Five on Friday: Happy Easter

So, yeah, Happy Easter, if you celebrate. (And as I mentioned in my last post, even the non-religious types among us can surely celebrate Easter as the coming of spring.  AmIright?)  It’s a busy weekend for many and here’s what’s going on around here:easter_candy_chocolat_242057_l

What I’m fussing about: Apostrophes, freaking apostrophes. The overuse of them is a pox upon the land. I’ve written about this before, but apparently I need to write about it every day for forever to stop this scourge. A story: Wednesday night is pie night at Shari’s, which for those of you who do not live in the Pacific Northwest is a restaurant sort of like Denny’s, only better. Not the least because every Wednesday night they offer a free slice of pie with every entree. Num. So my sister and her husband invited me and my husband to go with them to pie night, and we said yes, because, pie night.  (And because usually my Wednesday nights are taken up with my writing group or knitting, both of which were canceled due to Spring Break.)

We were not disappointed, especially because we had the most entertaining waitress of all time. Ronda did a “Ta-da!” with every armload of food she brought to every table and engaged in hysterical waitress-ly banter.  So it was all good.  Except for the blackboard by the front desk which announced specials and MISUSED APOSTROPHES. I was in such a state of shock to see this happen again (I had just read a blogger who should have known better do the same thing) that I forgot the particulars but it doesn’t matter.

Here’s the deal: an apostrophe denotes possession. So: my sister’s pie. My cat’s food. Etc.  But when you have a regular, good old-fashioned plural, as in when you want to describe a group of objects or more than one thing, YOU DO NOT NEED AN APOSTROPHE.  It is actually easier not to use an apostrophe so I can’t figure out why people persist in adding them in.

Okay, I’m breathing again. We shall carry on.

What I’m fussing about #2: Unnecessary changes.  Okay, so this necessitates another story. Last night, a group of us, eight to be exact, partook of Portland Restaurant Month.  That might not be its exact name, but the gist of it is that a number of restaurants offer three-course meals (fixed menu) for the price of $29.  One of the spots offering this deal happens to be right up the street from us, and it also happens to serve prime rib. Not only that, it is wonderfully old school, with fake red leather booths in the bar, fabulous cocktails, and the prime rib served from a trundling silver cart and carved right at your table.

Recently, Clyde’s was sold to one of the many hip and upcoming restaurateurs that dot this city, who promised to keep all the old-school elements of the place intact.  Except he didn’t. Because, no trundling old cart to serve meat from.  Every piece of prime rib cooked exactly the same, no matter how it was ordered. And, you used to be able to get a container of their delicious salad dressing to take home for a small fee. But, you guessed it, no more.  Sigh.  It was fun anyway, with one of our party celebrating the fact that he had just quit his job because his small Etsy business has taken off. (If I knew the link, I’d post it, but I don’t, alas.)

Surely there is a lesson for writers in all this. Don’t fix what isn’t broken? (Except it probably was, a little bit.) I dunno. You tell me.

Lieutenant, draped on my arm as I write.

Lieutenant, draped on my arm as I write.

What I’m reading: Starlight on Willow Lake, by Susan Wiggs. This is, and I quote her website, “a stunning tale of the delicate ties that bind a family together….and the secrets that tear them apart.”  I’m fascinated with novels that form parts of series, and this one is just that, another title in the Lakeshore Chronicles.  The plot follows a conventional women’s fiction arc, but the author throws in some good surprised. It’s a quick and satisfying read.

Who is helping me: My cat, Lieutenant, as always. He climbs up onto my desk and drapes himself over my arm, then snuggles as close to me as he possibly can. Within minutes my arm is aching with his dead weight on top of it as I try to write.

Why I’m writing such a long post today: Because I have one scene to write to finish the rough draft of my novel. So, of course, it is imperative to write a blog post of great length instead.

That’s it for me. I guess I better go finish that damn novel. What’s up for you these days?

Photos: The candy bunny is by Zela, and the cat photo is by me.  It may or may not appear upside down, because WordPress does this funny thing where on the backend the photo shows as upside down or backwards but when I preview it, it is right side up.

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10 Ways to Welcome Spring and Rejuvenate Yourself and Your Writing

Spring never fails to surprise me with its lush beauty.  And this year is no different. Even though we don’t get much in the way of snow, it does feel like we’ve come through a long winter, seeing as how we’ve had record-setting rainfall amounts. And so spring is delighting me everywhere I look.  Here are some ways to welcome it in that just might impact your writing, too.four-leaf clover

  1. Smell the flowers. I know, duh. But sometimes I get so busy with all the very important details of my life that I forget to appreciate the small things. And those small things, added to our stories, are what make them come alive.
  2. Roll in the grass. Or swing on the swings. Slide down the slide. Play like a little kid. We adults are usually far too cool to do any of this—but it is a lot of fun once you let loose. And nothing refreshes the writer’s brain like some fun.
  3. Rest. Have you noticed a lot of people sniffling and coughing around you the last week? Yeah, me too. We all tend to get sick more around the equinoxes and solstices. Plus, here in the states we just changed to daylight savings time. Good reasons to rest up.
  4. Take a trip. Long or short, either can be invigorating for the writer’s brain. A couple days ago, I had occasion to drive out to Oregon’s wine country to meet a client who was here visiting family. I’ve been out there a million times—but its been a while. I had a blast admiring the gorgeous scenery and the adorable small town vibe of McMinnville.
  5. Dye Easter eggs. Even if you’re not the least bit religious, dying eggs can be a lot of fun. Or maybe that doesn’t catch your fancy, but what about some other creative project? Giving your brain a chance to do something creative besides writing can rev your engines.
  6. Celebrate. Sunday is Easter and you don’t have to be a believer or go to church to celebrate. The church I grew up in celebrated Easter as the coming of spring. Good enough for me. Actually, my family uses just about an excuse to celebrate. Take time to be festive.
  7. Walk in the rain. Because it’s fun.
  8. Write outside. (But not when it’s raining.) Grab a spot at a sidewalk table at your favorite café or sit in your own backyard. Bundle up if it’s still a bit cold.  A change of venue can do wonders for your writing.
  9. Hunt for four-leaf clovers. See #7.  It is also good to focus your powers of observation.
  10. Take a picnic. Pack a lunch and your laptop or tablet, head for the park or your favorite outdoor spot. Make an afternoon of it. You can combine #2, #3, #8, #9 and maybe even #7 with this suggestion!

What are your favorite ways to welcome spring? How do you incorporate them into your writing?

Photo by steven.y.

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Otherwhere: Tuesday Afternoon

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an Otherwhere entry.  I was writing them weekly, but I’ve decided to do them more randomly now, just because some weeks I get a lot of good stuff and others I don’t.  I had some links saved up and then some new good ones came in to my inbox this morning, spurring me on. So here’s the latest collection with a bonus video at the end.  See if you can guess what it’s going to be.

Writing habits

How go get started

Your bag of writing tricks

Defeat impostor syndrome

Dealing with those pesky, daily writing blocks. (This is a podcast, but there’s a transcript.)

The threefold method for writing an antagonist

The art of the plausible

Write a great love scene

Okay and now, wait for it…you might have guessed, given the title of this post, that I would come up with a video to the one, the only, the lads from England–your Moody Blues Singing, of course, Tuesday Afternoon. (It’s from 1969, people, with Justin Hayward looking like a high school student.

 

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Five on Friday: Vegetable Edition

I'm looking at you, air born weeds and pollen

I’m looking at you, air born weeds and pollen

Why I look odd: It is full-on spring here, a few days early, and I’ve got the allergies to prove it–my eyes are all pink and itchy. Fifteen years ago, I got really sick with a horrible, unidentified virus that resulted in hives, and ever since then I struggle with over-active histamines.  This year even my go-to natural supplement, Antronex, is not putting a dent in the problem, and I’ve actually been taking anti-histamines.  They haven’t helped much, either. If anybody knows anything that will tame them, please do share.

Fun medical test I’m taking: Here in Portland, we’ve had a big scandal with air quality lately.  The Forest Service found abnormally high levels of heavy metal in moss, particularly around the locations of a couple of art glass companies that make their home here.  Turns out the DEQ knew about the results and didn’t bother to do anything about it for quite some time. Political brou-ha-ha ensued!  Anyway, I live near a mini heavy metal hot spot, because, wait for it, we have a bong maker nearby.   So I’m taking a urine test for heavy metal toxicity, which involves swallowing some pills, peeing into a bottle for 6 hours, and then shipping it off to the lab.  Fun times.

What I just bought: On a more cheerful note, don’t judge, but I just bought a spiralizer.  Yep, I did. Now I can make zoodles! We’re trying to eat as many vegetables as we possibly can around here and I thought spiralizing them looked like fun.  Guilt-free pasta! Check out some recipes here.zoodles

What I’m reading: The Color of Light, by Emilie Richards.  Love this book.  It is women’s fiction about a minister whose congregation gets edgy when she lets a homeless family stay in an empty apartment in the parish hall. There’s a love interest in the form a faith-questioning priest. I think it is hard to write about religion without a heavy hand, and this author does it well.  Helps that her husband is a Unitarian minister, Unitarians being the least woo-woo of the bunch.  (I should know, I grew up in the Unitarian church.)

How many scenes I have left to write in my WIP: Three.  So I better go write them.

What’s up with you these days?  Please do tell in the comments.

Dandelion photo by hberends, zoodles image from Parade.

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The Virtues of Finishing a Writing Project

stop_symbol_plate_238801_lSo, I’m four scenes away from finishing the most terrible Shitty First Draft ever, in the history of man, written.  I started this novel on a sunny afternoon in Collioure last September when I got a sudden inspiration.  I’ve been working steadily on it since then, taking pretty much the whole months of December and February off to deal with more pressing tasks.

The big news about this draft is that it is so bad I nearly abandoned it. I even wrote a blog post about it.  I felt I’d made so many changes in the book that it wasn’t worth it to continue, that I should just start over.

But then I started thinking. As one does.

And I remembered various bits of advice and quotes I’d read.  Like these:

“Finish your novel, because you learn more that way than any other.” James Scott Bell

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish.  You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” Neil Gaiman

And then there are Robert Heinlein’s Rules for Writing, the first two of which are apropos to our topic here:

  1. You must write
  2. You must finish what you write.

I felt bad about the prospect of abandoning my poor crappy baby. A baby born in France, no less.  So once I finished the rewrite on my macaron novel, I heaved a heavy, tortured sigh and went back to the horrible WIP, telling myself to just hit the high spots and get something, anything, on the page.

And that’s what I’ve been doing every morning.  I got the idea for this post a couple of days ago.  Back when I was actually enjoying working on the novel for a brief, lovely period.  That was short-lived. This morning I gritted my teeth as I typed every word. (The fact that I had to do a blood draw and COULD NOT HAVE COFFEE until after it may have had some influence.)

But, I will say this.  As the above quotes say, I am learning a lot from busting through to the end.  Ruby, my main character, is finally starting to have a bit of a voice, and I understand her a lot better. Other characters are coming into sharper focus as are overall themes.

Despite the awful writing session this morning, I’m feeling pretty cheerful about it all. Because this afternoon, as penance for not writing a full 2K words, or anything even close to it, I sat down with legal pad and pen to see if I could figure out how much farther I had to go.  And that’s when I realized I had only four more scenes.

Four scenes, people.

I can do this.

And I will be a better person for it. More to the point, my writing will be better as well.

There will be wine at the end. Lots of it. Just saying.

 

Okay, so dish: have you ever abandoned a project?

Photo by brokenarts.

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Writing More is Easier

pencil_notebook_writing_237689_lYes, you read that headline correctly. I am going to set about telling you why writing more is easier than writing less.  KEEP READING. I know you were about to click away when you read that writing more bit. But stick with me.  You can throw tomatoes at the end if you like, but at least give my brilliant and thought-provoking words a ponder.

Years ago, (not even going to tell you how many), when I was learning to drive, my sister would sometimes take me out to practice. (Seeing as how she was only three years older than me, that would be illegal today.)  There was one curvy stretch of road fronting the air base that tended to be traffic free, which is where we headed. As I got behind the wheel, my sister urged me to step on the gas, saying “Driving faster is easier than driving slower.”

While the fact that I had three older sisters to share such helpful tidbits  might explain a lot about me, it also illustrates the principle of writing that I want to share: more is better.  But first, let me mention another example, that of meditation.  Yes, yet another topic you don’t want to hear.  I’ve experimented with meditation for years and never managed to get a regular practice going. I’d sit down for five or ten minutes, as the experts told me, planning to gradually increase my time. But here’s the deal: nothing happened. I felt no effects from it. Only when I regularly carved out twenty minutes of time to practice did the benefits begin to accrue.

And now back to writing.  I have been a bit stymied with my WIP.  This first draft is a mess, complete with all caps notes to myself like THIS IS THE WORST PIECE OF CRAP EVER AND THIS SCENE MAKES NO SENSE.  I’m not kidding.  I was rocking along, forcing myself to write 500 or 1,000 words a day.

But one day, I managed to eked out 2,000 words. And suddenly I enjoyed writing it again. I set a goal of 2,000 words a day (generally accomplished first thing in the morning) and started flying.  Not only were the words piling up, but I fell in love with the story and the characters all over again. The more I wrote, the better I felt.  Truly, committing to a higher word count a day became easier than trying to get excited over 500 words.

Here’s why I think this happens:

  1. Mental momentum.  When I get more accomplished each day, I think about it more.  The characters pop into my brain throughout the day, and I find myself scribbling notes often.  By writing more, I’m engaging my brain more.
  2. Encouragement.  Man, its nice to see that word count pile up.  I was despairing that I’d ever write a eke out a full novel with this story and suddenly I have 75,000 words.
  3. Writing fast.  In order to accomplish my goal, I have to write fast and not worry too much about getting it perfect.  This allows me to get the story on the page and push through the doubts. Much better than wringing my hands because I don’t know where to go next
  4. Writing breed writing.  Or, the more you do, the more you can do.  Just like energy breeds more energy–its all true.
  5. It gets easier. The more you write, the easier it is–and I mean this in terms of having ease as you are writing. If you only write a little bit once in awhile, your writing habit is rusty and it is hard. But if you’re writing a lot every day, you get into the rhythm of it and fingers fly.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it because it is true. So say I.  What say you? What’s your word count goal?

Also–a note for regular readers.  Do you remember a post I did recently called Meditation for Writers? It would have been since the start of the year, or at the very end of last year. I am certain I wrote the damn thing, but I can’t find it to save my life.

Photo by len-k-a.

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Five on Friday: A Little Late-ish

storage-44156-m (1)Another Friday rolls around and here’s a look at the week…

What I’m Learning: More is more. Of course, some might say this has been my motto all my life.  Sigh. But what I mean is that sometimes it is easier to do more than less. Like more writing. I know, I hear you groaning.  A full post will follow in which I will explain all.

What I’m Reading: Turns out I don’t much care for mysteries which feature animals who talk, and so I’ve ditched The Oat Cake Crag, following the advice of Austin Kleon in his post, How to Read More.)  I’ve just finished The Unlikely Lavender Queen from last week and am about to dive in to Ethan Canin’s new book. I’ve got a stack of women’s fiction I’m eager to read, but the Canin book comes from the library and its got a gazillion holds on it so I can’t renew it so it has to be read first.

What I’m Working On: Besides my writing, office organization. Yes, again. I had some boxes stashed upstairs that came down and things had to be put away and in the middle of putting together a file box, I got distracted by Lord only knows what so everything is piled up on my work table.

What I’m Writing: Just passed 75K words on the project I thought I wouldn’t finish, the one I started one lovely afternoon in Collioure last September.  Coming down the home stretch! I’m actually really enjoying working on it.  I also have an absorbing new ghostwriting project, working on a book proposal for a very intense and topical book.

Who’s Helping Me: My grandson Henry, who is stapling, hole punching, drawing and playing with Washi tape next to me as I write this.  When I was little, the favorite game of my sisters and I was Office.  Our father built us a little wood room in the basement and brought home cast off office supplies from his printing plant. So I figure I can start Henry early, too.  Alas, his cousin Olivia could care less, but she is obsessed with dolls and stuffed bears, which were my other love.  So live is good.

What’s going on with you? What are you writing? What are you doing in the rest of life? Do tell.

Photo by ppdigital.

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Working Your Genre to Improve Your Writing

annabench-shakespeare-paris-1147326-hBack in my early writing days, genre was a dirty word.  “Oh, she writes genre romances,” someone would sniff.  Or, “Well, you know, it’s just a genre mystery.”

My, how things have changed.

Though not everyone apparently approves or even wants to admit it, the lines between genres (or more to the point, between genre and mainstream) are blurring.  Agent Donald Maass wrote a book  about this a few years ago.  Time magazine has covered the genre bending and so has, gasp, the New Yorker (they came out against it, no surprise).  And even a star such as Ursula LeGuin has weighed in, saying that literature is “the extant body of written art.  All novels belong to it.”  Check out the New York Times bestseller list on any given week and you’ll see that it is often dominated by genre.

So, to me, there’s no doubt about it—genre is the new black.  Okay, sorry, I had to go there.  Even literary fiction is considered a genre now, as is my favorite category, and what I write, women’s fiction.  (Where is the “men’s fiction” you ask.  Excellent question.  It is somewhat of a point of contention that women’s fiction must be labeled as such while men’s fiction is just considered literature.)

Here’s a pretty good map  that will give you a good idea of just how far the country of genre extends (though I think their non-fiction categories are rather limited.)  And for a really extensive list, including some I’ve never heard of, go to our old buddy Wikipedia.

My real interest in this post is to explore how working within the confines of your genre can improve your writing.  For years, as evidenced by the kinds of statements I used to hear, genre writers were considered hacks.  Now, with the proliferation of writers and writing styles, genre is a useful tool that differentiates various styles for readers.  And you can and should use it to your advantage.  Here are what I see as the benefits to working your genre:

 

  1. Passion. Most people start writing a particular genre because they love to read it.  If you don’t love reading your genre, and try to force yourself to write in it just because it is popular, that will show.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to write YA to no avail.) But on the flip side, if you love romance or women’s fiction, the words will come easily to you. (Or maybe I should say easier.)  Let your passion flow and it will deepen the worlds your create, no matter what genre.

 

  1. Expertise. Embracing your favored genre will give you experience and knowledge.  Rather than trying to write whatever is popular, or what you think you “should” write, allow yourself to sink deeply into one genre.  Read widely in the field, not just other novels, but craft books as well.  And write like crazy. Soon you’ll have all the tropes of the field down pat.  James Scott Bell has an excellent tutorial on this at the beginning of his book, Revision and Self-Edition for Publication.

 

  1. Structure. Genre novels have ready-made structures, which is part of the appeal of reading and writing them. For a mystery you need a body (most of the time) and an investigator that people want to spend time with.  For a romance, you want star-crossed lovers.  For science fiction, you’ll need the future or a unique world.  The point is that you’ve got conventions established and waiting for you.

 

  1. Transcend.  Once you have mastered the lay of the land you can go farther and make the genre your own.  BUT ONLY AFTER YOU’VE MASTERED THE BASICS.  I’ve always thought that a mystery needed a body up front, as close to the beginning of the book as possible. But nowadays I read mysteries that don’t even have murders.  Don’t try this at home, folks, until you have mastered every aspect of the genre.

 

  1. Meld. Similar to #3, once you’ve learned the basics you can blend and shape your genre your own by mixing it with others. Kate Atkinson’s mysteries, for instance are to cozies as a chocolate cake is to a piece of peppermint candy.  That’s because she blends in elements of literary fiction in her writing style and focus on character.

 

  1. Readers. As in, you’ll likely get lots of them. Genre readers are the most avid on the planet, which makes them a particularly satisfying field to write in. And a writer can learn a lot from which books do well with their target audience and which fall flat.

 

  1. Fun. This takes up back to #1.  If you enjoy a particular genre, there’s nothing that’s going to give you more pleasure than writing it.  And, remember, we do this for fun, people! If you’re not enjoying your writing, you might want to go get a job in a dentist’s office.

 

Do you write genre? Why did you choose the genre you write in?  Please weigh in!

Photo by austinevan.

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Otherwhere: March 7

carrousel_evening_lights_223804_l

The writer’s life is a mad carnival ride

No snappy titles today, but I’ve got lots of great writing links for you. So let’s get right to it.

Are you trying to ride the news cycle with your current novel? Might not be the best idea.

I gotta admit, sometimes I wonder about this: is writing fiction a worthy endeavor?

What is your story about? When an editor asked me this, it clarified everything. (But then, I can be a bit slow on the uptake.)

How to read more!

Ever thought about applying for a grant for your writing?

The writer’s outlook on life.

Sharing is caring.

Marketing, then and now.

Maybe this is what’s wrong with my current WIP.

My son and daughter-in-law saw Hamilton last November and have been obsessed ever since. What you can learn from it.

Larry Brooks on structure and other things.

Do you need a pen name?

And finally, the seven things a writer needs to make a living.

What have you been reading around the web this past week?

 

Photo by manitou.

 

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Five on Friday: Marching Into Spring

My library books, with bonus gorilla.

My library books, with bonus gorilla.

How about that title? Clever, huh? Marching into spring…and it’s March this week….I know, you are way ahead of me, you got it on first read.  Anyway. It truly is spring here, with daffodils and crocus and daphne popping out all over, along with my favorites, the pink plum trees.  We’ve had some lovely warm temperatures, too.  Soon we’ll be sitting outside every evening.  Can’t wait.  In the meantime, here’s what’s been going on:

What I’m reading: I’ve had this huge stack of books from the library, because, as I’ve noted before, I put them on hold and then they all come in at once.  But a funny thing I’ve noticed is that when I have so many books, none of them appeal to me. Proving once and for all that too much of anything is not a good thing.  So yesterday I piled most of the library books in a bag to take back and  last night I started a book I bought at our publishing workshop a couple weeks ago, called The Tale of Oat Cake Crag (try saying that several times in a row) by Susan Witting Albert.  The main character is none other than Beatrix Potter.  So far, so good. I’m also finishing a memoir called The Unlikely Lavender Queen, by Jeannie Ralston, which I found on the library staff picks shelf.

What everyone is talking about: Toxic air in Portland. Ugh.

What I’m going to watch:  I swear to God on a stack of bibles (as we used to say when we were kids) that I’m going to watch Spotlight this weekend if it kills me.  Seeing as how it is now available on demand, this ought to be easy to accomplish. We’ll see.  We have a terrible track record of actually seeing movies, because social events and life gets in the way.  An interesting side note: as you know, the movie is about the Boston scandal about priests molesting children and how reporters covered it.  But years before that even happened, here in Portland, my hairdresser at the time was the first to sue a priest because of abuse.  He was really brave to do it, because at first he was roundly vilified on talk radio and in the media.  Until something like 20 other men came forward and said that they, too, had been abused.  I’ve lost track of Joseph over the years, but I’ve always been proud of what he did.

What I’m writing: I turned in the rewrite of my macaron novel to my agent and she’s turned it into the editor who is interested.  So while I hold my breath I’ve returned to the novel I said I wasn’t going to finish.  I’m now determined to get to the end of it, even if it kills me, which it might. In the meantime, I’m having some interesting thoughts about finishing things. Blog post to follow.

What I’m doing on Wednesday nights: Debbie and I run a writing group every other Wednesday night. It is pretty kick ass, if I do say so myself, but not because of Debbie or me–it’s because of our amazing writers.  On alternate weeks, I go knitting at open knitting night at Close Knit.  Which is great fun in a different way, especially because several of us meet at the CruzRoom for Happy Hour ahead of time.  I love the variety of knitters that appear–some old, some young, lots in between.  Some are experienced knitters cranking out accomplished projects and some are brand new.

That’s it! That’s all I got. What is going on with you? What are you reading, watching, writing?

Photo courtesy of my husband.

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