It’s been said that, in a courtroom, the man who represents himself has a fool for a client. Something similar can be said for a writer who does his or her own editing.
In an earlier blog, I mentioned fine-tuning my SFR and that it became a cautionary tale in and of itself. Here’s what happened:
Some of you know family obligations made it impossible for Cuz to relocate when his employer chose to move. With him facing unemployment, we decided to polish a manuscript that, although begun as a writing exercise in the 90s, would not die. Unsurewhether thoseold ideas still had merit, we entered the first chapters into a contest and—Hallelujah!—they did. To ice our little happy cake, while the story sat, SFR emerged as a viable genre. Whoopee!
Reality soon changed whoopee to whoop ass—with mine in its sights. Half the chapters remained in WordPerfect®, the program we had grudgingly abandoned when Word® rose to industry dominance. Some existed only on legal pads. The last handful were doc. and docx. files.
Have you any idea the garbage a story can collect over nigh eighteen years? Upon seeing the merged files, I darn near had a coronary. Over 120,000 words, huge gaps, duplicate scenes, missing scenes, more inconsistencies than I care to enumerate, and despite comprehensive profiles, the characters had morphed. Oh, and no ending. That’s right. At 120+K. It. Was. Not. Finished.
But wait. There’s more. Since we were having so much fun, circumstances added a smidge more crazy.
My CP, who planned to help us navigate indie publishing’s vagaries, announced her impending out-of-state relocation. In a strange twist, although they didn’t know each other, Cuz and her hubby worked for the same outfit.
With the deadline approaching and beta-readers waiting, we escalated to panic mode. I settled in to work. I kid you not when I say I gained about fifteen pounds because I did little but sit and type until I sent the story to the readers.
Nobody liked the hero. Too alpha. No evidence of a softer side. The heroine, while likable, didn’t fare much better. The villain . . . Well, you get the idea.
I returned to my chair and, comments in hand, knuckled down.
Many sleepless nights, pots of coffee, and PB&J sandwiches later, we had something viable but, given its age, realized holes we stood too close to see might yet exist. Both Cuz and I have solid general science backgrounds and experience within specific disciplines. Neither of us can claim more than a basic grasp of physics, however, and we had, of course, ventured there.
Pooling our resources, we hired a developmental Sci-fi editor who, we were assured, had experience with romance.
While he found several oopsies on the physics/space-science front, making him well-worth his hire, his comments and handling of the love story declared ours wasn’t the story he wanted to read. Unfortunately, what he wanted to read, we didn’t want to write.
We thanked him and parted ways.
I’ve done plenty of editing during my life. These days, it’s mostly for my CP, but in years past, I edited publications, ads, form letters—Yeah. Fun stuff—and books that eventually found place in traditional publishing. I could handle this. No sweat.
Thus, without fanfare, I donned motley and joined the fools’ ranks.
More eighteen and twenty-hour days behind the desk followed. My feet swelled. My hips spread. Each tick of the clock, it seemed, claimed another strand of hair.
Somehow, between midnight phone debates, sometimes-grudging compromises, incessant typing, and gritty eyes, time ran out. Cuz and CP made the long trip, squishing into my dinky office to navigate the publishing process.
After an almost nineteen year gestation, the book went live 25 January 2015.
It wasn’t ready. We knew it. We priced it high to discourage buyers, but like proud parents who refuse to believe they created an ugly child, kept the pictures on display.
People bought it. Our family and friends led the way, but we sold too many for just that forgiving group.
Instant panic—for me.
Cuz moseyed on to Book Two. I couldn’t make him understand Book One of a series carries the weight of every book that follows (we have three gestating), and ours didn’t have the muscle yet. Our developmental editor had become so fixated on the alien pronoun usage several discrepancies and plot holes evaded his detection just as they’d escaped mine—until I read the book in print.
Nightmares had nothing on this mess. The book bled red ink. Depression, a specter most writers battle at times, found a foothold. I republished over and over while fighting the demon (I forget how many print copies I bought. I can’t seem to see this stuff on the computer), enduring Cuz and Hubble’s jokes about how anal I was and their advice to let it be. No argument made either male understand why I persisted. The months that followed proved hellish.
On 1 August 2015, I downloaded The Sword & the Starship for the final—I hope—time, and can, at long last, say I’m proud of it. It’s sixteen pages and several thousand words leaner than its January incarnation. The bits that went nowhere are gone. The timeline issue has been resolved. The hero and heroine boast complete character and emotional arcs. As for the villain? No complaints.
AND (cue Angel Choir) Cuz has finally seen the light.
Here’s what we learned:
1.) Hiring a content or copy editor would have been wise. Despite determined attempts at objectivity, my knowledge of the story and characters led to ill-advised assumptions, skimming, and more reworking than there had to be.
2.) Nothing catches errors quite like the ear. Read the book aloud. Hearing it read works, too—if you can avoid zoning out.
3.) Not all editors are created equal. While grateful for the solid science, we would have been better served by an editor who shared our vision for the story.
4.) Trust yourself. If your inner voice is screaming, listen; it’s probably right.
5.) Chair time is not always time well-spent. Get up. Move. You can’t think very well with your blood cushioning your tush. You’ll accomplish more with it energizing your brain.
6.) Sometimes, in the long run, it costs less to spend. If you work best with print, then print. While shredded paperbacks are excellent soil-enhancers, and pages spread over soil stop weeds, they’re expensive alternatives. Your flowerbeds will be just as happy with computer paper. Better a garden than a landfill.
7.) Publishing sites have draft modes. Unfortunately, I noticed the option too late. We could have learned what we needed without risking our—or our book’s—reputation. Instead, we went all in, releasing it during its almost-but-not-quite-ready-yet, chrysalis stage—a decision we might yet regret.
So there you have it, my cautionary tale. If you take nothing else from it, take this:
Some things never attain their potential if they’re rushed, so don’t cut the chrysalis.
People always ask where I get my story ideas. It’s a complicated question…and yet it isn’t. Because they never come from any one place. Sometimes an article I read on the internet will get the wheels turning. Sometimes an overheard conversation sparks something. And sometimes it’s a picture.
A picture like this one.
My son went snow tubing with friends this past winter. When he came back, he had several pictures. This was one of them. I chuckled and told him his facial expression seemed a little sinister. But as I looked closer, I caught a little flash of red just behind him. A small marker that said Lane 10. And there it was. The idea and title for a new book. A thriller. One where something terrible happens on Lane 10.
Right now that’s all it is. The smallest kernel of an idea. But once I get a chance, I plan to explore it just a little more. And hopefully, one day, that photo will give birth to a brand new book–painting not just a thousand words, but tens of thousands of words.
And there you have it. Short and sweet. I would love to hear your thoughts!
If you’re an author, do you have an interesting story about where you got one of your ideas? If you’re a reader, have you ever read a book and wondered how on earth the writer came up with the plot?
I’m here to talk about a very serious subject — comedy writing. In writing, getting the comedic balance right is tricky. Years ago, a contest judge said my entry read like a series of jokes. Unfortunately, this was not intended as a compliment. What s/he meant was a novel shouldn’t come across like a stand-up routine. My challenge? Concentrate on the plot and narrative, and let the funny flow naturally. (Contest Judge, I hope I’ve done you proud!)
As you might have guessed from my debut YA’s punny title, This Is Your Afterlife is on the lighter end of the grayscale. That’s not to say there aren’t dark moments — the story revolves around murdered high school football star Jimmy Hawkins. It’s just his death is treated with a touch of humor and hope. Here’s an excerpt:
“Aren’t you psychic?” he taunts.
“Being psychic would mean I could see into the future.”
“Then what do you call this…this thing we have?” He gestures at the space between us.
I frown at that space. “You have what is called the afterlife. I have what appears to be clairvoyance.” Grandie was pretty clear on the distinction. “Psychics see the future. Clairvoyants and mediums see dead people. And argue with them, too, it seems.”
How did this even happen to me? Last time I checked, I didn’t have the Gift. I haven’t been struck by lightning, haven’t taken any hallucinogenic pills or eaten magic mushrooms. My sixteenth birthday would have been a prime time for spirits to make an all-singing, all-dancing debut in my world, but that day passed quietly three months ago.
Unless there were signs I missed. But what counts as a sign? Randomly sensing Grandie’s lavender perfume in the Bugle office? Could it be that she was trying to communicate then?
What bugs me is that I’ve been invisible to Jimmy for years. Now that he’s dead, he finally sees me. There is no justice in the world.
One of my favourite movie quotes is from Crimes and Misdemeanors, in which Alan Alda’s character says, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” I’m not known for my love of mathematics, but this is one equation that makes a lot of sense to me.
Here are a few key ways to inject a dose of fun into your work:
Clever turns of phrase; flip an expression, observation or cliché on its head.
In terms of characterization, think of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. We expect lions to be courageous and majestic. But this lion, when we first meet him, is far from brave.
Use the rule of three. Create an element of surprise by starting off with an ordinary list and topping with something unexpected. For example: Harriet wanted nothing more in life than a comfortable pair of slippers, three-ply yarn, and a hot young Scottish laird. (Okay, that wasn’t my best example. It’s hard to write funny! Perhaps Harriet has plans involving the laird and the yarn?)
Take a real-life situation, even a serious one, and give it a humorous twist.
Puns are so punny! But they can get unfunny pretty fast. Don’t overuse them.
Physical comedy. Be careful of turning it into slapstick.
Absolutely. Again, like puns, alliteration can become absurd if overused. Some people look at alliteration as an abomination that should be axed altogether.
Keep in mind there are contraindications for each of these. Use sparingly. Always stay true to character. You can’t have a supreme court judge cracking wise at the bench. Unless she’s Judge Judy. But it’s okay for her because caustic wit forms part of who she is.
How do you know if you’re writing funny? It’s a promising sign if people constantly tell you, “Say, you’re really funny!” Or if they laugh with you, not at you. Like anything, humor is subjective. What’s hilarious to one reader might be tedious or even offensive to another. Test it on CPs and friends. Grab someone off the street and feed them a line. If you get hit with rotten tomatoes, or worse, don’t raise a chuckle, you may have missed the mark. Do your comedic situations make you, the writer, laugh? They say if you cry when writing a sad scene, it’s likely your readers will pick up on all that emotion you poured into it and cry, too. So I think the same goes for humor. Go ahead, LOL at your own jokes.
Tell me, when was the last time you laughed out loud? Got a favorite funny author or movie?
You’ve been a great audience. Thank you and goodnight!
Time. It’s rarely a friend, often in short supply, and likes to change things—not always for the better.
Adages about it abound: Time heals all wounds (or wounds all heels, depending on the circumstance). Things will work out in good time. Time waits for no man (or woman). A stitch in time saves nine. Time lost is never found.
Yes, I could go on, but you get the idea. Time is relentless, unfeeling, and inflexible. It has no care for your ambitions or desires. It will turn fruit juice to wine, then, a blink, a pause, a miscalculation, and sweet wine becomes acidic vinegar.
Thus, I’m pretty sure you’re wondering why I called this blog Celebrate!
Nope. Not kidding. Insanity is the only possible answer.
Think about your excitement when you first started writing. Oh, the plans, the cloud castles built high in the air. How could your story not sell? NYT and USA Today lists, here you come. Everyone will know your name, your work. You’ll be famous!
A couple of years (and dozens, if not hundreds, of rejections) later, the cloud castles have revealed their true nature, dumping periodic deluges, commonly called tears, battering hail, usually comprised of those (choke) words that will never hurt you, and heart-stopping flashes of unintentional (it’s to be hoped) cruelty in the form of thoughtless critiques. Your plans have been worked and reworked beyond recognition, and still, you can’t make the grade.
Inevitably, you get introduced to the three Ds: Discouragement, Disillusionment, and their big brother, Depression. Nasty fellows. Yet, you persist, taking classes, entering contests, writing the next story, drafting the next plan, potentially setting yourself up for more of the same.
If that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is.
Good news! You can defeat the three Ds. Insanity? That’s bit iffy—some consider it a necessary component of a writer’s toolbox—but you can keep it from oozing into other parts of your life.
Celebrate every milestone, large or small. Celebrate the fact you haven’t let those devilish Ds defeat you. Celebrate victory for just sitting down to write every day despite the scars from what’s been thrown, blown, hurled, flung, and whizzed at you.
How you celebrate depends on you. Despite our penchant for chocolate and coffee, food isn’t usually a good choice unless it’s a celebratory dinner at the end of a long haul. (Your health is important. Those Ds are the ultimate opportunists, and poor health is an open door. Lock it. Reaching your goals too sick to savor the accomplishment would be the pits.)
In the short term, despite the money issues prevelant these days, a manicure or pedicure after a week or two of making your word counts shouldn’t break the bank. Or you could share a celebration at a wee get-together with your critique partners or other writing friends. This comes with the added bonus of mutual encouragement, and the boost you’ll get prior to diving back into the frey is beyond price.
Of course, get-togethers cost a few pesos, but monetary rewards always motivate, so motivate yourself.
Put a cup or jar where you work. When you complete your day’s production, drop in a quarter or a dollar. Add a coin for each 100, 200, 500 words until you reach your goal whether it’s $20 for drinks with friends (you can’t get too hammered on 20 bucks these days), money for a designer bag, dress, or shoes, a spa day, or a conference fee.
Okay. I admit, these types of ideas would motivate me. How about you?
How do you celebrate? What tricks have helped you keep the 3 Ds at bay?
Writing is lonely, demanding, and difficult. Writing well is even more so. You deserve to celebrate and be celebrated. And don’t forget Elisa is giving away a $25 gift card as part of her Hour-A-Day Challenge. Instant motivation.
What are you waiting for? Let’s get writing so the celebration can begin!
Your book is written, polished and edited. Now comes the moment when you need to hook an agent, editor or buyers on your book in a few short lines. After spending months writing your story, you might be knocking your head against the wall trying to decide how to condense everything wonderful about your work into what, approximately one-hundred words.
You’re not alone.
Writing blurbs commands a different mindset. Instead of adding layers we need to get out the filet knife and cut away all the fat and end up with the juiciest part of our stories, because that is what the readers really want know about. Those juicy tidbits are what makes them buy your book. But how do you whittle down to the wonderful stuff? I’ll share my process.
I write romance, so I begin with a one-line story premise and then the GMC of both my heroine and hero—or as I like to refer this portion, my characters’ mini-bios.
Here is how I began to write my blurb for my new release PERFECT HEARTS which is the second book in my Perfect Love series.
Fourteen years ago, two geeky teens became best friends and their romance was sabotaged by the town’s diva sending them on different paths.
Carrie returns to Black Moose, Vermont to emerge from the shadows of her parents’ stardom and find a normal life, love, and family, but the ratio of female versus eligible bachelors (under the age of thirty-five) is like 50 to 1.
Luke McQuire is a man with two things on his mind: building his electrical business and evading the town diva, Olive Ann, who has made it known to all the women on the mountain that he is her future husband.
After I’ve that step is completed, then comes the slicing and dicing to make the blurb entertaining, because fiction books are entertainment. And we have to add back in our voices. So the next step is to add that hook—that wonderful first line that will draw the reader in and make them want to read more.
Back to PERFECT HEARTS:
Block-buster movies picture it. Platinum records are composed based on it. Stories and poems are written because of it. Every breathing soul searches for it, including Carrie Shultz. Good grief, her livelihood depends on love.
But like all first lines they need to be tweaked and reworked and sometimes scrubbed. So we work some more. And we tweak our characters mini-bios again, adding in interesting story details and hooks.
Blockbuster movies show it, platinum records praise it, great literature lauds it…every living soul searches for it. Good grief, Carrie Twines’ livelihood depends on it. Everyone in Black Moose, Vermont seems to be in love or in hot pursuit of it. Their bliss only reminds Carrie of what she lost as a teen when two geeky best friends became first loves—until heartache sent them on different paths.
Carrie returns to Black Moose, Vermont to emerge from the shadows of her parents’ stardom and find a normal life, love, and family, but the odds are stacked against her. However, her luck is about to change. As she contemplates the merits of becoming a spinster, a game of chance brings her back to the man she’d walked away from years ago.
Luke McQuire is a man with two things on his mind: building his electrical business and evading the town diva, Olive Ann. But when Carrie shows up again like a lucky penny, he’s got more to think about—including why she left him in the first place.
And again, we cut, we add and we polish until the finish blurb seems perfect.
Blockbuster Movies show it, Platinum Records praise it, great literature lauds it…every living soul searches for it. Good grief, Carrie Twines’ livelihood depends on it. Everyone in Black Moose, Vermont seems to be in love or in hot pursuit of it. Their bliss only reminds Carrie of what she lost as a teen when two geeky best friends became first loves—until heartache sent them on different paths.
Carrie returns to Black Moose to emerge from the shadows of her parents’ stardom and find a normal life, love and family, but the odds are stacked against her. However, her luck is about to change. As she contemplates the merits of spinsterhood, a game of chance brings her back to the man she’d walked away from years ago. He’s even more kind and sexy than he was fourteen years ago, but can she trust him with her heart again? Luke McQuire is a man with two things on his mind: building his electrical business and evading the town diva, Olive Ann. But when Carrie shows up again like a lucky penny, he’s got more to think about—including why she left him in the first place. He’s a damn good electrician, but can he make sparks fly with the one woman he wants—the one woman who was able to resist him?
And from that polished back cover blurb I can pull a shorter blurb to be used in other advertising venues.
Blockbuster movies, platinum records, and great literature laud it. Every living soul searches for it. Carrie Twines’ livelihood depends on it. In Black Moose, Vermont, everyone seems to be in love. Their bliss reminds Carrie of what she lost as a teen when heartache sent first loves on different paths. However, a game of chance brings back the man she’d walked away from years ago. Luke’s even more kind and sexy than he was fourteen years ago, but can she trust him with her heart again?
I want to thank my Ruby-sisters Anne Marie Becker and Rita Henuber and my editor Pat Thomas for their help in brainstorming and tweaking with the final blurb. Sometimes we’re so close to our work we can’t see its best features, so it’s always a good idea to have a fresh set of eyes reviewing it.
That is my process for writing blurbs. Sisters and readers do you approach blurbs differently?
I don’t know about you, but I find plotting to be the most difficult thing about writing fiction.
But now that I write for a living, I’m required to submit a synopsis and/or detailed outline to my publisher well before I ever start a book. And since my publisher pays me to do this, I have a huge incentive to pre-plot my books.
This being the case, I’ve developed a strategy for coming up with initial plot ideas. I won’t say this is pain free, it’s not. But it works for me. And maybe it will work for you. Here’s what I do.
I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about my hero and heroine. I don’t find this painful at all. Usually my hero is handsome and hot. He has a wound. He has a troubled backstory. Same thing with my heroine. Since I’m a writer, which is synonymous with voyeur, thinking about my characters’ inner and outer lives is no sweat whatsoever. Once I’ve gotten to know them I will try to answer two key questions about them:
1) What does my hero/heroine want more than anything?
2) What does my hero/heroine need to learn in order to fall in love?
The answer to question 1 is where the external plot line lives. The answer to this question has to be something other than ‘My heroine want to fall in love.’ Here are some examples of acceptable answers: My heroine wants a family. She wants a business. She wants to land that client or that job. She wants to run away from the bad guys or her parents or her family.
The answer to question 2 is where the love story lives. Here are some examples of acceptable answers: The heroine needs to learn how to trust. She needs to stop trying to control everything. She needs to learn the power of positive thinking. She needs to see herself as beautiful.
If I can figure out a link between questions one and two that’s terrific. But often I can’t. Also, if I can put the hero and heroine in conflict with these questions that’s a plus, too. But often I can’t do that either. And really it’s not necessary at this point. Just knowing what they want and what they need to learn is the most important part.
Once I have these goals and needs nailed, I take out several pieces of paper and I let my characters brainstorm around three important questions:
1) I ask both hero and heroine to list out at least ten things that could happen that would make it harder for him/her to reach the story goal, or make the story goal more important than ever.
2) I ask both hero and heroine to list out at least five things that could happen that would make his/her story goal mean more to the community at large, such as friends, family, community, co-workers, neighbors, the guys at the bar.
3) I ask both hero and heroine to list out one or two things that could happen that would make his/her story goal so important or difficult that it becomes a life and death situation.
After I’ve gotten these lists I ask my both hero and heroine which of these events or situations would give them an opportunity to practice whatever it is that they need to learn in order to find love. This inevitably makes my list even bigger and more detailed.
When I’m done with this exercise I’ll have a long list of potential scenes that might not be enough for a full book, but is almost certainly enough for a few turning points, which I will try to assemble into my recipe for a seven paragraph synopsis.
So now comes the fun part. Today I thought it would be fun to brainstorm a plot using this technique. Here’s what you need to know about my hero and heroine. (By the way, this is not a book I’m writing or planning to write, I made up these characters on the fly for this exercise only.)
Hero: 1) Rick wants to quit his job as a CPA and open an Italian restaurant. He’s the quintessential foodie who yearns to cook for a living, but is afraid to express this to his friends and family. 2) Rick needs to learn not to always play it safe. He’s spent his life doing the “expected” thing.
Heroine: 1) Suzy wants to lose 50 pounds. She has always been a big girl and she’s convinced that her “real life” will start once she drops the weight. 2) Suzy needs to learn that real life is right now and you don’t want to miss a minute of it waiting around.
Okay now it’s your turn. Post comments telling me how Rick and Suzy’s goals are going to be a) difficult to achieve or become even more important to achieve b) become important to their friends, family, and community in either a positive or negative way, c) become an issue of life and death importance. And don’t worry if the obvious things get listed very quickly. The really interesting (and funny or emotional) stuff usually doesn’t come out until you’ve jotted down all the obvious (and clichéd) possibilities.
And to add a little spice one lucky commenter will win a copy of Inn at Last Chance, my newest release in the Last Chance series of contemporary, small southern town romances.
How do you write in the snow? Bundle up and wrap your computer in plastic.
I am almost to the point of doing just that in order to get in my words for the day. You see – I have three kids and I live where we rarely have snow and ice. So a few inches without sand trucks and plows paralyzes my town, and we’ve just had four inches with more coming down.
The first snow day is a blast! Kids jump around like the dog chasing its tail, just for the sheer joy of seeing those fat, white flakes. Dreams of snowmen, sledding and hot coco even make my heart race. I drag out the gear, realize none of it fits anymore, and use my still exuberant mind to rig up alternatives to keep my kids somewhat warm and dry. They head out and I cup my warm mug of chai latte with a smile. Yay! A snow day!
Five minutes later, the 7yo stomps in crying because 13yo brother threw snow in her face and it’s running down her neck. I de-ice her, yell a warning to my son and send her back out into the pristine white. I sit down to write with the soft flakes falling outside my window. Ah… peace.
Fifteen-year-old daughter runs downstairs. “Five girls are coming over in half an hour to watch a movie. Don’t worry they’ll bring their own food.” She smiles like that solves everything. I nod and turn back to the computer to type my second word of the day.
Thirteen-year-old son runs in, tracking clumps of snow through the foyer. “Can Nathan come over?” He has somehow heard about the girls coming and needs to make certain life is fair.
Seven-year-old daughter runs in needing a carrot, coal (who has coal?) and licorice for a smile (my licorice is with my coal). I improvise with a small bell pepper, broken candy cane, and two black Legos I found in the couch last night. She runs back out, and I sit down to write. I re-read the first two words of the day and type two more.
The girls show up in a babble of teen talk and laughter. I pop corn and make hot coco, because somehow a Super Mom cape sprouted from my shoulders. I warm my chai latte, re-read my four words and finish the sentence. The 7yo runs in covered with snow. I help her change, throw wet clothes in the dryer and make her some hot coco (dang Super Mom cape). She calls a friend and suddenly I count ten kids in my house.
I check e-mail, make it half-way through a response, and jump up to referee a squabble between my 7yo and 13yo. I step in a melting puddle of slush and must change socks, sending me upstairs. I realize my laundry has become a ten-foot high mountain of wet clothes and towels. I start laundry and return to my WIP, no my e-mail, oh shoot, I have to write a blog post for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood site!
“Mom! Can you bring me an apple juice so I can make a snow cone outside?” yells the 7yo as she and her friend shrug back into their still wet snow pants. I zip them both up, but tell my daughter to find her own apple juice. After all, I have a blog post to write now! I sit down and type the first sentence.
15yo – “Mom, how do I work the popcorn machine? We need more.” “Can we make brownies?”
13yo – “Mom, can Nathan spend the night?” “Do we have anymore gloves? I lost one.”
7yo – “Mom, I can’t open the apple juice!” “Mom? Just making sure you’re still there.”
“Will this snow day ever end?!” 43yo mom who’s Super Mom cape is now limp and tattered by 12:35 PM.
A roar of glee rises from the family room. “It’s snowing again! And they’ve already called off school tomorrow!”
Sigh…another snow day.
With the winter of 2014 creating lots of snow days, those parents working at home need to figure out creative ways to get their work done. Here are a few tips for writers I’ve learned over this snow week.
Write early or late. By evening, my mind is mush, so if I must write while the kiddos are sleeping, it better be early in the morning. If the schools are closed, still get up at the normal time and get in your word counts before everyone rises.
Lock the Super Mom cape in your closet. If you must provide goodies, when you hear the snow prediction stock up on snacks that can be pulled from a bag. Freezer items, which can be thrown in the oven, work too.
Hide! This works well if you have a lap top. I have learned to write up in my room with the door closed. The walk in closet works too if your kids are good at hide and seek.
Join a writing sprint. The focused 30 minute time intervals help keep your butt in the seat, so when that Super Mom cape escapes and tries to get you in the kitchen baking brownies, you’re strapped to the chair instead. Tell yourself that once you meet your word count goal, you can fly in and be the best mom ever.
Put on a movie. Now this only works if you have kids who will watch a movie and kids who can agree on a movie. But it’s worth a try. Then you employ Tip #3.
If you just can’t settle down for very long to write, do other “writer” things that don’t require the concentration of creating witty dialogue and flowing narrative. I have been taking pictures for future book trailers (my first one can be seen at SIREN’S SONG Book Trailer). So when the snow came falling, I took the camera and went snapping.
You can also update your web site, tweet, and Facebook in quick bursts of productivity. Even editing can be done between interruptions easier than writing fresh words.
Don’t beat yourself up. Snow days are hard on productivity. When our routines are turned inside out, it is just really hard to get things done. Do the best you can and definitely take some time out to have hot coco with your little ones. They grow up fast, too fast. One day, snow days will be calm and productive, and I bet you will miss the days when they were not.
What are your tips for keeping up your word count during snow days?
I realized from the beginning writing dual timelines was going to be a challenge; I’d never before attempted to interweave past and present storylines into a single novel. Yet due to the nature of what would ultimately become my latest release, The Pieces We Keep—in which a boy’s dreams are mysteriously linked to family secrets from WWII—I decided it was definitely worth a try. Among my greatest concerns, however, was that one storyline would outshine the other.
When I myself have read novels with dual timelines, frequently I’ve had to fight the urge to skim the present-day chapters to return to the historical ones. Granted, in large part this is likely due to my personal passion for tales of the past. But I also find that high stakes involving life and death are naturally inherent in most historical settings—from revolutions and world wars to times of slavery and civil rights—and can therefore easily dominate when placed directly beside current-day conflicts of familial or romantic relationships.
To overcome this obstacle, I tried to imagine which scenarios would be as devastating to me, or my character, as the harrows of wartime. My answer, as a mother, came without pause: losing my child in a tragic death, or perhaps in a battle for custody. Obviously there are many other situations that can ratchet up tension and maintain a high level of suspense, no matter the era in which they’re set.
Another challenge I encountered came from my choice to alternate the two timelines with every chapter. I am personally a huge fan of short chapters, finding it nearly impossible as a reader to put down a book when the end of the chapter is “just a few pages away,” but I realized it would be important to find a way to prevent jarring the reader. Also, since links between the two storylines in The Pieces We Keep are fed out gradually, I wanted to suggest a connection early on, without (hopefully) giving too much away.
To address both issues, and in hopes of creating a feeling of fluidity, I opted to start every chapter with a sentence that in some way echoes the last sentence of the preceding chapter. For example, one chapter would end with: “He left no proof of existence—save for the missive in her hand.” While the next chapter would begin: “A half hour later Audra sat alone on a stranger’s couch, the slip of an address still in her grip.”
Finally, another goal of mine was to immediately ground the reader in whichever era they were reading, never wanting them to feel “lost.” Date and location stamps were an obvious choice, but with more than 70 chapters in my novel, I felt these would be cumbersome and redundant (and perhaps even make the book 50 pages longer, ha). Fortunately, my publisher allowed me to use two different fonts, one for each chapter/time period. As a result, this required me to merely state the dates and locations at the start of the first two chapters. I’ve also seen this done in other novels to great effect when clarifying changes in points-of-view.
Needless to say, the tactics I’ve mentioned might not work for every book featuring dual timelines, but perhaps they’ll at least serve as options to consider while you’re brainstorming ideas for your own interwoven story!
Thank you, Kristina, for this intriguing glance at your process.
For those who want more information, Kristina will be stopping by periodically to answer your questions, and in true Ruby fashion, will be drawing the name of one lucky commenter (Shipping costs limit this to US residents only) who will receive a signed, trade-paperback copy of The Pieces We Keep. Of course, you can find all of her books at various retail outlets including Amazon and Barnes & Noble
Kristina McMorris is a critically acclaimed author published by Kensington Books, Penguin, and HarperCollins UK. Her works of fiction have garnered more than twenty national literary awards and appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her novels include Letters from Home, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and most recently The Pieces We Keep. Prior to her writing career, Kristina worked as a host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, and has been named one of Portland’s “40 Under 40” by The Business Journal. She lives with her husband and two young sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on her next novel. For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com
I’ve shared this post with y’all last year, but it can’t hurt to hear it again. If you’re like me, you struggle to sit down with your work in progress during the busy, busy holiday season. So I thought it would be fun to share some coping strategies once more. I’ve added my 2 cents worth for 2013 near the end. Happy Holidays, everyone!
It’s December, and we are currently knee deep into the annual holiday season. As women, we are usually the ones responsible for the planning and plotting that goes into holidays, even if they aren’t being held at our house. The same is true for me—I do the planning, my hubby does the inviting (usually without telling me until the last minute). We end up with a house full of family and friends who eat, talk, laugh, and play games all Christmas day. That’s after a month full of other parties, family celebrations, gift buying, etc. Something I enjoy with a heart full of gratitude.
But all this partying makes it tough to get any writing done. The list of things to do can extend to infinity sometimes (or at least feel like it). All this extra party planning can really cramp my writing style. I’m sure even you non-writers find time short during this busy season. So what’s an author to do? Here are a few tips: 1. Up your word count on the days you CAN write.
I know this sounds like it will take even more time, but when you do get uninterrupted writing time, do your best to up the amount of your goal. My usual goal for weekdays is 750 words, but for December I’m aiming for 1250. This way, I can manage a few days off during the month without guilt or getting really behind. So push yourself to do more, and enjoy your reward later. 2. Take it One Small Step at a Time
It can be overwhelming to sit down and face a 1000 word goal, but how about 250 words? Oftentimes, I don’t write my whole goal in one sitting. I can’t, because I have very few uninterrupted chunks of time in my day. So here’s how I approach it: During my morning break at work, I plot out the scenes I’m going to work on that day. Then on my lunch break (30 minutes) I type on the Alphasmart. I also have 1 hour set aside for writing directly after dinner. I try to keep that sacred (doesn’t always work, but I try).
Then thirty minutes while the kids do homework or clean their rooms or 30 minutes while the hubby watches a television show. Just 30 more minute before bedtime, then I can sleep. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to tackle any large project in smaller steps. 3. Be Prepared
For plotters, this is much easier. But it is also doable for pantsters too. Before putting down your pen for the day, take a few moments to write out the first few sentences of your next scene. Make sure your notes on the coming pages are complete and you have a decent map for where you are heading. This will make jumping into the next session much easier (no staring at a blank page wondering what the heck you were thinking to have them break into the warehouse so soon…) and your writing will flow more quickly from the start.
I find a To Do list essential for big projects and my writing is no different. This way, I can see how much time I have, then jump into whatever task I have time for, without worrying I’ll forget what else needs to be done. 4. Utilize the Buddy System
Find a writing friend who needs to accomplish as much as you do at this time. Vow to keep each other accountable. Daily emails require you to send in those totals, even if the sum is 0 (and embarrassing enough to force your hands to the keyboard). Set up times for write ins (getting together for the sole purpose of writing—bookstores are great for this).
And don’t forget a reward. Plan an outing to get your nails painted or a massage when all the hard work is done. A night out to dinner with some girlfriends. Or form an accountability group where everyone pitches in $10, and the top three performers during the holiday season get to split the pot for After Christmas shopping! This will give you a tangible reward, other than the relief you’ll feel when you see all those words on the page. Addition: New Thing I Learned in 2013
One of my goals in 2013 was to learn to enjoy life in the midst of chaos. I have a full time day job, write at least part time, have 2 kids and a very supportive husband. I felt like I worked from the moment I forced myself to roll out of bed in the morning. About halfway through the year, I realized I wasn’t really LIVING. So I’ve tried different approaches to try to remedy this. Here’s 1 for the holidays: Don’t feel guilty when you aren’t writing. I know it sounds counterproductive, but guilt is only going to bog down your writing, not help it in any way. When you are at a party, or chillin’ with your family, enjoy it. Don’t spend it feeling bad about what you’re not accomplishing. Oddly enough, when you get back to the page, you’ll be MORE refreshed and productive without all that negative emotion hanging around. So there’s my 2 cents worth for this year! My hope is that you’ll be able to be as productive as I hope to be this holiday season. We’re all busy. I know that. But you can still manage something (this is me giving ME a pep talk here). So tell me your best advice for getting writing (and other holiday tasks) done during this busy time. (because I need all the help I can get!)
Ah, writing long…I’ve become most familiar with the idea (and in my head I’m accomplished at it).When I sold my first Superromance, the word count was a doable 65K. That particular length is perfect for writing a tight single storyline romance. Secondary characters can make appearances and there can be plenty of internal and external conflict. I loved my first several Superomance books for this very reason. No need to weave a secondary plotline or allow prose to get too fanciful or wandering. Dream up a heroine, grab hold of a hero, giving them something to keep them apart and sit back and let the fireworks happen. The reader can gobble this sort of story up on a Sunday afternoon making it a satisfying length.
But then, my line upped the word count. 75K was still a good length. Now I had time to add a little more voice and have my secondary characters interact more with my primary characters. I could even introduce a secondary character’s point of view as long as I kept the conflict manageable.
And THEN there was the jump to 85K. Okay, I admit, at first I was baffled at how to write a tight story with good movement adding 10k to the plotline. I mean, 75K just worked ideally. No meandering, no drawn out throw away scenes readers hate, but I had to admit there were times I skipped over a scene I thought added some depth to the story. Now I had room to really punch up the secondary plotline, giving more a stake to these characters whose story developed just as much as the hero and heroine over the course of the book. Suddenly there was a lushness to the language, a beautiful layering of emotion that allowed the reader to connect to characters beyond the primary characters. With a larger canvas, came the challenge to paint a picture that didn’t crowd or make the story too fussy and ornamental. So here are a few tips for writing longer:
Liz’s tips for writing longer:
* add a third point of view from a character who has a stake in the action and/or can manipulate the goals and motivations of the hero or heroine.
* use deep third person point of view to create depth
* try same scene, differing point of view
* consider multiple goals for each point of view characters (this can lead to more motivation and conflict)
So after expanding my word count by 20k, I then faced a new giant…that was, well, a short giant. I got a call from Harlequin regarding writing a short story that would be featured on the Harlequin Community site. It was great exposure for readers who might not have tried one of my books but could now check me out through the free online read. I agreed. Sure, I could do that…uh, until I actually had to sit down and, ahem, do that.
It wasn’t easy.
That first short story – The Nerd Who Loved Me – is a bit like the first novel I ever wrote (except you can actually still read this one – the other is in my virtual “under the bed” file). I chafed a bit at the constraints and found injecting voice, which I felt was a hallmark of my writing, was very difficult with a tiny canvas of 11K. All of my cute scenes had to be tossed (painful!) and the GMC had to be tight, tight, tight. There wasn’t room to fully develop my characters, so I ended up feeling like what could have been a really lovely story got stifled by the shorter word count. Was the story bad? No. Was it something I wish I had a do-over on? Ehh…maybe.
I could have given up on writing short after that less than stellar experience. After all, my bread and butter fell with writing “SUPER,” so why expend any more time on writing short?
Because the “market,” aka reader, likes a shorter story. Hello! That’s why so many authors are doing novellas. Raise your hand if you’ve written a novella. Ah-ha! I knew there were a lot of you. And it’s the same reason why I’ve taken up the torch and examined ways to make a short story “pop” and give the reader a satisfying read that feels bigger than the word count indicates. Currently, in between my bigger books, I’m writing novellas and short stories, so I’m focused on honing my shorter story writing skills. Here are a few tips for making your writing short and sweet (or sexy or suspenseful or whatever else you need it to be).
Liz’s Tips for Writing Shorter:
* consider a reunion story. This eliminates much of the “getting to know you” necessary for intimacy (at least in most books :))
* write shorter scenes (no more than 5 pages in each point of view) and shorter chapters to keep pace quick
* be thrifty with secondary characters
* be economical with your words. No double adjectives, decrease the compound subjects and verbs.
* Keep GMC simplistic
* no secondary story lines
Okay, I profess that I’m not a pro on writing short (or even long for that matter), so I want to open the floor to those writers who have considerable experience at writing shorter. I’m sure I missed some good tips. So let’s spend Monday talking about what makes a good short story/novella. And feel free to offer tips and make suggestions for writers who’ve done this well.