Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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The countdown begins

The calendar says July. Seriously? What happened to June? In a week, the summer will be half over.

If we’re into July, that means the reunion with my Writing Sisters is coming up. I can’t wait!

Wait, I’ve got to get 20 pages ready to send around before the reunion. Hoo boy.

One of my fellow bloggers asked about my writing sisters (B, has the baby arrived yet?), and I’ve mentioned them before, so I’ll give y’all a brief history of my fantabulous WS and some ideas on how you can find your own awesome writing group.

It was a dark and stormy night… Er, wait, wrong story. Give me a minute *shuffles papers* Here it is.

It was June, 2012. I’d learned (through my Writers’ Digest subscription, I think) about a writing retreat in Madison, WI, a six-and-a-half hour drive–super close when considering most writing retreats are in the Pacific Northwest, or out East, or someplace like Italy or Iceland (that one’s on my wish list 😀 ). I was at the point in my writing journey where I felt ready for something intense, like a week of writing by a lake. I’d heard wonderful things about the novel Master Class at Write-By-The-Lake, so I closed my eyes and jumped in.

There were only six slots, and the instructor had to accept you. Gulp. She did (woo-hoo!). We started slow, as people do when meeting strangers for the first time, and especially when we’re all writers, and the point of the class is to critique each other’s work so we could improve it.

We had different genres (YA, mystery, women’s historical, SF/dystopian), and had taken different journeys to get to where we were. But we clicked. And to seal the deal, one of our classmates invited us over for dinner one evening.

The Writing Sisters were born. Not with the name, not yet, but we had a bond. We had stories to share. And we had fellow writers to encourage us, critique our work, and offer ideas.

After our week was up, we kept in touch. We reunited the following spring at the Writers’ Institute in Madison. And afterward, we started our annual reunion tradition. Every year since that week of writing by the lake we’ve gotten together, even if some couldn’t make it. We’ve had sisters move away and return. We’ve adopted a new sister who fits into the group like she was in our Master Class with the rest of us.

Of the seven of us (not counting our mentor), three have published novels (two through publishing houses, one self-published), one has an agent shopping a manuscript, and three are within spitting distance of getting books published. Our beloved mentor continues to guide us, challenge us, and encourage us.

We’ve become more than a writing group. We’ve become good friends.

I promised some ideas on how you can try to find your own “writing sisters” (or brothers, or whatever). The most important step (in my opinion) is to get out of the house (yes, I know we’re all introverts, but you can do it). Go to conferences, classes, or writing retreats. Meet other writers face to face. Talk to them (Yes, I know, the whole introvert thing. Take a deep breath and do it anyway. They’re just as anxious about it as you are.). You can meet other writers to bond with online, but somehow meeting in person seems more “real”.

You won’t always “click” with the writers you meet. In fact, you might cross paths with some you can’t stand to be around. The important thing is to try. Be open and welcoming.

Regular writers’ groups are a good place to meet other writers, but sometimes there isn’t a group near you that “feels” comfortable. I highly recommend going to writing conferences. They are great opportunities not only to learn more about the craft, but also to spend more than an hour or two with fellow writers. Often there are critique group sign-ups with the added benefit of meeting other writers who may end up in your group.

If you can attend a writing retreat, do it. Not only for the time you can focus on actual writing, but for the time you will spend with other writers. A learning/teaching retreat, as opposed to one that offers only time and space to write, encourages you to get to know fellow writers and get a “feel” for how you get along.

At some point, you will run across other writers you can form bonds with. It might be just one or two, or it might be half a dozen. You might meet in real life at the local coffee shop, or you might never see each other in the flesh. In any case, finding one or more writers you can collaborate with, bounce ideas off of, or learn from is valuable.

Another weekend of butt-in-chair-staring-at-the-computer-screen. I think I’ve got a few things figured out, though, so I’m hoping–no, planning more productivity this weekend than I’ve had lately. Bonus: the kids are staying with my SIL until Sunday night. Woo-hoo!

Have a great weekend, and WRITE!


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Gearing up

Moon_Man_840669It’s been a week since my wonderful Mad City (aka Madison) writers’ conference, and I’m digging in. Locked and loaded. Replenishing my stock of craft beer and hunting for just the right atmosphere in my writing office.

Why all the “buckle down and get my sh** together”?

“I found some Moon Man.” My Muse sets a six-pack of craft beer next to the dorm-sized refrigerator.

“Where? I can’t get it in Minnesota, only in Wisconsin.”

He lays a hand on my shoulder. “I’ve got connections, love. Besides, you don’t get any until you get through the blizzard scenes.”

I’m almost there. I should be able to finish those revisions by tomorrow night. “No chocolate?”

He drops into the recliner within arm’s reach of the fridge. Today he’s wearing that burgundy thermal shirt I adore (mostly because it fits him just right) and tan cargo pants, the kind with legs you can unzip and turn into long shorts. They’re perfect for this time of year, with cool mornings and nice warm afternoons.

“Not until you get through the B&E scene. You still need to talk to Sierra about that.” He flips up the footrest and laces his hands behind his head. He’s way too comfortable, if you ask me. “Speaking of, I told her to meet you in a couple days. She’s waiting for my call.”

Uh-huh. I’ll bet she is. I would, too, if it meant listening to his baritone voice with the Aussie accent. “Can you adjust the scenery, please?” Right now, the view from my office window is a wide, grassy field with a tree line in the distance and what I think is a lake beyond that. “Try the mountain cabin by stream.”

“I’ve got a better idea, love.” The view goes blurry. When it comes back into focus, it’s a tropical landscape of a white beach, turquoise water, and palm trees. I can smell the salt and the sea.

“I was hoping to look at something that doesn’t make me want to order umbrella drinks and doze off in the sun.”

My Muse shakes his head. “Fine.” The image changes again, this time into a vision of redwoods and ferns so thick the sunlight is muted. “Better?”

“It’ll do.” I hand him my scene map. “I’m here. I need to be here,” I slide my finger down the column, “by tonight.”

An eyebrow arches. “I haven’t seen you this determined in a long time, love.”

“A positive response to my pitch–from multiple agents, mind you–will do that.” It still hasn’t sunk in. “I need to get this shined up in two months.” It’s my own deadline, but I all but swore I’d hit it.

On that last day of the conference, my writing sister talked about resetting one’s “success-ometer”. We hit our goals, mark our successes, then set new benchmarks to hit. Sure, we can set our goal way out into the future, but it might take weeks, months, or years to get there.spedometer-full-size

By accepting our step-by-step successes, we can feel like we’re moving forward, because we are. The first success might be finishing the first draft of your novel. Then reset the meter to finishing x number of revisions, or sending the story to your critique partners, or sending it out to beta readers. The next success might be revising based on their feedback, then writing the query and synopsis. Maybe include writing the pitch and logline.

Reset the meter to “sending out queries.” My next one, back when I started this journey, was receiving a rejection. Why? Because it meant I’d sent out a query.

My current “success-ometer” is set to getting my WIP in shape by mid-June. I’ve warned the family that Mom (me) won’t be available much until I hit that mark. I’ve got an awesome opportunity I need to grab hold of with both hands. I write with the support of my family and my Writing Sisters. Especially my Writing Sisters, who helped me wrangle my “meh” plot into a “wow” plot, and keep pushing me to improve.

My Muse pries a cap off a bottle of brew and tosses it into the garbage. “Finish up, love. You WIP won’t revise itself.”

Have a great weekend, and Write ON!

 

 


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What a rush!

welcome

Welcome to WI 2016, Laurie Scheer

Finishing up Day 2 of the Writers’ Institute. Whew! Two days of writing workshops and pitching to agents. Two days with over a hundred other writers, teachers, and mentors.

What a rush!

Writing is so often a solitary pursuit; sometimes we forget we need contact with other people. There’s nothing quite like gathering with so many who like writing as much as you do.

A lot (most?) of us are introverts, needing to get away from people to focus and recharge, so being in this sort of a crowd can be disorienting and just plain wearing on nerves. But there are so many interesting people to meet! I met a nanny who is writing children’s books, a horror writer whose project sounded positively bone-chilling, a journalist looking to branch into creative non-fiction, and a screenwriter who is going to turn a screenplay into a novel.

HPR

Keynote – Hank Phillippi Ryan

The keynote speakers were fabulous. On Day 1, writer Dan Blank from WeGrowMedia presented advice on how to find an audience for your book utilizing everything from Goodreads to Amazon review lists of comparable books (books similar to yours). That audience can be a source for beta readers or ARC reviewers.

On Day 2  we heard from another keynote speaker, Hank Phillippi Ryan, about things she wished someone had told her about writing, like how subjective the business is. Even though the editor may love the book, it doesn’t mean the publisher will take it. Most importantly, and a theme we heard throughout the conference, it takes persistence to succeed in this business.

So many workshops on everything from voice (great one!)  by Josie Brown, to perfecting the first line by Ms Ryan, to blogging by Laurie Buchanan. Critique sessions with fabulous UW instructors were widely available, and a Writing Doctor (Kevin Mullen, UW-Madison alum) held office hours each day, nearly all day. Too many great workshops, not enough time!

If mixing and socializing is your thing, we had a mixer on Day 1, and tonight the mix spotlights a live literary event (needless to say, information overload demanded I rest my mushy brain with a beer and a burger at the Old Fashioned (BTW, wonderful food, and an awesome bartender!))

agent panel

(all together now: Julie takes lousy pics) The Agent panel

When our goal is to be published, agents are the means to the end (with some exceptions for small presses). So many great agents gave bits of advice on the agent panel before offering Q&A sessions and taking pitches. Practice sessions with UW instructors were also available to help writers hone their pitch.

Tomorrow is the last day, and one of my writing sisters is on the panel of success stories, so I’ll head back to glean just a bit more information and absorb another round of writing energy before returning home.

Wow, what a weekend!

A huge shout-out to Laurie Scheer and her tireless assistant, Laura Kahl, for yet another awesome Writers’ Institute.

Again, if you ever get a chance to go to a writing conference, do it. You never know who you might meet, what connections you might forge, or lessons you might learn. It’s a great place to meet other writers with whom you might organize a critique group or learn about a writing circle near you.

You’ll never know if you don’t go.

 


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Loglines, and Pitches, and Queries — Oh My!

Ten days and counting until the opening bell at the Writers’ Institute.

I’ve got my WIP–well, the first 50-ish pages or so–polished pretty well. A lot left, but experience tells me if an agent is going to request, it’ll be a partial request. Crossing fingers I’ll get that far!

Next, the infamous logline, pitch, and query, not to mention the synopsis.

*shudder*

I’ve written the above before.

It was a challenge every time. And that’s just counting the endless revisions for only two books.

People say writing a 90k-word book is hard. A logline, etc should be a piece of cake, right? I mean, it’s only a sentence or two. And a query? That’s only a couple paragraphs, and you don’t even have to tell the ending. A synopsis is only one or two pages. After a 300-page book, a couple more pages should be a snap.

Uh-huh. Do unicorns fart rainbows in your world, too?

The challenge in trying to distill a 300-page novel into a logline is well-known to many writers, and is a cause of insomnia and chocolate binges. Not only does the logline have to give the gist of your story, it has to entice an agent. For those who choose the self-pub route and don’t need to lure an agent, you still need a cover blurb that entices readers to want to read your story. Even agented books need a cover blurb (usually the pitch incorporated in the query).

Remind me why I set out on this writer’s journey.

To write down all the cool stories in my head before it explodes. (my head, not the stories)

What good is writing those cool stories (the easy part) if no one will read them?

Time to buckle down and dig into the tough stuff. There’s no shortage of advice on queries, synopses, loglines, and pitches. I’ve got a ton of pages of suggestions, templates, and advice stored in my Evernote.

Does it help?

Will it write my logline and pitch for me? No? Then “help” is a relative term. I have found some advice to be more understandable/relatable for me. Janice Hardy, of Fiction University fame, has a synopsis formula that makes sense to me. The rest is more elusive. I figure I’ll pore through all the stuff on loglines, pitches, and queries that I’ve saved in Evernote, wander aimlessly for a few days, then stare at a blank page for another couple days to wait for that strike of “a-ha” that spawns the most enticing, awesome pitch ever.

And then I’ll go out and buy a lottery ticket because my odds must have improved by now, right?

*hangs the ‘Do Not Disturb–Disturbed Writer Within’ sign on the door*

Well, here I go. If you don’t hear from me in a week, send chocolate. And wine.

And a unicorn that farts rainbows, because they should be chock full o’ leprechaun gold, right?

 


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Countdown to WI

No, not Wisconsin–well, sorta.

I’m talking the Writers’ Institute, an annual writing conference held in Madison, WI every April. I’ve only attended once, and then because the conference is close (a six-hour drive) and reasonable (ever see the prices for some of the bigger ones?).

Being in the Midwest makes things tougher when it comes to writing conferences. Sure, we’ve got what used to be Love Is Murder in Chicago–wait. Hang on. Um, okay, I guess that conference has gone the way of the dodo as of this year. Hmm. Well, that puts a damper on things. Point is, there aren’t a lot of writing conferences in our area. Hey, I’d love to travel to Florida for SleuthFest, or Seattle for the PNWA conference, or NYC for the Writer’s Digest conference, or (fill in other large city writing conferences here) but the pocketbook just can’t handle that kind of fun.

Notice the pattern? The bigger conferences tend to be located on either coast. And I’m stuck in the middle with yew (heh, couldn’t resist). Now, we do have other conferences in the Midwest (MN Northwoods WC), and last year the AWP had its conference in Minneapolis (which I didn’t find out about until the last day of the conference), but WI is big enough to be mentioned in Writer’s Digest magazine (where I initially found it).

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some great writing groups here: The Loft, the MN Writers Workshop, and our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. I have this thing about driving into Mpls/St. Paul at night. And it’s a hike for me since I live outside the metro area.

“Excuses, love.” My Muse tosses his LA Dodgers baseball cap onto my desk and peels off his leather bomber jacket. “You could go to those if you wanted to.”

I lean back in my chair and sigh. “I have a tough enough time driving to work and back some days, and I’m not even going into the city. Besides, I don’t like being somewhere unfamiliar at night.”

“The UW-Madison campus wasn’t familiar either when you went there the first time.”

“First, the Write-By-The-Lake Retreat and WI are on the edge of campus, and second, I stayed within walking distance. It’s a college campus, for crying out loud. And …”

He lays a finger on my lips. “Excuses. Now tell them the real reasons you would rather go to Madison.”

I roll my eyes. “You know, you didn’t need to show up yet. I won’t get a chance to work on my WIP until later.”

He points at my computer. “You tell them or I will.”

*grumble* “Fine.”

Truth is, there are a lot of published writers from UW-Madison, and their Continuing Education instructors have some serious creds. I started with an online class, then took a deep breath and signed up (well, applied to) for the week-long Write-By-The-Lake Retreat Master Novel class with the highly-recommended and beloved Christine DeSmet. The first year I tried, I didn’t make the grade in Chris’ class (she recommended another class, but I really wanted to take hers). The next time I did.

And that week in 2012 changed my writing life forever. Hell, it changed my life, period. Six novelists are the max in the class, each one with a novel they want to get published. I was one of those six. And guess what?

The Writing Sisters were born.

To this day, the seven of us keep in touch. Three of us are published or soon will be, and one has a second book coming out this year. We’re seven great gals who are more than just fellow writers. We’re friends.

So, I get all warm and fuzzy when it comes to UW-Madison and writing. The Writers’ Institute is a cornucopia of workshops for writers of all flavors, with keynote speakers and opportunities to meet with writers now published who have enjoyed lessons from the awesome instructors at UW. In fact, one of my writing sisters is on that list this year, so of course I have to go and heckle–er, cheer her on. They also have some great agents who take pitches and give workshops during the event.

And that’s where my frenzied work on my WIP comes in. I have just under 4 weeks to shine up my WIP so I can pitch it.

“You’re falling behind, love.” My Muse leans a hip on my desk. “You didn’t work on it last night.”

“I sent two queries off, and spent some time tweaking my log line. And #PitMad is tomorrow.”

“I thought you were going to lay off the Twitter pitch parties for a while.”

Yep, I was. Still might stay in the wings. But doggoneit, it’s another way to get an agent or editor’s attention.

Anyway, long story, short moral: if you have an opportunity to go to a writer’s conference, do it. Seriously. There’s nothing quite like the energy of all those writers gathering, learning, and encouraging each other. Maybe I’ll see you there.


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Of Writers, Writing, and their Muses

sambuchino 1

I attended the Minnesota Writing Workshop yesterday, a 9-to-5 event with what another workshop attendee described as “four keynotes” by Chuck Sambuchino, plus a critique panel for first novel pages. What a great event! As I recommended to a few fellow writers I met there, workshops and conferences are golden for inspiration and meeting other writers who are just as excited as you are about writing.

There are so many great things about attending a workshop or conference like this, especially if the event is big enough to attract writers you’ve never met before (as opposed to a regular group or club that offers extra time or a guest speaker on occasion). Contrary to popular belief, writers are fun people! We love to talk about writing, about our projects, and about each other’s projects. Everyone is there to learn and get inspired. We love to meet other writers, learn what they do, compare notes on how they do it, and get ideas we might want to use in our own quest to become published.

I met some wonderful writers, had lunch in an Irish pub (the fish and chips at Liffey’s are tasty), and listened in awe as Chuck Sambuchino spoke for almost the entire time. I mean, how many people can speak for almost seven hours straight without going hoarse and still garner laughter at the tail end of the day? We did have an hour and a half lunch break, during which time our little group of just-acquainted writers learned about inspiration and reasons to write that go beyond letting the characters out of our head. One fellow writer had a touching story about the children’s book she wrote for her brother. Gorgeous book, beautiful illustrations, and a story that touched me in particular because of what is happening in my real life at this point. Another fellow writer works for an organization that strives to provide safe shelter to orphans worldwide.

Whenever I’ve been in a group of writers, either a couple hundred at the UW Writers’ Institute in Madison, WI, or with my Writing Sisters, there a creative energy that coalesces, as though it isn’t just the writers of the group but their Muses as well that attend the gathering. I find myself longing to sit down and write after these events before that creative energy dissipates. My Writing Sisters have a particularly powerful effect in that department. It’s like the very act of coming together to cultivate our craft charges or recharges our muses.

So much great information was presented yesterday that I found myself just trying to keep up with the info dump. Now to wrangle all that great creative energy into my writing. If any writers out there want to recharge and learn something to boot, writing workshops and conferences are an excellent venue. I wish I could attend more of them, but the dollar only stretches so far. Penciling in next year’s Writers’ Institute in Madison on my calendar!


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Anticipating the MN Writing Workshop

Tomorrow I’ll be attending a writing workshop in St. Paul sponsored by the Twin Cities chapter of Sisters in Crime. I’ve long wanted to become more involved with SinC, but real life and my determination to actually focus on my writing on a regular basis, not to mention I live over an hour away from the Twin Cities, have nixed that idea. At least for now. Oh, and we can’t forget to take MN winter driving into account.

For anyone out there who is working on becoming a better, and published, writer, I highly recommend attending as many writing workshops and conferences as your time and budget allow. Living in MN has limitations–many of the larger writing conferences and workshops are just too far away (think east or west coast). The costs for many of the workshops and conferences are also budget-straining. Boy, I’d so love to go to any of the BIG writing conferences in Hawaii or Seattle, you know, the ones that have writers like Patricia Cornwall, Terry Brooks, or David Baldacci as guest speakers. On my list when I find an extra five grand lying around.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve found gatherings of writers bring so many muses to life it’s almost surreal. Inspiration abounds in these workshops and conferences, and I always find myself wanting to hide away to write and build a writing platform and design a book cover and more before the creative energy ebbs. Conferences and workshops are also opportunities to meet fellow writers, some of whom may be just the person you need to read through your manuscript, supply a blurb, or just commiserate when you get your 50th form rejection.

Pitching to an agent and thus bypassing the whole query letter thing is another opportunity offered at many workshops and conferences. If you’ve never written a query letter, believe me when I say it’s harder than writing a novel. I have writing friends who’ve had little success with query letters, but great response from in-person pitches. There is the anxiety factor of explaining your book in such an enticing way–in 90 seconds or less–so as to inspire the agent to ask for more, but I’m willing to deal with that over trying to write yet another query for my book.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Twitter feed: #minnww  if you want to check in.