Meeting Strangers

There’s a psychological phenomenon that means when you make yourself smile, you begin to involuntarily feel happy. The well-known cliche ‘fake it till you make it’ has a kernel of truth. I don’t know about other writers, but I use mood music while I’m writing to get me in the right frame of mind to create war/love/melancholy or whatever my story requires of me. I can’t wait on inspiration. If I want to do this on my own terms, I can’t follow the will ‘o wisp that is the muse. I don’t want to wind up drowning in the swamp of my own doubts and insecurities.

Whatever it takes. Today to write this post it’s some quiet time at the office. I have to pay the cat tax first, of course, but while the kettle is coming to the boil I can pet them and love on them until they are done with me… although I note both are still in the room with me. They are not cuddlers, just pats-fiends on their own terms. I’ve got music going, cocoa in my mug, and having paid the toll of a pen for them to bat around, I’m writing.


Writing a new story is a lot like meeting strangers. You never know what you will get. Open, honest, trustworthy sorts, or hidden, coy, unreliable narrators. In person I prefer the first. But in a story, sometimes the second makes more compelling reading. However, if you are in character more one than the other, it’s hard to write the opposing type. (And having said the cats were done with me, Addie is now all up in my lap and on the keyboard purring like mad while pluming her tail over my eyes). In order to lend the tale the emotional verisimilitude necessary to keep the reader’s interest, you may have to take on the physical and emotional makeup of your character. Music can be helpful. Frown, if your character is sad or angry. Smile, if they are glad.


This masking is why I sometimes have trouble speaking a story, I think. I feel profoundly silly saying out loud all the beats you write into text, but never think twice about when you are living life. Who thinks about facial expressions when they meet someone unless those are dramatic? But we do use them for communication – slightly more than half of communication in person is body language. Especially with a stranger, facing them while they speak is key to understanding. With someone you know well, you can carry on an animated conversation while working back-to-back and never even making eye contact, with no misunderstanding because you can mentally fill in their face.


So writing becomes more like that first stage of a relationship, where you pay a lot of attention to the little details that later on slip into the background and you only notice them when they disappear for some reason. You have to write all those out, and it can seem like too much – fortunately we can use cliches and tropes to our advantage and convey in very few words what is going on. Balanced with an interesting plot, of course! It’s always about balance. Too much cliche is going to feel tired and threadbare. Too little is going to feel stilted and overwritten.


And with that. Addie has decided she’s going to curl up at the back of my desk just behind the iPad while I type, with the occasional paw over the top to tap my hands. Evie is decorously washing herself in the soft cat bed. The music is grooving, and I? I’m going to type out some fiction before I leave my retreat and my concentration for meeting strangers is scattered to the distractions of demanding life. Seize the mood!


  1. I’ve been struggling finding a spot to write since I moved. Other people in the house and no dedicated office for me to hide in yet. But when I was living alone I trained myself to work to Bach cello solos. The first few bars dropped me into writer headspace almost instantly. Its been hard to get back there without a quiet space to run off to.

      1. Bluetooth ear buds and headphones are pretty amazing. If only the battery charge lasted longer….

        But I guess if you got a sufficient number of cheapies, you could just number them, switch to each one in.order, and recharge them throughout the day.

      2. Unfortunately if I’m in the open people feel they can interrupt me with small things. “Can you vacuum when you’re done?” “Did you talk to so and so?” Its all small things, but they require a response and once my concentration is broken it takes me ages to work back up to speed.

        If I’m wearing headphones I get tapped on the shoulder. They don’t understand how badly it derails me because they only need a moment. Working to clear out a storage room to use but a finished office is still weeks away. I’m impatient with myself.

        1. When I get broken out of the Zone when programming or writing, it takes about 20 minutes to get back to where I was.

        2. Clearly, you NEED handgun. You might not need any ammo (though ONE box might get a POINT across), Mind, the box need not be full, but the IDEA that the gun is loaded – or can soon be – is important.

        3. My sympathies!

          You might try Pomodoro as an interim measure – it works for training housemates, not just authors. The author training side is “just write something in the next 10 (or 20) minutes. You can get something out in this dedicated time!

          The housemate training side is “If it’s ticking, leave me along until it rings.”

    1. I have a similar problem. I do have my own room, since I’m chronically single, but we did a whole room-swap around a while back so my kids could have their own rooms and I’ve never managed to get myself situated in my “new” room. A huge part of the issue is my own dumb fault. I “inherited” a huge roll-top desk that I thought would be awesome… only to figure out that it was designed and built BEFORE COMPUTERS, and none of my monitors fit and still leave enough room for a keyboard. I’m also too tall, so sitting comfortably with my legs under the desk is a NOPE. I need to tear it all down and re-build my previous (relatively) comfortable setup, but as with anything, life gets in the way.

      Once all that is done. I can get back to thinking about music and such. So far, instrumental prog metal has worked ok for me. One of my faves is Toska’s, Ode to the Author EP.

  2. Kittens!

    The problem with paying the danegeld is that you never get rid of the Dane… or, in the case of Ashbutt, 20 pounds of floof that wants to curl up in my lap, with one sleepy eye on the window just in case a bird might come through, hook a paw and his chin over my arm, and go to sleep.

    And if I remove sleepy protesting kitty from my lap, five minutes later there’s a tap on my thigh with a gentle, insistent paw.

    1. The thing about Danegeld is that you apply CHEMISTRY to it. Coat the Danegeld with DMSO (soaks through skin – AND takes any nearby chemicals along for the ride) and oh, LSD or phenolphthalein (“harsh chemical laxative”) or something REALLY nasty (methcathinone, perhaps?) – NOT cyanide, that’s WAY too obvious. (What, me evil?).

      1. You have given me an Idea for how an alchemist is going to deal with a protection racket. Thank you. I fear you have also inspired a character. Who is large, axe wielding. Down right devious… but calls himself ‘slow’ because skipping steps is not something he does (and is one reason he can be devious. He can derail things at steps other people fold together, mentally). I hope you do not mind?

          1. I assume that the character is “inspired by” rather than “a reasonable facsimile of” – and I further note that, should rights revert as they ought (gentlefolk, place yer bets), Sarah has already said I (after a fashion. Or was it a couple Old Fashioneds?) am apt to appear in the next Shifters book.

            And I told one fellow at work, “Someday you’ll tell people about your experiences here. And they won’t believe the parts with me in them.” He thought about it a moment and replied, “…you’re right. They won’t.”

  3. Puppy, peeing on the floor… eating my ankle… demanding hug time… crying the desolate wails of, well nothing really, just felt like crying…

    Today I erect a dog pen.

  4. There were times when I wrote late at night because it was the only time I would not be interrupted.

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