Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Whoops! #amediting #amrevising

So, not only does my memory seem more faulty these days, I find myself completely pre-occupied by my writing projects. I’m working through the “before the overhaul” and the “after the overhaul” plots for my police procedural, and I just heard from my agent that there’s still a pacing problem with Book 2.

Guess what else is taking up precious brain bandwidth?

Not to mention all that routine stuff, like “I really need to clean this weekend” and “I really need to reorganize my working area” and “I wonder if the professor will accept my submissions for my exam for credit because I really don’t want to pay $1400 for the class.”

Needless to say, the realization that yes, it IS Saturday, and I’m supposed to post on my blog this morning, just hit me.

And my Muse is Down Under enjoying sun and surf and Summer, so I can’t rope him into writing a post.

So, here’s my “I forgot I had to post” post. Words of wisdom from my writing teacher, Christine DeSmet, one of the Blackbird Writers (you can find them on FB):

Post #4 of 5, techniques for novelists

Two examples of how color lifts a manuscript

…Using color consciously can help a manuscript become a standout for agents, editors, readers.

…Color—used as a device—creates emotional reactions in readers and characters. Color’s symbolism helps with plotting.

…Example 1: Author Kent Haruf

…In an online course I taught, I asked about color in one exercise. Kent Haruf’s great novel, PLAINSONG, begins with a teenage girl in a rough situation. She and her mother are alone, poor, the abusive mother shows disdain for her pregnant teenage daughter retching over the toilet bowl before going to school. The scene is sad, dark (and short). It’s mostly dialogue (with several dialogue techniques illustrated, by the way). When we go to the next scene, the girl dresses for school in nothing special, but she has a shiny red purse. When I asked adult writers what the red purse signified, the answers split evenly between women and men. Women felt the red purse meant the girl was grabbing for a degree of confidence and hope. The men felt the red purse signified a tart, a loose woman.

…No matter the interpretation, readers noticed the red purse. The novel, by the way, turns into a lovely story about community and “unlikely family” with humor. (If you liked A MAN CALLED OVE, you may enjoy PLAINSONG.)

…Haruf used the “red purse” as a signal in his plot. This story is set in a plain, small town—imagine gray and brown tones. The red purse has its own plot: it appears three significant times in the story. This helps the author signal the story’s three acts and character’s changes or growth. Readers may also care about the red purse, too, because the girl loves it. If something happens to the red purse, our emotions may be tugged.

…The red purse is like a red cardinal appearing amid a snowy white landscape, flagging our attention.

…Example 2: Author Jo Nesbo

…Author Jo Nesbo used white snow and contrasting color to great advantage in his chilling murder suspense, THE SNOWMAN, set in Norway. Amid the bleak, black winter shadows the killer always leaves behind a white snowman at the murder location. Each snowman wears a brightly colored scarf. The purpose? The sleuth (and agent/editor/reader) has to read to find out. The color amid chilly white is a plot tool and makes this a memorable novel.

…What color enhances (or could enhance) your manuscript’s characterization and plot?

Anyway, now that the Vikings are out of the running for the rest of the playoffs (raise your hand if you’re surprised. What? Anyone? Yeah, me neither. There’s always next year), I can use that time to catch up on those annoying chores, like cleaning. Ugh.

Maybe when my Muse gets back, he’ll have some deep insight to share with me ….

Happy Writing!


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Writing with Tools #amediting

One thing I always like to look at when I do NaNo is the offers under the Writers Resource menu. There are a number of writing tools with discounts for NaNo participants. Sure, the discounts are attention-getting, but I go here to see some of the writing tools available to authors. That’s where I learned about Scrivener, and got a discount for it.

Some of the tools are for writing and only writing. There are online novel drafting programs that allow you to write whenever and wherever you are as long as you have an internet connection. Which is fine, but I’ve been a lot of places where an internet connection is unreliable at best.

There are world-building programs, even a writing program that plays like a game (remember the fitness app “Zombies, Run!”). And there’s the self-publishing programs, too, like Vella. It’s a good place to learn about the options out there to help writers do what they do, plot, plan, world-build, and write.

This year I took another look at a couple programs that help on the editing side of things. AutoCrit is one of the names I’ve heard, along with Grammarly and ProWritingAid. All of them are tools to help you write better by bringing your attention to spelling, grammar, and certain composition errors (gerunds and dangling participles, anyone?).

I scoped out of these programs last year during NaNo (because of the discounts, and sometimes they let you use the program for free during NaNo). After NaNo I spent some time (probably too much time) researching them, asking fellow writers if they used any of the programs, and checking out the free trials. Then thinking hard and long about whether I would actually use the program, because I think one has to really decide to use it, train yourself to use it, if you’re going to put money down for it (even with the discounts for NaNo).

So I looked at reviews, and decided I’d take the plunge this year and invest in an editing tool. Sure, the free version is, well, free, but also limited. And it’s a tool for writing, so it’s a legit business expense. I decided on ProWritingAid as an editing tool of choice. I’m using it to go through Book 2 before I send it back to my agent.

It finds the character names as spelling errors because they aren’t in its dictionary. And the commas that aren’t there that it thinks should be (yes, I’ve agreed with it sometimes). And the adverbs, and dialog tags that aren’t “said” or “asked”, and passive verbs. But it also looks for sentences that can be simplified, or shortened, or made more clear with a rearrangement of words or stronger verbs.

It uses AI to find that stuff, so some of its suggestions are way off, but some are pretty close. If nothing else, it points out places to pay some extra attention to. I can see the benefit already, and I’m not halfway through the manuscript yet. There are a lot of things it finds that are voice or style things, so I ignore its suggestions, but I’ve found a few spots that I’ve revised now for the better. I think.

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

The other program I’m trying is Plottr, which is like having index cards you can move around on the screen for plotting, but it also allows you to collect character, setting, and other research. You can plot each book of a series in a single project, which means you can keep all that research in one spot.

Right now I’m using OneNote as a character bible/research repository/plotting tool. I have separate notebooks for each book in a series because I do some plotting and timeline layouts in the notebooks (I use Karen Weisner’s First Draft in 30 Days workbook as the template). OneNote has worked well for me for a long time, until Microsoft decided to create a different version of OneNote. So there’s one version I got with Office, and a different version that came with my computer (OneNote for Windows 10).

Hoo boy. I had no idea they were so different! They don’t like talking to each other, meaning notebooks I create in one version may not be available in the other version because of … well, I’m just going to say “stupid Microsoft.” And THEN I found out that they are going to retire the one “for Windows 10” by 2024 or so.

You see where I’m going here, right? So I’m looking at Plottr as a replacement. I’ve played with it a little, and I think it would be helpful, especially for series, of which I currently have two I’m working on. I’m still playing with the 30-day trial, since the discount code I have is good through Feb.

Sure, I still use regular pencil and paper to work through my brainstorming, but I’ve got a few (!) notebooks lying around with various brainstorming stuff for various novels. I’d like to get a little more organized. Not that I’d get away from using pencil and paper, but I can see the advantages of having a lot of that stuff in one place (that Microsoft isn’t going to muck with).

Do you have any writing tools you use? Dabble? Storyist? Novlr? Do you like it? Why?

In any case, Christmas is coming, and I’ve got a family gathering next week, 4 kinds of cookies to bake, and editing to do, so I’m going to put some stuff on “pause” for a week. Hope everyone is staying healthy and safe.

Keep on writing!

Throwback kitty: Tibbers


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Countdown to NaNo 2022! #NaNo2022 #amwriting

The countdown has begun for the annual writers’ challenge of cranking out 50k words in 30 days–yippee! Well, okay, maybe not “yippee”, more like … well, it’s time to reestablish my “write every day” habit.

Right now I’m working on another revision pass through Book 2, which is going pretty well so far. Will I finish in time for NaNo? I’m halfway through Book 2, and I’d like to get through it before NaNo starts, a good plan, all except for the part about letting it sit for another couple weeks before a final run-through and sending it off to my agent.

Then there’s the other question: what to work on? I have two projects that are candidates: my rural MN mystery, which I’m halfway through and need to finish, or Book 3, which doesn’t have a solid plot yet, but a good start (on a plot, that is, thanks to my Writing Sisters). It’d be nice to get the rural MN mystery drafted; it’s a reboot of a draft I wrote many years ago that lacked an actual major crime. Come to think of it, it’s probably more romantic suspense than straight-up mystery. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this reboot has dual timelines and a 50-yr-old unsolved murder.

Book 3 has my intrepid characters from my published book and Book 2. I’ve been spending a lot of time with them, so on one hand, I’d spend more time with them. On the other, it’s like that couple you’re really good friends with, and you hang out with, but it’s nice to take a break from them.

Then again, if I wanted to write something completely different, there’s always that urban fantasy my Muse keeps dangling in front of me.

Okay, I have no shortage of projects, just a shortage of focus and an abundance of opportunities to procrastinate. It’s time to take down the garden fence; this weekend is supposed to be really nice and really mild (like, in the 60s and sunny mild), and I got all the fabric mulch and soaker hoses out already. And there’s always my least-favorite chore: cleaning. Which I have been neglecting (PSA: if you plan on visiting, y’all probably should let me know, like, weeks in advance).

Anyway, I think the rural MN mystery will win out. If I can get that finished, then I can start revising it. After my police procedural. And maybe before I start Book 3.

Do you have numerous projects going at once? How do you choose what to work on at any particular time?

In any case, if you’re one of those people who loves Halloween, have a great holiday weekend!

Keep on writing!

Image by Lory from Pixabay


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Back home, back to real life

I returned from my glorious 4-day personal writing retreat to a house that was unexpectedly cool, with water that was unexpectedly cool, and chickens who were still in the pen since my daughter hadn’t opened the pen before she went to work that morning. I headed to the pen to release them.

The hen-in-charge scolded me for leaving them trapped all day, or was demanding cucumbers, but since it froze, there are no cucumbers left that aren’t “melting” or haven’t already turned into deflating shells of goo and seeds.

So I tossed them some country mix–a homemade blend of black sunflower seeds and cracked corn (because no one likes the millet seeds that come in the commercial mix, except the sparrows, the little moochers). Then I had to address the lack of heat in the house.

Needless to say, I then remembered that I hadn’t explained the furnace thing to our daughter, who was home while I was away (but at work when I got back). Hmm. Note to self.

Our furnace can be finicky. It’s a gas furnace (propane), so the glow plug only gets hot for so long, then it has to cool down and try again if the gas doesn’t light. It’ll do that about 3 times in a row, then it basically “times out”, which means we have to reset it (just a matter of zeroing out the part that tells the furnace it needs to start). Of course, I had to reset it, but it was down to 56 F in the house, so it was going to take a while for the house to heat up. In the meantime, I started the corn/pellet stove (our supplemental heat; we got it when corn prices had bottomed out years ago, but now we burn mostly wood pellets rather than a mix of corn and pellets because corn prices are high).

Along with the pellet stove, I figured I’d bake a couple pumpkins–might as well turn the oven on. And we haven’t even gotten to the water heater yet; I knew the pilot light was out, but due to various factors, we can’t run the furnace and the water heater at the same time. So, no hot water until the house warmed up.

So, my first night home was not conducive to any sort of writing or even thoughts about writing. Sigh. So much for the momentum I built at the Shire. If my husband had been home instead of in CA dealing with his deceased brother’s stuff, it would have been a much quieter and more calm homecoming.

It was a good retreat, but I used half a day in the middle of my retreat to do an author panel, so that ate up a good 5 hours. I did sell a couple books, though; pretty good considering only 3 people showed up.

Then back to work the day after I got home. Then an author event a couple days later. At least hubs is home now! Dang, there is a LOT of stuff to do when a person works full time and no one else is around to do the everyday stuff like feed the animals, check the traps in the basement for mice (because they’re looking for winter homes right now), and make sure the appliances are working properly 🙂

Seems like this month has been hella busy. At least to me. I’m sure a lot of people, especially those with kids in sports, wish their month was as busy; it’d probably feel slow to them.

NaNoWriMo is on the horizon. Good! All except for the part where I need to finish one more pass through Book 2 before I send it back to my agent. I got through one pass during my retreat, but I wanted to let it sit for a bit before jumping back in for that next pass. However, I don’t want to let it sit for a whole month.

Times like these are when I wish I was retired. Or I could go on a month-long sabbatical for writing.

This weekend will probably be the last nice weekend until who knows when, so I’ll be taking down the garden so hubs can till and then put the snowblower on the tractor. At least I’ll have fresh brussels sprouts to roast up–yummy!

Hey, you–keep on writing!

Nyx and Tibbers


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Routine is key #amrevising

First, Happy Autumn! My favorite season has arrived–warm days, cool nights, and colorful trees. It’s great, all except for the sunset around 7p part. And the sunrise around 7a. It’s late enough that the morning runs I was doing before I logged on for work are almost too late now for me to get back and shower before work. Sure, I work from home and have some flexibility in my start and stop times, but I still like to get started by 7:30a at the latest. So, a run and shower in that timeframe is becoming a challenge.

I might have to start using the treadmill again. I prefer to run outside if I can, but it’s harvest season now, and the neighbors (we’re talking huge cash crop farmers) have trucks and tractors moving all the time during daylight hours, kicking up clouds of dust on the gravel road I use. No thanks.

The garden is on its way out. I’d share pictures, but it’s in sad shape, probably because I haven’t weeded for, like, months. The tomatoes are slowing down, likely because they’re now succumbing to blight. I planted blight-resistant varieties, so we got a lot of tomatoes, and of course as long as the bacon supply lasts, BLTs are on the menu.

Bonus: my pumpkins are almost ripe! I wasn’t sure they would have enough time, since they didn’t get going until July (note to self: start the pumpkin seeds in the house in spring). I don’t have many, maybe a handful, but that’s more than I expected. Enough to cook and freeze for pumpkin bread over the winter.

But anyway, I wanted to talk about routine (and my current lack of it). At Bouchercon I was reminded that a number of well-known authors schedule their writing time and defend it. Then I remember that a lot of those authors are retired.

Huh. Go figure.

Evenings seem to work better for me. NaNoWriMo is coming up, so another opportunity to reestablish a routine. I try to maintain a routine, and I’ve tried making the time sacred, but doggone it, real life sure likes to throw stones in the gears (and a husband who delegates anything having to do with internet searches, like plane tickets and cellular hotspots, to his formerly-in-IT wife. And of course, those are price comparison and reviews searches, which, as we all know, are almost as big a time suck as FB or research for a book).

So, after our next major out-of-the-routine duty–flying out to Virginia for our nephew’s wedding and staying an extra day for sightseeing in DC–the plan is to reclaim those sacred two hours after supper.

Routine does help. I’ve heard authors swear by it; because it’s the routine, their writer brain is all warmed up when they sit down at the keyboard. I find that by the end of NaNo, I’ll take a day or two to relax (or catch up on all that other stuff I didn’t do because I was writing, but needed to get done), then I’ll get back to sequestering myself where it’s quiet and edit/revise/write for a couple hours at night. It’s easier after maintaining that routine for 30+ days. I draft my books the NaNoWriMo way even when it isn’t November.

As for the rest of the family when the writing routine takes you away from them and into your own writing space, just let them know ahead of time that that’s the plan. I’m writing, no bothering me unless someone is dying or the house is on fire (I think I’ve seen a doorknob hanger with something like that). And routine gets shot to Hades when sh** happens, like my BIL dying unexpectedly, and my hubs is planning to fly out west with his siblings to take care of things. Guess who gets to find and book his flight? Oh, and guess who gets to set up the cellular hotspot and hope it’s easy enough for him to figure out (he’s not a complete Luddite, but don’t ask him to send an attachment with his email unless I or one of the kids is around).

(On the plus side, the man can fix almost anything. And he cooks!)

Here’s to reestablishing a routine. Noise-cancelling headphones, an internet blocker, and a comfy chair are waiting for me.

Happy Writing!

Flashback: itty kitties Nyx and Tibbers