Thursday, February 25, 2010

Keep the Faith

Another agent rejection. She said my story sounded "fascinating," but that she wasn't taking on any new projects right now.

Big sigh.

However, I shall strive to stay positive (despite the cold I fear has snared me within its grasp), keep working on my current novel, and adopt a mantra that the British used during World War II:

If you're near a local Barnes and Noble, you can pick up this journal. I'm thinking it's perfect for aspiring writers!


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One More Day...

I need one more day off during the normal work-week. Just one day.

Why?

Despite having no extracurricular activities and no television to waste hours in front of, I still do not have enough time to get done all that I need to get done. Thus, an extra day, in addition to my two weekend-days, would be greatly appreciated. Raise your hand if you're willing to convince my boss to let me have a paid day off every week without using a vacation day!

Joking aside, I really am searching for more ways to squeeze every minute out of the day. My day goes something like this. Get up, get ready, take my daughter to school, go to work from 8-5. After work, go exercise. Pick up my daughter from daycare. Get home. Fix supper. Eat. Spend time with my daughter. Do dishes and any other household chores. Then settle on the couch with my books. And lately, here's where the trouble starts.

I have a novel I'm reading. A non-fiction book that doubles as research for my novel (which also requires taking notes). A book that helps me with the craft of writing (also requiring notes). I'm also studying the book of Galatians from the Bible. I then have a discussion on the Bible study on the phone with a friend. Then there's that whole writing-the-novel task.

How in the world am I supposed to fit all this in to the precious few hours I have after work?
  • I can't stay up later. By 10 p.m. anymore, I'm done. So that's out.

  • I can't quit exercising. That's out.

  • I refuse to not spend quality time with my daughter. Definitely out.
So what is a gal to do?

Ration my time.

Each book will get approximately 30 minutes. Now I can cut back on the novel-reading while I'm deep into research, so that time I can add to my writing. I want to have at least one good hour of writing time. If I'm really into it, I can easily punch out 1,000 words and possibly more in that hour.

Starting tonight, I plan to implement this new schedule. I'm sure there will be times it won't exactly
work, but if I can at least attempt to make progress on each thing I'm working on, I will (hopefully) dispell the panicky feeling I've been experiencing lately (as in, I have too much to read and not enough time!!!).

Now here will be the tricky part
: actually stopping after 30 minutes with each book.

Think I can do it? Tune in for updates!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Enhance Your POV

In the latest edition of Writer's Digest, Alicia Rasley (whose workshop I once had the pleasure of attending a few years ago) has a wonderful article on how you can use your characters' perception to enhance your POV.

Alicia says, "In order to create an authentic narrative voice, begin by asking yourself some key questions about your POV character: How does this person perceive the world? How does she come to understand her environment? What does she choose to notice and to ignore, and why? What does she want to do with what she learns?"

The way your character takes in and uses information is key to enhancing their POV. For example, if they are a visual person instead of an auditory person, then they will pick up on things they see much more than on things they hear. Their dominant senses will help you to narrate their scenes. Alicia's example for a visual person is, "She was so intent on that garbage truck backing up that she missed what Judy said." Someone who is tactile, or uses the sense of touch, might tend to use this trait in their narrative more. For example: "Betty grabbed the door-knob. The brass was cool and smooth under her hand, and it wouldn't turn."

Alicia warns, however, that a little can go a long way and instead to use "a few focused sensory references" to "convey how this character takes in the world around her."

But you can also use other modes of perception besides the senses. Alicia says, "There's also temperament (optimist/pessimist, emotional/rational) and personality style (problem solver, logician, competitor, etc.)."

Think about that for a moment. How does your character's temperment affect how he views the world? A great deal, I should think. An optimist will look at a particular situation differently than a pessimist. By showing this in your POV, you can greatly improve the reader's impression of your character.

But be careful not to imbue your views of the world, your temperment, and your dominant senses into your characters. This will require you to stretch a bit and dig deeper into your characters. Instead of using visual cues all the time since you yourself might be dominant in this area, choose instead to look at the scene differently, as your character would.

It's a fascinating exercise and one that can really add to your characters, not to mention the overall scope of your novel.

For more, check out Alicia's book, The Power of Point of View. She also has a great blog on editing at editorrent!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Before and After

Before: ugly blue couches. Free. Been in a bachelor pad before they were in my house. Did not complement my decor, but hey, they were free.

After: beautiful, gorgeous Victorian-style couches gifted to me by my aunt, plus two matching lamps. Completely fits my decor. Love it.


Finally, more than a year after moving into my apartment, my living room is finally complete.

Bliss!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When It All Comes Together



It's amazing to me how the creative mind works. For days, I have been struggling to come up with a major plot point in my work-in-progress. I even ended up lost in a brainstorm all the way home from work one day, which, in retrospect, probably wasn't the smartest thing to do considering I had to jar myself out of my reverie to pay attention to traffic!

But when that plot point finally revealed itself to me and I sat down to flesh out the rest of the novel, oh boy...it all just came together so perfectly. And the feeling that accompanied it? Sheer joy.

Before this happened, I was lamenting about how hard this book was to plot, about how I probably shouldn't have tried to tackle something so difficult, that I should give up and do something easier. Now I'm glad I stayed the course. Just because you face a hard task doesn't mean you should quit.

I think we'd all like it if the plot for our novels came to us completely formed. Sometimes, a miracle occurs and they do. But for me, at least, I have to wade through the murky water to find the gold. And that only makes the end result that
much sweeter.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Because I'm a Wuss in Real Life

I've always loved to read books full of adventure. Usually, the heroine is facing imminent danger and the hero comes to rescue her - maybe on a gallant steed, maybe in a really cool Camaro, but come he does and the day is saved.

I also like reading books where the female characters can really kick some tush - they aren't afraid of getting their hands dirty, trekking through muddy fields or climbing rugged mountains, and then firing a few rounds from their semi-automatic and shooting the bad guys, if need be.

I always wanted to be a gal like that. I always wanted to take a trip to some far off destination where I get mixed up in some international intrigue and this sexy spy guy and I work together to catch the bad guys. And of course, I would be one of those gals who wouldn't complain that all the running has given her blisters, that she is tired from staying up for 24 hours straight, or that she doesn't know the first thing about how to shoot a gun. Nope, not me. I would be the kick-butt chick.

In some ways, I think reading all these books throughout my life has given me a rather irrational view of what "adventure" is really like. More likely than not, if I landed in a situation like I described above, I'd be hunkering beneath some bed, terrified for my life, or running to the nearest police station. And more likely than not, the "sexy spy guy" would probably turn out to be an aging Cold War relic whose reflexes aren't what they used to be.

Sometimes, I get bored with my mundane existence and I start to think, "I want to have those adventures." But then I realize that I am a wuss in real life. I am not the kick-butt heroine. I have only shot a gun a handful of times and was not very good at it. I also complain a lot about blisters if I get them, and I also hate getting dirty. If I go for more than 24 hours without sleep, you will see a bear the likes of which no grizzly has ever come close to personifying. I like to sleep on a bed at night, I like my water from a tap, and I definitely like indoor toilet facilities. Globe-trotting or spending the night in an abandoned farmhouse or hiding in a dark, cold cave would not be my thing. At. All.

I am happiest in my home, reading my books, writing my novels, taking naps, playing Nintendo and Monopoly with my daughter, feeding the ducks, attending the symphony, eating my chocolate, surfing the Internet, and generally being comfortable.

I think I shall stop wishing for those particular adventures to befall me and instead start writing those particular adventures. And in those books, the heroine will be sassy and plucky and be able to survive on crusts of bread and sleep on a bed of rocks...while I stay in my pajama pants, dark chocolate by my side, fire in the fireplace, cat sleeping on my leg, and type out my heroine's dastardly deeds from the comfort of my couch.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Which One Will You Feed?

A little something to think about...

A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt about a tragedy. He said, "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one."

The grandson asked him, "Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?"

The grandfather answered, "The one I feed."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Do You Stay Focused?

I'm in need of a few pointers today. My attention likes to wander a lot lately and I find myself getting distracted where my writing is concerned.

So here's a simple question for today:

How do you stay focused on your writing?

Monday, February 08, 2010

When You Least Expect It

I subscribe to Reminisce magazine. If you've never heard of it and love nostalgia, I urge you to pick up a copy at your bookstore and thumb through it. It's reader-written and is full of stories from the past - specifically from the 1920s through the 1950s (and some 1960s). I love to look at all the great pictures and hear how people lived in America during this time. And since I'm also a World War II historian, it helps me understand this generation.

When I settled down on the couch to read the latest issue Friday night, I was pleasantly surprised to find an article from a woman who had worked in Washington D.C. during World War II. Why? Because my current novel is set in D.C. during the war. As I began reading, I saw that the woman originally came from Nebraska. Wow, I thought. That's pretty neat. I kept reading her account of how she worked for the FBI and of how life was in our nation's capital during that tumultous time.

When I finished, I read the author's name and where she was currently living. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. Not only did she still live in Nebraska, but she lived only 80 miles from me!

A quick check on the Internet gave me her phone number. I wondered if I would be too forward in calling her. But then, what did I have to lose? So, taking a deep breath, I dialed her number. To my utter delight, she was absolutely thrilled to hear from me and we are going to have lunch sometime in the near future. I can't wait to hear her stories not only because it will help with my novel's research, but because it will be a true honor to listen to someone who took the plunge to leave her small town of Nebraska and travel to Washington D.C. to help the war effort.

And to think, it's all because I read an article in a magazine...

Friday, February 05, 2010

It's Friday

It's Friday. I have no news to impart (except that it snowed again) and nothing pressing scurrying around my brain that demands to be recorded. So here's a few links to some interesting stuff from around the Web.

I've posted a book review of famed journalist David Brinkley's book, Washington Goes to War over at my World War II blog.

Found a new blog for writing parents called, aptly enough, The Writing Parent. Good stuff here.

Because Susan Boyle should be an inspiration for anyone seeking to fulfill their dreams, here's a song from her that epitomizes that journey.

A short film starting Tate Donovan (best known, I suppose, from Love Potion Number 9 and for being Jen Aniston's ex-boyfriend, though I will always remember him from Memphis Belle) from Liberty Mutual on responsibility. Every parent whose child has lost something or left it behind can relate to this! It's called Tony. Well worth your time.

And, a new photo of me. Is that vain of me or what? Actually, I rarely post photos of myself because I simply don't like them. But I do like this candid shot.
Enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Finding Time for the Right Things

Finding time to write has become an ageless concept in the writing world. All of us want to discover the magic formula for making hours instantly appear on the clock, or days added to the end of a month, or even just ten more minutes before the morning commute.

There is no magic formula.

Last night, I was determined
to get some words down, to immerse myself in my story. But then I got distracted. My stomach was growling and I can't write when I'm hungry. This wasn't an excuse - it was a need. So I went and grabbed a bowl of cereal (I'm a sucker for cereal as an evening snack). Then my daughter showed me her book that she'd checked out of the library and asked me if I wanted to look through it. Since she snuggled up next to me, how on earth could I say no?

After we finished, I put in my Susan Boyle CD (she is SUCH an inspiration!) and my daughter started asking me about her since she absolutely loved the talented Ms. Boyle's voice. When I told her about the original video on Britain's Got Talent and how this woman had inspired so many people to live their dreams, my daughter wanted to watch the video. So off to the computer we trotted (I write on a laptop that is not hooked up to the internet - this keeps me from mindlessly surfing when I should be writing!). Naturally, I had to watch the video with her and got inspired all over again.

By this time, that precious hour I had for my writing had disappeared. It was time to get my daughter and myself ready for bed. After we were both settled in for the night, I grabbed my laptop and managed to write a few hundred words. Not much, but by then, my eyes barely wanted to stay open.

The moral of this story? Live your life. Allow a few interruptions. In my case, I was able to share an important lesson with my daughter - that it is never too late to chase your dreams, and you cannot judge a person by how they look. Would I have accomplished this had I chased her off and said, "Shh, I'm writing, can't talk to you right now." Absolutely not.

Sometimes, the writing is not the most important thing. I've read too many articles where people advocate putting your writing above everything else. I don't agree. There is a time and a place for it, and if that time and place doesn't quite work out, you simply accept it and move on. Don't allow guilt to rear its ugly head. If I had focused on my writing instead of my daughter, we wouldn't have shared so much and learned so much together. And to me, that's more precious than writing any novel in the world.

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance! www.melissamarsh.net