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Monday, March 30, 2009

A Final Note on March

March can be a tough month for anyone, including me, who lives in northern climates. I've already survived a solid five months of winter and believe me, I'm ready to pack away the sweaters, the winter coat, and gloves.

When I'm writing a book, there comes a point when I feel exactly like I do at the end of March. It's always at the same place: about three-quarters into a manuscript. I get to the tail end of the middle, and I'm poised to write the black moment, but the entire process begins to weary me. I can't wait to get to the big finale, but more key scenes need to be written first.

I'm so tired
Photo by jpockele

Are there aspects of writing that tire you? Spots where you just can't wait to get on with it--you know--get to the good stuff? Or is it all good stuff for you? If it is, than I'm jealous!

What do you do to get through those final scenes? What strategies get the pages out?

I plow through, rewarding myself with chocolate and coffee. Another approach (and probably a healthier one) would be to skip to the good stuff. That's correct. Go ahead and write that black moment; whiz through the finale. You can come back and fill in the blank scenes afterward, when you're re-energized.

That's the nice thing about writing. You can skip to the good parts.

If only I could skip to the apple blossoms on the trees instead of waiting for the buds to appear...

Springtime flowers.
Photo by beamillion

Join me on Wednesday--APRIL!!!--when we'll begin a discussion about fear.

And...

Get Motivated! It's Monday!

Friday, March 27, 2009

How Our Favorite Authors Influence Us

Everything we read influences us. Everything. You can disagree and argue with me all you want, but I stand firm. Everything we read runs around with all of the other stuff in our head and enhances our knowledge.

So naturally, I am a firm believer that our favorite authors have a tremendous influence on us. One of my favorite authors (if not my absolute favorite!) is Stephanie Laurens. She writes Regency period romance novels, and yes, her books have influenced my writing.

I don't write Regency period romance novels, nor do I write in a similar style as Ms. Laurens. However, I am drawn to the traits the main characters always possess. The heroes are protective and honorable. The heriones are courageous and intelligent. I also love the workings of the ton and the depiction of what it was like to be wealthy and upper class in Regency England.

Witley court
Photo by stevepj2009

Who influences your writing? Have you thought about why you're drawn to a certain author over and over? The next time you pick up a familiar author's book, ask yourself why. Explore what it is about that particular author that keeps you coming back.

It might surprise you to learn that you don't love the plots but adore the prose. Or maybe it's the attention to detail, the setting, the time period, or the suspense that you love.

You can look for authors you haven't read based on your findings. I originally thought I loved Stephanie Laurens's books because of the time period, so I began reading other Regency romance novels. I did find several authors who I liked, but in the process, I realized that I'm not drawn so much to the time period as to what the author does with the book.

Songs from Spring Angels
Photo by permanent_daylight

How does this affect my writing, though? When I analyzed what I love about certain books, I quickly saw a common theme. An exclusive love, honorable characters, and rich drama all have to be present for me to love a book. What do you think I make a conscious effort to include in my own books? That's right--an exclusive love, honorable characters, and rich drama.

Delve into what you love about your favorite books. Then write down what you discover and make sure to include it in your own writing.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Do We Change as Writers?

When you first had an inkling you wanted to write, did you know what you wanted to write? Was it clear even then what you were drawn to?

The Uses of Slime Mould
Photo by justbecause

I wanted to write romance novels since I was about twenty years old. And I still do! That hasn't changed, but other things have. Over the years, I've learned more about myself and naturally want to express what I've learned through my writing.

When I joined a local writing group, I began writing short stories. The group opened my mind up to many different aspects of writing, including non-fiction pieces and poetry. I'd never considered writing poems before, and I probably will never be much of a poet, but it's fun to play around with.

The books I read tend to influence my writing direction the most. For years I've been drawn to historical novels. I read tons of non-fiction about American history. However, I don't limit myself. I read classics, biographies, and obscure magazines to open my horizons. What do I read the most? Romance novels, of course!

Berry Heart on Pink
Photo by pinksherbet

What about you? Are you still writing what you originally wanted to? Or have you changed? It's okay to change. Although I couldn't imagine writing anything but romance novels when I first started, I find the creative challenge of writing shorter pieces keeps me fresh.

Join me on Friday. We'll be taking a look at how our favorite authors influence us.

And...

Write Already! It's Wednesday!

Monday, March 23, 2009

When Did You Get the Writing Bug?

I'm always curious about other writers. I cut out articles about my favorite authors, check out websites featuring writers' journeys, and follow author blogs. Yes, I'm fascinated with writers.

Is Anybody Home?
Photo by pinksherbet

What's one of the first questions authors are asked when being interviewed? That's easy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

What about you? When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Did it creep up on you? Did it slap you in the face when you were ten? Or maybe you were thirty and it suddenly didn't seem as impossible as you once thought? Maybe the kids grew up and you found yourself with time on your hands?

I didn't know right away, which seems strange since I've always loved reading. Some might call it an obsession with books. I can't think of a time when I didn't have a library card; in fact, I've often had a library card before a new driver's license when we've moved. Reading is my favorite hobby.

I devoured young adult romance novels when I was in high school. Then I found Harlequin category romances at a flea market one summer. I was hooked. Sure, the books were a decade old, but it didn't matter. The drama, the strong heroes, the morally upright heroines, and the overseas locales lured me in. I couldn't get enough!

It wasn't until I was in college, and still living with my parents, that I had the epiphany: I could write too. I assume most writers have that moment at some point. I'm ashamed to admit I had another thought: I could write books better than this. The book in my hand irritated me on every level. Was it poorly written? No. It just didn't satisfy me for whatever reason.

Text Fist
Photo by a_mason

I grabbed a spiral notebook and felt the first thrill of my writing career. I was in charge of the characters. I got to name them, decide where they lived, pick their hair color--I was in control! Heady stuff! And my romances wouldn't have all of those pesky problems. No, my books would show the hero and heroine falling in love and that would be it.

Well...how did the book turn out, you might ask? It ended at page twenty. Turns out all of those pesky problems are the whole point of a book.

Many years have passed since that February day when I learned such a valuable lesson. If characters have no obstacles, readers have no reason to turn the page. My ardor for writing wasn't dampened by the realization; if anything, I became more determined to write.

What about you? When did the lightbulb turn on for you? When did you decide that you could do it too?

Join me on Wednesday when we'll be discussing how we evolve as writers.

And...

Get Motivated! It's Monday!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Living On Less?

It's Friday. Time to throw off all that serious (and head-hurting) goal talk.

In fact, I'm tired of all the serious (and head-hurting) messages I'm bombarded with from the media about how awful the economy is. It's hard to stay upbeat and positive when all I hear is doom and gloom. Is the economy awful? Has the world ended? Is there anything, aside from crumbling to my knees and slapping my hands over my head, I can do about it?


Photo by Spine

One thing I've noticed on the covers of magazines is a glut of articles on saving money. I love articles about saving money. I'm always on the lookout for a new tip. Unfortunately though, all this talk about saving money is coming because unemployment is climbing, the banks are struggling, etc... Saving money is toted as a responsible act. And it is, but so is dieting, and how fun is that?

I think encouraging people to cut back on expenses and to beef up their savings is fantastic advice, but it comes across as deprivation right now. It's one thing to cut back on spending when you can, and another thing to cut back because you have to. Will consumers continue to live a pared down lifestyle when the economy is "straightened out?" Doubtful. And that's sad. I've been frugal for years now, and it is a lifestyle of abundance, not of deprivation.
That is why I'm posting links to a few fantastic blogs about living within your means. I hope all the folks who have cut back on spending, whether by choice or necessity, can feel encouraged about their lifestyle change. Living on less doesn't have to mean having less of a life.
The Simple Dollar, Gather Little By Little, and My Open Wallet are all fun and informative blogs about saving money. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Time Commitments

I thought I'd share this link from a literary agent. Rachelle Gardner is an agent with WordServe Literary and she writes a terrific blog. A few weeks ago, she wrote a post detailing the time commitments newly published authors will face and how to prepare for them. Check out rants & ramblings: on life as a literary agent to read her post.

Her article was thought provoking because many people underestimate how much work any job is. It's easy to assume movie stars don't work hard or that published authors have it easy. All jobs require effort, and the amount of effort isn't always discernible to someone not doing that particular job.

If you intend to become published, writing is only one part of the equation.

Revisions, critiques, writing a query and synopsis, research, and organizing take time. And let's face facts: most writers do not sell their very first book to the first editor they submit to. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but it's rare. So all the work you put into the first book will be repeated with number two, and three...and you may be doing it without the benefit of a contract.

At some point in this journey, it'll hit you that other unpublished authors have websites and blogs. They go to conferences and seem to know all these insider people. And you will feel the tug--the tug to up your game. Peer pressure! Again, more time involved that doesn't directly relate to your book but is essential to your career.

There's nothing wrong with waiting until you publish to set up your promotional tools. After all, an editor will buy your book because of the writing, not because you have a website. However, after "the call," there are many new and exciting issues you will have to deal with like contracts, revisions, line-edits, art-sheets, and possibly, a contract for another book. Do you really want to be figuring out how to get a website up and running while you're bombarded with all that? You will need a website; editors expect you to promote your book through it, which means it'll have to be up and running pretty quickly.

And the process isn't over. Editors want writers who have more than one book in them. They're taking a chance on a new author. They get thousands of queries and proposals every year. You will have to prove yourself to them. If the book you sold took four years to write, be prepared you won't have that luxury with the next book. A good indication of what editors expect from their authors is to look at their current roster. Are their best-sellers putting out two books a year? What about their newer authors? It should give you an idea of their expectations.

My intention isn't to scare you. It's just that many new authors don't fully understand what is involved with getting a book published.

Join me on Friday for a breather from all this heavy stuff!

And...

Write Already! It's Wednesday!

Monday, March 16, 2009

March Goal Review 2009

Here we are in the middle of March already! Wow!

So...remember those goals you wrote down back in January? The ones where you decided what days you'd write and how much you'd write and how much you wanted to finish in 2009 (whew!)?

Clock- Simplicity vs. Complexity
Photo by aarongeller

How's that going for you? Have you stuck with it? Did writing on schedule become a habit? Or has it flat-lined like the annual health regimen we all seem to start in January?

Not sure?

Well, get out your calendar. Take a look back and scan how often you wrote. Do you see a pattern? Does every Tuesday and Thursday have something written on it? Or are there days (or weeks, gulp!) with NOTHING? Scary!

What works about your writing schedule? What doesn't? Now that you've had a few months to review, is there anything you'd like to change about your writing goals?

If you've stayed on track and are finding the set schedule useful, fantastic! If the system just doesn't seem to be working for you, why not? Have you found your own way to stay on track?

Writing down your goals and setting a schedule is meant to help you accomplish more. That's all. Yes, you might feel pressure when you look at your calendar and realize you haven't written in three weeks, but that's the whole point. You don't want to get so far off track that you accomplish nothing. Pressure is part of life. No, it's not fun, but it serves a purpose.

Time flies by--cliched, but true. Do you want to wake up on December 31, 2009 and realize another year passed you by and you're still not closer to fulfilling your dreams?

Me neither.

It might be a little painful. It might not feel good every minute. But if writing is important to you, recommit to your schedule, or make a new one you will commit to.

Thanks for stopping by.

And...

Get Motivated! It's Monday!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Scheduling Idea Time

Idea time? Is that some newfangled term like quality time?

Ah, no.

What am I talking about then? Devoting time to gathering ideas.

Now, I must mention that I'm terrible at scheduling time to come up with ideas. I mean, truly horrible. I let them come at me willy-nilly and, hopefully, write them down as soon as they arrive. I don't currently have an idea nurturing environment.

My "Hipster" organizer
Photo by afroswede

After reading James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure, I've decided I must change. He's devoted an entire chapter to ideas. He suggests setting a time on a regular basis for writing them down. If you haven't read this book, do yourself a favor and find a copy.

The thought of devoting a half hour a week to cultivating ideas intrigued me. What if, instead of waiting for my muse to come, I invited her in for thirty minutes a week? And if I write down every idea (Mr. Bell has scads of prompts to help find them), wouldn't it be lovely to review the list when starting a new project? Wouldn't it be fabulous to have several plot ideas to choose from, instead of squeezing my brain to push one out?

Remember that Idea Journal you started a few weeks ago? Think about a typical week. When could you devote thirty minutes to opening your brain to writing possibilities? Would your lunch break on Wednesday work? Or maybe before your favorite television program on Thursday? Use that time to write down all ideas that funnel into your brain. You aren't going to use every idea. You aren't even deciding if the ideas are good or bad. You're just writing them down.

perfect stranger
Photo by mezone

When you're ready to start a new project, you can weigh the idea's pros and cons then. And you can think of me...because I know I'm starting this week!

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Soul Searching For Ideas


Does your writing lack bite? Are your stories pleasant to read but that's about it? Are you actively looking for ways to up the stakes in your plots?

The key to writing gripping fiction is to have loads of conflict. Since we're continuing our discussion on gathering ideas, I thought we should look within ourselves to find our conflict triggers.
Photo by emifaulk
That's right. We're soul searching today.

Yikes.

Oh, stop worrying! It won't be that bad!
Think about the following questions and write down your answers. If one stumps you, just move on to the next. Sometimes it isn't easy knowing ourselves.
  • What are your biggest fears?
  • What's the best thing that could happen to you?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What topics make you see red?
  • What topic do you avoid discussing at all costs?
  • What trait do you not always like in yourself?
  • What's your best trait?
  • Do you like the way you look?
  • How do you think others view you?
  • Do you wish they saw you in a different light?
  • What traits do you deplore in others?
  • What traits do you admire?
  • Who do you look up to?

Feel free to add to this list. I don't know, maybe you think about these things all the time, or maybe you're aware of them without doing the exercise. Answering them did not come easily to me!

Don't worry if the questions make you feel uncomfortable. That's the whole point. Awareness of who you are and what values you hold dear will help you narrow in on possible conflicts for your stories.
If saving the environment is your passion, have your protagonist be an environmental activist. If you avoid the topic of abortion at all costs, maybe your heroine is just like you and trapped in a conversation she doesn't want to have. Give your characters the traits you most admire--and the traits you despise. The results will be interesting!
lick
Photo by emifaulk

Your writing will stick in readers' minds when you make it real. How better to make it real, than by basing it on your perceptions of the world?

Join me on Friday when we'll talk about scheduling idea time.

And...
Write Already! It's Wednesday!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Getting Ideas From Movies

What's your favorite movie? What kinds of movies do you like to watch the most? Your choice in movies can tell you a lot about yourself and can help you with your writing.

My DVD Collection
Photo by andresrueda

Pick one of your favorite movies and ask yourself the following questions. Write down the answers.
  • What draws you to this movie?
  • Which character(s) do you love? Hate? Why?
  • Is the setting beautiful?
  • Does the soundtrack put you in a mood? How would you describe it?
  • What don't you like about the movie?
  • Is there anything you would change about it?

Now think of a movie you hated and ask yourself the same questions.

When you analyze your reaction to a movie, you get a better sense of what your emotional triggers are. Take the movie you hated. Maybe you found that the reason you hated it was because you abhor violence, but maybe there was a character you empathized with. Could you write a new script for that character? Ideas can spring up even in movies we hate.

watched this week
Photo by irinaslutsky

Let's get back to what kind of movies you like. Do you love mysteries? Romantic comedies? Heavy dramas? Period pieces? Thrillers? Consider writing a short story or book in the genre you're most drawn to. If you love mysteries, you'd probably be a fantastic mystery writer.

Join me on Wednesday when we'll do a bit of soul-searching to come up with ideas.

And...

Get Motivated! It's Monday!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Attracting Ideas

I'm assuming you read often, yes? Most writers do. I read novels, biographies, non-fiction books, magazines, trade articles, blogs, internet reviews, e-mails, etc... And I always learn something, but if I don't write down the snippets of ideas, they tend to disappear.


Photo by demibrooke

That's why it's important to tear out, or photocopy, magazine articles that fascinate you. Print out the advice you read online. Keep a diary of all the books you've read and write a brief review along with your impressions of the book.

Sometimes, I'll read something and a few years will pass before I realize I need that information. There's nothing worse than remembering the outline of something you've read but having no access to the details. Make it easy on yourself; keep records of this stuff!

Everything you read should be mentally combed for ideas. Say you're enjoying a National Geographic magazine article about diminishing rainforests. The article's okay until some strapping millionaire, bound and determined to save the rainforest, is described in great detail. Your interest suddenly shoots through the roof. At times like this, do yourself a favor and tear out or copy the article. You'll regret it if you don't.

Elephant trekking Khao Sok National Park Thailand
Photo by rene_ehrhardt

Now, I'm not saying you're going to write a story about a millionaire saving the rainforest (although it sounds good to me), but the drama of the situation might trigger some other idea. You'll want that article for reference.

But what do you do with these copies? That depends on how organized you are. I have a stack of blank manila folders for photocopies and printouts, and I have binders for magazine articles. I could be more organized, and at some point I probably will be, but for now, my system works for me.

When you're feeling out of ideas, look through your Idea Journal, but if nothing in there tickles your fancy, spend a bit of time perusing your folders and binders. Something is bound to jump out at you.

Look at the picture below. An entire thriller could be plotted out from it! Those roots look like little frozen angels, or demons--you decide.

Anthropomorphic Roots
Photo by mydailycommute

Next week we'll continue our discussion on gathering ideas.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Opening Your Eyes (and Ears) to Ideas

What did that guy just say?

I lean in and concentrate on the deep voice sitting at the table behind me. He's regaling his friend with a tale of his weekend exploits. I settle in and enjoy the story.

Growing up, my mother lectured me, "don't stare. It's not polite." Well, duh! But I could never get the "don't eavesdrop" portion of the lecture to stick. And, come on, some people talk very loudly. How can I help but listen?

Sorry if I'm offending you, but I'm bombarded with other's cell phone conversations at the grocery store, with booming voices declaring their irritation at the gas station, and with sweet old ladies gossiping next to me in line. I no longer shut my eyes and ears, pretending not to hear. I listen!

For the second cup...
Photo byhamedmasoumi

Dialogue, mannerisms, and character development are key in fiction, so take advantage of all the discussion around you. It's an enlightening experience.

Plus, when you hear other people's stories, you can't help but ask yourself questions about their tales. I wonder why her daughter decided to leave her bum of a husband? His wife spent how much on facials last month? Tsk. Tsk. Poor Madge, it's a crying shame Delroy can't push the lawnmower anymore...

In your Idea Journal, write any interesting quotes or general problems you hear. You never know, that checkout lady might just give you the idea kernel for your next book.

Come back on Friday. We're going to look at a few more ways to attract ideas.

And...

Write Already! It's Wednesday!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Idea Journal

March has finally arrived and though Spring won't come knocking until next month in my neck of the woods, I'm breathlessly anticipating it. Who doesn't love apple blossoms, tulips poking up the winter ground, and longer, sunshine-filled days?

Secret Street

Photo by Katmere

Since March is here, and I'm feeling jolly, it's the perfect time to continue our talk about ideas.

One of the best things you can do to trap ideas is to write them down. While writing an idea on a piece of scrap paper can work in a pinch, I'm urging you to write all ideas in an Idea Journal. Any attractive, bound journal will do. When you jot ideas down in a central location, they take on greater importance. You also don't lose time looking for them--they're in the same place all the time.

But what do you write down? That's easy. First, I recommend writing down the date. Then, write whatever you feel will jog your memory. Everyone's journal will look different.

Sometimes I write several pages about one idea. Other times, I'll write a few words. For example, I watched a television program about gambling addictions last night, and I thought maybe I could use the information in a future book. So I wrote a brief description of the show, the name of it, the station it aired on, and possible ways to use the information in an upcoming book. It took about two minutes. Easy!

For those of you not used to paying attention to the ideas running around in your head, the journal might feel a tad strange at first. You might feel like you should write down only the "good ideas." You might be intimidated by the blank page or feel the need to have flawless penmanship. I'm giving you permission to write down ALL ideas. Be sloppy if you must. (Hey, it would take a hieroglyphics expert to decipher my writing!) Just start writing ideas down.


Questioned Proposal
Photo by eleaf

You probably will never use all of the ideas in your journal, but you'll get in the habit of paying attention. What do I mean by that? Well, everyday you're inundated with information and it can be difficult to sift through and realize what could be a story and what couldn't. By taking a few minutes once a day (or once a week) and writing down anything that jumps out at you, your brain will begin tagging new information related to the idea. More information will come!

Join me on Wednesday when we'll look at expand on our idea theme.

And...

Get Motivated! It's Monday!