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How to write a sentence

Writers often talk about being in the zone to write. Setting aside or grabbing snippets of time to get words on the page. We empathize with fellow writers about managing real lives and our writing lives.

When I write a novel, no matter what the story is, I'm in the zone until the first draft is finished. Whether in the car (I wrote a chapter between Homer and Anchorage while driving through wildfire smoke), at the cabin, in the frozen foods section at Safeway (I wrote a scene snippet on my phone while zoning out on frozen baby peas). Until first draft is done, my brain stays on it like my golden on a knuckle bone.

All of us have real lives outside of writing. If we didn't, we'd be staring at blank pages. I've gotten so used to constant interruptions that my mind has adapted.

A typical writing session looks like this:

Rain poured as the motor coach left Santiago and pulled onto a two-lane highway...

"Roobie, give me back my underwear!" I chase her around the dining room table. My golden retriever has that gleam in her eye that says 'catch me if you can, two-legged human.' I go round and round the table until I'm dizzy, then hold up a treat to lure her toward me to retrieve what now has to go in the trash. Bummer. Time to hit Walmart for more undies. I sit back down. The last sentence doesn't read right. I change it.

Rain poured as the motor coach pulled onto the glistening highway

"Nannas!" yells a munchkin voice. "Can I please have blueberry pancakes?" I look at my granddaughter pleading with Boo-eyes-from-Monsters-Inc. I head for the stove. "Yum, thanks, Nannas!" I smile and sit back down. The sentence is lacking something.

Rain worsened as the motor coach pulled onto the-wait a minute, a highway doesn't glisten in the daytime. Need another word. Um. Um. Um

"We're out of toilet paper!" my better half calls from the bathroom. "Help!" I pause a moment. Should I leave him there until I finish rewriting my sentence? Do I want to stay married? Not good form for a romance writer. I get up and ransack the house for anything resembling a ply. I find paper napkins and head to the bathroom. I sit back down.

Rain worsened as the motor coach pulled onto the coast as they neared the highway, sheets of rain slapping windows as they passedwait this makes no sense. And where are they again?

Phone rings. I ignore it, then hear the message on speaker. "This is the IRS and we need to talk to you about your 2017 filing" I race to the phone and pick up, hoping I won't go to jail.

I pause.

In jail, I could finish this sentence. And maybe write a few more. Imagine the possibility!

I talk to the IRS, heart pounding (or thudding, as we say in Romancelandia) and I won't be going to jail. Dang, there goes that writing opportunity

Or I could simply write: Boy meets girl, girl leaves boy, boy meets up with girl again, boy and girl fall for each other, they argue, boy leaves girl, girl takes boy back and they live happily ever after. On that glistening highway

And the writer lived Happily Ever After.


- Lois Simenson

Lois Simenson is a novelist who also writes for newspapers, magazine and literary journals. Her writing has appeared onErma Bombeck, Women On,Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Magazine,The Anchorage PressandSanta Fe Writers Project.In 2016her true story about wildland firefighting garnered an Alaska Press Club award for best historical piece, all media. Her debut novel,Alaskan Spark, is a contemporary romance based on that story. She's now working on a romantic suspense,Otter Rock, also set in Alaska.

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