And How Did That Make You Feel?

Writing a book involves a different recipe of elements for every author. Some folks must write down their story in a longhand format—


handwritten on legal pads,


printed in their super-secret diary, or even pieced together on a dry erase storyboard complete with enough 3M sticky note details to plaster a full-scale papier-mâché replica of the Empire State building.

Some of us owe trees a massive apology letter.


Others are all about their space. They need absolute quiet—or absolute chaos. They need three screens, two dictionaries and a bottle of scotch at their elbow. Maybe they can only write on rainy days so the gloom of a gray day won’t allow the sun to reflect an enticing sparkle across their monitor and make them yearn for two hours of mowing the lawn. Or maybe the rule is that they only write on days when there’s a full moon, their desk is clean and they’ve just found a copper penny.

And some people need deadlines: a class, a critique group, an editor sending threatening daily emails asking where the damn pages are.

It’s a unique process and it’s individual to each writer.


I just need a therapist.

Seriously. That’s it. My go-to guy.

The way I see it, who knows more about the human condition and all of our frailties than someone who studies the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for a living? Someone who can gossip at the water cooler about some miserable bloke with serious issues while legally define the gossip as “work?”

Yeah, I figure I’ve hit pay dirt.

So our conversations usually go something like this:

Him: So, what’s on your mind today?

Me: Ugh. How long have we got? An hour? Fifty minutes? Where’d you put your clock? You moved your clock. Did you paint in here?

Him: *silence*

Me: Yep. Smells like fresh paint. I wonder if paint fumes are something that kids can manipulate into drug experiences these days. Are you finding kids are coming into therapy with an addiction to paint fumes? Have you been treating anyone for that lately?

Him: Are you concerned that one of your kids may be struggling with an addiction?

Me: No. Well, who knows, right? There are a million different kinds of addictions so chances are they’ve got a few, but let’s just say they were—no wait, let’s not make it an addiction. Let’s say one of them was struggling with a transgender issue. Yeah. Much more interesting.

Him: Are one of your kids struggling with a transgender issue?

Me: No, but for the sake of this hour today, let’s just say that they are. Tell me everything about it. Wait. Let me get a pen.


That’s my method.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m not everyone. Unless you were to see the notes my therapist keeps on me, in which case, you might conclude I’ve got some multiple personality disorder. Seeing him each week and discussing “other people’s issues” might have my therapist thumbing through the back pages of his manual in an attempt to discover just how many times a brain can fracture and how many identities it can support.

Chances are, I’m adding a little zing to his day by not coming in with the same ol same ol “I’m just not feeling fulfilled and I think my kids hate me” routine.

That’s what I tell myself anyway.

But my point is—and I pray I have a point—I’m neck deep in the writing process again and it’s a time frame that usually puts me into a time warp. I bury myself so far down rabbit holes with research that I usually come out the other side and discover I’ve come up for air in the middle of a Chinese chicken coop.


Yeah, deep.

It is incredibly easy for me to lose my “self” within the process and sharply disturbing to have phone calls like this one:

Daughter: Mom? Where have you been? Are you okay?

Me: Fine. What’s up?

Daughter: Seriously? I’ve phoned you four times in the last three hours and sent you eight texts. Did you not get any of my messages?

Me: Wait—I have a phone? Red flag. That would never happen in 18th century Scotland. Thanks for the anachronistic heads up.


Daughter: *sigh* I need to talk to you about whether or not I can come home for Thanksgiving.

Me: Wait—hold on—I totally forgot about the beef tallow on the stove. I’ve seriously got to get cracking on those tapers. I’m turning meat scraps into Christmas candles. God, the holidays are going to be fun this year.

Daughter: Never mind. *click*

If you’re going to be a successful writer, you really have to dive into your characters. You have to live their lives, have their problems, embrace fleas.

Well, at least for this book.

You have to apologize to your friends and family for being unreachable, unpredictable and for effusing the personal odor of barn animals.

And you also need a therapist. Someone who will help you dig deeply into the problems of “others,” someone who will help you discover the backstory and motivation of your characters,


and someone whose water cooler conversations will be highly sought after purely for the opportunity to shake their heads and mutter, “If only Freud could see us now.”

He’s my doyen, my muse, and my research assistant.

I owe him a lot.


He’s gotten, like, all of my royalties.


*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.


98 thoughts on “And How Did That Make You Feel?

    • Wonder no more, lovely Pauline, as I’m also in the middle of research for a sci-fi fantasy novel. And for this, I have plagued countless scientists and techno-wizards, begging them to fling themselves ten years down the road on my behalf. I’m quite certain all of them are ruing the day they answered my call.
      I shall send them all tins of biscuits as thanks once we’re published.
      It really takes a village, I think.

  1. Rob, I adore your illegal pad! Shelley, I love learning about history, and would happily bury myself in research. (I’m sure eventually someone would find me entombed within those hardcover brick walls.) I’m thinking you owe that therapist more than royalties. How about that bottle of scotch? 🙂

    • Glad you liked it, Cheergerm. Sure hope you’ve been off doing some sort of family vacation or spa treatment. There’s a certain dullness to the world when you don’t put up your weekly post.
      Happy to see your words. 😉

  2. There’s so much here! I thought of so many things I may need a therapist myself. Remember that famous picture of William Faulkner with all the paper taped to the walls? What a process. It included a lot of bottle and children wandering in and out so … lets not go there. Stay out of that scotch cellar!!!

  3. Hey Shelley,

    You’ve just given me a new (imagined) perspective of your kitchen. While you slave over those home made Christmas candles, I hope your Scotch, Red Wine and Chocolate Sauce are finally on tap and within easy reaching distance 🙂


  4. Oh good gravy where does one start here. I’m cracking up and It’s time to go to sleep. How can I sleep when I’ll be thinking of you pumping your therapist for book fodder. I finally fired mine. She only kept saying “you know what to do” and I did. I saved some money. Not a gossipy word in the lot. We did laugh a lot. This whole thing is hilarious. I see why you need a therapist. :)) The drawings were perfect with it and I could write a better comment but the print here is do darn small I can’t see what I’m thinking.

  5. How funny! Whisky! whiskey! Where? L o l
    Pardon my English (
    Hi Shelley I love the humor of his blog and the comments, while I follow him and when I have some time I translate and read 🙂
    Greetings from Europe to USA 🙂 Peace and Love!
    Thank you for visiting my blog, greetings,

    • And Google Translate scores again, Anthony! Aren’t we lucky to have this magnificent technology at our beck and call? I’m wholly dependent upon it when visiting many of the worldly sites I’m drawn to–such as yours. The wonderful thing about your posts though, is that if the magical translating machine breaks down, your pictures alone tell a captivating story and make the trip worthwhile.
      Please tell Europe it’s lovely to hear from them and give them a giant American squish of a hug in return.
      Cheers, Anthony!

  6. I honestly think you might be wasting your money and your plaudits on the therapist Shelley. I think you should keep hanging about the water cooler but for the patients who can give you insight first hand.Plus of course if any have dome past life regression, they may have already done the Highland Clearances. This way you can keep all the scotch and not worry about having to part with anything.
    No charge for the theraputic advice from here.
    xxx Mega Hugs xxx

    • Brilliant advice, Sir David. As my face grew to be as recognizable in that office as the paper notice on the wall that revealed where to get your parking ticket validated, I’m going to have to find a place to spring upon patients where they’d least expect to find me–like in the stairwell, or in the elevator. If I “accidentally” lean against the button that makes the lift come to an emergency stop, I may just squeeze five minutes of chatter from a person before maintenance comes to pry the doors open.
      Good plan.
      Must protect the stores and keep the spirit safe.

  7. I have Alex. She listens to me prattle about characters and settings and plots and then she remembers them all for me, which frees up my brain to do the actually writing. If ever I need a reminder, I just look over and go, “Hey, you know that character? The one with the missing eye and the black hair? He was a book binder right?” And I’ll get an answer like, “No, he was a typesetter, and it was a missing ear, not an eye. Good work on remembering his hair color, though.”

    Good luck on your next project! 🙂

    • I love how the two of you work perfectly in concert. Like two lovely puzzle pieces that snap together soundly and beautifully. (and humorously!)
      I need myself an “Alex.”
      Currently, for those moments when I have a total brain fart, I turn to my hound and pose similar questions. His response is always the same and always disappointing: Where did you put the peanut butter?
      Not helpful at all.

  8. Shelley, I do love my Sunday morning tea and toast accompanied by reading your blog. It’s now an established habit, so don’t ever stop or I’ll be the one needing therapy.

    How exciting that you’re writing an 18th century Scottish novel. I know someone who did that once… As for research, ditch the therapist and get yourself to the Culloden visitor centre in Inverness. I just revisited this marvellous place last week with family who were visiting us. It’s a goldmine of information.
    I love the cartoons, Rob. Will even forgive the ”Jimmy’ one, but please return my family photos on which you modelled it 🙂
    All best with both books, Shelley.

    • Firstly, and most importantly, Anne, your book is wonderful. And I’m not just saying that because I adore all things Scotland and Jacobite related. As I do my daily constitutional, trekking down and up this hunk of granite, I keep hoping I will come upon a tree that will be my portal to the past as well. You’ve done a beautiful job with the tale, and I’m putting your captivating story into the hands of many adventure-hungry lads and lasses!
      Secondly, Culloden was a place that left a deep and lasting imprint on my soul. I will never forget my visit there, but hunger for another. And you, my friend, have been so kind in inching that ambition a little bit further toward realization. So thank you for that. ❤
      Lastly, I love your humor (and your loyalty). It's always so lovely to see your warm words.

  9. Having just drafted my experience with therapists (plural) as a quivering blog ( because one or other might sue) this might just render me brave enough to click on ‘Publish’.

    Re the drowning in book syndrome I now have dreadlocks (metaphorical) and have not washed for a month because my narrator ( not even a character) is sitting in the Amazon with the Ayahuasqueros and cross legged telling this tale. A story yet to unfold. Feel a bit like Dustin Hoffman preparing for ‘Marathon Man’ by running to save his life and get ‘in role’ being told by Lawrence Olivier ‘Try acting instead’.
    P.S. What’s a water cooler? Sounds restful.

    • Ah, the blissful, deplorable, calamitous, intoxicating life of a writer, eh, Philippa? We cannot stop the driving need, the chugging machine, and the unrelenting force that grips us and catapults us into the creative process. It is outside ourselves, and understanding it may just ruin it. Best to simply move with the resistance and see where you end up. I say toss caution to the wind and publish. The story is sure to be tremendously worthy.
      And a water cooler? Nothing more than the breakroom watering trough. A tired American expression of where the old professional buffaloes go to catch up on the highlights of the day.

      • I knew about water coolers in Manhattan and all those other places where men are men, just didn’t know what one might be doing in 18th C Scotland, unless it was a euphemism for an obscure torture/ A Salmon pool river/ a form of calming imprisonment for the deranged. Just asking…

        • I think the equivalent water cooler in 1715 would likely be the uisge beatha cooler or the ‘water of life’ cooler: a smuggler’s barrel of illegally distilled spirit, likely buried beneath the floorboards of an old crofter’s cottage. Although from what I’ve gathered, much of the spirit was bad enough to qualify as an obscure torture and ended up in a salmon pool which successfully calmed the fish, but ultimately deranged anyone who tried it first.

  10. Love that illegal pad! Must be very schizophrenic to inhabit a sci-fi novel and 18th century Scotland at the same time – I’m imagining RobRoy with phasers and ray guns beaming aboard his horse to attack the McClingons o_O May the farce be with you Shelley 😀

  11. I admire anyone who can sit down and write a book. I’m at a point where I have tons of things to say and no time to sit here at my computer and even write a short blog post. Thanks for starting my morning with a smile.

    • Ah well, there are a million of us middling Joes who can sit down and toss a bunch of words onto paper, but a paltry few who can craft an art from those jumbled letters. Just appearing on the spectrum is a gift I give myself, although sadly it may be a curse I force upon others. And I do believe it was Vladimir Horowitz who said, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is practice.”
      Time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.
      Cheers, Denise!

  12. A sci-fi fantasy novel! Love it! Anything about Scotland, yes. I hope you’ve been watching “Outlander” for a bit of…ahem… inspiration as to the male characters 🙂 Now in Rob’s drawing of the writing process, is that a bottle of wine or a bottle of Scotch?

  13. I say – good use of a therapist! Reverse the couch on them! Probe their brains! I’ve also lost myself in research and arisen in strange places – generally a pigsty and not a chicken coup~! Look forward to hearing more about the new book!

  14. It’s been so long since I’ve visited (although that was not my intention!). I’m just glad to know you are down in that rabbit hole with some scotch!
    Take care my friend, and know that when I finish the campaign trail (51 days!), I plan to read Dear Opl. Finally!

    • Laurie! It’s so good to see your words – and occasionally your face on the book of faces website. Speaking of busy, good grief, lady, you take the cake (and probably have to stomach a lot of other unmentionables at all the potluck dinners you have to attend.) I’m so excited for you and your campaign. You really are a Wonderwoman of substance. And I bet you’d totally rock red, white and blue spandex.
      Stay strong, and don’t worry about Opl. You’ve got some big fish to fry right now.
      You go, girl!

  15. Believe it or not, this post was reassuring, Shelley. After I emerged from a couple of hours of blog writing yesterday, I found I was a blithering idiot, incapable of setting the dinner table until I brought myself back to the new task at hand. Weird feeling. You new endeavour sounds very interesting… best wishes. xx

    • A marvelous thing to get sucked into the writing world, isn’t it, Ardys? Time flies, meals pass and then bam–it’s Christmas. Happens a lot on this side of the screen.
      Thankfully, you have great things to show for it. 😀 xx

  16. Can’t wait to hear how the candles work out. How lucky are you to be getting multiple texts from your daughter? Just explain you’re in a rabbit hole in Scotland, and she’ll pay her own flight home for Thanksgiving and cook the feast, too. Pretty sure.

  17. Ooh…I’m so excited that you’re working on your next book! Can’t wait to hear a bit about it. I know you’re probably stressed like crazy, but it all looks very romantic and awesome from the outside looking in!

  18. izzitt jest mee? how did/does/will everyone else (seaminglee) know whutchrr writing about? sci-fi? scotchland? the return of the son of monster magnet? and that other stuff?

  19. I, for one, am really enjoying living in your version of 18th-century Scotland (and England) right now. If burying yourself miles deep in research is what it takes, keep it up! That’s basically my approach to research and writing, too (again, confirming your theory that we’re cut from the same cloth). When I’m in the throes of finishing a draft I’ll emerge bleary and wide-eyed, and it takes at least half an hour to remember that I live in the here and now.

    • You, lovely Ms. Murphy, have a remarkable talent I have come to appreciate in a position that has me bowing, and kneeling and generally groveling in. Your beta eyes should be included in my next insurance policy. I can almost hear in my head that hysterically funny conversation with my agent.
      (so happy to hear that you’re not choking down the manuscripts)

      • Oh, no, far from choking! They’re so, so much fun. I’m learning so much just from reading them that I’m filing away for my next historical.

        (I’d love to hear that conversation, too…)

  20. Being oblivious to phone calls is a level of dedication I’m sadly lacking. Robin Gott’s cartoons are great — especially the fourth one down about the patient on the couch. It’s hilarious!

  21. A therapist’s office would definitely be the best place to ask about all of that stuff!! XD I can totally imagine all of that dialogue happening, too. I admit, when I was sent to a psychiatrist during my parents’ divorce, I did use one session to see how much of a fib I could get away with (just dream journaling, nothing serious!)… I guess I was a big “liar” in that stage…. and now I’m a writer. Figures. 😛 😉

      • Almost as bad, I work in IT for a cable company – part of an Evil Media Empire! It’s just the particular make of the team I am on is heavy on Drama Queens with a touch of Vaudeville. As long as I am not a character in the play, it is “interesting” to quote the old Chinese curse. 🙂

  22. By the way Shelley! I just nominated you for the Premio Dardos Award.
    Don´t worry you don´t have to accept the award or do anything, this is just my way to tell you THANK YOU, I admire your work and I am grateful to you for sharing and teaching me so much!
    Check my last post here:
    And once again, thank you for blogging!!!
    Your friend always,
    Hector Sampson

  23. I could have sworn I’d said what a wonderful post this was way back. Oh well. It is wonderful – not least because I am just getting back into that same kind of immersion after a summer of teaching and I have missed it! If ever I need to explain to someone why I need, actually physically need, to be left alone with my thoughts for extended periods of time I shall point them right here. Rob’s Back Story cartoon will help as well, although I think my absolute favourite has to be the Illegal Pad – the look on the poor thing’s face!

    • Well, all I can say, Laura, is thank you for hunting the post down and adding your wonderful words.
      A summer of teaching? You never stop to amaze. I’m hoping the autumn brings you a few moments of rest and respite–and maybe a little writing time for yourself!
      (My favorite is the Illegal Pad too 😛 )

      • I’m just getting back into writing now – it was a hectic summer and then all sorts of exciting things this Autumn. Settling down a bit now though, thank goodness. 😀

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