Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Serendipity, sort of #amwriting #amlearning

someone reading a book

Serendipity (Merriam-Webster): the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for also : an instance of this

Serendipity (Dictionary.com): an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune; luck:

It’s been one of those weeks. You know, the ones where nothing seems to go right, yet sometimes it does. I know, sounds weird. Let me try to make sense of it (because I know you have nothing better to do than read a rambling post 🙂 ).

There’s been a few things going on lately, besides the gawd-awful, waay-to-early-in-the-season heat wave we’ve been having. This is July weather, not June. Man, I miss mid-seventies in June. We’re almost at 10 straight days of 90+ degree (F) heat, with little to no rain. My tomatoes are loving it; everything else has yet to offer an opinion.

First and most anticipated is our Writing Sisters reunion–IN PERSON! Yippee! I miss those gals. We had a virtual reunion last year because, well, pandemic. We’re all fully vaxed now, but we still hit a few speed bumps I wasn’t sure we would manage. There is still anxiety about the pandemic, especially since so many in the general populace seem to have lost any sense of, well, critical thinking. I wonder how many know someone who had polio or died from it, which wasn’t all that long ago. And smallpox. Do they know why we don’t talk about smallpox anymore? Anyway, we smoothed out those speed bumps, and come the first weekend in August, I’ll be enjoying a weekend in WI with my favorite fellow writers.

Next, I mentioned a few weeks back that I’ll be a casualty of a corporate buyout at the end of July. When I found out my position was being eliminated, I decided to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement benefit before I go (something I should have been doing all along. Lesson learned.). The class I’m taking focuses on the user experience, which sorta has something to do with technical writing. I am learning a lot more than I thought I would, and I did discover the relevance: some of the job postings I’m considering mention the user experience (UX). Hey, if asked, I can speak like I know what I’m talking about now. Bonus!

The other thing about my position being eliminated and our company’s software dev process being adjusted: because the release schedule for our software seems to have slowed down, I’ve been taking advantage of the “down” time to do some online learning about the tools I use. Good thing, too, because I’ve learned some stuff that will help me with my job hunt. Again, I can speak intelligently (or make a good show of it 🙂 ) about things I wouldn’t be aware of if I hadn’t started doing online tutorials. On the down side? I’ve learned some things I should have been doing but didn’t. I’m toying with the idea of making some last-minute changes to some of the projects I work on. Then again, in a month and a half it won’t matter. But I’ll be learning something, right?

Speaking of job hunting, I’ve had a few interviews now. Most of them went well, but one I had this week went really well, so I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get a call for a second interview. Again, I’m so glad I decided to look into those online tutorials and webinars, because those topics are now specified in job postings. Now to adjust my portfolio so it looks like I can do really cool stuff (which I should have been doing over the past half-dozen years, but didn’t have the time or need to do).

A casualty of all this school stuff and job-hunt stuff over the past few weeks has been my WIP and current revisions. Sigh. I half-expected one of my MCs to knock on the door of my writing office and scold me for leaving them in limbo. Now that the garden is in and seems to be holding its own, and my last class assignment has been turned in, I plan to get back to them. Promise!

So, overall, things seem to be, well, not falling into place so much as being part of a life-affirming realization in the sense that actions I chose to take (the class, online tutorials) in response to losing my job at the end of July were decisions that will help me find a new job sooner rather than later (crossing fingers!!). Serendipity sounded like the right word, at least for today.

Stay cool, everyone! We’re a week or so away from the solstice, so enjoy the long hours of daylight!

Keep on writing!

Wake me when it cools down


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Revision-it does a story good #amwriting #amrevising

As long as it takes to write the first draft of a book (I mean, normally, not the 8 first drafts I went through for my current WIP), I think it takes 10 times longer to revise it into something worthy of an agent or editor. Or writing teacher, because I want to prove I was paying attention in class 🙂 .

Fourth round of revision, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s stuff to adjust in the storyline. Go figure. I mean, of course each round of revision means refining the story, fine-tuning the plot, tweaking the characters. That’s the whole point. At this point in the process, part of me just wants to toss it aside and work on something that’s much, much closer to a worthy finished product (like that manuscript I queried for two years that I went back to read and now know how to improve).

I have two weeks before I turn the manuscript in to my writing teacher. It’s my “final”, the last task in my journey toward a writing certificate, which does nothing more than give me a bit of “street cred”, but has also been good for learning the craft.

That’s what it’s all about, right? Learning the craft. Practicing what we learn. Learn some more. Keep practicing. The key, though, is having someone review our progress and guide us on improving the craft. It doesn’t do any good to practice the golf swing if you never get that one piece of advice that could knock your handicap down a stroke or two.

We need critique partners to look at a story from the outside, point out weaknesses, and suggest ways to improve the story. We need beta readers to get a wider perspective of the story and ensure we keep the reader’s interest and enjoyment of the overall story.

I would add that we need writing teachers or coaches every so often to help us learn better ways or different ways to build the story with stronger material, better technique, and guide us to become a better writer than we were last month or last year. If you don’t know shifting your grip a quarter-inch will knock a stroke off that drive, you’ll never lower your handicap.

And no, I have no idea where all the golf comparisons came from. I don’t even play golf!

Practice will help us improve. Critique partners and editors will help us improve. Craft books help us learn things we can do to improve our craft. But there’s something to be said about taking a writing class, attending a writing webinar or seminar, or working directly with a coach.

When asked what the best thing I’ve done in my writing journey has been, I will always say choosing to attend a week-long, novel-writing master class and taking online creative writing courses. I have learned so many things (not all of them have stuck, however 🙂 ) over the past few years that I would do it all again just for the refresher.

Okay, so this ended up being an ode to writing teachers. Seriously, though, I feel fortunate to have found a writing teacher (and writing sisters!) who, to this day, continues to inspire and sit on my shoulder like the proverbial angel (devil?), whispering about scene goals, ticking time bombs, touchstones, and sidekicks.

If there’s a National Writing Teachers’ Day, let me know, because I need to send my writing teacher a bottle of wine and some chocolate 😀

Keep on writing!

Get back to writing, slacker. I’m stealing your chair.


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When characters change their story #amwriting #amreading

Holy crap! It’s almost March?! Wow! Either I haven’t been paying much attention (likely) or time has been flying (eh, not as likely). I’ve been working on my rural MN mystery project while I let Book 2 steep a bit. I figure I’ll give it another week before I tackle the next revision; I’m aiming to turn it in to my writing teacher by the end of March.

Really.

Anyway, I’ve been tinkering with the rural MN mystery for a few years, off and on between spits and starts with Book 2. I think it’s a neat story, and I’m trying out a few new-to-me techniques, like dual timelines and first-person POV (first person isn’t new to me, but I haven’t used it outside of a few short stories way back in the day).

I’ve had my main characters put together for a while. I know their histories, their motivations, and all that good stuff. I know where they came from, what they do for a living, and their favorite flavor of ice cream … okay, maybe not that last one, but you get it.

Secondary characters are a little different. There are secondary characters and secondary characters. Maybe minor characters is a better term. Yeah, let’s go with that. I still know the backgrounds of secondary characters; I suppose they would be called the supporting cast in a movie. Those are the ones with a history of some sort with the main characters.

Minor characters are the ones that pop in and out of the story because someone needs to be there. In my book, Murder in Plane Sight, I needed someone to take my main character to a place where she would cross paths with a secondary character. My main character, Sierra, had no reason to be anywhere the secondary character was.

To remedy this, I looked at Sierra’s background. Aha! She has a younger sister. Her sister’s sole purpose in the story is to make sure Sierra is someplace in particular. Voila! Minor character (for now), and she’s just the way I imagined her.

In the rural MN mystery, my main character is digging for information. There are two minor characters she talks to, kinda like witnesses. They both started out as “man on the street” characters who appear once, do their job, and exit – stage left.

I wrote a scene with the first minor character, and it went as expected. Five minutes (book time) of questions, and the minor character is finished. Bye, have a nice life.

Okay, on to the next scene. I had a similar vision for the MC’s conversation with this minor character: ask a few questions, go their separate ways.

Yeah, not so much. The character is a guy in his mid- to late-twenties, a cook in a nursing home who people claim looks a lot like a young Steve McQueen. In my mind, he was a “good neighbor”, willing to mow your lawn while you go on vacation or stop on the side of the road to help you change that flat tire. A “Minnesota Nice” kind of guy. Easy going. Pleasant. Just, nice.

He must have decided “nice” was overrated, because by the end of the scene, I had a new suspect/possible bad guy. How the hell did that happen? I swear he was nothing but a guy all the little old ladies love because he’s handsome and charming.

On the bright side (because there’s always a reason a writer’s subconscious does stuff like this, right?), I now have another someone who could have done the crime. I don’t know his background yet, so he may have a motive I haven’t discovered. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see more of a young Steve McQueen look-alike?

One more week to explore this story before I go back to Book 2 and revision round #4. Oh, almost forgot:

If you have some time next weekend, join me at the Deep Valley Book Festival’s “Cabin Fever” event! I’m on panels at 10a (CT) and 1p (CT). It’s fun, it’s authors, and it’s FREE! No driving required (or pants, if that’s your thing 😉 )

It feels like spring here, at least until it snows tomorrow. Sigh. The equinox is in three weeks–yippee! I’m starting my seeds and dreaming of fresh green grass and new leaves (when I’m not thinking about Book 2, that is 🙂 )

Happy Writing!

Wake me when it’s spring


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Thawing out, for now #amwriting #amrevising #mnwinter

Image by Daniel Roberts from Pixabay

It’s finally getting warm around here. Of course, “warm” is relative; we’ll be hitting freezing by the end of the weekend–woo-hoo! Time to bring out the light jackets! (and yes, that’s a MN joke; do not try this at home if you are not used to 32 degree F temps). Seriously, though, we have another month and a half or so of winter to go. With the emergence from the deep freeze comes more snow (usually).

Finished the third round of revision on Book 2 and realized there are a few spots that need some work due to the tweaked plot. Sigh. Now, a more adept writer might have redone those scenes on their way through the draft, but I often have to ruminate on what changes to make, or how to reconstruct the scene.

Which is frustrating to me. Come to think of it, if I’m working on a project I have already “built” in my mind, it doesn’t seem to be as tough to revise. However, this story has been challenging from the start. I have a few scenes I need to brainstorm. Walking outside helps me think better (at least creatively-speaking), and I haven’t been able to walk much over the past few weeks because who wants to walk in -10 wind chill?

It is warming up, though (40 degrees F by the end of the week–yippee!), so I’m planning to take advantage (provided we don’t get six inches of snow, because walking 2 miles in my snow boots makes my feet hurt). In any case, it’s time to set Book 2 aside for a couple weeks while my brain digests things and whips up some brilliant solutions to my scene issues.

In the meantime, I’m going back to another project. This one I started out writing in scenes (not that I don’t write in scenes, but I think of them as chapters of scenes, not individual scenes. It’s just a mental reference.). Remember the webinar I mentioned a few weeks ago? The one of Jess Lourey discussing her process? I think that project would be a good practice run for her process before I go back to Book 2. I’ll let you know how it goes!

So why is Book 2 such a PITA (pain in the ass), you ask? Don’t all writers know what the story is before they write it?

Um, nope. Some writers just start writing and building the story as they go, and they wind up with a story that works when they’re finished (I am envious of you!). I like to at least have an idea of the story from beginning to end before I start, then I put together a timeline that works like an outline for me. Correction: I have a mental outline of the story from beginning to end for months before I write it down.

That gives me time to do the “that won’t work, what about this” stuff so by the time I draft it, I know the beginning, middle, and end. Mostly. It won’t stay that way, but at least I have a plan I’ve already monkeyed with for a while.

This book? All that mental fermentation ended up being “on paper”, which resulted in 7 false starts. Ugh. On the bright side, I’ve learned what works better for me as a writer when developing stories. Now, if I could clone my creative self and set her loose with the next plot seed, she could work on that so by the time I finish my current project, I’d have the next project all ready to draft.

Hope everyone is warm and safe. This weekend is seed-starting weekend, so I’ll get to dig in the dirt (potting soil) a bit. A taste of spring!

Keep on writing!

You ARE writing, right?


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Revision revelation #amediting #amwriting #amrevising

Being a member of a writing organization like Sisters in Crime (SinC) or Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is one of those things that we do to add street cred, right? Since I’m writing mysteries at this point, those are my organizations of genre. There are so many others, like Romance Writers of America (RWA), Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

The reason I bring it up is because these organizations offer webinars about the craft. Usually for FREE. Maybe there have been more offerings lately because they are all online at this point, or maybe I just didn’t pay attention before, but holy cow. Lots of good stuff out there.

This past week I attended a SinC webinar, “Revolutionary Editing”, presented by the recent Edgar Allen Poe Award nominee, Jess Lourey (a fellow MN author and a kitten foster mom who posts the most adorable kitten vids on FB!). Jess is a tenured creative writing professor (which I didn’t realize). She also offers courses and writing retreats through her Jess Lourey University website. She gave “quick and dirty tips” for editing.

Jess’ technique is pretty straightforward: check the character arc, analyze the plot (I ruminated about that last week), and look at each scene to make sure there is enough “power” in it (my word, not hers).

There are so many different methods for editing, probably as many as there are writers. I don’t have a specific method, other than read through the draft, make notes, revise, let the story sit for a couple weeks, rinse and repeat. When I do revise, I try to think about the structure, which I wrote about last week. After Jess Lourey’s webinar, I have a new technique I want to try.

It was the scene part of her process that stuck in my head. We all know a scene needs to feed into the story goal by either moving the story/plot forward or supporting the character arc. If it doesn’t, it should be dropped or rewritten. Jess’ suggestions went beyond that in a way that made me really think:

    • A summary of a scene (like, a one- or two-sentence summary) should never transition to the next scene with “and then”. For example: This happens, and then this happens, and then … Instead, between each scene you should be able to say a phrase like: but, because, therefore, or meanwhile. For example: This happens, but then this happens, because then this happens, and meanwhile/therefore this happens. (This is actually from a video short by the writers of ‘South Park’, in case it sounds familiar.)
    • Each scene should have at least 2 of these elements: action (a physical, emotional, or psychic shift), relationship (romantic, friendship, or humor), information, suspense, and/or emotion (not book emotion, but reader emotion). Really intense scenes (like the climax) should have 4 or 5 of these.

Jess uses notecards; one card for each scene, with the scene summary. That way she can shuffle the scenes around, and quickly see if that scene has the appropriate amount of action, relationship, information, suspense, and/or emotion.

It’s interesting how much a simple concept or practice can make so much sense! In the past I have written scene summaries on notecards so I can shuffle them around, but it never occured to me to analyze them for content like that. It makes a lot of sense, at least to me.

I’m almost to the halfway point in my revision, and after Jess’ webinar (I think I actually knew there was a problem, but for some reason I could “visualize” it after the webinar), I have a major fix figured out. It’s the whole midpoint thing, that black moment when the main character is ready to throw up her hands, pick up her toys, and go home. My “black moment” wasn’t bleak enough, so now *rubs hands together and cackles maniacally* I have a fix for it.

Hope your writing is going well! This week we’re getting an unusual wave of warm weather (yes, even a degree below freezing is warm this time of year in MN), and, of course, more snow. We’ve been pretty spoiled this year with a mild winter.

Write on!

Yes, I’m in your chair. Your point?