Love letters

On Clarity, And Why You Need It (A Love Letter)

If there’s one thing I know for sure about myself and my writing habits, it’s that I need clarity in my life. And, life is puzzling. Life is overwhelming. Life can get out of control. Life can require decisions to be made. I also need clarity in my writing. And, of course, writing is puzzling and overwhelming, too. And there are tons of decisions to be made.

So often sometimes clarity is hard to achieve. When I don’t have it, I dither. I procrastinate. I waste time looking at coats on the internet. In other words, I do nothing.  A couple of recent examples:

–In my ongoing efforts to cultivate meaningful relaxation time (rather than, say, falling asleep with my mouth open on the couch or scrolling through my Instagram feed), one recent evening I thought I’d do some knitting. Or maybe I’d work on that rug hooking kit I started before it got so hot? Hmmm. Not sure.

You can guess what happened. Nothing.  A big fat nothing. I didn’t do either. I grabbed my phone and scrolled. And looked at photos of people who had created beautiful knitted and rug hooked items. Sigh.

–I am a dedicated online shopper.  Internet retail was created just for me. I support many UPS and FedEx drivers with my habit. But sometimes I put things in my cart and then I can’t decide. I click away. I go back and take a peek. The company emails me that I’ve left something in my cart so I have to go take another look.

I drive myself freaking crazy with my indecision and lack of clarity. (Of course, some part of me must love this because I just keep doing it.) And I am here to tell you this: a lack of clarity=indecision=no progress.  Whether it is buying something or writing something or being creative in any way, you need clarity.

What to do if you don’t have it? If you just can’t seem to make up your mind?

Just take a step. Take an action. Go in what looks like the best direction at the current moment. If you can’t make up your mind about what you should do, try working on something else. (I wrote this newsletter early this week, because I was full up on my novel for the moment.)

Often, clarity in writing will not happen until you actually start writing.  Yes, prep work is good and I’m a firm believer in it. But sometimes all the preparation in the world won’t get you where you need to go until you launch in.

It always comes back to that, doesn’t it? Just do it. Just write.

In Case You Want to Read More…

 I’ve been putting a lot of posts up on Medium for a variety of reasons. I’ve actually been planning to write a blog post about this here—thank you, Suzanne, for the suggestion). That will happen all in good time. In the meanwhile, here are links to ones that are up:

Positivity is a Force—Wield It

There’s a Big, Beautiful World Out There

And Don’t Forget

 –We had a last-minute cancellation for the France workshop, so there’s an open spot! If you’ve been thinking about it, now’s your chance.  It is not too late to buy plane tickets!  A week in France, devoted to camaraderie, hiking, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating delicious fish and bread and cheese and drinking wine? Plus a transformational writing experience? Yes, please.    

–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). Do join us!

 

What to Do When You’re Fresh Out of Ideas (A Love Letter)

The summer doldrums are here—and I’ve been fresh out of ideas. For anything. I haven’t posted on this blog, besides putting these newsletters up, in a couple of weeks. I was going great guns on Medium, posting a lot, and then I suddenly stopped.  I couldn’t think of anything to say in either place. And let’s not even mention the word fiction, okay?

This happens sometimes. You may have the will to write, as well as the time and the energy, but no ideas. And with no ideas, the will to write withers away.  I also think that this happens a lot for new writers. I remember wanting to write so badly, but not having the first clue what to write. So, in case you are in the same situation, and for my own sake as well as yours, I’ve assembled some ideas about how to come up with ideas in this newsletter.

Technique for Producing an Idea. There’s a classic old book written by an advertising guy back in the golden age of advertising, called, Technique for Producing Ideas. I read this book in journalism school and often follow its precepts. The basic one being: fill your brain up with every single bit of information on your topic, then set it aside. Go weed the garden or play with your kids or take your dog for a walk (see below). Just forget about it. And after a while, the idea you need will pop into your head! The book is still available and it is only $1.99 in Kindle. A quick read, really worth it.

Prompts. This is the tried and true way. Get yourself a prompt (there’s tons all over the internet or you can buy my prompt book) and write. The best way to use prompts is to choose one (without wasting a lot of time obsessing over which one), set a timer, and write for 15-20 minutes, without stopping. And I mean without stopping, people.

Make lists. For some reason, making lists is a great brain jogger. List ten things you did yesterday, ten people that interest you (famous ones, friends, family members, doesn’t matter), ten locations that intrigue you, and so on. List anything you can think of and then put the list in your writer’s notebook so you can refer to it any time and use items from the list as prompts.

Brainstorm. James Altucher, who is one of those people that is all over the internet but I’m not sure who he is, says to write down ten ideas every day. It is not bad advice.  Similar to list-making, just write down ten ideas about anything. You never know which one will develop into something.

Go for a walk. Something about walking jogs loose ideas for me. It is helpful to walk mindfully and engage your five senses to observe your surroundings. Take a notepad or your phone so you can make notes.

Go for a drive. I love driving, and it also often inspires new ideas to flood in. Again, be mindful. I find these days that I love the quiet when I’m driving, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago—I always had the radio or music on. But now I like the silence and time to think.

Quit worrying about it.  Yes, we live in a fast-paced world where you’re only as good as the most recent thing you wrote, but it is also okay to take a break. I was on the phone with one of my favorite clients yesterday and she shared how at the moment, she’s just letting things to do with her business go. She’s got a lot of distractions (good ones) in her life and so she’s just not worrying about things. I believe sometimes our brains need a break. And if we give them one, they will reward us with tons of new ideas.

Those are some ideas that might help if you, like me, are experiencing the summer doldrums.  How do you come up with new ideas? Leave a comment!

It’s Summer, You Should Be Reading (A Love Letter)

It is summertime, and it is hot and nobody feels like doing anything. So, in my book (hahahaha) that means it is time for a lot of reading.  Hot summer afternoons are made for lying on a hammock, or in air-conditioned comfort, giving yourself over to a book.

Who has time for such things? You do. You must. Please don’t tell me you don’t have time to read. Because if you are a writer and you’re not reading, then you are not a writer, period. Writing is your first job. Reading is your second. And it is almost as important.

I think most writers come to writing because of their love of reading. I know I did.

When I was a kid, we lived about five blocks away from the library. My sister and neighborhood friends and I used to walk to the library (back in the days when you didn’t need as much adult supervision) and stagger home carrying huge stacks of books. Then we’d lie on cots under our car port and while away hot afternoons reading, every once in a while stopping to run through the sprinkler to cool off. I still go to the library—but now I walk to my car with stacks of books cradled in my arms.

These trips to the library drastically influenced my future career. Thank God. I don’t remember the moment when it occurred to me that all those books I loved to read were actually written by somebody. But I do remember thinking there ought to be a career for readers. And guess what? There is. It’s called writing.

Because one of the best things about being a writer is that reading is actually part of your job. During my first semester in my MFA program, I remember lolling on the couch reading a novel that my mentor had assigned me, luxuriating in the feeling that I was actually working.

 It’s no surprise that many MFA programs base their programs on reading, because it is one way you can teach yourself to write. And it is no surprise that writers like Inglath Cooper say, “Everything I know about writing books I learned from reading books.”

Lately I’ve been trawling the pages of Amazon (it’s too damn hot to get to the bookstore) looking at best book lists for two reasons:

–We are looking for a suitable title for our book-in-common for the France workshop

–I’m looking for a couple of books I can study that have good twists and turns.

Here’s why:

During the France workshop we always select a book to assign everyone and then we use it as a teaching tool. For some reason this year we are having a hard time coming up with one that Debbie and I agree on. Some titles we have read before include Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, and They May Not Mean To But They Do by Cathleen Schine.   Any suggestions?

And I’m looking for examples of books with twists and turns, preferably not too dark, because I got notes from my agent. She’s happy with my novel the way it is and we could go out with it this way….but she also thinks that if I added a twist or two, we could go bigger. And I’m all for bigger! So, people, tell me—books with twists and turns?

So, upshot of the story—if you have any recommendations for either of these categories, do hit reply and tell me. Or just leave a comment and tell me what you’ve been reading!

Do Me a Favor and Go Easy on Yourself, Okay? (A Love Letter)

Hey guys, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s summertime! Today in Portland it is a perfect summer day: blue sky, not too hot, a nice breeze. I’ve been taking regular breaks outside to read and knit, shooing yellow jackets away (we have a nest on the driveway).

But last week it was hot, beastly hot. And on hot weather and perfect summer days both I like to relax. I like to indulge myself with the afore-mentioned knitting, my new hobby of rug hooking, a little reading. On hot summer days I want to eat popsicles and fruit and drink chilled white wine and have dinners under the stars that last until bedtime.

None of which is conducive to writing.

Which makes me beat myself up something fierce.

Like: why are you wasting your time knitting? Why are you drinking that glass of wine? You’ve not gotten your word count yet? Why are you reading? Why are you taking time to do the crossword puzzle? Why are you relaxing? Why aren’t you writing.

Like that.

If you are anything like me, I bet you do the same thing. And to you (and to me) I had two words to say: stop it! Stop it, stop it, stop it! Just stop it.

Because: it is summertime and we’re supposed to be distracted. We are supposed to be enjoying long, lazy afternoons lazing about. And also: believe it or not, relaxation and, dare I say it, self-care, actually help you get all your important things (like writing) done. Truly. A relaxed mind is a productive mind.

Truly, it is. Over and over again I notice that on the days I allow myself some ease, a few breaks out back or time with the grandchildren, I get more done. And this is because I’m not frantically trying to stuff every little thing into my day. Try it. You’ll see.

Your assignment this week, if you choose to accept it, is two-fold. First, quit beating yourself up about how lazy you are. And second, give yourself the gift of some summer time off.

Then leave a comment and tell me how you are going to let yourself off the hook this week!

It’s My Birthday Soon–And I’m Giving Away Presents!

Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

This Tuesday is my birthday. No, I won’t tell you how old I am going to be. Suffice it to say I don’t feel as old as I am. And, because it is my birthday, I’m giving you presents!

Here’s the deal. It is hot here in Portland at the moment (98 degrees) and I hate the heat. I think it melts my brain, making it difficult to think, let alone write. (And I just read on my app that the heat wave will continue through Tuesday! Ack!)

So, I was going to write a blog post about tracking time (like years) and other things, as it relates to writing, but I don’t have it in me. And then I remembered (told you the heat melts my brain) that I just posted one on Medium. I’ve been trying to post a lot there, both new and revitalized older posts. So, here’s the one about tracking words and time.

And, besides, what you really wanted was to get to the presents anyway, right? Right. So here you go.

Photo by Audrey Fretz on Unsplash

Present #1: A copy of a book I wrote a few years ago called Set the Words Free: Ideas, Advice and Guidance for Smashing Writer’s Block.  It’s a 42-page PDF full of info and prompts about how to write regularly. If you’d like a copy just hit reply and let me know. I’ll send it to you straight away.

Present #2: I’m offering a steep discount on coaching sessions. You can nab one hour of my time for $64. (There’s significance to that number but I’ll let you guess what it is.) And you can buy several. Or just one. Usually I charge a lot more than this, but I’m feeling magnanimous.  If you want to take advantage of this deal, again, email me,  and we’ll get it all set up. But do it by  midnight on July 17, because the deal expires then.

Each session includes a 30-minute phone call (or Skype, or Zoom), and reading up to 10 pages of work. If you don’t want to discuss work, I can help you get your writing mojo going (or get it back), or we can discuss creativity, productivity, publishing, how to prep for a novel, really anything related to writing and the writing life. You can use them now, or you can buy them now and use them later. (Be aware I’m in France all of September.)

And that’s it, that’s all I’ve got. Now I’m heading back to sit in front of the air conditioning unit (we only have the window kind). Hope it is cool where you are.

Oh, and by the way:

 –We have a couple last minute spots open for France. It is not too late to buy plane tickets—prices have been holding steady for awhile now.  A week in France, devoted to camaraderie, hiking, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating delicious fish and bread and cheese and drinking wine? Plus a transformational writing experience? Yes, please.

–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). Do join us!

 

 

Depending on Your Point of View (A Love Letter)

You live for adventure and global travel. Or you love to stay home by the cozy fire. You can’t stay still—you have to be doing something. Or everything you love to do involves sitting. You love gardening. Or you hate getting your hands dirty. You agree with everything our president says, or you take to the streets to protest him. You love kale. Or hate all vegetables. You love summer. Or you hate being hot.

I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

My point is this: there are many points of view in this big, wide, wonderful world of ours (and now more than ever, it seems).

And, as I like to remind you incessantly often, as in life, so in writing. (Or vice-versa.)

We writers talk a lot about point of view (or viewpoint, if you prefer) and it has been much on my mind recently because of a book I’m reading. The book is Women in Sunlight, by Frances Mayes, and man oh man does she do strange things with viewpoint.

The story has a lot of characters, but the main ones are Kit, a woman who lives in a small town in Italy, and Julia, Camille, and Susan, all of whom have had recent upsets in their lives. They decide to move for a year to the same town where Kit lives.

Kit’s viewpoint is in first person and all the rest in third. But Mayes head-hops between them. Constantly. All the time. Sometimes it is impossible to tell which character is narrating.  At one point, Kit related something that happened to one of the other characters when she wasn’t there. It is massively confusing.

Despite all this, I’m absorbed in the book and I am almost finished with it. (I will confess to skimming a lot of her excessive descriptions. But if you love Italy cuisine and travelogue, you’ll likely read every word.) I decided to check the Amazon reviews to see if others had similar reactions to mine. And, yup, readers range from lukewarm to ecstatic about it. But one thing that struck me was how many mentioned their confusion over who was speaking when. (Doesn’t help that all the characters sound alike, and talk in long speeches.) Some had a hard time keeping the characters straight.

And, here’s the deal, people: when it comes to viewpoint, your average reader doesn’t know if you’re doing a point of view violation. But they do know when they get confused. And a confused reader is a bored reader. And a bored reader is a reader who puts the book down.

So, a couple of simple viewpoint reminders:

–Omniscient is really hard to pull off. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

–To maintain viewpoint sanctity, just remember to be in your character’s head. What she can see and hear and touch and smell you can report. Nothing else!

–It doesn’t matter what viewpoint you choose. Some people love first, some hate it. Some like single viewpoints, others prefer multiple. Doesn’t matter! Just stay consistent. And stay in whatever character’s head you’ve chosen at the moment you are writing.

Have you ever read a book whose viewpoint turned you off? Hit reply and tell me. Also—might you need help with viewpoint? Need a supportive coach to help you with your writing? Hit me up. I’ve got room for one client this summer.

This post contains affiliate links.

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.)

A Love Letter About Writer’s Block

I’m sure that you, like me, have read the statement, usually from some prolific author, I don’t believe in writer’s block. Or a variant, there is no such thing as writer’s block.

I always think that sounds a little too ivory-tower-ish. A bit snotty and unrealistic. Because I don’t care who you are, you can get writer’s block. It may not last for long, but c’mon, everybody gets stuck at some point. It may be as small as not knowing where the next scene should go, and floundering around for a few days. Or it might be as big as just not being able to write, period. And then not writing for months or even years.

And as anybody who has ever suffered through it knows, when it happens to you, it is painful.

I had a friend a few years ago (we’ve fallen out of touch) who was writing a book based on an article he’d written. He had an agent waiting for the book, and editors interested. But for whatever reason he couldn’t write the book. As far as I know, he still hasn’t.

Was it an issue of perfectionism? Too much research? Overwhelm? Nobody but he will ever know. And, sadly, the world will never get to read his book. (I read various drafts of it, and it was good.)

And I’ll tell you, when I get blocked, I get cranky. Irritable. I just feel off. I’m not much fun to be around.

So, yeah, I know, you’re waiting for me to give you the antidote for writer’s block and I’m going to. But you’re not going to like it. Because it is simple: you gotta write. Something, anything. Write one bad page. Write in your journal. Write a letter to the editor. As I’ve said before, writing breeds writing. Period.

So go forth and do it!

Free (Sort of) Coaching

Usually I stay away from politics in this newsletter and on my blog. But this is not a political issue, it is a moral one. I’m upset about the children separated from their parents and I want to do something about it. So I’m offering free coaching sessions to anybody who sends me proof that they have donated to an organization dealing with this issue.

Here are the details:

–I suggest donating to Together Rising. (I will, though, take donations to any organization as credit for a session.) You can read about what they are doing to help here.

–If you donate $50, I’ll give you a 30-minute phone coaching session.

–If you donate $100, a one-hour coaching session.

–Send me an email to charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com with the words I CARE in the subject, along with proof of your payment. (Screen shot, transaction ID, copy of receipt, etc.)

–I’ll get back to you promptly and we’ll book your session. We can talk about your writing, plotting, characterization, how to get more writing done, productivity, habits, how to motivate yourself, anything!

–I can only do so many of these over the next few weeks, and I’ll book sessions on a first-come, first-serve basis. So get those donations in! I’d love it if I got booked solid. Let’s do this, and change the world with our compassion and creativity!

This blog post first appeared in my newsletter. If you’d like to receive a love letter directly into your inbox every Sunday, sign up in the box to the right!

Finishing A Big Writing Project (+Monthly Round-up)

Okay, I did it. I finished my rewrite and sent it off to my agent. And now let us all have a silent moment of prayer that this is the final version. Or at least close. If not, I’ll be hanging my head and reporting back to you.

Finishing is a funny thing for me. When I near the end of a big writing project, I focus so much energy on it that I do barely anything else. Sometime during these periods I think longingly of things I want to do when I’m done. Like take the afternoon off to read or knit. Binge-watch TV. Clean my office. Something, anything, other than writing. But then when I’m done none of those things appeal. I’m witless and rootless as I wander around, trying to find something to capture my interest.

But then, of course, life rushes in to fill the vacuum. Yesterday, I went to pick up groceries I’d ordered because it was my night to cook. Part way home I got a panicked text from my daughter-in-law—could I pick up my granddaughter from school? So I turned the car around and grabbed her adorable five-year-old self. And then there was dinner to cook. And exercise to do. And pretty soon it was just like every other day, with all the life things pressing in on me.

And then as I was riding the stationary bike I had a moment of horror in which I knew, absolutely knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the manuscript I’d just submitted was bad. Really bad. Ridiculously bad. That my agent will now release me and I’ll cry and be sad and have to be shamed in front of my whole writing community. But a moment later that feeling passed. It is what it is. I was too close to it for too long to be able to make any judgments about it.

I swore I wasn’t going to start anything new for a while, like, oh, a few days. But already I’m itching to get the ideas I had for new projects into some kind of form. I have a full-length novel and a loooong novella finished on my computer, both of which need substantial rewriting. While I was ensconced in the rewrite, I had good ideas for them both. And I’d love it if they each saw the light of day soon. (One of my goals for the rest of the year is to finish things.)

Oh, and it is June! When did that happen? Geez, the year is going too fast. Yeah, I know you know that. So, anyway, happy June, and check out what I’ve been doing below (a bit light because of the rewrite).

Monthly Round-up

Reading

 Winter Stroll by Elin Hildebrand.  I picked this up at the grocery store last year and never read it, finally decided it was time. She’s a very popular author. I’m lukewarm. Apparently, it is book two of a trilogy and at the end, she doesn’t wrap things up, so you have to read the next one. I mean, I know people do this, but it was so blatant. I was lukewarm-ish about this book, but damned if I didn’t go order a used copy of the next one.

The Abundance Project, by Derek  I have this terrible habit of being enticed by books like this—cheesy self-help tomes ones that promise a more abundant life or increased productivity or instant karma. Seriously, I’m a fool for them. And they rarely pan out.  So I get bored and don’t read them. So far, I’m not that thrilled with this one, but I’m not that far into it, either.

–We took a day trip over the weekend and visited a favorite bookstore where I found a novel about, gasp women of a certain age.  Being one myself, I can’t remember the name of it and it’s downstairs. I’ve only just read the first page so I’ll report next month.

I’ve also ordered or downloaded or have in my queue:

The Café by The Sea, by Jenny Colgan. This author has written five million books and I want to see how she does it.

Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work, by Dan Blank. My friend Angie recommended this and I can’t wait to dive in.

The First Rule of Ten, by Hendricks and Lindsay. A friend/student recommended this to me last year when we were in France. I downloaded it then and promptly forgot about it. She mentioned it again this week and I pulled it up again.

I’ve got my reading work cut out for me.

 Watching

 We’ve not been watching much TV lately and while going to movies is one of my favorite things to do, ever, I don’t do it much. (Go figure.) But we are almost done with Wild, Wild Country, the documentary about the Rajneeshies taking over a town in eastern Oregon. It’s fascinating, especially because I lived through it.

And, late to the party as usual we just started watching Frankie and Grace. Really fun. Lily Tomlin is hysterical.

Loving

 Momentum. As in the momentum you get when you are regularly working on a writing project. When you’re half in one world and half in another all the time because even when you’re living your normal (so-called) life you’re thinking about your book. When all you want to do is get back to it. When you finish a writing session and you’re in love with the world because you feel so good. It’s the best feeling. I had it during the rewrite and I look forward to getting it again. It sometimes takes some work to get into the momentum flow (like committing to writing every day), but it is so, so worth it.

 Excited About

 I had the great pleasure of spending a whole month devoted to writing in Ceret, France in March of this year. Ceret is a town in my favorite French region, the Lanquedoc which is in the south, near Spain.  Leaving was hard, except for the fact that I was eager to see my family, but made easier by knowing that I’d be back to the area soon. Like in September. To teach.

When first I started going to France to teach six years ago, I had half a mind that I wanted to travel all over Europe. But my teaching partner, Debbie, preached the wonders of staying in one place and sinking into it. And now I have to say I agree with her. You get to skip the hassles of travel, for one thing. But for another, you get to really know a place, to have a favorite restaurant, to understand the best spot to get a glace or an espresso, to sink into the rhythms of the place. And that, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

All this and writing, too? It’s the best thing ever. Want to come this year?

 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). Do join us!

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Writing a Better Draft (A Love Letter)

You probably know, because I’ve been whining about it incessantly, that I’m in the throes of completing the umpteenth rewrite of my current novel. I am determined to finish it this long Memorial Day weekend if it kills me. And it might. Kidding. Sort of.

Anyway, I had dinner with a couple of writing friends this week and we talked about how to write a better draft. As in, getting more of your vision for the book on the page in the first place so that you don’t have to go through the torture of rewriting it so many times.

I want to learn how to write a better first draft. I am good at writing fast and I’m a big believer in it. But the last two novels I’ve written were both lightning bolt ideas I was so excited about that I just started writing. I wrote a loose outline and did some minor character work, but that was about it.

Yes, I am the self-same writer who has taught and preached the wisdom of prepping to write the novel. As in taking time to think plot and structure and arc and character and motivation through. Two examples of how this didn’t work so well for me: A. the above-mentioned torturous rewrite, and B. the novel I started writing on my month-long idyll in Ceret. I stalled out on that one after 30,000 words, without a clue where to go next.  I got bored with my main character. And if I’m bored with her, my reader will be also.

I do know there is a thing that only happens in the actual writing—and that is that the writer begins to understand the story better as she puts it on the page. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement beforehand. So here are the things I’m doing to get better at first drafts:

–I’m going to do tons and tons of prep work.

–I’m studying story structure. Again. It’s one of my favorite topics, and it is time to return for a refresher course.

–I’m actually taking a class! It’s full, or I’d link to it here, but it is designed to help you figure out your best route to writerly productivity based on brain science (for which I am a total wonk).

–I’m reading obsessively in my genre. I always do, but right now I’m stepping it up.

–And finally, I’m not being too hard on myself—and vowing to remember that sometimes you just have to let the magic come in the writing.

Do you have any tips for writing better first drafts? Leave a comment and tell me!

**You might want to come to France with me, right? You do, don’t you?  Find out more here.