Antarctica! Life at McMurdo

6 Feb 2007

From my duty at McMurdo Station, Antarctica in  2007

(second installment)

Not everyone who comes to McMurdo Station in Antarctica has the opportunity to travel to distant stations.  Travel here is on a “need to go” basis.  There are people working at McMurdo for years who have never been to the South Pole.  Ed works here but his wife has spent the season at the South Pole.  They will be reunited at the end of the season in New Zealand but they have not seen each other all summer.  Ed has never been to the South Pole.  I am among the privileged and will be able to fly to the South Pole on Wednesday.

Supplies

Today is the beginning of a very special and busy time at McMurdo Station.  The arrival of the annual cargo vessel occurred today. One might think that with sea access there are cargo ships coming and going all summer but this is not the case.  There is one cargo vessel a year and it brings supplies for the entire year (not just the winter). The oil/fuel tanker likewise comes in only one time per year.  The operation for off-loading fuel took about 2 days and 7 million gallons were pumped into waiting fuel tanks above McMurdo Station.  The ship would have left two days ago but strong winds threatened to push the now lighter ship into ice or rocks in the narrow bay.  No tugs are available here to maneuver such a large ship so under its own power there was fear that they would not have enough control to prevent an incident.  The tanker finally backed out and proceeded through an ice channel kept open by the Coast Guard Cutter “Polar Sea.”

Cell phones?  What are those?  We do have pagers but must find a land-line phone if we receive a page.  There are places on the base with wireless internet but I believe these areas are for the scientists.  Thankfully we have a good internet connection (via satellite) with speed equivalent to DSL at home.  We are asked to be prudent about the amount of bandwidth we use, however.  I have sent pictures home but I reduce the size of the files first.

Recycling

Everything here is recycled.  There are waste cans for each type of material.  When broken down into “Burnables, Plastics, Food Items, Bio Hazard, Aluminum, Tin-metal” it doesn’t seem to complicated.  Everyone does it everyday.  When you empty your waste can you separateout the different types of material and that is that.  Where does it all go?  There is no recycling station here but it all gets deposited in containers and loaded on a ship to be recycled at home.  At the sewage plant water is thoroughly processed and the effluent is clean enough to drink.  The only reason it is not used for drinking is peoples’ perceptions of the idea of drinking “treated” water.  The more solid waste is actually packaged and shipped away for further processing to avoid contaminating the local environment.  I find it interesting that even the seeds in food we eat are not substantially changed as they go on through the treatment process.

 

Crary Science Center

Yesterday I was privileged to have a tour of the Crary Science Center.  Through this center the bulk of the scientific research is processed and distributed to the world.  Most of the equipment and samples have been packed up as the scientist prepare to leave the ice for the season.  Nevertheless, the center will be staffed was able to see a see spider and a creature that looked like a large cockroach.  There were fish called “Borg” that contain in their cells chemicals that act as “antifreeze” and lessen their risk of being frozen into the ice pack.

Also we viewed a live webcam of the lava lake below the rim of mount Erebus.  This 12,000 foot active volcano doesn’t spew large volumes of lava but has a stable lake that occasionally “burps” up lava “bombs.”  There is only one other volcano in the world located in Africa has such a lake.  This volcano is unlikely to explode, like a Mount St. Helens, because the lava lake demonstrates the stability of the pressures beneath.

The People

I have been meeting very interesting people here.  Everyone has an interesting story of how they got here.  Some have always dreamed of doing research here.  Others willingly took jobs such as dishwashing and janitorial service just to be here.  It isn’t very glamorous for them but in time most people get to see interesting things.  Here are a few of their stories:

James – works in recycling/waste management.  He has been returning to Antarctica for 8 years.  He came following his girl friend.  She met another and was married.  Later he met someone else and she now goes with him to Antarctica.  He loves it here.  “It gets me out of my cubicle in back home.”  He has spent the winter in the past but prefers to return to home at the end of the season now.

Sherrie – Has been to McMurdo one other time.  She is part of the 109th Medical Group and works as a med tech here.  In her civilian life she is a nurse-practitioner with a pulmonary/critical care group.  She will be leaving this week and is anxious to see her sons again.

Chris and Cindy – Chris flies helicopters and Cindy is involved in logistics here at McMurdo.  She distributes equipment to the scientists who travel into less hospitable areas of Antarctica.  The couples have a ranch in the US to which they will return when they are finished here in about 1 1/2 weeks.  Chris has flown helicopters in the US and has worked in an operation in Angola.  They love coming to the Antarctic and plan to keep returning as long as possible.

Bethany and Stephen –  This couple met in college and Stephen learned about the Antarctic program while studying in Australia.  He applied and was able to find work here two years ago as a journalist.  After their recent marriage Bethany came along and works as the clinic janitor.  They love their experience and will plan to return.  They have rented a small house in an idyllic setting on a mountain in Vermont biding their time until they can return again next year.

 

“In Antarctica, science is a parking permit, and those who want to stand in the parking spaces must first be able to afford the permit to stand there.”

The Big Dead Place

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ANTARCTICA!

Mission to Antarctica

Antarctica!  In honor of the 10th year since I stepped foot on the ICE I will reprint, over the coming weeks, the posts I sent back to readers at that time.  I was a member of the Nebraska Air National Guard and, as a flight surgeon, had the great opportunity to provide medical support to the McMurdo station in 2007.  It was a life-changing journey and one that I tried to repeat, to no avail.

My next novel, now in the review stage, “Crisis on the Ice” borrows from my experiences and those of others who have traveled to Antarctica.  Of course, as a work of fiction, it borrows from my imagination as well.  Stay with me and learn about this fascinating world that few are privileged to visit.  ANTARCTICA!

4 February 2007

February second was the day I was scheduled to travel to Antarctica.  The flight was scheduled to leave at 10:00 but was delayed because of fog at the landing field.  Until they were sure the fog would lift in time for the flight to land they did not want the C17 to leave Christchurch.  Weather in Christchurch was beautiful.  It was about 70 ° F and a calm breeze.  Prior to being loaded onto the C17 we were expected to have with us all our cold weather gear.  Before stepping off the aircraft we needed to don boots, wind pants, gloves, and parka.  There were only seven passengers (PAX in military terms) but on the plane with us were three containers of liquefied helium gas totaling about 75,000 pounds of helium.  The containers are so large that a C130 is only able to carry one at a time.  These huge tanks were secured by chains in multiple places putting me in mind of a rogue elephant being held down by ropes and chains.  These banged against the sides of the tanks during take-off and I watched closely to be sure they didn’t move side to side.  I needn’t have worried, the loadmasters on the C17’s know their job.

                                                

The C17 does not land at the same place (called Pegasus) on the ice as the C130 so once the plane lands the helium tanks will be loaded on sleds and towed about 2 miles to the C130 landing area (Williams’ field).  These will be flown to the South pole individually and utilized for stabilization of the radio-telescopes there.  These telescopes were strategically placed at the South Pole because they can be used 24/7 throughout the long Antarctic winter night.  According to one of the scientists they use the information to try to learn more about the origin of the universe.  If I get to the pole he has offered to let me look them over.  The names of the telescopes are “Bicep,” Quad, South Polar Telescope.  From what I now know about my trip to the South Pole, though, I won’t have time to do much looking around.


This is summer time in Antarctica.  As a consequence the weather has been very nice with highs in the 30’s ­ 40’s Fahrenheit.  However today the weather has changed and the high was only 18° with a  fairly strong wind.  The wind caused the fog to form.  This had delayed our departure but also had the effect of moving ice out of the bay so that there is open water visible from McMurdo base.  Several people have reported whale sightings, though I haven’t seen any yet. (This is a Killer Whale photo)  I saw seals on the ice yesterday but they were too far for a photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

McMurdo Station is located on Ross Island so technically I still am not “on” Antarctica.  The ice shelf is solid here and the aircraft actually land on the permanent sea ice of the Ross Ice Shelf.  When we landed we were transported to McMurdo station by van with regular, albeit large, tires.  The ice of course is white but as soon as we neared Ross Island the white landscape changed to the brownish gray of lava.  This entire region is volcanic in origin.  Mt Erebus which was covered in clouds is not far away and is an active volcano spewing gases and occasional lava bombs.

Scott base is run by New Zealand and consists of “kiwi green” buildings on the shore of Ross Island.  Just over a pass we drove by large fuel tanks above McMurdo Station then descended into the small town that is McMurdo Station.  I was surprised by how many buildings appeared before me.  These weren’t little Quonset hut units but large 3 story dormitories, modern design buildings, and even a chalet style structure.   There were dozens (at least one hundred) of vehicles from the boxy “deltas” to tracked pickup, vans, sno-cats, the terra bus.

My dorm is the one in the middle and I have a first floor room.  Most people have roommates but I am on my own.  What is actually happening now is that most scientific research and polar operations are winding down.  While I am just beginning my time here many are preparing to leave having been on the ice all summer.  The “winter” people are anxious for the “summer” people to move on so they can get on with the work they will do through the winter time.  I have missed many of the scientific lectures and field trips that earlier visitors could take.  Nevertheless, I hope to get to the South Pole yet.  More to follow.

Scott McPherson.

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Back on the Grid – Writing Again

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Writing Again!

I’ve been off the “grid” for a while because I have recently changed jobs.  I am currently a teacher of family medicine.  Just a few short months ago I was in a busy practice seeing about 100 patients a week.  Now I work with family practice residents and medical students to help them learn what they need to know when they go into the “world” to practice medicine.

I am loving every minute of my new position but it takes some getting used to.  I miss my former patients but am getting to know some new ones.  I still see patients some days but most of the time I am teaching.

This transition has affected my time for writing.  I have had to develop different habits and different practices.  My commute to work is longer so I have a little less time to write each day.  I have begun to get used to it but this has slowed my writing.  I have just finished the first draft of a new novel  “ICE CRISIS” and hope to publish it by mid –winter or early spring.

On the other hand, my new position has allowed me to serve on the disaster preparedness committee at my new hospital.  Some of the things I have been involved with there have helped me develop the idea for a new Jack Sharp Novel.  The working title is “Ransom.”

As much as I have enjoyed writing “Ice Crisis” with new characters and an amazing plot, I am happy to be back to writing about Dr. Jack Sharp.  I hope you will stand with me in this new endeavor and stand with me to produce this addition to the series.  Watch for my new novels on Amazon and on my Twitter page @scottmcphersonmd.

While you wait for my new offerings, if you haven’t read all of the Jack Sharp Novels, go online and purchase Congo Mission, A Step Ahead of Death, and Witness in the Window,  The Jack Sharp Series.

Subscribe to receive email updates and an opportunity to read and review “Ice Crisis.”

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Retired!

Retired from the Nebraska Air National Guard after 25 years of service

Retired with flag reduced

United States Air Force Retired, what does that feel like today? I woke up with the realization that something that has been a big part of my life for many years is now over.  My military career began almost 4 decades ago as I looked for a way to pay for medical school.  Though I have a few token weeks officially remaining, my career as an Air Force Officer is now over.

I still have a job, I’m a doctor and I teach family practice residents. It is full-time and is not a slack position.  For the last 15 years, though, I have had another job.  Its minimum requirements were 60 days of duty per year.  Some years this exceeded 100 with a significant portion of them away from home and overseas.

Though I began in the 1970s I have actually only served 25 ½ years, some on active duty and some in the Air National Guard or Reserves. The last 15 years I have been a flight surgeon in the Nebraska Air National Guard.

So what does retired mean? I guess I don’t have to get a haircut in a few weeks.  It was never supposed to be the “high and tight” variety but we were supposed to keep it short.  It will take some getting used to.

I won’t have to wake up on Monday after a drill weekend (once a month) and try to juggle all the things that I need to accomplish for the Guard with my day-job. My focus can narrow a bit.

I won’t be in charge of the medical services provided by the medical professionals in our wing. We have nearly a thousand people to care for.  We are an important cog in a very big wheel.  Our wing provides fuel to planes all around the world.  In addition we have many other missions to be a part of.  I won’t be a part of that any more.

I won’t be gone from home 60 days, 12 weekends a year. I won’t have to come home and work on plans, charts, waivers.  I won’t run out to the base to sign some document or have to call the National Guard Bureau to try to advocate for someone’s health related issues.

Not being a part of the mission means not going with the planes when they travel to a far off place. I have had some wonderful opportunities to do this.  Iceland, Turkey, Crete, Spain, Guam, New Zealand and Antarctica were among the locations I had to go.  I wasn’t a tourist, I had work to do.  But I got to see those places and experience the culture and was paid to do it.

Of course it was the grim reality of war was the ultimate reason our planes were and are needed.   That fuel goes to aircraft that have supported our troops, flown protective patrols over our nation, and helped put offensive aircraft where they needed to be to carry out that war.  I would rather that we weren’t needed, that 9/11 had never happened and that the past 15 years could have been just a boring desk job.

As many who retire from the guard have said, “I’ll get my life back” but I will always carry in my heart a desire to be a part of that great organization, the United States Air Force. I has been great to be needed and I will keep those who take my place in my prayers as they go forward.  We don’t know how the world will change in the next 15 years but I know that the Air Force will be there and the great people of the Air National Guard and the medical service will be right there in the midst of it all.

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A STEP AHEAD OF DEATH

AVAILABLE NOW

A Step Ahead of DeathStep Ahead jpg

A Step Ahead of Death, by Scott McPherson 2nd edition is now LIVE ON AMAZON!

Available for Kindle.

Reviewers have said:             “A great read!”

“I couldn’t put it down!”

“An excellent mystery.”

Order A Step Ahead of Death NOW- HERE and get the mystery that will keep you guessing.

Jack Sharp, M.D. stumbles on the body of a dead girl just minutes from his office, while walking on the bike path.  First he has to extricate himself from being a suspect, then he tries to prevent another murder.  Suspense, conspiracy, and a little romance highlight A Step Ahead of Death.    Order your copy today – HERE

Get the first three Jack Sharp Novels Congo Mission, A Step Ahead of Death, and Witness in the Window all by Scott McPherson M.D. published by Esengo Publishing.

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Writing a Novel?

How do you begin writing a novel?

Fountain Pen

 

My first novel was a training ground for me.  I had always been taught to plan out anything you intend to write for others.  This meant a dreaded outline.  I hate outlines.  I don’t really know why, but when I try to write an outline, I begin filling in details to the point that it is no longer a shortcut for anything.  Another suggestion was to use a “story board” approach.

A story board is a graphic outline.  Picking scenes or segments of the story and trying to find an orderly approach to present them, makes sense.  I like the idea, but, for me it still means knowing the end from the beginning.  That is my real problem.

When I start writing a novel, I don’t know where it will go as I write, much less how it will end.  Some have termed this “seat of the pants” writing.  Whatever the technique, it is how I write.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that how you write is WRONG!  (an exception might be in a formal classroom)  When it comes to your writing style, your method, your characters, they belong to you.  Outlines can help and story boards can aid in organization, I just haven’t employed them.

Of course there is the issue of who will read what you have written.  If your story is disorganized, the characters are unrealistic, and the plots go nowhere, you my love your writing, but few will want to read your premier novel.  Structure and content are important, but that isn’t really what I am addressing.

When I began writing I started by just describing the world around me in prose.  I tried to describe the variations of the color of the sky, the noses along a dusty path.  I wanted to be able to convey our beautiful world to a reader through words.  Transporting the reader from paper into my world was my goal.  Then I began to branch out into “what ifs.”  What if I just kept walking until I ran out of road?  What if a storm blew up?  What if . . . a character, whom I invented, stumbled upon a dead body?

The “what ifs” turned my prose into a story and ultimately a mystery with a touch of romance.  I wrote a few pages almost daily.  I added sub-plots where they seemed appropriate.  I added likeable and evil characters, all the while trying to keep my world “real.”  I didn’t know much about formatting and my grammar wasn’t (isn’t) great, but I plugged away.  I actually liked what I was writing and still enjoy reading it.  I could never say this about papers I wrote for school.  A Step Ahead of Death was born as my debut novel.

books-disorganised-pile-hardback-40463969

Please comment on this and tell my how you write –

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WHAT DO YOU READ?

Do you write the way you read?

I was recently asked this question and it made me think a little.  I love to read mysteries and thrillers and combinations of these genres.  Two of my novels are, in fact, mysteries (A Step Ahead of Death, and Witness in the Window).  Congo Mission, my second novel, on the other hand is basically a thriller.  Did you know that there is romance in all of my novels?  It isn’t the hot and steamy kind, but there is a love interest that moves through the lines along with the suspense and mystery.  When I read, I love to see a personal story fulfilled.  If there is a romantic side to the novel, all the better, but I don’t care for descriptive sex scenes or objectionable language.

The genre chosen for a book determines its placement in brick and mortar book stores.  Likewise, if you search for books by genre, you may miss out on a good mystery novel if it is labeled a “romance.”  I like to try out new authors from time to time.  I also make it a point to read self-published authors regularly.  It helps them and promotes independent publishing.    While I tend to stay within a relatively narrow band of genres, it does not prevent me from straying out into unknown territory from time to time in my reading.  I really like Tom Clancy, but I have enjoyed most of Nicholas Sparks’ novels as well.  I love Agatha Christie, but Jan Karon’s Mitford series is heartwarming and satisfying to read.

The answer to the original question, therefore, is “not completely.”  Perhaps once I have written many more novels I will have branched out to other genres.

Please add a comment: What genre do you prefer to read?  Who are your favorite authors?

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Book Review: Ninety Feet Away by Kent Krause

Book Reviews

On my website I want to bring readers and writers together.  I am dedicating this blog to promoting writing, especially independent authors.  To that end I will read and review books from time to time with the desire let all of my readers find just what they are looking for.  Ninety Feet Away is a book about the team that almost made it – nonetheless a great MLB team.

Ninety Feet Away  by Kent Krause

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I rarely watch baseball, and have not attended a MLB game in 40 years, so I wasn’t certain how this book would strike me.  I was very pleasantly surprised by Kent Krause’s Royals saga.  He has done an amazing amount of research and distillation of facts to present a comprehensive story of their near Cinderella tale.  The title says it all.  They were just that close.

While this book has not turned me into a MLB fanatic, I find that when I watch the Royals now, I relate to the players by name and have a better understanding of the strategy and tactics of the game.  The bare facts of each game presented by Krause become a little tedious (I don’t have a baseball card collection), but as I moved through the season with the Royals, those facts made more and more sense and their importance became clearer.

Different from his novels, Krause has presented a fascinating tale of the team that almost made it.  I have heard, “Whoever remembers the team that came in second . . .”  After reading this marvelous book, I will.

Krause, in this book and his novels, provided detailed insight into team structure and game strategy.  Clearly sports is his love, though, as in All American King, his faith is a major reason for his writing.  With an appendix longer than a book chapter, it can be seen that he did his homework on the team.  He presents information about team history and player statistics that lets you know how each player stacks up against another.

I had no idea that baseball was such an intricate chess match.  Just choosing who will pitch which night of a series, or whether to pitch curve balls to a lefty, could make the difference between a grand slam home run or ending the inning.

I have  a much deeper appreciation for the difficulties involved in coaching and playing in the Major Leagues and will never look at baseball the same again.

Get this book here and enjoy.

Other books by Kent Krause:

Men Among Giants

Behind in the Count

All American King

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As I Walk In Spring

As I Walk in Spring

In Spring the first hints of verdant growth peek out from the underbrush.  Sheltered areas become microcosms of Spring [alushness, as green tendrils reach out from the center pushing to the periphery.  Baby rabbits and squirrels stop to delight in its freshness.  Woody scents waft through the vale from the decaying remains of a downed tree so recently obscured by the last winter storm.  The breeze carries hints of warmth yet there remains a briskness that belies the season.

Overhead numerous birds call and new sounds awaken in the warmer light.  Flashes of color appear and just as quickly disappear as the owner darts across the path.  He takes up another perch to begin his call again.  Among their number, a goldfinch, a wren, robins, blackbirds, chickadees, flickers and woodpeckers.  They have been absent for months and don’t reveal where they have been.  They seem happy to be back and busy with their tasks carrying bits of grass or twigs for their new nests.  Beyond the path lazily drifting above the hazy green trees the red-tail hawk drifts and spirals wherever the wind carries her, an eye ever watchful for prey.  She dips as a sparrow taunts her “Catch me if you can!”

 

One day just a hint of green decorates the barren branches the next and explosion of green leaves hides the sky from beneath the aging cottonwoods.  The tiny buds progress ceaselessly to miniature leaves.  A multitude of shades of green become evident.  The oaks have a rich emerald hue while the maples are light and airy.  Even the evergreens take on a brighter shade of green, and shake off their winter frost as if new life has been breathed into them.   Here and there the limbs, severed by winter gales litter the earth.  Their browns and tans contrast with the flourishing canopy.  Flashes of sunlight now glazed with an emerald glow light up the path beneath my feet and I know it is spring.

Light spring rain is a welcome occasion.  Spring showers wash clean the air and carry away the winter dust sluicing toward the creek, whose waters will one day journey toward the sea.  The wildlife scurries to find dry spots to wait out the chilling mist as new leaves stretch out for a drink of the life-giving liquid.

Oblivious to the weather, I peer around for a dry spot to wait.  The sweet aroma of plum bushes is enhanced by a fresh breeze.  Muddy pools form as I search for a way to go.  As I smile prepared to move, the flash of lightning and crack of thunder lead me to a different conclusion.  The path and all its wonders will wait until another day.

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WRITING HURDLES

Writing Hurdles

Everyone I know, who writes, comes up against challenges that leave them speechless.  The dreaded blank page affects everyone at some point.  Here are a few hurdles I have come up against, add yours in comments.

What should I write about?hurdles

Of course we’ve all heard that one should “write what you know,” but that just narrows the field by a million ideas.  Nevertheless, it helps to think about your strengths.  I’m a physician so  can write about medical topics.  I love to play music, so I can expound about the trombone.  I’m an author and I love to write, so writing about the process of writing is always a possibility.  I want to stay true to the focus of my blog, which is to bring readers and writers together.  This narrows my idea list, at least for this blog.

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A wise person taught me that, if I expect anyone to read my words they have to be meaningful to the reader.  Don’t just throw out your ideas, think about questions your readers may have, then answer them.  It isn’t too difficult to come up with a few potential questions.  Pick the best one and try to answer it.  This starts the “ink” flowing.

Life is busy, I never have time to write.

Many of us “Indie” authors do not write for our livelihood (though we wish we could).  We have a primary, wage-earning job.  We have families with whom we should be spending time.  Exercise should make up a portion of our day and eating and sleeping.  When do we find time to write?  As a physician I often hear that same question about exercise.  “I’m too busy doc.  When can I find time to exercise?”  My answer to authors is the same as to my patients, “schedule” it in.  Make your writing part of your day, not an add-on.  For my patients exercising 30 minutes a day can be life-changing.  Scheduling time for writing every day could change your productivity.  Find the time when your brain is most active and free of “clutter.”  For me that is about 5 to 5:30 AM.  For others it is late at night.  If you can find 30 minutes of dedicated time to write you can fill pages with your thoughts.  Writing then becomes a joy, something to look forward to.

The writing process itself can be a hurdle

Our knowledge of grammar, punctuation, character development, plot development, and many other areas of writing can always be improved.  Knowing our audience and being faithful to the genre we have chosen are critical features of our writing.  Even best-selling authors say they struggle in each of these areas.  Having critical readers and editors can help once a manuscript is finished, but we bear the weight of writing that piece from beginning to end in our own unique style.

Who am I to blog about this?

This hurdle gets into the psyche a bit.  Who is truly an expert in a subject?  For some things I want an expert opinion.  If my patient has a broken bone I want an orthopedic surgeon, not a neurologist, to deal with it.  If you have no idea about a subject, either research it thoroughly or leave it alone.  Your best writing will come from things you already know, but don’t be afraid to step out and work hard on something new.  Just be careful to be as accurate as possible, and if you are expressing an opinion, just say so.

Finishing

I have met many authors who have started their novels.  I recall several who began their novels years ago and have still never finished.  How many times have you started a novel?  It is easy to get bogged down with details as you go.  If you try to do too much polishing as you write you may find that you never finish.  You probably know how you want the story to end, but sometimes we get bogged down somewhere in the middle.  It is important to have the novel connect all the way through, but let the words flow and “tighten” it up once you are finished.  Constant rewriting, before the masterpiece is finished can lead to dead ends and discouragement. Hurdles accomplished

Just as in a race, if a hurdler hits the hurdle they can continue to run.  It may slow them down, but they are not out.  Keep going, finish, take it in stride and you will accomplish what you started.

This is definitely a short list of common hurdles I have encountered and have discussed with other authors.  I would love to hear from you. Photo Credit

What has been your worst hurdle to writing?  Please feel free to comment and share with other readers.

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