Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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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, unless¬† 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!


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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.