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Posts tagged with: writing tips

Guest Author Kristina McMorris: Writing Dual Timelines

TPWK_CoverI 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 WWIII 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.

Pieces-boardcroppedTo 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!

McMorris-headshot

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 KeepOf 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

 

 

 

Ruby Reprise: Writing Thru the Christmas Crazies

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.

christmas-trees

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!)

Dani

From Superromance to Novella: Learning to write short

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.

 

A Crash Course on Being a Hooker (Part II)

Last month, in my Crash Course on Being a Hooker Part I, I discussed the importance of using hooks in your writing. I promised to finish today with Part II—pointers on crafting that all important first page. Please, allow me to apologize in advance for how long this post is. My only excuse is these tips should help in polishing your Golden Heart entry so that it’s just as dynamic as the great openings we’ve seen this past week the Ruby’s Make it Golden contest

However, before you follow any of the 15 upcoming tips, my first piece of advice is to finish writing the damn book before you worry about how great your first page is. Many authors get so caught up in rewriting and polishing the opening to their book they spend a week crafting hooks and rewriting passages that might eventually need to be deleted or changed once the novel is finished. Anyone who’s ever written a complete book knows how often the story changes and how frequently the first scene needs to be reworked.

TIP 1  Have a specific purpose for choosing a particular style of opening for your book.

A Crash Course on Being a Hooker PART I

One might think standing on a corner to support my writing addiction for thirteen years helped make me a better hooker, but it really didn’t. Only writing every day did that. However, my part-time job as a crossing guard did provide lots of time to brainstorm. :)

It’s that time of year again, when hundreds of writers are finishing and polishing entries for RWA®’s Golden Heart® contest. As a seven-time finalist and two-time winner of the GHt® award, I’m frequently asked what elements I believe sets a winning contest entry apart from the rest. Naturally, my answer is, “Talented writing and an intriguing premise.” However, if you’ve ever judged the GH, you know there are lots of entries with those qualities that never make the cut.

To give a manuscript the best chance of becoming a finalist (or to be successful with readers once it’s published), I believe the most important thing is for an entry to make a good FIRST and LAST impression.

It only makes sense that a positive first impression will leave judges and readers anticipating an enjoyable read, and they will therefore be more forgiving if they find something slightly negative in your entry—whether it’s a typo, minor characterization flaw, or overuse of a purple word. As a result, it will take a much more glaring problem to change their opinion for the worse.

At the same time, if you have a typo in your first sentence the reverse will be true. The judge will probably start looking for additional problems, so creating a bad first impression can put an otherwise great entry at a big disadvantage.

This is why hooks are so important in writing contests and in attracting buyers for your book once it’s published. You need to snag the judge’s or reader’s interest from the beginning and continue reeling her in all the way to the end. Then finish with a great hook that will leave her with a positive overall opinion and screaming for more.

What’s a HOOK? a newbie might ask.

HooksA hook in publishing is anything that will catch a reader’s interest and lure her into—buying a book, reading it, continuing to read it, or buying the next book. Hooks are utilized as marketing tools, which can be anything from a high concept plot, a catchy title, a book cover, back cover blurb, to an author or reviewer’s endorsement.

Authors use hooks in their writing by including passages designed to grab the reader’s attention and keep him/her turning the pages. An effective hook will  attract, intrigue, and entertain by teasing the senses, adding humor or wit, raising questions (make the reader want to know more), or evoking emotion (shock, horror, compassion, the ability to relate, etc.) It should make the reader feel something or react.

A good opening hook should reflect the genre and subgenre and establish the tone of the book, which can be funny, thought-provoking, insightful, action-packed, suspenseful, spooky, dramatic, emotional or poignant, lyrical, reminiscent, or evocative. I’m sure there are other tones that escape me at the moment.

And lastly, an opening hook should foreshadow and set up reader expectations. This is how the author makes promises that had better be fulfilled by the end of the book, or he/she will end up with a lot of unhappy readers.

But wait!

Before writing that first compelling line to draw the reader in, you need to bait your FIRST hook. Real ‘hookers‘ use revealing clothing, make-up, and come-hither glances to tempt and attract men. (My alter-ego, L.L does that too, but we won’t discuss her.)

If you recall, I mentioned that, in the publishing industry, the bait or initial hooks for a book are very similar—a provocative title, an eye-catching cover, and a compelling back-cover blurb that leaves the consumer eager to read the novel. Unfortunately, in unpublished writing contests,  the author only has her title to lure the reader and make that first impression.

Think about it. What’s the first thing you do when you receive a group of entries to judge? If you’re like me, you scan the titles and probably start reading the most appealing one.

From my numerous years as a finalist, I recall several fellow GH sisters who I suspect had a slight edge in the Golden Heart because of their great titles. Here are several examples of those I found especially memorable:

The Naked Duke, by Sally McKenzie

His Majesty, the Prince of Toads, by Delle Jacobs

Claiming the Courtesan, by Anna Campbell

The Education of Mrs. Brimley by Donna MacMeans

First Grave on the Right, by Darynda Jones

A Most Improper Gentleman by Elisa Beatty

The Proper Miss’s Guide to Bad Behavior by Anne Barton

If you study RWA®’s Past GH Winners list,  you’ll see what I mean. You’ll notice most of the titles that won are highly  provocative, witty, humorous, emotional, or intriguing. That’s not to say they weren’t also damn good books, but so are a LOT of GH entries that never get nominated. By the way, most of these books were published with their original titles.

So before entering your manuscript in a contest (or submitting to an editor), find a group of creative people to help. Brainstorm together to come up with the best possible title for your book that is extra witty, cute, sexy, emotional, or whatever you would like to make it unique—with emphasis on the EXTRA. Titles need to be a little over-the-top to get attention. It’s best if they reflect the ‘high concept‘ of the book.

Here’s a funny story. My hubby and I were brainstorming titles with my CP and her spouse for her sci-fi romance that involves interplanetary travel. We came up with some real doozies. In the end, my hubby won the prize when he suggested the most unforgettable title of all. Starship Bootie Call. Unfortunately, the book isn’t a comedy so my CP couldn’t use it, but we still laugh about it. I still think we should collaborate and write a spoof with that title.

Okay, back to our crash course in hooking.

After you’ve come up with a title that will really grab the judge’s or reader’s attention, you need to really HOOK ‘ER—not just with the first line, but with the entire opening page. I always try to position a great hook in the very last line of the first page so the reader develops extra enthusiasm to continue reading. Once you’ve promised an entertaining story, you naturally need to deliver, but creating the anticipation of greatness is half the battle.

Come back next month for PART II of this Crash Course on Being a Hooker, which will offer tips on crafting that all important first page.

Now I have a favor to ask of you that will be a big help to me. A lot of my readers who loved The Parent Pact have been e-mailing me, requesting a story for three of the secondary characters in that book—Sabrina, Luke, and BJ (a/k/a Ben). I hope to release this “love triangle” novel by November, but I need a kick-butt title for it. I don’t want to use a Christmasy title because I’d like the option to market the the book the rest of the year with a matching non-holiday cover, much like I have with No Exchanges, No Returns. In November, that cover will go back to red and green and the baby will be wearing a Santa hat again.

I have a couple of good ideas what to call my next release, but I won’t share them because I don’t want to  send you down the same  track my train of thought is already running on. Here’s the high concept, blurb, and cover to fire your creative process. Please feel free to comment on each other’s suggestions if you think one is particularly good. And keep in mind my author brand is Steamy Heartwarming Romantic Fun!

On her wedding night, Sabrina will share the bridal suite

with one of her brother’s best friends.  Which one?  She has no idea.Who's the Groom Background

Sabrina Fitzpatrick helped plan her dream wedding last year—for her brother and his wife. Now, she wants her own Christmas Eve ceremony. She’s tired of waiting for commitment-phobe, Detective Luke Marino, to realize she’s been crazy about him since puberty. Consequently, when Luke’s billionaire friend asks her to marry him, she’s compelled to accept BJ Elliott’s proposal, especially after he suggests their impending marriage might induce his idiot pal to finally step forward. Unfortunately, a week later, adrenaline-junkie Luke risks his life again and ends up temporarily confined to a wheelchair.

BJ would love to give Sabrina an unforgettable wedding night, but he fears she’ll never be happy with him if she doesn’t resolve her feelings for his buddy, first. Therefore, even knowing he could lose her, BJ persuades her to become Luke’s live-in nurse—offering her one last chance to convince the man she loves to take BJ’s place at the altar (which BJ doubts his friend will ever do). If nothing else, he hopes Love’em and Leave’em Luke can convince Sabrina he’ll make a lousy husband.

Luke has two secrets not even his best friends know. The first is he aches for Sabrina with every fiber of his being. The second is he loves her enough to spare her the heartbreak that being his wife would undoubtedly entail. Much to Luke’s dismay, his resolve to resist his buddy’s fiancée is tested after Sabrina steps in as his nurse and starts prancing around in nothing but his threadbare T-shirt. If he surrenders to her seduction, it may destroy his relationship with BJ. And, worse still, if he gets a taste of loving Sabrina, how can he ever stand by and let her marry his friend?

I can’t wait to read all of  your ideas. On Sunday night, I’ll do a random drawing from all of the suggestions and the winner will win a digital copy of my box set containing The Memory of You and A Little Bit of Deja Vu, which are the Prequel and Book One from my Return to Redemption Series. If I decide to use your inspired suggestion for my new book, I’ll send you a free digital advance copy of Sabrina’s story right before it’s released.

Laurie Kellogg is a two-time winner and seven-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® award, the winner of Pacific Northwest Writers Association® Zola award, and a Romantic Times® American Title I finalist. She began writing to avoid housework and has since resorted to naming the dust-bunnies multiplying as fast as real rabbits while she plots love stories that are Steamy, Heartwarming, Romantic Fun! Laurie also writes red-hot romantic comedies under L.L. Kellogg, which she’s branded as A Little Naughty and a Lot of Fun!

Seriously? They did what?

Guy Fieri, Season Two Winner of The Next FoodNetwork Star, as shown on the The Food Network.

Guy Fieri, Season Two Winner of The Next FoodNetwork Star, as shown on the The Food Network.

I’m all about the character. I write character driven stories, so I’m always looking at people and wondering what makes them tick. Why do they do the things they do? What drives them? I especially wonder this when one of my characters, like the one in my current WIP, is being somewhat uncooperative. I began re-thinking her motivation, when I remembered this post I’d written early last year. Since I was slated to post soon, I decided to pull it out of the archives and reprint it–with a slight change at the end.

Original post:  I’m not a Reality TV Junkie, but I do enjoy watching couples race around the world, cook their way to stardom, and survive in meager conditions. Whether it’s dancing, singing, looking for a mate, mining for coal, digging for gold, hunting for alligators, or driving across ice roads, these players/contestants have one goal in mind—to win the prize. It doesn’t matter if the prize is wealth, a record deal, or a shot at a television show. They all want to walk away the winner. In that respect, they are the same. Where the difference comes in is their motivation or reason for wanting the prize and to what lengths they’ll go to obtain it.

Let’s take a look at these characters, er, I mean contestants. Most, if not all shows, give us a mixture of personalities from the hateful to the naïve. If we are not family, friends, or acquaintances of these people pre-reality stardom, then we usually assume who we see on television is who these people are in their everyday lives. For example, is the arrogant, bitchy Beauty Queen truly heartless? Is the humble, caring Sweetheart Darling from Next Door as perfect as she seems? From their behavior, how can we believe anything less than that?

As the show progresses, we discover the Beauty Queen is really a charitable woman who gives endless hours feeding the hungry, knitting blankets for the homeless, and teaching underprivileged children. Who knew? Right? As she tearfully stares into the camera, she tells the world she must win the prize so she can make a difference in the lives of others. Her motivation to achieve her goal drives her to lying, cheating, and backstabbing. (Yes, I’m being dramatic. It’s called entertainment.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Sweetheart coats every request with honey and does whatever she can to make others comfortable. She charms her fellow players, the camera, and the television audience. We later learn that in her everyday life, she’s a serial killer. She needs the prize money to escape to Brazil. (Don’t look at me like that. It’s TV. Remember?)

I took the above examples to the extreme, but motivation is a powerful tool. It can bring out the best and the worst in people. It will force people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. It’s true in life and it’s true in our books. Our job as writers is to convince our readers that our character’s motivation is substantial enough to drive them out of their comfort zone. People have different motivations for wanting the same thing. What drives my character may not be what drives your character. There is no right or wrong motivation as long as you lay out the groundwork and then have your characters make choices based on their goal(s) and motivation(s). Throw a little urgency into the mix and you’ll have a reader who’s not only involved in your story, but believes he/she would do the same thing under similar circumstances.

MODIFICATION:  In the original post, I asked you to Name the Motivation by providing you with the beginning of a statement made by a character from the series Gold Rush, which is shown on the Discovery Network.  This time, I’d like to try something different. Let’s make it personal. We all have multiple writing goals. Long-term. Short-term. Career goals. Finish-the-damn-book goal. Get a multimillion dollar contract goal. Word count goal. Page count goal. It doesn’t matter. Pick one of your writing goals and finish this statement: I want to <insert goal> because <insert why>, and I’m willing to do <insert ways to make it happen>.

I’ll go first:  I want to write at least twenty-five pages a week because I’m ready to finish this book and submit it. To do this, I am willing to let the dishes sit in the sink, leave non-perishable groceries on the bar, set a schedule for checking and replying to email, and stop cruising the internet (including hours of Facebook).  I set this goal for myself last week to give me a jump start back into my writing. Dishes in the sink and items on the bar may not seem like much to some, but it’s one of my quirks. Clean sink. Clear bar. Result: 25 pages!  :-)

Now, tell me yours.

Focus. Focus. Focus.

Have you ever sat down to write only to discover your spirit is willing, but your mind refuses to cooperJill and Bate? Sometimes, it’s because we’ve had to put down our writing for awhile due to a new job, an illness, or perhaps motherhood. Whatever the reason, it’s often difficult to get back into the swing of things. So, how do we get our writing momentum back?

I recently went through a severe anti-focus bout. After seeking advice from different friends and through a process of trial and error, I finally found my way back. However, I know me and know that I can be easily distracted. To help me for the next time my  mind wants to wander, I compiled the tips into an easy-to-remember  format. Should you ever sit down to write and realize all you’re doing is staring into space, then I hope at least one of these tips will help you.

Fill your free time with your story. FREE TIME?!? Normally, I’d be the first one to fall on the floor laughing at this, but by becoming more aware of how I spend my time, I learned I have a lot more free time than I thought. By free time, I mean the times when you’re doing mindless tasks, such as taking a shower, drying your hair, exercising, cooking, or driving to the store (okay, to be fair, I don’t necessarily consider driving mindless, but I think you know what I  mean). If you’re in the middle of the story, then think about what you’d like to happen next. If you’re plotter and have all the stars aligned, then think about your dialogue. It doesn’t really matter what you’re thinking about, as long as your story is occupying your mind.

Overlook your inner editor. At my last chapter meeting, a chapter mate said she’d learned over the years some writers were in a perpetual state of editing. She looked at me and said, “You’re very close to becoming one, so start writing and stop sweating the small stuff.”  Because my writing time had become so erratic, I would find myself constantly re-reading my story to familiarize myself with my plot and characters. Then, of course, I’d start editing what I was reading. Before I knew it, my writing time was over and I had no new words on the page. I finally decided if I was going to move my story forward, I had to learn not to go back and clean up my writing. For someone who is an organized control freak with OCD tendencies, I can tell you this wasn’t easy. Right now, my inner editor is on vacation. She’ll be back by the time I finish my book. If you’ve been away from your story, I’m not saying you can’t go back and catch up with where you are, just be careful of falling into the trap of re-hashing the same scene time after time.

Clear your mind. Did you know that this is one of the hardest things for people to do? We are always thinking about something–even if we’re just thinking about clearing our minds. Yes, I’ve done this. Our minds are constantly racing with daily tasks that need accomplishing. When it comes to writing, we need to clear our minds of those thousands of other things we think we should be doing and let our creativity flow. Again, I’ll refer to that side of me that used to believe everything in my little universe had to be perfect before I could sit down, without guilt, to write. Laundry done, house cleaned, groceries bought, etc.  A rough wake-up call is all it took for me to realize that life will never be perfect and neither will the world stop if I sit down to write with dust bunnies under my bed.  If you’re having trouble focusing, then try to clear the clutter out of your mind and see if that helps you.

Understand what writing routine works best for you. We can’t measure ourselves by what “Super Writer” does. Each individual must figure out what works best for them and then move at their own pace. Some writers prefer early morning, while others do their best work burning the midnight oil. I have a friend who writes during her fifteen- minute breaks at work. Maybe it’s not an ideal situation, but it’s what works for her in her particular situation. I admire her for her determination to write regardless the obstacles. Finding our peak time is only half the battle, the other half is making it routine. That doesn’t mean life won’t throw you curve balls, but it’s up to us to maintain our momentum by adapting. I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t done this lately, but I’m learning.

Sit down and write. Sometimes things can happen that will alter our perspective on life. It can be something minor, or it can be a major. Regardless, the occurrence will shape our thoughts, our emotions, and our beliefs from that point forward. Because of the change in my life, I suddenly had both the time and freedom to write. Instead of taking advantage of it, I’d make excuses not to write. This inability to sit down and write had nothing to do with a clean house or clean laundry and everything to do with fear. You see, for a while there, I didn’t have that gnawing need to write and it scared the hell out of me. Had I lost my passion? My creativity? Each morning, I’d boot up my laptop, open my WIP, and then decide I needed another cup of coffee. Or, I needed to let the dog out. Or, I needed to organize the apps on my phone. This went on for days. Then, one morning I decided I had to know. Either I was a writer or I wasn’t. If I wasn’t, I didn’t need to waste any more time pretending. The time had come to either stay in the chair and write, or let fear find other things for me to do. I wrote 509 words that day. Not Super Writer by any means, but at least I was writing. The best part was I couldn’t wait until the next day to write some more. The worries I’d had flew out the window as soon my fingers began flying over the keyboard. All it took was just sitting down and writing.  Jill Daydreaming

How do you stay focused? If you’ve been distracted, what do you do to get back on track?

Writing Thru the Christmas Crazies!

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.

Christmas Trees
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.

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!)

Sometimes the Mirror Lies

During my teens, Max Factor and Mary Quant dominated the make-up aisles.  Periwinkle-blue cream eyeshadow (looked like silvery-blue foil), Petal Pink lipstick (one drop of blood in a vat of chalk would have had more color), thick, black eyeliner, and blackest-black mascara applied with a trowel to lashes later separated with either a straight or safety pin were de rigueur.  All the coolest gals added a ‘cat-eye’ flourish to their eyeliner, mimicking the models walking NY’s runways. 

Like all teens, I wanted to be cool, so I followed the program.  The heavy black, with a little assist from the shimmery periwinkle, made my crystal-blue eyes shine like beacons across a midnight sea.  With my lips all but erased, they made a striking focal point.  I knew it to be true.  My mirror told me so.

Now, our high school had mirrors on every corner of every hall—ostensibly for safety, but who cared about that?  Teenage girls just want to be certain they look good.  So, being a teenaged girl, I knew the location of every one.  There should have been no room for suprises, right?

One day, while walking to class and arguing with a friend over a potentially tricky AP bio test, I glanced up.  Some garishly raccoon-eyed chick who looked like death very slightly warmed stared back at me like I was the nightmare come to life, not she.  It took me a moment to realize my friend and I had reached an intersection, and since that death-masked horror wore the same outfit as I—well, you get the picture.  I wanted to vomit.  All the people who’d offered make-up advice (including my mom who I had, naturally, ignored) hadn’t been jealous or spiteful or just plain mean.  They’d been trying to make me see the truth.

That’s when I realized mirrors lie.  Or, perhaps more accurately, we lie to ourselves, seeing what we expect to see—until faced by a mirror for which we are unprepared.

The same can be said of our writing.  We look at it and look at it until we cease to see what’s there.  We can practically recite it by rote, so when we read, we see only what we want to see and ignore flaws evident to anyone but ourselves.

I’ve often heard other writers suggest putting a work aside for several weeks before attempting to edit.  The idea is to see it with new eyes.

Newsflash:  You haven’t changed much in those few weeks or months, and the story you wrote, the product of your imagination, research, blood, sweat, and tears, is still yours.  You will pick it up determined to be objective, but you won’t see the death mask; you will see crystalline-blue and be deluded by your own expectations.  Your eyes can never be new to the story again.  It’s like trying to regain innocence lost.  It isn’t going to happen.

So many people are going the indie route to publishing these days, which is good in many ways.  However, we can all agree there’s a great deal of dreck available, tarnishing the credibility of hard-working, responsible indie authors.  While many can’t afford professional editing—yet—there are alternatives that can better the product of both the indie and traditionally published author.

I do the lion’s share of the editing for my critique partner.  I don’t claim to be an editor, mind you, but I am rather anal about quality, and when trying to make something the best it can be, that usually undesirable characteristic can be a blessing.

One of the tools I use is a voice program that reads the work aloud.  A word missing?  Your ear will catch it even if you eyes don’t.  Awkward phrasing?  Trust your ears.  Unrealistic dialogue?  Ears are a much more reliable detector than eyes.

Even so, never underestimate the value of a second set of eyes.  Don’t have a CP or a particularly anal friend?  Get a couple of Beta Readers.  These can be anyone who reads romance.  Romance readers have expectations, and they’ll let you know if you fall short.  If you confuse them, they’ll tell you.  They don’t need professional training to recognize slow pacing or cardboard characters before you submit to an editor or agent or make the jump to indie publishing.

If you plan to go indie and can afford it, hire a professional editor.  Of course, finding a good one may require some work, but both  the effort and the cost will be small in comparison to the potential rewards.  Ask around.  Talk to other writers.  Join the appropriate loops.  There are good, free-lance editors available.

Don’t let yourself be deceived.  Realizing that ugly girl in the mirror is you is nauseating, but make-up comes off with a bit of soap and water.  Realizing you sent your book into the world too soon, painted on a death-mask that no amount of cleanser can remove, could destroy something precious.  Don’t risk it.

Have you encounted a mirror, whether literal or metaphorical, that has revealed something you’d rather not have seen (fitting room mirrors don’t count; those things are simply diabolical), and how do you go about the editing process?

Season Sense

If you’re thinking this blog is about setting, you’re totally wrong.  Maybe I should’ve changed the title so you wouldn’t have thought so, but after I started brainstorming ideas for a blog it actually fit.

My original idea was to write about two lessons I learned many years ago from my creative writing professor which, yes, would’ve pertained to setting, but then two of my Ruby sisters had also mentioned on our private loop that they planned blogs about the subject. Although I knew we’d approach the subject matter from different angles, I kind of figured our readers would say enough already.  So I’ll save my thoughts on setting for another time.

Anyway, going back to my creative writing classes— since I know you’re all dying to know what they were—the first one was free writing. We all know what that is, right? You just write whatever comes to mind without stopping for a length of time and the writing doesn’t need to follow rhythm or reason. It’s a way of freeing your muse. Thinking about that lesson helped me put a twist on the second lecture, which was setting sense and had to do with experiencing your world, and ‘Wala’  I think I came up with unique tutorial for our awesome followers.

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  • Kate Parker: I’ve heard we regret the things we didn’t do much more than the things we do. I didn’t...
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