Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Gardens, retreats, and updates–oh my!

I add the new publishers from the second round of submissions to my list on the whiteboard in my writing office. I sense my Muse behind me, his energy radiating into me like a heater gone all psychic-creative vibes in place of warmth.

He settles beside me, his arm a solid line along my own. “What’s the tally, love?”

I add a footnote below the list and mark two entries with an asterisk. “Six passes, five radio-silent but could still be interested, and seven active.”

“What about these two?” He points to the marked entries.

“Those are ones who asked for the revised manuscript when my agent nudged them and offered it. So, crossing my fingers they’re still interested.”

“Hrrumph.” He rocks on his heels. “What does your agent think?”

“She thinks my latest revisions are good, and that might be the clincher.” Hoping. Searching for that damn leprechaun who’s supposed to grant wishes … wait, no, that’s a genie.

“So,” he slings an arm around my shoulders, “writing retreat to your dad’s this weekend.”

“And next weekend.”

He nods. “Does that mean you are going to stop procrastinating on that second draft you keep promising to work on?” His arm tightens around my shoulders.

Almost like a warning.

“Yes, after I get my promotional plan and three-to-five page synopsis done for my manuscript. One of the publishers my agent submitted to is asking for them.” I know he’s aware of that. I suspect he wants to remind me I’ve been dragging my feet and he’s done watching me do it.

Gulp.

“It’ll be a dreary weekend, and you’ll have all day Saturday to work. On writing,” he adds, an edge to his baritone voice. “Right, love?”

“That’s the point of going to my dad’s while he’s away. No distractions.”

“Uh-huh.” He squeezes my collarbone. Hard. “Just remember that.”

Er, o-kay. At least I managed to get the garden planted before the cool, rainy week set in. Needless to say, it’s been too wet to do much outside, although when I checked the garden last night between rainshowers my onions were still looking good. Whew! Those are the ones I worry about the most, because they’re just tender seedings about 5 inches high and about as thick around as the wire from a coat hangar. Once they’re strong enough to stand up, I can stop worrying about them.

No pics this week since it’s been so icky outside and the garden looks way too forlorn. I imagine by the time the rain finally stops and it dries out enough to work in the garden that the weeds will have a decent head start. Sigh.

Hey, since I’ve got you here, anyone know of any good blogs aimed at middle-grade readers or writers? One of my writing sisters is looking for opportunities to guest; her next middle-grade book is coming out this summer.

Enjoy your weekend–stay warm, stay dry, and WRITE!


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Painting the Idea Wall

One wall of my writing office is covered with a smooth, glossy surface, currently home to a Rorschach test of various colors. An indigo splotch is running down over a yellow stain to meet a red splat.

I stare at the chaos. There’s an idea I can keep. But that orange one over there is a dead end, I think.

“You know, love, you’d have better luck if you focused more.” My Muse closes the door behind him with a quiet snick.

Of course, he’s right. I drop the powder blue goop in my hand into the bucket of discarded ideas at my feet. It lands with a satisfying bloop. “It’s spring.” ‘Nuff said. The grass is getting green, my tomato plants are outgrowing the nursery “pots” I started them in, and it’s just plain nice outside, at least for the weekend. Sunny and seasonal.

I turn to see my Muse staring at the whiteboard. He’s tucked his hands into the back pockets of his jeans, drawing my attention to his admirable backside. “No news this week?” he asks as he half-turns in my direction. An eyebrow arches. “What?”

Er, ahem. I hope my face isn’t as red as it feels. “Nothing.” I move up beside him. “My agent is on vacation for the next two weeks. Besides, I’m waiting for my readers to send me feedback.”

He crosses his arms on his chest and scans the multi-colored wall. “This looks good.” He points to a somewhat coordinated section of wall. “You can use this.”

“I know. I just need to refine it. I think it’ll jack the danger for my main characters if I go this direction. I just don’t know if I should keep this or not.” The area I indicate is a nice pattern, but I’m not sure if it’ll help the plot.

“It’s only the second draft, love. See how it works.” He settles into one of the recliners facing the wall, examining it like an art appraiser. He scoops a glob from the idea bucket and juggles it in his hand. “What if the drug lord grew up there? What if she knows the chief? Or the victim?” He flings the glob.

It lands with a splat beside the indigo. He picks up another handful. “That way no one would suspect her of doing her illegal business in town.”

Hmm. I draw my finger through the fresh goop and smear it across the indigo. “Maybe. I’ll think about it.”

“You need to do more than just think about it, love.” He chucks a bright fuschia blob. It lands with a squish, then rolls down the wall in a thick, slime-like mass, leaving pink in its wake.Β  “You need to work through this plot sooner rather than later. The more you can get done sooner, the farther along you’ll be once you need it.”

And he’s right, of course. I drop into the other recliner. It’s coming together. I realized the other day how I can up the tension and conflict. Sort of.

While these ideas ferment, I’ll leave you with a few pics (because I know someone is expecting them–you know who you are πŸ™‚ )

Remember those fuzzy chicks? They’re not so fuzzy anymore. They’ve got real feathers now. And they’re starting to hop-flap, so we need to be careful when we feed them.

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And one of my favorite parts of spring is finally here! I can’t wait until they’re big enough to pick. Can you see the asparagus spears just coming up?

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And I’d hate to leave you without a cat pic, because, you know. Some days I wish I was a cat. All I’d have to do is sleep all day long πŸ˜€

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Enjoy your weekend!


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Roughing It – 5 things I’ve learned about first drafts

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of creating, writing, bringing characters in your mind to life on the page. When the energy propels you to get the words out, that story in your head takes shape. You can see the unfolding of the plot, the characters, the setting, every bit that is part of the whole. You can’t refine your work until it’s in front of you. Enter the first draft, better known as the rough draft.

I’m working on the first draft of my next novel, and hitting a stretch of frustration that my mental picture of the story wasn’t complete enough to make the draft a smoother ride. It’s not the characters; the book my agent is shopping introduces the characters. It’s not the setting, though I think I’ll have to do a road trip (twenty+ years since I’ve been there). It’s the plot. The timeline. The guideposts along the way.

I tried to outline, but I don’t think I had a clear vision of the story. With most of my other projects, by the time I got to the point of writing the first draft, I had a pretty good handle on them in my head. This one, not so much.

It occurred to me as I was trying to hit my word quota last night that I’ve learned some things over the course of thirteen novel first drafts. I figured I’d share them (don’t worry, there’s pictures at the end–but not of my cat πŸ˜‰ )

In no particular order, here are 5 things I’ve learned about first drafts:

  • I’m a novelist. Not that I can’t write short stories–my first publishing credits were short stories–but the stories in my head tend to be novel-length: 80,000 words or more. It took me over five or six years to write the first draft of my first novel (not counting the trunk novel I wrote in elementary–jr. high school). I knew I wanted to write a book–actually, rewrite that first book–after my kids were born, but I didn’t want it to drag on until they graduated.

When I learned about NaNoWriMo (50k words in 30 days), I knew that was my ticket to finishing a book in a reasonable amount of time. The key to “winning” at NaNo? Kicking the inner editor into a cage and locking it (that’s besides the 1,667 words a day). I learned I need to treat a new project like I’m doing National Novel Writing Month, no matter what time of the year. It’s only with that 30-day deadline and a restrained inner editor that I’m able to put myself into the frame of mind to just write. It also seems to be the only way I can get back into the habit of writing every day.

  • I outline, in a loose-ish sense of the word. The outline is not the only route from beginning to end for me, but it gives me an idea of the journey. With my current project, I struggled with the outline. I came up with characters, conflict, and setting, but the path through from beginning to end was fuzzy, and it shows during my writing sessions. I’ve learned my draft goes much better when I have a good idea of the story (outline), BUT
  • I’ve learned the process of writing the first draft actually helps bring the story into focus. As I’m writing, I make both inline notes and off-line notes. This particular draft looks less like an actual book and more like a scriptwriter’s attempt to put a director’s vision into some sort of storyboard-in-words. The story is more clear to me now than it was when I started. Maybe that’s because my NaNo-style first draft method is a lot like free-writing. No takebacks, no revising, no editing, just inline notes and writing forward.
  • I’ve learned first drafts are called “rough” for a reason. It’s less like a rock you can polish into something to put in a ring and more like deadwood turned into a functional piece of furniture with class. Rough drafts are UGLY. At least this one is. I mentioned it to some online friends as “sucking like a lemon soaked in turpentine”. Yep. Pretty much. I will never be like George R. R. Martin, with a first draft that’s ready to publish right off the finish line. Then again, my draft takes 30 days to finish, not five or six or more years.
  • I’ve learned to trust my method (your mileage may vary). This project taught me that skipping steps in the beginning (I didn’t lay out a timeline, or figure out the major plot points (just thought about the general direction), or fill out my storyline worksheets from Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days) results in uncertainty and missing my word quota.

When I work through my process, I can often exceed my word count because I can just write. I don’t have to think about where I’m going next. I know I’m headed in the right direction because I plotted my course (heh, see what I did there) ahead of time. It’s like planning a route when you drive to a writers’ conference or retreat. You know pretty much how to get there, even if there are detours along the way. My process has changed over the years (more free-writing, less fill-in-every-entry-in-the-worksheets), but it works for me. This is the first time I got lazy (or uninspired) about planning/outlining, and boy, do I know it.

I’m on the home stretch. One more week (and I get an extra day this month because March has 31 days–heh), and I’ll have 50k words and a complete or almost-complete first draft for my next book. Then the scramble to prep for hosting the fam for Easter in — OMG — two weeks?! I’ve gotta get moving on that.

SO, I might miss my mark in the interest of not embarrassing myself with my in-laws. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a peek into my garden this summer.

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onion seedlings

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tomatoes and a few peppers

Have a great weekend!


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Writing and waiting

Today I use a green dry-erase marker for my writing office whiteboard. You know, for St. Patrick’s Day (even though St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish to start with). Three more publishers off the list as passes, but I add a new one to the bottom. The editor reached out to my agent, so of course she pitched my manuscript, and the editor asked to see it.

Yay! I mean, anytime another editor gets eyes on it is another chance an editor will love it, right?

My Muse arrives in full regalia: well-worn (in every sense of the word) jeans, tennis shoes, a bright green Guinness t-shirt, and a green hat with the requisite “Kiss me, I’m Irish” motto in shiny gold letters. I’m almost surprised he didn’t do a temporary dye job and go red- or green-haired for the day. Almost.

He hands me a mug of steaming coffee. “With Irish Creme, doncha know,” he says with a grin and a pathetic attempt at an Irish accent. “It’s too early fer green beer, but I’ll bring that along later.”

I feel my eyes narrow and a wince escape my control. “Dude, you’re Australian. You’re not even very good at American accents. Gonna have to work on your Irish accent.”

He sips his own coffee with a loud slurp. “So you say.”

“Seriously. When have you ever had to do an American accent? I mean, outside of a Southern accent, and you slip with that. I can’t think of one project, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen most of them.”

“You’re going to blow my cover, love.”

“Phhfftt. Like anyone’s going to know.” I sip the coffee, and suck in air. Woof. Cough. “Holy crap. Just how much Irish Creme did you put in here?”

“Enough. I added a little Jameson to even it out.” He takes another horrendously loud slurp and evaluates the board. “Three more passes.” He points to the new addition. “How does this one look?”

“They’re an independent. They’ve got a lot of mysteries, thrillers, and such on their list.” I wander to the window and look out.

A path covered with bark mulch wends into the woods. A white guidepost stands at the end just outside the office. Another appears beside the path around the first bend. Beyond it, fog hangs thick, obscuring the path and the next guidepost.

My Muse stands next to me. I notice now the rainbow and pot o’ gold motif on the mugs. “What’s up with that?” he asks, lifting his mug to point.

I brace myself for another sip of altered coffee and wonder if the caffeine will counter the Jameson. “My new draft.” I sidestep until I can see a guidepost beyond the fog bank. “I kinda know where I’m going, but I’m not sure how to get there. I’m missing a lot of stuff I’ll have to go back and add. I’m still a day behind in my word count because of it.”

“Or are you behind because you missed another day this week?” At my questioning look, he raises an eyebrow. “I’m watching you, love. Are you going to make your NaNo?”

“Yes, I’ll catch up. I’m taking Monday off from the day job.”

He tsks. “And how much writing do you suppose you’ll put in tomorrow? You’re going to be ‘out’ all day.”

I roll my eyes. “It’s a writers festival.” A local one I’ve never heard of before. Apparently the group has been doing an annual gig in Bloomington. This is their first year in Rosemount. I found out about it through the local Sisters In Crime newsletter. “It’s not downtown Minneapolis or downtown St. Paul. It’s for writing. Not a substitute for the super-awesome UW Writers’ Institute in Madison, but it’s something.”

“Then you’ll have to buckle down, love. You’re going to miss your mark otherwise.”

Yep, I know. And I still haven’t started getting ready for the family Easter gathering. Sigh. I need to start getting the house cleaned (ugh) and organized (double-ugh), since we’re celebrating the weekend before Easter.

The publisher news is disappointing, but I expected to get passes. And there’s still nine publishers who haven’t reported in, including the new one. There’s still opportunity. I haven’t talked to my agent about what happens if none of the publishers like the manuscript. I expect she’ll pick another bunch of publishers to try. The feedback we’re getting is more “we like this part a lot, but this part doesn’t resonate with us” than “thanks but no thanks”. The brief critiques aren’t particularly useful, but it’s nice to know why they passed, and what they liked. It’s kind of interesting when one passes because of something they didn’t think worked for them but others really liked.

So, off to a writing thing tomorrow, then hammer away at the draft. Have a Happy St. Pat’s Day for those who celebrate. Also, Happy Vernal Equinox a few days early πŸ™‚

Write on!

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Don’t wake me until the weekend!


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Slogging

Here I am, ready to start writing my post, and WTF happened to my WordPress editor? Seriously. Did they bother telling anyone they were changing it?

So off to the WP Admin page, then to the Posts page, then the older editor. Whew! This I understand. Don’t get all fancy-schmancy on me. I don’t need pretty, I just need it to work without me getting confused.

Sigh. Okay, now on to the real post…

*crickets*

Ugh. Now I forgot what I wanted to write about. Figures. Oh, wait, I remember πŸ™‚ I was going to write about how cruel Mother Nature is by teasing us–in March, mind you–with temps in the 60s (F). Before St. Patrick’s Day. In Minnesota. Of course, she tempers it with winds kicking at 40 mph. It would’ve been really nice otherwise. Spring is here!

Yeah–no. Yesterday, high in the 20s Today the same. Actually, cold all week, and a snowstorm for tomorrow. Gotta love MN!

Okay, maybe not what I was going to write about, but I need some words. As in, here I am in week 2 of my NaNo and I’m about 3k wordsΒ  behind where I should be. Hell, I should be about a thousand words ahead. Ugh.

And then there’s my Muse, who has been conspicuously absent despite my request he stick around.

*door slams*

Speaking of the devil. Then again… “What the hell happened to you?”

My muse shuffles in front of my writing board. “Still only two crossed off.” He toes his sneakers off and kicks them into a corner.

He’s referring to the list of publishers that have my manuscript in their editor’s hands. “My agent didn’t pass along any news this week. I suppose she reached out to them last week, so next week she’ll check on them again.” He’s wearing a fleece-lined flannel hooded jacket, you know, the ones with the cream-colored sheep’s wool-kinda lining inside. His jeans are faded, with a long black smear on the back of a leg and dried leaves sticking to the flannel.

“Again, what the hell happened to you? Muse football game?”

He brushes the leaves off his jacket, then rubs the black streak. Now I see his jeans are actually wet–damp?–from the knees down. “Wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“So you what, slipped into the creek?”

He turns, hits me with a glare. “Yes, I slipped into the creek. Your point?”

“My point is you are goofing off in the woods when I need you here.”

He plants hands on his hips and snorts. “You need me here, love? Then you bloody well better sit your ass down and write. I’ve been here.”

“Falling into creeks?”

“No. Trying to inspire you to get the story moving. I keep tossing ideas at you.” He crosses his arms on his chest and rocks on his heels. “Somehow, you’re not quite catching them. You walk when you need to think, so do I.” He crossed the office to lean over me and read my laptop screen. “That sucks.”

The latest chapter of my draft is on the screen. “No shit. So, where have you been?”

“Not proof-reading.”

I shove the computer forward. “It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to suck. I haven’t written a first draft for a couple years–I’m trying to keep my inner editor in her cage.” Argh. “I’m finally getting to the next biggish plot point, so hopefully it’ll be easier to keep going now.”

My Muse shakes his head. “It still sucks. Let me change and we’ll try to get this thing going. You feeling it yet?”

Feeling it? Feeling the creative energy fuel my story? “Not so much.”

He frowns. Sighs. “I’ll see what I can come up with. But it’s the weekend, and damn it, you will catch up your word count.”

Yep. That’s the goal. And I need to get my ass in gear; we’re entertaining family for Easter on the weekend before Easter, so I’ve got to start organizing and cleaning. You know, like the annual refrigerator toss-out (toss out anything that looks or smells like a science experiment), and the why-am-I-keeping-this-stuff derby.

And now I can record these words for my count–yippee! I could drone on about something just for more words, but that could get kinda dull and boring and you’ve probably already checked out so I’m not sure why I’m still writing this post but I think I can claim about seven hundred and forty words now. Sweet!

Have a great weekend!


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Progress?

My Muse slips into my writing office. I don’t turn, but I hear him close the door with a quiet snick.

“I hope you enjoyed your break, because I’m digging in now.” I reach up and cross a publisher off the list on the whiteboard.

He grunts his opinion but doesn’t offer any snarky remarks.

I cross a second publisher off the list. “Two down, eleven to go.”

“I don’t see your word count thresholds up there, love.”

“I’ve got them on my computer. I’ll put my weekly counts up, just to remind me.” I cap the marker and turn to him. He’s wearing flannel today, a black- and red-checked shirt open over a white tee that has an odd blue stain on it. Looks like a portrait of a Smurf that had an unfortunate run-in with paint thinner. “Er, what’s that?”

He looks down. “Oh. Used to be a hand-drawn picture of the genie from ‘Aladdin.’ I think.”

“Uh-huh.” Ooo-kay. Didn’t know he was a fan. “I’m starting my NaNo for March, so you need to stick around.”

He narrows his eyes. “Oh, really? You wimped out last night.”

“I know, but it’s the weekend. I can catch up.” I head to my desk and open my computer. “Ready to get started?”

He settles into one of the recliners across the room. “Pretty lame blog post today, love.” A cup of fresh coffee appears on my desk, another on the small table beside his chair. An aroma of java, vanilla, and macadamia nut wafts from the mug. “You’d better get going on that draft. It’s going to be a long month otherwise.”

I’m getting a slow start on my self-imposed NaNo for March. I’m working on the next Sierra and Quinn book while waiting for a positive response from one of the publishers my agent submitted to. Two passes so far, but that’s to be expected. I look at it like sending a query to an agent, except all 13 agents asked for the full manuscript. You can’t expect all thirteen to like it because writing is subjective.

In the meantime, I’ve got words to write, a review to write, and another book to finish reading. Luckily today is still supposed to be windy and cold; tomorrow’s forecast is for upper 50s–woo-hoo!

And here you go, because we all like to see furry friends on blog posts πŸ˜€

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I think she’s telling me to get my ass to work!

Have a great writing weekend, all!

 


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The Freedom of Free-writing

Often when a writer is stuck–blocked–we hear the suggestion to “just start writing, it doesn’t matter what, just write.” In my experience, there’s something to that. For me, the very act of putting pencil to paper (as opposed to fingers to keyboard, which works, but not as well) seems to kickstart my stalled creative energies.

“…the backup seminar director–former classmate that gave Sierra a hard time? … no, friend. So, would he know about the FBO? What would he know? maybe he’d be able to give some insight.

Remember, keep conflict w/ Chief. Have to show he’s a dick, and make sure wife (PD clerk) behavior changes when he’s in the room. Need to have some PD harassment when Sierra alone. What would Quinn do while Sierra is at airport?

Sierra and Quinn to PD. Is teacher’s daughter in waiting area? or waiting area empty so they can talk to PD clerk, see her behavior b4 Chief enters waiting area, escorts teacher and daughter into waiting area. Conflict between Chief and Sierra

…AgCat? Pawnee? Cessna 188?…turbine–which? JT8D? naw, probably PT6. What other plane would FBO have? 182? Seminole? Cherokee? 310? probably single engine–turbine? Or maybe Cessna 210? don’t do lessons, so wouldn’t need to keep it down to 172 or 182… What about …”

Pretty disjointed, right? Every writer has a way to brainstorm, but whether they write the ideas down or just talk them through, the storm is messy. Necessarily so–if it wasn’t messy, we’d probably call it something like “stream of consciousness” or “conversations with one’s self.”

Free-writing allows you to just write through your ideas without any constraints. I find as I free-write I’ll make notes I go back to later on, like the note about changing a character name, or the other note about checking on BCA offices in northern MN. It’s the lack of structure, I think, that encourages idea-generation. I don’t have to worry about complete sentences or even spelling (except I still have to read it πŸ™‚ ). It’s like throwing ideas against the brainstorming wall, but without the goopy mess.

I’ve been working on an outline for my next book. Any good story has conflict, suspense, chase scenes–wait–no, that’s TV shows from the 80s. I end up writing a sentence or three about each scene conflict, then bridge them–sort of. My process has evolved from typing the mind dumps into the computer (at least in the beginning) to using pencil and paper, because I’ve discovered the act of writing helps me work through the story. Once I have a pretty good idea about the outline, I’ll enter it into the worksheets I’ve got in the computer (I use Karen Wiesner’s worksheets from her book First Draft in 30 Days).

Of course, everything is fluid. An outline for me isn’t set in stone; it’s more a series of guideposts through the story. The more I free-write through the major scenes, the more I refine them. For instance, the victim in the book is the son-in-law of a favorite teacher, but the teacher must be a suspect. So, there has to be a reason he’s a suspect. At first, I had one idea, but it seemed a little weak. As I wrote, I added another reason. Better, but still not quite there. Ooo, I’ve got it. The idea I finally hit on makes the conflict more personal, and raises suspicion to the point where when he is taken into custody, it makes more sense.

Each writer works through planning (or pantsing) differently. The more you write and the more you learn about the process and practice of writing, the more fine-tuned your process will become. It’s like gardening every year. What works one year may work the next year, but maybe not. Then you try something new, and it either works well, sort of works, or bombs. You adjust for the next year. Each year you get better, because your process evolves.

If something works for you, by all means, keep it going. But don’t hesitate to try something new for a project. You might discover it works really well, or at least well enough to give you options when one method isn’t working for that particular project.

Do you free-write when you brainstorm a project? What works for you?

Have a great writing weekend!