah, maybe one day. I do think you should get started, though. I”m sure you have a lot of notes (and sketches to refresh the memory) already!! I would happily read it.

      • I would be honored to be a beta reader for you Liesbet. I understand that honest feedback and constructive criticism requires far more effort and attention than a brief “wonderful work, love what you did with the words” comments that make me cringe.
        I will say that I wouldn’t be a good line-editor or proof-reader…

        About Amtrak. I hope your trip is uneventful and relaxing, but I would plan to bring sleeping aids, plenty of snacks, and portable entertainment just in case.

        And you’re absolutely right. I need to get back to it. Blogging is consuming the majority of my writing/networking energy right now and the plan is to use the blogging platform to help build exposure when I finally do get published.

        • I hear you about the blogging thing (I ought to be writing as we speak :-)). I actually do it for the same reasons as you, but I had to reduce it to once a week. Even though I loved the photo challenges and themed “challenges”. As you know – posting your own blog is only a fraction of the time spent online when it comes to be social, reading, commenting and returning comments. Sigh!

          Thanks for the ongoing support, by the way. I really appreciate it and I am so happy (and fortunate) to get to know you (virtually)!!

  7. I could write paragraphs here on my writing process and how it is similar and different from yours (and others’), but what grabbed my attention most today was the mention of Little Rock! I am headed there tomorrow, but it sounds like I will be gone by the time you get there. Feel free to swing a mere seven hours south and come visit Houston! 🙂 I am eager to hear about your “little mission!”

    • You are going to Little Rock as well! Let me know how it’s like. I have never been to Arkansas. We will get there the night of July 17th, so you will probably be gone by then. From there, we have to run errands and get all the way back to Northern California less than a week later. Not much time for a huge detour, but whenever we plan to visit Texas again, we will surely let you know.

      • I’ve been planning a post on Arkansas – it’s an under-appreciated, sometimes negatively-thought-of place that is just full of natural beauty. Our youngest son lives in LR; he resisted an interview here but once he visited and moved, he’s been a fan. Quirky, artsy, small and manageable, and with so many hiking, boating, fishing, camping and other outdoor activities! Hope you enjoy it! (I leave Monday, July 10, so I’ll miss you.) Safe travels to you!

        • Thanks, Lexie. You are only missing us by a week!! I have never been to Arkansas and I wish we had more time to explore. Maybe we can make it happen in the outdoors for half a day or so. Mark and I will have to put our heads and plans together… Looking forward to reading your blog post about Arkansas. I’m sure we will do some cross-country trips again in the future.

  8. I second the (very wise) advice, “Stop reading all these books on writing and write, write, write!” You CAN do it Liesbet! Which ever writing methos feels best for you — go with that!
    BTW – Stella is absolutely adorable!

    • Thanks, Donna. She is so cute (and that is coming from someone who has always preferred – and still does – large dogs) – I can’t stop taking photos of her and smiling at her. And, she has dropped some of her Chihuahua attitude since we have been here.

  9. If you found your writing voice, then you’re farther along than you think. And please be the writer you’re supposed to be. Slow, fast, whatever. It should bring you happiness first.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    • Thanks, Anna. Reading all these books on writing about “how it should be done” is sometimes having the opposite effect…

  10. Liesbet, I think that if you enjoy
    “writing fresh” then this is probably the best thing for you to be doing! When we write fresh, it flows, and when we enjoy the process of anything, it also flows. Later you can always add details and edit. All the editing and rereading is not so enjoyable as you are well aware, so if there IS a part of the process you do enjoy, then that is the space to be in for sure.

    • You are so right, Peta. The flowing is the most amazing part. Where I get stumped is when I later reread something I already wrote about the topic when it just happened in the past and I actually like the way that is written. Then, I have two approaches I like to use. I guess that should not be a thing to complain about, huh? Yeah… I guess the editing part is the most difficult. Everyone says just write the first draft without too much thinking. It would be the easiest approach. Yet, I seem to want to stop and consider and make it better already. Not sure what is wrong with me – oh, I know. We just always like to create problems and complain when there is no reason at all! Hmmm…

  11. I can’t imagine writing a memoir and I admire you for taking it on… I know we are all excited to read it when you are done (no pressure!😬). Your train trip sounds like an interesting adventure. I have heard that the Clinton Presidential Library is worth a visit if you have time.

    • I guess I better hurry then, for everyone’s sake. 🙂 Thanks for the Little Rock tip, Janis. I wish we had time, and, if we do (but I doubt it), I’ll gladly check it out!!

  12. I hadn’t thought much about the process of writing memoirs until I started reading your posts on your project. It actually seems so much harder than writing fiction because you can’t just start making stuff up when you get stuck. I wish I had some helpful advice to offer 🙂 All I can say, is keep plugging away because I can’t wait to read the end product. You’ve led an amazing life which others will enjoy reading about.

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Ellen. See, I think fiction is harder. 🙂 I have a lack of imagination (I think) and writing about what actually happened (no research necessary, no plotting required…) seems pretty straightforward. Putting that in an attractive package with fiction-qualities is the toughie!

  13. Your upcoming train journey sounds amazing and I’ll bet you will get a lot of writing done! I was surprised just how much I got done in 90 minutes sitting at the Toyota Service center waiting for my car to be maintained the other day. I wrote 1000 words in that one sitting. I’ve heard that a change of scenery is helpful and being able to write in different conditions can be very productive. I have sat at a nearby Starbucks and written before, I may just go do that again soon! I only have 7 more weeks to get to my goal of writing the first draft. I did some research through Sac State’s library and though google scholar looking up definitions of terms and capturing references. Yes, for this NF book, I put that type of info in. But…I dig it! Happy Anniversary again and say hi to Mark!

    • Thanks, Terri. We had a wonderful evening. Mark sends his regards back to you and Hans!

      Good for you, making such progress while waiting for a chore. It is a talent to be able to write anywhere. I have friends who write in coffee shops, but I don’t think it would work for me. We will have to see about the train ride. I am too easily distracted. A quiet office during our house sits, or a desk in a corner at the library works best. Luckily, these are quite easy to obtain these days. I just have to get the motivation going. 🙂 Sounds like you are sticking to the program with your NF book. Keep it up!!

  14. Hi Liesbet,
    What you are feeling is completely and totally normal. A book is hard, hard slogging, even when you’re happy with how it’s going. And when you’ve got the ton of notes and such for the second half, it can be unwieldy and difficult to figure your way through. What popped into my head when I read your post was the old line, “You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.” In other words, I’m glad you’re going to take your time and I agree with Alex who suggested you do whatever keeps your fingers flying.

    I’ve had the experience of just a few hours on a train when I was on a deadline for one of my books. I accomplished oodles of writing while on that train. It was just the best experience! I hope it will be the same for you.

    • That is an interesting experience you had on the train! I guess when the scenery is nothing special and you get in the groove of the ride, the juices will flow. I”m looking forward to that. As long as there is a comfortable table for my laptop. The way I see it right now is that, if we would fly or drive instead, there would be much less opportunity and desire to write. I’ll take it one step at a time, while I am eating this elephant! Sound advice. 🙂

  15. Over the years I’ve had many people tell me I should write a memoir and I thank them and then laugh. No one would be interested, it’s not pretty in many spots. But I admire those who tackle this life project, no matter their reason.

    Great blog post, btw!

    • I read somewhere that everyone has a memoir in them. And, it is true, everyone has elements and episodes in their life that are worth elaborating on and sharing with others, but, one has to be up to the task and be comfortable with the exposure. I could see it is more fun writing romance and mystery, though. 🙂 I really like the titles of your books, by the way!

  16. Hey Little Rock is only about 3 hours from me!

    • Awesome! This band of writers surely lives all over the place. We do hope we have a little bit of time to explore Little Rock, but our “errand” will probably not allow for that. 🙂

  17. I’m thinking what a distinct writing voice you will have since there are many influences …English, Belgium, Flemish…as well as all your travel adventures. Sounds exciting!
    Good luck with the writing! 🙂

    • Thanks, Michelle. I do like your word “distinctive” for my writing voice. You are right! Those international influences, my untactful and no-taboo approach and some funky brain twists probably makes my voice distinct. I sure hope the reader doesn’t care. 🙂

  18. I’ve never written a memoir, but I would think that writing from memory would offer you a more honest interpretation. If I recall, you were struggling with the writing feeling sterile and not very compelling. Memory is the best way to get that sort of writing to appear. Later on, if you notes provide a different interpretation, you can alter and edit as necessary.

    Great post!

    • Thanks for the insight, Ryan. I think you are right about the writing from memory as it is also seems to define my voice. The “problem” is that, when I go back to my notes and blogs, not only did I twist the truth a bit (relatively easy to correct), but I come across parts that I really like and that sound and read better than what I just jotted down. So, I start mixing and matching, choosing what to use (what is written more appealing/attractive/personal/funny/sarcastic/…) and edit and edit and many hours go by and the whole chapter becomes convoluted… But, I will get there in the end, when this quilt of different patches will become a fluent piece of cloth, all in the same color with varying depths. 🙂

      I’m glad you had a good family vacation!

  19. Good for you Liesbet, you’re working on your book amidst everything else. Slowly but surely it will come together. You are in charge of your own timeline. Write freely and edit later is the best advice I can give you. Enjoy your next venture on the train! 🙂

    • Thanks, Debby! I feel I really want to focus on that memoir now, because it is starting to drag. The next ten days will be tough, though, but once we are “settled” again on our three-week house sit in Sebastopol, I’ll get back to it eagerly and committed. 🙂

  20. I’m so proud of you for recommitting to your memoir. I don’t think you give yourself enough credit. Structure is important for most writers–it must be incredibly difficult to get into a routine when your life is always changing. You’re doing awesome.

    I’d write the chapters as you remember, and then go back and correct inaccuracies later. Maybe even on the second draft. Otherwise, it might interrupt your flow.

    • Good advice! This seems to be the general consensus. The problem is that, when I read back what I wrote “in the moment”, I often like it better than what I put down now. When I was “in the flow” back then, of course. 🙂 Since I do like the system you recommend, I’ll probably stick to it, but I “need” to make the changes before I head into the next chapter. Yep, all in the first draft. 🙂

  21. My cat likes to sleep in my lap while I type as well. Luckily, he doesn’t bite as much as he used to! Writing is a personal thing. It takes as long as it takes!

    • I’m happier and less stressed with that knowledge, Tamara. 🙂 I do like a cat (or a small dog) to keep my lap warm. Unfortunately, my husband is allergic to cats. Otherwise, we would accept house sits with them as well – easier and also enjoyable.

  22. I am so impressed with your persistence, Liesbet. Sadly, I haven’t written a word on my book project since January. Renovations, writing projects at work, my retirement, and our imminent move seem to have been taking up all my mental energy. Excuses, I know!

    One strategy you might try in addressing your dilemma of writing from memory or from your notes would be to read through all your notes on that segment of your adventure, and pull out a few particularly excellent bits and drop them into your manuscript. Then put the notes aside, give it a few days rest, then go back and write the whole thing from memory. That way you can incorporate the best segments from your notes, but still capture the flow and voice of writing from memory.


    • That’s a great approach, Jude, and one I didn’t think about yet. I have been dropping the “best” bits, but then immediately integrated it in the existing narrative and moved on. The going back and writing from memory might produce better end results.

      Sorry to hear that you haven’t been able to focus on your book project. Sometimes (actually, often) life gets in the way, especially when you have those massive changes going on! I wouldn’t call them excuses in your situation… Renovations and upcoming moves take so much energy, let alone your preparations for retirement. When all that is behind you, you can get back to business. But first, you will have to take a few days of rest and some deep breaths! 🙂

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