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Posts tagged with: writing

WHAT IS 13?

It’s Friday the 13th and today’s topic is fear.

What is fear?

Fear has been defined as a vital response to physical danger. If we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. However, often we fear situations that are not life threatening but pose an emotional danger and thus avoid them in the name of sanity. But by not facing our fears, we are feeding the gluttonous monster.

Think about fear in terms of your desire to write, or your lack of writing. What is stopping you from being who you are? Have you let someone else’s goals become your goals? Are you intimated by the productivity, or success, of others? Did you reach for a star only to it have fade away before you could grasp it?  Did you receive love from an editor or agent and then found that relationship wasn’t meant to last? Has life in general attacked you?

We all let outside factors affect our productivity from time to time. There is no shame it, but at some point, we should recognize that we’re causing ourselves harm by tying ourselves into a knot of stress, and by extension hurting our love ones.

Great works take time and love. You can’t give your muse love if all you feel is angst because….  So you’re not the writer who can pound out three books a year. Personally, when my life is over, I want to be remembered as writing that one memorable book for my readers rather than one-hundred toss away novels. I continue to work on my skill as a writer and I want my next work to be better than my last one.

So you haven’t made USA Today or NYT best seller list. I have my opinions concerning those publishing crowns, which I’ll keep to myself today.  However, if that’s your goal, you’re not done writing yet, right? The next book might hit a list. The same goes with gaining the interest of a publisher or agent.

So life has encroached on your path? We all have priorities. Family and friends top my list. If I walked away from them during times of need to write, I wouldn’t respect myself. I can write any minute of the day and any day of the week. Some of my best ideas came during stressful times.  A truly great story mirrors life. Take notes.

My motto has been since I started writing and continues to be; Word By Word, Line By Line, Page By Page.

So today, on the day others have imposed on us to be fearful of black cats, cracks in the side walk, mom and pop hotels, strangers, bright lights in the sky, let’s examine our fears for what they truly are and then brush them to the side and enjoy our passions.

 

 

Autumn Jordon is sneaker-wearing Ruby who authors light-heart contemporary romances and seat-edging mystery/suspense novels. Her newest release, Perfect Fall is the book of her heart. Check it out at www.autumnjordon.com and while you’re there join her occasional newsletter.   

Let’s Talk – Disabilities in Romance

I’m writing this post today from Duke Cancer Center where I will be talking to third-year medical residents as a survivor of ovarian cancer (Survivors Teaching Students is a nationwide program – https://ocrfa.org/get-involved/survivors-teaching-students/ ).  

As I watch the people move before me, I am awed at some of the conflicts, determination, and love that I see. These people (and I can proudly say that I was one of them) are heroes and heroines, battling against foes plaguing their bodies. They often have husbands, wives, and partners with them.

When we, as authors and readers, talk about increased diversity in romance, we often jump to race and sexual orientation diversity. We’ve made great strides in offering readers wonderful stories in these areas, however, I still do not see many disabled heroes and heroines in romance.

Decades ago I met a young writer at a conference who had just pitched a story idea with a blind heroine. She was told by the agent that she would not be able to sell a blind heroine to a publishing house. Do you think this is still true?

Some say that readers want fantasy when they read romance. That bringing the challenging conflicts that come with a disability to a romantic story could turn readers off. But with television shows like ABC’s Speechless, with a main character with cerebral palsy, I believe the tides have begun to turn.

 

My Highland Hero shaving my head when my hair started falling out. He shaved his too.

As an ovarian cancer survivor, I’ve thought about writing a heroine with cancer. Of course, she will live as I only write happy endings and that is what readers of romance expect. But as I toss and twist the plot in my mind, I realize that the story actually falls more into the category of realistic fiction than romance because the fight for the woman’s life becomes the focus and not the building relationship. Can such conflicts overshadow the romance, thus shunting the book out of the romance genre?

There are all types of disabilities, some much easier to deal with than others. I could easily see a dyslexic heroine or an amputee. I’d like to read a romance between a cancer warrior heroine and a doctor. The whole taboo thing about patient/doctor boundaries would be so interesting to explore. The military book I read while judging last year’s Ritas had a very strong hero dealing with the loss of his leg and phantom pain. The core story still remained about the growing relationship.

But what about someone with bipolar depression or complete paralysis from a spinal injury? Would these types of disabilities be too much for the casual reader? Or would these books open a view into the struggles that come with these conflicts, pulling readers into the richness of the characters? However, again, would the focus in these books end up being on the physical/mental conflicts rather than the romance, making these books realistic fiction with romantic elements?

What do you think? I think we’ve come a long way in areas of diversity over the last decade, but I still don’t think all people are represented in romance. Do you have examples of diverse heroes and heroines with disabilities? Do you think there is a market for such romance? What type of diverse heroes and heroines would you like to see in romantic literature?

 

And before you leave, since it is still September, which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month (and I’ve got my teal on!), please remind yourself of the symptoms of this sneaky, vicious disease.

 

Bloating that is persistent

Eating less and feeling fuller

Abdominal pain

Trouble with your bladder

Other symptoms may include: fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation, and menstrual irregularities.

**************************************

Hi! When I’m not writing Scottish Historical romance and driving my kids around, I’m an educator and advocate for Ovarian Cancer Awareness. When I was diagnosed six years ago, I barely knew even one symptom of this very quiet disease, which is the most deadly of the GYN cancers. If you are a warrior, survivor, or just want to chat, please feel free to contact me at Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com . I’m an “open book” when it comes to talking about my OC experiences. Heather

 

 

 

Kids Are Back in School=Let’s Get Down to Business

It’s that wonderful time of year when the kiddos go back to school. There should be some holiday songs to accompany this like:

Silent Day, Wholly Productive Day

Rudolph the Brown Nosed Teachers Pet

Over the river & through the woods, back to school we go…

 

 

Don’t get me wrong – I love my three darlings and sleeping in a bit over the summer, but my writing takes a hit when I’m hauling them to all sorts of activities or encouraging them to entertain themselves. So when the end of August and early September roll around, I’m ready to get back into my school year routine. I treat this time like New Years, and re-energize myself to jump back into writing.

So let’s talk about productivity goals for the “New Year.”

Do I really need to make goals? Yes. What do you want to accomplish before the end of the year? Without knowing where you’re headed, you end up wandering around until you realize you are hung over, trapped on the roof of a hotel in Las Vegas (wasn’t that a movie?) when you really want to be lying in a cabana on the beach, drinking Sangria. So write down some overall goals and then the little steps to help you navigate toward them. My personal little goal is to write at least 2000 words EVERY week day. It’s doable with my current schedule, not too taxing, and really moves me forward in my projects.

Find the surface of your desk. Take a day or an hour to sort your desk, clear it off and make your work papers easily accessible. I’ve recently installed a drop down pocket system that lets me keep information about each of my WIPs in separate, but easily found, places. This helps me spend less time looking for things and more time writing.

Just say no to drugs (I have kids. It just rolls off the tongue) and say no to bake sales and community newsletters and hosting in-home retail parties and …. Take fifteen minutes to list out all your responsibilities. Whew! There are a lot of them. Then look at each one critically. What can you knock out of your über busy schedule so you have more time to relax, write and/or breathe?

 

Couch diving for extra minutes. Finding time to write is sometimes like digging for coins in the couch cushions. A dime here, a quarter there, but they add up. Little snatches of writing time can be found the same way. Instead of in the couch cushions, they can be found in carpool, doctor’s offices, at hair appointments and sports’ practices. I use a lightweight AlphaSmart Neo electronic notebook, but you can use a regular paper notebook. I’m amazed some days at how many words I actually write in these little periods of time.  

Creative Feeding of the Brood. I cringed at how much time I spent feeding my family. Coupon clipping, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning – it’s massive! On average I spend over an hour a night on dinner prep alone. So I spoke to my hubby and kids, and we’ve implemented a few changes. Instead of cooking seven nights a week now, I’ve implemented “Take-out Tuesdays” with some success (sometimes it’s a different day or just a left over day).

I’ve also dusted off my crock pot and made room in my freezer. I signed up for the New Wellness newsletter, which sends out free (and to purchase) crock pot recipes for the freezer. Here’s some of their free stuff:

21 Healthy Freezer Meal Prep Sessions for Back-to-School

 On Sunday I prep freezer bags with meat, sauces and vegetables. I label them and put them in my freezer. Then once or twice a week, I take one out the night before and throw the whole thing in my crock pot in the morning to save me a lot of time cooking. I usually only have to make a pot of rice and cut up veggies as a side. My kids don’t always love the all-the-food-is-touching dishes that you get with a crock pot, but I can usually pull out some meat for the picky eaters. Here’s the link to the page.

I gave birth, now it’s your turn to work. I have one kid in high school (one just left for college & took her dirty dishes and laundry with her), so he helps clean the kitchen at night. And my 10 yo can empty/fill the dishwasher now and clean the table. So after a little time training, (and yes, they forget, but then I re-train so they know they can’t get out of it because they suffer with spontaneous amnesia) the two of them clean up while I catch an extra forty minutes of writing after dinner (or relaxing time – you know that’s allowed and encouraged, right?).

Sprint your fingers off. Writing sprints are timed periods where you write as fast as you can for 20 or 30 minutes, and then see how many words you’ve created. Many writers find it a highly productive time, without their internal editor nagging at them to back up and re-write. NaNoWriMo has sprints in November. The Rubies host sprints as part of the Winter Writing Festival in January, but you and your writer friends can set up sprints anytime. Meet on a private FB page and agree how long to write. Someone times it, and then you all talk about how you did. It’s a fun way to write fast and interact with others.

Keep your body going. Writers are often sedentary creatures. We spend so much time in our own minds that we forget about the rest of our bodies. But the brain needs the body, hopefully for several more decades, so you HAVE to take care of it. Please make time to exercise. Ideally we should exercise an hour a day and stand up and walk around a bit every hour throughout the day. Now that the kids are back in school, I walk the dog and do some yoga first thing in the morning. I also try to fuel my body with some good food in the morning, so I don’t snack all day.

Okay, my chai latte is warm and cinnamon-topped in my favorite cup. The soundtrack for my latest WIP is playing softly in the background, and I have my collage with WIP pictures set where I can see it. I’ve cracked my proverbial fingers and am poised to make magic with my words. Ah sweet back-to-school, let’s start this “New Year” off with a strategic and productive rush.

Does anyone else have helpful tips for finding your productive groove?

When did you know you wanted to be an author?

All authors have stories about receiving The Call. For some of us, that big, memorable call might have been about the Golden Hearts or the Ritas. Others may have a call story about getting their agent or first sale. Or maybe it’s the first time they hit a best-seller list.

But The Call that we’ve all experienced is the moment we knew that we were called to write stories–that magical moment we scratched a pencil across paper (or put our hands on the keyboard) and knew this is what I was born to do!

What Do Your Characters’ Jobs Reveal About Them?

Jobs are hard for writers. Not that employment is hard, or even writing, although they are, but deciding on jobs for characters is especially hard. A reader’s first impression of the hero and heroine might be provided by their occupations and go a long way toward establishing personality traits.

If your blurb indicates that a hero is a cowboy or an oil-rig worker, that describes a type of physicality that wouldn’t necessarily be associated with a doctor or an accountant. The difference between a botanist and a financier speaks volumes without saying another word.

In my Billionaire Brotherhood series, the three heroes are, well, Billionaires, but is Independently Wealthy really a job? They each needed to have their own professions, but I didn’t want them to be the hard-driving corporate-executive type that’s often associated with the term. In my character profiles, they were designated as the Intellectual, the Dare-devil, and the Athlete, so their occupations needed to reflect that. All of them had broken away from their super-successful family businesses. One was an English professor, one was a financier, and one was a football player. For their counterparts, the heroines needed to be the kind of every-day, girl-next-door women that wouldn’t normally populate the men’s social circles. One was a writer, one was a pediatrician, and one was a museum curator.

In my Good Riders series featuring a Cincinnati motorcycle club, I wanted to show that people from all walks of life enjoy riding motorcycles, not just troublemaker, bad-boy bikers. My heroes include a news reporter, a computer programmer, and a fireman. The heroines are a documentary film-maker, a teacher, and a midwife.

And then came the fourth Good Riders book, FACE THE MUSIC. The hero is an astrophysicist and the heroine is a classical pianist. Oops! I knew nothing about either one of those professions. So, that was a challenge. Why would I do that to myself? It was an accident, of course.

The hero, Elliott, is the brother of Mitch, the hero in MEANT FOR ME. Elliott was introduced in Mitch’s book as this science-guy, physics kid. He pre-existed before I knew he was going to have his own story. Since he had once been a child prodigy, I wanted the heroine to have been a child-prodigy, too, in an area that seemed opposite of Elliott’s strengths. I liked the idea of a contrast between the creative artist and the man of science combined with their commonality of similarly odd childhoods. Writing them was fun, but I’m not sure I’ll go so far outside my comfort zone any time soon.

Since I write contemporary romance, my characters are never going to be intergalactic bounty-hunters or mystical priestesses. Typically, I give my characters jobs that are relatable to me as well as to readers. But what kinds of professions most appeal to readers? Conventional wisdom says to avoid rock stars and sports heroes, but is that still true? What are some interesting or unique jobs I could consider for my future characters?

https://www.amazon.com/Face-Music-Good-Riders-Romance-ebook/dp/B072DTF7C5

 

 

 

Jacie Floyd writes contemporary romance, romantic comedy, and emotionally-rich stories that feature heart, heat, hope, and humor. Before publication, she was honored to be named an RWA six-time Golden Heart Finalist and two-time Golden Heart winner. Since abandoning her day job in 2014, she has self-published eight books and a novella. Her eighth book, FACE THE MUSIC, from the Good Riders series, debuted this week.

She loves hearing from readers and writers and invites you to contact her at www.JacieFloyd.com, https://www.facebook.com/JacieFloyd/, https://www.pinterest.com/JacieFloyd/, or https://twitter.com/jaciefloyd

 

 

 

 

Where’s the Beef? Finding Truth and Pain in Comedy

Go on–write comedy!

Maybe you can’t go full Nora Ephron, but even the most serious of novels can use a break. Even you (yes, you!) can add a few lines for laughs to break up all the kissing and fighting and sighing and scheming in your romance.

If it doesn’t come out naturally, it always seemed to me that it shouldn’t come out at all. But several years ago, a friend told me to expand my comedic skill set, so I decided to give it a shot. I borrowed “The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not” by John Vorhaus, and set about learning how to be more like Jennie Cruisie.

North Star Or Shooting Star. It Begins.

Next week, during the Ruby Winter Writing Fest, we begin the quest to bring our imaginary friends to life.

Reading that line, I’ll bet some of you immediately had this mental picture of yourself sitting at your favorite work spot, downing carafes of coffee or tea (or in my case, Diet Coke) while drilling the key board, writing an entire novel, and within six weeks, finishing it with ‘the end’. Good for you. You have a goal.

Yet, I’m sure some of you froze at the word begin because the choices you have to start your story are limitless. The question where do I begin? haunts you. Which one start should I pick? Is it the right place?  Fear not, I have some advice for you.  

Every writer knows the importance of the first line, the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter. Failure to immediately gain a reader’s interest is the vilest death to your story. Your work is like a shooting star that speeds across the sky and disappears without a big bang. The dreams and hopes pinned to such a star are gone in one quick moment. It’s far better to be that twinkling North Star.  So today, we prepare to start our masterpieces.

     #1 Great beginnings are the hard work. Rarely do they come easily and quickly and without dozens of rewrites. Sometimes they appear freely in later paragraphs or even chapters. We only need to recognize them when they do. Know that fact. Owned it.

     #2 First impressions are the most lasting; Proverbs.

A magnificent first line must be lean, powerful, and provide the reader with a question or promise. Here are some examples of great lean and powerful lines.

It was a pleasure to burn.  ‘451 Fahrenheit’ Ray Bradbury

All children but one grow up. ‘Peter and Wendy’  J.M. Barrie

There was a bloody man walking down the road. ‘Discovering You’ Brenda Novak

 Brilliant. Each of those lines not only asks questions but they also laid the foundation of book’s theme or its characters’ persona.  Knowing your story’s theme is important. Try outlining ahead of starting your story to learn the theme, but if you finding outlining is not your thing, don’t sweat it. The theme will come to you.

     #3 Ground your readers as quickly as possible in time and place. However, settings should be shown in small bits and either add to the conflict or become a character itself. Examples:

On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.  ‘The Light Between Oceans’ M. L. Stedman

It was a cold, bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. 1984 George Orwell

ONE HOT AUGUST Thursday afternoon, Maddie Faraday reached under the front seat of her husband’s Cadillac and pulled out a pair of black lace underpants. They weren’t hers. ‘Tell Me Lies’ Jennifer Cruise

 

     #4 Write the first chapter as if it were the entire story, with its own escalation of action and conflict. And let it end with mystery and unanswered questions. Mystery demands answers. It propels readers to read on. Do not tell all. Exposition kills drama and backstory is boring.

     #5 Write tight. Write fast. Let your voice ring true. Voice is what is truly unique about your story.

      #6 All the boom, boom action or fast paced dialogue will not keep readers flipping pages unless they care about the characters. A great story is an emotional ride. A reader must connect with the characters and care what happens to them immediately. They don’t necessarily need to like them (leads to character growth) but they must understand the character’s actions and feel for them as a human being. Establish your hero/villain goal, give him/her a familiar quality, and then add a ticking bomb. 

     #7 Dialogue is action. It’s fast paced (quickly drawing a reader farther into the story) and it’s an excellent way to show character and conflict. Here are a few great examples.

“Your title gives your claim to the throne of our country, but men don’t follow thrones. They follow courage.”

William Wallace in Braveheart.

“It’s not the broken dreams that break us. It’s the ones we don’t dare to dream.”

Will Schuester in Glee

“The problem is not the problem. It’s your attitude about the problem that is the problem.”

Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption   

Wow! Wow! Just wow!

     #8 Big or little, internal or external, conflict is a reader’s addiction. Add it where ever and whenever you can. You hear me. Big or little. Internal or external. Pile it on!

     #9 In order to understand a character fully, we need to know the world he came from. Show the character in his or her world in an interesting way, but make that world change quickly. He can be making toast, but why not have make toast over the gas stove. His method of making toast is interesting and says something about his character, doesn’t it? 

     #10  The most important bit of advice on making your first pages awesome I saved for last. Have faith in yourself that the story ahead will be adventurous and fulfilling and go for it!

 

Anyone else have advice on producing great starts? 

 

Autumn Jordon, one of the sneaker Rubies, is an award-winning author who writes Romantic Suspense, Thrillers, and Contemporary Romance under the same pen name. Join her newsletter at Autumn Jordon.com

Nostalgic Romance

Nostalgic Romance is my own personal term for any blast-from-the-past romance novel set between 1950 and present day. (Romance Writers of America® now considers 1950 as the cutoff date for differentiating between historical and contemporary novels). Sorry, RWA®, there isn’t much contemporary about a book set in the 60s or 70s when personal computers, the, Internet, and cell phones didn’t yet exist. Still, that period isn’t exactly historical, either. It is, however, filled with nostalgia—a wistful or sentimental remembrance of places, people, conditions, or things belonging to the past.

Our world and gender roles changed dramatically between the end of World War II  and the late 70s/early 80s when the United Kingdom embraced their first female prime minister, Americans elected a movie star as president, disco died, and the Internet was born. Rosie the Riveter’s husband came home from the war and expected her to return to the kitchen so he could have his job back. The Cold War began between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. And only four short years later, the U.S. became embroiled in another military conflict in Korea, which was a war, officially declared or not.

Two years after our soldiers returned from Korea, Rosa Parks valiantly kicked off the Montgomery Bus Boycott with her arrest for refusing to give her seat on the bus to a white man. Soon our soldiers deployed again, this time to Vietnam for another undeclared war that caused great dissension in America. Young men dodged the draft, rock ‘n roll ruled with the British invasion in American music, and beehive hairdos were all the rage.

Blacks and whites alike cried over the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy. NASA fulfilled President Kennedy’s vow to win the race for space when the U.S. landed first on the moon during the summer of ‘69 just before rock ‘n roll stars closed the New York Thruway with their three-day concert at Woodstock. In 1973, during the height of the Watergate scandal, our soldiers and POWs finally came home and the country turned its back on the vets who’d served so selflessly.

It was a time of dissension, an era of protest and conflict, not only in the world, but at home between men and women whose gender roles were rapidly changing. Women decided if black men could be liberated, then why not women. Suddenly, daddy was washing bottles and changing diapers while mpow-mia-braceletommy hopped on the Affirmative Action bandwagon, symbolically burned her bra, and pursued a career, demanding equal pay.

While in high school, I, like a lot of people my age, wore a POW/MIA bracelet. My heart wept for these soldiers and their families who were separated for up to nine years while the men were physically and mentally tortured. Some of our GIs never came home. Others returned to grown children who saw them as strangers, some discovered their wives had moved on to other relationships, and far too many came back as hollow shells of the carefree young men they’d once been.

I’ve never forgotten those families and felt compelled to write some of them happy endings, which resulted in my first novel, The Memory of You, the Prequel to my Return to Redemption series. The stories in that series all feature characters who live in the fictitious small town of Redemption, Pennsylvania.

I’ve just released The Wonder of You, another blast-from-the-past, returning Vietnam POW story, however, it’s NOT set in Redemption. It’s the Prequel to my new, spin-off series called Beyond Redemption. Readers will still get to visit with old friends from my previous books in this new series because it will star characters who have friends or family who live in Redemption. After all, the entire world can’t live in one town, now can it?

the-wonder-of-you-cam-smallerlThe Wonder of You

The Love of You series—Book 2 & The Beyond Redemption series—PREQUEL
Her child’s happiness, or her own? A choice no woman should have to make.
Six years ago, Julie Danvers’ husband was declared missing in action. A single tipsy night of indiscretion left her pregnant, guilt-ridden, and still uncertain whether she’s a widow or a wife. When she learns the love of her life, Rick, is actually alive and coming home, she’s both overjoyed and terrified. Now she’ll be forced to choose between her war-ravaged husband—who may be unable to accept her daughter, a sticky-faced reminder of her infidelity—and her child’s father who wants to make them a real family.
The only thing that kept POW Rick Danvers—also known as Ben—sane during his hellish Hanoi Hilton vacation was the dream of holding his beautiful wife again. During Operation Homecoming, he eagerly returns home to discover his entire world has changed. His country doesn’t respect him, he’s lost his parents, and his so-called best friend has already provided Julie the baby Rick ached to give her before Uncle Sam drafted him.
If that’s not bad enough, while Julie was burning her bra, his aging uncle came out of the closet and appointed her president of their family construction business—a position she has no intention of relinquishing. Rick’s now a visitor in his own home, forced to live with a bossy preschool princess who resents him and has hijacked his faithful dog’s affection. Nevertheless, the passion between Julie and Rick burns hotter than ever. He refuses to give up the woman he still loves—or his business—without putting up a damn good fight. He didn’t survive hell only to lose everything in the end.
The hero in The Wonder of You is a talented singer who loves music and is an avid Elvis fan. Throughout this story many songs from the Vietnam War era are mentioned—some you may remember and others you may not be familiar with. Therefore, I’ve created a YouTube playlist of all the recordings for your listening pleasure.   

Read a sample of The Wonder of You

The Wonder of You YouTube Playlist  memories-3d-smaller

BLACK FRIDAY SPECIAL!  From today through Saturday, you can get my boxed set, Memories, containing both The Memory of You and A Little Bit of Deja Vu, absolutely FREE at Amazon! 

Do you have a Black Friday special coming up or a current book promotion? If so, please let everyone know about it in the comment section!

 

Taming the Mental Chatter

Hello! So…what’s on your mind? Considering that the brain generates 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts per day (or 35-48 thoughts per minute), I’m betting there’s quite a bit crossing through your mind right now. Whew, that’s a lot of mental traffic!

And yet, we are constantly trying to focus. Whether it is creating a strategy to manage evening kid activities, the presentation for the company VP, or the witty dialogue in our book’s pinnacle scene, we need to wade through the chatter clogging our brains to get things done.master-your-mind

As an author, part of my writing process includes daily walks where I think through character motivations and dialogue, but sometimes it is nearly impossible to stay focused. Even small things interrupt my train of thought. Like this morning, I had a pebble in my shoe. I spent half of my walk trying to ignore the pebble and thinking that I need to buy shoes without holes in them until I finally stopped and shook it out. Other days, my monkey brain (what Buddhists call this deluge of thoughts) monkeys swingingswings from to-do lists to what-ifs to vacation plans. If I can’t rope it in and focus my mind on my work, my mental chatter hampers my productivity.

 

So…what are some ways to tame the monkey brain?

1. Morning Papers. Many authors start the day off by journaling or writing in a notebook. Rather like a mind purge, they throw down thoughts and worries, ideas and tangents. Sometimes this works to get rid of extraneous thoughts before diving into work. I’ve just started doing this, and it helps, but I still think about things. I try to remind myself that I don’t have to since I’ve already written those things down (yes, my psyche and I have arguments about this continually).journal

2. To-Do List. I can’t live without my to-do list. Sometimes it is in my morning papers, but I like to carry it around with me, so it’s usually on another paper. I like to make the to-dos small, steps in a project. This way I can mark off the steps and see that I’m moving forward. Then I actually take time to do some of the to-dos. I know! Crazy!

Even if they are not writing related, I take the time to do them, especially those tasks that don’t take up much time. Because if I don’t do these little things, they take up mental space that I can’t afford. I end up thinking about them much longer than the time it would take to just do them.

For example, I volunteer to keep up my neighborhood bulletin board. I change it out and decorate it about once a month (No, I’m not completely community altruistic. I can put up my book release info easily since I have the key : ). I walk by that board with my dog every day, and if I haven’t kept it updated, it snags my brain for the second half of my walk. Ugh! Too much mental space wasted.

If you have a few things on your list that hijack your mind, just do them so you can move on to more important thoughts.

3. Be aware. If you know you want to focus on something, like a scene or character, then specifically try to put it in your mind at the beginning of the session (session could be walking, doing dishes, driving, showering, etc.). Adding other sensory cues can help. I listen to a specific soundtrack when I’m determined to think about my book. I might light a candle and hold my felt writing gnome. I drink a cinnamon, hot chai latte. All of these things signal to my brain that I should be thinking about 16th century Scotland and not the laundry that needs folding. I also have a few locations that help me think about writing, like on my back porch or at my writing desk (her name is Eleri).

Writing Gnome

Writing Gnome

Chai Latte

Chai Latte

Eleri organized

Eleri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Be Nice to Your Muse. Why didn’t I use a stronger verb than move? That bad review was spot on. I suck. Why do I think I’ll ever get published? My editor hates me.

My muse looks like Xena

My muse looks like Xena

Psychology Today reports that up to 70% of mental chatter is negative, and a lot of that negativity is about ourselves. Often times we are meaner to ourselves than to our worst enemy. And nothing scares away your muse faster than slamming her with insults (You must always respect the muse!). If you find yourself continuously berating yourself, there are techniques to rev up your internal positivity (which I’ve written about in another blog post).

5. Set a Timer. If you must think about something, whether it’s planning a vacation or strategizing about how to talk to your hubby about the ballroom dancing lessons you just signed the two of you up for, set a specific time and duration to plan. Take notes so you know you’ve captured all your thoughts on the subject. When the time is up, put it aside and refocus on your book.

6. Take a Season. If your world has just shattered, your mind will be consumed with shock and picking up the pieces. When I was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo 15-months of chemo, no amount of lists and daily pages could get me to stop thinking about not dying and my kids and my poor hubby who’d lost his own mom when he was 9 to cancer, etc. The mental chatter filled my head to overflowing. Like plopping bricks in a glass of water. There was no room left for creative thought. So I had to take a step back from my fiction writing. Instead I wrote about my journey and how I was going to survive. A wonderful writer friend told me that I just needed to “take a season” where I cared for myself and didn’t worry about my fictional worlds. For some authors, they prefer to lose themselves in their fictional worlds when theirs has broken down, but not me. I just couldn’t and “taking a season” gave me permission not to stress about it.

Do you have any techniques for taming the mental chatter and focusing on your writing?

creative-person

 

Brainstorming Unusual Character

 

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Oops. The Ruby calendar had a few holes, so I thought we’d talk weather today. Not what it’s like in your area (however, you certainly can share), but how weather is used in our novels to trigger change in our characters’ lives. We know the well-worn cliché of the hero and heroine trapped in a cabin during a snow storm, but we don’t want to do cliché. We want to write fresh ideas

Did you see THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE? How about THE GRAPES OF WRATH? Those are two off the top of my head movies/books where weather was the catalyst for change in many lives.

I’m about to begin a new story for my PERFECT LOVE line and I’ve been brainstorming, thinking about my characters and how I can use weather to change their lives, and/or to up the conflict and anxiety. I’m thinking a flash flood wipes away the wedding set-up, thus putting everything on hold. Enter in a contractor who steals the maid of honor’s heart from the groom’s brother.

Here are a few others examples:

A high heat index causes a blackout situation, sending the tenants of an apartment building to the cool basement.

Lightening brings down a tree limb causing a car accident.

A hail storm causes a delay in a flight.

A sunny day on the beach causes a severe sunburn and sends the victim to the ER—step onto the page Doctor do-me- good.

Hot day melts all the icing on the cupcakes, or the wedding cake, the heroine has made.

While camping, a calm night has the heroine hearing every twig snapping, causing her to build big a really big fire which gets out of control.

A sand storm causes a woman to lose her way on the back roads of Arizona.

Okay, this is an interactive blog, so come on, think out of the box, and share your ideas for ways weather can affect your story, or share an example of something you’ve read.Golden Sun

 

 

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