Susan Meier~Maid in Montana

Thanks for having me at Petticoats and Pistols this morning!

maid-in-montanaI do my best writing while also doing the laundry. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the sound of the washer? The hum of the dryer? The scent of fabric softener? Or maybe it’s that women are built to multi-task.

If my husband is making a sandwich, even if he’s finishing up, setting the top slice of bread into place, he can’t talk. He’s deliberately mute. Focused and on point with his bread and cold cuts. Talking and cooking don’t work for him. But I can’t make a sandwich without also washing the dishes or chatting with the kids, filling a glass with milk or talking on the phone. Because women are multi-taskers!

When I realized that, my writing life became a lot easier!

Many times when writers tell me they have writers block or they can’t seem to come up with the next chapter or plot point or interesting scene, I ask them what “else” they’re doing as they write. Most think I’m being critical of their focus, accusing them of letting their minds wander. In truth, I’m trying to show them that sitting down, staring at a computer screen isn’t what most of us were made to do and that’s why we aren’t very good at it!

Ask my husband how many times I’ve written a new scene on our church envelope and then had to take it home with me and sheepishly drive the money to the rectory the next morning!

How many times have you been at a movie, reading someone else’s book, showering, driving, cooking, attending a child’s ball game (or ballet recital), singing happy birthday, chatting with a neighbor, cleaning a toilet…and had the perfect idea come to you?

Probably lots! LOL

Because we’re not made to sit and stare at a screen. We get our ideas from living life.

This actually takes me to my two points for this blog. First, never leave home without a pen and paper. Trust me. It’s incredibly embarrassing to have to explain to your pastor that you are handing him cold hard cash without a church envelope because you scribbled all over it during his sermon. He will not be amused.

Second, get out and live life. Seriously. Silence may be golden and we may actually need silence to get the words on paper (or screen)…but you’re not going to find the answer to anything staring at the blue and white screen in Word.

You need to watch kids play. See the very old interact. Watch a new mom with her baby. Study the color of the sky. Observe a mailman on a familiar route. Scrutinize lovers. Watch a gaggle of teens. Oh, dear heaven, do watch teens! They virtually speak another language and they are so up on technology they will force you to either keep up or die! Star Trek has nothing on teens when it comes to boldly going where no one has gone before! If you want to get up to date on anything…just interact with a teen!

So watch people, but then listen. Eavesdrop on conversations. (Carefully and with discretion.) Listen to sales clerks in stores, parents disciplining kids, married couples making decisions or talking about their days. Listen. That’s how you learn.

Many years ago, I attended my first conference with two authors who were already published. Sitting in the restaurant dinning room on Saturday night, the one author pointed around us at the tables, most of which were filled with multi-published authors. She said, “What do all these women have in common?” My friend said, “They’re all published.” I (being in my very early thirties at the time and very stupid about how short of a time span youth is) said, “They’re all old!”

I can laugh now…at the time I was rewarded with a cross look and a scathing tone when my mentor said, “They’re all over forty. They’ve got some life under their belts. They’ve learned some lessons. They have something to say. That’s why they’re writing the bestsellers.”

Yeah. That about sums it up.

But you don’t have to be over forty to have something to say. Simple life experiences of winning and losing will teach you lessons worthy of being shared. So will secondhand knowledge of someone else’s pain, heartache or joy. (Watching a friend or loved one go through a life trauma…even something as simple as getting his or her insurance company to pay for damages in a fender-bender!)

More than that, life experience isn’t merely about having good lessons for your heroes or heroines to learn in your books. The things you see and experience are also fodder for scenes, character, stories.

Mining your real life for sad, funny, infuriating situations is the best way to come up with scenes and chapters that resonate with real people!

That’s not to say that you copy events. That could get you sued. It’s the underlying core emotion of the experience that resonates. Names and details can be changed if the emotion rings true!

So today, instead of sitting at your computer angry with yourself because you can’t pull something out of thin air, get up…go outside, peek at your neighbors (discreetly)…Better yet, talk to your neighbors. See what’s going on in the world around you. Look for emotions behind actions – the stuff that connects your make-believe people to readers.

Your story will probably be richer for it!


Susan Meier is the author of 40 books for Harlequin and Silhouette and one of Guideposts’ Grace Chapel Inn series books, The Kindness of Strangers. Her books have been finalists for Reviewers Choice Awards, National Reader’s Choice Awards and Reviewer’s Choice Awards and nominated for Romantic Times awards. They have been published in over twenty countries, touching the hearts of readers of many cultures and ethnicities.


Susan Meier


MAID IN MONTANA, 6/09, Harlequin Romance

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29 thoughts on “Susan Meier~Maid in Montana”

  1. Welcome to Wildflower Junction, Susan! Thanks for the wonderful advice. I’ve just had a week-long vacation where I didn’t write a word…just read a long, excellent book. (Pillars of the Earth, all 980 pages) Reading good literature recharges me, too. But now it’s back into the trenches 🙂

    Thanks for joining us today.

  2. Welcome Susan,I carry a pen an paper with me also,not to write a story but to write what I need to do or get,bccause Ill forget by the time I get anywhere,ive wandered down many a store Isle trying to remember what I was suppose to get,an end up with a lot of stuff an not what I went to the store for,so I totally relate to what you were saying,again welcome to the Junction!

  3. I actually write best in church! LOL

    At home I write best while doing laundry, but overall best…it’s church hands down.

    My husband frowns on this. He thinks I should be paying attention. But I like to think I’m being “inspired.” LOL!


  4. I am not an author but I always carry a pen and paper with me. Mostly because I think of grocery items I need at odd times! I also seem to do a lot of multi tasking around the house.

  5. Hi Susan, Welcome to Petticoats & Pistols! I hear you on NOT staring at a computer screen in search of answers to troublesome scenes. I don’t know what it is about the bottom of the stairs in my house, but I call it the Magic Spot. When I give up and leave my office, the instant I hit the last step, the answer comes.

    I’m fascinated by creativity. I actually think my walk down the stairs coordinates right brain-left brain interaction. I’m more left-brain than right, which means I anaylyze things to death. By walking away from the computer, I’m making room for the right side / creative side to kick in.

    I haven’t tried writing in church, but I inevitably get ideas when I’m there : )

  6. Hi Susan,

    A big welcome to P&P. We’re thrilled to have you. Hope you enjoy your stay with us.

    What wonderful advice for writers when they stumped. I know myself that when I run into a road block the solution comes to me when I quit trying to hard and do something different. Funny how our minds keep working while were folding laundry or going for a walk. It’s amazing. Yes, we definitely have to keep pen and paper handy. I’ve forgotten many an idea because I thought I’d remember it and failed to write it down.

  7. Love the cover of your new book! It’s very heartwarming. That baby is as cute as a button. The guy’s not hard to look at either! Hope you do well with it.

  8. Welcome to the Junction, Susan!

    “Mining your real life” – You put into words what I’ve recently come to realize: staying at my computer all day everyday doesn’t get the writing done faster–or better.

    And I write all over the bulletins on Sunday mornings. 🙂

  9. Welcome Susan

    WHat a great post. You have taught me something.
    I write all the time and I carry pen and paper with me all the time

    Have a great day

    Melinda Elmore

  10. I love the comment about finding the answer at the bottom of your steps from Victoria! And, yes, I agree with Linda that our minds don’t turn off when we’re folding laundry and such!

    Driving to the shopping mall is another time I get great ideas. Mostly because I can’t write them down. I sometimes think my mind likes to see how creative I can be with figuring out ways to remember ideas I get in the shower or driving or any time I can’t stop and write!

    Although I have been known to stretch out of the shower and write on the foggy mirror!



  11. Thanks, also, Linda for the comment on the cover of my book.

    There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the impact of covers and titles and I have to tell you I come down on the side of those who believe covers and titles have enormous impact.

    I think author names first influence the decision of what to buy…but if a potential buyer doesn’t recognize anybody’s name, then the covers and titles have to draw them in!

    I’ve been very, very lucky. In over 20 years I’ve had one seriously bad title and one oh-my-goodness bad cover. In 40 books, I can’t complain!


  12. Hey Susan, great post and cover! I live on a farm on the Cdn prairies and spend a lot of time driving around (an hour to the city alone). I do my best plotting on those drives. I used to always have a digital voice recorder (dvr) beside me but it went of the fritz. It was very handy because I could ‘write’ on the fly. Now, I use my iPod but I have to stop to take notes. I always have my iPod plus a couple pens and some paper handy. I think I ‘write’ best while I’m driving because other than watching the road, deer, other vehicles, etc, there aren’t the kind of distractions (like the internet) I get at home. Nobody bothers me. No TV or radio blaring. No dog barking outside to draw me to away from my laptop to see what the ruckus is outside. Just me and the highway. It’s freeing.

  13. Hi Susan,
    Great to see you here at P and P. I get me ideas in the shower! I think my mind is free and things just pop into my head. Makes for a big water bill sometimes!

  14. I’ve heard great talks by both Eloisa James and Lisa Scottoline (I hope I spelled that correctly) about mining your real life for your stories.

    Hearing them talk about how events in their lives impacted the stories they were writing at the time, I realized I’ve done that a lot too.

    My Christmas book has a big, fat wonderful cat in it. When I was writing it, we realized our big, fat wonderful cat, Fluff, is sick. He’s old. He’s been with us for what seems like forever, so it was hard on us when he got sick. So in some ways, the cat’s part in the story is a tribute to Fluff.

    That sounds silly. But it makes an interesting texture in the fabric of the story.

    I was writing Maid In Montana just when my daughter lost her job. Though she’s not a single mom, and lives with her parents — so no worries about rent — LOL — her situation caused me to really consider how difficult it would be for someone who had no education, no prospects for a job and no home…and a baby.

    It’s amazing to me how many real life things can spur us on to “think” about something that might not have popped up on our radar for one of our books!


  15. Oh, Charlene! My husband feels your shower-bill pain! LOL

    But the shower is just one of those quiet, mindless places where our thoughts…flow. LOL!


  16. Anita, when I first published, I was a full-time employee. Every night when I’d leave my job, instead of zoning out, I’d think about what I planned to write when I got home.

    When I’d arrive, I’d be so ready to write, I’d virtually explode with brilliance! (Or at least a scene or two!)


  17. Get out of the house, huh? Okay. 🙂 It so happens a local cottage industry that makes candles and has a little shop near me is opening their CANDY FACTOR today.

    I think, for the good of my book, I’ll go check out the free samples. 🙂

  18. Oh, Mary! Yes. Do it for the good of your book!

    I actually toured a candy factory for research for my November book THE MAGIC OF A FAMILY CHRISTMAS (the book with the cat).

    Anyway, the day before, I had gone to a specialist because I’d been having dizzy spells and we could find nothing wrong with me. This doctor listened to me talk about my symptoms and my life for about an hour and she said, “I think you have silent migraines.”

    To figure out if that was true I had to stay away from a long list of foods for two weeks. If the symptoms went away, then we’d bring the foods back one at a time until we found the one triggering the dizzy spells.

    Guess what the #1 food I had to give up was…Chocolate. So the first day of my suffering, I went to a chocolate factory for a tour. The place smelled so good I could have licked the floor! My mouth watered on the entire trip through.

    At the end of the tour, the plant PR person gave me six or eight chocolate bars and I could have cried. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I couldn’t eat them. Especially since I knew my kids would love them. I managed to save one candy bar (by hiding it) to eat after my tests were over.

    In case you’re wondering, I did/do have silent migraines and my trigger is caffiene…so, yep. Candy is limited for me!

    Some day I’ll probably write about that!


  19. Enjoyed reading the comments. The book sounds really good.
    I am so multi-task oriented that if I am doing only one thing, I feel like I have time on my hands.

  20. Hi Susan! I’m one of those people who find it really difficult to multitask, but I’m a lifetime scribbler. Lecture notes, grocery lists, just about any piece of paper gets covered front and back with ideas.

    I learned the notebook lesson when inspiration hit me on a camping trip. The only thing I could find to write on was paper towel, so I grabbed three sheets and a pencil and started scribbling. I carry a notebook everywhere now. I also get a lot of ideas while driving, so I never leave the house unprepared.

  21. Hi Susan! What true comments! I love to multi-task. I listen to Audible books while I clean. I have to be careful to finish the dusting as I’ll go off on a clean up the shelves project. And I have to focus on vacuumming “as is” instead of rearanging! Also, I have found I accomplish more when I am busy because I organize my time better. I am a reader but I have story notes and ideas on papers and little notebooks I have learned to carry around too! BTW- cute cover!

  22. Jennie! I thought for sure you were going to tell us you wrote your story on toilet paper! LOL…

    Actually, being in the woods with no paper, pen or computer (or electricity) is my definition of hell…seriously.

    I think most writers would agree with me! LOL


  23. What’s the old saying, Martha? If you want something done, ask a busy person?

    I used to be super organized then I’m not sure what happened. One day I couldn’t seem to get caught up. Forget about staying caught up.

    I was whining to a friend at a conference recently and she said, “Susan, you taught ME how to be organized. Shape up.” And it worked. Well, at least partially. I started making lists again and things are getting done again.

    Now, if someone could give me the magic forumla for cleaning my office, I’d be eternally grateful!


  24. Nice post. Couldn’t agree with you more about the difference between men and women when it comes to multi tasking.
    I had to smile about your “they’re all old” comment at the conference. Funny how “old” becomes a very relative term the older you get. In not too many years, you are going to be looking at those up and coming authors and thinking “they are so young.” It isn’t that you can’t write without extensive life experience. It is more that the writing is richer when you have a depth of experiences to draw from. Your suggestion to get out and observe is great. Amazing how little most of us notice about what is going on around them.
    Keep up the good writing. Will be looking for the cover with that cute baby on it.

  25. Thanks, Patricia!

    That is an adorable baby…and cover! I’ve been very blessed with both Silhouette and now Harlequin in terms of covers.

    I was actually telling my sister the very thing you said about “age” this weekend. Her husband has to go in for some basic heart tests and she was stricken. For a second I was too, then I asked how old her husband was…and suddenly the tests didn’t seem as out of place anymore!

    Lots of times we feel younger than we are! LOL


  26. Anne,

    I laughed when I read your post. I have a convertible. You can bet your boots that if I put the top down for a long journey, I will get an idea. Mostly because any paper that I have in the car will fly right out when I hit 45 mph!


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