Writing the last 25% of a novel

We’ve all been there. The stage is set, the outline written, and the writing is flowing right along, all on schedule. The deadline comes and passes, and 2000 or so words a day are humming right along. Then the deadline, artificial or not, passes. Falling down from the state of focus, distraction settles in. The momentum of NaNoWriMo passes and that 50,000 words fails to become 75,000 and a finished novel. What now?

There are various strategies of course.

  • Finish the flow of scenes that you’ve outlined
  • Give up lunches or get up earlier in the day to write for an hour or so
  • Set up rewards, like chocolate, if you get two hours of actual writing done
  • Outline the next novel in the series so you’ll have something to look forward to
  • Get a writing buddy and set weekly meetings to hold each other to account
  • Set some more deadlines
  • Write blog posts like this instead – at least you are writing something, right?

I don’t know why the last set of drafting the novel seems more difficult than the first three quarters, but for me, that’s the way of it. I don’t even have the excuse of it being the first story. To be honest, the first one was hard in the home stretch too.

Some of the distractions come from the second novel in the series sparking ideas about how to make the first one better. Other distractions come from the business of writing and the need to update web sites, however, some of it is just procrastination to be sure. Bad me, right?

I wonder what other folks do to motivate themselves over the finishing line? Share ideas in the comments. Looking for inspiration my friends.

Food: Mushroom chocolate crème sauce

MushroomCacaoTamarindSauceI’ve been making a mushroom sauce for years now, and it’s a versatile base for a range of different meals. By moving towards olive oil, and adding tofu and coconut milk, I can make it vegan; by taking out the garlic I can move it from savory to sweet; and for a spicy change, I add chile and chocolate.  Here is the basic recipe, with some variations I’ve invented over time at the end. The most ambitious variation is one that results in a “chocolate marsala creme sauce”.  Odd as it may seem, the chocolate marsala version is great with steak. Add wine.


  • Olive oil (or butter)
  • Crushed Garlic
  • Mushrooms (white button, or others to taste)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Lemons
  • Starch (for thickening)
  • Cream (creme fraiche, or sour creme, or coconut creme)

Optional ingredients

  • Tamarind paste / sauce
  • Semi-sweet chocolate
  • Maple syrup
  • Chipotle chile powder


  • Wash mushrooms and remove stems
  • Finely slice enough mushrooms to fit medium size skillet (2 cups)


  • Saute garlic in oil (or butter). IMHO olive oil tastes better.
  • Add mushrooms and cook until soft, stirring continually.
  • Squeeze 2 lemons and stir well.
  • Add Worcestershire sauce (1-2tablespoons) and, if you like
  • Add marsala wine to taste
  • Add 1 can of coconut milk OR 2 cups of sour creme, or creme fraiche
  • Thicken with starch (corn starch OR rice starch)


  • Vegetarian Meal variation – before thickening, add diced firm tofu, and cook for 5 mins -and serve over rice
  • Sweet sauce variation – Leave out the garlic at the beginning, and add maple syrup at the end, before serving
  • Chocolate Marsala sauce – this has the most variations, so it likely qualifies as a separate recipe. Basically, leave out the garlic, add tamarind to taste, 3 pinches chipotle chile and a cup of semi-sweet chocolate, and blend after cooking, but before serving. This variation uses creme fraiche, and does not require thickening. It is a great accompaniment for steak, lamb, salmon or chicken.


  • The character of the sauce is tart/sweet and smooth. It has a complex mouth-feel, and can be adjusted towards chocolate/spice or savory/tart.

Meditation and Mindfulness

ng-60686Over the years, I’ve tried various kinds of meditation, and some of them have been more fun than others. I think we all discover the ways that work best for us individually. I thought I’d share some of the techniques that I’ve tried, over a few blog posts, and what I got from them. That actually sounded a little odd; the purpose of meditation is often to get beyond purpose, to reach a place of relaxed awareness, beyond desire for result. Never mind, some of us like to know what we’ll get from something before investing the time and effort required to get there.

Meditation using breathing

Where to start? To satisfy the intellect, I’ll say that messing with the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide results in a change of consciousness. The number of breaths, how long the in-breath lasts, and how long you rest before exhaling has meaning in various esoteric traditions. However, if you want to play with it, start with the basics.

4/4 breathing
In this pattern, you breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breath out for a count of four, hold for a count of four. And then you repeat. As you can imagine, at first, those are going to be kind of quick breaths; the notion is to extend them until you are making around 4 breaths a minute, without stress. Counting helps as it keeps the conscious brain occupied. This pattern is one that became very popular in the 60’s and 70’s, especially when you add a mantra (a small verse)that has meaning to the person meditating.

meditationSilhouetteThe general idea is to allow thoughts to pass through your mind, but not to pay much attention to them. Think about day dreaming with your eyes closed, without falling asleep. Often visions arise, solutions to things you’ve been thinking about, and sometimes you just fall asleep. That’s not wrong, just not the point. Keep practicing until you can be comfortable being in the moment, noticing your body, being in it, and being mindful, without paying too much attention to it.

One mantra that goes with this is “OM MANI PADME HUM”, where each of the words corresponds with a count. The words are most often translated, perhaps not entirely accurately, as “the eternal jewel in the lotus” along with the visualization of a lotus blossom opening up and revealing a hidden mystery in its center. Incidentally, the OM is A-U-M and all 3 sounds are chanted / subvocalized.

Use your own words
Please do not feel constrained to using just the count or the OM MANI PADME HUM chant. Try out things that are meaningful to you, personally. If you are following a particular spiritual path, perhaps there are words from there that will work for you, or you could simply pick four personally meaningful words, like:

  • love, friendship, peace, understanding
  • laughter, play, joyful, bliss

Be playful; it is more important that the words correspond to things you can visualize and that have personal meaning. I’ve heard some odd things at times; one friend picked the four Norse figures who mythology tells them hold up the world (Austri, Vestri, Nordri and Sudri). Some folks pick the elements in English or Latin (Earth – Terra, Air – Aer, Water – Aqua, and Fire – Ignis). Use whatever works for you.

What is this good for?
It is good for relaxation, and I noticed that it has a good impact on memory. Doing it before memorizing a speech, materials for a presentation, or attending a workshop where you will learn some complex new material, tends to result in recall being easier and more complete.

  • Do the meditation for 5 minutes
  • Read the study materials from start to finish
  • Do the meditation for another 5 minutes

Just before a presentation, go to the bathroom and take 1-2 minutes to go through the meditation again, knowing that the materials will be recalled both quickly, completely, and easily. You will be surprised by how successful this is.

Other impacts
Breathing meditation is good for your general wellness, according to most traditions that use breathing techniques as part of meditation. We mostly engage in shallow breathing, depriving ourselves of oxygen, and the deep breathing gets oxygen to the brain. That may be some of the reason it helps memory. The more often you do breathing meditation, the more relaxed you will feel, and the easier it will be to focus your attention. Sometimes, just a few deep breaths will be enough to center your attention in the moment.

Copyright 2018 Ria Loader. All rights reserved

Writing process: Top 10 ways of finding grammar errors

Grammar errors are one of the most pesky things to eradicate in the writing process. Scrivener doesn’t find grammar mistakes, and while MS Word is pretty good at finding normal passive errors, it fails to recognize idiom. Language is changing. Sentences can and often do start with ‘and, but, or, though’ in colloquial use.

If you’re like me, when you write the first draft you don’t pay any attention to the rules. Well, truth to tell, rules are hardly ever my best thing. I tend to think in fragments; that means some of my characters share this trait. Enough said.

Even in a blog, the sentence construction is not a slave to the Oxford English way of writing. Be a bit boring if it was. However, the unintentional grammar error is the bane of a writer’s existence. It’s just fine to break rules on purpose, so long as you know your purpose. Richard Morgan stood the grammar rules on their collective head in Altered Carbon. His more stream-of-consciousness writing included sentence fragments much of the time. None of that made it difficult to read. Instead, it made his protagonist much more sympathetic. So how do I find those errors in the editing process? I have a few tips and tricks to share.

  1. Walk away from the writing for a couple of days to give yourself some distance
  2. Print it out and keep a highlighting pen handy to mark the pieces to come back to
  3. Read it out loud to a friend. The tongue will trip over phrases that aren’t quite right
  4. Do an editing pass with track-changes on
  5. Try turning it upside down – for those of us who can read that way, the comma and grammar errors jump out
  6. Do an editing pass just for dialog.
  7. Use Find / Replace to fix issues like quote plus period (“. wrong) rather than period plus quote (.” correct)
  8. Write with a manual of style handy – look up stuff that you know you get wrong
  9. Replace instances of passive voice (often uses words that end in y) with active voice (often ends in ‘ed’)
  10. Relax about it. No matter how many times you edit, someone will disagree with your choices

I hope some of these prove helpful. Please share the tips and tricks you have found work for you.

Seven year cycles – the middle years

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the number seven, and seven year cycles. It makes for an interesting view on the cycles in life.

If we think that every seven years the cells of our body are replaced, right down to the brain cells and our skeleton, the tiniest little blood vessels, nerves and molecules. We are, in a sense, a completely different person, or at least a renewed person. We have a continuity with the person-who-was, and we are always the person-who-is, and yet we all have uncertain futures. It is a dream, a wish, a story if you will, that has not yet been written. I am taking some delight in this; the thought of being fictional is resonating in a good way with the person-who-is today. It leads me to start thinking about what the cycles might mean, in terms of who I am becoming. The Greeks would call ‘that which is becoming’ entelekia. We could latinize that to ‘Entelechy’. It was the name we used for a household I lived in for my first seven years in the United States; the residents of that household thought about the meaning of ‘entelechy’ as a kind of thought experiment. Some twenty years later, I am returning to those thoughts.

thOR4512PGWhile by no means a prescriptive narrative, in my meditation:

The first cycle of seven years in our lives is about growth. The first cycle is becoming an individual, learning skills, all in a very accelerated way. We are protean, plastic, and ultimately, form into unique persons with our own definite ideas about the world. The first seven years is about growth.

The second seven years is about physical maturation, starting to grow and gain strength and flexibility of body and spirit. It’s a great time to learn dance, martial arts and physical disciplines, if you have the ability to push your body that way. For those with more limited mobility or coordination, it is a time to find what is most comfortable for your body shape. Well, that’s true of everyone, to be sure. We are all differently abled in some respects. I found swimming and the discipline of gymnastics to be interesting, while my brother ran around a lot playing soccer, and my sister seemed to like to climb trees, roofs and such.

In the third cycle, from 14-21, this is when we push against boundaries around us and define what kind of person we will be, make choices about education, and find out what things we believe.

From 21-28, we try on and discard all kinds of memes, working to discover who we will be as adults. We experiment, sometimes we date many different people, and experience a wild assortment of lifestyles, fashions and belief systems.

By the time we’re 28, the framework of the person is in place, and from here on, we’re filling in what kind of virtual rooms we want, and how we want to decorate them. Somewhere between 21 and 28, give or take a few years, we may find a partner or two, decide if we want kids of our own, and make career choices. Around 28, if you’re a fan of astrology, this is when you have your Saturn Return, when the natal position of the planet Saturn comes full cycle, returning to where it was when you were born. In astrology, cycles of the planets are held to be important inflection points, where there is an energy for transformation of one kind or another. One of the outcomes of this cycle is throwing out stuff other people put in our heads. And then what? More of the same, or something different?

From 28-35 the young person might explore careers, relationships, hobbies and choices of exercise. They often jump paths, some choosing family responsibilities, and some just starting families, while others decide to pursue more personal challenges and education. Some folks change their patterns, jump across the world, travel, try extreme sports, develop a business and so on. During this time, we’re all about making our mark on the world. Being counted. Having an impact. Raising kids, or raising mischief, depending on our natures.

And then there’s the 35-42 cycle, where we start thinking about long-term planning, buying a house (if we haven’t already), building wealth, getting out of debt, making time for personal projects. Maybe another career change, dusting off the resume, dropping things from 15 years ago and generally doing some personal grooming and style changes. If we care, we moisturize.  This is the last hurrah if we change our mind about having children, unless we choose to adopt or join up with someone who has a ready-made family. We see friends around us making choices to be “middle-aged”, and see some of their choices deliberately narrowing. Health issues can start to become a factor in decisions. And we make choices ourselves about whether to keep expanding, and exploring, or if we want to be more settled ourselves. And then, after this, we run out of role models in the western world.

Unless we think about rock stars and celebrities, or very wealthy folks, our models for healthy, enriched lives start to look a bit, well, thin. We need to start looking further afield for role models and inspiration. There are much more complex societies and kinship models than the sparse nuclear family that came out of the industrial revolution. Deliberate or related families, people choosing co-housing, communal living, and house-swaps, fostering young adults, trading and swapping skills around a group of friends are a few things to explore. While not for everyone, pooling resources for a holiday experience or living arrangement can help multi-generational families and friends stay connected.

So, where is the middle if we think in terms of cycles of 7?

  • Cycle 1- to 7 years
  • Cycle 2 – 7 to 14 years
  • Cycle 3 – 14-21 years
  • Cycle 4 – 21-28 years
  • Cycle 5 – 28-35 years
  • Cycle 6 – 35-42 years
  • Cycle 7 – 42-49 years
  • Cycle 8 – 49-56 years
  • Cycle 9 – 56-63 years
  • Cycle 10 – 63-70 years
  • Cycle 11 – 70-77 years
  • Cycle 12 – 77-84 years
  • Cycle 13 – 84 – 91 years
  • Cycle 14 – 91 – 98 years
  • Cycle 15 – 98 – 107 years

Given extended longevity, the middle years run from cycle 7 through cycle 10, the years in the middle. It’s fun to think about this as a range of time, rather than as a target number.

My grandmother passed last year at 98 years of age, or at the end of Cycle 14. That’s quite an inspiration. She had a long, engaged, active and productive life way after any of the mixed feelings I might have about having arrived at the middle portion of my life.

If I was a novel, these middle cycles would be when all the exciting stuff would happen. Novels have an inciting incident, the hero grows into understanding, challenges arrive and need to be dealt with during the climax or just past the middle, and the resolution occurs in the latter part of the story.

If I think of myself as a piece of fiction I am writing, there is a whole 28 year period to think about, to ponder, and to make up cool things and design creative stuff. This is a much more positive meditation than thinking about a decade at a time, with all the associated baggage that comes with society’s emphasis on being forever young. By thinking in cycles of seven, it’s a way to sidestep some of those assumptions. Sevens it is!

Next, I think I’ll focus on a list of stuff on my “to do” list that’s checked off already. That’ll give me some areas for new exploration.