Posts tagged with: writing
Posted by Laurie Kellogg Nov 21 2013, 12:15 am in Holiday Romance, Laurie Kellogg, new release, Return to Redemption series, writing
While revising my new release, A Heart Decision, my editors and proofreaders questioned the accuracy of several words and statements in my manuscript. For example: My hero’s heritage is Italian (his mother was born in Italy). In Italian, the affectionate address for mother is Mamma with two Ms, however, the average American reader believes it should be spelled Mama with one M. So now I’m torn. Which should I use for this hero?
As writers, we all run into the dilemma of deciding whether we should choose accuracy over meeting our readers expectations in our stories. We want our books to be authentic, but none of us wants to receive negative reviews or e-mails from more savvy readers, calling us on the carpet for inaccuracies. Every profession has its unique vocabulary and standards, however, the public isn’t always well-versed on all job-related specifics. The same holds true for historical terms and social customs.
So my question is—should we dumb down our writing for general consumption, or should we cover subjects and use facts, vocabulary, or spellings many readers aren’t familiar with.
In my case, I usually feel compelled to cater to my audience, all the while crossing my fingers that no authority on the subject will fling my book across the room. The human body fascinates me, so I frequently include medical elements in my stories. More often than not, though, I’m constrained by the public’s expectations of the romance genre and must explain a lot less about a topic than I’d like to. I’ve learned a lot while reading fiction, and I’d like my novels to be informative to readers, however, in order to keep my romances marketable, I can only include the basics of any subject.
The balancing act of indulging my own interests and educating readers, while still keeping most of my audience invested in the story, is like walking a tightrope. If the average reader doesn’t learn at least one new thing while reading my novel, I feel as if I’m failing as an author. So I’m always left wondering if my book quenches my readers’ thirst for interesting tidbits of information or leaves their minds dehydrated.
Today, I’m pleased to announce my 2013 Holiday release, A Heart Decision, which is Book 5 in my Return to Redemption series. Some of you may recall that I posted the cover and blurb a while back, asking for help choosing a title. I decided Janet Gardner’s suggestion, not only fit the story well, but was a humorous play on words. So Janet, THANK YOU. I’ll be sending you a copy of my newest book.
On her wedding night,
Sabrina will share the bridal suite
with one of her brother’s best friends.
Which one? She has no idea!
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?
To celebrate the release of Book 5 of the Return to Redemption series, I’ve placed Book 4, No Exchanges, No Returns on sale, at only 99 cents, for a few days at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and I-Tunes. I’m also holding a drawing tonight from those who leave a comment for a digital copy of The Parent Pact, which stars Sabrina’s brother Tyler as the hero and introduces, Sabrina, BJ, and Luke.
Now I’d love to hear how you handle the predicament of choosing between presenting irrefutable facts and commonly-held beliefs. Do you sometimes dumb down a subject, or do you dare to irritate your audience by including elements that are, in reality, one hundred percent correct but seem totally wrong to the general population?
Posted by Heather McCollum Oct 28 2013, 1:00 am in conflict, fear, motivation, Surrender, writing
What scares you?
At this time of year there are obvious answers: evil witches, zombies, giant spiders. As a child these “scary” things might seem heart stopping, but as we age and experience loss and betrayal, other less obvious things become the source of nightmares. Mother-in-laws who can’t let go of their sons. Corporate take overs which spur massive lay-offs in the name of efficiency. A satin pair of panties in your husband’s briefcase. Beige walls with framed medical degrees as an oncologist shakes his head. Our adult worlds have opened up to fears far beyond the Halloween props.
Why do I bring up all this unpleasantness? Who wants to deal with all the nasty, stomach churning pain of real-life fears? As humans we will unfortunately have to deal with frightful things. As authors, we can use those nightmares to make our work rich with painfully realistic motivation and conflict.
Every heroine and hero needs baggage, secrets or pain they would rather forget. Otherwise what would they have to overcome? Why would the reader care about them? We need characters who are as flawed and hobbled by their pasts as we are.
Good books have external obstacles. Great books have external obstacles with characters mired down by their own internal
Free this week on Amazon!
obstacles. In my latest release, SURRENDER, my heroine must rescue her adopted father from kidnappers in Victorian era Egypt. There are many external obstacles including demons, asps, collapsing crypts, and a rakish American treasure hunter who has secrets. But it is the internal obstacles that truly push and pull at the hero and heroine, throwing them together one moment but then tearing them apart the next. Issues like abandonment, distrust, guilt and rejection pepper their pasts like savory herbs adding to the richness of a gourmet meal.
As authors we have, perhaps, more imagination than the “normal” population. We can create drama in our minds from our comfortable seats in our comfortable houses. We can build traumatic childhood pasts when our worlds were rather bland at ten years old. We can visit the crypts of ancient Egypt with a flooded Nile pounding down the walls around us. But…if we have lived with fear, lived with real betrayal, and we allow those tamped down feelings of guilt or resentment, that we’ve buried, arise – we can use them.
For those who do not know me, I am an ovarian cancer survivor. In 2011, just after my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed and started a 15-month chemo regimen that was painful, debilitating and terrifying. I walked through the fire and have come out the other side with insight, appreciation, and oodles of details on surviving and dealing with fear.
As a writer, I was unable to write fiction during my treatment. It was too exhausting to create new worlds and people. But I wrote non-fiction constantly, bleeding my pain and fear out onto the pages of blog posts which I will one day use in some cancer survival self-help books. Writing about my experiences was a way I could heal emotionally, remaining positive and able to fight the good fight for my life.
Now that I’ve returned to my fiction, I can use all those details in my writing. No, not all of my future heroines will have cancer (although I’m considering one), but I can tap into all those feelings I had during those two years. My anxiety of death, the feelings of being out of control, how it feels to be poisoned or looked at with pity. I know how desperate someone can become not to leave their children as I prayed constantly not to be taken from mine. I can now understand why some people, knowing how bad treatment can feel, will decide not to fight.
All of that detail can now be used in my books, breathing real life into my characters, giving them truly rich motivation. You can do the same. Put your past fears and pain to good use. It can be very cathartic for you. Bleed it out and into your characters. Let them suffer instead of you.
Okay – I know it’s not that easy to deal with real, life-altering pain or no writer would ever need to talk with a therapist (I love mine and whole heartedly recommend getting one of your own : ). But if you have baggage (and we all do), we can help ourselves by using that pain instead of hiding it away to pop out at inopportune moments in the form of panic attacks and/or banshee eruptions.
What scares you? Think about it. Pull it out of your psyche and examine it. Then use it. Fill your characters with real life motivation and conflict. It will enhance your writing and it just might make you feel better.
I won’t ask you to bare all on the blog (unless you want to), but what gives you the shivers, especially at this time of year? I’d have to say, having been bitten by the nasty creatures in the past, spiders would have to be my number one chill inducer.
Posted by Heather McCollum Sep 12 2013, 1:05 am in cancer, cross-promoting, Ovarian Cancer, Passion, promotion, writer's life, writing
What are your passions? Writing has been one of mine since my 2nd grade teacher published my Christmas story in the local paper. Eventually I became a mom and my priorities shifted to include my growing family. I became supermom, ready to turn frowns upside down with my arsenal of homemade puppy-dog-face cookies and castle cakes. Other interests crowded in, but for the most part, family and writing remained my top passions in life.
Castle Birthday Cake
Two and a half years ago I was given a third. I woke up in a hospital room to the words “it’s cancer” and life thrust me onto the most brutal topsy-turvy rollercoaster ever imagined. Teal ribbons, weekly chemo infusions, pills, doctor’s appointments, mouth ulcers, CT scans, shedding of ALL hair, a mailbox filled with get well cards, casseroles, flowers left on my doorstep, pain, panic, “who will you play with in heaven, Mommy, if I’m not with you” became my life.
When I first saw the chemo ward at the hospital, and all the bald, tired people hooked up to beeping machines with bags of drugs snaking into their bodies through various tubes, I cried on my husband’s arm. “They look dead, and I’m going to be one of them.”
What I didn’t realize at the time, but discovered quickly, was that those people are warriors, battling with everything they’ve got. I was proud to get to know them and to become an Ovarian Cancer Warrior, fighting for my right to live and be a mom, daughter, friend, and wife, fighting a beast that stalks women silently.
OC is the deadliest of the GYN cancers as it is the hardest to detect. I was diagnosed because I happened to mention some pelvic pain and mild bloating to my general practitioner when I went in for a possible broken hand. So I was diagnosed at stage IIc with a 70% chance of living 5 years. If I’d waited a couple more weeks, it could have easily moved to stage III with only a 20% chance to survive 5 years. So early detection of these whispered symptoms is crucial to survival.
Suddenly I had a new passion. My husband and I started the SHOUT Against the Whisper campaign with a mission to educate women about the whispered symptoms of this terrible beast. So…I have three passions in my life: writing, my family (although I’ve retired my supermom cape), and OC Awareness/Cancer support.
Me & my Highland Hero
One thing we can do, as passionate people, is to blend our passions together in a way to enhance each one. But doing so must be done thoughtfully.
My third book was about to release when I started chemo. Part of me wanted to scream “I have cancer; buy my book!” But the sane part of me knew that wasn’t appropriate (unless perhaps I was writing cancer books, which I plan to do BTW).
I swore to God, the universe, and to my friendly kale juicer that I would use all my talents to educate and help save women if they would keep me alive to do so. I am a public speaker and I write, and I plan to use my skills in any way I can to spread the warning, not just because I swore back in those grim days, but because I’m genuinely passionate about not letting cancer win.
So in the back of my books, I list the whispered symptoms. When I do book signings or workshops or interviews, I give out symptom cards and ask for articles to list them. This type of cross-promoting is very appropriate.
However, this doesn’t always work in the reverse. When on the chemo ward, if someone was reading a romance, I would tell them about my books, quietly and in conversation. I donated some to the ward. At my OC Awareness events I might give away books for collected donations to OC Research or Education, but it is a minor part of the big push of alerting women on how to save their lives. Every time I try to cross these two passions in my life, I must be thoughtful, because promoting my writing in the face of suffering can come across as crass and just plain wrong. Which can completely turn people off to your work, something that should be avoided, obviously, at all costs.
Some passions hit around the same level on the emotional/life importance barometer and can be intertwined easily. If you are passionate about wine and wine features in one of your books, touting your book to wine lovers, on Twitter or FB or in person, can be appropriate after you’ve set up a friendly relationship with them. You still must remain thoughtful so as not to come across as only being an advertisement, but the promo is less tricky than trying to sell romance books to someone who is fighting to stay alive.
Healthy Mom Again!
I am now finished with 15 months of chemo and am getting my life back in order, though I will never be the same. I’ve learned too much, felt too much, to be the same. Actually I think I’m better for the experience. In some ways cancer has connected me to readers. One woman wrote to me after reading the acknowledgments at the end of CAPTURED HEART where I detail out the symptoms. She was an OC survivor herself and thanked me for putting the symptoms out there in the world. I think she will be a reader of mine for life now. Sometimes there is cross-promo between very different passions, even passions that fall on very different levels. But it is something that cannot be forced.
So when you take stock of your life and your own passions and interests, do think of ways to use them to help promote your writing, but please remember to do so thoughtfully. What ways have you been able to cross-promote your passions?
Since it is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and because I think it is appropriate, below is a list of symptoms. They are mere whispers in a busy woman’s life, but you must slow down long enough to notice when something doesn’t seem right. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com or on my Ovarian Cancer Awareness FB page: https://www.facebook.com/SHOUTagainsttheWhisper or through my web site www.HeatherMcCollum.com .
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:
Bloating, Pelvic Pain, Feeling Full quickly while Eating Less, Urinary issues.
Other symptoms may include fatigue, constipation, pain during intercourse, menstrual issues, indigestion, and back pain. If you have a symptom for 3 weeks or more, see your GYN for a pelvic exam.
If something feels abnormal, a trans-vaginal ultrasound and a CA125 blood test should be ordered. If you have a mass to be removed, your #1 way to survive if it is cancer, is to have a GYN Oncology Surgeon remove it.
Posted by June Love Sep 5 2013, 12:01 am in social media, taking control, time management, writing
Social media was winning at my house. To be fair, it wasn’t just social media. It was anything that required an internet connection. Email. Google searches. Yahoo News Stories. Amazon.
It took my husband pointing out my poor time management skills for me to realize, and I mean ton-of-bricks-on-the-head realization, how many of my writing hours each day was spent NOT writing.
Two years ago, I told him I wanted to quit my day job and focus on my writing. Being the wonderful man he is, he supported my decision. Fast forward two years: Unpublished and still working on same book. So, I’m packing for the RWA National Conference in July, and I ask him if he still believed in me and in my writing. This was important to me, since I no longer brought in money and he was paying for my Atlanta trip. He said, “Of course, I do. But, it’s been two years, and I really think it would help if you’d finish the book.”
His one sentence both warmed my heart and floored me at the same time. For the first time, I realized how unfair I’d been to him. He’d supported my decision to quit work, thereby reducing our income. He paid all the bills, put food on the table, and still allowed me my monthly spa appointments. He’d upheld his end of the bargain, whereas, I’d failed miserably on my end. I’d not been focusing on my writing.
So, what had happened? Where had I strayed? When I was working full-time, I’d finished two books. Why couldn’t I finish one book when all I had to do was write all day?
One reason is after working for thirty-eight years (yes, I started before leaving my mother’s womb ), there’s an adjustment period you go through of not being “on the clock”. But, still…two years?
Another reason is I wasn’t ‘writing all day’. <Gasp> I know hard to believe. I was spending too much time online. With the popularity of social media, blogs, and articles on the ever-changing publishing industry, I lost valuable writing time staying informed. Yeah, that was my excuse. That, and I like to support my friends.
See, now I’m bringing my friends into it. I’m not published, as we’ve already established, but many of my friends are. I might get several emails a day requesting comments on a blog tour. Or, to like a their book on Amazon. Or, to re-tweet and post on Facebook a book release, a sale, or something along those lines.
I love supporting my friends, so I try and do my part, but then my ADD kicks in. The next thing I know, I’m searching Amazon for books on growing herbs. I go to Facebook and see that a high school friend has posted pictures of her daughter’s wedding. I’ve never met her daughter, but I scroll through the pictures. Then, I see a family member of hers that I haven’t thought about in years. I wonder, “Hm. What has she been up to?” So, what do I do? You know the answer. I find her page. After several hours, I realize what I’ve done. I close FB in horror that over half of my day is gone. Same thing with Twitter. Not only have I spent most of my writing time not writing, but I have failed in my original goal of posting or re-tweeting for a friend.
Okay. I don’t really blame my friends. I love my friends. I love doing these things for them. They are doing what they should do. Promoting themselves and their books. It’s not their fault I have ADD and am easily distracted.
Let’s face it. It is becoming necessary to self-promote. This is especially true for self-publishing authors and small press authors, but I’m seeing it more in traditionally pubbed authors, too. They run contests, give away prizes, and announce to all of their followers they’ve released a new book. They can post excerpts, blog about their book, and tweet sales on Amazon. The marketing tools are at their fingertips, so why not use them? We may start out writing because we love it, but let’s not fool ourselves. If we are writing professionally, then it is a business.
Ah. Now, I’ve hit upon something. Writing is a business. Therefore, it should be treated as such. When I worked at my day job, I rarely had time to check my personal email, much less read blogs. I stayed off Facebook, and I didn’t attempt to have a Twitter account. Why should it be any different if writing is my day job?
I left for Atlanta thinking about what my husband had said. Some things had to change in my writing schedule. I knew this. Then, I heard Susan Elizabeth Phillips speak at the Golden Network Retreat. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of what she said was writing is writing.
She explained by telling us that writing is not checking Facebook. Writing is not Tweeting. Writing is not blogging or checking email. Writing is not attending chapter meetings, or having dinner with writer friends. Writing is sitting at the computer and putting words on the page of a story. She uses a timer to keep on task. She sets it for the number of hours she wants to write that day, but stops it when she does anything other than write. If she’s spent too much time doing other things, then she must work into the night to meet her required hours.
SEP’s talk convinced me I needed writing structure, but I also knew I didn’t do well with timers. I consulted with my writing mentor. I told her about SEP’s method, but I kept going back to the day job thing. She recognized I had a five-day workweek hang up and suggested I use it. Every Sunday, I am to look at my calendar for the week, then I am to decide which five days will be my “work” days and which two days will be my “weekend”. She challenged me to write 5 pages a day for those five days. It was a small challenge, but was what she knew was an attainable goal. Then, she asked me, “What happens if you don’t make your five pages one day?” Well. Um. “What would you have done in your day job?”
That question I could answer. It was a no brainer. I would stay late, go in early the next day, or pick up my pace to catch up. Sometimes, if necessary, I’d go in on a weekend. In other words, I’d do what I had to do.
That’s when it clicked. Writing is my day job, and I’d just been given a project. Write five pages a day. If I couldn’t write five pages in one day, then I’d make it up another day. At the end of the week, I needed to have twenty-five pages. If that meant working overtime, then so be it. If that meant staying offline, then that is what I’d have to do. Because as SEP said, “Writing is writing.”
There are a lot of writers who juggle full-time day jobs, families, and all the obligations that entails. They still manage to write, keep up with social media, and get words on the pages. I don’t know how they do it, but I respect and admire them to no end. I was never one of those writers. I couldn’t do it then, and I can’t do it now.
I don’t have anything against social media, and I honestly don’t mind supporting my friends by liking pages, books, posting and re-tweeting. I hope they’ll continue to ask, and I hope they’ll do the same for me when my time comes.
I learned, however, that to focus on my writing, I had to make a choice. I could either control my involvement in social media/blogging/emails, etc. or it could control me. I chose to control it. As a result, I am writing more.
I’m always interested in how other writers manage their time. Who is winning the battle at your house? What works for you? What is your biggest distraction?
Posted by Liz Talley Aug 7 2013, 1:55 am in doubt, encouragement, encouragment, liz talley, writer's life, writing
When I was younger, I hated getting the hiccups. Who am I kidding? I still hate them. They are annoying…and sometimes hurt.
I can remember trying all the supposed fixes for getting rid of the hiccups – standing on my head (yes, I tried this), spoonful of sugar, gulping a whole glass of water. I even asked people to try and scare me…which backfired of course because I TOLD someone to scare me, and therefore, wasn’t all that scared when they jumped out at me.
Yeah…getting rid of the hiccups seemed impossible.
But it’s not.
One day, I think when I was in high school, one of my science teachers said something that niggled in the back of my head. She said “Your brain controls your body.” Yeah, we all know that. But when she said it, I had the hiccups, and I thought to myself “I should see if this works.” SO I told my diaphragm to stop contracting. But it didn’t work. Never one to give up, I tried again except this time I sat really still, closed my eyes and focused on my throat (which made more sense to me since that’s where I felt the hiccups). I sat very still, very quietly for a full minute, breathing deeply, focusing while swallowing…and viola! My hiccups went away.
I know. Incredible, huh? And I still do it to this day. I’ll even pull over into an empty parking lot when in my car and “concentrate” my hiccups away. Works every time.
So I realized you’re confused because this is supposed to be about writing. Well, yes, you have guessed it by now – this is an analogy.
This past year has been tough for me in regards to my writing career. Now, I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say that I have been struggling with not only my identity as a writer, but whether I wanted to continue on this particular road. Feels crazy to admit that, but it’s true. I have written a lot of books in the past 3-4 years and when I started this career path, I had a vastly different vision for where I would be thirteen books into my career. Because of the market and other factors I can’t control, I find myself not where I thought I would be…and this sort of depressed me. I began to fret, watch my numbers (and other authors numbers), and haunt review sites to see if anyone read my books. I began to doubt everything about what I had chosen along my path. I began to doubt myself.
Oh, I had read all about those authors who’d talked about backsliding in their careers. They’d talked about firing agents, losing editors, lines closing, being let go. They’d talked about not wanting to write and being unappreciated. I poo-poo’d their tales, thinking myself invincible. Thinking I could never want to quit writing.
But, truthfully, I batted around the idea…all the way up to Nationals.
I know. Not that long ago, right?
You know, I never thought it would be me who would entertain the thought of throwing in the towel. Of course, I’m often melodramatic, and nothing even remotely as bad as some of the things I mentioned has happened to me. In fact, much of my dissatisfaction stems from being enormously impatient. But that still didn’t change my mindset. Deep down inside, I felt like a failure, ashamed I hadn’t done better for myself and for my line.
Several weeks ago while listening to a particular song on the radio, with lyrics about not giving up and knowing “it’s worth it”, my son got the hiccups. I told him how I always got rid of them and went back to singing the song while he attempted to use his mind to shut down the contractions of his diaphragm. And as I sang the lyrics, I realized he wasn’t the only person in the car with the hiccups. Desperate to stop the discomfort in my career, I had resorted to some silly things. I had allowed the hiccups to control me, to make me forget how wonderful the journey has been, how much faith my editor has in me, how much my agent loves my writing…and how much my readers like my characters and storylines. I had lost focus.
So I sat down and refocused myself on the problem, and if I’m being honest, I can admit my dismay over my career results from factors I can’t control. Like the hiccups, it just happened. But I realize I do have some control, and that control is over my product. I can’t make readers buy my books, I can’t make reviewers like my book, and I can’t control the market…but I can control my attitude and the quality of my work. If I sit really still (in front of my computer) and focus on what is before me, swallowing uncertainty, I can make the hiccups go away.
Sometimes it takes some outside help to get to the point you can do refocus yourself. Sometimes you need your mentor, agent, editor, critique partner…or some stranger at the grocery store to tell you how good you are. Sometimes you need a colleague to have faith in you, to give you a boost, help you in some way. Sometimes you need a reader to send you a note or a contest final to slap you upside the head. But really, what it comes down to is that YOU have the power to fix yourself. And that’ some powerful medicine.
You’ll be happy to know I’m over my hiccups, and I’ve hit the ground running with some plans to refocus myself…maybe even reinvent myself a little. Sometimes a gal needs a little shaking up. And sometimes she needs the hiccups so she can grow and find her way, becoming stronger because of the challenge set before her.
Here’s to conquering the hiccups! Now, you share the best way you’ve found to deal with the hiccups in your career (Or the literal hiccups if you’ve found a better way than mine )
Posted by Heather McCollum Aug 1 2013, 1:00 am in creativity, England, inspiration, muse, writing
Hopefully you are all logging on to read this fabulous ruby slippered sisterhood blog because of the constantly helpful tips and inspiration and not because your muse is still snuggled in bed. I must admit that earlier this summer, when I began the third book in my Scottish historical romance series, my muse was rebelling like a werewolf being trussed up in 16th century stays – very ugly. Part of the problem definitely had to do with me just having written the first three chapters of a contemporary YA paranormal for my agent to submit. My internal dialogue included words like “massive” and “epic fail”. Not very Henry Tudor.
When I had to shift immediately into the 16th century, my muse was…not amused -LOL! Luckily I had already purchased plane tickets and had planned a trip to England and Scotland where history permeates the very air you breathe. In between packing and mapping my upcoming route through the countryside, I rewrote the first seventy pages of my 16th century WIP three times and still wasn’t happy with it. Ugh! Surely I could convince my muse to wake up and help me in Britain.
My family and I landed in London after an all-night, no-sleep flight and pushed ourselves to stay awake. So despite standing beside the infamous white tower in the Tower of London and listening to French school children learn about Anne Boleyn being beheaded (Je crois que) right where I stood, my muse wasn’t all that impressed. That might have had something to do with my three exhausted, whining kids (ages 6, 12 and 14) who were also dragging behind me.
The White Tower in London
On to Hampton Court Palace the next day, my oldest daughter and I were able to run off by ourselves to explore Henry VIII’s kitchen and the incredible gardens. Since I had just finished writing my second Highland Hearts novel, which takes place at Hampton Court, this was thrilling. Luckily I hadn’t gotten anything wrong in the details, but just being there, walking the halls, touching the walls, got my heart pounding and my muse raised an inquisitive brow and put down her iPhone.
That night my family and I made it to our rental cottage on a farm in the lovely Coltswold village of South Cerney. It was like stepping into a fairytale with sheep and horses all around the stone cottage covered with climbing roses where it sat on a duck-filled lake. Walking paths led us through woods and meadows, along canals and under ancient-looking arched stone trestles. Neighbors meandered the footpaths with their dogs and trees bent over creating a shaded vault cathedral of leaves.
Heather & Kids under Coltswold bridge
One morning I escaped the family to stroll the footpaths alone. A light breeze blew, sheep bleated in the pastures and the sun shone in a blue sky above the flittering leaves. The beauty and serenity in the peaceful landscape filled me up until I was smiling outright, a silly grin of pure happiness. I roamed the countryside, watching new varieties of birds and studying the wild flowers and branched bushes trained to twine into fences along the road. And as soon as I got back to the cottage, I made some tea and sat down to write.
I wrote about the details of my new setting, this bit of heaven so d
ifferent from my American suburbia with its snaking sidewalks and rushing minivans. I felt full to bursting to write. My muse was whispering in my ear and willing to put on any period costume I wanted.
4-sisters tree in S. Cerney
What I realized then was that it wasn’t so much that I was in England that I could suddenly write. It was that I was filled up again. With what? Hmmm…I’m not sure exactly. Creativity, peace, inner strength and beauty. Whatever it is, we need it as writers. This is what woos our muse into creating our art.
Think about it. When you are stressed out with time lines, with children or parents or siblings pulling at you, with those gray rocks of annoyance or dread like unpaid bills or illness or loss – you become drained, empty. You have nothing to give, no juice within you to ink your pen, to pour into your manuscript. The well dries out and your muse collapses on a dusty, pebbled road with vultures circling overhead. Quite sad.
Going to London didn’t wake up my muse. Touring Hampton Court gave her a drink. But it wasn’t until I walked in the exquisitely quaint landscape of the Coltswolds that my muse revived, drank fully, and smiled with that twinkle in her eye. The great Tower of London had authentic details that I will remember, but in order for me to write I had to refill my creative well.
Sheep Sheep Everywhere!
I spent the next few days site seeing as well as resting under the magical trees and roses at the farm. We saw Bath, Stonehenge, Avebury, the Harry Potter studios, and Cirencester. But it was the cup of tea on the back patio watching the baby ducks and the cranes on the water that made me want to grab my journal and pen.
This is good news for you and for me. Why? Because this means that you don’t have to travel across the ocean to wake up your grumpy or thirsty muse. Yes, it helps to be immersed in the details you will be writing about, but even with the details, if you don’t fill up the well, nothing will come out on paper. And you can fill up the well here at home. You just need to find some peace, breathe, and explore your world until your muse becomes hydrated again. Here are a few ways I hope to fill my well here at home.
- Find new walking paths around my town to take my dog on.
- Visit the rose gardens in the town next to me.
- Visit the art museum and stare at art until my muse either becomes inspired or swoons from boredom.
- Investigate the quaint little shops in my own town while trying not to spend money.
- Find a tea shop that serves tea and scones. There’s got to be one around here.
- Make tea each day in my own tea pot at home and enjoy a biscuit with it.
- Sit on my screened porch and watch the birds swoop or thunderstorms roll in.
- Go camping or hiking or to the beach.
- Lay on a blanket under the oak in my backyard (with heavy clothes on to keep the mosquitos from eating me alive).
- Lay on that same blanket with my hubby watching the stars (nudge, nudge, say no more ; )
The next time you’ve lost touch with your muse, don’t feel like you have to travel the world looking for her. If she’s coughing up dust balls there are ways to revive her right in your own little corner of the globe. Fill yourself up. Only then will you have the creative juice to fill pages with your words.
What are some ways you wake up your muse?
Posted by Heather McCollum Apr 26 2013, 12:01 am in adventure, craft, Details, writing
As writers we are blessed with endless imagination (on those days our muse graces us with her fickle presence). We can dunk ourselves into shark infested waters, flirt our way through 16th century masquerades, and find ourselves trapped in Egyptian sarcophagi. When we close our eyes we can imagine the feel of winter wind slicing like a knife off a Scottish mountain (ben) or smell the earthy moisture permeating a rainforest. Those details make our good stories fantastic, something for which must all strive.
And for the most part, the internet, books, movies, and workshops can give us those details without us ever actually having to step outside our houses. We can stay perpetually in our sweat pants and bunny slippers, dreaming of far off adventures, living them in our heads and tapping them into existence on our lap tops.
However – the details that we read about and then use in our manuscripts are recycled through the lens and words of others. They are not “fresh” or unique to your voice. We can take the details and reshape them through the filters of our own muse, but again, the details can become diluted.
So today I am going to throw out a suggestion: Step out. Experience. Find adventure. Live.
For those who don’t know me, I’ve been through two hellish years fighting and beating the sh*t out of ovarian cancer. Major surgery, 15 months of chemo, 6 more months of nerve regeneration, and then weaning off massive pain meds has been a journey of huge proportions. My diagnosis 2 years ago was very unexpected (who expects to hear “you have cancer”?) and I had registered for a 5K mud run/obstacle course called the Rugged Maniac. Well…that didn’t happen. So two years later, when the pain subsided, I started to train again. And last weekend I did it!
The Rugged Maniac race (http://www.ruggedmaniac.com) took over an hour and a half, ten friends and my Highlander husband to help me through it, but I did it, all of it. What an awesome experience! An experience that I can use first hand in my writing.
I now thoroughly understand how shockingly cold pond water is when it hits your hoo hoo. I know how scary it is to wade through murky water over rocks and sucking silt when you’re blind to what’s below the surface. I’ve learned what it’s like to crawl, pulling myself with cut elbows, through thick mud under barbed wire. I will always remember what it’s like to have a handsome Highlander catch up to me in that mud and kiss me senseless so I won’t give up.
I jumped over a line of fire, feeling the scorching heat warm my shivering body as I leapt through the smoke. I realized painfully that you can’t use a rope to crawl up a tube when it’s covered with slippery mud. I crawled through underground mud tunnels in the dark while slapping my claustrophobia in its shocked face. I learned the best way to get across a cargo net 40 feet in the air is to roll across it. And once again I tasted sweet victory.
I made it across!
It was a day I will never forget, and I will use every bit of it in my novels. I don’t write army basic training stories, but all those experiences can be translated into challenges for my characters. The simultaneous chill from the wind on wet skin mixed with burning heat from exertion. The rocky, uneven, red-clay earth. The taste of muddy water in my throat and desperate blinking to get mud out of my eyes. And the unabashed love for a man willing to crawl through mud and kiss me to cheer me on. It’s all there now in my repertoire for my muse to use at will, no copyright concerns.
I’m not saying that you need to go out and dive into mud (although it was quite stimulating). What I am recommending is for you to increase your experience base. Go places.
Risk discomfort. Try new things. For some of you, this is second nature. You were born with a love of adventure and take on challenges each day. For others of us, this is something we need to push ourselves toward.We write about adventures. To do it well, with authentic details, we must have some adventures of our own. Then when you’re living it, pay attention and build your own reference library in your mind. You can pull bits and pieces from it to enhance your stories.
I’m planning a trip to England and Scotland this summer. I will be snapping photos, tasting foods, touching 14th century dungeon walls, checking under kilts (LOL!), smelling the countryside, listening to brogues, feeling the mist of the isles, and imagining fairies as I hug monolithic standing stones. It’s a trip to remember forever and I will be savoring every detail. It will make me a more rounded person and will in turn fill my stories with authentic, sensory-rich details.
So again, I urge you to put down the research book, close the lap top, step outside your zone of comfort and live.
Looking for adventure or fresh details? You could try:
Comedy shows, theater, art shows
Fairs (Renaissance fairs are full of fresh details)
Cultural events (learn about other countries, the people and foods, fabulous research!)
Historic sites and museums
Girls weekend to Vegas or the beach
Mud run, ropes course, learning a new sport (as a spectator or participant)
Spa trip, meditation center/retreat
Trip to NYC to see a play on Broadway, train trip to another city
Picnic in the woods, camping, finding a waterfall
Volunteer (homeless shelter, animal shelter, mission work, Special Olympics)
Go to parties you are invited to (or crash some if your muse wants you to ramp up the adventure!)
Join a social group (wine tasting, gardening, swinging – LOL! Just seeing if you are still there : )
Get something pierced (eeks!)
Dress up for Halloween
Talk your hubby/partner into going away with you on a romantic trip
These are just a few ideas to work adventure into your life. There are multitudes more. But look for something, anything to broaden your experience base. Put on your big girl panties, invite your muse, and step out there into the big wide world. It’s thrilling and fun – it’s life!
What are some of the adventures you’ve taken or long to take, and how can they enhance your writing?
Posted by Heather McCollum Nov 13 2012, 12:01 am in cancer, goals, reaching goals, writing
We are almost half way through November – National Novel Writing Month. Have you been writing frantically? Or has life dropped boulders all over the road, tripping you up and slowing you down?
Let’s talk about goals. I have writing goals, but they fall second on my list. My #1 goal is to get my life back. My old life was taken from me in April 2011 when the “you have cancer” bomb blew up in my face. Major surgery to remove all my girlie parts (that’s what they do with ovarian cancer), fifteen months of chemo, and lots of teal t-shirts later – I have beaten it.
Yes, victory is wonderful, but even with victory there is collateral damage. I gained 40 pounds from all the steroids I took to keep my body from freaking out while being poisoned by chemo. One of the chemo agents was a neurotoxin, so I have total body nerve damage and inflammation. I went from running with my dog everyday to hardly being able to walk. Each step hurts like someone has beaten my feet with a baseball bat. Some nights I wake several times because the pain, from regenerating nerves, aches so badly in my teeth, legs and shoulders that I can’t sleep.
Make sure your goals are really important. My #1 goal is to reclaim my healthy body. It is something I don’t just want to do, I must do it. I can’t be the mom I was to my three young kids without it or the woman my husband fell in love with. I can’t be a helpful daughter or a drop-everything-when-you-need-me friend. And I totally suck at dealing with constant pain. So I must reach my goal.
Each morning I wake knowing there will be pain. So I’m prepared. I keep special slippers by my bed so I can step right into them. I still end up wobbling to the bathroom like I’m walking on hot coals, but they help. I lay my work out clothes out the night before so I just put them on. If I had to walk back across my room to find them, I might not do it. I get ready before the kids get up so I have some time alone while I work the worst out of my shoulders and legs.
I have a routine. Yoga. I both love and hate yoga. It hurts – enough said. But when I get through the slow stretching movements, amazingly I feel better.
I have a back-up plan. Once the kids are off to school, I walk the dog unless my feet hurt too much and then I ride a stationary bike. When you have a back-up plan it is easier to stay on track.
Accountability. Twice a week, on set days, my friend helps me work out with weights to build up my muscles and strength. Having a partner, who knows your goal and is willing to help you reach it, is golden. We are also friends on a calorie/food tracking free app (My Fitness Pal) so we can e-mail each other encouragement.
I learn and read to stay on track. There are tons of people out there who know more than I do about maintaining an über healthy lifestyle. So I read what they have to say, and I try some of it. Yes, I’m a juicer. I juice kale and fruit almost every day (and I drink it : ). I’ve brought toxin neutralizing plants in the house and managed to keep them alive. I avoid nitrates, tephlon, and pesticides like they could kill me (because they could!). I do everything I can NOT to invite cancer back into my cancer-prone body.
I do even when I don’t feel like it. That would be the discipline part. I don’t feel like getting out of bed every single day because it hurts every single day. I don’t feel like starting the yoga DVD and I don’t feel like juicing the whole veggie aisle at Whole Foods all the time. But I do anyway. When you have a goal that you really, truly want to reach, you must follow your plan even when you don’t want to. You put on your big girl panties and just do it.
I reward baby steps. I’ve lost twenty of the forty pounds I gained and my strength has improved. That there is reward in itself! My pain is still here – damn blasted nerves! But at least I’ve taken twenty pounds off my poor feet.
I also take time out of my busy day to enjoy life. If I do my routines and eat well, I reward myself with a hot bath or some dark chocolate (which is also healthy for you BTW). Today I took the dog and kids to walk under the autumn foliage at a park. I LOVE doing that but never have the time. So today, I stole the time. Yes, I got less writing done, but that comes second on my goal list.
1. Okay, what are your goals? Write them down or know them by heart. Make sure it is something you REALLY want to accomplish.
2. What is your plan for reaching your goal? Be prepared, have a routine, learn how others have reached the same goal.
3. How can you measure your progress? Is it pounds, inches, words written, bulbs planted, grades?
4. Do you have a back-up plan and a partner to help you maintain discipline?
5. How will you celebrate as you reach each wrung on your ladder to success? Don’t forget this part or you won’t last to the end. Every good manager knows, if you want people to push the limit and reach a goal, you’ve got to pat them on the back on the way there. Praise and celebration is good for the soul and the goal : )
Reaching a goal requires determination and discipline. Beating and recovering from cancer teaches you both, although I truly can’t recommend it. A less painful way to learn to reach your goal is to follow the above steps. Just put one foot in front of the other and climb, and I will definitely see you at the summit! I’ll bring the celebratory chocolate (and kale juice)! Hugs! Heather
Posted by June Love Nov 8 2012, 12:01 am in inability to write, juggling life and writing, writing
Seriously. I want to know. How do you sit down at the computer, maintain your focus, and form cohesive sentences when life sucks you in, spins you uncontrollably, and then hurls you to the ground without warning?
When I told my husband I was writing a blog about how to write when life gets in the way, he burst out laughing. “Well, that should be both an easy and short blog for you,” he said. “Because you don’t.”
I just hate it when he’s right.
As career oriented writers, we are expected to write. Come hell or high water our fingers should be flying over the keyboard at any given moment during the day. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but writers are human. And, sometimes, life just gets in the way.
It could be job related, it could be health issues, or it could be family related. The reason doesn’t matter. The important thing is whatever is going on in your life, it’s serious enough to prevent you from either having the time, energy, or frame of mind to sit down and put words on the page.
Several years ago, I experienced the unexpected death of a close family member. My world turned upside down in many ways. Apart from the sudden loss, I went from having an independent mother, who lived over two hours away, to one whose grief and subsequent health issues had her relying heavily on me.
I didn’t quit writing completely, but finding a time when I wasn’t mentally and physically exhausted from my duty as caregiver only added stress and guilt. Yes, guilt. Remember? Career oriented writers are expected to write. I grabbed a few hours here and a day there, but my concentration was shot. Simply put, I didn’t want to think. Thinking meant coming to certain realizations that I wasn’t ready to face. My life had forever changed.
I began wondering how many other writers had faced similar situations. Were they able to channel their pain into their writing? Were they able to block out their situation and power through to keep their writing routine?
The guilt that I couldn’t produce in the face of life’s challenge loomed over me. I questioned my dedication. I questioned my desire. I questioned my ability. I was driving myself crazy trying to fulfill my family obligations and justify why I wasn’t writing. I was adding stress on top of stress. So, I quit. Writing, that is. I came to the realization that it’s okay to take a writing break. I hadn’t lost my passion or desire, I just had to put it away for a short time.
Should writers give themselves permission to take time off from writing? It that really okay? Some would argue that if you don’t write every day, you lose your momentum. Some argue that powering through a rough time helps keep the emotion in your story. I say it’s up to the writer. She knows her limits. She’s aware of what’s going on in her life. My mother always told my two sisters and me, “Don’t criticize someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”
In my situation, it was absolutely the right thing to do. I don’t have any regrets. I was there for my mother when she most needed me. Her health has since improved, she’s moved closer to me, and we’re both healing from our loss. More importantly, every second I spent with my sister instead of writing is a memory I hold precious in my heart. As I said, no regrets.
What about you? Have you had to make some tough choices in your writing due to life’s interference? How did you juggle life and writing?
Posted by Gwynlyn MacKenzie Oct 18 2012, 12:01 am in craft, editing, employing beta readers, writing, writing tips
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?