Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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The Freedom of Free-writing

Often when a writer is stuck–blocked–we hear the suggestion to “just start writing, it doesn’t matter what, just write.” In my experience, there’s something to that. For me, the very act of putting pencil to paper (as opposed to fingers to keyboard, which works, but not as well) seems to kickstart my stalled creative energies.

“…the backup seminar director–former classmate that gave Sierra a hard time? … no, friend. So, would he know about the FBO? What would he know? maybe he’d be able to give some insight.

Remember, keep conflict w/ Chief. Have to show he’s a dick, and make sure wife (PD clerk) behavior changes when he’s in the room. Need to have some PD harassment when Sierra alone. What would Quinn do while Sierra is at airport?

Sierra and Quinn to PD. Is teacher’s daughter in waiting area? or waiting area empty so they can talk to PD clerk, see her behavior b4 Chief enters waiting area, escorts teacher and daughter into waiting area. Conflict between Chief and Sierra

…AgCat? Pawnee? Cessna 188?…turbine–which? JT8D? naw, probably PT6. What other plane would FBO have? 182? Seminole? Cherokee? 310? probably single engine–turbine? Or maybe Cessna 210? don’t do lessons, so wouldn’t need to keep it down to 172 or 182… What about …”

Pretty disjointed, right? Every writer has a way to brainstorm, but whether they write the ideas down or just talk them through, the storm is messy. Necessarily so–if it wasn’t messy, we’d probably call it something like “stream of consciousness” or “conversations with one’s self.”

Free-writing allows you to just write through your ideas without any constraints. I find as I free-write I’ll make notes I go back to later on, like the note about changing a character name, or the other note about checking on BCA offices in northern MN. It’s the lack of structure, I think, that encourages idea-generation. I don’t have to worry about complete sentences or even spelling (except I still have to read it 🙂 ). It’s like throwing ideas against the brainstorming wall, but without the goopy mess.

I’ve been working on an outline for my next book. Any good story has conflict, suspense, chase scenes–wait–no, that’s TV shows from the 80s. I end up writing a sentence or three about each scene conflict, then bridge them–sort of. My process has evolved from typing the mind dumps into the computer (at least in the beginning) to using pencil and paper, because I’ve discovered the act of writing helps me work through the story. Once I have a pretty good idea about the outline, I’ll enter it into the worksheets I’ve got in the computer (I use Karen Wiesner’s worksheets from her book First Draft in 30 Days).

Of course, everything is fluid. An outline for me isn’t set in stone; it’s more a series of guideposts through the story. The more I free-write through the major scenes, the more I refine them. For instance, the victim in the book is the son-in-law of a favorite teacher, but the teacher must be a suspect. So, there has to be a reason he’s a suspect. At first, I had one idea, but it seemed a little weak. As I wrote, I added another reason. Better, but still not quite there. Ooo, I’ve got it. The idea I finally hit on makes the conflict more personal, and raises suspicion to the point where when he is taken into custody, it makes more sense.

Each writer works through planning (or pantsing) differently. The more you write and the more you learn about the process and practice of writing, the more fine-tuned your process will become. It’s like gardening every year. What works one year may work the next year, but maybe not. Then you try something new, and it either works well, sort of works, or bombs. You adjust for the next year. Each year you get better, because your process evolves.

If something works for you, by all means, keep it going. But don’t hesitate to try something new for a project. You might discover it works really well, or at least well enough to give you options when one method isn’t working for that particular project.

Do you free-write when you brainstorm a project? What works for you?

Have a great writing weekend!

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Fiction in real life settings

You’ve heard that truth is stranger than fiction, right? Writers struggling with plotting or generating ideas are often told to look at the latest news stories, especially obscure ones, for ideas.

On the flip side, and more common, is fiction taking place in the real world. From Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum in the streets of Trenton, NJ to William Kent Kreuger’s Cork O’Connor in northern Minnesota, fiction takes place in the world we know. Unless we are writing science fiction or fantasy (except urban fantasy), we use places we’ve visited, or places we’ve heard about from other people who’ve been there. Maybe we get a great idea for a story, then go “on location” to the place we want to use as our setting. (Hmm, maybe I should set my next book in Hawaii. Or the Caribbean. Or New Zealand. 🙂 )

Even urban fantasy uses real life places. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden is a resident of Chicago (LOVE Dresden!), Kim Harrison’s Hollows series is set in Cincinnati and the surrounding area, and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series spans the globe from Arizona to Japan and the UK.

Research is a great reason to travel and see places we want to write about. Sometimes, though, we stick closer to home because that’s what we know. Maybe it’s the place where we grew up. I’ve set a book in a small town in rural Minnesota similar to the one I now live near. Maybe it’s a place we lived while in college. Maybe it’s the place we visited and wish we could move to (Kauai, definitely. Or maybe Seattle.)

The book I’m working on (shhh, don’t say anything about my still-unfinished outline–I don’t need my Muse showing up just now) is set in a place where I lived while in aviation school way back when. Like, 25+ years ago (OMG, I was in college 26 years ago. Holy shit–I’m getting old.)

Needless to say, there’ve been some changes in the past quarter century. Even though my book is set in the early 90s, some things are the same. Some things are vastly different. (I see a road trip in my future. 🙂 ) So I hop onto Google (gotta love the Internet for research!) and search for my old alma mater.

Lots of changes. As in, “holy cow, seriously?” changes. Definitely a road trip in my future for research, and a bit of nostalgia along the way.

But (there’s always a “but”, right?) depending on the story, it’s a good idea to make a few things up along the way. Unless you’re writing historical stuff that needs to be fairly accurate, that is. You don’t want readers to stop by your main character’s “real” house, the one you saw during your driving tour and decided would be perfect for your character. Imagine having strangers knocking on the door and asking to see Sassy Simpson’s bedroom where she found that bloody knife, or Logan Loveless’ kitchen where he finally kissed his dream girl.

And you, as the homeowner, have no idea who they’re talking about, even though they’re waving a book and pointing to the chapter that relates said event in mind-blowing detail.

Yep, probably not the best idea. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the setting, just tweak it a bit. Add a street or three that don’t exist in real life to plant your main character’s domicile. Rename some real life businesses or create some new ones in town.

Hey, it’s fiction, it’s supposed to be made up.

Er, I’d better get back to my outline. My Muse hasn’t shown up yet, but I suspect he will soon. It’s a super-nice weekend, an “April in February” weekend, so I’ll have to squeeze in a little garden planning. And taxes. Ugh.

And a walk or three. You know, to help me with my outline 😀

Have a great writing weekend!


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The waiting game

I add the last entry to the list on the white board in my writing office and fail to suppress the urge to squeal like a teenager. I won’t admit to the happy dance, though.

Another step closer.

My Muse appears bearing gifts: a bag of tasty Ghirardelli chocolates and a six-pack of Moon Man beer. The best part: he’s wearing that burgundy henley. A worthy distraction.

“Congrats, love.” He sets the beer and chocolate on my desk and gestures at the board. “How many?”

“Thirteen.” It’s still sinking in. My agent got my manuscript into the hands of editors at thirteen publishers. And she said so far she’s gotten positive responses. That is, they’re looking forward to reading it.

He scans the list. “Looks like a nice selection.”

“Are you kidding? These are great.” It’s still sinking in. The whole “I really have an agent” to “Oh. My. Gawd. My manuscript is actually on an editor’s desk at that publisher.”

He loops an arm around my shoulders. “You’re doing great, love. Now, why haven’t you finished the outline for the next book?”

He smells like spring, that fresh, green scent of promise and sunshine and rain, that scent that makes you want to breathe it all in that first day the grass turns bright green and the sun glows against a brilliant blue sky. “Can’t focus.”

“Bullshit. You’re not trying hard enough, love, and you know it.”

Silence. I’m not even trying to think of a response because I know he’s right. I’m at the brainstorming stage of my next book. I sort of know what the story will be, but free-writing through the outline a few times will help me cement the major plot points.

“I’ll get it done. I have to have it done by the end of the month so I can do a self-imposed NaNoWriMo in March.” Besides, the weather for the next week or so is supposed to be spring-like, as in March temps in February here in MN. Lots of opportunity to go for walks to help me think through the plot lines.

“I’m going to hold you to that.” His Indiana Jones fedora appears on his head. “You need to get to work.”

So now it’s a waiting game. My agent will keep me updated on responses, but I know it’s just like when an agent asks for a full when you’re querying agents. It takes a little while for that person to get to your manuscript’s spot in their TBR queue. I expect it’ll be a few weeks before we hear back from any of them.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on the outline for the next book, and planning my garden. I’ll have to start seeds in a few weeks. This year will be a canning tomato year, and hopefully my peppers will do better than they did last year (last year was a bad year for my peppers). Maybe I’ll do garbanzo beans this year. I always like to plant something new or something I haven’t planted for a while.

Here’s your awwww to start off the weekend:

sockszoeynap_cr

Socks and Zoey napping

Pulled from the archives. Even though Zoey would chase Socks and (since she was bigger) often wrestle with her, sometimes they’d cuddle.

Have a great weekend, all! Get writing!


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Random thoughts

A blank page stares at me, so I stare back, trying to ignore the ache in the right side of my face. Creative thoughts flee from the pain like cockroaches from light.

Gawd, I hate sinus headaches. Except, they may not be sinus-related at all. Man, this getting old stuff really screws up the system.

“You’re not old, love.” My Muse settles into the recliner beside me in my writing office. “You haven’t hit half a century yet. You’re barely middle-aged.”

“Tell that to my headache. You heard what my doctor said. She thinks they’re hormonal.” I’ve been getting them since I turned forty or so. That’s old enough for my system to start wigging out.

He indicates the notebook on my lap. “Excuses, love.”

I lean back in my chair and close my eyes. “I turned in my proposal. I’m not sure what to work on next.”

“You know what you need to do, love. Plan your website revamp, work on your e-newsletter strategy, or work on the outline for the next book. Pick one.”

The ache around my right eye sharpens, reaches a finger to my right temple and digs in. “Aren’t you and Mr. E supposed to be doing some sort of prep for your Super Bowl party tomorrow?”

“Nope. We decided we’d just gather at the sports pub with the other Muses. No muss, no fuss. And you’re changing the subject.”

“Yeah, because I can’t think about writing when my face hurts. Maybe I’ll start looking at seed catalogs. We’re moving the garden this year.” Yep, into an area that’s been invaded by creeping Charlie. Oh joy.

“Excuses, love.”

“Then again, I’ve got a couple books I need to finish, including Mr. E’s debut and a comparison title for my book. I should probably finish those.” I turn to my Muse. “You know I called you just so I’d have something to write in my blog today, right?”

A grin inches across his face. Heat washes through me. “Of course I know. I’m your Muse, love. I also know it’s killing you to be in this uncertain place with your writing. So work on the outline for the next book. Send Mae that email about her website, and ask her about her newsletter while you’re at it. You have to write. You’re as antsy as a third-grader in brand-new dress clothes–the uncomfortable kind. It’s driving me nuts.”

“Just like this stupid headache is driving me nuts. Welcome to the club.”

Today is supposed to be relatively warm (around 30 F) with a kicking wind (16 mph), but I’m going to go for a walk anyway. That always seems to help when I’m stuck or lacking creative energy. Or I could just peruse seed catalogs for a while. That’s always fun, dreaming about a garden with few weeds and gorgeous veggies. I’ll have to start my seeds in a few weeks. Or maybe I’ll look up recipes for creeping Charlie.

Have a great weekend, and WRITE!