Writing Tuesday: One word at a time

The beginning of the twenty-first century is a boon to impatient people like myself. Everywhere I look, there are ways to improve your life and attain results faster. In the mornings, there are breakfast foods designed for convenience. Need to leave in a few minutes, make instant oatmeal or pop a waffle in the toaster. Throughout the day, there’s no need to wait for the six o’clock news anymore to catch up with the events of the day. Online websites catch us up instantaneously with up to the minute details of the news. Social media and cell phones connect us to friends and family without delay, definitely quicker than having to wait for the weekends to call out of town loved ones when the rates decreased.

But faster is not always better. In the mornings, not much beats real homemade pancakes slathered in syrup. Unless it’s French toast covered in the ooey, gooey, sticky stuff. Sometimes it’s relaxing to read a print newspaper with a warm cup of tea (or if you must, a cup of coffee). And sometimes, calling a friend when you have time for a real honest to goodness talk rather than reading their latest Facebook post has no equals either.

As a writer, I’m discovering that it takes time to develop craft. While there is the rare person whose talent shines through immediately, I’m not that person. I’m learning every day something new about writing. On Saturday, I learned that every action invokes an emotional reaction. This week, I’m learning that spending time consistently each time with your character friends adds up to a lot of words over the course of eighteen days. The magic of writing is that the words add up one word at a time. The more time you spend thinking about your work and crafting your story, the more it shows in the manuscript. Perhaps one of the best things a writer can do for his or her work is to write consistently. Hey, I’m a mom of four. I know it’s not always possible for everyone to have that block of time set aside every day for writing. But a speaker (who I admire greatly) said something at a conference I attended last year that resonated with me. She asked if we all like spending time with friends. She said that our book characters should be our friends and that we should try to spend time with them to get their stories down in the printed form.

So one word at a time adds up to several words over the course of a day which leads to several thousand words a week. Somedays it’s a struggle when I first sit in front of my laptop. After all, I want to see the latest results from a tennis tournament or the latest review for the new Muppets movie. But I also want to tell the story of my character friends. And that can only happen one word at a time.

What about you? What do you like to do that is better the more you devote time to it? Is it a favorite recipe? Is it a favorite hobby like knitting or playing tennis? Let me know.

Writing Tuesday: Have Laptop, Will Travel

UnknownGrowing up, I can remember my mother telling me that she didn’t understand how I could finish my homework with the radio playing in the background. Everyone has a different noise tolerance for his or her work capacity. Some people would be able to work no matter whether there was a jackhammer breaking up concrete right outside their window while other people need complete silence to work. Some people can work from home while other people love a workplace environment and shudder at the thought of having to work out of their home. As a writer, I understand the new phrase, “Have computer, will travel.” As long as I have my laptop, I can pretty much work anywhere. Except that try as I may, I never seem to get much work done at home.

Home is a wonderful place. Movie lines and book quotes all wax eloquent on the wonders of home. “There’s no place like home.” “Home is where your heart is.” Home for me also comes complete with my four wonderful children, all of whom instinctively know that I am trying to write and instinctively create ways to interrupt me.

Over the past month, my home has had the distinct pleasure of becoming isolated due to icy conditions. On the one hand, there was a beauty in seeing our yard covered in a blanket of snow and ice. We enjoyed French toast and a rousing game of Monopoly. We broke out other board games as well. Whenever I tried to escape to our basement to write, they found me. First, MJ came down with his book, eager to escape 4 year old Cupcake and Chunk so he could read in peace. Then Cupcake and Chunk came down and wanted MJ to play with them, but then lo and behold, they found Mommy! Surely I want to read them a book or play Zooreka or make cookies (all of which we did do at some time during the two recent snow incidents that left us stranded at home).

I love those minutes with them, but that also means that I want to be home with them when I’m home. As a result, I venture forth to write. I’ve written in people’s homes, libraries, restaurants, malls and so on. I’m even writing this blog at my local library rather than in the comfort of my home. My wonderful hubbie bought and installed a corner desk for me, but I often go elsewhere to write.

Soon all four of my children will be attending school on a daily basis. I will have to adjust to writing from the comfort of my home. The advantages will come in the short commute time and well, let’s face it, I don’t have to dress up to work from my home (my kids joke that they don’t recognize me with makeup since I’ve only worn it for weddings, funerals and writing conferences since they’ve been born). Until then, I’m trying to learn how to balance my writing time. That means I’ll still travel elsewhere to write (with the added advantage of having a few minutes to map out today’s writing-the POV, the dialogue) but come home to spend time with my family. My wonderful hubbie points out that when I don’t write, I can become, well, a little bearish. So, I will write away from home for now, knowing that when I come home, a more relaxed, better wife and mother is returning to hear all the stories of what I’ve missed while I was writing.

Where do you write or work? If you are able to work at home, do you like the convenience or do you miss a workplace atmosphere? If you work away at home, do you sometimes wish there was a way for you to work at home every once in a while? Let me know.

Writing Tuesday: Snowjam 2014

The weather. Normally a nice bland conversation starter, the weather has become a major factor where I live. In the past six weeks, the weather has produced record lows and two snow events. Not a problem for most people in America, but in the South, it’s become a huge problem. Schools have been closed, traffic has been snarled, and grocery stores have had their shelves emptied of all bread products. In Georgia, the first snow event caused a massive traffic situation that paralyzed the city of Atlanta. Some have called it “SnowJam,” others “Snowapalooza,” other the “Snowpocalypse.” During the traffic nightmare, one of the radio stations referred to one Georgia state road as the “seventh circle of hell” while one of the Georgia interstates was the eighth circle. I know this because I was in my car listening to the announcer stuck in the middle of the seventh circle with two of my children with me. For eleven hours and forty-five minutes, I trudged home from a place less than ten miles from my house. During this time, I primarily had to focus on the road and other cars around me, but occasionally, I had a minute to reflect on how this traffic jam paralleled to a writer’s life because while a writer is the person to sit down and put the words to a screen or paper, there are obstacles and people who can either hinder or aid with the writing life.

When I left their preschool with my two youngest in the backseat, we ventured towards another child’s school. Obstacle number one came when another person thought she was being nice by letting me know that the upcoming bridge was closed. While I later found out this was not the case, this was the first hindrance in some writer’s lives. A writer may turn back at the first hint of anything bad. Instead of facing rejection, he or she lets his or her work linger in the internal memory of her computer (remember George McFly in Back to the Future when Marty asks him about his writing and he says he doesn’t show it to anyone because he doesn’t know if he can risk that kind of rejection). Instead of fighting through the writer’s block, a writer simply decides not to finish the story. I’ve had times when both of these instances have happened to me. As a writer, I need to have others read my work: to tell me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong, to help me learn about the craft of writing, and to help me notice craft issues I wouldn’t notice myself. As a writer, I’ve had those days when my characters are at a certain place and I know they need to get to point C from point A but it sure is difficult to figure out point B in the meantime.

So back to the snowjam. I turned around from a point slightly before the bridge and headed to plan B. Before I set out on plan B, I stopped at a local grocery store. My two youngest (Cupcake and Chunk) and I used the facilities; bought milk, bread and cinnamon sugar for French toast; and most importantly, topped off the fuel tank at the grocery’s gas station. This little stop reveals two more points in the writer’s life: distractions and foresight. The grocery store was a slight distraction, albeit a necessary one. There are distractions everywhere a writer turns. The Internet with all the fascinating blogs, websites, news sites, social media is a fun distraction. There are times I go places where I know I can’t get internet access in order to write. I am so thankful I topped off my gas tank, however. The foresight of planning ahead can help a writer; schedules can help a writer plan out what he or she hopes to accomplish in the day, week or month ahead. The same with a business plan.

After we left the gas station, I turned on the radio to find out about road conditions. A radio station (which since then has taken great pains to let everyone know how accurate they were in predicting this first snow event) broadcast the fact that the bridge was closed (it was not). Because of this I headed for the road later described as “the seventh circle of hell.” I exited the gas station and two hours later made it to the road that I was convinced was a good way to get home because it was three lanes and everyone knows that three lanes can handle more traffic than one. This brings me to the next analogy to a writer’s life: twists and turns in your plot. For the most part, I am a planner. I use a synopsis to create the main storyline and outline different events and scenes for each chapter. When I stick to this, I am a much better storyline. It’s when I think-oh, this would be a good way to introduce more conflict- and keep adding new plot details that I find myself in big trouble. Right now, I’m editing my completed first draft and have to delete a page and a half that I added that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book but seemed like a good idea at the time.

For two and a half hours, we drove about a mile. Cupcake reminded me that a visit to a place with some restrooms might be in order. We pulled into a grocery store parking lot. I unstrapped both children from their carseats and trudge through the ice and snow to see the sign on the door announcing they were closed even though there were people coming in and out of the store. Worried that everywhere else on this road would also be closing as well as about the bladders of Cupcake and Chunk, I entered the doors and begged the manager if I could please use the bathroom. A woman exiting with her groceries prevailed on him as well and I ran to the bathroom with my kids before the manager could change his mind. To my surprise, the woman also prevailed on the manager to let her buy us some Lunchables. I am still grateful to this woman for the kindness in buying a total stranger and her kids food. As a writer, I am also grateful whenever anyone offers to critique my work and gives me honest feedback. Critique partners and readers do a tremendous service to writers in that they point out issues and problems that we may not see. Word repetition, POV changes, and out-of-place scenes are such issues.

We entered the car, not knowing that we would be in the car for another five hours and forty-five minutes. In the same manner, depending on the method of publication a writer pursues, a writer doesn’t know whether he or she will receive that special call right away, months away or years away.

As we neared home, there were cars stranded on the side of the road. There are writers who never finish a book.

Along the way I received a call from a friend who returned my call from when I realized I was not going to be able to pick up one of my children from school. This friend let me talk to her through one of the stuck in traffic moments when I didn’t move for close to an hour. Thanks to her and all the friends who listen to me talk about my characters, my plot and my book.

Then we arrived at the icy patch that continued all the way up the hill. I was ready to cry. Here we were so close to home yet so far away. My car got stuck in the left lane in an icy patch. Thank you so much to the men who were pushing everyone up the hill and who pushed my car out of that patch. Also thank you to all the writers who encourage me at conferences and writers’ meetings. That little push sometimes helps in those rough patches and help us the next time we sit at the keyboard.

Arriving in the church parking lot next to our subdivision, I saw my husband waving on the side of the road. I parked in a spot and turned off the car. We walked with our kids up the icy hill and made it inside our home. A rush of emotions flooded me as my snowjam experience had come to an end. Similarly writers know different emotions when they write the end at the end of a manuscript. They’ve written, edited and sent off their book, hoping to find an audience.

Even though a writer ultimately sits on a chair and writes by him or herself, he or she still experiences help and guidance along the way to the finished product. As a writer and Snowjam 2014 driver, I thank all the people who are helping me along the way.

What about you? Who are the people who help you pursue whatever dreams you have?

“What are you reading” Wednesdays: Why I love book series

In the past couple of months, I’ve discovered how passionate people are about reading. It’s suddenly cool to read. There are memes on Facebook that talk about people’s obsession with reading. I’ve discovered I’m not alone in my feeling of abibliophobia (the fear of running out of books to read) although I admit that right now my “to read” shelf is quite large. This weekend, I attended a wonderful workshop that proved something I’ve always known to be true in my personal life, but now someone has done much research to prove it: people love series.

Growing up, I latched onto book series. I loved the continuity of the characters’ lives and the returning to the same setting. From Trixie Belden to the Happy Hollisters, if it was a book series, I loved it. I was rather envious of a fifth grade classmate whose mother had kept all of her Cherry Ames’ books as our school library only stocked one of them. If there was more than one book in a series, I read it. I loved The Borrowers. I liked Nancy Drew but always returned to her much cooler counterpart, Trixie.

Guess what? I still love book series. If I find a series I love, I devour every book I can find (which now thanks to ebooks and the such is pretty easy). If it’s at the library, I especially love it.

There are series I’ve read for a long time. I love mysteries, romances, and nonfiction books. Carolyn Hart is one of my favorite mystery writers, hands down, no question. This woman is an absolute genius. I had the privilege of attending one of her book signings many years ago, and she was gracious and warm. She spent time with the small crowd, answering questions truthfully and diligently. That only added points in my book to want to read even more of her books. If there is a new Death on Demand book, I’m reserving it at my local library. I’ve read all of her Henrie O. series and I’ve read her Bailey Ruth series. There’s something, though, about the Death on Demand series that I always love. Annie and Max are a great combination, and her supporting characters are wonderfully alive, from the kooky and loving Laurel to the imperious and sharp Emma.

Last year at RWA, I had the privilege of receiving an autographed book from Jill Shalvis. I had never read any of her books before. I came home and devoured the first three Lucky Harbor series books. Maddie and Jax’s story is my favorite although I can relate to the Southern belle Tara and like her story with Ford. Any author who includes a reference to Ingrid Bergman is an author I want to read. I can’t wait to read more of the series.

The number of books that I have read that are part of series far outweigh the stand alone books I’ve read lately. If I see a Mrs. Murphy book by Rita Mae Brown, I’m at the checkout desk with it. If J. B. Stanley has a new James Henry/Supper Club book, it’s on my Kindle. I’m also at the checkout desk with the latest Fools Gold book by Susan Mallery. Just to name a few.

But why? Why do I keep returning to series? I think it’s like reconnecting with an old friend on Facebook. It’s finding out that the character is still vibrant and still is interesting enough to have another story to tell. It’s finding out that the author creates a persona that I want to read and in whom I invest time and energy getting to know. It’s also why television filled a niche that movies valiantly tried to fill with such classics as The Thin Man series (those wonderful movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy) but couldn’t because it takes so long to film a motion picture. People love their favorite characters in television shows and readers love their favorite characters to return either as a main character again or even a supporting one.

So this year I look forward to returning to some favorite places in books, but I’m also appreciative of authors who spin good stories without series as well. What about you? Do you love series? What series do you read and love? Let me know.

Family Friday: Eleven Hugs and Kisses

Eleven hugs and kisses. Whenever I leave my home to go somewhere else to write, my youngest son, Chunk, asks for eleven kisses and eleven hugs. His four year old self stands there while I bend down and deliver a kiss and a hug, a kiss and a hug, and so on until I reach the number of eleven. He makes me count out loud in case you think that I might be able to get away with only five or even ten. As soon as I reach eleven, he runs off, secure in the knowledge I will come home and give him more hugs and kisses.

My family is a little unusual in that I have a wide age gap between each child. Kath turned 16 this week, MJ is 10, and Cupcake and Chunk are twin 4 year olds. When Kath and MJ were younger, I stayed at home with them and enjoyed it. I volunteered at school, went on field trips and picked them up from school. Now I am attempting to launch a writing career. On days when my wonderful hubby is off from work, I head to a library or a restaurant or anywhere I can go to try to write without kids coming into my room with a little office in the corner and asking questions. Life is different now. Cupcake and Chunk are growing up with a mom who writes. As a result, they make sure I kiss them and hug them before I go write. It’s a new experience: going off to work and leaving them at home (with my wonderful hubby who is also a wonderful father).

Of course all of this makes me think about how each of my children is different in terms of affection. Kath, my oldest, dictates the terms of affection. She gives out lots of hugs and kisses but on her own terms in her own time. MJ, the middle child, loves to cuddle. For a long time, he was the baby of the family and we had lots of time to cuddle and read books together. Now he scoots into a cuddle, having figured out that sometimes he just has to assert himself and dive right into a hug. Cupcake, the older twin, likes to cuddle in the morning and asks for Cupcake Cuddles. Chunk, the younger twin, spreads out affection through the whole day and puts his whole body into a hug.

I don’t mind giving Chunk the eleven hugs and kisses because being the mom of a teenager, I know how quickly the years pass and that soon enough, he won’t be asking for the eleven hugs and kisses anymore, but for now, I like knowing that we are starting a little ritual. I’ll let you in on a little secret: those eleven hugs and kisses help me get through my workday a little faster and a whole lot sweeter.

Do your kids have any goodbye rituals before you leave for work?

“What am I reading” Wednesdays: Happy New Year

Happy New Year! It’s a brand new year. Every year I get excited at the thought of all the books I am going to read in the upcoming year. I know that may sound a little weird. Most people probably dream of all the places they will visit or think of all the fun times they will have this year. Instead, I think about what books I’m going to read.

I’ve always surrounded myself with books. It’s natural for me to always be reading one book and think ahead to the next book I want to read. I separate the different stages of my youth by what I was reading: Dr. Seuss as a preschooler, Trixie Belden as an elementary school student, Anne of Green Gables as a middle school student and so on.

This year, I’m trying something new: reading challenges. This year I’m determined to read more and surf the internet less. I’ve started by picking out the first two books on my New Year’s reading list: All They Need by Sarah Mayberry and Ain’t Misbehaving by Molly Cannon.

Last year at the national RWA conference, I attended a seminar on Emotional Resonance delivered by Tanya Michaels. She named several writers throughout her talk, one of whom was Sarah Mayberry. I downloaded two of Ms. Mayberry’s books on my Kindle following the speech. I read the first last year and loved how Ms. Mayberry molded her characters into realistic people who could live next door. Both the hero and heroine impressed me because they had faults as well as strengths. So I picked out the second book that I had downloaded to be one of my first reads of the year. On the dear reader page, I discovered it was one of the two sequels she had written so I found a copy of the first one because I like to read books in order whenever possible. Tonight I started All I Need, the story of Mel and Flynn. So far it’s very good, and once again, Ms. Mayberry does an excellent job in entwining the reader into the lives of the characters, people you want to get to know and meet in real life.

I’ll let you know if it continues its present form of being a really good read. I especially love that it’s set in Australia, as Ms. Mayberry herself is from Australia. I have a particular fascination with Australia and New Zealand, two very beautiful and scenic countries.

So far, so good. The first book of this year is an enjoyable read. I’m hoping it’s a good sign for this year as well. May your new year be filled with good books and good goals. Happy reading.

What books are you excited about reading this year?

Writing Tuesday: So What Have I Done

What songs make you think about your life? There are so many types of music out there that hopefully a certain type of music appeals to you whether it’s alternative, rap, hip-hop, pop, jazz, classical, R&B, swing (Big Band), country, Broadway, folk, blues, Reggae, New Age and even more. There are also so many holiday songs to enjoy as well. Inevitably when I turn on the radio during the holiday season, I hear John Lennon’s “So This is Christmas” at least one time. One line in that song always made me think about my life. The second line in the song asks what a person has done (I think fair use allows me to say that the second line is “So What have you done”). A few years ago, I would hear that line and would regret that I hadn’t started writing. So finally I started writing.

I wrote a book and almost finished another when the pregnancy test came back positive. I thought it would be a cinch to write whenever the baby was sleeping or whenever my two older children helped out with the baby. Then I discovered I was having twins. I developed writer’s block and put writing on the back burner, but I still had ideas running through my head. When the twins started mother’s morning out, I decided my “maternity leave” was over and that this time, I would be serious about it. This time I sought out writers’ groups and attended conferences. I’ve sought out critique partners and received invaluable information from people who have cared enough to read my work and tell me what I’m doing wrong as well as told me if something made them smile.

Although I gave up on my first attempt citing writer’s block and life issues, I’m learning the meaning of perseverance. This year was not easy as I’ve been dealing with the loss of my father after my mother passed away eighteen months earlier. During one of our last talks, my father told me how proud he was that I discovered that I’m a writer. Even though I’m not published, I can finally look back whenever I hear the John Lennon song and say I am doing something that I love. I’ve finished my first book (my first after the “maternity break” because I’m not counting the book from before my “maternity break.”) and I’ve started my second and third books. I’ve joined three wonderful writing organizations whose members are encouraging and generous with their time.

So if you have a book in you and haven’t started writing, don’t even delay until tomorrow. Start today. If you’re a plotter, start your outline and your research. If you’re a pantser, start writing.

I’m very thankful that I have a family who is encouraging me in my endeavors. My wonderful hubby and my four kids help me in my quest to find time to write, find stories to write, and find time to attend conferences and meetings which will hopefully help me become a better writer. Telling others about your writing can also be a huge step to finishing the book that you have in you.

So thank you, John Lennon, for your question that is one of the reasons I finally spurred myself to take that first step to writing books. Has any song helped you realize something about yourself?