On Friday, April 13, 2018, I wrote the word I sometimes doubted I would never write:


I saved. I printed. I made Danny pose for his standard photo with the most recent draft, except that this wasn’t just a draft.


Then, I held the pages in my hands, and I said the words aloud for the first time in my life:

“I wrote a book.”

Yes, friends, it’s true. The novel I’ve been working on for years is finished.

Okay, maybe “finished” is an overstatement. Technically speaking, it’s a manuscript, not a book. It’s not published. It may not even be in final form, because if I succeed in finding an agent, she will undoubtedly want me to make changes. If she succeeds in selling the book, the editor will undoubtedly want more changes. Plus, I reworked a scene Thursday night, and the friend to whom I sent it with the inevitable “what do you think?” message may also suggest changes.

But right now, at this moment, as far as I can see, my novel is finished.

Finishing the manuscript is only the beginning. There are a thousand more things to do before an actual bound volume sees the light of day. I have my eye on a particular competition with a swiftly-approaching deadline, so I have less than two weeks to learn how to write a synopsis and then actually write it. I need to start seriously researching agents. I need to figure out how to write a query. Whether to attend a major conference this summer where I might make contacts. Whether I want an agent at all. Whether to publish the book myself or through some hybrid arrangement, rather than taking the traditional route. The pros and cons of all of this.


I recently acquired Jane Friedman’s new book, The Business of Being a Writer. I’m already overwhelmed by my ignorance. Jane writes in a direct, accessible way about dozens of topics I’ve never even thought about. While I recommend her website, blog, Facebook page, and other avenues of advice to anyone who wants to move from hobbyist to professional, I urge you to proceed with caution. There’s a boatload of information out there, and it can be intimidating to the novice. More importantly, all of it has to be filtered through the most important question: What do I want my writing life to look like?

As it turns out, writing the book was the easy part.

I admit to being sort of Marxist (Groucho, not Karl) when it comes to accomplishments: my first impulse is often something along the lines of “If I can do it, anybody can do it.” When I was graduating from law school, the dean told us not to worry, that we were all capable of passing the bar exam. He said, “If you doubt, just open the yellow pages [this was 1993] and look at the listings for attorneys. There are probably a thousand names there. You don’t have to get the best grade on the bar exam to be one of them. All you have to do is pass.” He was trying to keep us from panicking, but the message I heard was, You’ll pass the bar exam because it’s not that big a deal. So I took the exam, and I passed, and I became one of the thousand names in the yellow pages, because let’s face it, thousands of people pass bar exams every year, and some of them aren’t even particularly bright. In other words, I passed, but it wasn’t that big a deal.

question mark

Over the years, I’ve accomplished other things, but even when they’re legitimately impressive by objective standards—the first time I won an appeal, the first time I argued at the Connecticut Supreme Court, the first time I sold a story—there’s the part of my mind that says, Good job, but don’t get too worked up, because loads of people have done this and a whole lot more.

So even as I held my manuscript in my hands, the naysayer inside me cautioned, That’s a nice little accomplishment, but loads of people have gotten this far and never gone any farther. You still need to get it published, and then you need to get people to buy it and read it.

Sure, that’s true, every word of it. It’s also true that even if I get my book published, and even if people buy it and read it, one day I may see it on the table at the library’s semi-annual used book sale or the “Bargain Prices!” shelf at the bookstore (assuming it even gets into a bookstore). Thousands of books are published each year, and many of them won’t earn out their advances. Most of them you’ll never hear about—the titles and their (unknown) authors will slip quietly into literary obscurity.

Screw the naysayer anyway.

In the fifth season of Sex and the City, a collection of Carrie’s newspaper columns is published in book form. Her publisher throws a lavish book party of the sort that practically no debut author gets anymore. After the party, a limousine picks her up. The driver, a young woman, asks what the party was all about. When Carrie admits that it was for her book, the driver’s enthusiasm bubbles over: “That’s amazing! You wrote a book!” Carrie’s voiceover muses, “It was amazing. Why did I need a stranger to remind me of this?”

Why do we so often need someone else to remind us when we’ve done something amazing? I know I’m not the only one who tends to downplay achievements. When was the last time someone commended you for something you’d done, and your response was along the lines of, “Oh, it’s nothing” or “It’s not that big a deal”? Is it because we’ve been taught that only selfish egotistical people brag? Because we don’t want to make other people feel bad for not having reached the same goals? Because pride is a sin and humility a virtue? Because we can’t see the difference between boasting and celebrating?

Here’s the thing: boasting and celebrating are not the same thing. Boasting says, “Look how great I am for doing this fabulous thing!” The emphasis is on the person, not the achievement. But celebrating says, “Be happy with me about this accomplishment!” The hard work or good fortune that led to the accomplishment may be lauded, but the true subject is what’s been done, not how superior the person is who did it.

I have friends who are excellent writers and who haven’t yet written books. Some are in the process and simply haven’t finished; others are still debating whether that’s how they want to spend their time and energy. The fact that I finished my first book doesn’t make me a better writer or a better person than they are. It just means that I’ve hit that particular milestone. And that’s worth celebrating.


Because when you’ve worked long and hard, and you’ve finally, finally gotten to the moment you’ve been dreaming about, and you’re holding the fruit of all that hard work in your hands, it doesn’t matter that there’s more work ahead or that other people may have done the same thing and may have done it more times or better or more famously. What matters is that you did it. This particular accomplishment belongs to you, and it’s real, and it’s amazing.

And you get to celebrate your ass off.

woman triumphant

One Hell of a Holy Week

Buddy's ad

Last weekend, I started writing a blog post about my sweet Buddy. He was lying in my lap as I wrote, dozing and sometimes purring.

And dying.


That post ended up getting bumped when a friend called to advise me of the horrible tragic death of someone I’d known as a friend and to whom she’d been much closer. I thought I had more time to write about Buddy.

I was wrong. At least if I wanted to write about him during his lifetime.

Continue reading

Writing From Real Life, Part 2: When to Refrain



Photo credit: Viktoria Hall-Waldhauser 

Last night, a dear friend called to tell me about a horrible tragedy [the “Occurrence”] involving someone who was once very important to her and whom I knew as a friend, although he and I lost touch many years ago. The Occurrence will have repercussions, not only in breadth as people farther from the event are notified–ripples in the pond–but in depth as all of us explore and deal with our own reactions and those of others.

After the initial shock and several glasses of wine, I thought of examining my reactions by writing a story about the Occurrence. After all, my wine-soaked reasoning went, if it were a news story about strangers, I would find a variety of fascinating angles that could be turned into compelling fiction. Besides, the likelihood that anyone involved in the Occurrence would discover my story, much less recognize it, would be remote.

Also, writing the stories would enable me to manage this unexpected grief I’m feeling about a situation involving someone with whom I haven’t had contact in more than twenty years. As the one crafting the tale, I control the narrative. I arrange the facts. I assign the roles, the motivations, the reactions. I can explain, as far as can be done, how the Occurrence came to be–what chain of events led this person to do X and that person to do Y instead of Z, and what everyone knew or didn’t know about what was coming. Perhaps most importantly, if I write the story, I decide what comes next, how these people—some of whom are connected to one another only by this one person—will proceed, what they will say and do, what roles they may or may not play in each others’ lives. How they will recover, if they do. How they will be changed.

Some writers would tell me to write the stories, to delve into the psyches of the various characters, to travel with them on their various roads to recovery or ruin. Such stories are valuable, they would say. Stories like this reveal human nature, shining light on all sorts of important issues. As long as I sufficiently mask the reality, they might add, there can be no harm. I’m not so sure.

Some stories are not ours to tell.

roses - sorrow

Photo credit: Ornella Binni

This is not to say that I cannot write about my own feelings, my own thoughts and reactions. Those are mine, and I own them. But to write about this particular Occurrence would require utilizing details that belong to others, and that I cannot—will not—do.

Some might say that this means I am not a true artist. An artist, they would argue, sees something like the Occurrence as an opportunity for the creation of a moving, insightful piece that pays homage to everyone affected. Obvious examples of this include the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Honolulu. Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” was composed as a memorial to an artist friend.

Sunrise over USS Arizona Memorial

The sun rises over the USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to the Sailors and Marines who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan/Released)

Other artistic tributes are not as well known. Barely five months after I graduated from college, six members of the then-senior class were killed in a tragic motor vehicle accident while traveling to pick up their outfits for the Homecoming weekend. A statute has been erected on the campus to honor them. The sculptor was the father of a prospective student. I have found no indication that he had any direct link to those who perished, and yet he chose to honor their lives, their potential, their spirit.

eagles at Houghton

Perhaps if my inclination were to write a straightforward tribute, I might allow myself license to write about the Occurrence, including a cast of characters inspired by real life and modified by my imagination. In truth, my story would not be a tribute for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I haven’t nearly enough information for such a piece. To create a tribute or memorial requires intimate knowledge of the subject matter, coupled with the ability to step back and assess it to determine how best to translate it into a particular medium. At this juncture, I lack nearly every one of those components.

In a supreme bit of irony, it turns out that I actually wrote such a story several years ago, before anyone knew this Occurrence lay in the future. Last week, several days before I received the news, I happened to reread that story. I patted myself on the back for how well I’d handled the topic. I even contemplated preparing the story for publication. Now, the notion is akin to putting my hand on a lit stove.

I recognize that some may say, “But aren’t you doing exactly what you say you’re not doing? By posting this, aren’t you writing about the Occurrence?” At risk of being disingenuous, I don’t think I am. My focus here is not on the substance of the (unidentified) Occurrence, but on the question of when—if ever—a writer or artist may utilize someone else’s Occurrence in their own work. It’s a topic I’ve explored before, and I’ll likely return to it again, because it doesn’t lend itself to a simple, universal answer.

That said, I admit to some hesitation in posting this. The chances that it would be seen by anyone who would recognize the underlying story are slender–but this is not impossible. (There are times when it is a benefit to have a small readership.) Do I risk causing hurt by admitting that I have considered writing about this subject? Or do I present this matter, trusting that these lines will be understood as an unresolved question rather than advocacy for a position or–worse–justification of a self-serving conclusion?

There may well come a day when I will use my personal, individual thoughts and feelings about the Occurrence to create an entirely different story, one which violates no one’s privacy or confidence. This, I believe, is permissible. Because those thoughts, those feelings, are mine. I am free to employ them to enrich and deepen any character I create.

woman in meadow

Photo credit: Edu Grande

But that is not the same as writing about the Occurrence itself. Even recognizing the improbability of directly harming someone involved, I cannot in good conscience use it for fiction. That said, time will pass. With that passage will come a certain amount of healing and distance, because that is how we survive. The day may come when I ask appropriate permission to address this particular topic.

That day is not this day.

empty bench

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

On Time: Too Young, Too Old, Too Soon, Too Late . . . Or Maybe Just Right

clock - colors

Time is one of those subjects that never seem to wear out their welcomes. A Google search for “time” with no qualifiers turns up “[a]pproximately 11,300,000,000 results”. Small wonder, when so much of our lives are devoted to talking about it, thinking about it, planning for it, using it, wasting it, managing it, killing it, maximizing it, praying for more of it. Whether seconds on the clock, hours in the day, or years in a lifetime, time is a universal obsession:

What time does (the meeting, the hearing, the show, the meal, the game, the party) start?

What time will it end?

Do you have time for . . . ?

What time is it?

How much longer until . . . ?

Can you believe it’s been that long since . . . ?

Do you remember when . . . ?

Someday, we will . . . .

Who had the fastest time?

Is it time to eat yet?

They’re going into overtime!

Can we get an extension on that deadline?

Don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead/back!

How much longer does he have?

Let me check my calendar.

The writing community holds up its end of this obsession. “Time to write” yielded 1,100,000,000 results, although in all fairness, some of these simply included both “time” and “write,” without addressing specifically such topics as the best time of day to write, the best time of year in which to write, how to make time to write, how to use the time you already have more productively so that you can write more, how to find time to write when you’re too busy to write . . . you get the idea.

coffee cup stack

And then, there’s the subset of the writing/publishing community that focuses on the time of life in which someone is writing: thirty hot new writers under thirty, forty writers to watch under forty, inspiring debut writers over fifty, sixty, seventy. Last weekend, I listened to a well-known agent from a prestigious agency tell how his agency courted and won an author who was . . . seventeen. (She started writing the book when she was twelve. Her parents had to sign the agency agreement, because she’s not a legal adult.) A roomful of writers, all of whom had left 17 behind long ago, stared at this man, and I suspect many of them had the same thought as I:

What the hell have I been doing for the past forty years?

This week, I will celebrate my fifty-eighth birthday. I cannot believe how old that sounds. If you’d asked me forty years ago, I’d have classified 58 as not-quite-closing-in-on-death. I’d have assumed that by that time, my children would be grown and gone, my grandchildren would be visiting, my husband (whom I’d married right after college) and I would be thinking about retiring in a few years, and my career would be winding down. Perhaps I’d have pictured the two of us sitting on the deck, watching the grandkids run around our backyard in a tidy suburb while one of our sons grilled the burgers.


My college boyfriend and I didn’t end up marrying (a wise decision for both of us). I have neither children nor grandchildren, a state of affairs some pity and others envy. I’ve been a short-term missionary in Thailand, cooked and served breakfast to hundreds of homeless people, performed in Gilbert and Sullivan shows, and graduated from law school at thirty-three. I’ve had several careers, some of which have overlapped. I’ve published a handful of short stories. My present career goal is to be a fifty-eight-year-old debut novelist.

(Perhaps I can ask the seventeen-year-old for advice about agents.)

old woman on phone

In my favor, I come from a long-lived family. One of my aunts will soon turn ninety-two. She lives independently in the house where she raised her family. She reads, works puzzles, washes the walls every spring, and sits on the porch swing in the evening to think, dream, remember, or merely drift. She’s read every story I’ve published, and she writes me notes urging me to finish my novel because she wants to read it and she’s not getting any younger (or so she says). If I take after her, it means that I have 34 years to continue writing and reading and dreaming.

And there’s my other aunt, who is precisely thirty years older than I am. She and I started college at the same time: I was 17, and she was 47. She finished her bachelor’s degree and earned a master’s in library science, even in the midst of harsh personal struggles, because it had always been her dream to be a librarian. She worked as a librarian, retired, went back to work at the library, retired again, and now devotes a day or so each week to volunteering at the library, covering books and helping out however they need her except when significant health issues require her to take a break. She, too, makes a point of writing me encouraging notes, letting me know how much she enjoys my stories and how proud she is of what I’ve done.

Bringing up the rear is my mother, the baby of the family at a mere eighty-three, the only one whose husband is still living. Another avid reader (are you sensing a theme yet?) and puzzle-worker, she’ll celebrate her 62nd wedding anniversary with my father this year. In a frame on my bureau is the note she wrote me years ago, expressing her faith in me as a writer.

Compared to these amazing women, I’m barely more than a child. Which means that, popular culture notwithstanding, I have oceans of time to finish and publish my novel-in-progress, to write another one, and another, and another. Assuming I don’t get hit by a snowplow when I’m clearing the driveway or fall off the roof while I’m cleaning out the gutters, I have decades of writing ahead of me.

For some of us, life isn’t long enough to do all we want to. For others, the hours drag. It’s up to each of us to decide what we want to do with the time allotted to us. The seventeen-year-old may have a wildly long and successful career as a writer, or she may grow bored with it by the time she’s twenty-three and decide to become an accountant instead. There’s no way to know.

Me, I want to write stories.

clock and typewriter


On Not Thinking

thinker 3

I am the Queen of Overthinking.

If there’s a way to dissect an issue, I’m there. Maybe it’s the lawyer training, or maybe it’s the writer instinct. Either way, I can meet practically any statement with “but what if . . . ?” (Not everyone loves this about me.) Continue reading

When It’s Not Your Holiday


Today is February 14. Valentine’s Day.

There are probably couples who will have a magical, romantic, Hallmark-style holiday. Good for them. Enjoy. Godspeed. Continue reading

The Lemon Meringue Pie Approach to Writing Fiction

For some writers, stories spring into being, fully-formed and populated with fascinating, well-rounded characters. The act of writing is little more than taking dictation from the Muse, with perhaps a bit of sprucing up here and there to ensure that the foreshadowing is properly balanced with the revelation and the metaphors sparkle.

We do not like these people.

cat - angry

Other writers (including yours truly) find the task of creating a story to be a daunting task. One reason is that there are so many moving parts. Do you start with the plot? Or do you invent a character and wait to see what he does? Or do you decide on a fabulous setting and then figure out who’s going to show up there and what they will do?

And this doesn’t even begin to address things like character arcs, imagery, Freytag’s pyramid, and a host of other terms that are enough to send the beginning writer fleeing back to the relative safety of other people’s already-written books—which are, unfortunately, the very thing that first led him to think he might be able to write.

For the beginning writer who is overwhelmed by the question of where to start—or the experienced writer who needs to prime the pump—I offer the approach which has worked for me:

The Lemon Meringue Pie Approach to Writing Fiction

lemon-meringue-pie - slice

Making a lemon meringue pie, step by step

Suppose you have never baked in your life, but you love lemon meringue pie. One day, you decide one day that you want to learn to make it yourself. You run a quick internet search and discover that there are dozens of recipes available. You read through a few (maybe focusing on the ones labeled “easy” and “foolproof”), and you discover that they all share certain essential elements: pie crust, lemon filling, and meringue.

At this point, you have a decision to make. You can try to master all of these pieces right now, an experience nearly guaranteed to take an inordinate amount of time and leave you in tears of frustrations amid a kitchen full of messy mixing bowls and spilled flour. Or you can proceed in a slower, more methodical fashion that allows you room to experiment and learn.

Being a wise person, you choose the second approach. You resist the siren call of pure originality. Instead, you buy the crust and the filling, and you concentrate on learning how to make a meringue. You figure out how to separate eggs properly. You experiment until you discover the best temperature for whipping the egg whites. You research articles about how to make a meringue that doesn’t weep.

When you feel comfortable with your meringue, it’s time to learn how to make the filling. You assess whether you can taste the difference between fresh lemon juice and bottled. You evaluate whether you like the version with sweetened condensed milk better than the one with butter. You play with the number of egg yolks you prefer.

Once you’ve learned how to make the meringue and the filling, you move on to the pie crust. Again, recipes abound and debates rage. Lard, butter, oil, shortening? Some combination of the four? Is a pastry blender necessary, or should you just use knives to cut whatever fat you’re using? What about freezing the butter or lard and then grating it into the flour? How much should you handle the crust? And on and on, until the kitchen is ankle-deep in flour and you want to kick the person who invented the phrase, “easy as pie.”

In the end, though, with all this experimentation and learning and failing and trying again, you will produce a succession of lemon meringue pies, each a little better than the one before. Because you took the time to master one step before moving on to the next, you can know that even if your crust isn’t terrific this time, your filling is rich and smooth, and your meringue is airy.


The same is true of writing stories. Work your craft one step at a time. Master one aspect before attempting the next.

“But wait!” you cry out. “I can’t create just part of a story! There’s no story equivalent of a store-bought pie crust!”

Actually, there is.

Writing a story, step by step

These days, one of the most disparaged genres is fan fiction. The mere mention of it is enough to send many people running (often with good reason). But hear me out: it’s an excellent tool for learning the craft of writing.

Remember the three essentials to creating a story: plot, character, and setting. Fan fiction allows you to borrow the character and setting—rather like buying the pie crust and lemon filling—while you learn how to handle a plot. The world already exists; someone has already dreamed up the characters and their home, their town, their relationships. That’s a lot of heavy lifting the beginning writer doesn’t have to do.

It helps to work with a source with several well-defined characters. In high school, I fell in love with Bonanza. The Cartwrights and their ways of acting and interacting fired my imagination. The setting—the Ponderosa and Virginia City—was already established, so I didn’t have to create it. Instead, I spent hours writing stories that were, in essence, new episodes that found their genesis in David Dortort’s world.

In my forties, after a quarter of a century away from fiction, I rediscovered Bonanza fan fiction. When I was in my teens, I had no idea other people wrote this kind of thing; now, there were a number of websites devoted to it. Tentatively, I waded into the library of a now-defunct website devoted to Bonanza. Some stories were frankly unimpressive, but others were as well-written as any book on my shelf. One excellent writer who called herself dbird had written a “what happened instead” series: she used the Bonanza characters and various facts from the series, but by adding one non-canon element, she had created an entirely new story.

This, I thought, has possibilities.

The more I read dbird’s stories, the more I remembered how much I’d enjoyed writing the same kind of stories. Finally, one rainy February day, I plunked myself on the sofa with my laptop, conjured up the world of the Cartwrights, and thought, “What if. . . ?”

Within the framework of that setting and those characters, I discovered the freedom to experiment with other aspects of writing. It was rather like writing a sonnet: you have to adhere to the rhyme scheme and meter, but within those limits, you can say anything you want. You can write about love, about horror, or about macaroni and cheese. Whatever topic appeals.

So I tried out different plot styles, different voices, different approaches. Supported by an enthusiastic and generous community of readers, I pushed against the edges of the standard Bonanza-style story. Spared the burden of creating an entire world, I relished the privilege of trying out frameworks and images. Dbird and I even wrote several stories together, which was an education of its own. In addition, since the script writers often showed little interest in accuracy in such matters as history or medicine, many fan fiction writers (myself included) have taken advantage of that same freedom, which affords more opportunities for drama without the constrictions of reality.

Having an established setting also allowed me to play with characters. Bonanza is infamous for the ill fates suffered by virtually any woman who falls in love with a Cartwright: if they don’t leave, they die. (The patriarch, Ben, was widowed three times.) Creating brand-new love interests for these perpetually single men allowed me not only to explore the relationships between the women and their chosen Cartwright (and his family), but also to experiment with the effects of some of these relationships. One of my favorite original characters was inspired by a friend’s efforts to rid himself of an ex-girlfriend who refused to believe their relationship was over. In my story, this woman not only exhibited sinister tendencies, but she afforded me an excellent opportunity to learn about writing an unreliable narrator.

Having major characters and their environs soundly in place also enabled me to undertake the challenge of creating a plausible villain. With the possible exception of Iago, people don’t generally do things simply to be evil. They have reasons, and those reasons make sense to them. Camilla, the unreliable narrator, acted as she did because she refused to accept that Joe had dumped her for Sarah Jane. Because I already knew how Joe and the rest of the family would think and act in particular circumstances—those characters were solidly in place—I was free to focus on Camilla and how her delusion affected her acts as well as those of people around her.

Once you’re comfortable with plot and character, you can move on to what some find the most challenging part: setting. To be clear, I’m using “setting” to mean much more than simply the geographical location of the story. To me, “setting” means building the entire world these characters inhabit. You might use a real place, such as the role of Manhattan, which has been called the “fifth lady” in the four-woman ensemble, “Sex and the City,” or you might create an entirely fictional world, such as Narnia. Jan Karon created not only a locale, but an entire community of quirky beloved characters in her Mitford series. And you can do this, too, because you’ve already learned how to create characters and tell their stories.

Some might argue that the setting comes first, because people are the product of their worlds and plots grow out of what those people do. Maybe, maybe not. My point is simply that once you know how to manage all three things, you can work with them in whatever order pleases you.

Some final thoughts

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “Seriously? This stuff is fine for people who lack the creativity and discipline to create their own characters and settings and plots, but I want to be a serious writer.”

That’s a worthy goal, and I wish you well. But before you write off the notion of working from someone else’s starting place, allow me to mention a couple of authors who’ve done precisely that.

Maybe you’ve heard of a fellow named Gregory Maguire. He’s made a career out of taking fairy tales and fantasies and turning them on their heads. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is the retelling of the Cinderella story from the perspective of one of the stepsisters. Mirror, Mirror recounts the story of Snow White. (For what it’s worth, neither of these stories originated with Disney.) And then there’s that little tale Maguire spun when he shifted the focus of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to another character:


Or maybe you’re familiar with author Geraldine Brooks. Her novel, March, tells the story of the father from Little Women. (March also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, in case you were wondering.) Her latest book, The Secret Chord, reimagines events from the life of King David.

The list goes on and on: Jon Clinch’s Finn (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn); Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Hamlet); John Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius (Hamlet); the film and stage versions of West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet); Clueless (Emma); Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (Pride and Prejudice).

Obviously, these are not fledgling authors incapable of creating their own characters or worlds or plots. To the contrary, even Shakespeare is widely acknowledged as having borrowed from other sources. These are talented, experienced writers and creators who looked at another work and saw something the rest of us never noticed, and they thought, “What if . . . ?” What if we followed the March girls’ father on his journey? What if the Wicked Witch of the West had a name and a life before Dorothy showed up? What if Jane Austen’s heroines were in modern-day Beverly Hills or London?

As long as you don’t violate copyright laws (an incredibly complex topic that is far beyond the scope of this post), there’s nothing wrong with finding inspiration in other works, which may include using them as tools as you learn to navigate the weird and wonderful world of writing fiction.

After all, everybody who creates anything has to begin somewhere.