Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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How many tries for that (kinda) perfect opening?

It was a dark and stormy night.
It was a really dark and mega-stormy night.
It was night, and dark. And stormy.

Meh.

The night was darker than an inkwell and more stormy than the Classics IV.

Ugh. Ick. (sorry not sorry for the link 😀 –I couldn’t help myself 😉 )

Wind whipped across the field, caressing the wheat into undulating waves …
Wait. Not dark enough.

Wind tore across the field, whipping at the grasses, pale waves snaking across the expanse. Lightning lit the night, flashing against angry clouds, exposing the undulating darkness boiling in the sky.

Hmm. Better.

How many times do you rewrite that first line? That first page? The opening scene? If you’re like me with my Book 2 project, the count is reaching double-digits. I think I’ve hit 6 or 7 do-overs. At least.

I won’t go into the multiple reasons and ways to rewrite that first line/page/scene/chapter because there are a lot of resources about the subject, such as Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. Which, by the way, is a very good book. My main struggle at this point isn’t that first line or page, it’s the opening scene. I’m still trying to get going on the 6th or 7th (8th?) run at my rough draft for Book 2, and I feel like if the opening scene isn’t working, it may be causing the sticky wicket in my brain. Or is it my story that’s in need of some adjustment sending my opening off the rails?

Have you ever started a story, and it just didn’t “feel” right? Then you restart it, and it still doesn’t feel right? And even when you change the opening and think it’s finally going to work, it still feels wonky? So you rewrite it again. And again. And it seems like nothing is falling into place, even though you’ve got a working plot roughed out.

This spring when we got together for the Writers’ Institute, my writing sisters helped me with the plot. It was great, because it “felt” a lot better than my first stab at it (no, the victim is not stabbed in this one 😉 ) I ran with that, and though I liked the revised plot more than my first go, it still seemed a bit off. And I continued to struggle with the opening.

Every year before our reunion retreat, we–my writing sisters–exchange about 20 pages for everyone to review, then at the retreat we discuss each other’s pages and offer feedback. This year I shared my entire 6th (7th?) first draft–all 20 pages of it (Don’t tell my Muse I still haven’t started the next do-over; he’s gonna lock me in my writing office every day and stare at me until I write a thousand words. 😐 And he’ll probably hide my chocolate, too!).

Again with the help of my “sisters”, I’ve got a few tweaks to the plot that should solve some of the issues my subconscious kept niggling me about. I remember thinking a few things in particular didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t figure out why. I need to listen to that niggling, because it means somewhere in the ol’ gray matter my writer’s brain is paying close attention. Sure beats a two-hour detour (no, I’m not going to tell you how I missed a turn and ignored that little voice that kept telling me I should stop and turn around).

About that opening line/scene: don’t sweat it too much until you’ve got the first draft (and maybe second draft) finished. Seriously. And even though “they” (you know, all those more experienced writers and writing teachers) say the first line (or paragraph) should give the reader a sense of WWWWH, fine-tuning it can come after you’ve got the plot holes filled, the timelines in order, and the character arcs smoothed out.

You want to drop the reader into the middle of the action or at least some sort of goings on. No waking up and looking in the mirror or weather report unless it is pertinent and not boring or cliche. Even if you open with action, it doesn’t mean that’s the right action to open with. Case in point: when I workshopped my police procedural in a novel writers’ Master Class, I had an action-packed opening scene, or so I thought. My writing instructor guided me to make it better.

I wrote a new opening scene that keeps the gist of the action, but it now gives the reader a much better sense of the main character and the flavor of the story that follows. And it feels right. Or at least more right than the first one did.

The longer you practice writing, the easier it will be to recognize when the opening just isn’t “there”, and the better you will get at fixing it. Bottom line, if something feels off or wonky with the opening, it’s probably your writer’s brain (or muse) poking at you and telling you to try it again, because what’s there isn’t working. Listen to it.

Happy Writing Weekend!

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Recharging Creative Energies

 

from balcony

View from Julie’s balcony, Crystal River Inn B&B

*leans over balcony railing* “You bloody well owe me for this.”

“Yeah, yeah.” My writer yells from the yard. “I told you last weekend I wanted you to write the post while we’re here.”

“This is not part of my job description.”

My writer waves. “I’m going on the lake tour. You can catch up when you’re done.”

“You heard the part about owing me, love. Trust me, I will collect.”

Julie piles into the van with her fellow writing sisters without another wave.

So here I bloody am writing her blog post. Again. But this time it isn’t to be nice. Mercury is in retrograde, and damn it, my writer has an energy drain that’s been pulling her down since last weekend. She asked me to do this, but I agreed on one condition: she has to work on Book 2 every single day for the next month.

She blew her July NaNo. I’m ready to take bets on if she will manage to get 30k words done in a month. A thousand words a day. I’m ready to pull out all the stops on her.

You writers think we muses have it so good. You think all we have to do is sit on a shelf like some fecking holiday elf and you magically get inspired.

Well, it doesn’t work that way. We have to figure out how to encourage your creative energies to kick around ideas and images in your head. And if that doesn’t work, like it isn’t working for my writer (damn it all to bloody hell and back), we have to gather it ourselves and shove it into you.

It’s like trying to collect sparks from a Roman candle and cramming them into your head like …  Trust me, it ain’t easy. It helps that the reunion is at such a quiet location, with a river running behind it. It gets my writer to open up to the energy, which makes my job a hell of easier.

Besides, I left my bullwhip and fedora at home. Hasn’t been working anyway. Now that Julie has finished the list of stuff she got from her editor (THAT wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be), she can focus on her next project. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to just sit by and wish the creative energy to infuse her.

No, I’m going to fecking channel the energy into her. I didn’t take that Muse refresher course for nothing. And I didn’t learn the rules so I wouldn’t break them. Besides, they’re more like guidelines…

Signing off, because I’ve got a Muse rule or two to break.

Get your arses writing!

crystal river


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We’re not related, but we’re Sisters

It’s that time of year again! Yep, it’s the end of July, my daughter just turned 18, and OMG, where did the summer go? I mean, it’ll be August in … eek. Wasn’t it just Memorial Day?

I’ve talked about my Writing Sisters before. We even had a panel at the Writers’ Institute this year. This coming week we’ll be meeting for our annual reunion/writing retreat. We added an extra day this year because we always seem to run out of time, especially if we want to do some writing on our own.

Our reunions are as much about catching up with each other’s lives as they are about writing. I’ve said it before: how often do six–now seven–women start out strangers and end up sticking together like we have?

Pretty sure it’s not very often.

We are a writers’ support system, studying writing and practicing the craft together, with a healthy dose of critiquing, brainstorming, and encouragement thrown in.

That’s not all. We learn about each other’s lives and struggles. We offer shoulders to lean on (yes, you can hum “Lean on Me” now 😀 ). We know the names of each other’s children, grandchildren, pets. We offer condolences and get well wishes when someone suffers a loss or illness in her family. We send birthday wishes and holiday greetings.

Hmm. Isn’t that what families do? We aren’t related, but we have become a family of sorts. Writing Sisters.

Writing is a solitary pursuit in many respects, but we all know we need at least one other person to help us see the things we cannot because we are too close to the story. We need at least one critique partner to help us revise. We hang with one or more other writers, either in real life or online, in the interest of improving our craft through constructive feedback and sharing of knowledge, a writing group that works for us in our pursuit of whatever writing goal we have, whether a memoir, a poetry collection, or a new series about a vampire version of Sherlock Holmes (yes, I went there 😉 ).

Where was I going with this? Hmm. Oh, yeah. If you don’t have a writing partner, see if you can find one, online or in real life. There are a number of FB groups, as well as other online groups like FanStory, WritersCafe, NaNoWriMo, and Scribophile, to name a few. In real life, check out independent bookstores, a local chapter of a national authors’ organization like Sisters in Crime or Romance Writers of America, or the local college English department.

If you find the right group or partner, you have an opportunity to connect with other writers who can help you improve your craft, and may become like family along the way.

Have a great weekend, and hey, get some writing done!


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Blank

Yep. The barren white page stares at me, daring me to deface it with words. Hell, with anything resembling a scene in my story.

Stuck. I’m not sure if it’s the transition scene or if I’m trying too hard to cover bases my editor pointed out in my manuscript, but something is blocking me.

Coincidentally (or maybe fortuitously), I’ve read a few articles about overcoming “stuck”, including an older one about breaking through writer’s block, and another about what to do when you stall out. BTW, if you aren’t familiar with Janice Hardy’s blog, you are missing out!

I’m trying to figure out just what I’m getting hung up on. I know my characters. I know the backstory. I know the plot. And I know I’m getting distracted by real life stuff. For instance, my daughter had orientation this week at college. She’s been terribly anxious about it because she doesn’t know what she wants to do (undecided). The college has a wonderful program to help undecided students explore their options. And the people are soooo nice (which my daughter commented on more than once).

We spent all day at the school. And by the end of the day, my daughter was feeling much better about going off to school (yay!). My plan was to get home and finally give my garden some attention since, well, it hadn’t rained for a few days (but it was hella hot and humid). That is, until it started raining as we got home.

So, I should spend the time writing, right? I pulled out my computer, and stared at the screen, and the dozen words I managed the day before. Added about a hundred words.

Sigh.

I’ve got the brainstorming wall out, and my bucket of ideas, but the spatters and splotches aren’t making any sense yet. And my Muse happened to “leave” his fedora on the corner of my desk. A hint, I suppose.

And of course, he’s somewhere but not here, probably on a pub crawl. Maybe I need a pub crawl. I wonder if I could find him–I could crash his crawl.

Damn, that sounds like fun 😀

This weekend I have got to get into the garden, or I’m going to need a machete to find my way. I’ll try to take pics and post them next week–if I’m brave. And writing, damn it. Maybe I’ll get things moving by scribbling for a bit with pencil and paper. That seems to help, even if it’s just “thinking out loud but on paper”.

I’m counting down to our annual Writing Sister reunion–yippee! I’m also counting down to my first meeting with a blogging buddy. I always wonder what it would be like to meet the cool blogging writers I know in person. I get to find out next week!

Anywho. Hope your creativity is moving along better than mine 🙂 Have a great weekend (and may the weeds fail to choke out your veggies 😀 )

 

P.S.: Hey, S, my Muse left a note to ask you if your “package” arrived. If you want to return it, let him know. He might have another that might work out. 😉


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Slow start

If you’re looking for Julie, I sent her on a walkabout. A long one, on the forest trail. With any luck she’ll snag some inspiration. A Muse can only do so much. Lead a horse to water and all that.

I tried to send her on a week-long walkabout, but she won’t listen to me. She’s got this damn fixation on doing a NaNoWriMo this month. There’s even an “official” Camp NaNoWriMo going on. Another first draft, she said. This is her third “first” draft.

Bloody hell.

I know what her problem is. Focus. Per usual. She’s got too many fecking things bouncing around in that head of hers, not the least of which is …

*slam*

“Are you kidding me? You sent me on a walk so you could do my blog post for me? What the hell?” My writer storms across the office and stops in front of the desk, hands on hips.

“You needed the walk, love. Tell me you didn’t work on the plot during your walk.” I venture one of my charming crooked smiles. “I dare you.”

Heh. I can see it in her eyes. She did, but she doesn’t want to admit it. “I can’t add words to my draft if I’m out walking. I’m behind, which you well know, and I won’t be able to catch up this weekend because I’m going to my dad’s.”

“You know, love, there is such a thing as voice-to-text.”

She rolls her eyes and groans. “Do you know what I do on my walks? Dude, I talk things through. That’s not writing, and if I used speech-to-text, it would be a mess. Seriously. Now get out of my chair and let me finish my post.”

If I could get her to direct that fire into her writing, she’d have no problem making her word quota. Easier said than done, of course. “No.”

Her jaw drops just a little. I love surprising her. She cocks a hip and crosses her arms on her chest. “I thought writing blog posts was outside your job description.”

It is. Sort of. “And here I thought you would appreciate the help since you will be away at your dad’s this weekend. That way you can focus on your first draft. Again.”

She offers a wry smile. “Very funny. You’re the Muse. You’re supposed to help me with this.”

“I’ve been trying, love. You’ve finally gotten the story rolling, haven’t you?”

“Sure. After three false starts. Half my word count is stuff I’m not going to use.”

“It’s a first draft. There’s going to be a whole lot of stuff you won’t use. That’s why it’s a draft.” I get to my feet and round the desk to face her. “I’m here, and I’ll be sticking around.” I lower my face to hers. “Don’t make me dig out my fedora and bullwhip.”

*stare-down silence*

“Fine.” Damn it. I shove around my Muse and drop into my chair, still nice and warm from him.

Anyway. Excuse me just one minute…

“Stop that.”

“What?”

God, he’s just so … er, aggravating sometimes. Yeah, let’s go with that. “Stop staring at me.”

He gives me that crooked grin of his. Is it warmer in here? “Then get to work, love.”

Arrgh. Okay. Bottom line, I’m behind on my first week word count. Like, way behind. I’m going to bring my computer or my iPad to my dad’s; between helping him sort stuff for the auction and digging through a couple boxes left with my name on them, maybe I’ll get a little time to do some writing.

Enjoy your weekend!


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It doesn’t seem real #mystery #amreading

It does, but it doesn’t. It’s the “is this really happening” feeling that makes you want to pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming.

I sent my edits in, looked through the new paperwork my editor sent me, and stared, in dumbfounded silence, at a list of all the things I need to do before the book comes out. Yikes.

And I finally got a release, er, not really date, more like timeframe.

My debut novel, Murder in Plane Sight, is due to be released in March, 2019.

*silence*

*looks at list of stuff to do before release*

*more silence*

Ho-ly shit. How am I going to do this and work on Book 2?

*reviews mental list of writing friends that do it and shakes head in amazement*

A few days after I sent in the latest revision of my manuscript, I got the first mockup of the cover. Wow. Granted, I had mocked up a dummy cover with my own idea, so what they sent resembled the one I cobbled together, but to actually see it, with my name and the title and everything, makes this whole thing even more real.

A pair of hands weigh my shoulders down. Strong fingers squeeze reassurance. “This is where you wanted to go, love.” My Muse, standing behind me at my writing desk, leans over me and peers at my computer screen. “Remember your ‘100 things to do before I die’ list? Publish a novel is on there. Pretty high up on the list, too, if I recall.”

Going to Hawaii is on there, too, along with Germany. Checked those off a long time ago. “I know. It just … doesn’t feel quite real yet.” I turn in my chair to look up at him. “Where have you been? It’s, like, oh-my-god hot outside. No surfing?”

He leans back on my desk beside me, hands braced on the smooth wooden top. “I thought you said you were starting a NaNo project in July. The what, third or fourth ‘first draft’ of Book 2, right? I figure I’ll get you going on that. Besides, it’s hotter than the Amazon jungle out there.”

He’s right. The humidity index where I’m at in MN right now is higher than in the Amazon. Our local news has delighted in sharing that little tidbit. “I’m still working through the outline. And did you see this list?” I shove the list of tasks at him. “How am I going to do all that?”

A crooked grin eases across his face as he sets the list aside. “You know you already have some of it done.”

“The parts I have done aren’t what worry me. It’s all the other stuff I know I have to do, like a newsletter. And a press release.” It’s a good thing I bookmarked Staci Troilo’s posts about author media kits. “I’ve been paying attention to what the other authors I know are doing. It’s kind of overwhelming to think about it all. I don’t know how they do it.”

“One step at a time, love.”

“All while I’m working on Book 2? Time is the part I’m worried about.” And getting Book 2 written, revised, and polished for publication; I know that will happen sooner than I expect, because stuff like that always does.

“You’ll do fine. I’ll be sticking around; Mr. E is helping Mae with her new series, so he’ll be busy for quite a while yet.”

Not that it ever stopped him before from going on a pub crawl with my Muse. “It just doesn’t seem real. Not yet, anyway.”

“It will soon enough, love.”

Everything is moving forward. The line edit of the manuscript is next on the list, along with finalizing the cover. I’ve got a few suggestions before that happens. Once I have a cover, I’ll feel much more comfortable starting promotional stuff. All while working on Book 2–sheesh. So, I’m thinking a six-month sabbatical in a mountain cabin or on a tropical beach–wait, mountain cabin is probably better. No way to laze about in the sun there 😀

I also have to work on my website/blog, so at some point things will start to change here. Or get monkeyed up as I try to figure out how to do it. I’ve been paying attention to various posts by my writer friends about websites, and newsletters, and media kits, so I’ll be gleaning information. Thank you ahead of time to all those authors for discovering what works and what doesn’t, and sharing that knowledge with the rest of us.

I was happy to hear the release would be in March–that’s before the Writers’ Institute next year. I’ll be there, and I’ll be able to show off a real book this time. It’s a fantastic writers’ conference; if you’ve wanted to check out a conference but still aren’t sure, you can’t go wrong with the fun in Madison (except blizzards, but on the bright side, the blizzard during this year’s conference was the first one they’d ever had, in 29 years!). Save the dates! (psst, rumor has it they’ll have a super keynote speaker next year, so get on their mailing list for updates 🙂 )

Enjoy your weekend! And if your weekend is extended due to the holiday (in the US), enjoy the extra days. Stay cool and keep Writing!


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Getting closer

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I turned my manuscript in to my editor a couple weeks ago. I got her feedback this week.

And breathed a huge sigh of relief!

She liked what I did, and with a few additional tweaks, she said we could move on to the next step, which involves some marketing questions for the book, like series name (haven’t come up with one yet), cover description, author quote for press release (what?? 😮 ), blurbs or past reviews (er, this is a debut, so need a blurb I guess), and a few other things.

Another step toward publication, an exercise in patience. It’s kinda scary in a way, knowing that sometime next year my book will be out, and people will be reading it (I hope!), and I’ll be doing stuff like signings and author panels and trying to fit Book 2 into the mix. That’s a whole lot of activity for someone who is an introvert and a homebody and working a full-time job.

And then the inevitable thought: what the hell was I thinking when I decided I wanted to get published? I never thought past holding my book in my hand and dreaming about seeing it on a bookshelf at the library, in Barnes and Noble, and on the book racks at Target.

There’s a whole lot of stuff that goes into the process beyond writing a good book and finding a publisher who wants to put your book out there (for those who choose to go the traditional route). There’s platform (huh?) and marketing (ugh). There’s creating a website, author pages, social media buzz, blog tours, and on and on.

In fact, a couple of my writing/blogging friends just released their new books this month, and I’ve been following their blog tours (you might remember a post for Jacqui Murray’s new book, Born in a Treacherous Time). In fact, one of them wrote 18 different blog posts for the tour–yes, eight-teen unique posts (plus one more for me, so nineteen)! O. M. G. And there’s the newsletter thing. And email lists. And short stories/novellas to attract followers and newsletter recipients. And through all this, Book 2 needs to get drafted, revised, revised, revised, critiqued, revised some more, and ideally out to readers about a year after Book 1 is out.

Yikes! And then I read about one of my writing/blogging friends who releases a couple books a year!  😮

So now that I’ve gotten this far, I somehow need to keep going, and do it all faster. While still working a full-time job, tending a summer garden, and being a mom to a college freshman who is seriously anxious about going off to school (my other college student is starting his junior year–not worried about him 🙂 )

Hoo-boy. I think I need to find a writing cabin somewhere and stock it with 6 months of food, water, coffee, and chocolate, with some wine (and Moon Man beer for incentive). Or, at the very least, designate an office here at home where I can hunker down and focus on writing.

Speaking of garden, I know I mentioned last week about posting some garden pics, as pathetic as they are. We’ve had a lot of rain lately, and not just gentle soaking rain, either. We had a couple of those summer downpour storms. You know, the ones where it’s like someone took a huge bucket and upended it, and the force of the rain scours any bare ground, turning it into a mobile sheet of mud.

My poor garden. And of course it didn’t dry out enough between storms for me to get in there and do anything like weed. The rain washed out nearly all of my onions, and my beets are struggling to get a foothold. The tomatoes, however, are starting to take off, so I’ll have to tie them up soon. Anyway, here ya go. It doesn’t look like much at this point except a somewhat barren, weedy, and silt-covered piece of ground.

IMG_0741

See, it is smaller

IMG_0739

Tomatoes

IMG_0737

My poor, sogged kale

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Another angle

The rain left all that lovely silt over everything, including the areas where I just planted dill and cilantro, so I expect I’ll have to replant those. On the bright side, both of my cucumber plants are up and growing (I thought only one would survive) and I have 3 zucchini/summer squash plants (I know, I know, I’ll have enough zucchini to feed half the town).

Have a great weekend, everyone!