Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Lighten up!

Finishing up week 3 of working from home. And self-isolation. I feel like I should be following starship protocol:

Captain’s log 2020095: Icy drizzle and snow pellets today, like teeny snowballs. Cold. Windy. And still waiting out the statewide stay-at-home order. Supplies are okay; no need to ration yet. The crew is restless, but we have little choice but to resist the desire to wander.

Anyway, one thing people are doing during this whole thing to brighten things is put up Christmas lights. I love the idea; the lights are my favorite part of Christmas.

So, I have two strings up, and it does help with mood.

lights

“Mood, maybe. Writing? Not so much.” My Muse grabs a beer from the mini-fridge and settles back into one of the two recliners in my writing office.

“I’m working on revisions.”

“You are, love. Considering you haven’t had to commute for the past few weeks, I thought you would be further along by now.”

“I finished my class. And taxes. And migraine days.” I grab my own beer from the fridge and drop into the other recliner. “I got some other stuff done.” Not cleaning, though. Actually, that’s on my list for this weekend, but I’m not going to tell him that. Better get it done before the weather gets nice and warm and beckoning.

“Other stuff that doesn’t include writing.”

“Other stuff that includes walks in the nice spring weather and … Hey, at least I’m not totally freaking out because I’m cooped up and distracted.” Just sort of freaking out. A little. Yeah, I’ll go with that.

“Uh-huh.”

He doesn’t sound convinced.

“Whatever. I’m working on revisions.” And resisting starting something that keeps poking at me. An urban fantasy. Maybe it’s because I’m waiting anxiously for the next Harry Dresden book–finally!

“You do not need to be distracted, love. You have a space. Use it.”

*Grumble* I do have a space. “My lights are in the common living area. I like my lights.” Especially these days. Maybe I can start working on my real writing office after I’m done cleaning, since my son isn’t here right now.

“Your son isn’t here now, love, but he is graduating in a month. Then what?”

He’s right. It’s not like the job market is screaming for people at this point. “He’ll move back home.” I love my family, but I miss my empty nest. By the time school is out I should be able to get the garden started, so I’ll have … wait. More distractions. Sigh.

“I’ll use my space more.”

“Not just for meditation practice, either.”

I started practicing meditation, but I’ve missed the past few days. “I know, I know. Once I finish going over the hard copy again, I’ll get back into the writing space routine.”

“Good.” He drains his beer and tosses the empty into the recycling bin. “And ignore the urban fantasy.”

“I want to write a story with a dragon.”

He focuses his brilliant blue eyes on me. “No. Fantasy. Finish book 2, your police procedural, and the rural mystery. Then think about fantasy.”

Ugh. He’s right. But maybe I can squeeze a short story in somewhere.

Anyway, I thought I’d share something a little different. This is Zoey when she wants to be petted. (If you have your volume up, ignore the banging and TV in the background. Hubs was making lunch.)

Zoey wants petting (Note: it’s on Dropbox, so just ignore the stupid “sign up for Dropbox” popup)

Enjoy! Stay safe and keep writing!

zoeychair

 


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Happy Spring! #amreading #amwriting

Minnesota welcomed the vernal equinox with rain. And more rain. And the next day? Below freezing temps in the morning. On the bright side, it was sunny all day, albeit with a nice brisk, crisp, north wind.

Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

Nothing like March to assure us Mother Nature is dealing with indecision. Spring? Nah, maybe more winter. Well, on the other hand, spring is kinda the thing now.

Sheesh.

To make things worse more interesting, everyone, for the most part, is in quarantine. I’ve been working from home pretty much all week, and for the foreseeable future. On the plus side, no hour commute each way. On the negative side, since I do not have a dedicated office, and this whole “don’t go out if you don’t absolutely have to” thing, it’s getting to be an interesting exercise in co-habitation.

If hubs and I were thirty years younger, we could really enjoy it 😉

In any case, I am taking the opportunity to continue procrastinating on spring cleaning in order to work on Book 2. Of course, with those two extra hours, I should really catch up on that.

“Yes, you should, love.”

I look up from my writing desk. My Muse, with the sleeves of his burgundy henley shoved halfway up his forearms, shows me a finger coated with dust. He wipes his finger on his worn-well jeans before he saunters to my desk and rests a hip on a corner near me.

I lean back in my chair. “I thought you needed a break. Besides, it isn’t like you are susceptible to this COVID-19 thing.”

“I’m not, but they have cancelled writerly gatherings everywhere.”

“And? It’s not like you need an excuse, is it?” Not that I want him to go anywhere, but he’s started reminiscing about his adventures, like, all the time. If I hear another story from the bubonic plague in Australia

He leans over me. I catch a scent of the woods in spring, with that fresh, loamy musk promising new growth. “You realize, love, this is a great opportunity–with few excuses, mind you–to work on Book 2.”

“Yes, I know. And I am. I have pages of notes.” And it isn’t as bad as I thought. I think once I finally nailed down the plot (after writing more than three-quarters of the story), things fell into place. Now it’s a matter of verifying the timeline and fleshing things out.

“I’m aware. And without that commute, you have two more hours each day to spend on it.” He straightens and crosses his toned arms over his broad chest. “With me.”

Who the hell else would I spend them with if I’m writing? I stand to face him eye-to-eye, since he’s still leaning on my desk. Wow. I’m always amazed at how blue his eyes are. “You’re not thinking about moving on, are you? To another less-aggravating writer?” He can’t. After all these years, I don’t think I could work with another muse. Or Muse.

A crooked grin deepens the divot in his chin. His low chuckle raises the temperature in my office. Or maybe it’s just me. “No, love. I don’t want to break in another writer. I’m talking about your distractions.”

“You mean like the veneer of dust you so helpfully pointed out?”

“That, and the rest. I know how you get when there’s too much other activity in the house.”

“Which is why I have this.” I sweep my hand to indicate my writing office.

“Hmph. This isn’t a physical space, love. You need a physical space.”

“I’ve been doing fine for years.”

An eyebrow arches. “Really, love? Let’s work on that during your breaks from Book 2, when you let the story sit after each round of revision.”

Whatever. After I manage some spring cleaning. We postponed our family Easter gathering, so there is no hard deadline. Still, I’ve been letting things languish way too long. I’ll have to collect cobwebs and chase out the dust bunnies before it’s time to plant the garden. 😀

Stay safe, everyone! Stay calm, wash your hands, maintain social distance, and WRITE ON!


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Happy Leap Day!

I was going to dig up some interesting factoids and myths about Leap Day, but I didn’t find anything super interesting.

Such as, even though the Egyptians figured out that the Earth takes a little more than a calendar year for its solar round trip, the Romans added the 29th to February, and Pope Gregory XIII tweaked that formula so we only get that evasive Feb 29th every four years.

And I learned that people who are actually born on February 29 can’t use that birthdate; computers really don’t like it, so they have to pick the 28th or March 1st. Oh, and women are supposed to propose to men on that day. It’s an interesting story involving St. Brigid and St. Patrick.

And then I asked, why does February get short-changed on days, hmm? That apparently is what we get when we let ancient Romans create a calendar. Or rather, when the Romans let superstition get the better of them. Who knew having even-numbered months or worse, an even-numbered year, was bad luck? So some guy named Numa came up with a calendar that made sure the year had an odd number of days. In order to do that, one lucky month had to have an even number of days.

Guess who got the short straw. Yup. Poor February. Even when Julius Caeser decided to fix Numa’s whacked calendar, February got gyped.

Then again, if February has fewer days, it means we get to March faster. And that means we get to Spring faster! The equinox is in a few weeks. Yippee!

I’ll be starting my seeds this weekend. This year hubs and I decided to try out special grow lights. We’ve been using shop lights with flourescent bulbs, but the bulbs lose some umph every year. The last time I had seedlings they didn’t grow all that well. The ones we’re getting are LED lights, so our electricity bill shouldn’t change too much. We’ll see how things go.

One more day to work on my rural MN WIP, then I’ll be diving into Book 2 revisions. Aaand, we’ll leave it at that for now. The first 100 pages or so I’m not so worried about because I worked on them with my writing teacher for a class. It’s the remaining 200 pages that worry me.

At least I have something to revise (after eight freaking tries to get a first draft completed. Sheesh!).

Have a great writing weekend!


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Creative energies–welcome back! #amwriting #amrevising

Author doubts never go away. I think that’s been why I’ve been struggling with–what do they call it? Second book blues? The book two curse? Fear of book two not being as good as book one?

After seven first drafts, I think I have it figured out. Oh, and taking a novel-writing class helps, too. Especially my latest assignment: a set-piece scene. A set-piece scene is one that sets the tone, and includes conflict, emotion, and the senses. It’s a memorable scene that might be the midpoint crisis, or the climax, or at any point in the book.

The class example of a set-piece scene was the circus scene from Water for Elephants, where all hell breaks loose, the animals start stampeding, and the ringmaster gets … well, no spoilers.

I wanted to get something to my writing teacher before she left on vacation, so I tried to figure out what scene in my WIP would be considered a set-piece scene, or rather, what scene could I write that could be considered a set-piece scene.

I took a walk to ponder the possibilities, and came up with something I thought would work. It’s near the midpoint of the story, and puts my main character in danger.

Here’s the weird part: I drafted the scene, looked at it the next morning and tweaked it a bit, then submitted it. The verdict? Yes, it was a set-piece scene, and it was pretty good, too. I can feel the creative energy coming back.

“Because you listened to me, love.” My Muse, who has been keeping one of the recliners in a corner of my writing office warm, sets his crossword puzzle aside. Apparently his pub crawl buddies are all busy.

“I’m writing, and you’re doing crosswords? Seriously?”

He taps a temple with his pen. “Keeps the mind sharp.”

“Oh? American or Australian crosswords?”

“British. I like a challenge.”

Which is probably why he hasn’t given up on me yet.

He levers himself out of the chair and crosses my office, shoving the cuffs of his long-sleeved t-shirt to his elbows. The royal blue of the t-shirt almost coordinates with his purple Vikings helmet-covered lounge pants. I feel like I should microwave some popcorn and put in a movie, ala slumber party.

“I won’t give up on you, love. And after you went through the feedback from your Writing Sisters again, you’ve been much more receptive to my suggestions. You’re starting the revisions now, right?” He shakes a finger at me to emphasize his point. “Don’t get hung up on the revisions. You know better. Revise what you need to and keep going.”

“My next homework is an outline. I want to have that done by the time my teacher is back from vacation. And I have another bookstore signing tomorrow.”

He wraps an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry about the outline. That’s a piece of cake. You’re getting your momentum back.” He squeezes, and plants a kiss on my forehead. “Keep it up, love. You’re doing good.”

I feel better about the story. That set-piece scene kicked off some other ideas that for some reason hadn’t been apparent to me before. And the changes will give a stronger motive to one of the characters; it’ll make his actions much more believable.

This is the part about writing I really like, the creative energy that makes me want to find a nice quiet place and do nothing but write without worrying about anything else.

Enjoy one of the last weekends of summer!

zoey chair mine
What? You got up, so it’s mine now.


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Blueprint to a book

I took a chance last weekend and planted the garden during the two nice days we had in a series of rainy ones. Needless to say, the very next day we got 2+ inches of rain. Not sure yet how much I’ll have to replant, and of course I forgot to take pictures. That’s on the agenda for next week’s post. Besides, maybe some stuff will start coming up by then (provided the seeds didn’t get washed away. Sigh.)

So I thought I’d give you a look-see into my class. Because of the trouble I’ve been having with Book 2, I decided to take an online course to both hold me accountable (since it’s being taught by my writing teacher and I don’t want to disappoint her 🙂 ) and lead me through the process.

I’ve been doing pretty well with my process–which has evolved somewhat–since I started drafting novels in earnest. I’m not counting the two I did before I seriously aimed at getting published. But Book 2 has been giving me fits for a long time. Part of it is because I wasn’t getting the story quite right, and part of it, I think, is because I would really like to work on something else (which I just figured out. Yeah, I know, it takes me a bit, but I think my Muse has been getting frustrated and just wants me to write something.)

The online class is called “Write Your Novel Fast and Sure”. Perfect! It walks you through the process of building and shaping a novel, from the famous (infamous?) core problem that the protagonist has to solve, to the “promise” you as a writer makes to your reader, to the plot points of the story.

It’s a blueprint, breaking the project down into manageable pieces. Honestly, I’ve never broken a story down like this at this stage (I’ve done it once the story is written in order to make sure it hits the important stuff). I usually “write” the story in my head, then put together a “story bible” with specifics like character bios, setting details, and a rough summary/timeline of events. Breaking this story down reveals some of the things I was getting hung up on, like having a big conflict between Sierra and Quinn. Stepping back, that won’t work because of the characters themselves, the type of people they are. They might get frustrated with each other, but a major conflict needs a major flashpoint between them, and there isn’t one of those in this story.

First, the core problem of the story, or as I’ve heard it said, the story “goal”. What does the main character have to do? That ties in with the “promise” to the reader, which goes back to what a reader expects from the genre. Since this is a mystery, the goal is to find out who killed the victim and why. The promise to the reader is that there will be at least one dead body, and someone will figure out what happened. Wrapped into this is stuff that is part of the “story bible” (and in case you are wondering, there is a nice post about story bibles over at Story Empire), like characters, setting, and timeframe.

Then on to your character’s journey through the story, making sure they hit the “plot points” along the way. There are about as many interpretations of plot points as there are writing craft books about plotting, but they all hit on the same ideas: the inciting incident, things start going wrong, the midpoint crisis when the character thinks about giving up, more things go wrong, the good guy and the bad guy have it out (aka the climax), and the wind-down (aka resolution).

I’m at the first five pages assignment, and struggling with the setup. Since this is only book 2, I have to anticipate readers who have not read book 1 (if this was book 10, I wouldn’t have to reintroduce everyone again). So, trying to introduce the main character, the primary costars, the victim and what he means to the main character, the timeframe, and the setting, all in the first five pages, is bogging me down. I have more characters to introduce in those first pages than I did with book 1, so that’s a challenge. Do I describe the costars? How much? Can I wait to give those details until later? How do I establish that the story takes place in 1993? Am I really starting at the right place?

Ugh. It’s a draft. If I keep reminding myself it’s a draft and I’ll be changing it later, it helps. A little.

This novel-writing stuff seems harder now than it used to be, since I learned more about story structure. I feel like I have to analyze everything to make sure it hits all the specs on the “template”.

Maybe it’s time for a little ditty about Jack and Diane–no, wait, I mean Alex(andra) and Kieran. Or Kenna and Shaw. Or Erinne and Sean. Or a scene or two for the elusive urban fantasy my Muse keeps tossing my way. Just to take a break from Sierra and Quinn.

It feels like summer is here. The gnats are out. Flowers are blooming. The grass needs to be cut. The kids are home for the summer; well, my daughter is home, my son is home for the weekend. To all those who have been in the path of Mother Nature’s not-so-nice weather, stay safe!

Enjoy your weekend!


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Plotting, you say?

For some reason, when I see the word “plotting”, my mind conjures up an image of a stereotypical bad guy from black and white silent films. You know, the one with the handlebar moustache and wringing hands, along with the “mwahahahahaha”.
1200px-Villainc.svg_

But when I think about plotting, it’s different. It’s a concept, the idea of a path through a story where stuff happens. Not an outline, because that seems too rigid. Of course, when I think of “outline”, I think of those reports we used to do back in school. You remember the ones: Roman numerals, paragraph topics, supporting facts, 3 x 5 inch index cards, and sources. Always had to have at least three sources (and there was no Wikipedia or Internet at the time). Back then, we had to go to the library and do our research.

I know, ancient history!

When I started preparing for my very first NaNoWriMo, I decided to write a completely new story, and not just rehash the one I had been working on up to that point. I found a great book by Karen Wiesner: First Draft in 30 Days. She has a set of worksheets she uses to put together a story, including character sketches, setting notes, timelines, fact sheets, and plot sketches. In essence, a book bible.

I created a OneNote template that had tabs for each worksheet, and they guided me through that first NaNo draft. The parts that really helped me put the story together, though, were the summary outline and the miscellaneous scene notes. Basically, a free-form exercise to walk through this is what happens, this happens next, then this, etc. There are also timeline sheets to help work out the order of events.

I ended up with a story I didn’t expect, but I enjoyed writing it. Didn’t finish it, but that’s on my list; I know how it ends, I just have to write it.

Fast-forward to now. I still use those worksheets, but I have learned that one of the best ways for me to walk through a story and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work is to write a stream-of-consciousness summary of the story from beginning to end. By hand.

Should I call it plotting? I suppose it is, but it feels more fluid than “plotting”, yet more planned than “pantsing”. *scans the room to make sure the Muse isn’t giving me a stink-eye* I’ve been struggling with the plot for book 2, so I have been doing this process repeatedly, trying to nail down just what wasn’t working.

One of the keys, I learned, is asking “what if” questions when I run into something that doesn’t feel right to me. Initially the story opened with two characters dead–one of natural causes, the other of an unfortunate hunting “accident”. It didn’t feel right. Then I had three characters die. Nope, so back to two characters, but one that started dead in an earlier draft was now alive and another dead instead.

Better, but it still didn’t feel right. Still, I ran with it, did NaNo with that premise, and spent December writing yet another SOC plot summary. Multiple plot summaries.

And I asked, “what if”? What if there was only one dead character? What if he had the hobby the other once-dead character had? What if that airplane he was rebuilding lived in a hangar at the airport instead of a shed in the backyard? The nefarious stuff is happening at the airport, and he would be there anyway to spy–er, casually notice the goings-on, and doesn’t need an excuse to go there.

Click.

I’ve got it now. There are still a few things to work out, but once the routine is back in place after the kids are back at college and all that extraneous energy is dissipated, I’m eager to start the heavy revisions. Or maybe yet another rough draft. In any case, I feel better about this version of the story than any of the earlier ones.

Finally.

Hope your new year is starting out well. Lots of writing and all that!

And by special request (yes, B, I remembered 😀 )

zoey

Happy Writing!


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How many tries for that (kinda) perfect opening?

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

Meh.

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

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

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

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

Hmm. Better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Writing Weekend!