Write, Write, and then Read a Book

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Forget how Gollum pronounced the one ring to rule them all “my precious.” In today’s world, something that is very precious to all of us is those minutes of free time, the ones where work obligations, family commitments, or other duties aren’t crying out to be fulfilled. What’s more is there are a thousand and one options for those few minutes: Netflix or other television programming, crafts like knitting or crocheting, puzzles for those who like piecing together a challenge. Yet reading opens worlds to people, fantasy worlds like Middle Earth and Hogwarts, worlds of life in the past like L.M. Montgomery’s Avonlea and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander’s Scotland, and contemporary places like the made-up Mitford or Stephanie Plum’s Trenton. And for writers, reading is one of the most important activities to improve your craft.

Read broadly and keep your ear out for new authors. Not only is there a genre for everyone, but there is a different genre for everyone to explore. Although I gravitate toward cozy mysteries and romance, I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Classics, biographies, and modern literary fiction occupy space on my to-be-read pile and my keeper bookshelf. I always keep my ear out for new authors that should be on that list. Everywhere I turn lately I’m hearing great things about Helen Huong’s The Kiss Quotient as well as Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project. Those are two books I’ll definitely look for in the near future. Reading broadly can expose a writer to different outlooks and make you aware of the differences between different styles of writing.

Read often. I always have my Kindle with me. If I’m early for a doctor’s appointment, I whip out my Kindle and read. When I’m at the grocery store and I can’t use the self-checkout, I whip out my Kindle and read. I’m always reading one hard copy of a book (something in paper, whether a hardback or paperback) as well as something on my Kindle.

Read with a careful eye. Look carefully at the writing style and voice of authors you admire. Do they use verbs like took or got or walked? Since I have the paper copy of the book I’m reading right next to me, I opened Stirring Up Strife by Jennifer Stanley to the middle. Verbs like beamed and grabbed and loitered jumped out at me. As a writer, I look for emotional arcs in the protagonist’s journey. In the case of Stirring Up Strife, the main character’s attempt to kick the bad habit of smoking goes along with her attempt to kick out the bad memories of her broken relationship as she becomes involved in a murder investigation (this is a cozy mystery).

 

And I’m going to go one step further. Those books you want to put down, the ones that don’t grab your attention by page five (and let me add I’m on page 268 of Stirring Up Strife, which I’m enjoying), read them to figure out what you don’t like. If you don’t like the heroine, why? If a plot device doesn’t appeal to you, why?

 

In my opinion, reading often is one of the best gifts a writer can give herself. What are you reading? Let me know. I’m always on the lookout for a good book.

Books, Books, Everywhere

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I’m a sucker for book fairs. Last week, Cupcake and Chunk brought home the school flyers for their school’s annual book fair. They knew without even asking I’d agree to take them. It was just a matter of which day worked best. Why? Why of all the activities at their school did they know this was the one I support wholeheartedly, even giving them a set budget every year for books (not the gadgets and posters or toys) for something that supports the school library? Because I want each of my children to keep reading after they graduate and leave home. My WH (for those of you who don’t know, WH is my Wonderful Hubby) and I read to each of our children the day they were born. Before they were born, I selected books to read to them on their birthdays in the hospital. Before she became an older sister, I’d take Kath to the library and she’d spend an hour (literally an hour, if not longer) in my lap with a pile of books at my side and I’d read each of them to her before we checked them out and took them home for two weeks. Kath is now in college and there are times I wonder how my daughter could not like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier or anything by Jane Austen, but she’s found her own authors to love, read, and follow so I’m not complaining. MJ has read each of the Harry Potters multiple times, and now Cupcake and Chunk are picking out their own books, finding authors they think will interest them and seeing if they are right. Cupcake loves the “Who Is/Who Was” series of books while Chunk loves Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter. At night, they see WH and myself reading books. I’m usually reading one book on my Kindle and one hard copy of a book, usually a paperback. Books open up new worlds, introduce new friends, and carry messages of hope. Yes, I’m a sucker for book fairs. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

[Thanks to Lena Gregory, one of my favorite cozy mystery authors, and Jen Gilroy, one of my favorite contemporary romance authors, for the inspiration for this blog. Stay tuned for next week’s blog on why taking time to read is so important for authors.]

 

Writing Daily?!

What does Writing Daily even mean?

The short answer is it depends on you. However, the long answer might be more interesting and might provide more insight. When I started writing and realized I needed to learn about the craft of writing, I started attending workshops and reading craft books and articles. They all said the same thing about there not being one right way to write a book. That is very true. They also said a writer has to write daily. Hmm, that’s something that I’m questioning the longer I write. Does that mean I write on Christmas? Does that mean I write when I have a fever of 103 and have the flu? Does that mean I have to write fresh words or does that include editing? I love writing, and I want to write as often as I can. But what does the phrase “Writing Daily” mean and what if I can’t write every day? Here are five tips on ways to organize your writing time that might lead you to become more productive in your writing.

Organization. In my last blog, I briefly touched on ways to get organized. That is a huge part of figuring out what your approach to “Write Daily” means. If you know you are working four twelve-hour shifts, you might be able to carve huge chunks out of those other three days and find a way to be more productive than if you write for one hour every day. If you know you are attending a writer’s conference (yes, this means me who forgot to account for a writing conference I’m attending in October, the awesome Moonlight and Magnolias Conference sponsored by Georgia Romance Writers), you might want to try to conclude a project and meet your deadline right before the conference so you can enjoy the conference (or your family vacation or some other special occasion). Knowing when you can write over a month’s time will give you the peace of mind of looking forward to time with you and your manuscript. Whether this time comes twenty minutes a day while your child plays soccer or means you have to wake up an hour early to squeeze an extra hour out of your schedule (but not at the expense of your health!) or whether you give up watching your favorite Netflix show until your manuscript is finished, that’s up to you. But finding that time in your schedule and anticipating that time is worth the effort.

Writing. The first year I was writing, I was always working on a first draft because I thought writing meant new words. Here’s my helpful piece of advice: I was wrong. Writing can be brainstorming and research (but give yourself a deadline), a first draft, or revising. It’s sitting at a chair or standing at your desk with your manuscript and working toward completing it.

Set Your Own Goal. Some writers set a page goal; some set a word count goal; some set a specific number of minutes. All of that is okay. You are writing and that’s what’s important. You’ll learn over time what measure of a goal works for you. If you are working and not goofing off, you’re spending time that will help you accomplish your goal of writing and revising a book.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others. You are you. You know what you are capable of. If you track your progress over time, you’ll see what you’re capable of. Yes, there are authors who write thirty pages a day. Yes, there are writers who write eight thousand words a day. Yes, there are authors who write for eight hours a day. Unless that is you, don’t worry about that and don’t compare what you are able to do to that. Be proud of what you can get done and concentrate on making your manuscript shine.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up. If you aren’t goofing off and checking Facebook or doing whatever your favorite leisure activity is, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t write ten pages and you really wanted to write ten pages and you are used to writing ten pages a day. Did you really do your best? Did you concentrate and work hard? Then smile and be happy you spent time with your characters. The more excited you are about your manuscript and the time you do spend on it, the more that will show up on the page.

So those are five tips about how to approach writing daily that you might not have thought about before. Here’s the sixth: put writing first. Only once your writing goal for the day is met, then turn to marketing through social media or blogs, then pick up that craft book you need to read to improve your writing. Happy writing.

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What’s a Person to Do?

Computer calendars, paper agendas, whiteboards, bullet journals, organizers, and more. So many ways to get organized and so little time (yes, I see the irony in that). These days, more than ever, it seems as though everyone is rushing around, and yet it also seems as though people complain about getting very little done. Some people plan out every minute of their waking days, and some people go with the flow, the very thought of writing out a schedule a true anchor on their ankle. As a writer, planning out my day and week is a guide to what I’d like to accomplish (note: I wrote what I’d like to accomplish – my next blog will address writing goals and the individual; this blog is only about the different methods by which to get started). Internal accountability is a major part of writing, although I am thankful I also have an accountability partner to keep me on the straight and narrow. While everyone has a different way to organize their time for maximum efficiency, here are some tips about to-do list and daily organizers.

  1. To thine own self be true. If you work well with computers and hate killing trees, you should use your computer planners. Don’t fix what’s not broken! I’ve discovered that except for the big events, like doctor appointments and children’s events, I’m not good with planning my day or week or month with a computer. I need a pen and paper for itemizing what has to get done. But stick with what works well with you. If you’re going all in for a Google calendar or an app, make sure it’s downloaded to all your devices and synced. What’s more, make sure you update it regularly.
  2. Figure out what works for you. When my daughter started college, I grabbed a free agenda that her college was passing out. Talk about a changed person. I liked the format and the space it gave me to write down what needed to be done. Think about your needs as it suits your life. As a write-at-home mom, I need a wall calendar to keep my kids’ activities straight, but my agenda is for my personal writing goals and what I need to get done each day. My new planner is extra awesome because in the back, it also has space for monthly goals and notes to myself. In addition to writing, I can also include special cleaning tasks or special events ahead of time.
  3. Don’t be shy. If you’re just getting started with trying to organize your writing time (or knitting time or some other craft), then it’s okay to include some “gimmes” to cross off so you’ll feel better about what you’ve accomplished. If you need to write down “brush your teeth” in order to cross it off, that’s okay. Eventually, you won’t keep writing down extra stuff, and you’ll streamline it to what works best for you. But once again, be truthful. Don’t bite off more than you can chew so you won’t constantly disappoint yourself.
  4. One last tip. If your method is taking more time than why you’re organizing your time, it might be a sign you need a new organizational method. If you love making journals and that’s your craft and way to relax, that’s great. But if you’re a writer and you find you’re spending more time decorating and doodling in your planner, it might be time to put down the planner and write.

To-do lists are a way for me to see in black and white what I have to get done for the day. My agenda is a way for me to plan out what needs to be done in a realistic time frame. What are your favorite ways to make to-do lists and keep organized?

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On the Road Again

Now that my children are back in school, my summer of traveling is over. For our vacation, we loaded up the minivan and headed off to St. Louis, Missouri, a wonderful family vacation spot. The City Museum, the Gateway Arch, and barbecue and thin crust pizza. Even if I hadn’t specified St. Louis, one of those clues would have filled you into my destination. I was also fortunate enough to fly to Denver for a writing conference. While I didn’t get to explore the town, I did see the Rockies, the Paramount Theater, and the Tabor Building. As a writer, I would have loved to explore the cities more, talk to people, get a feel for the local flavor. Settings in a book, when well done, often become like a character and add an extra layer of adventure for the reader. Here are two ways I think a writer can bring out extra details in the setting.

Sensory Details. Writers have a huge opportunity with a setting to use sensory details so the reader can feel as if they are in the same town as the main character. If I’m reading a book set in a beach town, I want to feel the breeze in my hair, taste the salt on my lips, and hear the ocean waves lick against the sand. If I’m reading an urban thriller, I want to hear the police sirens and smell the police precinct. When I was in St. Louis, it was hot and humid, and I could taste the sweat on my face and feel the humidity like a wall of bricks around me. For lunch one day, we indulged in ice cream, the sweet sugary goodness going a long way when we exited the restaurant into the humid air.

Local flavor. I read a book recently and when I reflected on the book, I had no idea what state the small town was in or what differentiated this town from any other. While writers should go past the stereotypical details, a little local flavor can go a long way. When I went to Denver, I asked for unsweet tea and the man next to me laughed and asked if I was from the South. So while it might be stereotypical to include sweet tea in a book set in the deep South, a writer can go a little deeper and evoke emotion from the local flavor. Maybe your main character hasn’t returned to her family home in years and that’s the first sip of sweet tea since her grandmother’s funeral.

Sensory details and local flavor are two ways a writer can play up the setting for more realism and depth. What are some of your favorite settings in a book and how did the author make you feel like you were there in the setting?

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Care Bears and KitKats; tennis and writing

Unknown-20.jpegDifferent people have different guilty pleasures. Some binge watch their favorite show on Netflix. Some find a new favorite computer game and play for hours. Here’s my admission: I love watching professional tennis. The commentary, the athletic feats, the players’ different characteristics. There’s something about a good tennis match that has me sitting on the edge of my seat, watching the action, listening to the announcer’s commentary. This year’s Wimbledon was beyond extraordinary, especially the level of the men’s semifinals with phenomenal efforts from Novak Djokovic, Kevin Anderson, Rafael Nadal, and John Isner. Over the two-week period of the tournament, heartwarming stories of comebacks and struggles stayed with me as I watched while I ate breakfast, folded laundry, and more. As a writer, I listened to post-match interviews and I also read quotes from players. As a write-at-home mom, I drew inspiration from Serena Williams’ road to the finals and her interviews about being a tennis player and mother. Tennis and romance writing have much more in common than only the word love. Here are some writing tips based on quotes from tennis players at the 2018 Wimbledon Championships.

 

I’d fight a bear for you. Not a grizzly bear. Or a brown bear. Or a panda bear. But maybe like a Care Bear. Yeah, I’d fight one of those.” Bethanie Mattek-Sands, talking about her doubles’ partner, Lucie Safarova.

 

A little tongue-in-cheek, but nevertheless a great quote that can easily refer to the importance of a great critique partner, accountability partner, or support group. Many writers tend to be introverts; I myself am an introvert, but I would fight a bear for my critique partner. Okay, like Bethanie Mattek-Sands, I’d also qualify my bear opponent to be a Care Bear, but I totally get this quote. My critique partner has read my work. She reminds me when I need to add emotion, but she also inserts smiley faces. For me, a support system of writers who encourage me is essential. Once you find people who are with you on your writing journey, it becomes a little easier to sit down and write.

 

After each win throughout these ten days, I’ve had a KitKat. I’m not going to change that now.” John Isner, men’s semifinalist.

 

Superstition and rewards. As a writer, I can so totally relate to this. I like the concept of rewards. When I hit my week goals, it’s nice to be able to look forward to a KitKat or a Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate Caramel square. If I don’t hit my weekly goals but I accomplished something I didn’t have a week ago, it’s nice to look forward to a Hershey Miniature like a Krackle. Rewards are such great motivation. Don’t beat yourself up if you set a goal and don’t reach it, but at the same time, don’t let yourself get complacent if you chose to goof-off. If I don’t meet my goals because I chose to watch both men’s semifinals in their entirety (which, for the record, I didn’t), then maybe that’s not the week to reward myself. But if I worked hard and I made progress, I can enjoy that episode of Death in Paradise a little more.

 

Trust in yourself. Trust the process.” Novak Djokovic.

Ultimately, whether it’s via a support group or with the positive reinforcement of rewards, a writer has to learn his or her process, write, and trust that process. There’s a reason so many writers often repeat the mantra of BICHOK (bottom in chair; hands on keyboard). Because that’s the only way you can learn to trust yourself as a writer and learn your process.

 

Thanks to all the incredible players and matches that were so fun to watch. Thanks to the commentators and players for inspirational quotes that helped me reflect on life as a writer. Only a couple of weeks until the US Open. I’ll be listening and watching. That is, once I sit in the chair and write for the day.

 

 

 

 

Are Writing Conferences Worth the Investment?

Of course, the wishy-washy answer to the question about whether writing conferences are worth the money is “it depends.” But there’s more to that question and, as I’m preparing to go to a huge writing conference this month in Denver (RWA18), I’d say there’s a lot more to the simple answer of “it depends.” Writing is often a solitary experience. As I’m writing this, I’m at my keyboard all by myself. However, in a little over two weeks, I’ll be surrounded by romance writers, eager to soak up information about the craft and business of writing and eager to network until they return to their writing caves. For me, as for so many writers, a conference’s cost is not only weighed in terms of money, which is a huge factor, but also in terms of time away from my family. So, are writing conferences worth the money? While everyone has a different experience, I’ll give some reasons why they’re worth the cost, the time, and the commitment.

 

A shove in the right direction. While the cliché states “a push in the right direction,” a conference can be a huge wake-up call about the publishing industry. And while expensive, it can wake a writer up to whether or not she is willing to commit to writing as a career, or keep it as a hobby. In 2013, I attended my first writing conference. I’d attended five Georgia Romance Writer programs before that, and the topic of RWA being in Atlanta had come up during the business portion of the program. Wanting to pursue a career in writing made my mind up. My husband and I saved our pennies (and cleaned out the couch to find a couple of dimes), and I commuted to the conference. This was a wake-up call for me. Attending workshops and listening to conversations around me, I learned I had a lot to learn. For a couple of days, I was overwhelmed, but then I used the tools I’d learned about productivity, about craft, and about networking and I went to work. I had a lot to learn, and I still continue to have a lot to learn, but that first conference made me hungry for learning from others, reading books in my genre, and for sitting down and actually putting the stories in my head on paper (or in my case, on a hard drive and on back-up drives).

 

Networking. RWA2013 provided me with more than just a hunger for learning about the industry and the craft. Since it was in Atlanta, I ran into writers I had met at Georgia Romance Writers. One writer had also joined in January, same as myself, and we found ourselves at some of the same places at the hotel and in some of the same workshops. We agreed to exchange notes and ideas about the different workshops, and within a few months, we exchanged chapters of our books. That writer is now my critique partner, and if I hadn’t gone to RWA2013, we might never have talked as in-depth as we had. One of the workshops at RWA that year that I was unable to attend but that my critique partner did was a talk about writers who had formed a writing blog. My critique partner told me about Seekerville, a writing blog, and I began to follow the blog where I’ve made some genuine connections with other writers. Even the “ships-passing-in-the-night” conversations have made an impact on me. I’ve sat at lunch tables with writers from Australia, France, Canada, and more. Hearing their stories of their travels and their stories about their writing experiences have inspired me to make sure I have one lunch or meal where I pick a table where I don’t know anyone and introduce myself.

 

Those are two reasons to think about going to a conference. There are so many great conferences in every part of the country. They are a commitment. They cost money, and some involve travel. But your characters deserve a commitment to make their story the best you can right now in your writing career. Writing conferences, though, are often a step outside a writer’s comfort zone as many writers, including myself, are introverts. Yet stepping outside your comfort zone is sometimes the best way to make your writing that much better.

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