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)

How About Some Writing Prompts?

Many moons ago, I used to offer a ton of writing prompts. I wrote a tumblr blog called Inventive Writing Prompts (nobody ever said I was good at names, oh and I just checked and it is long gone). I’ve written a writing prompts book (please go look at it because nobody else ever does). And, if memory serves, I had a writing prompt Saturday feature for a couple of years. Gah! How did I ever keep up with that?

But, in my newsletter this week (you can sign up to the right if you’d like to get it–it’s a love letter about all the aspects of writing) I had a moment of panic when I thought nobody was reading what I was writing. That turned out not to be true, thank you all my lovely readers. And in that same newsletter I asked for suggestions. One lovely person suggested writing prompts. Duh! The light bulb went off in my head–I used to do writing prompts in my newsletter, too. I’m not going to do them there, but I am going to try to do a writing prompt post here fairly often (that’s me refusing to commit to a regular schedule in case you hadn’t guessed).

So, herewith, some writing prompts:

“What on earth happened to you?” he said to his wife.

If only it hadn’t rained, none of this would have happened.

Don’t ever say that to me again.

Write about the first time you got kissed–a real kiss.

Last night.

Wait, what?

Let’s try this again.

They sat in the charming bistro, arguing.

Write about something you (or your character) will never do again.

Your (or your character’s) favorite place in the whole world.

Okay, there you have them! Ten writing prompts to get those words out onto the page. If you feel like it, share the results in a comment. Or share: do you like writing prompts or hate them?

What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part Three

You’ve revved up your brain, planted your butt in the chair, and now you’re ready to write. I sometimes envision this moment as that of a piano player: you place your fingers on the keys, expecting great music to pour forth….and nothing happens.

You freeze. You don’t know what to write. Or the words won’t come. Or you are so damn critical of the words that do come that you shut down the computer and decide to go clean up dog poop in the backyard.  Because dealing with that kind of shit is better than dealing with the crap you’re putting on the page.

Ahem. I have news for you. Writing crap is good.  Writing crap is desirable (at least in a first draft). GETTING ANY WORDS ON THE PAGE AT ALL IS YOUR ONLY GOAL.  So do it. That’s my first bit of advice:

Write Crap

Just write, even if that means reminding yourself how awful you’re doing as you go. My first drafts are full of all caps exhortations about what terrible work I’m doing. Like: THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE AND IT’S REALLY STUPID. Once I’ve gotten it out of my system, I can carry on with the rest of it.

Here is an unedited glimpse of what I wrote yesterday as I tried to get going:

Okay I’m just sitting here with the cat, staring at the computer.  What the f#%k. Staring never got the writing done. Just write something. This is where prompts are really handy!   Start with the image.

And I did. I started with the image and the scene flowed from there.  Writing crap, and reminding yourself of it, is incredibly freeing.

Write Crap Often

Like, every day. We already talked about making time and conserving energy for writing in part two.  Do your best to write as often as possible. It makes a huge freaking difference, I’m not kidding.  Doing this, you gain momentum. You have that lovely feeling that half of you is living in your fictional world.  And because of that, you’re in love with the real world you actually do inhabit.  And when you are in love, you want to spend more time with your beloved, correct? So you will be eager to return to writing your novel.  And that, my friends, is the power of writing every day. (Even if it’s crap.)

Plan Ahead

I’ve proven to myself over and over that I procrastinate and get distracted when I don’t know where I’m going.  This is why I like to write a loose outline for the plot of my novel, and why I’m such a huge fan of character dossiers.  The other thing I like to do is write notes to myself. I do a lot of “writing about” the project in my journal, and I just about always write little notes to myself in the manuscript as to where to go next.  Then when I open the file first thing in the morning, I know where I’m going. I often diverge from my plans, but at least I have a way in to get started.

Employ Systems

There’s lots of help out there for writers.  You can download Freedom, which will turn off your access to the internet for a predetermined amount of time.  You can use a Pomodoro timer that allows you to write in spurts (or just use your phone’s timer).  You can use Scrivener.  The point is, there are all kinds of tools out there that will help you in your daily writing. Find the ones that work for you and use them.

So there you have it. What are your favorite tricks to get words on the page?

Of Course You Can Do It: September Writing Prompts #3

September is Writing Prompt Month! Actually, I have no idea if that’s true, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? Here are your prompts for the week:

–What a fool he was. Yet still she was in love with him.

–Rise and Shine! Bright, shiny new day!

–Oh God, do I have to?

–They argued all day and all night and then got up the next morning and argued some more. What are they arguing about and why? Figure that out and then write a scene.

–He had the most unlikely business idea. And yet, it was brilliant.

–What is scarier: clowns or mimes?

–And when it is all over, at last I’ll be able to….

Okay, go to it! And have fun.

No Excuses: September Writing Prompts #2

I’m in a prompt kind of mood (or at least I was when I wrote this post, before I left for France) because later on this fall I’ll be coming out, with a wonderful co-author, with a writing prompt journal that you will be able to hold in your very own hands! Exciting, no? But in the meantime, because its Monday and you need to write this week, here’s a week’s worth of prompts for you. Go to it.

–He never knew that his aunt had turned into a hoarder, but now he edged along a narrow path that skirted the huge pile of junk in the living room.

–It will all be over soon.

–I don’t like you, but I love you. Seems like I’m always thinking of you. (With thanks to the Beatles.)

–The pile of notebooks threatened to topple over at any second.

–But, after all….

–You main character’s favorite way to spend her free time.  Drinking wine, pursuing a hobby, watching TV, having sex, hiking, reading, what?

–My neighbors collect gnomes and have them all around their yard. Sometimes they find new ones that friends have left in odd places. What do you collect and why? How about your main character?

Okay, you’ve got your marching orders for the week. Go to it! And if you write something you want to share, put it in the comments!

To Keep You Busy While I’m Gone: September Writing Prompts #1

pencil_notebook_writing_237689_lJust in case you were thinking, while the cat’s away, the mice will play, no such luck.  To give you something to do other than sit around and sob about my absence, I’ve decided to set up writing prompt posts for every Monday in September, with seven posts for you. One for each day.

You know the drill. Set a timer for 10-20 minutes, and write without stopping. Use the prompts as a warm-up tool, or to inspire you, or when you are blocked. Okay? Here goes:

–Pink, yellow, purple, brown. Mary shook her head as she sorted the yarn her mother had chosen.  She’d suspected it for a long time, but now she was certain: her mother had to be color blind.

–The road trip was tedious, especially when they got stuck in traffic for 30 minutes and Kevin started telling her to be patient.

–The small child turned the item over and over in her hands, then looked at the person who had handed it to her. “It’s called a watch. You tell time with it.  People used to wear them all the time.”

–A group of brightly colored hot-air balloons sailed over head. She was so delighted with them, she ran through the fields, chasing them.

–He was a mean, ugly person with a twisted sense of humor. Yet still she loved him.

–Down the rain fell, harder and harder.

–If there was one thing your main character could change about the place she lives, what would it be?

Okay, have fun. Look for a guest post coming up soon. And look for another edition of prompts next Monday, September 12th.  Oh, and here’s a little teaser–there just may be something in the way of a prompts journal coming up later on this fall!

Happy writing!

Five on Friday: Glories of Coffee Edition

Writing OutsideGood morning! Let’s dive in.

What crisis occurred this morning: I woke to the news that the electric coffee pot was not working.   This was not good. This was very, very bad. I pulled out my phone and looked up the hours of the nearest Starbucks (luckily, we’ve got at least three within a very quick five-minute sprint) while hub plugged and unplugged the pot and pressed the on button repeatedly. It didn’t help. Finally, he had the brilliant idea to boil water and pour it through. That worked. I have coffee.  I will not not murder anybody.

What I’m picking off my computer: Fir needles. It hit 85 degrees here yesterday, a record, and I sat outside beneath the fir tree and worked all afternoon. My computer was also covered in pollen when I came in, like absolutely every horizontal surface in this town. Which is why every human who lives here is sneezing, blowing their nose or itching their eyes, like me.

What I’m working on: I have a ghostwriting project that I’m really enjoying. Its an intense subject, but lots of good ultimately came from it.  We had some wonderful new students at our bi-weekly Wednesday Writers group this week, and we now have a good number sitting around the table talking about writing, all of whom are doing wonderful work. And I have several amazing  students and clients (Hi Mitch, Hi Courtney) who are producing regularly and several working quietly behind the scenes.  At least they better be working. (You know who you are–you’re working, right?)

And workshops–I got workshops! There’s the three-day Mapping Your Novel at Sitka Center in June (which is close to half full), France in September, which is one person away from being full, and COMING RIGHT UP is a workshop here in Portland called How to Write a Book. It is April 23, all day Saturday and it’s going to be a ton of fun, so if you live here, join us.

Oh, wait, what, you want to know what personal projects I’m working on? Well, um, er, I haven’t decided yet. I’ve got so many ideas for novels and stories in my head I’ve had a hard time landing on one. But I think I’m getting closer. I totally kind of drive myself crazy in the between-projects stage.  I can tell you another cool project I’m working on, though. It is going to be a series of prompt journals that I’m very excited about.  I’m creating these with my cousin’s wife Nancy, also known as the Sister-From-Another-Mother.  Look for them to be out soon.

What I’m reading: Honestly, a pretty silly romance.  But the reason I’m reading it is that I’ve realized, duh, that women’s fiction grew out of the romance genre,  so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go to the roots and see how books are constructed. The bare bones of the structure in a romance makes it easy to parse.

And then there’s a book I’m not really reading, but more using as a reference. It is James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing for Publication.  But really, it is about a whole lot more than revision. What I like about it is that he has short sections on various topics, such as character, setting, etc., with bullet pointed information that makes it easier to process. There are also longer swaths of exposition, but those are easily ignorable if you are so inclined, as I am. I got this book from the library and I’ve renewed it a couple times but I think someone else now has it on hold and it is overdue. So if you’re the one waiting for it, I’m sorry! I’ll get it back soon.

What I’m doing this weekend: Organizing my office. I know! I’ve said this every Friday for the last few weeks. But I’ve made progress, I swear. (Though if you saw the stacks of boxes on the floor of my office, you might not think so.) Last weekend we got the area where the boxes had been stored cleaned up. And there’s just a few odds and ends left over to move down.  Things I rarely use and thus don’t know what to do with.

I will admit that I spend very little time on the organizing during the week, because I’m so busy and important. That’s a joke, by the way.  But it just always seems that the things I’m working on take priority.  If I were a brave woman, I would share photos of my messy office. But I’m not, so I won’t.

That is absolutely all I have today. What’s up with you?