Tag Archives | writing

Because I Know You Love Them: September Writing Prompts #4

And here you have them: the last set of writing prompts for September.  Hope you’ve enjoyed them, and stay tuned for news of the release of a writing journal of prompts soon!

–Not in this lifetime.

–If ever I should leave you….

–What are the parameters of your main character’s world? Is he an international traveler, or someone who has always stayed close to home?

–Whatever. Just don’t expect any help from me.

–When was the last time you got to say, I told you so?

–They ate pie for breakfast, brownies for lunch and cake for dinner.

–I love staying in hotels so much that I think I was raised in one in a previous life. How about you? Do you have any feelings about how you lived in a previous life?

Enjoy!

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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.

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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!

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Fall Planning, A Special Offer and Off I Go

I’ve been working hard getting clients set for my absence while I’m in France, and I’ve found myself with a bit of time this week. And so I’ve been planning. If there’s one thing I love to do in this life, it is to plan.  Give me a calendar or a planner or a workbook or a template and I’m a happy camper.

When I get home, I’ll have three months left to make my mark on this year. Three short months! And I’ve got tons I want to write, novels, books, blog posts and newsletters.  So in order to accomplish it all, I’m going to need to be organized.  Hence the planning. (Never mind that sometimes I get so enraptured with my planning that I never get to the actual action-taking.)

But here’s the deal.  In all that planning, I know the unexpected will happen. Like people wanting to hire me.  And so I had an idea. (Those are my husband’s most dreaded words in all the world, by the way. Because when I utter them it usually means he’ll be moving furniture or painting walls or digging up a garden bed to create a sculpture garden.) What if I could get an idea who might want to work with me now, to aid me in my planning.

Just think, in the final three months of this year, you could:

–Write the first draft of a novel (Nanowrimo is coming right up)

–Start a blog

–Write and submit article and essay ideas

–Complete a couple of short stories or a novella

–Write a book proposal

The sky’s the limit! Wouldn’t it be great to end this year on a high note, knowing you’ve accomplished your biggest goals? (Because if you are like me, writing is always the biggest goal.)

So, in order to entice you to sign up  and pay, I’m offering a special deal. I’ll add in one session to my one-month package, which brings the total to five sessions, and I’ll add in two session to my three-month, paid-in-advance sessions, bringing the total to 14 freaking sessions! Geez, people, this is  smoking hot deal.

And yes, you are correct, there is a catch.  Because I don’t want to worry about administrative things while I’m in France, to take advantage of this offer, you need to sign up by the end of Labor Day weekend.  That’s midnight, Pacific time on September 5th.  And here’s the other catch: I’m not going to have time to chat with you beforehand. We can communicate via email, but no phone calls. Oh, and one more catch, which is that our coaching will begin in October.

But you can use the sessions any time you want, over as long as you want. And we can work on whatever you want. (For the record, each session is one phone call and me reading up to 20 pages of your work).

Here are the pay buttons. I look forward to working with you!

Three months coaching + two bonus sessions for $1200



One month coaching + one bonus session for $450


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Cutting the Fat

So, my novel manuscript, the one I’m almost done rewriting, originally came in at over 107,000 words.

I know.      spaghetti_fusilli_pasta_242129_l

Waaaaaay too long.

“But part of it is recipes,” I told myself.

Right. Like maybe 500 words.

Under orders from my agent, I’m in the process of cutting it to under 100K. (I’m currently at 99,378, with about 100 pages yet to comb through, so not bad.) I’ve realized as I do this, a couple of things: 1. that trimming the fat is making it a much better book, and 2. that this is a very inexact process.

All that being said, here are some ideas about how to approach cutting your precious words back:

Keep the noodles on the stove.  My characters love to noodle. To ponder. To think deep thoughts about life. And I, in my efforts to make sure the reader gets it, often have them noodle about the same issue. Over and over and over again. Noodling is one of the easiest things to cut. (A brief aside. I was cooking Mac and Cheese for my three-year-old granddaughter the other day and mentioned that the noodles were on the stove.  “What’s a noodle, Nonni?” she asked. Because only people of a certain age call it anything but pasta. Duh.)

Cut entire scenes or chapters.  This is far and away the most painful thing to do. And the most effective–in my case, I ditched several thousand words in one quick swoop.  It was a chapter I’d added in to supposedly give the reader more insight into a particular character, but much of it was fluff. So I held my breath and slashed it. (Though nothing is ever deleted forever. See my procedural notes below.)

Ditch telling and then showing.  I see this often in my client’s manuscripts.  First they tell us something, then show it.  I thought I was good at not doing this. But hahaha, turns out that’s not only the case. Since my characters love to noodle, they often sometimes think about doing something, then say it in dialogue, and then…gasp…they actually do it.  Thus I am repeating the same thing three times. A good rule of thumb in such situations: dialogue or action is always stronger than thoughts.

Edit out sentences that say the same thing in different ways.  Similar to the above, in my efforts to hit my reader over the head with my brilliance, I say it on way. And then another. And then…oh wait, just in case, let’s try yet another way! Away with all of these repetitious bits.

Keep the momentum moving forward.  It’s easy to unintentionally stall the action.  Here’s an example. My main character, Madeleine, is at a party.  She goes outside to deal with one of the party-goers and then thinks, “Suddenly the prospect of returning to the party wasn’t so appealing.” But I’ve still got a bunch of things that have to happen at the party. Yet she’s letting all the air out by saying that. This also happens when writers build up to a scene, say an argument between husband and wife, and then don’t end the scene without writing the argument.

If something is niggling at you, pay attention to it.  Sometimes it happens that a little thought comes into your head along the lines of you should go back to chapter 14 and look at what Richard says. But you ignore it. Because, you’re way beyond chapter 14 and who wants go go back? But that thought keeps niggling at you. Pay attention. This happened to me earlier today and after I dragged my metaphorical feet long and hard, I finally went back–and rewrote a chunk of the chapter. It’s much stronger now.

That’s it for the actual wordsmithing.  But below find a couple of procedural tips:

Keep a hold file.  This is an extra file in which I copy and paste the gems I’m cutting.  I’ve done this for years, so that I’m certain to hang onto my brilliance. However, I learned a better way to make sure I don’t panic when I highlight vast swaths of copy and hit delete. And that is:

Save a new file every day.  I do this by date: BCRewriteFour8.25.16. And so on, through all the days I’m working on it.  Then you know you can always go back to what you wrote the day before and your brain won’t tell you that you can’t delete those delicately beautiful words because the world will suffer if you do. (I learned this tip from Rachael Herron.)

What are you working on? Doing any rewriting? Got any tips to share? Please do!

(Photo by brokenarts.)

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Dog Days of Summer and Rewriting

wasp_macro_wasp_243277_lI’m back. It didn’t seem like much of a hiatus, at least from this end. And I’m still not finished with the rewrite. But I’m making excellent progress and feel very good about it.  (And, so you don’t think I’m all fakey optimistic, let me just remind you that I sat out most of July working on it because I didn’t know how to approach it.)

I have a couple of brilliant thoughts on rewriting to share, but first, let me tell you a few fun things that happened while I was gone:

  • I got a bee sting while valiantly defending my three-year-old granddaughter from said bee. Her mother is allergic, and we’re not yet sure if Liv is. She’s been stung once, but often the allergic reaction doesn’t occur until the second or third sting. I sure didn’t want to be responsible for anything happening, so I was glad the bee stung me. But it turns out I’m having a fairly intense localized reaction, with my arm red and swollen to about the size of an elephant’s leg. And it itches like a mo-fo.
  • I have a dying root in a tooth. If you’ve never experienced this, it is hard to explain the agony.  And I thought being pummeled by my massage therapist was bad. Also, a helpful note: do not get a toothache in August because every dentist in town is on vacation.  I’m in between dentists because I needed to find a holistic one, aka, one who will not fill my mouth full of mercury. I already have plenty, thank  you very much, and I just went on a nasty three-month cleanse to get rid of it.  Anyway, I have an appointment two weeks hence. Meanwhile, I’m swishing with coconut oil and Listerine and salt water, and using clove oil and Orajel. Also taking lots of ibuprofen, which I know is terrible for me but c’mon, this pain is intense.

Aren’t I a fun date?

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that over with, on to the gems of wisdom about rewriting. Here goes:

  • Every book is its own beast.  You have to honor the shape of what you have, you really do, and listen to how the book responds as you work. Some planned changes just may not work when you actually get to it. For instance, I figured out this elaborate backstory for one of the characters that was just perfect. I planned to fit it in in dribs and drabs. But when I actually got to places it might go, it didn’t fit.  So I had to let it go.
  • Rewriting happens in macro swaths, such as rethinking a character, but the meat of it is in the micro. How a character reacts to the character you’ve rethought, for instance, which you show in dialogue or action.  I’m struck this time through what makers of magic we are–erase one observation from a character’s head and you’ve changed the whole scene. Amazing. Which reminds me of something that used to happen all the time when I was in a writer’s group. I’d bring in a rewrite and people would wax poetic about how much better it was–when really all I’d done was change one or two tiny little things. But that’s the power we wield.
  • It really helps to have someone you can hash out ideas with. I was truthfully sort of scared of my agent at first, but this time through we’ve talked a couple times and emailed about what I’m doing. Also, when Debbie and I went on our writing retreat, we discussed our stories on breaks and at night. It really helps.  Find someone with whom you can brainstorm–or just moan and whine to.

Okay, that’s it, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’m going to go take some more Ibuprofen and ice my elephant’s leg arm. But, I’ve missed you. So please tell me what you’ve been doing this summer and how the writing is going.

Photo by hberends.

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The Tyranny of Word Count

Every morning on my calendar I note how many words I’ve written (my main fiction writing time is early in the morning).  My goal is 1500-2000 words a day, which is a nice pace for me. If I’m on, I can hit 2K easily, but on off days, 500 words is a stretch.  Counting words is a great way to remind yourself of how much you’ve accomplished, and of course you know that what you focus on, grows. (I imagine myself staring at a page of words, willing it to multiply like the dandelions on our front yard.)

And its not just the daily word count that we focus on, but we think about it in other ways as well.  We fret and stew about how many words a book should be.  How long is a novella? How long is a short story? If I go over those standard word counts wills something bad happen? And so on and so forth.

And so even though I love checking in on my daily word count notations, I sometimes think they can become a bit tyrannical. And result in bad habits. Tell me I’m not the only one who:

  1. Writes complicated sentences–because they entail more words.
  2. Use two words when one will do. Because, word count.
  3. Catch myself repeating something and then letting it stand. Because, you know why, word count.
  4. Endures excruciating moments when I’m straining for just 100 more words to meet my quota.

Okay, okay, I am writing raw as coal-before-it-becomes-a-diamond drafts.  And I know that the value of rewriting is inestimable.  But still, sometimes I wonder if there’s a better way to keep track of it all, or if I really do need to keep track? To answer that last question first, when I’m writing regularly, I think it’s important to have metrics.  The novelist J.T. Ellison says that we must “touch our story, think about it” on a regular basis, and I agree. (Regular basis=daily.)  Keeping a word count reminds you of the importance of this.  When I wring my hands and tell myself I’m not much of a writer, all I have to do is flip open my planner and there it is, ink black and white (well, okay, color from gel pens), proof that if nothing else I do get up and throw words at the page regularly. And if there are lots of blank days with no word counts listed, I am reminded that I’m slacking.

But is there a better way to keep track? I suppose I could write to the end of whatever scene I’m working on and list how many scenes or chapters I’ve completed.  But often when I end my writing session at the close of a scene, I close myself off as well. (Hemingway famously ended his writing sessions in the middle of a sentence.)  And of course, there is rating yourself by time as well.  If you’ve sat at your computer for two hours, you’ve done your job.  Except one could easily sit at said computer for two hours and not write a word.  I know, I’ve done it I had a friend who did it.

I dunno. Maybe you can tell me a better way?

The truth is I’m the worst goal setter in the world.  The standard advice to block out time for writing on my calendar doesn’t work for me, because I rebel against myself.  As in, look at my calendar and say, meh, don’t feel like doing that today. This is clearly a variation of the childhood refrain, “I’m doing it because I want to and not because you tell me to.” Yep, childish as all get-out, not to mention counter productive.  I actually love to set elaborate goals, goals that even the most vigorous Type A personality could never meet.

And for some unknown reason, writing to word count, tyrannical as the process is, works for me. It is the only thing I’ve found that keeps me productive on a regular basis.  And so on bad days I groan and strain and complain until I reach at least 1,000 words and on good days I pat myself on the back when I easily sail past 2K.

Nobody said being a writer was easy. (And if it was, we’d be bored.)

What metrics do you use to keep track of your progress?

And by the way, for the truly nutty among you, my friend Milli Thornton runs 10K Days for writers every month, twice a month. There’s one coming up tomorrow (July 20) that I’m participating in, and one this Saturday as well.

Happy writing!

 

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Five on Friday: July 8, 2016

RocksWell, howdy. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Five on Friday, mainly because I’ve been busy doing stuff but no particular things stand out, if you know what I mean.  But since I know you’re just dying for an update (ha, like you don’t have five million things going on yourself), here goes:

What I’m pondering: Podcasting. As in, good ones to listen to. Podcasts for writers and creatives. Got any recommendations? Also, as in, maybe I’d like to start one. Do you listen to podcasts? Would you be interested in one on motivation, inspiration, productivity, etc., for writers and creatives? It is somewhat of a big production so I’m pondering this even longer than usual.  I get these big ideas and then realize how much work they are going to be and forget about them.

What I’m watching: Le Tour de France. I’m so excited to be returning to that beloved country in two short months (I just booked my Paris hotel today) and I adore the shots of the glorious countryside. There’s only one problem–all those bicycles zooming along are like the best soporific ever. Hub and I both fall fast asleep.

What I’m reading: Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, so that I can read his newly released sequel, Everybody’s Fool. And because we might use it for the France workshop.  And books on organic gardening, weaving, and food.  Oh, and Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt’s book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes. 

What I’m looking forward to: A writing retreat on the Oregon coast with my friend and biz partner Debbie. Two full days to write! I’ll be working on the most recent rewrite of The Bonne Chance Bakery.  And a few other bits and pieces here and there.

What I’m excited about: Rocks! Some time tomorrow, God and the delivery truck willing, we will have gotten a yard of small river rock dumped on our driveway apron. We have an awkward spot in the backyard by the fence to our neighbor’s backyard. We love our neighbors. Our visiting dogs love their dogs.  So much running about and barking in this area ensues, leaving it unsuitable for gardening.  So it is going to become a sculpture garden.  It is likely that I am more excited about this project than hub, because my job is to rake rock as he loads wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load and transports it to the backyard. Fun times!

What are you working on? What has your attention?  Please leave a comment and let me know. Also–there’s one spot left in the France workshop. It’s going to be awesome!  Let me know if you’re interested.

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Well Hey, Otherwhere, It’s Nice to See You Again!

I’ve been remiss in providing you with Otherwhere links for quite some time now. The problem is not that I don’t have enough, it’s that I have too many.  And when I start to corral them, I get overwhelmed.  Okay. Deep breath. Here we go (and forgive me if they are not in any particular order):

Finding your voice from Jen Louden (she’s doing a cool self-guided retreat on this, too.

Having empathy for characters not like you

The Ultimate Summer Reading Flowchart

Three Easy Edits for Better Emotional Impact 

When You Don’t Want to Write

How to Get Unstuck

Great Advice and Ideas from Asian-American Writer’s Workshop

8 Literary Gardens to Escape to This Summer

How I Organize My Time, Tasks, and Creative Ideas (from Sandra Pawula)

Okay, I could go on…and on…and on. But my cats are begging me to feed them and besides, this ought to be enough to keep you busy for awhile, no? Do weigh in on what you’re looking at on the web in the comments.

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Out of Sync

united-states-army-385786-h (1)I’ve been out of sync with my writing lately.  (And my blog posts, too, as you may have noticed.) Off my feed, unchained from my computer, thinking about things other than my writing.

I’m best when I write every day, or close to it. I get into a rhythm and it becomes just something I do, not a task I avoid, or a thing to obsess about (when I could just as easily be writing).  But as soon as something throws me off my schedule, I’ve got to find ways to get back to it.  I struggle a little bit, and sigh and wring my hands and think about how awful life is. How I don’t have any time to write at all, ever.

And then I remember that my life is pretty damn good and actually I do have time to write, if I would only take advantage of it. I quit sighing and struggling. But those are all just interim steps. I still have to find my way back to my groove.

Today, as I spent another morning doing something else very important besides writing, several items that will impact my procrastination fell into my lap. Well, more like my computer.  Anyway.

First was this article by Barbara O’Neal about how she started listening to dubstep and it increased her output exponentially.  I’m still experimenting with this. (And please don’t ask me to explain dubstep, I actually don’t even know it when I hear it yet.) And never mind that going to Pandora to find some dubstep led me to ponder if I should try Spotify. Of course the answer was yes, and that took a bit to set up an account and then I remembered that Beth Orton had a new release out and…you get the idea.

I really am out of sync.

But here’s another one, a TedX Talk about how to find fascination in the every day. It really is worth a watch.  Thank me next time you’re staring at a pile of dishes in your kitchen sink.

And then, trying to be positive, I thought about the things I’m doing to get back in sync. That would be writing in my journal every morning (call them morning pages if you like), playing around with writing to prompts, and rereading my WIP.  Organizing my craft closet (not by choice–a huge yarn avalanche occurred when I opened the door and fell all over my office floor). Thinking deep thoughts.

I’ll get back to it soon. I have to, because I have another rewrite to accomplish.  There will be deadlines and such. Or at least I hope so, because giving me a deadline is another surefire way to pull me out of a slump.

What do you do when you get out of sync?

Photo from an army contest in 2004. Go figure.

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