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.

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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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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Blogs, Podcasts, and Craft Books, Oh My!

When I started writing, I’d go to the library and work on my romance novel. The concept of trying to find other writers and learn from them didn’t dawn on me. So, I started off not knowing about writing blogs, podcasts, and craft books. Instead, each day after I dropped off my children at school, I’d travel to the same library, open my word document, and write. Without letting anyone read my work and without editing, I made twenty copies of my voluminous novel and sent them to agents and editors. I received nineteen rejection letters in short course. Then, I found out I was pregnant with twins and stopped writing every day until they entered preschool. When they started Mother’s Morning Out, I knew I had to write again. My fingers were itchy, the stories had been brewing and, more than anything, I wanted to write a book. This time I heard about a writing class offered at a local bookstore. When I attended the class, I discovered a new world. The authors defined literary fiction and genre fiction, and I knew I was a genre author. Equally as important, the authors talked about local organizations and I resolved to attend one of these local programs to find out about romance writing. Fast forward almost six years and now I see so many offerings to writers of all levels. Everything from craft books to blogs (exactly like this one) to podcasts to conferences to websites and beyond. There are so many writing tools an author could get lost in the “dos” and “don’ts” if she’s not careful (although I’d like to say that no one way to write is the right way. What works for me might not work for someone else, and what one author might consider a rule of writing might be something that another author learns so she can break the mold). With every tool that’s out there, what is worth an author’s time and what isn’t. Here’s some advice for writers of every level.

  1. Bottom in chair, hands on keyboard. Yes, it’s important to work on your craft and learn from other authors, but it’s important to have something to work on. Writing a book is hard work, and it requires day in, day out perseverance. Otherwise, there are enough podcasts for you to do nothing but listen to podcasts rather than producing words.
  2. Find writing groups whether in person or online. Writing is solitary. When it comes down to it, it’s your imagination and you sitting down at a keyboard (or pen and paper) and writing. Writing friends can get you through the hard times and understand what you’re going through in ways no one else can. Whether you have a critique partner, a street team, faithful beta readers, or a local writing chapter, it’s important to have another writer you can open up to, brainstorm, share good news and the bad, and celebrate typing “the end.”
  3. Know yourself. I like reading craft books a little at a time, and I seek out recommendations from friends. I’ve discovered I love reading James Scott Bell’s writing craft books. For me, he’s easy to relate to, he explains concepts in an easy-to-understand manner, and his observations are worth the investment and time. As far as blogs, there will always be certain bloggers you read a couple of times and then you want to shout from the rooftops, “A-ha.” With podcasts, I like to vary my time between listening to a writer or motivational speaker and listening to something for fun. I’ve rediscovered radio programs, such as the Lux Radio Theater, where actors and actresses would act out a recent movie. These are a great way for me to pass the time in traffic, but they have the extra advantage of making me think about acts, character arcs, and plots. Hearing a movie as a radio program makes me listen to the dialogue and think about what I like or don’t like about the characters. By knowing how much time you have for learning about the craft and knowing your schedule (for instance, you might travel an hour to and from work every day and might want to listen to a podcast one way and an audiobook or a radio program or music on the return route), you’ll get an idea of how to prioritize according to your learning style.
  4. Try something new. If you like reading craft books, reading blogs for a couple of days might be able to help you target an area of writing where you’re having trouble. If you like podcasts, an audiobook might be a nice change of pace or vice versa.
  5. Don’t break the bank. Libraries are great places if you want to check out some different craft books, and many offer audiobooks to download if you have a library card. Blogs are free, and many blogs will give you a free writing book if you sign up for the author’s newsletter. Along with not breaking the bank, decide beforehand how much time you have each week to read about the craft of writing or about marketing your book and stick to it, making sure not to cut into your actual writing time.

Regardless of what fits your learning curve the most, thank you for taking time to read my blog today. If you’re a beginning writer, reread your favorite book taking note of how the author writes her characters and uses strong verbs. If you’re a writer who just published his or her first book, read blogs about marketing books and making good use of your time before a book launch. If you’re a more experienced writer, continue to learn.

And please feel free to share your favorite blogs, podcasts, or craft books below.

 

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Write-at-home mom

Write-at-home Mom

I stole this phrase a while back. I immediately identified with it and started using it. There’s only one problem with it. I rarely write at home. During the school year, I write anywhere except home. I’ve tried to write at home, but there’s always a load of laundry to fold or a dishwasher to unload. When I’m at home, my loving Basset Hound, Vera, believes my purpose is to pet her (or make her a sandwich, if I would be so inclined, instead of feeding her kibble) and pay attention to her. If the kids have a day off, they conveniently stay out of my way if I’m cleaning, but the second I open my WIP, there are problems galore that only Mom can solve. So, I’ve learned to write at libraries, at Panera Bread (a huge thank you to all the employees who kindly let me wear out my welcome, and I do leave at peak hours), and in the parking lot. The question then becomes where to write.

One of my favorite television shows of all time is a little known gem called Ellery Queen. A precursor to Murder, She Wrote, this mystery show followed the adventures of a mystery writer who helped his father solve murders. Why it was only on for one season astounds me. There’s one episode that features Ellery working furiously to finish a book before a deadline. He only had a couple of days to finish forty pages and he had hurt his finger which was wrapped up and unable to be used to write or type. (One other aside: the show is set in 1947 before word processors and computers.) With a busted finger, he hired a secretary, one Miss Margie Coopersmith with a “C,” to write down his dictation. At eleven thirty at night, Miss Coopersmith asked Ellery if he would like to continue writing at the automat. Ellery looked at her as if she were crazy. “Writing? At the automat? It’s too noisy.” He told her he wouldn’t be able to get any work done in the noisy confines of the automat, instead preferring the interior confines of his New York City apartment.

Unfortunately, I’m the opposite. When I’m at home, it’s too busy. Writing in the busy atmosphere with four kids, two pets, one husband, and a myriad of chores is almost impossible for me. The good thing about writing at someplace other than my house is that it gives me a couple of minutes beforehand to think about my writing for the day: where I’m at in my outline, dialogue, setting, POV, and so on. The bad thing is that it eats up time as I travel to different places.

What’s important for me, more than where I write, is working on consistency. Writing deliberately every day is crucial for me to get the character’s story on the written page. This summer, I’ll be the one at the library or Panera with my gaze glued to my computer screen.

Where do you like to write?

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