Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day 12: Taking on Time Management

Almost halfway through the challenge you've ideally already come up with some great methods for managing your time wisely.  Ideally.  But if you are like me, then you're still struggling to figure out how to fit a few hours of writing in alongside diaper changes, feedings, preschool, playdates, snuggle time, etc.  In the hopes of overcoming these challenges I've done some research and found some great time management advice.
  • 1)  KEEP A DAILY TIME LOG.  If you think you lack the time to write, try keeping an hourly log of your activities.  Do this for a week and then take note of any patterns of time wasters you see.  Too much TV?  Too much internet surfing?  These diversions are fine in moderation, but if you have a tough time writing because you're wasting your time with distractions give the old kitchen timer a try.  Set it for 10 minutes of internet surfing or a half hour of TV watching and when it rings get back to the tasks that truly matter.  For a great time charter check out this time log or make up one of your own.  Also, take this completely superfluous survey to see if you're a time waster
  • 2)  FIND YOUR HAPPY HOUR.  Whether its first thing in the morning or an hour before bedtime there should be some time set aside during your day to write uninterrupted.  Even those of us with young kids can give ourselves at least an hour.  It may mean sacrificing some sleep to wake up earlier or giving up some TV time with the hubs to go upstairs and write - whatever you choose, be consistent.  If you've programmed your brain to go into "writing mode" about the same time each day - and if you tell that same brain that you'll only be working for an hour so stop bugging you about the dishes in the sink or the pile of laundry on the floor - then you'll find your muse becomes less and less elusive with time.
  • 3)  SET A WRITING GOAL.  Before beginning (this MUST be done prior to the one hour of productive writing time), set some goals of what you hope to accomplish during your happy hour.  This might be a particular word count, a scene, maybe outlining, or perhaps editing.  Make the goal concrete enough that you can tell with certainty at the end of the hour if the goal was completed, neared completion, or was unrealistic.  (With time and experience you will begin to know your writing style and will be more capable of setting realistic, achievable goals).  
  • At the end of the hour (again, this should not be done DURING the productive writing time), take stock of how well you did with your time management.  How many times were you distracted?  What caused the distractions?  Were these distractions of your own making (email, research, facebook, twitter)?  Do you think that a different hour of the day is required to help you avoid distractions not of your own making (kids needing attention, phones ringing)?  To help you track your productivity check out the Writing Time Tracker in this series of amazing worksheets for writers. 
  • 4)  DON'T ASK FOR TIME.  The above advice has been geared toward all Mommy Authors, not necessarily those doing the 30 day writing challenge.  Clearly those of you involved in the writing challenge will need more than an hour a day to accomplish your goal, but if you think you will find the time by asking others (nicely!) to accommodate you, you might be mistaken.  Victoria Lynn Schmidt says in her novel Book in a Month,
"While writing may be important to you, few people in your life will see it as important. Many will just see it as an unnecessary indulgence. Asking them to help you find time for writing just won’t work.  Of course if you had a major circumstance or emergency these same people would give you all the time you needed, so the time is there. They just might not see writing as worthy of it. You have to decide writing is worthy of that time, and then just take it."

  • If you think those around you have a tendency to write off your writing (pun intended) then ordering that pizza or neglecting to scour the bathroom for another week may be the ways you can find the extra time you need.  By expressing your enthusiasm and excitement for all that you've accomplished with the time you would have spent scrubbing the toilet you can show the "doubters" that you are not only serious about your writing, but that you are using all of your time creating something that you - and hopefully they - can be excited about.
For more great information on time management check out these resources:  "4 Tips for Making Time to Write,"  "Time is Not on Your Side,"  Book in a Month

MY DAY 12:  A fabulous day for me as I was able to write for 6 full hours (not consecutively, of course) and get three full scenes done.  Two lessons learned:  1- Saturdays can really be great when you've got a supportive, non-busy spouse to watch the kids, and 2- no place makes me so careful and productive with my time as the library.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Journal Writing

I have always been a journal writer.  Since the time I was 12, I wrote in a journal and now being nearly 52 I’m writing in my 10th journal.  I don’t write every day but at least once a week, sometimes less than that. 

Writing in a journal can help anyone’s hectic life stay sane. Not only does it help to accurately record events but it is also therapeutic. Reading back in my journal from fifteen years ago brought a smile to my face.  See if you agree:

A personal visit to the store for a full time mother can be a chance to get away for a few minutes and take a break from life. Depending on which children you leave behind at home will also depend on what state your house will be when you return.  For me, I took my chances in leaving my seven children and a neighborhood girl from across the street on their own so I could run to the store for a few needed items.

 It was a Thursday afternoon that I stole away leaving my oldest of 15 at home to baby-sit.  All the school-aged children were to be working on their homework and the younger ones would be playing.   When I returned, a wail of complaints and protests filled my ears as to what happened while I was gone.
 1. “Nobody is doing school work.”
                        2. “Isaac didn’t want to cut the lawn.”  (My oldest son, 13 at the time)
                        3. Tasha and Jena (neighbor child) were cheating at kickball.” (both 11)
                        4. “Tasha didn’t want to cut the lawn.”  (They were supposed to take turns)
                        5. “Sarah (15) hit Caleb(7).”
                        6. “Caleb hit her back.”
                        7. “Tasha hit Sarah with her PEZ dispenser.”
                        8. “Isaac locked Caleb in the closet.”
                        9. “Naomi (14) is touching everyone’s stuff.”
                      10. “Everyone is yelling at Naomi.”
                       11. “Naomi was walking backwards and ran into Sarah.”
                       12. “Naomi shot Lydia (3) with a rubber band.”

Ah, motherhood.  Isn’t it wonderful?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How I Manage to Write Everyday and Not Neglect My Children

When I went to college, I wasn't ashamed that it was in sole pursuit of my MRS. I happened to get a Bachelors in History along the way, but let's face it, that was just a bonus. I've known since I was little I wanted to write and in my naive mind, that was the perfect occupation for someone who wanted to stay at home and raise kids in her free time. 
Well, two little boys later, it's still the perfect occupation for a stay-at-home mom, it's just a bit more complicated than I imagined. Sure, I get to stay home all day, the question is: when do I write? And how do I manage to write everyday and not neglect my children?
Let me start out by stating something I really, strongly believe. That in most cases you should delete really out of sentences because it's worthless. Okay. Seriously. We're all given talents and whether your talent is writing, scrapbooking, cleaning (yeah, I honestly call that a talent), sewing, cooking, or insert your own here. We should be working on improving those talents. It's not a crime to take an hour or two out of your day to focus on doing something you love. It keeps you sane. And it all depends on you about the time. I'll tell you how I make it work.
My computer is in the living room & I frequently write for only five and ten minutes at a time. These two, for me, have to go together. Both of them may seem counter-productive, and for many people they are. I'd get very little writing done if I didn't do both. I happen to have rewired my brain to work with "Phineus & Ferb" playing in the background. With my computer out in the open, I can write while my kids are playing and feel like I'm keeping an eye on them, and I'm involved in their wonderful, little lives. If they're entertained by battery-operated light sabers for twenty minutes, I use that twenty minutes to hack out a scene.  Then, when the light saber mission turns into a UFC fight with weapons, I'm onsite to take control. 
I try not to turn my kids down, even if I'm in the middle of something "important." If they let me, I take thirty seconds to finish a sentence, but the risk I take while writing for those few minutes is that I might lose part of an idea. I'll take it. 
I'm lucky enough to have two kids who still nap. In my world, nap-time means I get to do anything I want. I refuse to crowd it up with cleaning just because the kids are asleep. Cleaning can be done (or not done!) any time of the day. So I take those two or so hours and I write!
Just figure out what's going to work for you. One of the biggest steps I took was finally calling my writing "work" to myself and my family. (I was the hardest one to convince.) It can definitely still be fun, but when you let yourself think of it as something important, you'll find ways to get it done. 
Now you know how I manage, how do you do it? What do you do to keep writing every day?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 11: Striking the Proper Tone

Let's say you're at your local bookstore browsing for something to read and you come across a book with this picture on it's cover:
With no title and no descriptions you already have a pretty good idea that the book is going to be dark, maybe a bit spooky, and definitely harkening back to Bronte gothicism.  You figured this all out from a picture how?  Because the picture displays tone - the feeling, tenor, or mood of a work.  As a writer you are without the use of visual media so you must paint the picture with words, helping your readers feel the tone by emphasizing the right images.

To help explain how tone can effect the way a reader "sees" you story I'm going to use an example from Laura Whitcomb's book Novel Shortcuts.  She's taken an excerpt from Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and changed the tone to make it dark.  Here is her version:
 "Two figures lurked in the ruins that had once been a graveyard.  One figure was bent, heavy of trunk and limb.  The other thin with a menacing expression.  Fog curled between the headstones like the Angel of Death.  The two would wait patiently for him all night if they had to."
Pretty creepy-spooky, right?  Now here's the actual version:
"Two of them lurked in the ruined graveyard.  Two shadowy figures, one hunched and squat, the other lean and menacing, both of them Olympic-grade lurkers.  If Bruce Springsteen had ever recorded "Born to Lurk," these two would have been on the album cover.  They had been lurking in the fog for an hour now, but they had been pacing themselves and could lurk for the rest of the night if necessary, with still enough sullen menace left for a final burst of lurking around dawn." 
The exact same scenario but with two totally different feels to them.  In the first example Whitcomb describes a guy as being "heavy of trunk and limb."  Using the word "heavy" she adds weight to the narrative which, when combined with the words "trunk and limb" makes us see an imposing character who is thick and sturdy.  In Gaiman and Pratchett's story they describe the man as "hunched and squat," which lends a more comic, less imposing feel to the story.  That description alone wouldn't let us sense the comedic style of narration, but in conjunction with phrases like "Olympic-grade lurkers" and "Born to Lurk" we see that the authors have a dark, tongue in cheek writing style.

Before sitting down to write a scene try to imagine that you are watching that scene through a camera lens.  What images from the scene's background will assist in the creation of your tone?  What about mannerisms of your characters?  What can your camera focus on that will help the reader feel the tenor of your story?  Once you've decided on what to highlight in your narrative take a few moments to find descriptive words that will pack a punch - less long-flowing, more concise but meaningful.

MY DAY 11:  I took the day to finish my outline as far as possible, but I STILL can't decide how I want my story to end.  (Is that a bad thing?)  I was however, able to get a rough estimate of how many scenes I needed to write before the end of the challenge.  Divide that number by the number of days left and I had a pretty good understanding of how many scenes to write per day in order to finish the novel by day 30.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Birthing a Book

I was in labor with my second baby. Everything was progressing smoothly. I had decided to do this one naturally. No drugs, no doctors, all midwife. Then came the moment. If you have more than one child, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The moment when you remember.

There is in interesting phenomenon that happens after you birth a baby. It’s called birthing amnesia, and although I once read an article about it with some other type of medical sounding name, this is what I call it. Birthing amnesia, it’s what happens in the joy, and the hormones, and the subsequent effort of your first baby.

You forget the labor.

You forget the work.

You forget every heart stopping, agonizing, panic inducing, second of it.

The tears, the screams, the pain.

Oh! The pain.

Because once you have the perfect baby, with her tiny toes and little cries. His Daddy’s nose, and grandma’s lips.

A glorious, beautiful moment of holding your little bit of heaven.

You forget. The labor becomes something to laugh about. To groan over. To brag about.

The real agony is forgotten.

Until it’s time to birth your second baby, and it all rushes back in one terrifyingly scary rush of a millisecond.

“I don’t want to do this,” I whispered to my husband. Tears running lines down my red, red face. I could tell from his glance that he was more than worried about me. I gripped his hand to my chest and pulled him closer. Screamed into his shocked expression, “I don’t want to do this again!”

My midwife pushes him away, and begins in with the soothing noises. My mother bustles to the other side of the bed to whisper in my ear. Reassuring things, helpful tips to ease the pain. “We can get you some drugs,” she says.

“You don’t understand,” I sob. “I’ve decided I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t need another baby.”

“It’s too late now,” my husband says, as I begin begging them to let me go. To make the pain stop, to do something. A nurse nudges the midwife, “it’s time for her to push.”

They say producing a book is much like laboring a baby.

I say it’s much, much worse.

I am an indie author. Self published. I gave birth to my first book naturally, and am in the throes of the second.

I remember how hard it is. I have moments where I want to stop. Where I want to scream in frustration.

Rachel has asked us to write about our balance, our lives as Mommy authors. I believe we make the best kind of writers. My posts will be filled with the why’s. Why we do it, why it’s worth it, and why you need to keep going.

Why I decided to indie publish, over the more traditional route, and how I try to make it work.

My second book’s coming, I know it is. I can remember the joy of my first, and it will carry me through this. It has to carry me through this.

A great article on maintaining enthusiasm through the writing process.

And if you haven't seen this yet. The Writers Digest Competitions are great motivation.

Time to dust off one of those short stories. I'll be submitting in the YA category.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Shaking Things Up A Bit

Today we're going to take a break from my 30 day challenge and introduce you to the new team at Mommy Authors. Starting next week these ladies and I will be bringing you parent-writing related posts every Tuesday and Thursday. I'm so excited to have these talented women working with me and I think you'll enjoy them too, so let's start the introductions!

Laura Long
Laura Long, the indie author of Founder. My perfect afternoon would involve a plate of Pecan Sandies, a large glass of milk, and my dog eared Pride and Prejudice. A thunderstorm wouldn't hurt either. I am a voracious reader. My DVR and I are BFF’s. If I didn’t love to travel so much, I might have finished my degree. Instead I worked for an airline and occasionally attended classes, for a little over a decade. I’m married and live with my mother-in-law in Northern California. Before you ask, because everyone does, we won’t be trying for that boy. The thought of FOUR girls terrifies me. I have been scribbling thoughts on paper my entire life. At one time I wrote to preserve my memories. Now I write to preserve my sanity.

For more about Laura visit her site at https://www.lmlong.com

Ranee S. Clark
I've been writing since I was old enough to grasp a crayon--my grandma even has an early copy of a "book" I made her. I have a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Wyoming and will (hopefully) soon be starting a graduate program in English. When I'm not breaking up impromptu UFC fights in the living room or losing miserably to my six year old at Uno, I'm ... well, writing, of course, reading something just for the fun of it (I'm still trying to catch up on those four years in college when I "had" to read stuff), or listening to my favorite podcast "Missed in History." I'm married to my best friend, and we have two rambunctious but simply amazing little boys.

Learn more about Ranee at her personal site raneesclark.blogspot.com

Valerie J. Steimle
Valerie J. Steimle was born in Brooklyn, NY, to a close-knit Jewish family. Her mother searched for many years to find what was missing in their lives and found The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Their baptism brought an incredible change in their life, but her parents would not tell the rest of the family for 10 years as they lived in both the Jewish world and the LDS world.

She graduated from Ricks College in 1979 and attended Brigham Young University from 1979 to 1982, where she met Robert Steimle. They married and had nine children.

Though she grew up in New Jersey, she found southern Alabama to her liking and has lived there for the past 19 years with her family. Her husband of 25 years passed away suddenly which left her to raise her youngest five children on her own until she met James Foy two years later. They happily reside in southern Alabama.

While she was raising her children in the early years, Valerie felt compelled to write about the family and started with a newspaper column in the local paper. She then published her first book, called Home Is Where The Heart Is, which is a collection of those articles. Her next book, Home Is Where The Learning Is: Home School Lifestyles from Home School Moms, includes seven other home school moms contributing their story in understanding the lifestyle of a home school family. Her third book is Of One Heart: Being Single in the LDS World which was written to help all those who are single and belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints. Her last book published to date is Dogs, Blogs and Hobbits: Writings from a Widow's Perspective a culmination of other writings on life and death.

Besides writing and reading, Valerie loves to spend time with her family, watches movies, embroiders, and gardens.

You can find her website at www.strengthenyourhome.com and her blog at www.valeriesteimle.blogspot.com

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 10: Weeding Out Weaknesses

Do any of you remember the Magic Eye books that were popular in the 90's - the 3D images that could only pop from the page if you crossed your eyes or put the book to your nose and then backed away slowly?  My friend was cleaning our her closet the other day and gave me one of those books and I spent about an hour going page by page trying to find the hidden pictures.  And guess what.  It reminded me of writing.  With the book held at just the right angle from my face my vision would relax and I was able to see the 3D image with no more effort than it takes to see the words on this screen.  But if there was the slightest distraction, a quick blink or a ball being chucked at my face by a two year old, for example, I would lose the picture and have to work again to find it. 

As writers we hope to open up an exciting world for the reader, allowing them to see things that they might not if they had not picked up our book.  However, much like an eye blink took away my 3D image, a reader's journey in our literary world can be brought to an abrupt halt if we have weak points in our story -elements of plot or character that don't fit the way we (or the reader) would like.

Verisimilitude: the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood; probability.  There's a fun word I bet you'll never need to use, but its important to understand it just the same because it is exactly what you will need to keep your reader engaged.  How many times have you been distracted from a would-be great story because you were too annoyed that the main character was so oblivious to the solution?  Didn't you just want to slap him silly?  The answer was so obvious (call the cops, man!) but for some unknown reason he failed to see the easy way out.  Or maybe you questioned the plausibility of a scenario much the way I did when I saw Sam Witwicky get tossed around time and again by giant metal Decepticons, only to find him whole and well aside from a few minor cuts and bruises.  If we're working to avoid similar expressions of outrage (or outright laughter at how ridiculous our story is) from the reader we want to focus on cultivating verisimilitude.

The following checklists are found on page 37 of "Write Your Novel in 30 Days".
  • Does everything in the ideas/summary make sense?
  • Are the characters motivated?
  • Will the characters act as they are expected to?  If not, did you set up why they won't?
  • Is the story's world set up properly?
  • Is it clear why the antagonist is doing what he is doing?
  • Is it clear why the protagonist cares about the goal?
  • Does the protagonist come into contact/conflict with the antagonist in a manner that is organic to the story?
  • Do all the characters have a purpose, a reason for being there?
  • Are all the setting props organic to the setting?
  • Is the goal feasible?
  • Will the readers suspend disbelief?

When creating literary worlds we are given only one boundary and that is consistency.  If a man can fly in your story then the readers are going to want to know how he obtained this unique ability.  Or perhaps his ability isn't all that unique; are all of humankind able to fly?  If so, the reader will accept this as long as the information is presented as a normal reality in your world.  
"Remember the reader will allow you to set the rules of your world as long as those rules remain consistent; no one likes the rules to change in the middle of the game"  (WYNITD, pg 37).
  • Have you set up and built all the major characters?
  • Do you introduce the protagonist and antagonist in a way that makes a strong first impression on readers?
  • Do you announce the story goal (or at least hint at it)?
  • Does everything make sense to the readers?
  • Do the main characters act "in character"?  If not, why?
  • Have you used any of your revealing scenes?  If not, can you tweak a scene to add one?
  • Are all actions motivated?
  • Do the characters react to the turning point in a believable manner?
If you've gone through the checklist and you've found a few problems DON'T go back a rewrite.  Simply note down what the problems are and if you have any quick ideas of how to fix them, then move on with your story.  You can take care of these issues when you come back for your rewrite after the 30 days are over.

Did you find any issues with your WIP?  What other questions might you add to the lists above?  

MY DAY 10:  I was so excited on day 10 because I noticed a sudden spike in visitor activity, most of it coming from an Elizabeth Spann Craig's site on Twitter.  When I hoped over there I saw that she had retweeted my Day One and Day Two articles.  (Thanks again, Elizabeth!)  Because of the sudden boost in statistics I felt I needed to make my site look a bit more swanky, so I spent the ENTIRE day editing HTML and neglecting writing.  (Anyone still wondering why I didn't manage to finish my book in 30 days?)