Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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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!


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A Dull Moment?

I really should let my Muse write this week’s post. I can’t think of anything.

Not true. I can think of stuff, just not for a blog post.

Stuff like how I need to change the next scene in my WIP to account for the revised character thread. Or whether I should write a post about starting an outline for NaNoWriMo, even though I’m not doing NaNo this year, but other people might be. Or how my garden is now a den of runaway weeds and sad, sad-looking tomato and pepper plants. Or how my raspberries are bountiful now, while the weather is decent.

Sigh. Decisions, decisions.

It’s October. Oh, boy, where did the time go? Wasn’t it just July? The trees are starting to change here, but I’ve entertained thoughts about driving up north toward Duluth to see the peak colors happening there now. Can’t, though. I’ve got a manuscript to revise so I can get it out to beta readers.

The revisions are going well, but I did spend about a week working through them in my head and on paper before I started. I know there are a mix of planners and pantsers out there, and their own process works well for them. I didn’t used to plan. Back in elementary school and high school, I had the story in my head. No sense writing it down in an outline.

Then came my first NaNo. I chose to write something completely new, not something I’d been playing around with in my head. I knew I needed to plan if I was going to have a prayer of writing 50k words in a month.

I missed the goal that first year, but I came up with a story that surprised me. It wasn’t anything I’d been pondering, but something that grew organically from the process of brainstorming and outlining. It’s not finished, but I’d like to go back to it and write the ending some day.

I learned a lot of things through NaNoWriMo. Outlining gives me a direction when I write, even if I don’t always follow it. I learned to write every day. I learned to kick my inner editor into a cage and lock the door while I write the first draft. I pacify her with platitudes about fixing stuff later, because there will always be at least three or four revisions.

Maybe the most important thing of all, though: I learned confidence. I can write a book in less than two years. I can write fifty thousand words in thirty days. I can outline a book and write from beginning to end without petering out three-quarters of the way through.

I took an online technical writing course through the university a few years ago. The class had a warning in its catalog listing: writing intensive. We’d be writing 12,000 to 20,000 words over the semester, more writing involved in that particular class than any other for that subject. Oh. My. Gawd.

Heh. Child’s play. I could write 50,000 words in one month.

Aced the class.

A writer posted a question in a FB writing group about who had done NaNo and why he should do it. I gave my advice, but as I wrote, I realized my biggest takeaway should be emphasized more than simply writing 50k words in 30 days.

Confidence. It does a writer good.

I’ve got a two-month deadline for my revise and resubmit, including the feedback from beta readers, so my actual revision deadline is about 4-6 weeks. I have no doubts I can do it if I keep my focus.

Thank you, NaNoWriMo, for making me realize I can.

 


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Kick it in Gear

Wait, what? So, here I am, ready to write up this week’s post, and I’m greeted with a snazzy new post-writing interface, courtesy of WordPress minions. (I think they’re minions. Cuter than gremlins, right?)
minion Okay, it just threw me a little.

We’re past the halfway point in the writing frenzy otherwise known as NaNoWriMo (or, in my case, NaNoRevMo). I’ve been doing pretty good–sort of. Still trudging through the middle of the new plotline, but with the craptastic rainy weather we’ve had the past couple days, it’s been good for my writing focus.

Still, it feels like I’m still slogging. I’m working on a scene where the new plot diverges noticably from the original storyline. From this point on, I’ll have to write more new scenes, versus recycling original ones.

Writing new scenes is like cooking the meal from scratch versus creating something new from leftovers in the fridge. Like just-off-the-grill steak and piping-hot baked potatoes versus beef and barley soup–hold the barley, add some potatoes instead. Both great, but the leftovers need more creative energy to tweak just right.

So, I’m forging ahead with a map of scenes that should be included, a compass that works most of the time (except when I’m on FB, dammit), and a Muse who seems to be less overbearing than usual. Question is, is it because I’m struggling to focus that he isn’t manning the whip?

“I can tell you why, love.” My Muse waves a partially-folded map at me. He’s channeling Indiana Jones today, complete with fedora, bullwhip, and shirt open halfway down his very fine chest. Wow, and I thought Harrison Ford was nice back in the day.

“Hey,” he snaps his fingers until I meet his gaze, “are you listening?”

“Um, what?”

He sighs and shakes his head. “Pay attention.” He snatches the map on my desk and replaces it with the one he brought.

“Hey, that’s my–”

“No, it isn’t.” He points to the denouement section of the recalled map. “Wrong project, love. Why are you working on this? This is the sixth or seventh book of your Donovan and Drake series. You don’t have representation for the first one yet. Hell, you don’t even have this installment outlined, much less drafted.” He rolls it up and shoves it into his back pocket. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“I know,” I say, trying to sound both chastised and contrite. Not sure I managed on either account. I pick up the map he tossed on my desk. Yep, this is my WIP.  It’s just that some stories are more fun to play with, especially when your WIP isn’t as interesting right now as the other story, the one that just popped into your head and said “pay attention to me”. Kinda like a cat. I’ve got the creative energy moving, but it needs to be redirected.

“Bullshit. I know you. You’re gonna play in the other story until you’re sitting in your writing chair with your WIP on the screen.” He pulls out a strongbox, one with a slot on top, then unrolls the map from his pocket. “Know what this is?”

A chill quiets my creative energy. Shit. It’s my idea box–correction, it’s my substantive idea box, the one that holds all my partially-defined stories. “C’mon, don’t put it in there. Dammit, it’s gonna take me months to sort through everything in there.”

He slips the map through the slot, then pulls a key from a pocket. “I’ve got the key. This doesn’t get opened until you finish your WIP. Got it?”

“Fine.”

Hop on over to the Meet Your Main Character blog. We’ve got a great guest post from my fellow blogger, D. Wallace Peach, who writes YA fantasy. Due to some technical difficulties, our webstress didn’t get Diana’s bio up, so here’s a link to her blog, Myths of the Mirror. She’s rocking some great numbers for NaNo, so while she’s otherwise focused, she’s posted a four-part sci-fi story. Check it out!

We’ve also got a new author in our group over at MYMC, and we lost our web mistress, so the site is a bit behind. It’ll take some time to get things moving again while our replacement webstress gets oriented. With any luck, we’ll be back up to speed in no time.

 


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Slow Out of the Gate

Hiya! Day Four of NaNoWriMo is almost here.

My grand plan to dig deep into my WIP rewrite is stumbling off the starting block. I’m like the dust hovering in the wake of American Pharoh’s first step out of the gate at the Breeder’s Cup.

Can you say “real life”? I knew you could.

So, needless to say I’m a bit late with my blog post. And I think my Muse is hanging at the pub with Mr. E, because he’s certainly not gracing me with his presence. I’ve been staring at the same scene for two days, not sure where I want to take it.

Slam!

What the–

“Don’t be blaming me for your brain freeze.” My Muse leans against the door he so rudely closed. He’s wearing a black polo with the Guinness logo embroidered on the upper left chest, dark indigo jeans, and deck shoes. The stink of stale beer, fried food, and cigarette smoke hovers around him.

“Oh, and I suppose your pub crawl with Mr. E supersedes working with me on this? Where the hell were you, anyway? Smoking’s not allowed in bars anymore.”

“Cork. That’s in Ireland, love. You’d like it. Very nice local brew, good music, friendly folks.”

“I know where Cork is. In case you forgot, my contemporary fantasy is set in that area of Ireland. Are you finished getting your wanderlust out of your system for a while? Ready to get to work?”

“Are you?” he counters. “You’re not settled.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” he paces to a stop in front of me and pokes a finger into my forehead, “someone’s shaking the jar up here, and the marbles haven’t stopped moving.” He lowers his hand to my shoulder. “You aren’t focusing.”

I brush his hand off my shoulder and retreat a step. “First off, you smell like a bar. Second, that’s why I need you to stick around.”

He shakes his head. “Um, no. My job, as your Muse, is to channel creative energy and foster inspiration. Your job, my darling writer, is to sit your ass in the chair where there aren’t any distractions and focus on the story.”

“And here I thought your job was to keep me in line so I can write.”

His grin is far too warm and welcoming. I’m starting to feel like a cat being lured into the carrier for a trip to the vet. “It is, but that’s so my primary tasks are more effective.”

“O-kay.”

He heads to my writing chair. At his touch, it changes from a worn, stuck-halfway-to-recline, Lay-Z-Boy wanna-be into a plush oh-man-I-could-so-sleep-there chair. Why doesn’t this make me feel any better?

“You know that chair says ‘take a nap’ more than it says ‘sit your butt down and write’, don’t you?”

He settles into the comfy chair and puts his hands behind his head. “Yep.” He waves at a corner of my writing area. An ergonomic kneeling/sitting chair appears, complete with a small desk at the appropriate height. To his credit, the view from my window now looks directly into a thick Northwest forest complete with ferns, moss, and a sense of quiet wonder. “Now, get to work, and maybe I’ll let you take a turn here after you get a couple chapters done.”

“Or what?”

Something electric crackles in the air. The scent of ozone wafts past me. “I’ll think of something.”

 

 


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Countdown (and a bit of bragging)

One week, and a large portion of the writing community I’m in touch with is on NaNo watch. They’re hurrying to finish (start?) their outlines and gather research for their NaNoWriMo novels. The starting line is just ahead. One of the FB groups I belong to has a number of writers who are ready to hit the keys. I’m all up for cheering them on, and I’m really trying to resist the urge to rub in the fact I cleared 50k+ words in 28 days. Nah nee nah nee boo boo. Being a NaNo veteran has some advantages 🙂

A sweet earthy scent fills the air in my writing area. Autumn leaves. I turn. My Muse is getting comfortable in one of those folding chairs that tuck into a bag. He rests his feet on a short, fold-up stool. He’s keeping with the rough, outdoorsy look, complete with flannel, denim, and lack of shaving for a few days. “You done yet, love?”

“Why?”

“Just get on with the bragging. I’m beyond ready to put that garden of yours to sleep for the winter.”

“Don’t say the ‘w’ word.”

He laces his fingers and rests his hands on his lean belly. “Why not? They’re predicting snow showers possible for Thursday.” He makes a winding motion with a finger. “C’mon, move it along so we can get to work.”

Grumble. “I worked this weekend. Where the hell were you?”

He scratches at the scruff on his cheek. “At the seminar.”

“What seminar?”

“The Muse seminar.”

Huh?

A blue coffee mug appears in his hand, complete with a logo that says “The Muse Seminar” in bold white font. Below that, it looks like, “NaNo, NaNo,” beside a caricature of Robin Williams in his longer hair days. “You don’t think we have to prepare for NaNoWriMo? Who do you think every writer participating turns to when they jump into the fray? Their Muse and any associated muses they’ve got on their roster.”

“Um, okay. Why didn’t you go last year?”

He sips something that smells like hot apple cider and brandy from the mug. “This is our first year. We’re mostly doing it for the NaNo virgins.”

“NaNo virgins? Let me guess, those are the writers who finally decided to participate this year for the first time. Do their muses–er, I mean, Muses really need so much help you had to put together a seminar?”

“You have no idea how scared some of those Muses were. Fifty thousand words is daunting to many writers. How do you think their Muses feel, especially when it’s their job to keep their writers going? Now, are you going to post those pics of your potato haul or what?”

Wait. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this seminar thing. “So, did the veterans give workshops? Speeches? I just can’t imagine over a hundred thousand Muses getting together–”

“It was closer to fifty thousand, and we rented the Olympus Parthenon.”

“Olympus?”

“Valhalla was already booked; the new attention on comics and Norse mythology is really screwing with our venues. Calliope convinced her sisters it’d be a good idea to rent out the space. Could’ve used more tropical decor, though. The food was good. Beer, not so much.”

“So, did you give a speech? Seeing as how you’re a NaNo veteran and all.”

“Naw. The keynote speakers were a couple of Calliope’s sisters. Oh, and Edgar Allen Poe’s Muse. Spooky chick. Special trip from the Other Side and all that since it’s so close to Halloween. I gave a workshop on keeping your writer motivated when all she wants to do is garden.”

Har har. “It’s not want, it’s–”

“Yeah, save it. Post the damn pics, already.”

Fine. Here they are, pics of my potato haul.

barrow1 barrow3

We grow Yukon Gold potatoes from last year’s leftovers we didn’t get a chance to eat. There might be some Russets involved, but mostly the Yukons. Yes, that is the same plastic softball I used for size comparison with the onions. And I already dug a bunch of potatoes earlier in the year, so all told, both barrows would be full.

one potato

“There, happy?”

My Muse sips his drink. “Better. Now, then, let’s see what you did this weekend.”

Gotta go. Enjoy your week before the madness!


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No, this is not yet another post about NaNoWriMo

Catchy title, eh? I’ve been catching up on reading the blogs I follow, and there seems to be a lot more about NaNo this year in particular than I remember in years past. Maybe it’s because more writers have decided to throw their towel–er, hat in the ring of madness that is NaNo. This post, in particular, summarizes NaNo quite well.

I did my NaNo this year in February, so even though I’ll be posting my numbers from Feb each day, I’ll be working on revisions of that novel.

Okay, so I kinda bent the truth a little in my title. But really, the post isn’t entirely about NaNoWriMo.

Remember those days back in college? You know the ones, especially those first days of your freshman year, when you were still working through the reality of living on your own, with new classes in different buildings, new people to meet, and the responsibility of going to classes, doing homework, finding a job, and all the other new experiences (dorm roommate, anyone?) that go with it. There’s an atmosphere on college campuses, I think, that can bring us back to that time in our lives.

This past week was MEA (MN Educators Association) week, so the kids had Thursday and Friday off from school. This is a perfect time for colleges to hold open houses for high school seniors. My son is a senior this year, and on Friday headed off to one college open house with my hubby and his aunt (hubby’s sister), since I was working. On Saturday, we headed to another open house at the college I attended twenty-five (OMG! Holy crap I’m getting old!) years ago.

Boy, talk about a time warp. Some parts of the campus looked just like I remember, but there’s been so much new stuff (skyways? We never had skyways when I went there) added, I hardly recognized it. But just being there reminded me of those days I walked the campus. And that, in turn, made me wonder where all the friends I’d made back then ended up. One friend shared my love for Airwolf, and shared a treasure trove of fanfic with me (there was no Wattpad or FanFiction.net back then). Another invited me on a trip to the Oshkosh EAA air show (that’s a post all by itself) with 6 other members of the flying club.

The trip also made me realize how much I’ve changed since then. After my initial attempt to accept that yes, I’m older and now my son is getting ready to head to college, I realize how my life journey has circled around to (sort of) where I was back then. I wrote my first book during my grade school years, my second book through high school, and a fun play starring me and my closest friends (which we won’t ever mention again 😉 ), then took a sojourn from writing while I was in thrall with aviation. I started writing again when I took an English class in MI, and progressed to the point of getting a couple short stories published before my son was born. I didn’t get back to writing until later.

I started writing fantasy and science fiction, and I’m writing mystery now. What a tour! Has your life journey taken you away from writing? When did you return to it? Did you learn of your writing passion later in life? I sometimes wonder if I should’ve gone into an English major, but at the time, I wanted to be involved with aviation, then computers (well, always computers). Now, I write for a living (I’m a tech writer, so I do get a regular paycheck 😉 ) and I’m trying to join the ranks of published authors everywhere.

I wonder if this is where I was headed the entire time. I like to think I just took the scenic route. Lots of great experiences along the way, and I think I’m close to that place in my life I’ve wanted, but I just didn’t know it.

How about you? Are you close to that place in life you’ve learned you want or need to be?

Happy writing!