Getting Good News (+ June Round-up)

Last month in my monthly round-up, I exulted over having just sent in the latest rewrite to my agent. And so it is fitting that a month later, I’ll give you the good news—she and her readers loved it, we’ll do a polish and it is on the submit list for September. (Because, as I explained on the Facebook page, nobody in the publishing world reads anything in the summer.) And never mind that her idea of “brief notes” for the polish might be more than mine, I’m excited.

Of course, the opposite of excitement is despair, which I felt many times as I waited to hear from her. I was certain that the whole thing was awful, so awful it would lead to the cancellation of our relationship. But part of that, I think, was just my psyche wanting to protect me from disappointment again.

This a cycle that we writers face all the time. Exultation and despair. Happiness over a new idea, puzzlement over how to implement it. Joy that an agent is interested in us, dejection when we are rejected by her. Giddiness when the work is going well, forlornness when we are stuck. Boredom and anxiety while we are waiting to hear someone’s reaction to our work. I could go on and on—and the point I want to make is that you can’t get around this see-saw. It is part and parcel of the creative cycle.

One of the best things I’ve been working on lately is acceptance. Of the crazy creative cycle. Of my quibbles. Of my work flow. Of how I approach my writing. As an example, I’m a person who never reads instructions—I just jump right in and start pushing buttons to see how something works. This drives other people to distraction, but it works for me. And this is how I approach writing, too. All my brave words about becoming a reformed pantser.  All my thoughts about writing a better draft.  They are all well and good and I hope you found some inspiration from them. But that was me trying to shoehorn myself into a different pattern, one that doesn’t fit me.

As I learned in the class I just finished (see below), I figure things out from the middle. Hence my habit of not reading instructions. And jumping right into the writing when I “should” spend more time figuring out the plot.

You may be completely different from me in how you approach the world and that is good. Just be aware of what works for you and don’t beat yourself up if you are not doing it the same way as your critique partner. Don’t let some expert tell you there’s a better way to do it. You do you—and do it to the best of your ability.

And remember that the creative cycle is full of ups and downs—that’s what makes it a cycle.

Now, here’s what’s been going on over the last month:

Monthly Round-up

What I Read 

The First Rule of Ten by Hendricks and Lindsay.   I loved this first in a mystery series. Our hero, Tenzing (nickname Ten), was raised in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet (long story). But now he’s a P.I. in L.A. Great blend of Buddhist stuff without being too heavy about it, and a good mystery story. Plus some romance.

Café by the Sea, by Jenny Colgan. A bit slow starting and I wasn’t sure I’d get into it but I did and thoroughly enjoyed it.  A woman returns to her home island off the northern coast of Scotland, after leaving it for the big city a few years earlier. Fun characters who grow on you.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.  https://amzn.to/2tFseWt I bailed on this just a couple chapters in. It is a huge best-seller but it just didn’t grab me. I actually went on Amazon to read some reviews. Often my opinion is echoed there but not this time. People loved it. I didn’t.

No One You Know by Michelle Redmond.  https://amzn.to/2tNXp10 Another one I didn’t finish, though I made it farther in this one—more than halfway. Then I realized it was just unpleasant reading and I quit. True confession: I like books that are positive. I like happy endings. I don’t like to be depressed when I read.

The Art of Character by David Corbett.  https://amzn.to/2tEzAJN Love this book so much. I’m taking my time with it, as one should with a good craft book. I’ve already taken notes and written up some of his exercises and prompts for use in future workshops. Good stuff.

Women In Sunlight by Frances Mayes. This is my current read and it is going to take me a while—it is 420 pages long. I’m loving it, as I’ve loved her other books, a novel called Swan  and, of course, Under the Tuscan Sun. While I prefer France, the Italian setting is wonderful. Plus, it is about women of a certain age! We need more books featuring them!

–Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience  by Dan Blank. A book about marketing that emphasizes exactly what I learned in the class I just finished (see below). It is not about the metrics or the numbers or the money, it’s about the people you impact. Just started this one, but so far, it is really good.

 What I Watched.

 R.B.G.  We actually went to a movie this month! Going to see a film in an actual theater is one of my favorite things to do and yet we rarely make time for it. This documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg is fantastic, a must-see, especially with this week’s news that Justice Kennedy is retiring. I admit, I was unaware of how much Ginsburg has impacted women’s rights and the rights of all minorities. Truly inspirational.

–And other than that, nothing. A big fat nothing.  We used to watch a lot of TV, like every night, but since the family mob descended upon us in March, the show I’ve seen the most of is Justin Time Go. Don’t ask. It’s a two-year-old thing.

What I Loved

 Write Better Faster.  This is the class I just finished with R.L. Symes. It was so helpful in showing me more about myself and how to lean in to my quirks instead of trying to overcome them. Truly transformational.

–Finding out that the pain I’ve been experiencing in my knee is not because of knee arthritis, but because of hip arthritis. And getting a date scheduled for hip surgery. Woot woot! You can read more about it here.

Excited About

 –We bought train tickets for our trip to France and our annual writing workshop. And we’ve nabbed an AirBnB for a couple nights in Paris on the way home.  Making arrangements ratchets up my excitement level about it. I can’t wait to see the Mediterranean again, and to eat fish just pulled from its waters. I can’t wait to drink the good, cheap wine of the region and eat the fantastic cheese and bread. I can’t wait to stroll the town and buy Christmas gifts to send home. But most of all, I can’t wait to see the transformations that occur in the writers that attend our workshop. Inspirations strike, epiphanies occur, writing gets done (yes, even with all the distractions of the region).

It’s the best thing ever. Want to come this year?

 Join us.

And Also

–Join the Facebook group.  Participating in groups is the only way I like to be on Facebook and this one is good. It goes quiet periodically, but then it perks up again. I try to post something of interest every day (or at least every few days). Recently we’ve had discussions on sensitivity readers, relatability in characters, pantsing versus plotting, and more! Do join us!

(This post contains affiliate links and first appeared in my newsletter.)

Charlotte’s Monthly Round-Up Love Letter

Okay, so I probably should have done this last week, because we are already six days into the month, but I just thought of it. I’m talking about a new feature I’m trying—a monthly round-up of what’s going on in my writing life. Hopefully you will find things of use to you.

Outside my office window, the blossoms on the cherry tree are already fading. I can’t believe it is May! My month in France seems like a distant memory. And it is—I’ve been home nearly a month and a half. I’ve been busy working on my rewrite (see below), organizing my office, teaching, and working with clients. Oh, I also do quite a bit of shepherding of small children. (In case you need catching up, my daughter and her family moved in with us in March.)  It’s like being a parent all over again, only at least this time I can go close the door to my office. (Never mind that my office is the most favorite place of the two miniature humans who now live with me.)

Often sometimes I long for the gentle pace of the days in France, but I feel pretty blessed to have so much going on here.  We’re settling into a good balance. And if all else fails, there is wine. So let’s get to it.

What I Read

Train Your Brain, by Dana Wilde.  This book covers familiar ground—what you think affects your life—but the author writes about the topic in a way that I found convincing and easy to grasp. I’m a total wonk for brain stuff, and she talks about it without getting too science-y for me. Woo-woo warning: the topic lends itself to the woo, can’t be helped, so if this is not your thing, stay away.

A Gentleman in Moscow. I am loving this book. I bought it in hardcover for my husband a year ago Christmas. He read it and loved it but I ignored it. Finally picked it up and it’s so good. Amor Towles writes in an elegant style. He is also very good at dropping you into a scene, and explaining later. Something to emulate.

The Hazelwood, by Melissa Albert. Wasn’t thrilled with this one, though I had high hopes for it. I got confused with all the activity in the other world they enter and thought it went on a bit long. But points for inventiveness.

Digging In, by Loretta Nyhan.  This was a good garden-variety (hahahaha, I crack myself up) women’s fiction novel about a protagonist getting over the death of her husband through gardening. That she pisses off the home owner’s society in the process is a fun bonus.

On My To-Read List

Love and Ruin, by Paula McClain.  This is about Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn, who was quite a star in her own right. She was a globe-trotting journalist in a time when that was relatively rare. I’ve always wanted to know more about her.

Willpower Doesn’t Work, by Ben Hardy. I hear this is a great book on productivity, which is a topic dear to my heart. I also recommend his newsletter.

What I’m Loving

My rewrite.  I was having hand-wringing fits about it earlier in this month. But, finally, I’ve reached some momentum on it again. I’m rearranging chapters and man, does that get complicated. My friend Mayanna says I need to get Scrivener for this. But when I’ve used it in the past I’ve ended up so frustrated I ditched it. Your advice?

What I’m Excited About

I never thought I’d want to teach writing. But when I got my MFA, there was a built-in component on teaching. From there I got hired to teach at MTSU in Nashville (distance program) and turns out I love it! I learn so much from my students and also from the process of figuring out how to share what I know.

Debbie (my teaching partner) and I taught a class on motivation yesterday and it was a lot of fun. Tricky topic—one of those ones that sounds so easy but is really quite complex. We’re teaching another half-day workshop here in Portland on May 19th, this one on arc—another tricky topic.

I love these classes because they are very hands-on. We build in lots of time for in-class exercises and discussion, which makes them more fun. And, I submit it is a better way to learn than to listen to one of us lecture on and on.

This is the same format we follow for our France workshops, and we just happen to have a couple openings. You know you want to come study writing (and write) by the shores of the Mediterranean in a charming town. Right?

What I’m Listening To

So, try as I might, I haven’t gotten on the podcast wagon. Because I’m so visual, I don’t process information auditorily well. That makes it hard for me to retain information I hear.

And, I don’t listen to music while writing because it distracts me. So, sorry, no play lists from me. But I do like to listen to music at other times and since we were gifted an Echo from Amazon (which we usually just call the Alexa, since that’s the name you use to get her to do something) we’ve been listening to a ton of it. So far, we’ve not been able to stump her, although my son said he asked her to play Frank Zappa and she didn’t know him. Shocking!

On The Blog

Spring Cleaning Your Writing

Is It Procrastination or Percolation?

The Usefulness of Thinking Small (In Writing and In Life)

Writing Rituals That Work

Write It Imperfectly, Do It Imperfectly

The Ritual is Opening the File (How to Get Your Writing Done)

How About Some Writing Prompts?

On Story Questions and Traveling Home

I’m hoping that May brings a lot more of the same—writing, reading, working with clients—only that more of it will be done outside! What about you? How is your writing going? What have you been reading? I’m always in the market for new titles. Leave a comment and tell me everything.

(This post contains some affiliate links)

Five on Friday: Sunshine Through my Window

Fingers crossed for a nice weekend!  Here’s what’s going on:

What I’m Reading: Same books as last week, which I can’t divulge, because I’m reading for a contest.  But I also have occasion to load up my Kindle with Ebooks because I read while baby George naps on my chest.  So I have been perusing You Are a Badass at Making Money.  Because I’m a sucker for self-help books and this series by Jen Sincero is far more entertaining than most.

What I’m Watching: Not much of anything. I’ve been out a lot at night.  Oh crap, I just looked at my calendar and I am out every night through next Wednesday. This is why I end up watching stupid sitcoms.  Because there’s not a lot of evening time for anything more taxing.

What I’m Excited About: The beta launch of my Do That Thing program. Couple of spots left–check it out here.

Where I’m Spending Time: Answering questions on Quora. I’m finding it mildly addictive.  Very fun.

What I Recommend:  One of my favorite blogs is Thekitchensgarden.    I read it first thing in the morning to find out what’s going on down on Cecilia’s farm.  A writer needs to let loose her inner farm girl once in a while.  Though I’d probably collapse in a quivering heap after one hour trailing Cecilia about.

That’s it for the end of this week. What’s going on with you?

Five on Friday: Good Friday Edition

What I’m writing: Draft Two of my first romance novel.  I am living proof that you can write a Really Shitty First Draft and make it into something.  With previous novels, I’ve known more about the plot and characters and thus had a more polished first draft (still crappy, though).  There are many places in this one where I write in all caps things like I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE, and I really didn’t.  There’s tons of boring narrative summary and endless paragraphs of characters thinking, thinking, thinking.  But I got the story down–and now I’m having a blast figuring out better ways to present it to the reader. I’m pretty happy with it.  So if you’re in the middle of a draft that you’re despairing over, take heart.  Oh and here’s a pertinent quote I found today:

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist.” Jane Smiley.

I love it. By the way, that photo to the left is of Horn Seven. He’s my new writing buddy, given to me (and named by) my grandson to sit by my computer. (Follow me on Instagram for lots of photos of the writing life. Well, my writing life anyway. IG is my current favorite social media.)

What I’m Reading: Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang, and Dior or Die by Angela Sanders.  The first is a collection of short stories, one of which the movie Arrival was based on.  Chiang is the current darling of the sci-fi world and I waited months to get this book. And…I’m fascinated with it but it makes me feel dumb because I don’t always get the stories.  Sigh.  Dior or Die is another great mystery by my friend Angie. Go buy it and read it.

What I’m Watching: The current American Experience: The Great War, about World War I. I’m now fascinated with this era, thanks to the Maisie Dobbs books. (Book two in the series is next on my reading list. It will actually be the third one I’ve read, because the one I found that introduced me was way out of order.)  Anyway, it may or may not be true that I fell asleep on the couch watching American Experience, but still, it is worth mentioning.

What I’m Excited About: Nia, an exercise class. I wrote a whole thing about it in my newsletter that comes out this Sunday. If you’re not on my list to get it, you can subscribe from that banner up top. And you might want to, because I mentioned something exciting in it.

What I’m Excited About 2: Ordering groceries online. THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER.   A huge time saver for me. I’m not a human that likes going to the grocery store. At all. Ever. So this is a godsend.

Happy Good Friday and Easter, everyone. Hope you get some writing in even though its a holiday weekend!

PS. As I’ve mentioned, we are offering two sessions for the France workshop this year. But the first session is full (though we could accommodate you if your begged, or bribed us), and the second session is filling up fast.  So check it out!

Five on Saturday

Why I’m writing this post on Saturday: Because yesterday morning we had a big windstorm.  One minute it was a nice, calm Friday morning and the next it was so windy I thought the fir tree in the backyard was going to crash into my house.  And lots of trees did crash down all over the city. Turns out the combination of our very wet soil and everything in bloom was not a good match for high wind.  And so yeah, the power went out.  I had appointments all day, including on Skype, and nearly decamped to my son’s house. Luckily, it came back on quickly. But then it took a bit to get the internet working…and such distractions are murder on the schedule.

What I read: I finished the first Maisie Dobbs novel and am on my way to the library today to get #2. I know I’ve written about this series a lot, but I haven’t been this taken with a character in a long while.  It’s interesting, because in this first book there are some things that would normally drive me crazy and make me throw the book against the wall, like viewpoint shifts.  But the character and the setting–London between the two wars–keeps me so fascinated I don’t care.  I emerge after finishing the book and every other book I have on my to read shelf looks dull and boring by comparison.

What I’m writing: Perking along on the novel rewrite.  One thing I noticed in the Maisie Dobbs novel is what a great job she does of withholding information.  The reader may not learn the fate of a character for many pages.  Or, Winspear will hint at something in Maisie’s backstory and only later reveal it.  This is not a technique that is new to me, of course, but it is useful to see it in action. (This is why we read as writers.) And, I’ve been applying it to this novel rewrite with good result. (Or so I say. Nobody has yet read this thing but me.)

Most popular post on Instagram: The doll hospital.

What I did last night: Took a friend who is attending a conference for death and grief therapists here in town to an open house at The Dougy Center. I’ve driven by this place a million times–it’s on my route to my daughter’s house–but have never (thank God) had reason to go in.  The center is a non-profit that helps families cope with grief over the death or dying of a loved one.  In 2009, a huge arson fire destroyed their offices, located in an old home.  So they build a new place–and it is amazing, with myriad rooms devoted to various activities–talking, art, music, games, a theater and a mock-up of a hospital room. It is hard to express how incredible this place is–but it is a testament to rising literally from the ashes into something way better than the original.

That’s my report. What’s yours?

Five on Friday: Back From Retreat

What I did this week: I just got back from a three-day writing retreat in Astoria, Oregon.  Oh boy oh boy was it ever wonderful to have three days to focus on writing fiction.  I also remembered how great it is to enjoy the camaraderie of other writers. At night we drank wine and talked story, solving each other’s plot problems.  And then there were the tarot readings…Oh, and the apartment we stayed in was above a mortuary.  My sister was convinced there would be ghosts and she was right! The first night, the overhead lights clicked on without warning in the middle of the night, scaring the bejebus out of me.  (Cue Twilight Zone song.) Plus, Angie dreamed of ghosts all night. We were a bit nervous to go to sleep the next night but nothing happened, which was almost disappointing.

What I’m reading:  Blown Away by Clover Tate, aka Angela Sanders, who organized the writing retreat.  Also Rachael Herron’s latest Songbird romance.  I’m on her review team so I get to read it before it’s published.  This is a fabulous ideas for you authors out there: ask people on your list to join the reviewing team.  When you have a book coming out, send them the Ebook version for free and ask them to review it.  (Do some research on the correct language to use, as legally you can’t give a book away for a review.) When I’m ready to publish (soon!) I’ll be putting out a request for reviewers to my list. (Not on my list? It’s easy to join–just fill out the box to the right or at the top of the page.)

What I ate: I was desperately looking forward to eating some pan-fried oysters at Baked Alaska. I drove to Astoria for the day with a friend last October, and in my memory the oysters were the best I’d ever had. I couldn’t wait to eat them again. But when we go to the restaurant, those oysters were no longer on the menu.  Instead I got an uninspired Kobe beef burger. But the cheesy baked cauliflower, at least, was delicious.

What I’m excited about: My novel.   The truth is, it was such an undisciplined first draft I’d convinced myself that it was terrible all the way through. But re-reading it (which is what I spent most of the days doing) made me realize how much I like it.  Needs lots of work, sure, but it is tons of fun and I can’t wait to dig into it and get going on the second draft.

What I’m also excited about: I have an article in Magical Goddess magazine! The magazine is free, all you have to do is sign up on the site.  Check it out here. I love the way the article looks and I hope it has some helpful information in it.

What’s going on with you?

Five on Friday: Gloomy February Edition

I know, I know, you get back what you put out so I shouldn’t be calling February gloomy. But for cripes sakes, it kind of is.  I mean, we’ve got the Donald, and here in Portland we’ve had so many ice and snowstorms I’ve lost count (give me plain old Oregon rain any day), and there’s just so much going on it is hard to concentrate. But, people, we must. And so let’s chat about good things. (Yes, you may call me Pollyanna.)

What I’m Reading. I’ve had the worst dry spell. Had a few books on hold at the library and when I went to pick them up I found more on the featured shelves. And then…disaster. They were all a bust. So I went back to the tried and true and I’m reading A Light in the Window, by Jan Karon, second in the Mitford series books.  For the uninitiated, Mitford is a charming town where nothing too terribly bad happens.  Truthfully, not all that much happens in general.  Perfect antidote to these times.  Oh, and another trip to the library netted another hopeful armload of books, among them The Fortress, a memoir by Danielle Trussoni. She had this rather wild and wonderful book about angels that I enjoyed a few years back. And, wait for it, this book is set mostly in a small town in the Languedoc region of France, where I go every year. (And you can, too.)  Not having a good book to read is like not writing….

(And don’t forget about my buddy J.D.’s book.)

What I’m Reading Online. This series by Shawn Coyne on love stories just wrapped up.  It is brilliant, and for the record, it is not just about romances.  He makes the point in earlier posts that love stories in one form or another underlie just about every story.  But, for the record, romances comprise 45% of the Ebook market on Amazon.

What I’m in the Market For: A new phone. Oh my checkered history with phones! I was an Iphone girl for a long time, and then I switched to Samsung, because I got bored and wanted something different.  Loved my Samsung Note 4 for a couple of months until it started doing odd things. Like rearranging the icons on my home page. Hanging up on people. Calling people.  And then there are the strange noises that occur in the middle of phone calls. I convinced the phone is tapped.

But, glory Hallelujah, this oddity is nearly paid off and I can get a new one! I was all set to go back to the Iphone and then they released the 7 without a headphone jack. People, I spend half my life on the phone coaching, I need to use headphones. So that’s out. I’ve narrowed the field to the Samsung 7 Edge or the Google phone (which I understand I can buy through Google, even though I use ATT. Does anybody have any suggestions? I would love to hear.

What I’m Excited About: Friday night at home by the fire. (Except it has been freakishly warm the last couple of days, so maybe no fire. Damn.) I’ve been out every night this week: Monday to Happy Hour with my biz partner and a new friend, Tuesday to babysit grandchildren, Wednesday to the bi-weekly writing group Debbie and I run, and last night to the Women Without Rules Happy Hour.  This last is a group of women who got together when one of them put out a call on Next Door Neighbor (one of my favorite obsessions).  They meet for coffee every Monday, have Happy Hours every other week, and do other fun activities as well. I don’t go nearly often enough because I enjoy it when I do.

What I’m Amazed About: That, even on the busiest days (and I had some doozies this week), the more regularly I take time out to meditate or knit a few rows on a current project, the more easily I get things done.  I just found an article related to this here. It speaks to the benefit of getting the freak away from computers and smart phones and tablets and having another hobby.

What is going on in your world? Please do leave a comment, I love hearing from you.

New Book You Need to Go Buy

You guys, just yesterday I found out that one of my favorite humans ever, J.D. Frost, is releasing a new book today. It is called, Redemption Face: The Black Room Murders, and it is going up as a kindle release for only $2.99! I loved the first two books in the series.  They novels are police procedurals but with a depth to them. The main character, Moses Palmer, is what makes them different and so interesting to me.  He’s troubled and flawed, but still always strives to do the right thing–according to his own moral code.

J.D., the brain behind Moses, is a good friend and loyal reader of this blog.  Though he lives in Alabama, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him in person a couple of times–when he came to France year before last, and once when I was in Nashville. And I’m excited about the latest entry in the Moses Palmer series. Here’s the blurb about the book:

  Detective Moses Palmer is accustomed to driving strange routes, away from the river, around the river. Now Chattanooga is suffering a terrible drought and the mighty Tennessee that cuts through the city’s center is down several feet and barely moving. But Moses hardly notices. He and his new partner are chasing an eerie murderer who leaves his victims in darkness―total darkness. They have no suspects, so Palmer’s new boss, Maddie Kraikos, is breathing down his neck, in more ways than one. Then, the crazed killer ups the stakes, as if he knows Moses’ history, all of his history.

     Does life sometimes scar us beyond recovery, beyond redemption? Find out in this thrilling new novel from J.D. Frost.

Go check it out, you won’t be disappointed!

The Return of Five on Friday! Snippets for Your Writing and Reading Pleasure

I’m cautiously dipping my toe back in to bring you these Friday compendiums.  I started these last year and liked doing them a lot, but then I wandered away. As I do.  Probably because blogging has felt wonky and unpredictable to me over the last couple of years.

But, like so many others, I am feeling called to step up. And in the connection calls I’ve been enjoying with y’all, I’ve gotten feedback that you appreciate my blog posts, as well as the newsletter. (Thank you!) And my word of the year is launch. And, over the next couple of months, you’re going to see some design updates here.  So here we go, back to Five on Friday. But here’s my new idea: it’ll actually be four on Friday with the fifth thing being a tip or a prompt. How does that sound?  Let me know if you like it in the comments.  And let’s have at it:

What I’m Reading. The best thing I’ve read this year is something you can’t have yet. Sorry! I was a beta reader for my friend Angela Sanders’ latest caper, Cat in the Bag. Loved it!  Quirky, endearing characters, all former criminals of one sort or another, live together in an old folks home of sorts and get the better of anybody who tries to cross them.  Head on over and sign up for Angie’s list (her newsletter is so fun) so you can find out when this title will be released. She’d got lots of other mysteries you can read while you wait.

I also recently finished Leave Me by Gayle Forman and Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple. Both okay, but not stellar. Funnily enough, they both feature privileged white women whining about how hard their lives are.

What I’m Watching. Victoria, on Masterpiece Theater. Loving this series, with stellar acting and wonderful historical detail. I’m in awe of what odds the young Victoria faced and surmounted, as she became queen when she was barely of age. Highly recommended. And I’m in love with Rufus Sewell. Don’t tell my husband.

What I’m Loving. My Wild Unknown tarot cards. I find them uncannily accurate at unearthing my inner state. Can’t lie to yourself with these babies around! I tend to draw the same card repeatedly, and, as in so many aspects of life, keep drawing it until I learn the lesson the card references.  They are also useful for creative projects, as mentioned in my last blog post.

New Site I Discovered. I’m probably way late to the table on this one, but I just found Farnham Street. Fascinating collection of articles, that, as they tell it, “help you learn to make better decisions, create new ideas, and avoid stupid errors.” Their “best articles” tab has about a gazillion things I want to dive into.

Writing Tip.  PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE. We need your voice right now.  How can you share your work this week? Write a blog post, submit to an agent, send a story out, write or call your elected officials? If it seems overwhelming, break it down into tiny steps.  (My newsletter this week is on a similar topic. Its been much on my mind lately.  By the way, if you’re not on my list, the sign-up is to the right.)

Okay, amigos, that’s it for now. Remember to leave a comment and tell me what you think of the new-ish format (the addition of the writing tip or prompt).

Starting (Or Restarting) a New Writing Project

Right out of the starting gate!

Ah, the excitement of beginning a new writing project.  The energy! The enthusiasm! The high hopes! This, you think, is going to be the best novel yet, the best essay, the best short story, the best article. You whip open your computer, open a new file, place you hands on the keyboard and….sit staring at the monitor.  The idea and the energy that swirled around it has dissipated.  Crap.  That’s when you decide the kitchen floor needs mopping or the chocolate in the cupboard needs eating. Or the couch needs you to take a nap on it.

The description above is often me. I am a big picture person and I love dreaming up new ideas.  Oh, the plans I have for novels, classes, non-fiction books, and programs scribbled in my journal. And yet few of them see the light of day. Part of that is because, well, time. There isn’t enough of it to do everything I want to do.  But part of it also is because its easy to scrawl some notes on a page and much harder to actually take those notes and shape them into something. Like a book.

But I have learned a thing or two about getting started over the years of writing several novels, a few short stories, numerous articles and ten years worth of blog posts. And so herewith, I offer you a few ideas:

  1.  Take the time to do some prep work.  It can be so thrilling to be in the thrall of a new idea for a writing project that you launch right into the writing.  And yeah, then about a few chapters in you get stalled because you have no idea what you’re doing.  I’m all for getting words on the page, but I do find it helpful to know at least some things about your story before you begin.  Things like characters, setting, theme (okay, that one often takes awhile to gel), and at least a vague idea of where the story is going to go.  By the by, last year I taught Mapping the Novel at the Sitka Center and I’m seriously considering teaching it online later this year. Email me if you’re interested and I’ll make sure you get info about it.
  2. Know your genre. Are you writing a romance, or a mystery or women’s fiction?  Maybe a thriller? There are certain conventions for each one that it behooves you to know.  And beyond that, knowing these conventions can help you when you’re trying to figure out the steps of the story.  In a romance, for instance, the hero and heroine have to meet. (Duh.) But that’s one of your most important scenes, right there! All you have to do is figure out the details.
  3. Do some free writing. I know, I know, I told you not to jump right onto the page. But free writing is different. It is writing about your project, brainstorming on the page.  I could not write anything without this process.  I write morning pages just about every day, and often they are devoted to figuring out the intricacies of whatever I’m working on.
  4. Expand your input.  Try some alternative approaches.  For instance, I’m reading a fabulous book called The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide for an Inspired Life.  It is all geared toward using tarot cards for your creativity, i.e. your next writing project. Author Jessa Crispin has designed spreads for finding inspiration, checking your direction, being blocked, and all kinds of things. Fun! And helpful. You might also try looking up your character’s birth date on an astrological chart for more insight, or research your setting on Google images or Google earth.
  5. Use the power of lists.  I can’t live without my lists, and I use them voraciously with my WIPs.  Often my plot outline is a simple list of upcoming scenes, but that’s enough to guide me. I make lists for what’s going to happen in a chapter or scene to clarify before I start writing.  And I make lists of things to remember. Constantly. There are a lot of moving parts to a novel.

Those are some of the ideas that help me.  What works for you?  Leave a comment!

And don’t forget that I’m offering free connection calls this month. Let’s chat about writing! You can sign up here.

Photo by David Paul Ohmer.