Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Back to school, sort of

So, I can say I’m procrastinating on doing my homework because I’m writing my blog post instead, right?

Saying I have homework seems much more enjoyable now than it did way back in high school. Homework back then was a chore, something to dread. Even my college-aged kids groan when I ask them about their homework. (Sometimes in the middle of the summer I would even ask them if they had any homework, just to bug them 😀 )

As a writer, one of the things we do is strive to improve our craft. We read books about plotting, creating believable characters, using realistic dialog. We know–and have maybe even read–the “classic” how-tos: Writing the Breakout Novel, The First Five Pages, Techniques of the Selling Writer, and The Writer’s Journey, among countless others. We go to conferences and seminars. We even–gasp–take online classes!

That’s where I’m at right now. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I’ve been struggling to write the infamous Book 2, the next book in my Sierra Bauer Mystery series. So, I figured if I was accountable to someone, like a teacher, I might make some progress, and learn other ways to get from A to B.

So I enrolled in an online class through UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies. By the way, they have a great writing program, with excellent instructors. Anyway, get this: my class is Write Your Novel Fast and Sure. Heh. Talk about ulterior motives. Or just motives. Or just plain accountability.

So yep, I have homework. And my next assignment is the first five pages of my novel. Woo-hoo! Or at least, woo-hoo once I get those five pages written. I do have a rough draft, though, so if my writing teacher is reading this, I am working on it. Really!

As for the garden, after a week of rain, rain, one cloudy day, rain + 10 minutes of sunshine, rain and half a day of sunshine, things haven’t really dried out enough to plant, but it’s getting late. I’ll probably try to get something in the ground, soggy soil or not, in the two days without rain we’ll get this holiday weekend.

Speaking of, for those in the US, Happy Memorial Day! Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Is this my good side?
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Chipping away

Have you ever been driving somewhere–maybe to an appointment or to meet someone–things are going smoothly, traffic’s moving, they’re playing music on the radio instead of commercials, and then … STOP. As in, brake lights for as far ahead as you can see.

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You check the time. Sure, you left fifteen minutes early (you did, right?), but is this going to crush your 15-minute cushion? The route is familiar, so you know the next exit is a couple miles ahead, but how do you get to where you’re going from there?

The line creeps forward, two feet at a time. Stop. Creep. Stop. That 15 minutes is now 12. Creep. Stop. Twelve is now 10. Creep. Stop. Wait.

Eventually you reach that one exit. Should you take it? It’s out of your way, and hell, you’re already late. And traffic seems to be moving a little faster now. So, do you take the alternate way or just stick it out?

I started out okay, then came to a screeching halt. The traffic jam I’ve hit has a couple names. Procrastination. Writer’s block. Real life during the holi-daze. I’ve been working at it in bits, some scene writing, some plot work, but it feels like using a hand chisel against a reinforced concrete wall. The universe noticed, and saw fit to send me some suggestions in a couple articles I’ve found in the past few weeks.

The first one is about handling procrastination. This article suggests redirecting: “All writers who aren’t writing are rebelling against some injustice or another. The practice here is replacing one story with another.” Hmm. Go ahead, read the article. I’ll wait.

The second article‘s title is a bit misleading when taken at face value, but I love this line: “Here are some ways to write every day even when your muse is off shopping.” Heh. I have a tough time imagining my Muse doing much shopping, unless it’s for beer and chocolate.

Both go back to the suggestion to “write every day”. I have to admit, it’s been a few days since I’ve written; okay, technically I’ve been writing during the ten minutes I take for lunch (because does it really take longer than that to eat a sandwich?). I’ve been chipping away at the elusive 2nd and 3rd acts of my WIP. I’m more planner than pantser–I need a path to a goal. I can wander off the path, but I need a target.

This story’s target is blurry at best. I think that’s why I’m struggling. I don’t know exactly how it ends, or how the threads weave together, not really. So, last night I pulled out “the notebook” (dramatic music here).

notebook1

It’s an inch thick, and I’ve used it for free-writing. Some qualifies as journaling, some as stream-of-consciousness, some as random scenes, and some as brainstorming. I read some of the scenes I’d written for future “episodes” of my detective series. Man, I love those characters!

I’d done some early brainstorming for my book to be released in 2019, a smattering of ideas that helped me work out the plot. It reminded me of talking through the story with my writing sisters–bouncing ideas around with them always seems to help.

notebook2

I don’t pull this notebook out very often, but I think I’m at the point where I need to. I’ve got ideas and plotlines and timelines scattered though multiple notebooks. Maybe if I just sit down and write through a stream-of-consciousness it’ll help the Act 2 & Act 3 blurs come into focus.

I’ll try some of the suggested exercises from the Writers in the Storm article: Write a letter from your main character to you, and writing something that happened to the character before the book started, and what happened after in the character’s viewpoint.

Using this one special notebook might help me focus, something I’ve had little of lately. I’ll reference the two articles as well, to keep my brain on track (you know, that whole focusing thing 🙂 )

And another blogger reminded me this past week that I’ve been neglecting my cat-loving followers (and yes, B, I mean you 😀 ). So here’s a shot of Zoey chillin’ in my chair.

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Have a productive writing weekend, everyone! The holidaze are here next weekend already–Yikes!


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Outside a Writer’s Comfort Zone

Raise your hand if you’re a writer. *hands raise*

Now, raise your hand if you don’t like crowds, or being in new places with new people, or are uncomfortable outside your home territory, or will take any opportunity to not drive to the nearest metropolitan area so you don’t have to fight city traffic, even if your favorite author is having a signing there.

*hands raise and wave*

Thought so. Writers have a tendency to be less outgoing, more focused on a smaller portion of the world at large where they are comfortable, like the hometown they grew up in or the neighborhood where they know the people living on their block. We’re introverts. Writing is a mostly solitary pursuit. I say mostly because we all know that at some point we need the help of a critique partner or a writing group.

With the advent of the Internet (Yes, there was a time when the Internet did not exist, and people had to call on a telephone that had an actual cord, or write letters by hand and mail them, or meet face to face if they wanted to communicate with each other.), it’s easier to connect with other people from the comfort of your own home.

It’s a good thing, because finding a writing group might be a challenge where you live. Finding a writing group online is much easier, and you don’t ever have to meet in person. You might not be able to if members are scattered around the world.

If your goal is to be published, and hope readers outside your immediate and extended family want to read your work (even better, to pay to read your work), there’s a lot of value in meeting people face to face. It’s called networking, and we all know the more people who know you and your writing exist, the higher the probability that someone you don’t know will want to read your work.

*din of mumbles about having to meet people rises*

Hey, if you want to go anywhere in this business, you’ve got to get your name out there. And to do that, you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone.

*gasps fill the air*

Yes, I’m serious. That means finding places where readers gather, like libraries and bookstores (hey, no thinking about how many books you can buy. You’re trying to convince other people to buy your book). It also means leveraging the work other writers and organizations have done to connect with people who want to read stuff in your genre, whether it’s kids’ books, poetry, or even non-fiction.

My first book isn’t due out until 2019, and I haven’t even talked to my editor yet, but I know now is the time to work on connecting with readers who might want to read my book. You know, before I’m working against deadlines.

This week I went to my first local Sisters in Crime meeting. Sisters in Crime (SinC) is a national organization of mystery writers, with local chapters around the country. I’ve known about the Twin Cities chapter for years, but I’ve never been to a meeting before this week because of that whole driving in the big city thing. Turns out the area where they meet is a nice little residential area close to Minnehaha Park (yes, that Minnehaha, the one Longfellow wrote about in the Song of Hiawatha).

The first thing that surprised me was the number of members. I’d guess there were at least thirty people there. Many of the members, like Julie Kramer and Ellen Hart, are award-winning mystery writers. Maybe some of that will rub off on me!

I don’t have a cover, or a release date, or even a for-sure title, but I know by taking advantage of these events and going to meetings, that is, getting out of my comfort zone, I’ll be laying the groundwork for marketing when I need it. The Twin Cities SinC has connections, and their name shows up on lists of library guests and other events. They have something going on every week for the next month and a half, including a huge reader/writer event coming up at the state fairgrounds, a number of guest panels at libraries, and a new event planned at a local Barnes & Noble that includes some big-name writers (no Patterson or King, but Chuck Logan and PJ Tracy, among others).

It’s not just groups like SinC, either. Any venue that supports and promote authors, like libaries and bookstores, is a link in the networking (and marketing) chain. In order to take advantage of their resources, I need to get out of my comfort zone.

Scary, yes. And even more scary to an introvert is being on a panel at a writing conference where people are watching you, and listening to you, and you have to pretend you know what this writing thing is all about. And here’s the crazy scary part: I’m presenting a session at a writers’ conference that I proposed by choice. 

What?!

Yes, I know that means I’ll have to speak in front of an audience. And yes, it kind of freaks me out that I sent in a proposal at all, but it’s the best writers’ conference in the upper Midwest, as far as I’m concerned.

What the hell were you thinking?

Networking.

You can’t network if you don’t get out there and meet people. Sure, you can do a lot of networking through the blog-o-sphere, Facebook groups, and other online writing groups, but what about all the people who don’t have eyes on the Internet. All. Day. Long. They exist. I’ve seen them.

It’s uncomfortable, I get it. But it’ll be beneficial to your career as a writer in the long run. Start by going to author events and signings. Maybe check around for a writers’ panel at a local venue. Get used to being out of your comfort zone. Then you can start actually talking to people. Yes, it’s okay. Ask a fellow attendee what they liked about the author’s book. Ask them what they like to read. People like to talk about stuff like that.

Then talk to the author who is speaking, signing, or on a panel. Ask how they went about getting the event set up. Talk to the people who organized the event. Tell them who you are, what you write, and ask about setting up an event of your own.

You’ll be surprised how easy it is once you get going. It’s that first step that’s the hardest.

Rainy weekend in my neck of the woods, so I’m going to write. Really. I mean it this time.

Have a great weekend!


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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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Head Above Water

It’s almost here–the New Year!

I’m still pounding on my WIP. I can see the end, and I’m anxious to get there, but I feel like so many other things need to be done ASAP, like the FAFSA for my son (who graduates this spring from high school), scholarship applications for same, research for broken appliances and vehicles (repair or replace?), writing contest entries, writing conference signup, oh boy.

The cold stalking me (courtesy, I’m sure, of all the little kids I saw over the holidays) is threatening to take me down, but I’m trying to hold it at arm’s length, at least until I get my WIP draft finished. The problem: to fend it off, I need to rest/nap, which equals no writing (haven’t gotten the hang of sleep-writing yet).

So, if I seem a bit withdrawn, no worries. I’m writing. Promise! (note to self: take a few extra days off to finish WIP next time)

Got your list of resolutions for the new year finished? Neither do I. I’ve got a couple things on it, though:

  1. Be more cheerful with family. (I can hear the chorus of “huh”s in the background) I think it started when I was a teen, going through the hormone-driven emotional roller coaster so many of us are familiar with. That lasted until my late twenties, when I had a near-breakdown courtesy of postpartum depression. To compensate for the low lows (I think; I wouldn’t touch a psychology class with a 29.5 foot pole), I try not to go too high emotionally. It’s a bit of a drop to the lows from the highs, so I try to stay in the middle. Not necessarily good for the rest of the family, when Mom is seldom upbeat. I’m aware of it, and just need to be mindful.
  2. Focus on writing. Yes, this has a permanent spot on my list, but I start to slack around the holidays because there just isn’t any time for it with all the holiday-ing, and I get out of the habit. I won’t be able to finish my WIP draft tonight, but I’ve got the weekend and Monday off. And my Muse is prepped with craft beer and chocolate. Look out, words!
  3. Get an agent. Gotta have something somewhat out of my control on here, right? I’ve got high hopes for my WIP, and I’ve gotten some good advice for my current mss, so the plan is to get the WIP draft done, tweak my mss, then back to work my WIP draft into shape by April, when I’ll be attending the Writer’s Institute at UW-Madison. I’m getting closer, judging by a slow rise of interest in my mss this year, including a near-miss for a mentor in Pitch Wars.
  4. Smaller garden, so I have more time to write in the summer. Maybe I should bold this one, and make the font bigger. And highlight it.

Then I started thinking about resolutions, and why we bother when most of the time we forget by Easter just what we resolved. Another writer, who has a great blog about Irish myth and a YA fantasy series based on Irish myth, has a timely post about New Year’s Day and the various stories behind it, including a probable reason we continue to make resolutions. Check it out here: The Ancient Babylonians Invented New Year’s Resolutions. Stay a while and check out Ali’s other posts. My fantasy novel is based on Irish myth, and Ali is a great resource if that’s what you’re interested in.

May you greet 2016 with a whoop and a hollar!

May your writing be better than it was last year.

May your family be blessed with health, happiness, and prosperity.

May your muses continue to inspire you.

Happy New Year everyone!

 


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Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave

blue spring flower cr

I was going to add a nice picture of a garden spider in the middle of an orb web here, but I think enough people don’t appreciate the beauty, just the creepy-crawlyness of it. So, enjoy the pic of our pretty blue spring flowers instead.

I’m reading my writing teacher’s latest book in her Door County Fudge Shop series. Great book, by the way. Mouthwatering! Anyhow, fudge aside (yes, she does have recipes in the backs of the books 😉 ), there’s a wonderful cast of characters, including a water spaniel named Lucky Harbor who is far better behaved than my own dogs despite his love of swimming and fudge (which, in the interest of his health, translates to goldfish crackers). As with all good mystery tales, there’s a handful of suspects who may be responsible for the crimes.

I admit I’ve never been good at deducing whodunnit. Once I get to the end of a mystery, when the perpetrator is revealed, I can sometimes think back through the clues and realize what I missed. Some mysteries, though, are so convoluted that I have a hard time tracking back through the breadcrumbs. Agatha Christie’s novels are like that for me. Remember Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None)? I suppose I should reread it and see if I can follow the clues, but as I recall, that particular mystery stymied me even after I finished the book. Of course, it’s been a few decades since, but I remember feeling mighty confused at the end.

I’ve just reached the big reveal in Five-Alarm Fudge, and I can–with 20/20 hindsight–see the little clues sprinkled through the story. With the number of suspects available, I started to wonder how a writer can lay out the plot in such a way the reader is kept guessing until the reveal. An outline or some other sort of plot map would be necessary just for the writer to keep things straight. But how complex would that plot sketch be? Does the writer map each suspect’s movements and interactions through the main story? What sort of organizing method works well for that?

I’ll have to ask Chris what she uses the next time I talk to her, but as I’m beginning the first revision of my current WIP, a mystery complete with multiple bodies, I’m working out how I can weave character paths together so the reader won’t figure things out too soon.

How do you construct a mystery that leads the reader through suspects and suspicious events? Do you use a mindmap? Notecards on a bulletin board? Lego figures? Beat sheets? I’m open to suggestions; I’m still trying to tune my process, and my outline just doesn’t seem like it’s working very well. I’m leaning toward using beat sheets; I’m going to try them out this week and see how they work.


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Hitting the Home Stretch (and a taste of Siberia)

One week until March! Woo-hoo!

Wait, the weather guy said next week will be a copy of this week. Cold, not so cold, freaking cold, not so cold, and cold again. Last week, minus thirty-five degrees F in International Falls–Sooo glad I don’t live up north! Today’s high temp might reach zero. Maybe.

Hear that whistle? It’s the Siberian Express! Step on up to the platform and the conductor will check your tickets.

Remember, the vernal equinox is March 20, less than a month away. Keep thinking of that. Equal parts day and night, and the official start of Spring!

Not much for today’s post; sorry, gang. On a roll with the NaNo project. Ever get to a certain point with a manuscript at which the creative energy starts to boil over? Sometimes it’s slow going until you hit that one scene, then the rest just tumbles out from there to the final scene. I hit that yesterday, so I got my word quota in for today as well. My Muse is kicking back and looking pretty damn proud. Don’t hurt yourself patting your own back, T!

Since I’ve got my quota, working today on polishing (again) the first 10k words of another mss for a contest entry. One thing I love is the writing community. I found a new CP in a writing group, and she’s doing a wonderful job helping me out with the mss. If you don’t have a critique partner, I suggest finding one. Having another writer (preferably more than one) review your work is essential in the process, in my opinion. Those other writers can see the things you can’t as the author, and you do the same for them when you review their work. Check out this post for recommendations: 40 Places to Find a Critique Partner

Technology is so awesome these days; my CP and I were both looking at my mss in Google Docs (I don’t like to promote any one online service over any other, that’s just what we are using) at the same time! So cool! Take advantage of it if you can with your CP.

Word count yesterday: 39,408

Write on and stay warm!