Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Looking Forward

Outside my writing office the landscape is dark, lit only by trees supporting blue, green, purple, and red Christmas lights. I love the lights. Didn’t get much chance to go out and see them this year, but there were a few houses on my going-to-work route that had some really nice lights.

I hear the quiet snick of the office door closing behind me, then a muted scratch of glass against wood as something is set on my desk.

“You didn’t put it up, love.”

I know my Muse is looking at the whiteboard covering one wall of the office. “It’s not for sure quite yet. I haven’t signed.”

“But you will. So put it up. It’s a great way to end this year and start 2017.”

“I’m waiting to hear what my writing teacher thinks. She’s taking time out of her holiday weekend for me. I’ll have to send her some jelly. Maybe some of those mint chocolate cookies, too. My son wants to make another batch for when his girlfriend comes over tomorrow.”

“You should have lights in here. And a disco ball to reflect them. Or just lots of those twinkling fairy lights. Something festive.” He takes up a position beside me, thumbs hooked into the back pockets of his jeans. “You’re almost there, love.”

Yep. Sooo close. “I’ve got a few more revisions to work on. I need you here.”

My Muse rests an arm around my shoulders. “Of course. You know things are going to get more intense after you finish these revisions, right? Are you ready for that?”

“Not sure, but this is where I want to go. I think.” The reality is starting to sink in. I know this whole writing thing is work. Lots of work. Not just writing work, either. There’s an element of anxiety and fear that goes along with the anticipation. “Yes, this is where I want to go.”

“Keep telling yourself that, love. And I’ll tell you if you forget.” He nudges me away from the window. A bottle of champagne with a big shiny bow on it stands proudly on my desk along with a couple glasses. “Ready to celebrate?”

“Later.” I want to get my writing teacher’s feedback. It’s all still sinking in, even though I kind of expected this after the past few months. “And I’m spending part of the day with my son, so no celebrating until closer to midnight.”

“New year, next step forward. Sounds good to me.”

Every year we like to remember all those things that worked and that maybe didn’t over theย  past 12 months. We like to lay out our goals and aspirations for the coming year. The problem we often run into is the forward motion toward those goals. Sometimes real life closes the road, or at least sets up those orange barrels. Sometimes the side road looks like the easier path. Sometimes we run out of gas.

It’s those times we need a kick in the arse, as my Muse would say. I won’t mention writing a list of your goals for the new year, because everyone says that. I will say if you don’t have a group of one or more other writers you can work with, that should be your first mission in the new year. Even though we like to work alone, other writers can help keep us motivated, help us become better at our craft, and share knowledge that goes beyond grammar and point-of-view.

Keep moving forward. Keep writing. And if you start to stall out, I’ll have my Muse send someone over to help your muse do a little arse-kicking ๐Ÿ˜€

Have a safe New Year’s Day weekend everyone! And don’t stop writing!

 

 

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Holly-Dazed

Well, it’s here. The festive times. The travel-to-see-family times. The let’s-drive-around-and-look-at-the-lights times (my favorite!). More excuses to procrastinate on my latest project are here!

I made my jelly.jelly-2016 I baked my cookies. I even got my Christmas shopping done. Now I’ve got three days of family stuff to do: the whole Christmas at the in-laws, then Christmas with my siblings, then a day to rest and clean (eek!) before my son’s girlfriend comes to visit.

Hoo-boy.

And still the details on my latest WIP are hovering at the back of my mind like a swarm of gnats. And I’m getting grumpy because I’m not writing.

I tried. Really, I did. But I’m not connecting with the story. It’s really hard to write when you don’t or can’t connect with the story or the characters. I’ve revised the plot again, I’ve reviewed the characters, I’ve solidified the underlying mystery in my head and on paper. It’s terribly frustrating to write when that visceral connection to the story just isn’t happening.

It’s like I’m in a daze.

A holly daze.

Should I even try to keep going with this story? Should I set it aside and work on my fantasy? Should I start on a “next in the series” story with the characters from my other book? Should I just not worry about it and take some more time off from writing?

“No.” The door to my writing office sweeps open and then slams shut as my Muse enters like a force of Nature. He storms across the office, grabs at a shadow in a corner, and yanks a Dementor-like shade into the light. The tendons in the back of his hand and his bare forearm stand against his skin as he squeezes.

My writer’s doubt fades into smoke and vanishes.

Then he turns to me, blue eyes vibrant.

Uh-oh.

He’s got the whole Indiana Jones thing going on–wait, no fedora or bullwhip, just faded jeans and that burgundy henley shirt I love, sleeves shoved to his elbows. Add in a Harrison Ford-esque scowl, and that pretty much sums it up.

“What?” I ask, even though I think I know.

“Really, love? You have to ask?” He shakes his head and plants his hands on his hips. “You did see your writer’s doubt, didn’t you?”

“Not until you did that.” I gesture to the corner. “Where have you been?”

Now he shuffles his feet and rubs the back of his neck. “Extended pub crawl.”

“With Mr. E, right? Hey, I get it. Mae’s second Point Pleasant book just came out, and she finished the third. I expected you two to whoop it up. So don’t come steamrolling in here when I think about taking–”

“A break? Seriously? You’ve been ‘taking a break'”–he makes air quotes–“for the past few weeks. You’re done taking a break.”

His Australian accent gets thicker when he’s chewing me out. Don’t tell him, but I have a soft spot for Aussie accents. Not that I get him fired up on purpose.

Mostly.

“Actually, I’ve been waiting for you to get back.” I cross my arms and lean back against the desk. “Do I keep going with my latest WIP, start a new story with Sierra and Quinn, or pull out my fantasy and finish that?”

He stares at me with a look that either means he can’t believe I’m even considering my fantasy or he can’t believe I’m actually asking his opinion.

He mirrors me, crossing his arms on his broad chest. “Have you heard back about your R&R?”

“Not yet. I was hoping I’d hear before Christmas, but maybe she just does things in two-month chunks, in which case I won’t hear back until mid-January. She’s spent some time on the phone with me, so I’m optimistic, but I feel like there would be a lot of interest in that book. I’m thinking about kicking off some queries after the first of the year if I don’t hear from her.”

He narrows his eyes. I feel like a kid who thought she did something good but now isn’t sure. “What do you want to work on, love?”

“That’s the problem. I don’t know. Part of me wants to work with Sierra and Quinn again, but part of me knows I should work on my latest WIP, except I can’t focus on it. It’s like the story needs so much TLC since I dissected it that I don’t want to bother.”

“No fantasy?”

“That’s my fallback if I can’t decide between the others.”

“You don’t think that trying to re-revise for the third time is a problem? Start from scratch, love. Same story, but don’t try to take what you’ve already written. You started fresh with your contemporary fantasy, and it turned out nicely.”

“Still needs lots of work.” This isn’t helping at all. “I don’t want to start from scratch. Everything’s there, I just have to reassemble it.”

“You just have to write. Write some short stories. Write a novella like your writing teacher suggested. Hell, write up a bunch of blog posts ahead of time.” He rests his hands on my shoulders and squeezes. “Write something, love. Anything. Just do it.” A fedora appears on his head. He settles behind my desk with a coiled bullwhip in hand. “No excuses.”

Er, o-kay. Maybe I’ll flip a coin. Maybe I’ll meditate on it.

In any case, may the holidays find you and yours safe, sane, and full of cheer. ๐Ÿ˜€

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


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Oh, the weather outside …

is frightful. It is. Really. Woke up to another few inches of snow, and it’s still going.

img_0007_cr The weather people predicted another four to eight inches by the time the whole thing is done. At least done snowing. After the snow, the wind is supposed to kick up, and by tomorrow our high daytime temp–not including the wind chill–is supposed to be -5 F. Add the windchill in for a grand low more than -20 F.

Yippee.

Not. It usually doesn’t get this (effing) cold until January.

I don’t have to go anywhere, and the furnace is working. I can write all weekend!!

Except this is the last weekend before Christmas, so I need to get going on my cookie baking and jelly making. With the sheer volume of raspberries this fall from my ragtag patch, I should be able to make a couple batches of jelly. And cookies. I can’t start making them too early or they end up getting eaten. At least this year I can use Nature’s freezer. The last couple years it’s been too warm outside (Shock, right? Minnesota in December above freezing? It’s getting more usual. Global warming and all that.) Try fitting a dozen cookie dozens in the freezer along with the usual freezer stuff. Not easy, which means I had to do all the baking in the couple days before Christmas.

So, I’ll dedicate a few hours to staring at my computer screen and trying to work through the first few scenes in my latest WIP, then I’ll peg some time for jelly-making (it makes great gifts) and cookie-baking. I got a new KitchenAid mixer during Black Friday I’m itching to try out. Should be fun!

Do you have your holiday preparations finished? Presents wrapped? My kids are old enough now that if I don’t get the gifts wrapped, they’re okay with it. Cookies baked? I’ve got four or five (depending on how ambitious I feel and if I have the ingredients) different cookie varieties I make every year, one of which is my dad’s favorite cookie of all time: chocolate chip. I love making them, but he’s diabetic, so I always worry about leaving extra cookies with him. I toss them in the freezer so they’ll maybe last an extra day or two.

Hey, if you don’t get any writing done over the next week or so, don’t sweat it (Pretty hard to sweat when it’s double-digits below zero). If you get a free half-hour, jot down a few story ideas. Work through a scene. Send out a couple queries. Put together a character sketch.

Don’t. Stop. Writing. Give yourself permission to do smaller bits. The best part about family gatherings? Lots of fodder for future stories! Remember that when your sister’s bratty son throws a tantrum when his cousin gets the present he wanted, or when Grandpa’s dentures fall into the figgy pudding.

Not sure if I’ll get a post done next weekend, so if I miss it:

Happy Holidays!


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Anatomy of a Mystery

Sounds like I know what I’m doing, doesn’t it?

Ha! Fooled you!

The idea for this post came as I drove to work this morning pondering again how to strengthen my revised outline for my next WIP. Right now, I’m writing mystery (as opposed to fantasy, my other main genre). In general, and specifically for mysteries, I’ve received guidance from my wonderful writing sisters.

You gals have no idea how much I appreciate your help!

There are a few things I’ve learned about writing, and writing mysteries in particular:

  • Deadlines. There should be some time limit the protagonists are up against, whether it’s a bodily threat or some other threat. It could be anything from the killer striking again to Uncle Buck getting full possession of the estate or the wedding that can’t be rescheduled.
  • Dead bodies. My very first draft of the WIP I’m now working on had no dead bodies. There were threats, and a deadline, but no dead guys/gals. Yeah–no. It’s like a prerequisite. If there’s no dead bodies, it’s less a full-out adult-level mystery and more Encyclopedia Brown or the Three Investigators. Enjoyed those stories, but I don’t write MG or YA, where dead bodies are discouraged (real life is violent enough). Even cozy mysteries have dead bodies.
  • Chapter Hooks. Remember that book you started and couldn’t put down? The one where you had to read just one more chapter? Then just one more? Then there’s only a couple chapters left. Then your alarm clock goes off and you realize you stayed up all night reading. I remember the first book where I really noticed that: Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. Yes, it’s a fantasy, but I had to keep reading because at the end of (just about) every chapter there was a question I needed to find the answer to. So, especially with a mystery, the more chapters you can end with a question that lures the reader to keep going, the better.
  • Stakes. In the very first draft of the manuscript I recently completed, the plot involved the main character’s BFF from high school. My writing sisters straightened me out. “Best Friend” isn’t close enough to the main character. Family is better. The main character should be tied to the mystery through a family relation of some sort (at least in the first book of many, if there is more than one). Why? Because the main character has a greater stake in the outcome if it involves family. So, I adjusted. The main character is now tied to the mystery via her brother. This also allowed me to add the additional threat of putting suspicion on the main character, which also jacks up the stakes. The deeper the crime/mystery affects the main character (higher stakes) the more tension you can create, and the more the reader cares if the main character succeeds.
  • Twists. Wow, didn’t see that coming, did you? This kinda goes without saying. Red herrings, false accusations, and soft alibis all contribute to misdirection. In my opinion, Agatha Christie was a master at this. I could never figure out who did it until the culprit was revealed at the end, then I would trace back to find the little clues she dropped along the way. And it always seemed like the innocuous detail was the clincher. This isn’t limited to mysteries, either. I’m sure there are romances out there where the “other woman (or man)” is someone the protagonist least expects. Or fantasies where one of the biggest allies turns out to be a major enemy (LOTR: Saruman, anyone?)

As I work on re-re-re-revising my WIP outline, I’m trying to keep all these things in mind so I can (hopefully) avoid yet another major plot revision.

Dead body? Yep. Died about 70 years ago, ruled accidental, but was it?

Deadline? Yep. My MC has a window in which to solve the mystery, and if she blows the deadline, she loses, like, a six-figure inheritance and a nice chunk of farmland with a house and everything.

Chapter hooks? That’ll come when I redo the draft. Again. Sigh.

Stakes? I’m trying to raise them as much as possible. I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on them. It’s another instance of family being central to the mystery.

Twists? Ooo, I’ve got a lot of opportunities for misdirection. The trick will be to keep the misdirection believable without giving away too much too early.

And there you have it. And just because you aren’t writing mysteries doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. All of these (except the dead body) can be applied to almost any genre. You’ll also notice I left out conflict. That goes without saying. All stories need some sort of conflict, and if you’re a writer, you know that.

I’m almost done with my outline, and I’m aiming to start re-drafting this weekend. Besides, with the arctic cold and the snowstorm tomorrow, it’ll be perfect weather to stay inside and write. How about you?

 


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The Other Side

My writer is still staring at the page in her notebook. I have to shake my head. She’s been good, she really has, but now she’s, well, I’m not quite sure. Trying to shove creative energy into her now is like trying to cram an overstuffed pillow into a pillowcase. I never thought she’d get like this after she’d been doing so well.

“Are you seriously writing my blog post?”

I glance up at her kicked back in one of the recliners in the corner of her writing office. She looks like a writer deep in thought.

I know better.

“Yes, love. Trying to, anyway. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I already drafted a post. I was going to …”

“Delete it? Good idea.” I’m not sure what her problem is, but I suspect it has to do with anxiously waiting for something out of her control. She’s usually pretty good, but this time it’s strangling her creativity. Binge-watching “Supernatural” isn’t helping, either. Honestly, I’m a little jealous.

“No.” She heaves a sigh and tosses her notebook into the other recliner before getting to her feet. “Why are you writing a post anyway?”

I lean back in the desk chair. The bushings squeak like tiny mice. “Because I can’t do anything else right now. You’re blocking me, love.”

She stares at me. “I’m what?”

“You’re blocking me.” It’s been a long time since this has happened. She wasn’t happy about how I fixed it last time, but it was effective.

“What do you mean, blocking you? You’re here, not off on a pub crawl with Mr. E, which, by the way, you should avoid until he’s off house-arrest. Mae’s got him on lockdown until she finishes her project.” She plants her hands and leans on the desk. “I’m stuck.”

“No, you’re not. You’ve got your rough outline, you just need to revisit it.”

“That’s what I’m doing.”

She’s been frustrating–aggravating–in the past, but this is a special kind of frustration. “No, you’re not. Open up to me, love. Stop thinking about what might happen. I can’t do my job when you’re like this.”

Her forehead furrows. A lock of hair escapes her barrette and falls into her eyes. Faded denim. That’s what they look like. Her eyes. You should see them when she’s talking about her last WIP, all bright and excited. I love it. She really hit on something with that. I think she misses it, the whole aviation thing. It was dead easy to energize her when she was working on that last project.

Maybe I’ve gotten too used to the “easy” of it. I wonder …

“I’m trying not to. That’s why I’m working on this WIP. I’ve almost got the historical plotline worked out.”

“You could do what your writing teacher suggested. Write a short or two with Sierra and Quinn.”

Her eyes brighten for a moment. “What if that book doesn’t go anywhere? I need to work on this one. I can’t wait around for something to happen with that one. If I can get this one–”

“Then do it, love.” I shove to my feet and lean over the desk. “Stop pushing back and let me do my job. Remember what happened the last time you blocked me?”

“You keep saying that. I’m not blocking you.”

I have to smile. She’s so cute when she forgets I’m her Muse with a capital “M”. There’s a few scenes in her WIP that will work just fine as reminders. I’ll start with the heated argument scene. Nothing like a bit of angst with that whole suppressed desire thing going on.

She straightens. Stops breathing for a moment while her eyes widen. Heh. Gotcha.

“Stop that,” she breaths.

I send creative energy toward her. It hovers, starts to sink in. Stops. Bloody hell. “Remember now? Stop blocking me or I’ll move on to the basement scene.”

“Don’t you dare,” she breathes.

There it is. An opening. I shove creative energy again and this time it sinks in. “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

She rolls her eyes and returns to her recliner. “Asshat.”

Jensen Ackles, aka Dean Winchester on "Supernatural"

Jensen Ackles, aka Dean Winchester on “Supernatural”

Yep, too much “Supernatural.” “Jerkface.”

Get your writing groove on this weekend, or I’ll have to talk to your muses.

And yes, I can do that. I’ve got a capital “M”.