Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Kicking drafts and taking names #amrevising #amwriting

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

I’m trying to pry dirt from under my fingernails, so of course I run into the door to my writing office before I turn the knob. Damn. It’s a good thing I was distracted, because the moment I open the door the odor of fried food and stale beer, like the kind you can’t get out of your clothes after watching the game at a sports bar (I know, it’s been a while, but you still remember, right?), wafts past me. Part of me wants to turn around and go back to weeding, but I resist.

Yeah, I probably should have listened to that part.

“I understand a ‘Job Well Done’ is in order, love.” My Muse is standing in front of the whiteboard covering one wall of my office. His fried food cologne must be emanating from the rugby jersey he’s wearing. His khaki cargo shorts have a stain on one thigh I hesitate to identify. Deck shoes complete his ensemble. No socks. Nice calves.

“Where have you been?”

He adds a note to the homework criteria I wrote on the board. “Things are opening up. Outdoor seating, and now some indoor seating, but the weather’s too nice to be inside.”

“So, you and Mr. E went on a pub crawl. If you were sitting outside, why do you smell like a sports bar?”

He adds another note. “Do you know fryers smoke? Even outdoors.”

I swallow a snarky comment about fryers and Camels or Marlboros. “Let me guess. You and Mr. E sat downwind. Didn’t think to move?”

He hit me with his brilliant blue eyes, a brow arched. “You make it sound like there was somewhere else to sit. It was like everyone was coming out of hibernation. We had to wait in line at a couple places.”

That sounds about right. “I can’t believe you had to sit downwind of the fryer at every bar you hit.”

“Well, there was one where they didn’t set up the fryers outside.” He adds one more note, then snaps the cover on the dry-erase marker. “Well done, love. You finished your first round of revision.”

I stand beside him in front of the board. “Um, thanks, I guess.”

“You sound disappointed.”

“I wasn’t, until I dug into my homework assignment.” Plotting. This assignment, my last for the class, looks at the story plot points. I’ve been feeling a major lack of satisfaction with the story, even after I figured out the plot to begin with. When I dug into my homework, I realized why. “I need to adjust the plot. Like, a significant change.”

My Muse swaps the marker in his hand for a different color, and adds another note. “That’s a good thing. You found the problem now, rather than two revisions from now.”

“You could have said something earlier, like before I finished the first draft–correction, finished the first draft after seven false starts. Maybe I would have gotten through it faster. Like after only five false starts.”

He rests an arm around my shoulders. The smell of French fries assaults my nose. “You forget one thing, love.”

“What’s that?”

“You don’t always listen to me.” Before I can respond, he continues. “Besides, you got to feel like you accomplished something by finishing the first round of revision. There’s a lot to be said about feeling like you’ve made progress. It’s important for all writers, but especially for one who tossed out seven partially-finished first drafts.”

“So, you didn’t hammer me with the revelation until I finished the first revision? Do you know how much further I’d be if I’d figured this out sooner?” I’m so glad I’m taking this class, because I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to see the glaring weak spot otherwise.

“How much have you learned because you analyzed the plot for your homework?” He tosses the marker onto the sill of the board. “You know the story will be stronger because of it.” He squeezes my shoulders, then heads to the mini-fridge and pulls out a brewski. He points the bottle at me then the board before twisting off the cap and slinging it into the trash. “Get your homework finished so we can work on that other story. I have a few ideas.”

I’m sure you do. He’s right, I can see the places where the plot needs work, which is part of the process. I do find it frustrating to get through one round of revision before I have that head-slapping “DUH!” moment.

Come to think of it, I’ve had a lot of those “DUH!” moments with this story. Sheesh.

Now that I’m done with my first round of revision, once I finish my homework, I’ll move on to a different story for a few weeks to let Book 2 rest. After this class, I have one more to take to get my second badge and move one step closer to my writing certificate.

How is your writing coming along? Enjoy this last week of Spring before the solstice next week!

Zoey on retaining wall


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Settling down #amwriting #amrevising

writing in a journal on the lawn
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

A lot of writers have been posting about how the pandemic and the quarantine have disrupted their writing. Despite spending so much time at home, they are having a tough time focusing. Heck, a lot of people have trouble sleeping. COVID dreams, anyone?

Now with the turmoil of the past couple weeks added on top of all that, settling down to write seems to be a losing battle. All of the things going on right now foster anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration. Then there’s the whole being cooped up 24-7 with people you love but honestly need a break from sometimes–erm, on a regular basis. 😀

All these things disrupt the flow of creativity, at least for me. Considering it’s been what, three months since the pandemic kicked off the quarantine, there’s been time to try different things to settle that creative energy enough to use.

My Writing Sisters chat every week, and this week we shared some of the things we’re doing to help us attain the calm we need to write. Maybe you’ve figured out what works for you by now. If not, here are some of the things we are doing:

  • Turn off the news: Um, yeah. That’s what’s disrupting our energy to begin with. Hopefully you don’t live with someone who is a news junkie. Check in occasionally to stay informed (provided, of course, your source is non-biased and well-balanced, and no, I won’t go there), but anything more than an hour or so is probably too much.
  • Get outside: There is something grounding about being in Nature. Sure, we need to be mindful of where we go and physical distancing, but a walk in the woods or a park has a calming effect. Green trees, bird song, whispering leaves, maybe a laughing brook, flowers. Pay attention to it all. It’s like mindful breathing: it gives you something to focus on instead of the mental clutter encouraged by all the news lately. The weather this time of year is great (if you discount temps above 90 F and humidity above 80%). The southern hemisphere is heading into winter, but hopefully your weather isn’t like MN’s winter 🙂
  • Exercise: Walks or runs help work off anxious energy. Yoga and other activities like tai chi are both a physical workout and a meditation. Anything to bleed off that unsettled energy helps.
  • Write longhand: Writing longhand is a great way to pull a writing brain out of the mire. Even if it’s just journaling or stream-of-consciousness writing, it lures creative energy out, giving it a ball or a piece of chalk and a bare sidewalk to play with. Double bonus: Do writing-focused activities, like deep-dive character bios or setting histories in longhand. Try it. It works 🙂
  • Listen to music: Not head-banging, death-metal stuff (unless that’s your thing), but instrumental music. Or music with words, but the key there is to listen and not pay attention to the words. I listen to what we used to call “New Age” (maybe we still do call it New Age) and a lot of instrumental covers of popular music (The Piano Guys or David Garrett, for instance). And there’s always nature tracks, like waterfalls, rain, or bubbling brooks. Thunderstorms and ocean waves are my go-tos.
  • Get creative in other ways: Something that isn’t writing but is still creative helps to exercise that creative energy without weaving it into the structure writing can require. I know writers who are doing more quilting these days. I’ve been doing some crocheting (easy stuff like scarves and afghans). Playing music is another way to work the creative energy and settle your mind. I sat down at the piano again after ten years of not playing. It felt good.
  • Meditate: There are a lot of apps that help you learn to meditate, one of which offers a free subscription to health care and other front line workers (Headspace, I think), and another that offers a free membership for a year because of COVID-19 (Balance. Don’t know if they are still offering the free year). One of my writing sisters discovered a series of meditations for writers here. She ‘s been having a lot of success with them as she works on her WIP.
  • Get out in the garden: You knew this would be on my list, right? This ties back in with getting outside. Of course, there are annoying things like mosquitoes and weeds to contend with. Maybe it’s that physical connection to the earth that helps to ground us, because that’s really what it’s like. Nature can help us a lot if we pay attention.
  • Read: I’ve been reading a little more lately, and listening to audiobooks when I run. Full disclosure: Jim Butcher’s next Dresden book (after a six-year absence) is coming out soon, so I indulged in reading some of Harry’s earlier adventures. My favorite wizard! Reading to escape is different than reading to learn, but that’s the point, to escape. Reading to learn is also important to help us understand different perspectives and move forward in our craft and in our society.

Now that things are opening up, people who have been chomping at the bit because they’ve been cooped up are getting some respite, but I think a lot of writers have been pretty okay with the whole isolation thing. Yet even if you are an introvert, there is something to be said about being with other people, especially if you want to help in the midst of the chaos of the world.

Volunteering (taking proper safety precautions, of course) is a way to be around people and do something good for others and know you’ve been able to make a difference. This in turn helps you feel better and more settled, even if it’s nothing more than helping your elderly or sickly next door neighbor get their groceries for the week, or taking them to a doctor’s appointment.

My first round of revisions is coming along. I have one assignment left for my class, but I noticed a writer’s meditation that may help me with that. It’s on my to-do for today. It seems my other stories are starting to stir more, so once round one is finished for Book 2, I’ll give another story some attention for a bit while I let Book 2 rest.

Hope you all are doing well, staying healthy, and writing!

PS: I didn’t make it to the final round for the RONE award, but THANK YOU to everyone who voted!


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Of Muses, plans, and panda-mics #amwriting #amrevising

First, more shameless self-promotion (because someone has to do it 🙂 )

There’s still time to vote!

And super-duper-with-fireworks-and-dancing-Snoopys THANK YOU shout-out to all who voted! You ROCK!!

dancing Snoopy

“Really, love?” My Muse settles into the visitor’s chair across the desk from me. Wait, when did I get a visitor’s chair? “You spent how long putting those images together?” He leans forward and rests a forearm on the desk. “You should have been working on revisions.”

Sigh. I slump in my chair. “I know. I hate the marketing stuff, because I know nothing about marketing.” All the “market your book” articles and posts sound logical, until it comes time to actually put it into practice.

“You’re a writer. You try to make people believe your stories are real. How is marketing different? You’re trying to make people want to read your stories.”

I stare at him. Today he’s sporting a black long-sleeved concert T-shirt for Crowded House, sleeves shoved halfway up his forearms. Black’s not really his color, but he sure fills out the shirt nicely. “There is a difference. One is storytelling, the other is persuasion. I’ve never been good at persuasive writing.”

“It’s like any other writing. You try to connect with the reader.”

“Sure. Easier said than done.”

“Maybe it’s your attitude, love.” He trains his striking blue gaze on me. “Your goal is to convince people to buy your book and spread the word.”

“You heard about this pandemic thing, right? All my panels have been cancelled. Heck, I’m not even sure my Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour appearance is going to happen. It works so much better when I can actually talk to someone face-to-face.”

He narrows his eyes. “You are good at that, once you get comfortable.” He straightens in his chair. “Well, since you aren’t spending time running off to panels and such, you have that much more time to write.”

“I’m trying.” I’m actually progressing on my homework. I need to submit up to 4,000 words that demonstrate my ability to use friends, foes, and foils. You know, sidekicks, antagonists, and characters that reflect or contrast the MC.

He raises a brow. “You have an empty nest this weekend.”

“Yeah. And I want to turn in my homework by Monday. Then there’s the garden.” After years of trying to downsize, it seems this year will be a bit of regression. Makes sense to have a bigger garden, all things considered. And the weather has been glorious the past few days. I need to enjoy it before the door opens on Summer. Weather guys say we’re getting hit with temps in the mid- to upper-80s next week. Ugh. Too hot for May.

“I’ll be here, love. And remember, just because you are outside doesn’t mean you don’t stop writing.” He taps his temple. “In here.”

Trust me, there are days I can’t shut it down. And days I can’t get it fired up. I’m progressing, though.

How is everyone doing? Remembering what day it is? Staying active? Yeah, me too. Thought I’d toss a little humor into things. Did you catch the “panda-mic” in my post title? Well, here ya go:

Heh. Get it? Actually, the panda is how I’ve been feeling lately as things keep going on.

Anyway, I have homework to do and a Dresden novel to read before the new one comes out. Re-reading Skin Game. If you don’t know Harry Dresden, you’re missing out 😀

Have a great weekend!


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Progress … in more ways than one

budding tree branch
Image by MargGe from Pixabay

True to the forecast, Easter reminded us with a couple inches of snow that Winter tends to linger here in Minnesota. All week it felt like November: in the thirties instead of the our typical fifties this time of year. The returning birds didn’t seem to mind too much; they’re just as raucous as usual in spring.

One afternoon amid the cacaphony of the birds staking claims I heard the dog thunder off the deck, so naturally I go to see what on earth she took off after.

soaring bald eagle
Image by 272447 from Pixabay

Three bald eagles, one not old enough for the white head and tail yet, were soaring over the grove and the clearing beyond, suspiciously close to the chicken pen. They looked like they were there to laze about and fly in circles, but I suspect they were eying some easy pickings. The dog was barking and chasing them, as if that would discourage them if they decided to snatch a chicken.

One even flew around one side of the grove, it seemed to test the dog’s determination to chase it (which she did), or as a distraction so the other two could conduct their thievery in peace.

If you ever get to see bald eagles up close (we’re talking maybe 10 feet above the house or less), it’s a treat. Not sure I’d feel the same way if they had a chicken in their talons, but wow, it really is awe-inspiring. They did leave after a few minutes, and yes, we still have all of our chickens.

So ends week 5 of working from home. I contacted our ISP again this week to see if they could do anything about the abysmal speed. I got lucky; this tech support person changed our router settings so we are using a less-congested channel. Yay. Now the internet is at least usable during the day (still nowhere near the 6 Mbps we could be getting). It’s a good thing, too, because the ISP we were thinking of using came out for a site survey. Survey says there are too many trees in the way on the edge of town for a good signal (their transmitter is not on the water tower like we hoped). Sigh.

I turned in my first assignment for my new class. The beauty is I can use excerpts from my WIP for my homework! Speaking of WIP, aka Book 2, I’m starting the first round of revision. One thing I’ve learned about my process is that first–wait, eighth in this case–rough draft helps me put together a plot that works. Then after letting the manuscript sit for a bit, the reread allows me to refine the plot, so when I do start revising, I can adjust as I need to.

I suppose a lot of writers work that way, but I find I have a much better sense of where the story is going now, so I can make sure there is the proper set up early on. And that helps smooth things out later.

So those first seven rough drafts that didn’t work weren’t wasted effort, but they sure felt like it. Two freaking years of effort! Argh. Now it feels like: “Duh, of course this is how the story works. Sheesh. I can’t believe I thought it would work any other way.”

Then I look at those authors who release a book every year (you know who you are), and wonder how on earth they manage a functional plot the first time around. I consider myself more plotter than pantser, but I usually have a story all laid out in my head before I start. Not this time.

Granted, a lot of those authors don’t have a day job (read: retired), but still. Then again, a lot of it, I suspect, is practice. The more you practice, the better you become at putting together a plot that works without wasting–erm, spending time on seven(!) false starts.

The trees are starting to leaf out, our seasonal spring temps are due to return (yippee!!), and my seedlings are looking good. Hope you all are weathering this stay-at-home stuff.

Stay safe, wash your hands, and keep writing!

Zoey the cat sitting on teal recliner


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Lighten up!

Finishing up week 3 of working from home. And self-isolation. I feel like I should be following starship protocol:

Captain’s log 2020095: Icy drizzle and snow pellets today, like teeny snowballs. Cold. Windy. And still waiting out the statewide stay-at-home order. Supplies are okay; no need to ration yet. The crew is restless, but we have little choice but to resist the desire to wander.

Anyway, one thing people are doing during this whole thing to brighten things is put up Christmas lights. I love the idea; the lights are my favorite part of Christmas.

So, I have two strings up, and it does help with mood.

lights

“Mood, maybe. Writing? Not so much.” My Muse grabs a beer from the mini-fridge and settles back into one of the two recliners in my writing office.

“I’m working on revisions.”

“You are, love. Considering you haven’t had to commute for the past few weeks, I thought you would be further along by now.”

“I finished my class. And taxes. And migraine days.” I grab my own beer from the fridge and drop into the other recliner. “I got some other stuff done.” Not cleaning, though. Actually, that’s on my list for this weekend, but I’m not going to tell him that. Better get it done before the weather gets nice and warm and beckoning.

“Other stuff that doesn’t include writing.”

“Other stuff that includes walks in the nice spring weather and … Hey, at least I’m not totally freaking out because I’m cooped up and distracted.” Just sort of freaking out. A little. Yeah, I’ll go with that.

“Uh-huh.”

He doesn’t sound convinced.

“Whatever. I’m working on revisions.” And resisting starting something that keeps poking at me. An urban fantasy. Maybe it’s because I’m waiting anxiously for the next Harry Dresden book–finally!

“You do not need to be distracted, love. You have a space. Use it.”

*Grumble* I do have a space. “My lights are in the common living area. I like my lights.” Especially these days. Maybe I can start working on my real writing office after I’m done cleaning, since my son isn’t here right now.

“Your son isn’t here now, love, but he is graduating in a month. Then what?”

He’s right. It’s not like the job market is screaming for people at this point. “He’ll move back home.” I love my family, but I miss my empty nest. By the time school is out I should be able to get the garden started, so I’ll have … wait. More distractions. Sigh.

“I’ll use my space more.”

“Not just for meditation practice, either.”

I started practicing meditation, but I’ve missed the past few days. “I know, I know. Once I finish going over the hard copy again, I’ll get back into the writing space routine.”

“Good.” He drains his beer and tosses the empty into the recycling bin. “And ignore the urban fantasy.”

“I want to write a story with a dragon.”

He focuses his brilliant blue eyes on me. “No. Fantasy. Finish book 2, your police procedural, and the rural mystery. Then think about fantasy.”

Ugh. He’s right. But maybe I can squeeze a short story in somewhere.

Anyway, I thought I’d share something a little different. This is Zoey when she wants to be petted. (If you have your volume up, ignore the banging and TV in the background. Hubs was making lunch.)

Zoey wants petting (Note: it’s on Dropbox, so just ignore the stupid “sign up for Dropbox” popup)

Enjoy! Stay safe and keep writing!

zoeychair