Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Writerly inspirations #amwriting

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So I ran across this quote through a fellow writer on Facebook. I read it and thought “YES! SO MUCH THIS!”

Um. Yeah. Then i got back to my writing office and found this:
indianna-jones-hat-whipAnyone else think my Muse didn’t find the quote’s image of a muse as humorous as I did?

I haven’t seen the fedora and bullwhip for a while, and I didn’t expect to see them; I’ve been writing–working on my homework for my writing class. Now that my writing teacher has finished her week-long writing retreat, I’m planning to turn in my next assignment in a few days. The first 20 pages of my book.

Hey, it’s incentive. *eyes the fedora and bullwhip*

“A-hem.”

Um, he’s behind me, isn’t he. Yeah, not a question.

“I hope you aren’t taking Ms. Kingsolver’s advice literally, love.”

Gulp. I turn to find my Muse standing inside my personal space. Rather, looming. He’s six-foot-two to my five-foot four. I look up, but slowly. I mean, he’s so close I may as well take advantage, right? I don’t get this kind of view of broad chest and lean muscle every day. Even if it is covered with a royal blue t-shirt that fits him quite well. And is that coconut scent from sunscreen? I always think of the beach when I smell that. The beach and Banana Boat sunscreen. Do they even make that anymore?

“Julie.”

Oh, yeah. I finish getting my eyeful and reach his face. “You are in my personal space,” I say as an excuse, though I’m pretty sure he sees right through that.

“Yes, I am. And do you rememberΒ why I’m in your personal space?”

I show him my notebook, complete with line-outs, scribble-outs, and arrows. “I’m doing my homework. See.” I indicate the fedora and whip. “I don’t know why you brought those. I’m working.”

He shrugs. “I got inspired by your writing teacher.”

What? Oh, the quote on Facebook. “Aren’t you supposed to meet Mr. E for a pub crawl?” Not that I think he’ll be distracted by the idea, but it’s worth a shot.

His strong hands land on my shoulders and he turns me around, adding a tiny shove toward my computer. “No. I’m here until you get your homework done.”

Okay. I can work with that. I mean, he is my Muse after all. Heck, he’s been my Muse since my senior year in high school. And no, I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was.

“Focus, love.” He bends close, until I feel his breath on my ear. “And remember, your writing teacher approves this message.”

You had to be there. Seriously.

Welcome to Summer! (unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, then it’s winter) And now we get to watch the days get shorter (I know, still 24 hrs, but a few less minutes of daylight every day from now until the winter solstice. Boo.)

And here’s another Barbara Kingsolver quote for inspiration:

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Happy Writing!

Zoey4

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Getting back into it #amwriting

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I swat at the cloud of gnats swarming my head and dart through the back door of my writing office. With the door safely closed and most of the bugs left outside, I pull off my head-net. Best. Investment. Ever. Although, one can tolerate a cloud of gnats around one’s head–even one safely ensconsed in mosquito netting–only so long.

“Seriously, love?” My Muse is leaning on my writing desk, arms crossed. Until he swats at a rogue gnat. A teeny wisp of smoke fades.

“Dude, did you just fry that gnat?”

Another teeny wisp of smoke drifts toward the floor. “Would you rather I corral them and coax them back outside?”

“Hell, no. Why don’t you nuke all the ones out in the garden so I don’t have to wear this head-net and spray down with bug repellent.”

“Not my job.” He crosses his legs at the ankles. Which is when I notice he’s wearing deck shoes, no socks, tan cargo shorts, and a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt. Except the shirt is tye-dyed rather than the usual black. “Besides, they’ll be gone in a week or so. Now that you’re done playing in the dirt …”

“Playing? Excuse me, but I was trying to weed. You know, before I couldn’t stand listening to bugs in my ears and flying around my eyes.” I peel off my long-sleeved button-down shirt. Ugh. Eighty degrees outside and I have to wear long pants and long sleeves just to weed without turning into a snack bar. A stray buzz by my ear sounds like a mini-buzzsaw. I slap at my head. Damn fricking bugs. Needless to say, I didn’t get a whole lot of weeding done. “Whatever it is, it’s going to have to wait until after I shower.”

A slow, crooked grin stretches across his face. An eyebrow arches.

“What? What’s funny?”

“Best you don’t know, love.”

Ahem. O-kay. “Hey, I don’t need any shit from you. I’m writing. I even have the first chapter done. I knew that class was a good idea.”

“Yes, you are, and yes, it was. And I’m not going to let you slack off because your writing teacher is conducting a week-long writing retreat this week. She wants to see the next chapter.”

“And I want to write it. But shower first.” The sharp pine-ish smell of bug spray just reminds me of bugs. Bloodsucking bugs.

“I’ll be waiting.” He crosses the office and settles into one of the recliners in the corner before he reaches to the mini-fridge and pulls out a craft beer. “Hurry up. I have some ideas for the next few chapters.”

“Good. So do I.”

I have to say, I am sooo glad I took this class. The units and exercises are set up to walk through the process of building a novel. So far, in the unit I’m on, my assignments included a logline and the infamous Central Question, a review of the book as a bestseller, as well as my main character’s best personality trait and her Fatal Flaw.

By writing the review, specifically looking at the character, plot, and transformational arc, I discovered a few things, one in particular that “clicked” as part of Sierra’s arc. By really thinking about her fatal flaw and why she has it, I hit another revelation that will help me with the story.

My next assignment is the first 20 pages. I have the first nine done as part of an earlier assignment, and I feel good about keeping things going. Being accountable is a big part of this, but also the coaching. My mentor is a great coach; she always manages to say something or make a suggestion that turns on the lightbulb and makes me want to dig in and move forward. I even took a day off next week to give myself some additional time to write. And work on promo stuff.

Enjoy your weekend, and to all the fathers out there, whether you have your own kids or you fill that place in someone’s life: Happy Father’s Day!

zoey chair 3


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Blueprint to a book

I took a chance last weekend and planted the garden during the two nice days we had in a series of rainy ones. Needless to say, the very next day we got 2+ inches of rain. Not sure yet how much I’ll have to replant, and of course I forgot to take pictures. That’s on the agenda for next week’s post. Besides, maybe some stuff will start coming up by then (provided the seeds didn’t get washed away. Sigh.)

So I thought I’d give you a look-see into my class. Because of the trouble I’ve been having with Book 2, I decided to take an online course to both hold me accountable (since it’s being taught by my writing teacher and I don’t want to disappoint her πŸ™‚ ) and lead me through the process.

I’ve been doing pretty well with my process–which has evolved somewhat–since I started drafting novels in earnest. I’m not counting the two I did before I seriously aimed at getting published. But Book 2 has been giving me fits for a long time. Part of it is because I wasn’t getting the story quite right, and part of it, I think, is because I would really like to work on something else (which I just figured out. Yeah, I know, it takes me a bit, but I think my Muse has been getting frustrated and just wants me to write something.)

The online class is called “Write Your Novel Fast and Sure”. Perfect! It walks you through the process of building and shaping a novel, from the famous (infamous?) core problem that the protagonist has to solve, to the “promise” you as a writer makes to your reader, to the plot points of the story.

It’s a blueprint, breaking the project down into manageable pieces. Honestly, I’ve never broken a story down like this at this stage (I’ve done it once the story is written in order to make sure it hits the important stuff). I usually “write” the story in my head, then put together a “story bible” with specifics like character bios, setting details, and a rough summary/timeline of events. Breaking this story down reveals some of the things I was getting hung up on, like having a big conflict between Sierra and Quinn. Stepping back, that won’t work because of the characters themselves, the type of people they are. They might get frustrated with each other, but a major conflict needs a major flashpoint between them, and there isn’t one of those in this story.

First, the core problem of the story, or as I’ve heard it said, the story “goal”. What does the main character have to do? That ties in with the “promise” to the reader, which goes back to what a reader expects from the genre. Since this is a mystery, the goal is to find out who killed the victim and why. The promise to the reader is that there will be at least one dead body, and someone will figure out what happened. Wrapped into this is stuff that is part of the “story bible” (and in case you are wondering, there is a nice post about story bibles over at Story Empire), like characters, setting, and timeframe.

Then on to your character’s journey through the story, making sure they hit the “plot points” along the way. There are about as many interpretations of plot points as there are writing craft books about plotting, but they all hit on the same ideas: the inciting incident, things start going wrong, the midpoint crisis when the character thinks about giving up, more things go wrong, the good guy and the bad guy have it out (aka the climax), and the wind-down (aka resolution).

I’m at the first five pages assignment, and struggling with the setup. Since this is only book 2, I have to anticipate readers who have not read book 1 (if this was book 10, I wouldn’t have to reintroduce everyone again). So, trying to introduce the main character, the primary costars, the victim and what he means to the main character, the timeframe, and the setting, all in the first five pages, is bogging me down. I have more characters to introduce in those first pages than I did with book 1, so that’s a challenge. Do I describe the costars? How much? Can I wait to give those details until later? How do I establish that the story takes place in 1993? Am I really starting at the right place?

Ugh. It’s a draft. If I keep reminding myself it’s a draft and I’ll be changing it later, it helps. A little.

This novel-writing stuff seems harder now than it used to be, since I learned more about story structure. I feel like I have to analyze everything to make sure it hits all the specs on the “template”.

Maybe it’s time for a little ditty about Jack and Diane–no, wait, I mean Alex(andra) and Kieran. Or Kenna and Shaw. Or Erinne and Sean. Or a scene or two for the elusive urban fantasy my Muse keeps tossing my way. Just to take a break from Sierra and Quinn.

It feels like summer is here. The gnats are out. Flowers are blooming. The grass needs to be cut. The kids are home for the summer; well, my daughter is home, my son is home for the weekend. To all those who have been in the path of Mother Nature’s not-so-nice weather, stay safe!

Enjoy your weekend!


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Back to school, sort of

So, I can say I’m procrastinating on doing my homework because I’m writing my blog post instead, right?

Saying I have homework seems much more enjoyable now than it did way back in high school. Homework back then was a chore, something to dread. Even my college-aged kids groan when I ask them about their homework. (Sometimes in the middle of the summer I would even ask them if they had any homework, just to bug them πŸ˜€ )

As a writer, one of the things we do is strive to improve our craft. We read books about plotting, creating believable characters, using realistic dialog. We know–and have maybe even read–the “classic” how-tos: Writing the Breakout Novel, The First Five Pages, Techniques of the Selling Writer, and The Writer’s Journey, among countless others. We go to conferences and seminars. We even–gasp–take online classes!

That’s where I’m at right now. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I’ve been struggling to write the infamous Book 2, the next book in my Sierra Bauer Mystery series. So, I figured if I was accountable to someone, like a teacher, I might make some progress, and learn other ways to get from A to B.

So I enrolled in an online class through UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies. By the way, they have a great writing program, with excellent instructors. Anyway, get this: my class is Write Your Novel Fast and Sure. Heh. Talk about ulterior motives. Or just motives. Or just plain accountability.

So yep, I have homework. And my next assignment is the first five pages of my novel. Woo-hoo! Or at least, woo-hoo once I get those five pages written. I do have a rough draft, though, so if my writing teacher is reading this, I am working on it. Really!

As for the garden, after a week of rain, rain, one cloudy day, rain + 10 minutes of sunshine, rain and half a day of sunshine, things haven’t really dried out enough to plant, but it’s getting late. I’ll probably try to get something in the ground, soggy soil or not, in the two days without rain we’ll get this holiday weekend.

Speaking of, for those in the US, Happy Memorial Day! Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Is this my good side?


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It’s that time of year

Yes, it’s that time of the year once again.

Quick! Look now! No weeds!

Time to prepare to plant the garden. My husband, son, and I took advantage of the glorious spring evening to lay out the garden, since my husband had tilled it the night before. You can barely see them in the upper left corner–that’s my son in the light shirt and jeans. It’s so nice to have a 21 year-old to do the muscle work!

This year hubs got enough chicken wire to go all the way around the garden. That’ll teach those damn rabbits! Unfortunately, chicken wire won’t stymie the chipmunks for long. I’ll have to set live traps again; I know we have chipmunks. I saw one taunting me from the metal pile.

We’ve been getting asparagus now for a week. It’s one of the best spring treats–fresh asparagus from the garden. My patch is looking a little sad, though, so I’ll have to plant more. Maybe next year.

The raspberries are, of course, out of control. And of more concern to me is this:

Creeping Charlie, the green plague

When we bought the place, there was no creeping charlie anywhere. Stinging nettle, giant ragweed, burdock, even cheeseweed, but no creeping charlie. Then we bought a project property in a teeny town about an hour away. At some point, hubs brought home some garbage bags of lawn clippings from that property, not sure why. And that’s when the plague started. Until this year, it’s been a safe distance from the garden. This patch in the picture is on the south side, and probably 20+ feet from the original patch. Not sure how that happened. It’s only a matter of time. Sigh.

No planting quite yet since the weather geeks are forecasting some nasty storms this weekend, and I really don’t want to go through all that and have to redo it all because the rain drowned it. So, maybe next week. Or next weekend.

And of course, the post wouldn’t be complete without the blog mascot:

Now, hold still so I can catch you!

Have a great writing weekend!


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Back in the flow — sort of #amwriting

Last weekend’s writing conference was a blast, even if it was busy for me, with panels and presentations and one-on-one meetings with other writers. As an introvert, that sort of event, even if it is a wonderful meeting of writers doing writerly things and talking everything writing, is draining. On the other side of it, though, is the sheer amount of creative energy that coalesces at these events. I think it has a lot to do with all those muses getting together. It’s like a muse convention.

In any case, that creative energy has clung to me, and I have started writing again. Nothing major, but it’s a start. Right now I’m writing longhand, because I think that encourages the process somehow. And I can feel a sort of relief as I’m writing again. It’s like I get anxious when I don’t write for too long.

Then again, maybe that anxiety has to do with the blizzard we had this week, with around 5 inches of heavy wet snow. And damn it, the grass was just starting to turn green and the trees are starting to bud. Ugh. And now it melts. So, three inches of slushy snow + gravel driveway = almost impassable even with 4WD. I hope things dry out a bit by the time I go back to work on Monday.

In the meantime, I have the weekend slated for Easter entertaining preparation (read: spring cleaning). Nothing like the thought of relatives coming over to kick off a frenzy of cobweb chasing and dust bunny wrangling. But what better way to put off cleaning than to sit down and write?

I open the door to my writing office and discover the light is already on. And guess who is chilling behind my desk?

“It’s about time, love. I thought you would be a bit more industrious after the conference.” My Muse pulls his feet off my desk and exits my chair, sweeping an arm in its direction. “I warmed it up for you.” The smirk on his face tells me he probably did more than warm it up. I’d better check for whoopi cushions or tacks.

“Would I do that to you?” He sits on a corner of the desk, one leg dangling. His dark denim jeans, white t-shirt, and flannel shirt in the traditional red and black checkerboard pattern, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, makes me wonder what he’s up to. It’s like he’s preparing for a wilderness tour. Not that I’m complaining. Nope. Not complaining about the rugged look at all. I should be thankful there is no fedora or bullwhip in sight.

“Really, love? Why would I be up to anything but nurturing your creativity?” His crooked smile tells me I’m more right than I hoped.

“Uh-huh. Like you and all those other muses at the conference didn’t swap ‘how to get your writer’s butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard’ stories? I’m sure you have a few new ideas.”

“I do. But I won’t use them unless I have to. You seem to be getting your stride back. Good job.”

“Don’t get too excited. You know I have to get ready for Easter.”

“Yes, but you’re writing again. And you set yourself up to be accountable with your project.”

What I suspect he didn’t say was something about being disappointed that being accountable to him isn’t enough. “You know, you are really good at your job. It’s just … I need someone who can help me work through the process again.”

“Do you know how long I’ve been helping writers work through the process?”

Honestly, I’m afraid to ask. With my luck he probably worked with Dante. Probably gave the man the idea for the circles of Hell. “No, but I’m good with that. Not knowing. I’ll be diving in to that after Easter. Promise.”

He studies me with those blue eyes of his. The room is getting warmer. I swear it is. His eyes narrow. “Good. I’m going to hold you to that, love.”

Ahh, yeah. O-kay. Anyway …

This weekend focusing on a much-needed, long-delayed bout of spring cleaning. Despite the three inches of rapidly-melting slush outside. Ick. Just when everything had finally dried out, we get this. Winter, you made your point, now go on vacation until, like, Christmas. Okay, maybe Thanksgiving. Just go away.

Have a wonderful writing week!

 


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Another awesome conference! #UWWriters #writingcommunity #amwriting

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Whew! What a weekend! I’m here in Mad City, Wisconsin for the 30th Annual Writers’ Institute. The conference has gotten so popular that it now runs from Thursday morning through Sunday noon. And there is plenty of great stuff to go around. First, though, a well-deserved round of applause to Laurie Scheer and her team of tireless minions–er, assistants who help organize and run this conference.

(yes, you can say it: Julie takes lousy pictures.)

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Laurie Scheer welcomes writers to the 30th Annual Writers’ Institute

One of the keynote speakers this year was Jane Friedman, who spoke about writing for love and money, and about the myth of the “starving artist”. She shared the stories of various artists who managed to combine their creativity and business models into successful careers, such as Jim Henson and Alain de Botton. The key to success: use creativity to find more readers, because as more people demand your work, the more your writing (business) will grow.

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

 

The following day Jennie Nash was our keynote speaker. She shared three reasons authors give for writing a book. Writing a book has a high emotional cost, and low ROI (return on investment), so every author she and her team work with over at Author Accelerator are presented with the question: Why write a book? The answers boil down to these: to find and claim your voice (which may have been suppressed in the past), to influence other people or make an impact, or to write a book before reaching those pearly gates. And ultimately, “writers gotta write”. Find the reason that speaks to you and tap into that energy.

Jennie nash

Jennie Nash

So many great sessions, so little time. I got to the conference on Thursday and caught three sessions. One was about a digital brand cheat sheet, presented by a high-energy social media influencer. She showed us the potential of social media to reach far beyond your family and friends.

Another session explained how bookstores–at least independent ones–go about decided what books to stock, and the best ways for writers to succeed in getting books on their shelves. It comes down to Fit–is your book a fit for that store, Timing–is the store ready to pull in new books, and Approach–suggestions on how to approach a bookstore about carrying your book and the things to accomplish beforehand (like ISBN numbers and early reviews).

An agent shared the biggest pitfalls writers make while revising their stories, starting with the familiar “starting the story in the wrong place.” Other things to watch for include characters that are not fully formed on the page, a lack of a physical sense of setting, raising stakes, and not following through on your promise to the reader (what is the story you are setting in motion). These things can be spotted by critique partners and beta readers, so the moral of the story: you can’t do it all on your own.

I popped into a session about author websites, which gave a lot of the same information Dan Blank did in his author website video series (check out his WeGrowMedia site and sign up for his newsletter. Really. If nothing else, his kids are cute πŸ˜€ ). Another session listed ways to “bring back the thrill” of your writing; making it fun again. The ten points included giving yourself easy goals and rewards for your accomplishments (and yes, a piece of good chocolate or a latte counts πŸ˜€ ), playing with your reader by inserting inside jokes (case in point: R. R. Campbell used the names of the universities in his books for the jokes, and no, I’m not going to tell you–mwahahahaha), listening to your characters and what they want to do, and surround yourself with people who believe in your abilities and encourage you. Finally, remember you are competing against no one–you are the only one who can tell your story.

Good stuff. I participated on a panel about writing books in a busy life, where we shared our own strategies and offered ideas on how other writers could carve out that time to write. A number of attendees found me later to express their appreciation for the panel, because it gave them some direction on how they could overcome the excuses of not having time to write. And yes, I learned a few things myself. I’m sure my Muse will remind me the next time I complain. πŸ˜€

I presented two sessions, one on “Setting as a Character”, which had a full room. I hope the writers got something out of the session. It was my first of the conference, and somehow I ended up with a lot of time left over. Hmm. My second session, about point of view, was much less attended, but one of the other sessions about outlining was very popular (I know it was, because some writers spoke to me before the session about wanting to sit in, but they also wanted to sit in on the outlining session).

The highlight of my experience, though–besides getting to see some of my Writing Sisters–was the Success Panel, where authors who have utilized the WI or Write-by-the-Lake or other writing programs from UW-Continuing Studies are now newly-published or have a new book out. Check us out.

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Success Panel 2019

The closing ceremony is Sunday, when we wrap up the conference. The energy generated by so many writers and creative people infuses the atmosphere here. It always amazes me how wonderful the writing community is. We try to help each other, support each other, and encourage each other. And every year I encounter writers who are attending for the first time, and see their wonder at these welcoming arms.

There is a reason the Writers’ Institute is listed as one of the top writing conferences in the country. And every year I have to agree. It has once again recharged my creative energies and given me lots of ideas on how to approach aspects of my journey as a published author, including wielding social media tools and focusing on “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”.

If you have a writing conference on your wish list, take a look at this one for next year. You won’t be disappointed!

zoey1