Monday, May 30, 2011

Guest Post: Writing Between Diaper Changes - Jamie Raintree

Today I'm very excited to have our first guest post by recent friend and aspiring novelist, Jamie Raintree.
Jamie is a women's fiction writer and mother of a 1-year-old daughter. Check out The Stretch Mark Club, her fictional blog about motherhood, and follow her writing adventures on her blog at

Writing Between Diaper Changes

When you first hear you're expecting, nothing else in the world matters but the day you'll welcome that little one into your life. Everything else melts away. But as time goes on and your pending parenthood becomes a reality, the truth sets in. Things are going to change. And are you prepared for it.

You imagine, you plan, you speculate, but until that bundle of blankets and smiles floats through your door and the dust settles, you never really know how you'll handle it. You never really know how your life will change. Will you be able to work and do midnight feedings? Will your mother call you to check in ten or fifteen times a day? Will your spouse ever master changing a diaper? And--dare you think it--will you have any time to write in the next eighteen years?

The question is, how does your writing life change after you have a baby, and the answer is, time.

Sometimes, when I'm holding my daughter and the lullaby music is on its third round and she's still smacking me repeatedly in the face, I daydream about the days when I had no one to worry about but myself. My days were planned around my writing and I made sure my work was done by a certain time, cleaned the house, ran my errands. When the magical hour struck I sat down in front of the computer and prepared to own my tortured artist title, writer's block and all. I procrastinated. I complained on Twitter about not being able to find the right words or whined about the uncertainty of where to go next in my story. I read just one more blog, and then another. I watched the minutes tick away until my husband came home and the stillness of the house was crashed. And it was. Every day. And I hadn't written anything. And then I flash back to reality with my daughter, quite literally, smacking sense into me.

Moms don't have time to procrastinate. We don't have time at all, actually. From the moment we wake up it's bananas and milk and diaper changes and doctor's appointments and ravioli on the floor and dishes and laundry and work and, oh yeah, significant others. Time to ourselves is a rare miracle and if writing is as much a priority to you as it is to me, we feel blessed if we have half an hour to even think about our stories. Fifteen minutes.

But maybe that's the best part of motherhood. An awakening from the fantasy of the writing life and a cold, hard dose of reality. Because then, when we do get the opportunity to grab our passion for just a moment and hold onto it for dear life, we cherish it. It's what keeps us centered.

What changes? You have to claim your writing time. And when you get it, you have to make every second count. You have to ask for help. You have to know your limits. You have to find balance. You have to be selfless and selfish at the same time. You have to know what you need and what you can give up. Most of all, you have to love this journey. It really doesn't get any sweeter.

So...the question is, how does your writing life change after you have a baby, and the answer is, it doesn't. Motherhood is my purpose, my love, my happiness. Writing is still, and always will be, my calling.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 2: Drafting Scene Cards

*All information given during the 30 day challenge comes from the Writer's Digest manual "Write Your Novel in 30 Days."  Click here to purchase it!

Drafting scene cards for you novel can be a lot of fun; this is the time when you get to take all of those ideas that have been floating around in your head, all those little flashes of inspiration, and put them to paper.  Usually, in my case at least, your scene ideas won't come to you in a nice little formatted storyline.  The following techniques can help you get your scene cards written and organized into a structure you can actually use to write your novel.

Drafting Cards:  This seems to be the most common method for beginning novelists.  By writing a short summary of each scene on a 3x5 notecard you have the flexibility to mix and move your cards around until you've found the spot where the scene seems to fit perfectly.

There are other methods for drafting an outline; to learn more about them check out this fabulous article by Sarah Domet at the Writer's Digest website.  My personal method is a combination of styles.  I began my current novel by drafting scene cards, then, when I had a good feel for the flow of the story, I began writing the outline in a "Structure-Plus" format.  (See previously referenced article for more info on "Structure Plus").

Figuring Out Structure:  When you begin thinking about scenes in your novel it helps to break your story down into three major parts, or Acts.

  1. Act I, the beginning, is "always about the who of the story.  The entry point is a lead character, and the writer should begin by connecting the reader to the lead as quickly as possible" (WYNITD, page 57, emphasis added).  In addition the beginning should establish the tone of the story, present the world in which the story takes place (setting, time period), and introduce the opposition.
  2. Act II, the middle, is essentially "a series of battles between the protagonist and the opposition" (WYNITD, page 58).  In addition it should enhance the character interactions - helping us care more about our protagonist and what happens to him - and should get the readers set for the final showdown between protagonist and the major opposing force.
  3. Act II, the end, is where we find out if our hero really ends up being heroic enough to save the day.  The other purposes of the conclusion are to tie up any loose ends and to leave the reader with a sense of resonance.  
This three act structure will offer basic organization for your story - particularly helpful if you are struggling with where exactly you want a scene to fit in the overall novel.  At this point all you really need to know is if the scene will take place at the beginning, middle, or end of the story.  

Finding Your Key Scenes:  Another helpful technique to organize your story structure is to look for 10 key scenes in your story.  Identifying your key scenes should help focus your novel on the heart of the story (the major conflict between your protagonist and antagonist), allowing you to put aside your subplots and fine details until later in the process.

MY DAY 2:  Since I stayed up late last night working on my blog I decided to sleep in this morning.  Strangely enough, so did the kids.  They didn't wake me up until 8:40, which meant I could have had three solid hours of uninterrupted writing time.  That's assuming, of course, that they turned off their mommy radar this morning.

The rest of the day felt off.  I wasted too much time Facebook surfing, trying to finalize future plans via LONG phone conversations,  and - although not exactly a waste of time - playing with my kids.  (It was so nice and sunny today... an exciting change of pace from the cold, rainy days that have plagued us the last few weeks).  Let's just say I'm looking forward to starting with a clean slate tomorrow.  

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 1: Getting At Your Novel's Core

*All information given during the 30 day challenge comes from the Writer's Digest manual "Write Your Novel in 30 Days."  Click here to purchase it!

I want to get straight into writing, why am I being asked to write a one-sentence summary?  Answer:  FOCUS.  If you can't narrow down your story into one, albeit long, sentence you might have a tough time making sure your story stays on theme as you write.  When adding new scenes to your story always compare it to your one-sentence summary.  Does this scene fit with your plot's core story idea?  If not, drop it.

If you haven't come up with an outline yet, Day 1 is the day to do that.  Remember, on this website I don't promote "seat of your pants"-ing it.  An outline is THE QUICKEST way to write a coherent story with conflict, resolution, and character arc.  (Mind I didn't say the only way, just the fastest).  Write down whatever Act I ideas come to mind, (characters, settings, props).  In these beginning stages don't criticize yourself, just allow your ideas to flow freely.  (Nothing squelches creativity like a critic!)

Think about what is going to turn this story on it's ear.  Your characters are moving along happily when suddenly, WHAM, something big hits them and they've got to figure out a whole new way to deal with life.  Call it Plot Point 1, Inciting Incident, Doorway of No Return, Crosshairs Moments.... whatever you want to call it, but just figure out what it is and write it down.  This is when the real story begins.  Everything leading up to this point is just backstory, so make sure you really dish it out for your characters.  Make 'em suffer (or make them happier than ever - just be sure to include a reason why their happily ever after can't last).


MY FIRST DAY:  I woke up at 6:00, determined to get in at least a good hour of writing before my kids woke up.  Unfortunately they seem to have some kind of "mommy radar" that informs them their mommy is up having fun without them.  At 6:20 Son2 started crying and he and I spent the next 30 minutes unproductively hanging out in the rocking chair.  

Aside from the bumpy morning it was a fairly productive day.  I've been working on a very detailed outline of the story and I'm 8 pages into it.  I'm hoping to be done by tomorrow or midday Wednesday so I can get started on the actual writing (MUCH more fun, in this lady's opinion).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gearing up for the big challenge

If you intend to be a regular at this site you should probably be warned that I dabble in puns.  Bathe in them, really.  Hence the picture.

As a mommy-writer I've often struggled with motivation to get my writing done.  After finally putting the kids to bed I usually choose one of three ways to spend my evening: cleaning up my federal-disaster-area-of-a-house, working on my novel,  watching TV with hubs (who will undoubtedly complain if I select either of the first two options - I know its hard to believe, but he loves to be with me enough that he tolerates living in filth and squalor.... most days).  Of course I choose TV.  I'm tired, I want to cuddle with hubs, I want to turn my brain off and be entertained.... but this isn't really conducive to getting a novel written, now is it?

I've been at the novel writing business for all of 18 months now and I have very little that has actually been written.  I love to research and I love to read books about being a better writer; its easy to justify those things as productive activities, and they can be, just not when you're using them as an excuse to procrastinate.  That's why I was very excited when I came across this little item the other day:
I downloaded it for $9.99 here and I have found it to be very worth the money.  One of the statements in the packet really stuck with me.  "Short deadlines can actually be invigorating.... [I]f you tell yourself that you have to set aside six months to get a draft down, it will seem like a huge task (will you really ask your family to make a sacrifice for six months?).  But what if you only have to ask your family to pitch in for one month?"  (pgs 4&5).

So I started thinking... what if I asked my family to sacrifice for one month?  They'd have to deal with cheap, quick dinners and a house that is falling apart (more so that usual), but it would only be for 30 days.  Could they handle that?  They'd have total chaos for 30 days, but after that they'd have me back to themselves... a much less distracted me, no less.  So I've decided that I'm going to do this; I'm really going to challenge myself to write my novel in 30 days.

At the risk of sounding once again like I'm procrastinating, there are a few things I am taking care of before I begin.  This is my to-do list.
  • Prepare for the 30 day cleaning Lent by having a cleaning Mardi Gras.  If I'm going to neglect the household duties it would be a lot more tolerable if the house at least started from a clean slate.  I intend to take a Saturday to clean the whole house before I begin my 30 day challenge.
  • Plan the month's meals.  I want to be very efficient with my time during my 30 days of writing, so why not get as much prepared beforehand as possible?  I'm going to plan out a menu for the month involving all kinds of quick meals.  Grilled cheese, frozen pizzas, takeout... whatever is fast.  Depending on your financial situation you may find it beneficial to pay more money for food to save yourself more time for writing.
  • Wrap up research.  I'm writing an historical novel, so there is naturally some research that accompanies the writing.  I'm doing my best however, to research only major themes and not intricate details; those can be added as I go back and revise the draft.
  • Solidify outline.  I know that there is the whole "pantsers vs. outliners" debate out there.  If you're one who prefers to fly by the seat of your pants let me offer you a word of caution:  it WILL take you longer to get a final draft of your manuscript merely because you will be practicing trial and error by actual writing as opposed to scene cards.  Since this site is all about efficient writing, I will of course be promoting outlining.
  • Wait until its sunny.  I know, this is a weird one, but I've chosen to wait until its genuinely summer so I can save myself some guilt.  I'll feel like a much better mom if my kids are outside having active fun while I'm holed up in a cave neglecting them entirely.
  • Finish reading Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques that Ensure a Great First Draft by Laura Whitcomb.  I'm always on the lookout for ways to improve not only my writing but my speed and this novel has it all!  I've been so thrilled with the advice I've received, but the best advice by far has been her "Shortcut to Scene" exercise.  I intend to give you a rundown of the info a little later, but I'm sure she explains it much better than I could.  Consider checking it out at your local library or buying it here.
In my next post I will cover some tips to helping you be faster and better writers.  This little snippet from an interview with Laura Whitcomb should whet your appetite:
Your new book, Novel Shortcuts, is filled with tips on how to write a fast but strong first draft. What would you say the key is to accomplishing this?
The exercise that was the most helpful to me while writing my second novel is the one I call “Shortcut to the Scene” in which I prepare the left brain stuff (action, dialogue) and the right brain stuff (poetry, emotion, metaphor, simile) into a one page model from which to work. 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.
Stay tuned!

Discussion Question:  What nasty habits do you have that look an awful lot like procrastinating?

Monday, May 9, 2011


If you're anything like me you came to the writing game a little "late" in life.  Some people decide as kids that they will grow up to be writers.  You.... well, you picked up a copy of Twilight at the grocery store and decided that if Stephenie Meyer - stay at home mom (SAHM in all future references) and first time novelist - could reach instant fame, you could too.


Flash forward a few years.  You've done the research; you've read how impossible it is to become a published author.  You laugh at your former naivete and are strongly tempted to ascribe the writing bug to some sort of temporary madness (much like that tattoo incident a few years back).  But the writing bug is just that - a bug.  A virus.  An infection that is awfully difficult to shake.  And though you've come to realize that Stephenie Meyer-esque fame is unattainable, inside you still harbor hopes that someday you may see your little book smiling back at you from a Barnes and Noble bookshelf.  THAT my friends, is what is going to get your novel published.  Pure, unadulterated DETERMINATION.  And a little bit of narcissism.  But mostly determination.

But what about parenting?  How do you find time to write when you have a baby who still wakes up for nighttime feedings or a high schooler (or two) who really aught to just hire a professional chauffeur to drive them to soccer/choir/handball/jujitsu practice?  Um.... I don't know.    
*crickets chirp*
It's true!  I don't know any more than you do at this point.  But I plan to learn.  And that's why I started this blog.  I'm trying to figure out the parent-writer process too and I hope you'll join me on my journey as I write attempt to write my first novel and learn some ways to find balance as a parent and a writer.  However, feel free to impart your hard-earned knowledge to me if you've already learned some tips and tricks.  

First discussion topic:  When is your most productive writing time?  Is it when your kids are all finally in bed or is it before they wake up in the morning?  Maybe you prefer to write while they're in school?