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.