Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Hello December, or Help! I’m stuck

You sure it’s December? Because it was in the upper 40’s (Fahrenheit) this week. In Minnesota. After Thanksgiving. To give you an idea, the average temps this time of year are around freezing. Usually snow doesn’t stick around until after Thanksgiving, but so far in my part of the Great White North, there’s been no white. You’ll have to head north, like Duluth or International Falls north, to find snow. If it hasn’t melted by now.

Seriously. It wasn’t that many years ago when it was in the teens on Thanksgiving Day.

Anyway.

I hit 50k words before the end of NaNo, so yay. Problem is, I’m losing momentum again. The story isn’t done. I’ve reached the spot where I’ve adjusted the storyline, but, well, …

Have you ever lost your “umph” for a story? You get to a point where you’ve lost all interest in the story, but you know you need to power through and finish the draft? Yep, welcome to my world. Part of it is the story, part of it is the time of year (how busy are you this time of year with potlucks, and parties, and ?), and part of it is the effing melonheads in DC doing their damndest to screw everyone who doesn’t make six or more figures.

So, how do you move through this mire?

Anyone?

giphy1

Bueller?

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Okay, I’m going to toss out some ideas.

Idea #1: Wade through it. I’ve got a rough outline, so I have a direction. It’s different–better, I like to think, but … And first drafts are supposed to be crappy, so I shouldn’t worry what it ends up being, because there’s going to be revisions. Lots of revisions.

Idea #2: Switch projects. I’ve got another story I plan on hitting after I finish the draft for Book 2. So, maybe I press the “Pause” button on Book 2 and start a self-imposed NaNo for my other project.

Idea #3: Go back to a past project and work on revisions. I’ve got a police procedural that needs some work, and I’ve actually done a little on it this past week. I’ve got a contemporary fantasy that needs some revising, and an epic/traditional fantasy that still needs the ending written. A genre change might be good.

Idea #4: Do something completely different. As in, not work on other projects sitting around. Write a short story, or revisit poetry, or hell, stream of consciousness writing through my anxiety about stuff I can’t fix.

Idea #5: Take a break. *silence* Yeah, that’s what I was doing before NaNo. I did NaNo to bust the non-writing slump. Nope. Scratch this one.

Idea #6: Take a walk. Or two. Or three. I haven’t done this for a while, partly because of the weather–even though it’s been unseasonably warm it’s been windy as hell, and partly because the gravel road I walk on is a high-traffic area this time of year since the neighbors are bringing in semi-trailer loads of harvested corn. All. The. Time. Not good to walk on a gravel road that hasn’t seen any sort of moisture for weeks with semi-trucks racing around on it. *Cough*

I like to listen to music when I write, so I’ve got that covered.

If you’ve got any other suggestions, drop them into a comment. It’s the weekend, so I’m going to write.

I will write.

Hear that, brain. I’m going to write, dammit.

You, too. Take advantage of the time before the holidaze, while the craziness is still somewhat manageable.

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Recap and Recovery

Everyone recover from your turkey hangover? Get your fill of NFL football? How about shopping–did you brave the masses?

Me, I just sit at home and do the online thing. Amazingly enough, this year’s Black Friday weather in MN is quiet. Doesn’t mean I have any intention ever of venturing into die-hard shopper-infested malls.

My NaNo project is moving along. I’ve learned–after doing NaNo for over a decade–that my first draft is crap (duh), and I figure out through the process what’s missing and what doesn’t work in the story. It’s like while I’m writing (with a muzzled inner editor), my brain churns through the story, testing how it fits into the storybuilding process.

As I hit a later chapter, my brain pipes up and lets me know what I missed early on. For example, in my current WIP, I’ve got two characters in an early chapter that have a specific role. They’re even in a whole scene. Problem is, they don’t show up again.

So here I am, grinding toward the middle of the story, when my brain throws up a red flag. Hey, these two need to show up again, or they need to go. What are you going to do about it?

Oh. Yeah. Um. Hmm. Ideally I’d make a note and keep going, but it’ll bug me for-ev-er if I don’t at least outline another scene for them. Another character, one of the antagonists, also shows up, and doesn’t return to the stage until, wow, way later. That isn’t right. So now I’m writing up another scene that brings the antagonist into a bigger spotlight. Bonus is, beyond tension, it adds to the “whodunit” aspect of the story.

It’s interesting, though, how I don’t realize the knots and holes until I’ve written the draft, and then a light goes on that reminds me of story construction. What seemed fine when I started doesn’t work right once I’ve written through it. Classic example is my soon-to-be-published book.

The main character is a female aircraft mechanic who finds a body. In an airplane. I know, I know, finding a body in a mystery novel is weird ๐Ÿ˜› Finding a body in an airplane is different, but in a good way. Having the antagonists work at a construction site, albeit on the airport grounds, well … Yes, in the first draft, a good portion of the story took place at a construction site.

When I finished the story, I heard my writing teacher’s voice, clear as day: Why are they at a construction site? Why aren’t they at the airport?

Silence.

DUH! Of course it has to be in the airport. That’s the unique setting. The MC is an aircraft mechanic. DUH!

Point is, I didn’t get it until I’d finished that draft, and my brain had ker-chunked its way through the story while I did the actual writing. So, for me the draft is like the test run, and my brain spends its time comparing the story to all the stuff I’ve learned over the years about how to plot, character arcs, subplots, conflict, story structure, etc. I do a loose outline of my stories, but that must not be enough meat for the ol’ noggin to work with.

And once it hits a spot where I’ve failed to follow the story-building process–characters, conflict, story goals, obstacles, stuff like that–it throws up a red flag. I often can’t see those spots until I’ve written through them. Which, I suppose, is the point of a first draft.

I’m on the straightaway for my NaNo quota, so I’m pretty sure I’ll hit 50k, maybe even by the end of the weekend. The story won’t be finished, though. It’ll be another few weeks before I hit “The End”, and the story will cool for a month or so before I start any sort of revision.

In the meantime, I’ll work on another WIP, in a self-imposed NaNo process. This is what I like about NaNo, the momentum. I find the word quota deadline helps me get a draft finished. Sure, it’s balls-to-the-walls writing to get the words down, but the point is to keep working on something. If nothing else, it keeps my Muse off my back ๐Ÿ˜€

Enjoy your extended holiday weekend, and take advantage of the time to do a bit of writing ๐Ÿ˜€

 

 


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Good intentions gone where? Take 2

In case you were wondering (okay, you weren’t wondering, but I’ll tell you anyway), I’m keeping up with my NaNoWriMo quotas. I’m actually a little ahead, so I’ve got a bit of a cushion.

No thanks to my Muse. Boy, when I see him again …

My writing office door whooshes open, and my Muse makes his entrance complete with Ghirardelli chocolates in one hand and Schell’s Firebrick lager in the other. What? No Moon Man?

He’s wearing the burgundy Henley shirt I so love, sleeves shoved halfway up his forearms. Well-worn jeans–in every sense of the adjective–complete the ensemble. He deposits the treats on my desk and sets a hip on a corner, flashes a lopsided smile. “Before you ask, love, no, I didn’t bring Moon Man. I’m saving that for when you hit fifty thousand words. How’s it going?”

Ahem. “Fine, no thanks to you.”

“Me?” he says, all innocent-like. “You do remember the part where I hit you with a brilliant seed for an urban fantasy, right? Got your creative fires lit.”

I plant fists on my hips, remember the disaster I avoided, and try to stay indignant. “Yeah. You gave me the first five lines. That’s it. And guess what? I managed about 7500 words before I gave up and went back to Book 2.” I’m counting those 7500 words, damn it. “Don’t do that again.”

His eyes widen. “What do you mean?”

I need time to tumble a novel-length idea around in the ol’ noggin. “I told you I hadn’t thought about that story AT ALL. At the very least I need a direction. Hell, I didn’t have a story goal. I didn’t even have a name for my main character when I started. Where was I supposed to take the characters? I had no idea, and day one of NaNo is so not the time to jump into a story like that.”

I’m fired up now. “I tried. For four days I tried to come up with some sort of plot, something besides a character without a name and the first five lines.”

“Yeah, you did. And you wrote scenes for that story for those four days.”

“No. I wrote three versions of the same freaking scene.”

“You wrote five scenes, love. And got some backstory put together.” He waves a finger at me. “You named the main character and her best friend. And you got as far as the mysterious-but-handsome stranger.”

“Not the point.” I have to pace. “I can’t believe I listened to you. I can’t believe you did that to me.”

He stands and blocks my path. “Are you blaming me for getting you fired up to write? What part of Muse with a capital ‘M’ don’t you understand? It’s my job, love.”

“I’ve got two stories to write. One is book 2, the other is my rural mystery.” I shake my head. Frustration tightens my shoulders until the back of my neck aches. “Why couldn’t you hit me with a brainstorm about those stories instead of something completely different? I could’ve spent four more days on the stuff I’ve got some sort of a road map for.”

“Because you were already spinning your wheels on those. I knocked you loose, didn’t I? That’s what you needed.” He rocks on his heels, arms crossed on his oh-so-fine chest. “You’re rolling fine now, aren’t you?”

Grrr. He’s right, but if I tell him, how much worse will he get? I mean, he already thinks pretty highly of himself. Then again, …

“Julie?”

“Yes, fine, I’m rolling.” I throw my hands up. “There. Happy?”

His grin brightens. “Yep.”

“Don’t hurt yourself patting your own back. I’m at the end of the section I’ve got laid out, so you’re going to have to stick around to help me. And no urban fantasy stuff.” Although I will keep that story around. I’ll figure out the rest of it. Eventually.

He drops an arm around my shoulders. “You take all the fun out of it, love, but I’ve got you covered.”

Uh-huh. Anyway …

It’s past halfway for NaNo, and I’m doing okay. Planning for progress this weekend, since next week is Thanksgiving already. Man, I cannot believe how time is flying this year! A long weekend next week, so hopefully I can get within spitting distance of 50k. The book won’t be done–it usually takes me six weeks to complete a draft–but 50k is a pretty solid chunk of it. Then set that aside and work on my other story.

Yep, my Muse got the fire going. Man, that creative burn sure feels good!

Have a great weekend, and keep writing!


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And then it hit me

BAM! A brand new, never-before-imagined idea blasts through my brain.

Oh. My. Gawd.

Seriously? Is this real?

My Muse straightens to his full six foot-two height. If he leans forward, I think our foreheads would collide. “You have a problem with this, love?”

The storm is still rampant in my brain. Quick, I need a notebook. Damn. “Well, yeah. I mean, I should be working on Book 2. It’s NaNo, and my opportunity to re-draft …”

He rests a hand on my shoulder. “And how’s that been working for you?”

“Ahh, not well. I’m still not feeling it, but it’s only the first week.”

“Right. So, here you go.”

I shake my head and retreat to pace my writing office instead. “It’s a whole different genre. I haven’t written urban fantasy before. My agent doesn’t rep urban fantasy; the only fiction she reps is mystery. That’s a whole month of working on something that isn’t a genre my agent could rep. If I’m not working on Book 2, I should at least be working on my rural mystery.”

My Muse leans back against my desk, arms crossed on his oh-so-fine chest. “Uh-huh. You’ve been mulling that one for years. And you wrote that Irish contemporary fantasy. Some would call that urban.”

“Only because it wasn’t epic or traditional fantasy. I’ve still got an epic fantasy book I need to finish.” I can’t believe this. “I can’t spend thirty days writing something I haven’t thought about before. I don’t even know where I’d go with it. I’m not a pantser. At the very least I have to noodle on it for a while before I start writing anything. That’s thirty days I could–should–be working on Book 2, or my other mystery.”

“Other writers who write multiple genres often have multiple agents for the different genres. You know, a romance writer who also writes mysteries or fantasy. They have one agent for the romances and one for mysteries.”

I stop. Stare at him. “Not the point. It’s THIRTY FREAKING DAYS. I need to work on—”

“Don’t raise your voice, love. I’m standing right here.”

“Have you seen the urban fantasy market? You can’t go anywhere without tripping over a book about were-whatevers, or vampires, or gargoyles, or dragon-shifters, or hell, angels and demons. It’s saturated.”

“Uh-huh. And how far can you go before you hit a wall of mysteries? It’s the second biggest genre behind romance.”

“But there’s a ton of subgenres in mystery. Crime, noir, historical, cozy, detective, police procedural, oh my gawd. Lots of people read mysteries.” I start pacing again. “I can’t believe you did this.”

“You feel it though, don’t you? That pull. That burn to write. I know you do, love.”

Damn it. I hate it when he’s right. “That’s THIRTY DAYS I won’t be spending on the stuff I should be writing.”

He raises a finger. “Aha. Did you hear yourself? You said ‘should’ be writing. You should be saying ‘need’ to write. Hear the difference? Which story do you need to write?”

I shake my head. “The big thing now is diverse characters. I don’t write diverse, unlessย  you count strong female protagonists in non-traditional careers.”

“It’s got potential, love.”

I stop again, hands out as if offering my last suggestion. “I don’t even know what the freaking story is. I’ve got the first few lines. That’s it. I have no idea what happens next. I don’t even know who the main character is, much less the supporting actors or even the story goal. And first person POV? What the hell are you doing to me? I’ve got a contract obligation for Book 2.”

“I’m getting you excited for your project.”

I can’t spend thirty days writing something I have never thought about until just now.” Where’s my Night Fury conscience? Wait, no, where’s my book dragon? She can help me push back. Except she’d probably agree with him. “C’mon, I work full-time, plus sub at the library, plus the whole gotta-take-care-of-the-house thing before it turns into a hovel. I can NOT believe you’re doing this to me.”

He chuckles. I suppress an urge to slap that grin off his swoon-worthy face. “It’s my job, love, and you know it. So spend thirty days writing something different. It’s reignited the writing fire in you, right? You can’t wait to get home and get started.”

He’s right. Damn it, he’s right. I want to chase this idea. I want to sit down and start writing this, not help files for software. OMG, I’m going to be distracted by this all day.

“If you’re really good, maybe you can finish the urban fantasy and still work on Book 2 during NaNo.”

“ARE. YOU. INSANE?”

He blocks my path and locks me with his piercing blue gaze. “Are you a writer?”

Sonofabitch.

 


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I got nuthin’

Yep. Sittin’ here, staring at my screen, tapping, tapping on my desktop–er, okay, desktop doesn’t rhyme with “chamber door.” I swear if a raven shows up …

Hey, it’s October, gotta have some Poe around.

So, I need to write a blog post, but I can’t think of anything interesting to write about. Next week will be easier; I’m going to see John Sandford at a signing for his new book, “Deep Freeze”, at an independent bookstore that is locally famous for supporting MN mystery writers. More on that next week.

But this week, I’ve got nuthin’. I could bring my Muse in–that’s always entertaining. Mostly. Except I’ve been lacking a bit on the writing front. Okay, okay, lacking a lot. I’m doing another read-through of my manuscript before I turn it in to my editor, so that should count, right? (Not the final version, because my editor will request revisions, I’m sure.)

I could talk about my poor, frost-killed garden. Everything except the kale, Brussels sprouts, and the peppers (which I made a half-hearted attempt to cover against the frost) is dead. Woo-hoo! Except for the fact I have to clean the garden up now. Oh, and the raspberries are doing okay. I’m picking enough berries every three days or so to put on my bowl of cereal in the morning. Pretty sure I won’t have enough to make any jelly this year. They seem to have a heavy crop every other year or so.

NaNo is coming up. Who’s in? Since my September self-imposed NaNo went bust, I think I’m going to utilize the NaNoWriMo energy coming up in November to redraft (read: rewrite from scratch) my WIP. Or another project I was going to work on this spring.

Then again, I’ve got some serious revisions to do on my other manuscript. It’s kind of weird, really. I spent years writing and revising my other manuscript, won a contest with it, and after not reading it for months, maybe even a year, I read it and cringed at the things that need to be fixed.

My agent found the same issues (and many more–I still haven’t gone through all her notes). Thing is, I’m not sure if I want to tackle those now or wait until I’ve got my second contracted manuscript put together. And maybe my small-town mystery.

Sigh.

“Why is it when I leave you alone you get nothing done, love?” My Muse shuts the door to my writing office, bringing a scent of fried food and beer in with him, along with a suspicious stain on the front of his Green Bay Packers jersey.

Packers? Traitor.

“Gee, I don’t know. You’re my Muse. I’m a writer. Something tells me I should be able to write more when my Muse is close by rather than cheering for the Packers. Seriously? The Packers don’t play until Sunday. And the Vikings will win.” I hope. Wait. “So, where did you get that stain and why are you wearing a Packer jersey when the game isn’t until Sunday?”

“Doesn’t matter, love. You done with that blog post yet? You’ve got some work to do for your WIP if you plan on rewriting it during NaNo.”

Boy, it sure was nice and quiet before he showed up.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Keep on writing!


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Get ready … get set … Re-draft!

I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to challenge myself to a self-imposed NaNoWriMo (50k words in 30 days) this month (yes, I know the “official” NaNo month is November, but I need to get my butt in gear NOW). I’ve learned the best way for me to get a draft done (at least at this point in my writing journey) is to do a NaNo. I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet for daily word counts and everything!

I’ve been procrastinating long enough. Technically, this WIP isn’t even a new project; I wrote it the first time during another self-imposed NaNo this past March. So, even though technically this isn’t a first draft, I’ve made enough changes to the plot that I may as well start over.

That’s another thing I’ve learned: the process of drafting–writing with a muzzle on my internal editor–helps me work out the plot. Or work out the kinks in the plot. Or see what’s wrong with the plot. All of the above.

So, I’ve brainstormed changes to the plot, and of course I won’t know if those will work until I actually start drafting. Or is it re-drafting? For my past few projects, I’ve ended up writing two “first drafts”: one that helps me see what works and what doesn’t in the original plot, and one that takes those discoveries and uses them to build from scratch again.

It’d be like drawing out plans for a shed or tiny house you want to use as a writing space, like a detached writing office. You dream up the perfect size, imagine it in the perfect location, then get out the ol’ ruler and graph paper to draw it out. Maybe even use cutouts of a desk, chair, shelves, dog bed, cat pillow, whatever. You figure out how much wood you’ll need, pick out paint and siding and even a cool window or two.

Let’s assume you’re handy enough to give it a good go. So you start framing your spiffy new writer cave according to your hand-drawn plan. The floor is the easy part–it’s a rectangle. Can’t get much simpler than that.

Okay. You’ve got your base floor done, so now for the walls. Once you’ve got the framing finished, you can see the skeleton of your project. With the walls up, you can start to see how it’ll look.

Now finish the walls, put on the roof (not shingles yet), and cut holes in the walls for the windows. You’ve got plywood on the outside, sheathing on the roof, and places to put windows.

Wait. That’s one’s not quite in the right spot. Hmm. Don’t forget to measure how far over you moved the door. And make sure to check the angle of the roof–you don’t want it to leak.

Er. Yeah. Hmm. Looks kinda wonky. That wall’s not quite square. And oops, the roof angle is wrong. All wrong. You’ll have to pull that off and redo it. And that window’s in the wrong spot–you’ll have to take that wall down and redo it. Oh, but that means the desk won’t be able to go where you wanted, you’ll have to shift it over. Wait, then the built-in shelves will have to be shorter. Oh, and a skylight. That’d be awesome.

Ugh. So you go back to your plans, erase and redraw to take into account what you’ve learned the first round. Then, you disassemble everything except the floor. Wait, gotta do that too–it needs to be six inches wider.

And so you start over. Re-draft. Except now when you get to the point where all the walls are up, the roof is sheathed, and the windows are cut, it looks much better. Oh, and don’t forget the skylight. Wait, maybe not a skylight.

Once it’s “drafted”, you can refine it, paint it, add shingles, a nice door, lights, etc. Eventually, you’ll have a nice little writing cave.

Kinda like the writing process. First plan, then draft. Then maybe you can work with the draft, but maybe it makes more sense to start over. Or take it down to the floor and try again, because you figured out what doesn’t work.

It’s a process, and each time I use it, I learn a little more about what works for me. Each time I try something a little bit different to see if it makes the process more effective.

Anyway. Enjoy the last hurrah of summer vacation this weekend. I’ll be writing. Will you?


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Breather

“Julie?”

I hear him. My Muse. He’s in my writing office.

I’m not.

tropical-isle2-resize

Heh. I’m choosing not to let him know where I am. I mean, a girl should be able to chill without interruption, shouldn’t she? I relax in my lounge chair, close my eyes, and sink into the soothing whoosh of gentle waves against the shore. Palm leaves rustle in the breeze. The only thing missing is a tropical drink in hand.

“There you are.”

“Go away.”

“Really?” I hear a quiet snick as he adjusts his lounge chair–which I know wasn’t there thirty seconds ago–and rustling as he settles into it. “You don’t really want me to leave.”

“Take a few days. Go on a pub crawl–oh, except Mr. E is still on house arrest. Call up one or more of the other Muses. Leave me alone. I need a break.”

“I just wanted to say you did good. You got your manuscript off to your beta readers. Now you can focus on your other opportunity.”

“Yeah. Hurry up and wait. That’s the worst part, you know. The waiting.” Things move like traffic in an ironically-named NYC rush hour in this business. I get it. A person can only read so fast, especially if they’ve got other things going on.

“So, write something else.”

I slide my sunglasses to the top of my head and look over at him. He’s chillaxing in eye-searing yellow Bermuda shorts and a near-neon Hawaiian-print shirt, unbuttoned to expose his tan, sculpted chest. Tan? When the hell did he get tan?

I lower my glasses to save my eyesight. “Do ya think you could dress any louder? They’ll be able to see you on the mainland in that getup.”

“Why? Too much?” he asks, feigning innocence.

“Gawd, turn it off. And I’m not going to start anything new yet.” I adjust the pillow behind my head and resume my relaxing. “I’m letting the manuscript rest for a couple days. I’m not sure I like how those last few scenes worked out. Besides, my son is home this weekend, and I should do a major cleaning. I think the dust bunnies are mutating. Or, I could read. I’ve got a couple books started.”

Silence.

The longer I know he’s there, the more nervous I get about why he’s so quiet.

After a few minutes, I can’t stand it anymore. “What?”

A slow smile stretches across his face. “You’re doing good, love. Keep it up.”

The nice fall weather is holding out. Colors are just past peak, but there’s still some bursts of oranges, golds, and reds left out there. Trying to enjoy the sunshine and relative warmth while it lasts, since it’s ten days to Halloween.

Where did October go? Once we cross that threshold into November, the whole holiday prep, rush, gather season starts. And what’s with Christmas stuff up in stores already? It’s not even Halloween yet. Sheesh!

To all those prospective NaNo-ers out there, it’s almost time. Finish up those outlines, gather those snacks, make sure the coffee/tea/lemonade/whatever is ready for those marathon writing sessions.

Write on!