Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Revision-it does a story good #amwriting #amrevising

As long as it takes to write the first draft of a book (I mean, normally, not the 8 first drafts I went through for my current WIP), I think it takes 10 times longer to revise it into something worthy of an agent or editor. Or writing teacher, because I want to prove I was paying attention in class 🙂 .

Fourth round of revision, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s stuff to adjust in the storyline. Go figure. I mean, of course each round of revision means refining the story, fine-tuning the plot, tweaking the characters. That’s the whole point. At this point in the process, part of me just wants to toss it aside and work on something that’s much, much closer to a worthy finished product (like that manuscript I queried for two years that I went back to read and now know how to improve).

I have two weeks before I turn the manuscript in to my writing teacher. It’s my “final”, the last task in my journey toward a writing certificate, which does nothing more than give me a bit of “street cred”, but has also been good for learning the craft.

That’s what it’s all about, right? Learning the craft. Practicing what we learn. Learn some more. Keep practicing. The key, though, is having someone review our progress and guide us on improving the craft. It doesn’t do any good to practice the golf swing if you never get that one piece of advice that could knock your handicap down a stroke or two.

We need critique partners to look at a story from the outside, point out weaknesses, and suggest ways to improve the story. We need beta readers to get a wider perspective of the story and ensure we keep the reader’s interest and enjoyment of the overall story.

I would add that we need writing teachers or coaches every so often to help us learn better ways or different ways to build the story with stronger material, better technique, and guide us to become a better writer than we were last month or last year. If you don’t know shifting your grip a quarter-inch will knock a stroke off that drive, you’ll never lower your handicap.

And no, I have no idea where all the golf comparisons came from. I don’t even play golf!

Practice will help us improve. Critique partners and editors will help us improve. Craft books help us learn things we can do to improve our craft. But there’s something to be said about taking a writing class, attending a writing webinar or seminar, or working directly with a coach.

When asked what the best thing I’ve done in my writing journey has been, I will always say choosing to attend a week-long, novel-writing master class and taking online creative writing courses. I have learned so many things (not all of them have stuck, however 🙂 ) over the past few years that I would do it all again just for the refresher.

Okay, so this ended up being an ode to writing teachers. Seriously, though, I feel fortunate to have found a writing teacher (and writing sisters!) who, to this day, continues to inspire and sit on my shoulder like the proverbial angel (devil?), whispering about scene goals, ticking time bombs, touchstones, and sidekicks.

If there’s a National Writing Teachers’ Day, let me know, because I need to send my writing teacher a bottle of wine and some chocolate 😀

Keep on writing!

Get back to writing, slacker. I’m stealing your chair.


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Muse-ing revisions #amwriting #amrevising

Image by JL G from Pixabay

LIghts are on in the writing office. The brainstorming wall hasn’t changed from when I left–wait, that yellow streak wasn’t there before.

It’s too quiet. Bloody hell. I leave for a few days, and my writer vanishes.

The outside door to the office opens. My writer toes her shoes off onto the mat beside the door as she closes it. She looks up. Her eyes widen.

“Nice of you to show up.” She hangs her coat on the rack and tosses her hat onto the shelf above it. “Wish I could take a break like that. Where’d you go? Sydney? Adelaide?”

“Muse conference.” I lean against her desk. “I missed you too, love. Where did you go? You are supposed to be working.”

She tucks her feet into slippers and shuffles around the partition wall to the mini-fridge. “I went for a walk now that it’s getting nice outside.” She pulls a water bottle from the fridge and drops into one of the recliners. “I had to do something to work out the snarl in the plot.” She narrows her eyes. “Since you disappeared in the middle of a brainstorming session.”

She said it like I ran off to plan some nefarious activity. “You’re doing fine, love.”

“Have you even read my revision?”

I gesture to the brainstorming wall, with its riot of colors. “We worked on it. You even added something new.” Now that I look at it, it’s a significant addition. “Isn’t this the idea you dropped earlier?”

“Yeah. And if you had told me to keep going with it, I might have figured out I needed to keep it sooner. I could’ve added it in the last revision.” She sets her half-empty bottle aside and pulls out her laptop. “Since you’re here, why don’t you make yourself useful and write my blog post so I can get back to work.”

Not in my job description. Which doesn’t mean I haven’t done it before. “You can do it, love.”

An eyebrow arches. “I don’t want to lose the idea I just came up with. If you do it, I can get back to finishing this scene before I forget it.”

“You don’t know what to write for your post, do you?”

She leans her head back and sighs. “Fine, you’re right. I have no idea what to write.” She looks me in the eye. “Please?”

A sense of satisfaction settles in me. There’s my writer. As aggravating as she can be, she’s progressing.

“Hell, write about your Muse conference or whatever you were doing. Is that code for a pub crawl?”

“No, love. I’ll throw together something for the blog. Then we work on that wall.”

At least he was gracious about it. Usually he grumbles. I’m trying to stay focused, and feel like I’ve lost touch with so much blogging stuff. I apologize that I haven’t been visiting lately. It’s like I’m so far behind I just want to hide. Once I turn in my manuscript to my writing teacher (by the end of April–yes, I’m sure), I’ll feel better about trying to catch up. Miss you all!

Happy Writing!

Don’t bug me. I’m busy.


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All I got was a lousy draft #amrevising #amwriting #amediting

Have you ever seen T-shirts with the saying: My (sister/brother/best friend’s uncle’s cousin) went to (fill in name of awesome tourist destination here) and all I got was this lousy T-shirt?

Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

The door of my writing office that leads to outside clicks shut. “What is so important it couldn’t wait until after coffee, love?”

I look up as my Muse steps into view. “What took you so long?”

He leans against the partial wall that separates the recliner nook from the outside door, to-go coffee cup in hand. His T-shirt, a faded green with a wash-worn decal of a surfing kangaroo over an outline of Australia, is a fitting accessory to his gray sweatpants. Scruff covers his face, and he neglected to do any sort of hair-taming. He lifts the coffee cup. “Caribou. If I’d known I’d have to wait in line for fifteen minutes, I would’ve made my own.” He takes a sip. “What’s the emergency?”

Wow, he managed to say that without a smirk. “It sucks.” There. Simple. Succinct.

He raises an eyebrow. “It’s a draft. It’s supposed to suck.”

“It’s my third revision, and it still sucks.” Yes, I know I sound like I’m whining, but damn it. Just, damn it.

He takes another sip. “I’m not doing your ‘homework’ for you, love. My job is to inspire you.”

“I knew it was bad, and I made some changes that were supposed to take care of most of the issues, but shit.” I toss the stack of index cards (rubber-banded together, of course) at him. It hits that fine chest of his and drops to the floor. “How could you let me write this? There is no tension. Plenty of conflict–in about six scenes.” I fail to suppress a sigh. “I was planning to turn this in by the end of the month. There’s no way I can turn this in to anyone, least of all my writing teacher.”

He picks the stack of cards off the floor and settles into the recliner beside me. “Isn’t that why you decided to try this method to begin with?” he asks, waving the stack at me before tossing it into my lap. “To look at each scene and make sure each one had enough action, relationship, information, suspense, and emotion? You haven’t even done that yet, have you?”

“I don’t need to do that. I already know it sucks.” And looking at each scene illustrated just how much suspense and tension the story lacks.

“You need to do that, love.” My Muse finishes his coffee and tosses the cup into the trash bin beside the mini-fridge. “That’s how you determine what each scene is lacking.”

“Scene? Hell, the whole damn story is boring.” I bounce my head against the back of the recliner. Yes, childish, I know, but I don’t care. “I’ve been hearing how much people like my book, the amount of tension and suspense, how they couldn’t put it down. The pacing.” Bounce. “This book doesn’t have that.”

“It’s a different book, love.”

“With the same main characters.” Pretty sure this is what they call “imposter syndrome”. “It needs to be at least as good as the first one.”

He looks at me with his gorgeous blue eyes. “How many second movies in a series are as good as the first one?”

“Really?” I roll my eyes. “Shouldn’t it be, how many second books in a series are as good as the first one? Lots. I’ve read lots of series, and nine times out of ten, the second book is as good as the first, if not better.”

He narrows his eyes at me. “So, how are you going to fix it?”

I sigh. A big. Long. Sigh. “That’s why I called you. I’ll have to tell my writing teacher I won’t make the end-of-March deadline, but I don’t want to push the deadline back too much. I have to fix this before I let her look at it.”

His turn to sigh. “Okay, love.” He cracks his knuckles. “Let’s get to it, then. Where’s the brainstorming bucket?”

And that’s pretty much how my week went. Do you ever struggle with suspense and tension in a book? Any suggestions? I’m reverting to my “what if” and “what is her greatest fear” tools. As in, “what if this happens, then what?” and “what is she afraid of losing?” (see, I did pay attention in writing class 😀 ) It helps. It helps even more that everything has dried up enough so it isn’t muddy; it means I can walk without wearing my snow boots (which make my feet hurt after the first mile), which helps my brainstorming process.

Back to the drawing/writing board.

Happy Writing!


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When readers speak #amreading #amwriting

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Have you ever been invited (or allowed 🙂 ) to sit in on a book club discussion of your book? In my mind, my book isn’t one a book club would pick. I always envision book clubs picking more, erm, mainstream? Is that the term? Things like A Man Called Ove or The Kite Runner or Tuesdays with Morrie. Mysteries? I suppose if it’s a mystery book club they might.

Or if it’s a book club dedicated to women in aviation, they might. This young (as in started recently) book club, Aviatrix Book Review, focuses on women in aviation. There are some amazing women in this group, and the founder invited me to join. If you are interested in finding books (all ages) about women in aviation that go beyond Amelia Earhart, check out the site. They’ve collected way more books about aviation than I ever thought there were.

Anyway, like all book clubs, each month features a different book. As circumstance (and fortune) would have it, Murder in Plane Sight is the book for March! The club has so many members that multiple small groups meet to discuss the month’s pick. I had the privilege of sitting in on the first group discussion of the month.

Honestly, I wanted to hear what readers thought of it. Keep in mind that most of the books (adult) fall into the nonfiction category, with a healthy portion of memoirs and biographies. Fiction is a much smaller percentage, and I’m not sure, but mysteries are an even smaller percentage of those. My book was the first fiction book of the year.

Many of the members are also writers. All of the members in the discussion group were writers, some published, some not. Good potential for a discussion of craft. And we all know writers love to talk about craft!

What I like is hearing what other readers (especially readers who are writers) think of the story and the characters. This helps me know what aspects of a story appeal the most to readers, and what things I managed to accomplish in the story, like keeping the reader’s interest. The winner? Characters. Everyone loved the characters, and loved to hate the bad guys. One question I didn’t expect: How did you get so deep into the character who has been through trauma when you’ve never been through that same trauma?

My first reaction? Oh. My. Gawd. I did it. I made the character that real. That’s what we strive for, isn’t it? To make the characters so three-dimensional that readers ask things like that. This is the reaction we writers want to get from readers. This is why we study the craft, practice and practice the craft, and hope the little bit of fairy dust we shook from Tinkerbell is enough to draw readers in. This is one of the things writers love to hear from readers. It makes all those endless revisions worth it.

Another interesting question: How did you keep track of the mystery, and the clues, and all that? Of the writers in the group, I was the only mystery writer (although one writer wants to write mysteries and is studying that aspect of the craft). And I probably looked like a deer three seconds before it meets the grill of your car.

My first thought? I have no idea. Seriously. I don’t put together a “murder board”, with the pictures and maps and pins and strings everywhere. My second thought? I’m not sure. I just do it.

Which is so not helpful to a writer who wants to learn. I know this. So I scramble to explain something I do that I don’t understand myself. Except I do. It’s the result of years of reading, and many classes on craft, and a lot of revision. At some point, I think it becomes something like an innate sense: because as avid readers and students of the craft, we’ve read it and heard it so many times we just know. Kinda like being able to hear grammar issues when something is read aloud. But how does one explain it in a way that is useful to someone who wants to learn it? It’s a conversation that would last a lot longer than an hour-long book club discussion.

That discussion was an eye-opener for me. And fun! Oh, if you are wondering, they really liked the book. Even readers who don’t normally read mysteries really liked the book. Which is reaffirming to an author. It’s a signal that yes, I can do this, and do a decent job of it.

Bottom line, if you have an opportunity to join a discussion of your book, whether by readers or writers, try to join in. You might get insights on your story you never thought about, or learn you managed to relay something to the reader you never expected.

I have a virtual book festival today, so I’m off to swap out my PJs for something a little more formal, like sweats 😀 There’s still time to register: Cabin Fever Virtual Book Festival. It’s fun, it’s free, and it’s all about books and writing!

Two more weeks until SPRING! Yippee!

Don’t look at me like that. You got up, now it’s my chair


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When characters change their story #amwriting #amreading

Holy crap! It’s almost March?! Wow! Either I haven’t been paying much attention (likely) or time has been flying (eh, not as likely). I’ve been working on my rural MN mystery project while I let Book 2 steep a bit. I figure I’ll give it another week before I tackle the next revision; I’m aiming to turn it in to my writing teacher by the end of March.

Really.

Anyway, I’ve been tinkering with the rural MN mystery for a few years, off and on between spits and starts with Book 2. I think it’s a neat story, and I’m trying out a few new-to-me techniques, like dual timelines and first-person POV (first person isn’t new to me, but I haven’t used it outside of a few short stories way back in the day).

I’ve had my main characters put together for a while. I know their histories, their motivations, and all that good stuff. I know where they came from, what they do for a living, and their favorite flavor of ice cream … okay, maybe not that last one, but you get it.

Secondary characters are a little different. There are secondary characters and secondary characters. Maybe minor characters is a better term. Yeah, let’s go with that. I still know the backgrounds of secondary characters; I suppose they would be called the supporting cast in a movie. Those are the ones with a history of some sort with the main characters.

Minor characters are the ones that pop in and out of the story because someone needs to be there. In my book, Murder in Plane Sight, I needed someone to take my main character to a place where she would cross paths with a secondary character. My main character, Sierra, had no reason to be anywhere the secondary character was.

To remedy this, I looked at Sierra’s background. Aha! She has a younger sister. Her sister’s sole purpose in the story is to make sure Sierra is someplace in particular. Voila! Minor character (for now), and she’s just the way I imagined her.

In the rural MN mystery, my main character is digging for information. There are two minor characters she talks to, kinda like witnesses. They both started out as “man on the street” characters who appear once, do their job, and exit – stage left.

I wrote a scene with the first minor character, and it went as expected. Five minutes (book time) of questions, and the minor character is finished. Bye, have a nice life.

Okay, on to the next scene. I had a similar vision for the MC’s conversation with this minor character: ask a few questions, go their separate ways.

Yeah, not so much. The character is a guy in his mid- to late-twenties, a cook in a nursing home who people claim looks a lot like a young Steve McQueen. In my mind, he was a “good neighbor”, willing to mow your lawn while you go on vacation or stop on the side of the road to help you change that flat tire. A “Minnesota Nice” kind of guy. Easy going. Pleasant. Just, nice.

He must have decided “nice” was overrated, because by the end of the scene, I had a new suspect/possible bad guy. How the hell did that happen? I swear he was nothing but a guy all the little old ladies love because he’s handsome and charming.

On the bright side (because there’s always a reason a writer’s subconscious does stuff like this, right?), I now have another someone who could have done the crime. I don’t know his background yet, so he may have a motive I haven’t discovered. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see more of a young Steve McQueen look-alike?

One more week to explore this story before I go back to Book 2 and revision round #4. Oh, almost forgot:

If you have some time next weekend, join me at the Deep Valley Book Festival’s “Cabin Fever” event! I’m on panels at 10a (CT) and 1p (CT). It’s fun, it’s authors, and it’s FREE! No driving required (or pants, if that’s your thing 😉 )

It feels like spring here, at least until it snows tomorrow. Sigh. The equinox is in three weeks–yippee! I’m starting my seeds and dreaming of fresh green grass and new leaves (when I’m not thinking about Book 2, that is 🙂 )

Happy Writing!

Wake me when it’s spring