Could it be perfectionism in disguise?

I can’t be the only writer this happens to

The project you’re working on might be your first, or your forty-first novel. You may have a detailed outline, even a scene-by-scene breakdown. Or maybe you’re just letting the idea that seized hold of you some months ago (okay, or years ago) unfold as you go.

In either case, you’ve banged out the opening, hiked up the mountain of conflict, thrown obstacles in the path of your main character with wicked abandon. As you write you make unforeseen discoveries. New characters appear! Themes you hadn’t planned on emerge! You keep getting…

Nothing says home like a busy bookcase

We moved in twelve days ago, but today I finally feel like I live here

We lived in this house in a sweet neighborhood in Southeast Boise, Idaho for six years before emptying it out, renting it out, and heading back to California to live in the Napa Valley for seven years. Now, for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, we’re back. And it has been rather, shall I say, discombobulating.

Moving back into a house you used to call home is a little like entering a time warp or finding yourself in one of those sci-fi stories where the characters scuttle helplessly among alternate realities. Just enough is similar to make it feel familiar. …

And got stuck under the heat dome

Living in Napa Valley was a dream come true, at first

In 2014 when we moved to the lovely little Wine Country town of St. Helena, we kept pinching ourselves. Here we were, going about our daily lives in the midst of a destination that people travel the world to visit. It was like the south of France, but with better coffee and nicer public restrooms. Year-round, morning and evening, we walked our dog along a levee trail that ran behind our neighborhood and led us through storied vineyards. One of the local bocce teams was sponsored by Francis Ford Coppola, who lives within the town boundaries, and he was a…

I wish I could have shared it with her

I understand why you fear for your teen son

I’m a mother of sons too, and while mine are grown men now, I vividly recall the stomach-dropping anxiety of their adolescent years. But I’m white. Whatever fears that kept me wide-eyed at night waiting for them to come home were, I’m sure, only a peek at the dread you must carry with having a Black son in America. That’s true even in our lovely, mostly progressive small town — a place you and your family relocated to, hoping to find an environment less polluted by racism than your previous home in the Southeast.

But no place is immune, as…

It’s a good time to learn things we should have known already

Since it’s been declared a federal holiday, at least we know the term

But we may not be clear on what it means. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day when Major General Gordon Granger led a group of Union soldiers to Galveston, Texas. There he read out General Order Number 3, which stated that the war was over, the Union had won, and that slavery would no longer be tolerated.

The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed over two years previously, but this marked the first time that enslaved people in Texas learned that they were no longer chattel. By law, they could leave their enslavers and the forced labor camps, aka plantations…

Is the one you refuse to give up on

I found an agent with the first book I wrote

Does that sound like I had instant beginner’s luck? A win, right out of the box? Lest you roll your eyes, I assure you there was nothing quick or easy about finding my novel a professional advocate and champion. But there was an element of chance about it.

I suspect that’s true of any leg up that any artist gets. The first big role you land, the first gallery opening, the first prize in a juried contest, the first publishing or producing or performance contract you sign — it feels abrupt, breathtaking. As though the door you’ve been knocking on…

The best invention that hasn’t been invented yet.

Is it weird that I’m excited about my very first hearing aid?

Because my employer offers health insurance that actually covers a good chunk of the expense of hearing aids, my husband and I seized the opportunity. Turns out he has just enough hearing loss in his left ear to qualify, and I have about the same margin of loss in my right.

Isn’t that cute? We’re like geezer bookends.

Long story short, after double-date audiology appointments (what could be sexier?), we are now the proud owners of one hearing contraption apiece. And when I say proud, I mean it: we think our ear gizmos are the greatest thing since rear-view cameras…

Was yesterday, and I’m disappointed in myself

I could have grabbed the other strap to my shoulder bag at any time

The leather tote that held my small purse, laptop, iPad, and journal hung by one of its straps from my shoulder as I tugged my carry-on out of the overhead compartment. “I should fix that,” I thought. But the people behind me were waiting to join the slow queue shuffling down the aisle toward the jetway. I left the outer strap hanging as I steered my suitcase ahead of me like a sleepwalking toddler.

Out in the terminal, I noticed the rogue strap again. “Should grab that,” I thought, as the tote’s wide-open maw freely revealed its hard-to-replace contents. But…

Think of it as pruning, not cutting

Writing a novel has a lot in common with gardening

You prepare the soil, removing rocks and dead roots (limiting beliefs, self-defeating assumptions) and adding amendments (reading, daydreaming). You select seeds (story ideas), plant them carefully, water them judiciously as they sprout (rough drafting). You guard the tender seedlings from rough weather (premature feedback) until they’ve hardened off. You care for your crop as it grows and blossoms (a story!). You pick off pests (clichés, misplaced modifiers), pluck out weeds (stray characters, rogue sentences), until eventually — after months, sometimes years — you harvest the fruit.

Look at you, you’ve raised a book. And now that you’ve cleaned and polished…

Jan M Flynn

Writer & educator. The Startup, Writing Cooperative, P.S. I Love You, The Ascent, more. Award-winning short fiction. Visit me at

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