Finding Time to Write vs. Making Time to Write


Last week, I wrote about questions non-writers tend to ask writers. This week, I thought about what questions writers ask writers. The obvious questions came to my mind. “What genre do you write?” “What’s your current project about?” “Are you a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in the middle?” Even though there is no secret handshake for writers (at least, I don’t think there is!), certain terms and familiar head nods signal to writers you’ve found someone else who shares your love of imagining new plots and putting the stories in your head on paper (or a computer screen, whatever the case may be). At conferences, programs, and workshops alike, however, those questions are always followed up with the inevitable, “When do you find time to write?” Having four kids, a Basset hound, a husband whose work schedule is rather unpredictable, and being president of Georgia Romance Writers, I always listen with a keen ear to the answers I hear for the last question. There are the inevitable answers of “I wake up early” or “I go to sleep late.” However, I want to share the time I heard the best response to that question and I’d like to credit the wonderful writer Nicki Salcedo for sharing her answer with myself and everyone else lucky enough to be in her workshop that day.

When I attended my first Moonlight and Magnolias conference, I attended a workshop led by Nicki Salcedo and Jennifer McQuiston on the subject of making time to write. Notice right there the amazing part of this workshop. It didn’t involve squeezing time of a lemon. Two writers devoted to their craft made time for their writing in a deliberate manner. During the workshop, someone asked a question. I can’t remember the question, and I can’t even remember who asked the question. It was something about why Nicki stayed up late to write. Nicki looked the person in the eye and asked if that person liked spending time with her friends. The person looked perplexed and nodded. Nicki told her her characters were her friends and she loved spending time with her characters and why would she not want to spend time with her friends.

This month, I’ve thought about that response often. The joy of writing, the joy of making time to spend with your book characters is sometimes lost in the business of writing. Writers are self-promoters, students, writers, cheerleaders, marketers, and so much more. However, if we don’t love our characters, the villains and the heroes alike, that comes out in our stories. This month I’m making time to recapturing the joy in writing, the joy in my characters, the joy in making time for something that is an integral part of myself. Without that joy, without that determined focus on wanting my characters to become a part of someone else’s lives, I don’t know if making the time to write can translate into a great story. The joy of making friends with your characters and spending time with those friends can go a long way in answering “when do you find time to write” because that joy is the reason you make time to write.



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.


Writing Monday: Couple Chemistry

Those people who know me know to stay away from two subjects: classic movies and writing. When I start talking about movies or writing, I can get carried away. Just ask my husband. The last time we went to a party, someone casually mentioned they were interested in writing a book. My husband removed his coat and started talking to the hostess. Forty-five minutes later after extolling the virtues of how a few words a day can add up in a hurry, how awesome my local writing chapter is, and how neat it is to type the end, I wrapped up my discussion about writing. My husband graciously escorted me out before I started talking to anyone else about some of my favorite subjects. Needless to say, I’ll discuss the craft of writing with anyone, anytime, anywhere. That’s one of the reasons I blog about it, hoping to spark a tiny bit of interest in someone who might have carried a germ of an idea around in his or her head and wants to start translating those ideas into a book or screenplay. It only made sense to blog about what classic movies have taught me and how I try to apply some of those lessons in my own writing. This is the last in my series connecting classic movies to the craft of writing. And I’m doing so with a bang-chemistry. What helps turn a great screenplay into a truly memorable movie? The chemistry between the leads. What makes a book memorable? Chemistry between the characters.

Movies. Think about some of your favorite movies, whether they’re romantic in nature or not. I bet there is some relationship that caught your attention. If you like romantic comedies, have you seen My Man Godfrey? Classic movie fans immediately have an image of Carole Lombard and William Powell clashing. Carole Lombard was at the height of her beauty, a blonde dithery vision on a scavenger hunt searching for a vagrant to accompany her back to the organizers. William Powell was at the height of his career. He played Godfrey, a man who turned his back on the world and lived on his terms: stubble, dirt and all. It worked because of their chemistry. The remake with June Allyson and David Niven didn’t work nearly as well because the two didn’t reflect the same sparks as Lombard and Powell did. (Don’t get me wrong-Allyson and Niven were both great actors more than capable of great chemistry with the right partner-June Allyson teamed very well with Van Johnson and Jimmy Stewart; David Niven teamed very well with Ginger Rogers and Robert Wagner.)

If you like science-fiction/fantasy movies, what would Star Wars be without C-3PO and R2D2? They may be droids, but their rapport and shtick help not only provide comic relief but also shows how much they rely on one another.

More of an action movie fan? The Lethal Weapon series wouldn’t have been the same without the great rapport between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Even Die Hard benefits from the walkie-talkie discussions between Bruce Willis and Reginald VelJohnson.

Dramas? What about the father-daughter bond between Atticus Finch and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Mysteries? Have you seen Laura? Dana Andrews gives an underappreciated performance in this movie, falling in love with Laura without having ever met her as he is investigating her murder.

In each of these movies, a relationship became even stronger when the characters fed off and learned from each other.

Books. I write romance novels. No matter the heat level in a romance, the leads have to have chemistry. There has to be some bond, some connection that shows in a world of over seven billion (assuming the setting is Earth and it’s not a fantasy romance set in another realm), these two characters are only meant for each other. That’s what a romance author has to capture on the written page: the emotional connection that ties these two people together, no matter the odds, no matter the conflict.

When in doubt about a scene, I sometimes reflect on my love of classic movies. How did two opposites like the bookish David Huxley and the wealthy Susan Vance fall in love in Bringing Up Baby? How did two married people keep the spark alive as well as Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man? How did Devlin and Alicia Huberman generate such passion when she believes he only sees her as a fallen woman in Notorious? The chemistry between these couples helps me want to create a strong couple, a couple who overcomes odds and deserves a happy ending.

And that concludes my series tying together two of my favorite subjects: classic movies and writing. Chemistry between two characters goes a long way into a book going on the keeper shelf and a movie staying in my thoughts long after the last reel has faded.

What couples in film or books are some of your favorites? Let me know.

Writing Wednesday: Comfort Movies and a Writer’s Voice

stock-photo-viewers-watch-motion-picture-at-movie-theatre-long-exposure-177676565 When you’ve had a bad day, are you the type of person who has comfort movies? I live in the South, and we’re big on comfort food down here. There are times, though, I don’t reach for freshly fried chicken or a hot fudge sundae. Instead, I go straight to my movie collection. When I’m down, there’s nothing like Fred or Ginger dancing away their worries. Or Rosalind and Cary spewing lines left and right in a hailstorm of hilarity. Yeah, after a bad day, there’s nothing like relaxing with one of my favorite movies. Ever since I was a teenager searching for a way to get out of housework one afternoon and stumbled on Topper, I’ve loved watching classic movies. The original Frankenstein with Colin Clive and Boris Karloff has some chilling moments that still resonate today. The scene in Double Indemnity where Billy Wilder highlights Barbara Stanwyck’s face as Phyllis watches her husband die is a classic moment in film noir. Irene Dunne’s Lucy Warriner trills a note and grins in The Awful Truth when her husband Jerry, played by Cary Grant, barges in on her recital and falls flat on his face. It’s Writing Wednesday, and in keeping with my series on how classic movies can help with writing, what do all of these movies have in common? They are classics in their genre: horror, film noir, and romantic comedy. They knew their voice and executed their elements beautifully.

Genre. A trip to a bookstore doesn’t hide the fact there are tons of different books out there: horror, thrillers, cozy mysteries, romance, young adult, mainstream fiction, biographies, self-help and more. (If you haven’t seen the post about a bookstore employee making his own sections, it’s really funny and worth a look). The first decision a writer makes is narrowing down the field and realizing what they want to write. I love cozy mysteries and when I’m not reading a romance, I’m usually caught up in the latest of one of my favorite mystery authors like Carolyn Hart or Rita Mae Brown. But when push came to shove, I always turn to a romantic movie to pull me out of the doldrums. More often than naught, I turn to one of my favorite romance writers when I need a good laugh. For me, the choice was simple: romance.

Voice. Ah, the elusive term for writers. How often do beginning writers hear a familiar refrain? Find your voice. Find your brand.

Classic movies knew their voice. There was a reason some people referred to Frank Capra movies as Capra-corn. When you went to a Frank Capra movie, you knew you were getting two hours of delicious, fun movie entertainment. Eighty years later, a number of his movies are still household names: It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, It Happened One Night, and You Can’t Take It With You. All of these movies resonate with the deep down goodness of people to do the right thing (even the Arsenic and Old Lace aunts in their own twisted way are convinced they’re doing those men a favor before Teddy digs another lock for the canal). George Bailey finds out that no man who has friends is a failure. Jefferson Smith finds out his filibuster is not for naught. Longfellow Deeds finds out Babe Bennett isn’t just out for the story. Peter Warne finds out the importance of standing behind his principles and only asks for the money due to him. Alice Sycamore finds out the richness of one’s family is not in dollars, but in the way they live their lives fully and without reservation.

Persistence can help a writer figure out what sets their books apart from others in the same genre. Sometimes it’s likeability. Sometimes it’s the writing style fitting the genre. The more you write, the more you find out what is unique about your writing style and the more it will come across on the written page just the same way it did for Frank Capra’s voice coming across on the silver screen.

So personally, comfort movies can actually translate to the written word. So many times I’ve turned to one of my romantic comedies to the point that it was natural for me to turn to writing romance.

What about you? What’s your comfort movie? Let me know.

Writing Wednesday: Classic Movies and the Craft of Writing

I love old black and white movies. Some people have comfort foods; I have comfort movies. I’ve probably seen Jimmy Stewart carrying Katharine Hepburn in his arms while singing “Over the Rainbow” more times than I’ve let my dog outside this week. The other day I was watching the beginning of Auntie Mame on the treadmill and I burst out laughing more times than I care to count right in the middle of a crowded fitness center. If you’ve never seen Auntie Mame, give yourself a treat and watch this movie. Auntie Mame and His Girl Friday are just two of the reasons Rosalind Russell is a national treasure. As I was walking along and watching the opening frames, I started thinking about how well the writer and director used just a touch of backstory at the very beginning of the movie to set up the picture. All of a sudden, it clicked to me that classic movies are a hidden trove of information related to the craft of writing. So for the next three weeks, I’m going to weave six tips about the craft of writing with the rich tapestry of classic movies. This week, I’ll cover what classic movies have taught me about the judicious sprinkling of backstory in the first chapter and how the hero’s POV can start a novel. Next week, I’ll talk about supporting characters and a support network. The last week, I’ll talk about voice and chemistry.

Backstory. Auntie Mame is a gem of a movie. Rosalind Russell’s performance alone is a tour de force and makes the movie worth watching. Auntie Mame recounts the story of an independent free spirit who suddenly finds herself bringing up her young nephew after his father dies. It’d be very easy to open the movie with Auntie Mame and show her exotic lifestyle. Instead, the movie opens with someone’s will being read aloud. A man’s voice describes his estate and tells what should happen to his ten-year-old son if anything happens to him but takes great care to explain that nothing will happen to him because he takes such good care of himself with the explicit reason that he never wants his son to fall into the hands of his eccentric sister. The man’s hand reaches out and affixes his signature to the will. The next frame shows a newspaper headline that a financier has died at his health club. The viewer knows, without a doubt, it is the man who doesn’t want his wacky sister raising his son.

What a great beginning! It captures the attention. It begs the question of why does this man find his sister to be so reprehensible that he tries to keep himself in top shape. It hooks the viewer into wanting more. It doesn’t show a montage of Mame’s life to present. Instead just a few well placed sentences create an expectation of something coming to the viewer that is slightly out of the ordinary. And the movie delivers just that.

Other classic movies also tantalize the viewer with just enough information for him or her to know what is going on but not so much as to prevent the action of the movie from starting. For example, The Palm Beach Story shows a hilarious montage of twins tying up their identical twins in order to get to a wedding on time. It gives just enough backstory to set you up for a wild hour and a half of screwball comedy mayhem. In My Favorite Wife, Nick Arden asks the judge to declare his wife legally dead. The judge reads details of the brief aloud to give the viewer enough info for the particulars of the case. No sooner does the judge declare Ellen Wagstaff Arden legally dead as Nick Arden asks the judge to marry him to Bianca.

All of these movies give the right amount of backstory so the viewer knows what is going on, but not so much as to stall the story.

The Beginning. Some romance readers like a romance novel to start with the heroine’s POV, but there are several classic romantic comedies that show that the hero’s POV may be the right place to start.

Bringing Up Baby. One of the funniest classic movies ever. If you haven’t watched this movie, stop reading and go watch this movie. The words Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Asta, and a leopard should be enough of a reason. Unlike other romantic comedies, this movie starts with the hero’s POV. The first shot is of a dinosaur skeleton as the camera zooms into Cary Grant deliberating something. It would be easy to start with Katharine Hepburn’s character Susan Vance asking her aunt for a million dollars, but instead, the viewer’s introduced to David Huxley who loves his work and is engaged to be married to Miss Swallow the next day. We see his disappointment when Miss Swallow informs him that theirs is to be a marriage without children as the museum is their baby. David may love dinosaurs but he also wants a real marriage. We instantly care about who David ends up with, not only because he’s Cary Grant, but also because we care about him being happy for a lifetime with the right woman.

Think about some of your favorite movies. What separates their beginnings from other movies? How do the writer, director and actors draw you into the story? Does the movie sprinkle in enough backstory to make it interesting? Why do you think the writer chose which character to start the movie? Then think about how you can transfer what you thought about to your own writing.

What movies have helped you think about the craft of writing? Let me know.

Writing Friday: Real Life Strikes Again

Unknown-1A long time ago, I remarked to my father how difficult calculus was. He remarked real life wasn’t a cakewalk and wait until I had to face life complete with a mortgage, a teenaged daughter and bills to pay. I looked at him like he was crazy. What could be more difficult than calculus unless it was trying to stay awake while reading my biology textbook?

Fast forward a number of years. Here I am, ensconced in that real life my father was talking about, complete with my very own teenaged daughter. At the monthly writers’ meeting I attend, I joke that I often feel like a character in a YA novel, the beleaguered mother of the heroine. While I know better than to base any of my characters on real people, real life sometimes has a way of sneaking up and teaching me about the concepts I’m trying to grasp as an author. This week my teenaged daughter Kath is hitting home some of the messages craft authors diligently write about. Since Kath doesn’t read my blog, I’ll go ahead and use her as my guinea pig example.

Kath is on her high school debate team. Yesterday she left to attend a debate tournament in another city, in another state. So far this illustrates the point so many craft authors try to make to us newer writers. You can write about a character but without urgency, immediacy, and the ability to relate, there’s not going to be an emotional connection with the reader. My first two sentences prove that. There’s no chord struck with the first two sentences. A teenager is part of her debate team and is attending a debate tournament. So what?

Urgency. Writers are urged to add a dimension to their character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts to up the urgency aspect. If something strikes home in a way to promote urgency, it can add to the tension and suspense in the book.

Did I mention the tournament is taking place in Massachusetts on Saturday and Sunday? Have you heard the weather forecast for New England? Another blizzard is expected with snowfall accumulations of up to a foot. Here is Kath, excited and nervous to go on her first national tournament, a tournament that will be her gauge about her skill as a novice debater who has co-championed in her last two events, and depending on when the weather system hits, the tournament may or may not go on as planned. Even if Logan’s backlog is cleared by Tuesday, her home state may be or may not be in for a significant weather event of its own. Her hometown airport may or may not be closed the day she’s coming back.

I’ll grant that Kath’s urgency isn’t on par with a grade A thriller, but it’s hitting home the need for a sense of urgency in my own works in progress.

The ability to relate. Another level that is often stressed in craft books is the need for the hero or heroine to be written in such a way as to strike a chord in the reader. The reader has to find something in the hero or heroine that’s likeable, that’s relatable.

Let’s return to Kath’s debate tournament. Teenagers aren’t always the easiest characters to find a bond with. While we adults all went through that stage, some teenagers are as prickly as cactus. How do I add details to the story that will make readers like Kath and relate to her somehow (knowing all the while with my example that Kath is a real person whose name and identifiers are being changed)? I go into her backstory to add that detail but notice it’s a little later in the blog. Kath has recently been diagnosed with VHL, a rare genetic condition. Without going into too much detail, it’s enough to say her eyesight in her left eye isn’t what it was before she was diagnosed with VHL. If this were a book and not a blog, there’d be more detail about the extent and severity of the disease, but for now, it’s enough to say this trip has been a major incentive for her. The details of why the trip is important for her (recent life changing diagnosis) add enough for us to like her more and relate to her more. Who hasn’t looked forward to something in a tough time?

Urgency and the ability to relate. These are two traits that can go a long way in adding depth to your main character. Is the conflict lodged between the character and their goal such as to promote a sense of urgency? Is the character likable so that the reader can relate to them and root for them to overcome the conflict?

As a writer, I’m trying to incorporate these details in my work in progress. As a mother, I’m on the edge of my seat for news about the blizzard in New England, knowing that will impact whether the tournament is able to continue.

Have any recent events in your life helped you delve into the craft of writing? Let me know.

Writing Thursday: The Dog Did It


A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about our family adopting a dog named Vera, or more accurately, how Vera adopted our family. My family and I didn’t enter into this with blinders on. We knew there would be adjustments on both sides, and we hoped for a good fit. Vera’s been a joy (most of the time), but I didn’t expect for her to hammer home some important writing skills. So, without further ado, here’s what my new dog has taught me about writing.

Show, don’t tell. The three favorite words of the beginning writer. Believe it or not, Vera’s taught me a thing or two about showing rather than telling. When you first bring a dog into your home, you don’t know much about the dog. You have to observe the dog and read her signals to get to know her or him.

For example, I could tell you that Vera doesn’t like vets.

Or I could write a story to show you.

At the pet store during the adoption event, Vera ran over to our family and rolled on her back. She didn’t wander away as four kids descended on her and gave her tummy rubs and told her what a good dog she was. She stood up, gave them huge doggie kisses before rolling over again for another belly rub.

When we arrived home, she wouldn’t stay still as she showed us her best behavior and darted to each of us, waiting for a small sign of affection. It didn’t matter whether it was a tummy rub or a scratch behind the ears. She wanted to know she was being accepted into our family.

At night, she’ll jump into a chair with one of us, her long body stretched across the person. None of us have the will to tell her she’s not a lap dog. She’ll wait a couple of second for us to pet her and if we don’t, she starts whooping to let us know she’s next to us waiting for attention. Like we didn’t notice the thirty-eight pound dog on our lap.

In the morning, she’ll come up to each of us as we wake up and sit in front of us and roll over, waiting for more affection.

One day, I took Vera to the vet for a checkup and to purchase heartworm medication. When they showed us into the examination room, she burrowed her nose between the sliding door and the frame, trying to open the door to escape. The vet arrived and examined her ears. My sweet girl growled at the doctor who, with my permission, put a temporary muzzle on her to examine her ears, one of which had a raging ear infection.

Even without benefit of editing and with some point of view and verb usage errors, which did you prefer reading to find out Vera doesn’t like vets: the first sentence which told you that or the paragraphs that showed her previous behavior around us to establish her sweet disposition contrasted by her dislike of the vet?

Backstory. We adopted Vera from a rescue organization. I’m a big believer in supporting animal shelters and animal rescues. Her foster family had information about her past four months she had spent with them. They also conveyed that “a change of lifestyle” was the reason her former family surrendered her to the humane society. Other than that, we don’t know about her first eight years and Vera doesn’t know about my first (well, more than eight) years. She knows what I tell her, but it’s not like I go around thinking about everything that has happened in my life up until the moment we brought her into my home.

The same is true for characters. The reader doesn’t know the characters’ backstory. But just as I haven’t told Vera everything about my life before her, so too does the reader not need to know everything about the main character in the first ten pages of the book.

There have been a couple of times I’ve called Vera “Leia.” When that’s happened, I’ve told Vera about our previous pet, a corgi mix named Leia whom I love/d very much. I’m sprinkling in information about my past life, but I’m not spending hours/pages elaborating on every detail about Leia.

At the same time, every morning, Vera tries to snatch the socks out of my hand (in a sweet and funny way) when I attempt to put them on the feet of my preschoolers. While I know dogs can’t talk, it still has shown me that in the course of the story, it’s not always necessary to know why a certain behavior happens. Chunk (one of my five-year-old twins) thinks it’s a great game and that’s enough for me.

Read, read, read. So far, one of my favorite times with Vera has been a quiet half hour. I had my book in one hand and with my other hand, I petted her in the comfort of my big chair-and-a-half. I loved spending that time with her and losing myself in my book. Judging from how still she was, I’d say she was pretty happy as well. That short time together helped us bond a little bit more.

One craft tip writers often share with other writers is to read. Read about your craft, read your genre, and read outside your genre. It’s important to see how other writers use words to convey their stories and sometimes it’s relaxing to lose yourself in a book. No matter why, the important thing is to read.

In a little over three weeks, Vera’s helped me understand some of those writing hints I’ve heard so much about. She’s becoming part of our family, and her family includes a writer.

Have any of your pets ever helped bring home a craft tip about writing or helped your career in some other way? Let me know.