Muriel Jensen and the Creative Process

Good Morning, Everyone!

If you’re wondering who this intruder is, Liz invited me join you today.  She explained that this was “open” month, so I could talk about anything.

Usually, I have no sterling advice for writers because I’m so insecure and lost myself much of the time.  But I finished my second Harlequin Heartwarming manuscript on Friday and during the last week, experienced a writing phenomenon I’d like to share.


This is my second life as a writer.  My first life started in 1983 when I sold my first American, and ended in 2004 when trends changed.  I was invited back to Harlequin last year, and just finished the sequel to the book whose cover you see.  But I was sure for a couple of scary weeks that this was finally going to be the book that didn’t work.  It happens to me in the middle of every book, but this time, because this new career is a little fragile, I was really worried.

I always plot with a lot of characters and a lot of things going on (not necessarily exciting things, but a lot of inner turmoil and character to character angst.)  I also build in a lot of threads that might or might not lead to something that will help carry the plot.  (If anyone out there knits, it’s like carrying a bobbin of color along the back of your work to add a figure or a pattern in the solid piece.)  I was on page 300 and I had four threads I really liked and had no idea what to do with them – a Mexican family that lived in the heroine’s rental house, a colorful knitted patchwork blanket the hero admired in a bunch of things donated to the clothing annex of the Food Bank he and the heroine were helping build, the heroine’s 4-year-old daughter, who is very female but loves toy cars more than dolls, and a couple of the heroine’s customers (she owns a coffee cart) whom she particularly likes. I kept working, because inspiration usually falls on me like a brick at the point where I’d ready to embrace my laptop and leap off the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

In backstory, my hero’s ex-wife ran off with their little boy several years earlier and they hadn’t been able to find her.  He’d hired a detective, who finally locates the ex, but she doesn’t have the child with her and the hero takes off to look for the child himself.  Originally, I’d thought the ex would just be across the country or in Canada, then IT OCCURRED TO ME – if she’s in Mexico, I can bring in the heroine’s renter to help him.  Turns out they don’t have to go at all, but it allowed me to use that family and makes something good out of their presence.

I was reading a Good Housekeeping magazine and found an interesting and philosophical item about life.  The writer said, we look for a clear path and smooth sailing, and usually life is “patch, patch, patch.” The PATCHWORK BLANKET.  The woman who donated the item to the cause is a friend of the hero’s mother and talks to the heroine about incorporating the bad that’s happened to her as well as the good, because all the colors together make a satisfying pattern in life as in the blanket.  It’s more complex than that, obviously, but I got to use the special blanket to turn my stubborn heroine around.

The heroine’s little girl is bossy and possessive and is always working an angle to get other kids’ toys – cars, particularly.  When the hero finally finds his son, who is 8, I GAVE HIM A TOY CAR HE LOVED, a Matchbox-sized Jeep the hero had given him before his mom took him away.  Near the end of the story, when we’re not sure if the hero’s son and the heroine’s daughters are going to be able to deal with each other, the boy loses his Jeep when they’re all tumbling down a hill together.  The heroine’s daughter finds it and keeps it, then, when she hears how it helped him remember his father when they were separated, she gives it back.  (Okay, so maybe she wouldn’t, but don’t we all love children who’ll do the right thing?)

The heroine loves her coffee cart because she’s become invested in the lives of her customers.  She has two lactose-intolerant people, one a military widow and the other a victim of the economic downturn.  I used them just to show how the heroine cared because she bought one coconut milk, and the other almond, but during a scene at the end where the community is celebrating the opening of the “The Clothes Closet” THE HEROINE INTRODUCES THEM TO EACH OTHER and, when she thinks her own romance is dead, she’s happy to see them leave together.

So – trust the process, believe that you can make it happen, and you’ll find a way to pull it together.  I’m sure I’ll have lots of revisions (I always do) but I’m happy with the way it all came out, and that’s what keeps me going.

Thanks for letting me visit!  Good luck with all your projects.


Muriel Jensen and the Creative Process — 10 Comments

  1. Welcome, Muriel! What a lovely and encouraging post about trusting the process. We always have those moments and your advice is especially apropos since I’m diving into a R&R (revise & resubmit) today. 😉

  2. Thanks, Muriel. A timely post – I have a manuscript I’m SURE doesn’t work sitting with my editor right now. Yet, inklings of what’s wrong have been working their way into my brain since I sent it off. Yep, shoulda waited and worked on it some more. And I knew it. (Grin) Thanks for pointing out the need to trust our process.

  3. Ashantay – you know, it’s probably better than you think. I’m always plagued by what I should have done once it’s gone to my editor. But, I you do have to revise, you’ve now figured out what would improve it so you’re that much ahead. I’ll hold the good thought for it.

  4. Including me, Barbara. At least enlightenment came before my toes were on the edge of the bridge railing. Nice to ‘meet’ you, too.

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