Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Reading as a writer … for fun? #amreading #amwriting #amrevising

I indulged in a bit of reading for fun this week, since I figured out what scenes to submit for my assignment.

Okay, fine. I was procrastinating on my homework. There. Happy?

I haven’t read much of anything for a while, with the revisions and homework and all. Oh, and that pesky full-time job. And the garden.

With the upcoming release of Harry Dresden’s new adventure, Peace Talks, I decided to reread the last book in the series to refresh my memory, since it’s been, oh, years since Skin Game came out. Then I had to reread the book that introduced Mouse because hey, it’s Mouse.

After reconnecting with Harry, I was ready for more snarky urban fantasy, or at least snarky mysteries with a paranormal angle. And what luck! Another of my favorite urban fantasy authors just released a new book (some snark included). Not only that, but I ran across a book from a fellow member of Sisters in Crime that sounded like a nice break from serious. And writing.

I have now read 4 books (Skin Game (Dresden), Blood Rites (Harry again), Ann Charles’ first Deadwood book Nearly Departed in Deadwood, and Patricia Briggs’ latest Mercy Thompson book, Smoke Bitten) in the span of three weeks (one of which took me all of a day and a half to read), when I haven’t read much of anything for months.

Reunions with old friends (Harry and Mercy) are great, and meeting new ones (Violet Parker, with her purple cowboy boots) is fun, but you know you are a real writer when IT happens.

Yes, the infamous “Aha! I see what you did there” moment when you read a scene and you can “see” the structure of the scene and how it lures the reader on.

Here’s a “for instance”: In Nearly Departed in Deadwood, Violet has 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. She becomes friends with a codger who has a gun named Bessie and a total lack of subtlety, meets the tall dark handsome sexy guy next door to the office (sparks there), and starts dating the tall blond handsome rich guy whose family owns the jewelry store in town. So, sparks between dark sexy and Vi (who resists her attraction to him, yet he obviously likes her), but she dates blond handsome (she likes him more than dark sexy, or so she tells herself).

What’s more fun for readers than the tension between a girl and the guy she is determined not to be attracted to? Oh, and toss in the guy who is a chick magnet and rich. So, what does the author do? She includes a scene in which the codger and dark sexy guy are with Violet at the ER (her daughter broke her arm). Dark sexy is being the good friend, keeping Vi calm and comforting her like any sexy guy would (you know, holding her close), when blond handsome shows up.

Boom! The classic setup for tension with love interests. And the guys, of course, have been trying to win her affection in their own ways. Vi is determined not to fall for dark sexy (he’s been teasing her, all innocent-like, since they met), so she greets blond handsome like a lonely girl greets her boyfriend after he’s been gone for a week.

I find myself noticing all these little things now, the rising tension between characters and in scenes, the scene “cliff-hangers” that draw the reader on, and especially the fresh metaphors and descriptions (how the hell do they come up with those?). The first time I noticed the craft behind the story was when I read Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, his debut novel, and I couldn’t put it down. I paid attention to what he did that compelled me to read on.

Questions. Every chapter didn’t have a cliff-hanger, per se, but each had some question I just had to find the answer to. Same with the Dresden books, though those are more “how is he going to get out of this?”

Part of me misses that reader ignorance: the point of reading the story is to escape and live in another place and time for a bit without caring about anything except what happens to the characters–find and stop the bad guy or get the prize. I can’t do that anymore without noticing things with a writer’s eye. The setup, the character arcs, the tension, the description, the way other authors convey emotion.

Does it ruin a story for me? Only if the author does a middling or lousy job of keeping my interest (and then I analyze why it doesn’t keep me reading). When I notice these things, I try to take mental notes so I can improve my own writing. After hearing Allen Eskens talk about the craft and how he approaches a story, I notice that now in his books and others.

Reading like a writer means missing a little of that magic that readers search for in a good book, the escape where the real world goes away for a while. But reading like a writer makes me appreciate more the bits and pieces of what creates that magic to begin with.

Happy Summer Solstice! Just think, from this point on (until the winter solstice), the days will be getting shorter. Or, don’t think about it. Yeah, probably better for the psyche if we just enjoy now and express surprise later when it’s dark before 8p again.

Write on!

Zoey sleeping on chair


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Progress … in more ways than one

budding tree branch
Image by MargGe from Pixabay

True to the forecast, Easter reminded us with a couple inches of snow that Winter tends to linger here in Minnesota. All week it felt like November: in the thirties instead of the our typical fifties this time of year. The returning birds didn’t seem to mind too much; they’re just as raucous as usual in spring.

One afternoon amid the cacaphony of the birds staking claims I heard the dog thunder off the deck, so naturally I go to see what on earth she took off after.

soaring bald eagle
Image by 272447 from Pixabay

Three bald eagles, one not old enough for the white head and tail yet, were soaring over the grove and the clearing beyond, suspiciously close to the chicken pen. They looked like they were there to laze about and fly in circles, but I suspect they were eying some easy pickings. The dog was barking and chasing them, as if that would discourage them if they decided to snatch a chicken.

One even flew around one side of the grove, it seemed to test the dog’s determination to chase it (which she did), or as a distraction so the other two could conduct their thievery in peace.

If you ever get to see bald eagles up close (we’re talking maybe 10 feet above the house or less), it’s a treat. Not sure I’d feel the same way if they had a chicken in their talons, but wow, it really is awe-inspiring. They did leave after a few minutes, and yes, we still have all of our chickens.

So ends week 5 of working from home. I contacted our ISP again this week to see if they could do anything about the abysmal speed. I got lucky; this tech support person changed our router settings so we are using a less-congested channel. Yay. Now the internet is at least usable during the day (still nowhere near the 6 Mbps we could be getting). It’s a good thing, too, because the ISP we were thinking of using came out for a site survey. Survey says there are too many trees in the way on the edge of town for a good signal (their transmitter is not on the water tower like we hoped). Sigh.

I turned in my first assignment for my new class. The beauty is I can use excerpts from my WIP for my homework! Speaking of WIP, aka Book 2, I’m starting the first round of revision. One thing I’ve learned about my process is that first–wait, eighth in this case–rough draft helps me put together a plot that works. Then after letting the manuscript sit for a bit, the reread allows me to refine the plot, so when I do start revising, I can adjust as I need to.

I suppose a lot of writers work that way, but I find I have a much better sense of where the story is going now, so I can make sure there is the proper set up early on. And that helps smooth things out later.

So those first seven rough drafts that didn’t work weren’t wasted effort, but they sure felt like it. Two freaking years of effort! Argh. Now it feels like: “Duh, of course this is how the story works. Sheesh. I can’t believe I thought it would work any other way.”

Then I look at those authors who release a book every year (you know who you are), and wonder how on earth they manage a functional plot the first time around. I consider myself more plotter than pantser, but I usually have a story all laid out in my head before I start. Not this time.

Granted, a lot of those authors don’t have a day job (read: retired), but still. Then again, a lot of it, I suspect, is practice. The more you practice, the better you become at putting together a plot that works without wasting–erm, spending time on seven(!) false starts.

The trees are starting to leaf out, our seasonal spring temps are due to return (yippee!!), and my seedlings are looking good. Hope you all are weathering this stay-at-home stuff.

Stay safe, wash your hands, and keep writing!

Zoey the cat sitting on teal recliner


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Feeding the Muse?? #amwriting #writingcommunity

So, as I’m sitting in my writing office catching up on my blog post reading, I run across an interesting post. It’s a great article on cultivating and recharging your creative energies. These things are all on my to-do list. Maybe I should take a break and do something other than write for a day. Then again, my nest is empty right now, so I should …

“A-hem.”

I look up from my laptop and check my non-existant watch. “Yep. Figured you’d show up about now.”

My Muse responds with an exasperated sigh. “I’ve been here, love.” He slides the ottoman–which really serves no purpose except as someplace to set my laptop when I get up from my recliner–toward him and settles on it, elbows on his knees. He must have a drawer full of fisherman’s sweaters; the one he’s wearing now is a heathered maroon. The black sweatpants aren’t as chic as the sweater, but hey, just about anything looks good on him.

“How many of those yumm–er, cozy sweaters do you have?”

An eyebrow arches. “Enough. Look, I’m not here to discuss my wardrobe.”

“Ohh, great subject. So, where did you get them? Scotland? Ireland? Are they all wool, or …”

His blue eyes lock to mine. “You’re stalling.”

It’s getting a little warm in here. I shove my sleeves to my elbows. “I’m writing.”

“You aren’t working on your WIP. You should have at least half your word quota done by now.”

“I do. The words are just in my blog post.”

“Not where they need to be, are they?” He shakes his head. “I do give you credit for trying.” He shakes a finger at me. “Try harder.”

“You know, I ran across this great blog article about …”

“Feeding the muse?” His mouth curls up at the edges. “You do realize the article is talking about the writer not the muse, don’t you?”

I open my mouth to answer, then shut it.

“It’s about opening yourself to creative energy. All those things, they encourage you to be more receptive to me. Your Muse.”

This time I concentrate on keeping my mouth shut, because I could go so many places with that. Oh boy, sooo many places.

And it is definitely getting warmer in here.

“Reading, dabbling in other creative activities, taking time to unplug and do something not specifically creative but something to help you quiet your mind. All those things make my job easier.” He retrieves a beer from the mini-fridge. “But …”

I knew it. Of course there’s a catch.

“They are not excuses to not write.” He bends until he’s level with me. “Not excuses. You do these things, and then you write, because these things help you call up creative energy. Understand?”

I swallow hard. “Yes.”

“Say it, love.”

“I can do the things, then I have to take advantage of the energy and write.”

He sits back on the ottoman. “Close enough. You have a whole day with an empty nest. I expect you to write double your quota.”

It’s going to be a nice weekend, balmy. We’ve had below zero wind chills, -20 and colder, the past two days, so I’m looking forward to temps around freezing 😀 It’ll be a nice day for a walk.

In any case, check out the article. It’s a good reminder to recharge your creative batteries every so often. I haven’t been reading much lately, but I find listening to “new age” instrumental music helps stir up my writing juices. What is your go-to activity that helps you “feed your muse”?

Have a productive and creative writing weekend!


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Automatic writing and plots? #amwriting #nanowrimo #writerscommunity

Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

As I was working on my WIP (yes, THAT one), I realized something. An odd/ad-libbed/spur-of-the-moment aspect of a minor character I created on-the-fly solved a problem I was having with the plot.

A big problem.

It was weird. It made me think of automatic writing, which made me think of one of my fellow authors/bloggers who has just released the last book of her Hode’s Hill series (Congratulations, Mae!) In the first book of the series, Cusp of Night, spiritualism plays a big role, and automatic writing was one facet of that whole movement. Anyway …

Holy crap. I solved one of the problems I’ve been trying to figure out by first creating a minor character I didn’t expect to have and then giving that character a part I didn’t know I needed.

Huh?

See where the automatic writing comes to mind? This sort of thing happens to me on a regular basis. I work through the bigger aspects of the plot, barrel ahead with the mantra, “it’s a crappy first draft, I’ll fix it later”, agonize over the stuff I can’t figure out, then somewhere down the line a piece falls into place, and POOF, the plot becomes more solid, and the story “works”.

It’s like my Muse is doing his job, but his timing is off. Sometimes waay off. *checks for Muse, then in a stage whisper: Psst, I think he’s on a beer run.*

Image by Vicki Becker from Pixabay

As fiction writers, we often have story ideas and plots in our heads. For me, the plot lines often seem pretty straightforward at first. The timelines work, the characters have appropriate motivation, and all is well in the planning stage.

Sometimes in the beginning the plot lines are more like a tangle of yarn that needs to be teased into quasi-order. It’s when things look like they’ll work that you have to keep an eye on those buggers, or they’ll start dodging around like a litter of energetic kittens.

I walk through the timeline over and over, and think I have the threads woven together in some semblance of order. Then I start the first draft.

What seemed to make sense suddenly doesn’t. And of course that realization doesn’t happen until I’m halfway or two-thirds of the way through the draft.

I think the more we read, and the more we practice storytelling and plotting and creating character arcs, the more instinctive we become as writers. I’ve been asked by people how I knew the plot wasn’t working. The only thing I can come up with is “I just knew.”

We know what works because somehow along the way we learned it, even if we haven’t taken a class or gone through workbooks or read Save the Cat or The Writer’s Journey. We can use the tools, whether beat sheets or timelines or whatever your preference, but there’s a part of us we may not be conscious of that knows what pieces and bits to add and when.

And that seems to be the way it works, at least for me. I’ll put something in a story, unplanned but it works, then way later on in the story I’ll write something and think wow, it’s a good thing I added that unplanned thing earlier because that makes this part work.

Magic. Or my Muse. Both. Bottom line, the more you practice, the more you read, the more you learn, the more those writer instincts will help you so you don’t get two-thirds of the way through the draft before you realize the story doesn’t work.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it 😀


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It’s over! Now for my next trick #amwriting #nanowrimo

Whew! I did it. Managed 50k words in 30 days. Uff-da!

And of course, the week fight after NaNo, my schedule was … yeesh. Needless to say, I haven’t written a word for a week. Three evenings were filled with subbing at the library or our Sisters in Crime chapter year-end potluck. It’s all fun, but not conducive to writing much.

Just when I thought I could finally get back into my treadmill routine before an hour-plus writing session, the migraine hit. Double ugh. And this time it carried over for a second day because apparently it didn’t have enough fun the first day. Sigh. Even now it’s still jabbing me. I don’t get them often, but when I do, I can’t write. (For those who suffer with chronic migraines, I am in awe that you can carry on with everyday stuff when they hit. Especially if you can also write when your head is waging war within. Seriously.)

Needless to say, I haven’t written anything this week until now. Next week is finals week, so I have my empty nest for one more weekend before the kids are home for semester break.

How far did I get on my WIP? Not quite finished, but I’m at a point where the scenes should flow from brain to keyboard pretty well. Not quite to the climax, but close. If all goes well, I should be finished with the draft of Book 2 by, hmm, the end of next week.

To all my fellow NaNo-ers, congratulations! Whether you managed 50k words or more, or less, you have that many more words now than you did when you started. High five!

I’m still way behind on reading blogs, etc, so don’t be surprised if I finally get to the post you wrote two weeks ago. Or three. I’m also way behind on a lot of other stuff. I keep looking at my list hoping it’s getting shorter.

Not so much. In fact, I think my list just gained another three items. Dammit.

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving and managed to travel safely despite the winter storm. Nothing like a wham! Bam! Here I am! arrival of winter on a holiday weekend. So glad I couch-shop on Black Friday, aka the weekend all the die-hard shopping people brave crappy weather to just miss the best deals on the hugely-discounted items any store has, because they only have, like, three of them in stock. Anywhere.

I’m eager for the solstice. At least then the days will start getting longer again (yes, I know, still 24 hours in a day, but more of that time will be light.)

Okay, off to keep up the writing habit I redeveloped over NaNo. Stay safe, keep writing!