Lessons Learned: Writing and Puzzles – Puzzles Part 1

One of my favorite hobbies is working on jigsaw puzzles (1,000+ pieces). When we were little, my parents would set up the folding card table or clear off the dining room table so we could put one or two puzzles together. I always liked getting into the detail, seeing the picture come to life, and letting my mind wander while working on the puzzle. I remember saying (and still say) “Just one more piece” as I’d get hooked and not want to quit. However, there have been times when I couldn’t find any pieces, I was stuck, and forced myself to walk away. This is the same with writing.

You need patience with puzzles. Taking a thousand pieces and putting them together to create one picture takes time. Each piece has its place. Sometimes I’d place a piece in the wrong spot and later have to move it. Sometimes starting a section, like a piece of the sky or the meadow with lots of green and flowers, is hard to get started. But after looking at the detail, knowing what colors go where, I begin to link them together and soon that sky or meadow is done. This is the same as writing a story. Each scene takes time. Each scene pieced together creates the story. At times I have to move the scenes around in order for the story to flow in the right direction. I also step back to see how much is finished, how far I’ve come.

Most puzzles take a few days to finish. At times, I can sit at the table, stare at the pieces, try to fit them together, but nothing works. I’ve learned that when I haven’t found a piece in a while it’s best to take a break. Even if it’s an hour or so, sometimes it’s enough to re-look at the puzzle, the pieces, and try again. Writing a story is the same way. Sometimes when the words don’t flow or I’m continually deleting a sentence or paragraph, then it’s time for me to walk away. I’ll come back later and usually I’m back on track. This happened to me the other night. While editing, I was struggling with my sentences on how my character, Jessie, saw the scars on her back. I tried for an hour to think of the right words on how she felt. Finally, I gave up. The next morning, before work, I opened the document and started typing. Within five minutes I had written what I had wanted to say. I needed that break to clear my head.

And, getting lost in a puzzle has always helped me unwind. I will wear my comfortable clothes, maybe have a cup of coffee or a beer to drink, listen to music, and start in. I’ll also think. When I’m zoned into the puzzle, I’ll think about the story I’m writing or the plot for a future story. Since I’m not in the midst of typing a scene, I can think of different ways to help the story flow, including finding new characters. I’ll figure out how to write that action scene or how to get my character from one scene to the next. This is how I found Rex, my favorite side character, in “Gitana – Life Plan.” He popped in my head when I was toying with a scene. As I put the puzzle pieces in place, I also created a character that readers love.


Lessons Learned: Grief in Stages

The common stages to grief include denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. Going through grief doesn’t apply only to losing a loved one. The stages also apply to those with a terminal illness, losing a job (even when retiring), ending a marriage or partnership, or any other loss that affects our lives.

Each person handles grief in different ways based on the circumstance. Each person handles grief different than how another person may handle it. With this in mind, I thought about my brother passing away 3 ½ years ago and my dad passing away a year ago today.

I remember when my brother’s girlfriend told me that he had stage 4 lung cancer. I began the grieving process at that time. First words that came out of my mouth were, “What? You’re kidding me.” At the time, the doctors guessed he had about three to four months to live. You hear the words, but you don’t put two and two together on what it means. We were dealing with my mom having her stroke, wondering if she was going to make it through, and then this came as a double whammy. I had to research stage 4 lung cancer to realize how serious his condition was at the time.

The anger that came next wasn’t the physical or shouting anger but more on how it wasn’t fair. He was only in his mid-fifties and too young to die. The anger and the bargaining stages were close together for me. I wished he had gone to the doctor sooner. I wished that I would’ve pressed him to go in, knowing that he was having pain in his shoulder. Depression came next. The sadness in knowing that I would never see him again had me burst in tears without warning. When he went into hospice, I was depressed, but I was accepting of the outcome as well. No one wants to see someone you love go through the pain. Even when medicated, he was miserable.  

On the other side, my brother was going through all four stages of grief right until the end. He was angry. He knew he’d been around Agent Orange. He knew he’d been on a Navy ship that had asbestos. He wasn’t ready to die. He thought he could beat the cancer even up until the very end. My sister was able to get my mom and dad out to see him a couple days before he died. My mom asked him if he was ready to die. He said, “No. Maybe tomorrow.” The morning he died, his friend was there to see him. The day started as it normally did. His friend greeted him and then went to get a cup of coffee. On his return to the room, my brother had died. It was quick, and I wonder if that’s when he accepted the inevitable.  

When my dad died, we knew for a while his health was failing. He had chronic kidney failure, a bad heart, and we guessed that he may have had cancer as well. After he died, I didn’t go through all the stages of grief. I went through two stages: depression and acceptance. Acceptance came first. I was relieved when he passed. Again, like my brother, it’s miserable seeing someone you love being in so much pain. At least now, he wasn’t suffering. The depression came later. In late summer, I was feeling in a funk. I was having a hard time writing. I wasn’t my normal self. I couldn’t pinpoint why until one day when it dawned on me that I was depressed. I was missing my dad.  

For me, my stages of grief were different between brother and father. They were two different scenarios yet still the same. I had lost two members of my family. I think what helps, for anyone going through a major loss is knowing that no matter what, it’s okay to go through the different stages. Grief may only take a few days, while at other times it could take a year or longer. Life always changes. It’s okay. Just remember to keep your memories. The time you had the person can stay in your heart.

Grief flowers

Lessons Learned: Time Crunch

My husband told me that I have half an hour to finish my blog. Most times I can start the draft, during my lunch hour and then finish the blog when I get home. Today I was too busy at work to draft my blog. We had “Pi” day over the lunch hour. Normally Pi day is on March 14. And this year, Pi 3.14159 was the exact date: 3/14/15 (at 9:26:53).

Since the day landed on a Saturday, our work celebrated today. We gathered in one of the larger meeting rooms to eat lunch and enjoy a piece of pie…or two…or three. I sampled three to coincide with the “3” of Pi day: pecan, carrot, and chocolate. Okay, the chocolate was actually a sheet cake. The co-worker who ordered the cake wanted the baker to write “Happy Pi Day.” The person at the counter was totally confused. The co-worker changed the cake order to read “Happy St. Patrick’s Day.” This the person understood.

With that said, I’m taking on my husband’s challenge to finish in 30 minutes or less. There’s paperwork that we need to review, and tonight’s the best night to do it. I have ten minutes left. I believe I’ve won the challenge. 🙂

PS: Have a fun and safe St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow!


Writing Romance

Saturday, March 7, I attended a writer’s group event in Amery, Wisconsin, that was hosted by the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts. One of our WisRWA members, Helen C. Johannes, spoke at the event to discuss romance and what it means. The writer’s group in Amery, chartered by the Wisconsin Writer’s Association, wanted to learn more about what constitutes a romance novel and how to write one. Tina Susedik, Danielle Johnson, and I, members of the WisRWA – Chippewa Falls Area, went to support Helen and to help answer questions about romance writing if needed.

Helen did a great job explaining the definition of a romance novel. The Romance Writers of America (RWA) organization defines a romance novel as having a central love story with a happy or optimistic ending. She explained how romance writing received a bad rap in the 80’s when people began to stereotype romances as “bodice rippers.” Not so much anymore. Today, romance is a big business with over $1 Billion in sales.

Today’s romance stories are sophisticated, fun, comedic, smart, suspenseful, etc. There’s different genres within romance which includes, but not limited to, historical, young adult, suspense, contemporary, and erotica. The question was asked whether or not Romeo and Juliet was a romance. The classic is a love story but not a romance because the ending is tragic. A few good examples of romance in movies include: The Princess Bride, The Sound of Music, and Shrek. I remember my nephew, a producer, telling me that romance doesn’t sell. I beg to differ – note the three movies above.

Helen also discussed how she writes. Her style is pretty much free form. She creates the story in her head, she may have a loose outline, but mainly she writes. She won’t know how the story ends until the last word is written. Tina Susedik is the same way. For me, I will create a detailed outline, but it always changes.

I think the writer’s group enjoyed learning about romance. I had a fun time as well. It’s nice to have a refresher on the basics of romance and to confirm why we write. In the world that we live in today, it’s nice to read a story with a happily ever after or an optimistic ending. We can live in someone else’s world for a short period of time.


Lessons Learned: Nobody is perfect.

We should remember the saying “nobody is perfect.” But many times in our daily life, the words are forgotten.

In relationships…

Marriages or partnerships can crumble because one partner believes he or she has to be perfect or the other person should be perfect. No one can be perfect. A relationship can become a fine oiled machine, but even the machine needs care or breaks down at times. Why? Because we make mistakes. For example, at times I can get lost into my own little world. My head has so many thoughts racing around that I get caught up on what I need to do instead of having fun or enjoying moments with my husband. He catches me when I do this and waves the red flag. I know then I have to slow down and remember to balance myself.

As a parent…

Throughout the raising a child process and even when they are adults, you make decisions that you wish you wouldn’t have made. You wish that you hadn’t said those words or had pushed so hard. You wish you had been stricter or spent more time with your kids. Some decisions will be right on and you can give yourself a pat on the back. Other decisions may stick with you for a long time. For example, I remember when my daughter, in fourth or fifth grade at the time, was excited for her upcoming birthday party. A few weeks before the party (after the invites were out), she was being a terror and wouldn’t listen. Because of it, I cancelled her birthday party a few days before the event occurred. At the time, I thought it was a good decision. Afterwards, I felt terrible. We did celebrate her birthday as a family, but she didn’t get the friend party. Did this event affect her self-esteem? Was I too harsh? I think I was and I still feel bad about it.

At work…

Expectations can be critical to your job. If a deadline has to be met or you’re expected to work on a task, you want to finish the work and do a good job. At times, other events or people get in the way. Maybe you’ve become sick with the flu or cold and it’s taking longer to recover. Your heads not in it. Give yourself a break. Or, you’re tackling so many different things that you can’t devote enough time to deliver the best product. You have to move forward, tackling the most important tasks and let go of the others. Go for the 80/20 rule. And if you’re super busy go for the 70/30 rule. You have to do your best under the circumstances without getting too stressed and wrecking your health.

Just remember that no one can be perfect. Not you. Not me. The important thing is that you do your best. You may need to be reminded to keep your balance. You may make decisions that you’ll regret later, or you’ll plain flat-out make a mistake. Forgive yourself. Also, remember that others can’t be perfect either. You may need to be understanding, help them out, or accept what happened. Just don’t expect perfection.

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