Thursday, December 22, 2011

A few of my favorite things. . .

There are two traditions in our house that aren’t quite as fun as say, riding the Christmas light train, two days of candy making, or downtown's Christmas in the Park.
The first is our annual Long clean out (see the intended pun)- the weekend after Christmas, a date with a big dumpster, and two days of beginning the year on a clean slate.  I love going into the New Year fresh, organized, and energized but. . .
I hate New Year's resolutions.  This is my second annual tradition.  I do not do a “resolution list.”  Goals are fine, but writing down what I want to accomplish over the year can seem a bit overwhelming, and let’s not even mention how ridiculous most of my resolutions can sound on paper (Bungee jumping in Africa anyone?).  Instead I do something called “my New Year's reflections.”  I remember all of my tiny accomplishments throughout the year.  I flip through facebook, my journals, my writings, and soak it all in.  This years reflections began a little early as I sat down to write one of my last blog posts of the year.  It led me to how grateful I am for a number of other bloggers, people who inspire, uplift, and flat out make me laugh.   So I thought, because we’re so close to the holiday, I would steal a line from one of my favorite musicals, The Sound of Music, and give you a few of my favorite things (the blog edition). . .
My favorite. . .
Recipes Our Best Bites
Magazine (where I’m constantly finding new blogs to read) Barrel of Blogs
Voyeuristic addiction Venus/Mars
Vintage style Amy Morby
Book giveaways Inspired Kathy
Literary laughs Bookshelves of Doom
Blog post video of the year (Tracy is no longer blogging, but this made me seriously, out loud, laugh)
And quizzes Stacy's Books
Please feel free to add to my list in the comments below (your own blog or someone else's).  The only thing better than reading blogs is discovering new ones.
Happy Holidays ya'll!


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas Day Story

Since Sunday is Christmas day I wanted to post a story that will remind us of what true happiness and giving is all about.

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs.  His bed was next to the room's only window.

The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end.
They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation. Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside. The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake.  Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene. One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man could not hear the band, he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days, weeks and months passed. One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep.  She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.
As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside.  He strained to slowly turn to look out the window besides the bed.

It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, "Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you."

 There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situations. If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can't buy. Today’s gift is your life on earth.  That is why it is called “The Present”.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Check My Email a Million Times a Day.

Elana Johnson wrote a book on writing queries, and the final section is about waiting. Waiting. WAITING! Which is what I'm doing. Which is why I check my email at all hours. (Because some agent just might be up at two a.m. reading my excerpt and loving it--not because it's so late, but because it's so good ...) Right now I have a manuscript submitted to a publisher, and it's one of those cases where it might be six months before I hear from them. I have two thoughts on the issue-

*HOW THE HECK CAN THEY TURN IT DOWN? It's simply amazing. They'll all love it. I'm finally going to get published. I'm wondering what two weeks I should have my husband take off this summer so I can travel for book signings. And should I contact "Live with Kelly" now and offer them the first chance to interview me?

* ... I. Am. Never. Getting. Published.

Which makes checking my email a bit nerve racking. Once, after a small publisher asked me to revise a different novel and resubmit it, my husband was checking my email for something and saw a response from them. He happened to be on the phone with me because I was at the lumber store. 
"Hey, you got an email from [the publisher]." 
Ah. AHH. AHHH! "What does it say?"
Long. Pause. "Uh, you can read it when you get home." (In case you didn't realize it, it was a rejection.)
I heard an author once say she got 89 rejections before she got representation. I have another friend who's gotten well over 100 for what I think is a great book. I think technically I have like ten. Which I've handled very well. (Mostly because I'm no where near 89 yet, which seems to be some kind of magic number for me. I'll probably start crying the closer I get to that ...) I've been known to actually walk away from the computer when I see the name of an agent or publisher in my inbox. Because it's like that cat in the box thing--as long as I don't open it, it could be a "yes." That's the same reason that I'm okay with every day that goes by that I don't have an email from a publisher or agent.

It could still be a "yes."

...Excuse me, I have to go check my email again. ...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 18: Temporary Triumphs

Think of the last time you were reading a novel and about halfway through the book everything seemed to be wrapping up nicely:  the guy got the girl, the promotion, the tattoo - whatever his goals were.  And recall your thought process as you were reading about how great life was becoming for the main character.  You probably sat there looking at that fatty book in your hand, seeing that you were only on page 200 of 400, and wondered to yourself what horrible incident was about to befall this beloved hero of yours.  Because there has to be an incident.  Else the next 200 pages are going to be a real drag.

What is the point of this "temporary triumph" (to use the term coined by Victoria Lynn Schmidt)?  Obviously none of us are going to be fooled into thinking the hero has seen the worst of his problems and he's now going to sail smoothly for the latter half of the book, so it must have another purpose.  For me, temporary triumphs are the perfect opportunity to add some drama and showcase just exactly what this character is made of.  The protagonist has, by Act II, Part 1, already seen a few trials so he or she feels their temporary triumph is well-deserved.  They're sitting back relaxing in a canoe on a calm river, positive that they've overcome the worst of the river's rapids.  We'll let them revel in their momentary victory because we want to show the readers that, despite having done little to deserve it, our characters are proud of their achievements.  And yet we know, pride goeth before the fall.  What good is a story if the protagonist changes only their surface problem without ever changing themselves, without growing and learning from the opposition and coming out a better person in the end?  So that's what we're going to do.  We're going to let them pat themselves on the back, but then we're going to see their horror-stricken faces when they realize their problems are far from over (and secretly, we're going to be routing for that kind of gut-wrenching reversal because without overcoming great obstacles the hero can barely get an opportunity to showcase how truly heroic he can be).

Today's task is to brainstorm a few options for your own character's temporary triumph.  You can find the Temporary Triumph Brainstorm worksheet by clicking the link and scrolling down to page 270.  You must remember, however, to keep the triumph relevant to the overall conflict of the story.  As Schmidt says:
"If you are having trouble figuring out what your story's temporary triumph should be, remember that it needs to push the main character toward his ultimate goal.  Look at where you want that character to be in the end of the story [and ask yourself] how [you can] use the temporary triumph to support that ending" (BIAM, pg 146).
To give you a better idea of what a temporary triumph might look like I've listed some examples from page 145 of Victoria Lynn Schmidt's Book In a Month:
  • Our heroine gets the job of her dreams and can now support her family (temporary triumph)  Oh no, it was just a scam and she already quit her old crappy job. (reversal)
  • The hero found the love of his life and can let himself love again after going through a horrible divorce! (temporary triumph) Wait - she's already married and not interested in anything long-term. (reversal)
  • The heroine discovers a cure for baldness! (temporary triumph) Oops - it has horrible side effects and her company is being sued. (reversal)
Stay tuned for when we'll discuss reversals and reversal brainstorming in more depth.

MY DAY 18:  The day was hardly productive.  I spent my time editing my website and watching TV with the hubs (in my defense it had been a while...) and got only one measly scene completed.  Looked forward with hope for a better tomorrow.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Never let them see you rant. . .

Did you miss me? 
Oh.  Didn’t notice I was gone huh.  Well I forgive you, Thanksgiving was hard on me.  Trying to exceed my own expectations for a perfect holiday and all that crap.  Was anyone else as annoyed as I was by all the thankfulness filling up the facebook walls?  I mean there’s only so much “I’m so grateful for my husband” one person can take.  I was feeling a bit bah humbug about the whole thing until I began compiling my own list.  It went a little something like this.

I'm grateful for Bowel Movements.  I am grateful for laxatives.  I am grateful all of my children can usually make it to the potty before they need to “go.”
I'm most grateful for disposable diapers.  And baby wipes.  And Clorox disinfectant  wipes.  
I'm grateful for Diet Coke and Tylenol.  My breakfast of champions.
I'm grateful for Netflix streaming, especially when my daughter wakes at 2am and WON’T GO BACK TO SLEEP.  
I'm grateful I can sleep through Yo Gabba Gabba.
I'm grateful my husband has class until really late Thursday nights.  Because sometimes (sometimes) I really enjoy having the house to myself after the kids have gone to bed.
I'm grateful my husband is a gearhead.  I don’t care about tripping over the alternator in the yard.  Or the brake parts on top of my washer.  The V-8 engine my husband insisted on buying, will allow me to cut in front of that stupid hybrid Prius driving 50 on the freeway (no offense Prius drivers).
I'm grateful for a giant, fast, intimidating cars.  Even if it does feel like a bus every once in a while.
I'm grateful for grumpy friends.  And sarcastic ones.  And snide comments made under their breath. I am grateful for how real they are with me.
I'm grateful for bad weather.  For the excuse to leave my kids in jammies all day and watch tv and eat cookies for breakfast.  
Most of all I am grateful to you, blog reader.  I am grateful you are still reading this little rant because I would have stopped after the word poop.
You are still reading, aren’t you?  I had to let this list out.  All this snark inside me was just aching to go on facebook.  I don’t know how many times I’ve logged on to see someone gush about how wonderful their husband is, or how grateful they are for a job, blah, blah, blah.   All the while I feel like I’m trying to (barely) hold on to some semblance of this holiday season spirit.
And yes, nothing like a little snark to make the holiday season that much more. . .genuine.
What are you truly grateful for this month?  Let it out here. . .I promise not to tell.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Improving Your Writing Through Your Assets

In my search to improve my writing, I like to read what other writers do and I often find myself learning from them.  Such is the case with Hope Clark who started the Fund For Writers website and newsletter.  Her last writing of encouraging words for writers was very informative.

“When we become a writer, we often have a goal in mind. We envision the "one day" of being a successful writer, which to many means a book. To some it's a special book after several near-misses. To others it's a reputation and a long list of bylines. 

All too soon after we begin this journey, we realize that long-term goal is pretty far down the path . . . almost out of sight. Then we wonder if we are on the right path. That writing 
gold ring seems too distant to take seriously. Most quit.”

She points out that we can use our assets or our other talents to improve our writing skills by writing about them. What Hope says is that “we underestimate who we are and what we can do. And we greatly underestimate how those identifying factors and talents factor into who we are as writers.”

 So think of and write down your top five talents or what you like to do the most besides writing. The sky is the limit as it could be gardening, exercise, reading, baking, organizing, sewing or crafts, parenting; the list can go on forever and this is a whole opportunity of topics to write about.

As Hope says, it does takes time to become a “successful” writer. Meaning earning a fair income from what we create which means others are reading our stuff. But as we are honing our craft in consistently writing day after day and week after week, what are the short term successes we can experience? We can be published online in other areas by submitting articles to magazines, online e-zines and blogs. This opportunity helps give us motivation to keep writing.

            Personally I have learned to diversify my writing.  I have been published under the topics of homeschooling children, book reviews and raising Christian children. It is amazing when you can “google” your name and find how much your writing is available for the public. We can continue to write all we want of whatever we love to do and we can improve our writing skills as we go.

As Hope suggests in what she calls “diversified writing” we can learn:
  1. how to write better
  2. how to find our voice
  3. how to develop a platform
  4. how to approach agents and editors
  5. how to be patient
  6. how to appreciate good writing
  7. how to write our dream project better
So keep your mind on your goal of writing that great American novel or romance-mystery but add on what interests you and what you have been actively doing for the past five, ten or twenty years and you will double or triple your readership.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The End of NaNo

So this year, I pretty much sucked at NaNo, and I'm totally okay with that. You can't ask for a story to write itself every year! Admittedly I had a really great outline and an amazing idea, but for some reason it wrote itself out at 22k. I could've gone the phone-book-quoting route to add many more words, but I liked "High School Revolution" too much to add filler. So I made the decision to set it aside. I'll go back in a few months and see what needs developed and fixed to make it into a great novel.
There's another big reason I'm okay with not getting 50k this year. This NaNo Mom-o made a crazy decision in the middle of November that she wanted to make her kids gifts this year for Christmas (for a more detailed explanation of this wildness, check out this post). This kind of decision happens for us every day. We decide to  use that extra few minutes we have every day to write to do something for our kids instead. And honestly, crafting has helped me. By not forcing my brain to come up with words, scenes, dialog, conflict -- it cleared a lot. When I hit writing hard again in January -- no fear, I haven't quit completely for December, just cut back A LOT -- I'll be READY! It's like when you edit for months and months, and by the time you're done, new stories are practically spilling out of your brain.
So, my question is, what NaNo genius did you all create last month?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 17: Cultivating Conflict

Doesn't it feel like we've already discussed conflict a few times?  Might that not be a hint that it is central to the entire story-telling process.  Yes.  Yes it might.

Continuing to follow Victoria Lynn Schmidt's "Write Your Novel in 30 Days" and Book in a Month calendars, our focus for today is on intensifying our characters' main problem.  In other words, making our characters' lives a bit more miserable by heaping additional conflicts onto their already harried lives.  But before we can begin brainstorming fun new ways to torture our creations we need to understand the three categories of problems every character will face, as identified by Les Edgerton in his book Hooked.  
  1. The Inciting Incident.  This is the problem that gets the story rolling.  We'll see a bit of "normal" life for the character and then the inciting incident occurs and causes a major disruption to that character's typical flow of activity.  In response the character seeks out a solution, which leads us to....
  2. The Initial Surface Problem.  This is the problem which will occupy most of the novel.  Although it may seem that this is the issue which must be resolved in order for the story to be complete, the novel's true ending is actually brought about via...  
  3. The Story-Worthy Problem.  This problem is less about outside circumstances and more about the changes a character must make within themselves to bring about a satisfying conclusion.
So when Victoria Lynn Schmidt asks us to intensify our characters' main problem, is she referring to the Initial Surface Problem or to the Story-Worthy Problem?

The answer to that is yes.

After all, is it really possible to pile conflicts onto the surface problems without having them influence the story-worthy problems?  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "A [person] is like a tea bag.  You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water."

So even though we'll be combining conflict to the initial surface problem, remember that these added difficulties will also inevitably impact your characters' story-worthy problem; that character should be pretty dang strong by the end of the novel 'cause we're adding some boiling water via the following types of conflict:
  • Barriers - a character tries out a new approach for overcoming his problem, but it is ineffective.  Schmidt offers the example of a heroine trying to get into the church to stop a wedding but finding locked doors and maybe a couple of goons to keep her out.
  • Complications - a new character or situation enters the story and makes the current problem seem even worse.  A classic example of this, the misunderstanding, is shown in the fantasy-musical film Enchanted.  The hero, Robert, allowed the very innocent Giselle to sleep on his couch because she had no place to stay.  When his girlfriend comes over the next morning to find another woman in the house she walks out without giving him time to explain himself.  Now his current problem (having homeless girl sleeping on couch) has just been complicated. 
  • Situations - a new circumstance occurs which moves the story forward and adds tension.  Schmidt's example is of a man running for political office who suddenly finds out his sister has been arrested and that his campaign is now in jeopardy.
Now its time to brainstorm some possible conflicts for your Act II.  Pull out your previous outline and plot worksheets and see what kinds of problems you had planned.  Now use the Conflict Brainstorm worksheet (scroll down to page 269) and think up a few ideas of barriers, complications, and situations.  Don't be afraid to make things too hard on your character.  The worse things are the more the audience will root for them!

MY DAY 17:  The day itself wasn't terribly productive, but once the hubs and kids were in bed I stayed up and began my writing.  I wasn't feeling it at first so I skipped ahead a bit to a scene I was very excited to write - the characters' first kiss.  Yep, got so engrossed in that one that I stayed up WAY too late to finish it, but man was it fun.  Days like that make me remember why I do any of this in the first place.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Clearly a Guy Chose November

Like any other NaNo Mom-o, I have a million things going on in November. Randomly odd things that may or may not have to do with the approaching holidays. I could say that no other November was this busy. That might be true. For instance, I've never taken a week long hunting trip in November in years past that cut me off from cell and internet service. Because obviously that was a big problem despite having a perfectly capable laptop. (Perhaps wasting time by messing around on Facebook is actually productive in some way ...?) And I always come back from the Thanksgiving weekend seriously behind on my word count. But I've always bounced back. It just feels like this November does not have enough days, which caused me to ask the question: Why the heck do we do NaNo WriMo in November? There's Christmas to think of. It's just over a month away, and I just got some wild hair to try and do homemade presents for my boys. And there's Thanksgiving. Everyone's going to lose at least three days there. (Well, in my family we do.) And now is SO not the time to cut back on my exercising since if I do I'll have like 20 pounds to lose in January instead of maybe 10. As Valeri so expertly pointed out, the holidays present a serious challenge to writers because our work times get annihilated by other things. 
So instead of just throwing that question out into the void, I went to the NaNo website to figure out what the heck is up. The reasoning? "To take advantage of the miserable weather." Yes, clearly a man made this decision. Originally NaNo WriMo was held in July. I could so do July. My older child would be home from school to entertain my younger child. Writing at the park anyone? The ability to send my kids outside to play? Um, sure, there's the Fourth of July to contend with, but that's just one night. 
Then I realized, I've been in worse positions than this for NaNo and I've come out on top. So what's with my doom and gloom this year? Well, that would be because I only have 16,926 words and my story is finished. Literally done. I know there's some character development and some relationships to beef up. But there is DEFINITELY not 30-plus words to add. Nowhere. Unless as I once read in one of Chris Baty's (NaNo founder) pep-talks, I start letting my characters read out of the phone book for kicks and giggles. I just happen to be the girl who can't write filler. I know I can cut it later to streamline a book I really want to go somewhere, but I can't bring myself to. It would mess stuff up.
So I might flop for the first time in a couple years. And that's okay. I'm going to try really hard to keep my goal because I still believe in the power of NaNo WriMo. If I come up short, I can live with that.
But if I made it--that'd be one for my record books. :D

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Crunch Time Writing During the Holidays

            The holidays are fast approaching which means our writing time gets crunched.  Burning the midnight oil becomes more common as writing during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays takes our normal writing time away.
            Writing crunch time means we will do more with our family and friends and less writing for ourselves.  This is not a poor choice by any means, but just a change of venue as we need to spend more time with our families and friends during these memory making experiences.
            Crunch time can also mean what we munch on while we are writing. The stuff we might snack on when we write helps us through our writer’s blocks.  I love crunching on trail mix when I’m trying to think. Some how keeping my mouth chewing keeps my mind busy on how to improve what I have written. Emotions are high as well and sometimes we can write more heart felt dialogue or narration with holiday music playing in the background.
            So sit back for holiday time and try to relax and enjoy the ride.  Family and friends are hard to come by so don’t disappear to your computer too much.  This is what life is all about.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A beat of my own

The first time I heard Lady Gaga, I was standing in the grocery store debating if I could substitute couscous for quinoa (you can), when Paparazzi came on over the speakers. I stood there humming the catchy beat when my husband came up behind me and grabbed a box of plain rice.

"Why can’t we just have this?" he asked.

Ignoring him, I asked if he knew who sang the song pumping over the loudspeakers.

"You mean Lady Gaga?" He asked in mild disbelief.

"Lady Gaga," I said, "I think I’ve heard of her."

"Of course you’ve heard of her, Laura! She’s ridiculously famous. She even has a muzac track," he said, pointing to the ceiling. He shook his head and laughed, before grabbing another box of rice.

Later I related this story to my friend Ju, letting her know how I discovered this really good “new” artist named Lady Gaga. Like my husband, she laughed at me, before informing me I was way out of the loop when it came to music. Even she had heard of Lady Gaga.

I give you this example of my own cultural stupidity, because a month ago I received a request from a blogger for my book Founder's, "soundtrack.”

"Soundtrack?" I thought, "What the heck is that?" It turns out most authors, what seems like every author, is inspired by music. They listen to music as they write, and their characters all have their own style of music.

Apparently this should have been an easy thing to do, but all l I could think was,

When did this become a thing?

I did more research. I read blog posts from other authors about their own soundtracks, and I began to feel more than a little overwhelmed.

I don’t think Laurie Berkner was going to cut it for this one (and let's be honest, Laurie Berkner rocks- my kids sing "We are the Dinosaurs" in their sleep). Could I get away with mixing The Bangles, AC/DC, and The Doors? The last album I purchased was the soundtrack to Tangled, which is what I still stand by as, a “new release.”

Even now while I’m typing this, the theme song is pumping from my children’s princess karaoke machine.

I’m simply not inspired by music. I sing (barely). I dance (when necessary). I listen to. . .nothing usually. I like the sound of silence. You really learn to appreciate quiet when you’ve grown up in a huge family and now live with three incredibly rambunctious kids. Don’t get me wrong, I have my favorite songs- I think music can be uplifting or enforce whatever mood I’m in. But I’m much more likely to be caught listening to an audiobook, then listening to some top forty hit.

I began feeling very alone in this feeling, so I called my friend Liz to discuss my problem.

My friend Liz, musical encyclopedia, equally horrified that I had never heard of Lady Gaga.

I handed over my iphone and she filled it with what I needed. Current music in every genre she thinks I would enjoy.

David Guetta, for the gym.

Grace Potter, for my car.

Adele, for my home.

For the next week I felt like I was surrounded in a music bubble, earpiece surgically connected to one ear as I concentrated on my characters and pieced it all together. My head throbbed with lyrics, my iPhone shuffling through different playlists. I visited the land of Pandora and had a brief relationship with Spotify. Then finally, finally I made something up and sent it off. Proud of myself for accomplishing the impossible.

Now I’m back to normal, and I wonder- Am I really so alone? I find the rhythm distracting when I write, especially when my characters need to have their own voices. I don’t understand why anyone would need a soundtrack to their book.

But. . .what do you think? Do you listen to music while you type?

And what do you listen to?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Show, Don't Tell"

Okay, so I'm deviating a bit from the Write Your Novel in 30 Days calendar to discuss a principle which has been on my mind recently - the classic "Show, Don't Tell" adage of writing. 

Back when we got engaged my husband and I were taking a class together at BYU.  We always sat together and probably even snuggled a bit (I'm not shy of such public displays of affection), but it wasn't until I wrote "I'm engaged!" next to my name on the attendance roll that I felt I had truly shown the world how excited I was for my upcoming marriage.  When I showed it to my then-fiancee he rolled his eyes good-naturedly, (public displays of affection are much less appealing to him) and then I handed the roll on to the next person and thought nothing more about it.  That is, until a few days later when the roll was being passed around again and I saw written next to my excited scrawl the words "No one cares."

I'm not sure why I keep thinking of this incident.  I wasn't really offended... I mean, I didn't even know the person who'd written it, so they obviously didn't mean it as any kind of personal attack.  Still, I wondered a lot about the type of person that would write such a thing.  Was this person left bitter after a recently-botched relationship?  Did they feel they were old and "beyond their prime"? (given the average age of married students at the BYU campus feeling "old" is a lot easier than you might think...)  Maybe they were just sick of hearing about marriage when they felt the focus of the institution ought to be on education - no time for frivolities like love.  I don't know.  I've never known, but I've often wondered.  

I tell you this story not for your pity (though you're welcome to offer it), but as a pretty dang good example of how your novel will be much more emotionally engaging if you reveal your characters through show rather than tell.  Let's say Mr. "No one cares" is the main character of your novel.  It would be easy to simply tell your readers he is a bitter old harpy who resents anyone else's happiness, but the reader would only "see" what you want them to see without necessarily feeling what you want them to feel.  What if, instead, you show an attendance roll being passed around.  You show it coming to your character.  You show how various emotions are roiling inside of him until he rashly dashes off "no one cares" next to the words "I'm engaged!" and then quickly passes the roll along before he can think too much about it.  Wouldn't a scene like that provide the reader with essentially the same information, but much more feeling?  That is the difference in showing versus telling:  feeling.  Whereas telling a narrative is merely relating a story, showing it helps the reader live through scene right along with the character, providing that magical illusion of being a part of the story.  

One of my favorite examples of "show vs. tell" narrative comes from Les Edgerton in his book Hooked.  I realize I've already shared it with you on this blog, but I think its worth a repeat:
"Characters are best revealed by their actions... For instance, if you feel it important to develop your protagonist’s characterization as a skinflint, don’t give some long, drawn-out tale of him pinching pennies as a youngster, or (worse!) tell the reader he’s a miserable miser. Instead, in your opening scene, show him doing something miserly within the context of the inciting incident scene. Show him having to transfer two handfuls of hundred-dollar bills to one hand so he can scoop the inside of the coin return of a candy machine for forgotten nickels."
Have you struggled with understanding the "show, don't tell" principle in writing?  For those of you who are more experienced writers, do you feel it has become easier as you've practiced it?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is it a sign?

At the time I wrote this, NaNo Wrimo was only four hours and 15 minutes away, and yet I was indecisive when it came to what novel to write.
What novel to write? You ask ... I thought you had yours all planned out weeks ago. That you were too ready to pull this thing off. It's all part of Murphy's Law, I suppose. The more ready you are, the less likely things will go according to plan. I already saw part of this coming. Just days after the blog post where I bragged about how ready I was posted, I had a minor glitch and lost my entire outline -- my entire, detailed, more-specific-than-I've-ever-written outline. Luckily, thanks to iCloud backup, it came home safely.
So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when, while driving to my son's school to watch the Halloween parade, more craziness attacked. I was pondering how much I wanted to write my latest idea for NaNo WriMo (sometimes having a wildly active imagination is more of a curse than a blessing -- like when you turn a harmless plunk in the middle of the night into terrorists attacking your house to steal you and your children). In a nutshell, it's about a girl who dies before her time and gets a second chance to come back and help someone she loves. Right now I have four points on the outline -- four points as compared to seventeen! So why would I even consider it? (Besides the fact that scenes keep coming to me, and it seems like it will be SO fun to write) Because right in the middle of me recklessly pondering changing gears with only hours left The Band Perry's song "If I Die Young" started playing. 
It was like a sign!
But I can't put aside my original idea, one that I'm also SUPER excited to watch play out. Then I considered trying two novels. Two novels in one month? Clearly, NaNo WriMo hasn't even started, and I'm already losing my mind. But why not? There's no way I'll complete two. Realistically, I can't even attempt it. But I can still write two and see where it leads. Because that's the magic of being a NaNo WriMo writer. Spinning wildly through November with only one thought to the end. I'll probably only end up with 10,000 words or less on the secondary novel, but I still like the idea of not having to wait. I suppose that's why NaNo WriMo really appeals to me. I'm the instant gratification sort. 
So here goes nothing, guys! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grandmothers are Important

I am visiting my daughter and son-in-law this week to watch my two very active granddaughters, 5 and 3.  They are a hand full to be sure, especially without their parents here.  They are the lucky ones who are away for the week.  I am also the lucky one who is watching over them trying to find some bonding time.

Unfortunately, my daughter had a flu bug when I got here on Sunday and she was quickly trying to recover.  Fortunately, she did recover and they are now on the road to their destination.  Unfortunately, I now have this 24-hour flu bug and I'm waiting it out till it is done.  Fortunately, I was able to get the two girls to bed by 8pm so I can write this blog and try to recover.  Unfortunately, it took them over an hour to settle down and go to sleep.  Fortunately, they are now asleep and I can do some writing.

Amazingly enough, I had a weekly column to finish, a public relations article to write about an eagle scout project that happened over the weekend and this blog.  I was able to do all three without mistake.....hopefully.  But a writer's call comes and writers must do their duty to finish by a dead line; even with two granddaughters and the flu.

One of my duties as caretaker of the two girls is to keep a watchful eye over my daughter's four chickens that just started to lay.  There are only two of them that have laid eggs so far which is an interesting phenomenon but I think I figured out why the other two haven't laid yet....... they are both roosters.  A rooster expert ( a friend of theirs) came by to help me reprogram the entertainment center since I really messed it up.  She took one look at them and said "those two are roosters". I suppose that solves that mystery.

Now all I need is to not puke and keep from messing up the entertainment center again..  Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day, I still have five days left.......

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Weight of the word. . .umm, world. . .

Oh writers guilt. My WIP. Don’t you love those initials? A little too close to RIP, if you know what I mean. I haven’t touched mine in over two weeks. . . Okay, maybe three. The guilt is starting to nag, and normally I wouldn’t harbor any of it. But lately it’s starting to grow a little heavy on my shoulders.

While I was growing up my mother would receive letters from her mother. She called them her guilt letters. In my teenage years she began sharing them with me (once I could understand what sarcasm was). They were fIlled with the “you never visits,” and, “I never hear from you’s.” But not so obviously that you could spot them easily. They had to be read out loud with my Mom’s affected voice and little jabs. We would all laugh and then my mother would feel obligated to call my grandmother and force us on the phone to speak with her. You may think I’m being terrible, but my grandmother was not a nice lady, and these conversations were pure torture to us. Her letters might have been funny, but her conversation verged on down right mean.

We would get off the phone and my mom would have us discuss what we talked about. She would diffuse any ill feelings toward my grandmother with laughs, and manage to turn it all into a big joke for us. I look back on these conversations in amazement, my mom turned what should have been guilt, into something funny. She turned what should have been hurtful, into something we could laugh about. She taught me a valuable lesson with those letters. What we do, can be enough, and what we don’t do, can be enough too.

But sometimes it feels as if it’s never enough, what we do. Especially as Moms. Especially as Writers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as what Ranee affectionately calls NaNo Momo is approaching. I have never participated because I find the whole idea guilt inducing. I don’t write well under pressure. I set time aside when I can, to let the ideas form and flow organically. I can look at other writers and appreciate that they can do this. That they can participate in something so challenging. I will not feel guilty about not being able to join them. My first draft of my second WIP is almost done and then I begin the edits.

Maybe I can NaNo the edits.

Maybe not.

With my first book I remember the point where I had to decide to publish. My arrow hovered over the Amazon button. Excitement may have been at the forefront of my consciousness, but guilt colored the edges. At some point you have to look at a manuscript and say, “It’s enough. I’ve done enough.”

I studied fine art in college, and it’s the same in painting, there comes a certain point where you have to stop creating. If you continue to work on a painting after it should be complete, it crosses the line into bad. There’s no going back in art, so at least in writing you can backspace, you can “undo.” There was a manuscript I was asked to crit for a friend, which has never been published and is probably languishing under a bed somewhere. She is a very talented writer, but she had disguised the plot with too much. Too much description, too much language. I began writing strip all over the pages until I began feeling dirty. Part of your job as a writer is to allow your reader to imagine the situation for themselves. You give them just enough to put them there, so they can draw from their own experiences to finish the scene. I believe wholeheartedly in allowing a reader to use their imagination. It’s why movies never quite live up to our expectations. We’ve already interpreted the book with our own imaginations. My Harry Potter is different from your Harry Potter because his image is influenced by my own influences. So in balancing our life as writers and as mothers, it’s okay to do just enough. Sometimes too much is bad, sometimes the people and the writing in your life, need space. You don’t have to give 100% all the time. Release the guilt, allow others to pick up some of the slack. I have to remember that even if I’m giving 100% of my time to my children, I’m still not going to live up to the idea of what I think a perfect mother should be. So while I’m writing, I can give them my minimum- and they will be okay. And when I’m being a mommy, I can put my writing on the back-burner, and it will be okay too. I can say that it is enough, what I have done. Because I have to accept the things I can not change. I will accept the things I don’t want to change.

And I don’t have to feel guilty about it.

Good luck my Nano-momo gals, I look forward to the updates!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 16: Spicing Up Your Story

If you've written your Act I well you have safely brought your reader through the first few pages and chapters of your novel without hitting any low points.  Now comes Act II where you're no longer introducing characters (at least not as many as in Act I) and you've already presented the drama of the inciting incident, so how to keep the story moving along and avoid the dreaded Act II drag?  Victoria Lynn Schimdt's Book In a Month has a few suggestions for you:

1.  Remember Motivation.  In Act I your character was metaphorically sitting in a boat with no paddles.  She had her goals and ideas, but with the inciting incident knocking her about she really spent most of her time floating in whatever direction she was pushed.  Now it's Act II and your character is ready to get her paddle on!  Enough of inactivity, its time to push back.  But hold on... what is it your character is pushing for?  Is it the same goal she had at the beginning of the novel, or have her desires evolved with the story problem?  

Fill out the  Character Motivators worksheet (scroll down to page 261) to help you identify not only your character's goals for the overall story, but for each scene as well.  Remember though, that she cannot accomplish her goal until the termination of the story.  She may gain one or two small victories along the way but the purpose of the story is to watch the character learn with every failure until she has gained whatever knowledge she needs to defeat the antagonist.

2.  Find Your Big Three.  "Every story should have [a minimum of] three big events to keep things interesting for the reader.  These events can be as dramatic or lighthearted as you want them to be... [but they] aren't 'turning points,' or at least they don't have to be" (Schmidt, BIAM pg. 131).  Remember that although these events are primarily for keeping the story interesting they must still be relevant.  Do they advance the plot in some way, do they reveal more about your characters, do they compel the readers to feel a particular emotion?  If not, what relevant purpose are they serving?

To help guide you as you think over the three events you want in your story check out the Plot Snapshot worksheet (scroll down to page 262).

3.  Decide on Cliffhangers.  Cliffhangers are a fantastic way to prevent your Act II from beginning to drag while simultaneously keeping the readers turning pages to find the resolution.  A few classic cliffhangers listed by Schmidt are:
  • the ticking clock - dire consequences come if the hero doesn't accomplish a goal by a certain time
  • the hasty decision - a character is about to make a major decision without being aware of all the facts (obviously in this scenario the reader will either need all of the facts or must at least strongly suspect a truth which the hero is oblivious to)
  • the interruption - the hero is about to discover something new but is delayed by something or someone.  (Avoid using ringing phones and tea kettles as these are too cliche).
  • the unexpected problem - things seem to be working well for the hero; he seems about to achieve his goal when a sudden problem arises and keeps the reader wondering if he will ever reach his goal
Knowing when to use cliffhangers takes practice and study; watch television shows or read your favorite books to see how others employ their proper use.  Pay particular attention to the timing of the cliffhanger's resolution.  Delaying it too long will become frustrating for your readers, while resolving it too quickly means cutting short the reader's anticipation.  Fill in the Cliffhanger Brainstorm worksheet (scroll down to page 264) to come up with the proper places to insert a cliffhanger in your story.

4.  Take the Time to Brainstorm.  When working on Act II you may be bogged down by a lack of creativity as you're attempting to rush through to get to the end of your story.  Though brainstorming does take a bit of time away from actual writing you may generate ideas that can fill your Act II with more action than you'd previously realized was possible.  The following brainstorming worksheets can help you add depth to your plot, characters, and settings and help you avoid a fluff and filler middle to your story:
What are some techniques you use to keep you motivated and to keep your story rolling along during Act II?

MY DAY 15:  One of the ideas I really failed to capitalize on during my 30 Day Challenge was babysitting.  How hard is it to ask someone to watch your kids for a couple of hours and promise to do the same for them once you've finished the month?  Apparently for me it was too hard because I never did it.  I did, however, have a good friend volunteer to watch my boys for a morning and I was very happy with the progress I made.  Once again, being accountable was my biggest motivator.  I certainly didn't want that friend to come back and ask how far I got, only to answer that I spent my time Facebook stalking or napping.  So I suggest you all get yourselves some friends with kids and prepare to baby-swap. :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Too Ready

To be honest, I've never been this ready for NaNo WriMo. Last year at this time I was frantically trying to pull together an outline, figuring out how to believably assassinate Churchill, and having long conversation with my husband about the best guns to fight dragons (if you want to know more about all that, you'll have to check out my blog every Saturday in November, where I'll have samples of my past NaNo WriMo Novels for Sweet Saturday Samples). 
This year's outline has been done since the beginning of the month. My research is in a neatly stacked pile. It's all a little unnerving. It seems too complete. Too easy. I have a nightmarish vision of me sitting in front of my computer on November 1st, my outline and research in front of me, and not having the slightest idea where to actually start. It might have to do with the fact that usually I have a few scenes kicking around in my head that I'm aching to write down (I always write down scenes ahead of time if they come to me because I tend to forget if I don't; It's torture not to be able to before NaNo WriMo). This year: nothing. A few vague ideas about using school newspaper articles to drive the timeline in the plot, but that's about it. And a fuzzy picture in my mind of hundreds of students storming a detention hall. 
But what fun would NaNo WriMo be if there wasn't some glitch. Sitting down and having 50k words slip easily out of your head and onto the screen doesn't seem fun at all. It's exhilarating to email my friend Kris at midnight asking her how the heck am I going to get to 50k when the story is winding itself up at 30k? I love wasting my time scouring the NaNo WriMo forums for truly hilarious plot bunnies (Oh yes, you have to check that forum out). 
I did a random search on author's who've published their NaNo WriMo novels (... it looks like I may be the first ...) and ran across a blog about why a guy hates NaNo WriMo and why we should too. I couldn't quite understand the gist of his ramble, but I think it had something to do with NaNo WriMo giving people who've never considered themselves novelists a chance to try their hand at it. I think he might've been jealous. Jealous that anyone can try to be a novelist in November--and that anyone who puts their mind to it can succeed! Jealous that we're all going to have a blast writing bad fiction, pretending that November 30th is an important deadline, calling ourselves novelists. Jealous that we get a kick out of being seven thousand words behind with only hours left. 
November just can't get here fast enough ...!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time Management: The Essence of Writing with Children

When a writer catches that bug, time becomes very important. It’s not a virus or any physical illness; it’s the bug to write.  Every spare moment is important so time management becomes a bid deal.

Raising nine children and homeschooling as well, does create time deficiencies so as I plan my week with schooling time and calendaring the rest of my duties, there is little time to write.  Television takes a back seat.  I have no idea what the latest TV shows are (unless someone tells me) because I don’t watch it. My day is broken into increments of time when I can get a good chunk of writing done otherwise I can’t concentrate on what else I have to do.

You don’t have to become an organizational guru to manage your time well, just be aware of your day and what needs to be accomplished. Flexibility is also important so losing out on fun times won’t be missed.   Remember these four tips:

1. Make a Goal: If you really want to finish that novel by the end of the year, writing down this goal somewhere you can see it every day is very helpful.  Place it on your bathroom mirror, car dashboard or refrigerator. This will remind you that this goal is important and making time to reach your deadline will become a reality.

2. Prioritize: Writing a to-do list every day is very helpful.  I cannot function without one because I forget what I need to do sometimes.  Think of what is the most necessary for the day and then go from there. Hopefully at the end of the day, there will be time for writing.

3. Don’t Take on Too Much: For some, this is a difficult thing.  We all have our duties to fill every day and even church callings, volunteer work and other extra stuff that is a part of our life but there are times when you have to make a decision and understand what is more important.  If you gave yourself little time in your deadline for your life style, then you might have to re-evaluate and decide on a new dead line.  It’s all in what you want to accomplish.

4. Manage distractions: There are times when important responsibilities arise during the day’s activities that you cannot wait until later. Children do take a lot of time and they were my priority many times instead of writing.  That’s why it took 10 years to write my first book.  But if there are other activities going on around you which are not as important and you want to concentrate on writing, then there has to be a way to manage the distractions.  A corner or quiet room somewhere in the house with a comfortable chair are great places to take a laptop. 

We have all been given a certain amount of time to live here on earth. What we do with that time is totally up to us.  As Benjamin Franklin has said: “Lost time is never found again”.  I hope you all will learn to manage your time well. Enjoy your week.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

So you’re like famous, right?

I am in the middle of a full swing blog tour right now. Somehow, in the minds of all that know me, this equates to selling thousands of books. I almost titled this blog post misconceptions of the indie kind, because basically that’s what this is.

A funny thing happens when you put a book out there for the world to see.

Everyone suddenly believes that you are instantaneously, and without any effort, famous.

And of course if I’m famous, I’m obviously suddenly wealthy as well.

I’m an indie author, self published, but I have to believe this happens to anyone who has every published a book. Traditionally or otherwise. It can’t just be my friends and acquaintances, that are this misguided and silly.


Inevitably I respond to their question with a question of my own, “Well. . . have you read my book?

This is generally followed by stuttering, a sheepish look, and barely coherent muttering to the tune of, “I’ve been meaning to get to it. . . .”

“So if you haven't read my book, and you are my friend, what could possibly give you the impression that anyone else has read it?”

Mind you, this probably isn’t the nicest response to someone who honestly means well, and wishes me all the success in the world. But it makes me want to scream.

Every. Single. Time.

"I am not famous! I barely make enough each month to cover date nights with my husband! This is some gosh darn hard work!"

So please, bite your tongue next time you feel like asking me if I'm famous yet.

I’m pushing a giant boulder up a mighty big hill.

A mountain really, with a peak I can’t even see.

How do you really think it’s going?

I'm not famous, but I’m surviving, I’m pushing, I’m struggling, and I’m writing.

So I guess you could say it’s going well enough.


(Shameless plug here, but if you'd like to follow my blog tour you can connect through my website at

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day 15: Rewards and Reviews

If you are doing the 30 day challenge according to the calendar you should be halfway done!  Go ahead and give yourself a figurative pat on the back (or literal if you want to find a friend willing to do it).  Rewarding yourself for your hard work should be more than internal satisfaction.  I highly suggest taking some time now to plan out what kind of reward to intend to give yourself when this challenge is completed.  A night out with friends?  A fancy dinner with the hubs?  The cell phone of your dreams?  In planning your reward think of whatever thing you want most and contemplate why you have failed to give it to yourself before?  Why will completing this challenge help you feel you now deserve it?

For those of you who followed my advice and called week one a "prep" week you should have just wrapped up your first seven days of actual writing and have finished Act I as well.  It may be a bit premature to start planning rewards, but it is a great time to take a look back on your progress so far by reviewing the worksheets you've filled out these last two weeks.  BUT PLEASE REMEMBER that while your current work may not match up with your previous expectations it is important that you do not go back and rewrite anything!  Reviewing your work is only to help ensure your story stays on track from this point on.  If you find what you have already completed needs to be edited, take note of changes you would like to make and then continue writing as if the first portion of your story had already been rewritten.  Only after the 30 day challenge can you go back to edit.

DAY 1:  Does your one-sentence summary accurately reflect your novel thus far?  Is your Story Idea Map still relevant for the work you'll be doing in the next two (or three) weeks?  If there are discrepancies, do you need to adjust your sentence summary, or does your story need to be steered back toward it's core idea?

DAY 2:  Are you continuing to record new ideas for scenes on your Scene Cards?  Would the story move more quickly or be more interesting if some scenes were omitted, combined, or put in a different order?

DAY 3:  Review your At-A-Glance Outline and adjust weeks two, three, and four where necessary.  Continue taking note of items to be researched after the 30 day challenge on your Research Tracker worksheet (scroll down to page 252 after clicking the link).

DAY 4:  Make sure that your characters are acting consistently and are properly motivated.  Review your Character Story Sketch (page 253), Character Snapshot (page 255), and Character Revealing Scenes (page 258) worksheets and make whatever updates or changes you've decided upon for your character.

DAY 5:  Ensure that your Act I turning point presents enough challenges for your characters to keep the readers engaged.  Review your Act I Turning Point Brainstorm worksheet (page 259).

DAY 6:  Take note of how effectively you've spread your characters' backstories throughout Act I.  Add any new backstory ideas to your Backstory Brainstorm worksheet (page 260).

DAY 7:  Be sure to look back through Act I for any plot or character holes using your checklists.  

MY DAY 15:  I found myself losing steam.  Although I'd planned to write three scenes a day I was only able to complete one scene on this day because I was feeling the strain of such a frenetic writing pace.  I also found the mess in my house and the neglect of my family members pulled me from my creative thoughts and had me a bit sulky and feeling deprived of my loved ones.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The NaNo Mom-o

Because that's sorta why we're here, right? We're moms and we're authors. And this year we're NaNo Mom-o's. (Yes, I just made that up. I think it's brilliant.) It's not going to be as easy for us to reach 50k. We have to take diapers and sibling rivalry into consideration. So here's your first Mom-o pep talk. I completed my first NaNo WriMo novel (you know the one that's going to make me rich and famous, remember?) with a six month old baby in the bouncer beside me. (And sometimes in my arms...or his swing...or anywhere he was quiet.) I'm not saying that to brag. I'm saying it to encourage you. To let you know that you can find time to write 50k words even though you are a mom and have a million things on your plate.
I'm not saying it's going to be easy. You're going to have to be creative (as if writing a novel in a month wasn't creative enough ...) like staying up unto the wee hours of the morning; like getting ten minutes here or there or anywhere you can tap out a hundred words or so. If your phone can email, start emailing scenes to yourself while you're in the longest line imaginable at Walmart. But do it. You might not make it to 50k, and you'll still be a great author. But we're going to try our darndest!
The best tip I can give you, though, is to get your husband on board. Mine, bless his awesome heart, fully supports my NaNo addiction in a million different ways. Like cooking dinner, or refraining from complaining when I stay up at all hours to get twenty thousand words in the last week (Oh, yeah. It's happened ... And oh, yeah, I made it!) Last year he pulled out plot twist after plot twist for me. He's amazing and half the reason I'm the writer I am today.
Okay, girls. This is it. Only a few more weeks until we get out there and make great stuff happen!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Author and A Mom......

Writing and raising children actually go well together.  My career as an author has been just as rewarding as my career as a mother.  The writing hours are flexible and it keeps my brain sharp. 

When I first started writing at 30, I had five young children and I could start bedtime routines at 7:30, tuck them all in for a good night sleep and then dash off to my computer for a good chunk of writing time. I was still young enough with lots of energy, so writing was a part of my night time routine for several years.  Truthfully, I needed lots of practice and honing my craft helped me tremendously. 

It became more challenging as my children grew older plus I had more motivation to be published.  Still, nighttime was the best time to write so I continued.  Now with my last three teens, I can steal away some hours in the afternoon and evenings, in between schedules of schooling and activity and still write quite a bit.

I have now published four books on my own since 2002. I have my own weekly newspaper column and I contribute articles to three other websites.  My writing has greatly improved over the years but I have a way to go to be considered a literary giant.
I love the fact that I write for the masses.  I relate very well to the every day normal citizen or laborer and I like expressing myself plainly instead of using flowery language and unfamiliar words I don’t know how to spell.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for literary works of art with a higher level of reading which we should always continue to use.  I’m just not the one to write them.

There is another aspect of writing and motherhood which promotes considerable thought. As a mother, I am responsible for teaching and raising my children until they are old enough to be independent.  As with writing books and articles, I follow through on my work until it catches its own audience and becomes successful.  It’s the law of the harvest at best.  We plant the seed and then follow through both in our own children’s life and our writing.

Hence, my life continues on in both my careers of choice: motherhood and author. I don’t have as much stamina at 52 as I did at 30 but, I am doing exactly what I have wanted to do for the past twenty years and have had success in both areas.  I hope all you mommy authors do too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Embracing the Embarrassing

I was cleaning my bookshelf the other day and I found something.

Something embarrassing.

And you know you all have one.

A book that’s missing it’s cover and all of chapter nineteen.

Because you’ve read it so many times.

And it’s not War and Peace we’re talking about.

It’s the book that embarrasses you. That trashy novel sandwiched amongst the Jane Eyre’s, the tomes of Dostoevsky, the Herman Melville. You placed it there in the hopes of great literature elevating the commercialism of the tiny paperback squished in between them.

Okay, not really. It’s hidden there because not one person has touched that collection of Shakespeare since sophomore year of college.

So no one will notice it.

The embarrassing book.

I found mine last week and immediately sat on my rump and started reading. I thought this experience might be different. I thought I would have a different perspective. A more mature perspective. I’m so different from the person who once loved this book.

I read it in one sitting.

I can tell you it’s not long, and it really is missing all of chapter nineteen, but those are excuses for why I really couldn’t put it down. The real answer lies in what I did after I finished the last sentence. I closed the worn out paperback pages and sighed. It was every bit as good as I remembered. As trashy and fantastic and romantic, as I remembered. Then I wondered.

What does reading (and don’t forget enjoying) this book say about me?

I’m thirty plus years old now. I have three kids. I aspire to read better things. Enlightening, open my eyes to the world, make myself a better person, things.

I recently read a great article about reading what you write here.

Did you click the link? I never click the link, so instead I’ll sum it up for you. Basically Julie Cross makes the argument for reading the genre you’re writing for. It was great and I completely agree with her. I read a lot of Young Adult. Not simply because I write Young Adult, but because I LOVE Young Adult. My embarrassing book is a Young Adult novel. It transports me to a place in my life that was full of possibilities. I had so many adventures, and fresh eyes that greeted each day with excitement. The whole world was opening up to me with endless decisions, and angst, and ideas. When I read my embarrassing book, it’s like reclaiming a little bit of myself back. It’s remembering that the sometimes drudgery of being a mother is only temporary. It's remembering deep inside me there is this fun loving, every moment life living, person still existing. This isn’t saying I would want to go back to my late teens, or early twenties. I love being a mom, and I love how the experiences of my teens and twenties have influenced the person I am today. But I love writing the Young Adult genre. I love being reminded of who I once was, and what is still within me.

So I moved my embarrassing book to a place where it would feel more comfortable, nestled between the Ally Condie's and the Shannon Hale's. I won’t be embarrassed by it anymore, because I was that person. I am that person.

And I can own it.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 14: Shortcut to Scene

This is the post I've eagerly anticipated writing since I started the 30 day challenge.  Why?  Because the "Shortcut to Scene" strategy by Laura Whitcomb is such simple advice (so much so that you question why you never thought of it yourself), but still so brilliant.  In Whitcomb's own words,
"When I started using this method I found I was not only writing better first drafts of scenes, but I was doing it about three times faster."
Three times faster.  That might be useful when trying to write a novel in 30 days, no?  So let's do it!

Step 1:  The Scene Outline
In order to outline your scene you need to understand a few things about the purpose of a scene.  First, that each one is a little story in which there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The beginning will present some sort of goal (either for the character or for the plot), the middle will ratchet up the conflict, and the end ought to leave readers hanging, dangling on your untied strings and eager for the next portion of the story.  Second, your scene must simultaneously have an objective and move the action along at a steady pace.  The objective may be as simple as "introduce character," but knowing the scene's purpose should help you focus on where you intend to take it.

When writing your scene outline you do not need to go into much detail.  A paragraph summary should be enough to cover the essential points of your scene: goal, conflict, and what is left unresolved.  Your summary can (and probably should) include the emotional events of the scene as well as the physical ones.  For example "John rips up the love note" would be physical, but equally worth mentioning would be Sarah's emotional response, "Sarah's heart is broken."  To see some more specific examples of scene outlining as well as the following principles I highly suggest getting a copy of Whitcomb's book Novel Shortcuts.

Step Two:  The Dialogue
In this portion of the exercise you will be typing out what type of conversation you think your characters will have in the scene.  The dialogue does not need to be perfect, (the perfection will come in step four when we work on "distillation"), but it should convey all that generally needs to be communicated in the scene.  To move through this quickly use only the character's initials to specify who is talking.  Avoid using quotation marks and "he said, she said" as well, as those will only serve to slow down your creative flow.

Step Three:  The Heartstorm
I'm going to be honest, I'm not a big fan of the term "heartstorm," but since I didn't come up with it I don't get to name it.  So, what is a "heartstorm"?  Much like a brainstorm you will be using ten minutes to ponder over the scene and spew out everything (literally everything, no censoring) that comes to mind.  Unlike a brainstorm these ten minutes should be focused on the imagery and poetry of the scene.  This little baby right here is the reason I LOVE the "Shortcut to Scene" method.  I'm a very straightforward writer, often eschewing the beauty of prose for the utility of it, but the heartstorm opened up a new avenue of creativity for me.  For ten minutes I envisioned my scene in colors and moods and symbols instead of actions and dialogue and when I used the heartstorm in my first draft it was much more brilliant and alive than any scenes before it.

Step Four:  Putting it all Together
To more easily differentiate the three sections of the exercise Whitcomb suggests using different font for each: for section one regular font, section two bolded font, and section three italicized font.  Review each section adding ideas or making small edits where necessary.  In section two focus on taking the lines of dialogue and "distilling" them to be more concise.  To give a wonderful example from Novel Shortcuts, the before:
"Boss:  I have a job for you.  Take this package to Stephano's.
Henchman:  What is it?
Boss:  Why?  You getting particular?  Did you grow a conscience all of a sudden?
Henchman:  I didn't say I wouldn't do it.
Boss:  You make a thousand a week for a couple hours' work.  You got a problem with that?
Henchman:  I'm not complaining.
Boss:  You didn't used to care what you were delivering.
Henchman:  Gimme the package.  I'll do it.  Gotta pay my wife's credit card bills."
The After:
"Boss:  Take this package to Stephano's.  What?  You got a problem making money now?
Henchman:  Baby always needs a new pair of shoes."
In this example Whitcomb has taken a long, wordy passage and made it tighter and more interesting to read.  Instead of getting lost in the endless back and forth of dialogue we see a quick exchange that conveys the same message and with just as much character.

Now review section three, bolding any specific phrases or descriptions that particularly stand out to you.  Once you've finished, print off the page and set it beside you as you type out your first draft.  Refer to it much as you would a menu, selecting segments from each section to create a delectible scene.

MY DAY 14:  Having divided out my days and scenes I knew how many scenes I had to accomplish per day in order to complete the manuscript on time.  Unfortunately I only completed one scene on this day with high hopes to do more in the next week and make up for lost scenes on the weekends.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Set Yourself Up To Succeed

In case someone has told you otherwise, let's make it clear now. Writing a 50k word novel in 30 days isn't easy. However, it's definitely not impossible. Especially if you do a couple things to set yourself up to succeed.

One- Have an idea! And don't wait until Halloween. Give yourself time to mull over the idea and see if you can get 50k words out of it. I have some favorite places to get ideas. The "Stuff You Missed In History Class" podcast, for one. They have lots of podcasts on random events in history they can really get your imagination going. That's where I got mine this year! Definitely think out of the box. Cast well known history characters in strange places! Women's suffrage in space; Prohibition in a dystopian future. The Writer's Digest is also a great place to find prompts. Listen to music, watch people in the mall, read the news. There's a million places to find an idea.

Two- Have at least a rough outline. How do you normally write? If you usually have a detailed outline to work from, make sure you write it out ahead of time. Even if you're a "pantser" like me or you aren't totally sure yet where the characters are going to take the story, at least jot out something. I would suggest at least four points: The beginning or setup, 2 middle points, and the end. I think the end is one of the most important, even if it's vague. Give yourself something to shoot for so your story doesn't wander off and run out of gas at 30k words!

If you can, finish your outline in the first couple weeks of October; again to give you time to mull it over or add points that come to you. If a scene pops into your head, outline it so you don't forget. November is going to be full of enough stuff without you having to recall stuff you thought of in October. (And in case you're wondering, yeah, my outline is done ...)

Along these same lines, if you have research to do, gather it ahead of time as well. You don't want to waste precious writing time scouring the Internet for information on Victorian bathrooms. (Let me save you some serious hunting- check out Victoriana.)

One of the best things about NaNo is just letting your writing go, but if you don't prepare a little, stress can get in the way of the fun. Get rid of potential road blocks now so you can really get out there and race!