Monday, April 30, 2012

Who Keeps You Going?

The creative life isn't an easy one. It requires a lot of discipline, strength, and determination. But there are times when quitting looks like the perfect solution. It's not, of course, because being creative is more than a job - it's who we are.

When the days get rough, when you look at your artwork or novel or musical composition and you think that nothing else has ever stunk worse than it has, we need encouragement. Most of the time, we need to find that encouragement from within ourselves. Other times, our well has run dry and we need to rely on others.

So who helps you when the chips are down, when you want to give up and chuck your manuscript down the garbage chute?

For me, I can always count on the support and encouragement of my family, and that is a true blessing indeed. They believe in me during those times when I don't believe in myself.

My two critique partners, who are also my good friends, are an amazing source of support. I also turn to the world of blogging, especially communities like Writer Unboxed, to keep me going.

And...I pray. I am a person of faith, so turning to the Lord is a huge relief to me.

What about you? Who keeps you going?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Lucky 7 Meme

Denise Falvo tagged me for the Lucky 7 Meme post, and it's a fun game, so I thought I'd play along.


Meme: an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.


The Lucky 7 Meme is a fun game between blogging authors, where the one tagged uses specific guidelines (see below) to select a tiny portion of his/her WIP (aka: work-in-progress) to share with their readers. Afterward, seven more bloggers are linked in a post to carry the torch forward.


These are the rules:
1. Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next seven lines/sentences as they are – no cheating
4. Tag 7 other authors

So! Here's my contribution from my current WIP:

     The cake pan came down with a bang. “Absolutely not. You know I don’t give two figs for what the townspeople think. I’m hurt you’d even think I’d do that.”
     When would she learn to keep her stupid tongue still?
     “Oh, fiddlesticks,” Jenni muttered. “I’m sorry. Really I am. I shouldn’t have said it.”

Want to play?

The seven writers (who don't have to play if they don't want to) are:


Since I could only choose 7 to tag, please feel free to play along even if I didn't tag you. :-)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Perils of Impatience

Ahh. Recovery. A time when you are supposed to enjoy lounging around, having everyone around you be your personal servant and slave while you eat chocolate and take long, luxurious naps.

Reality is quite different.

I've had some good days and some bad days. Yesterday was a bad day. I felt like I'd taken an entire leap backwards in my recovery process. I was in pain, was shuffling around, and most definitely did not get out for my daily walk.

I think this was because I overdid it the day before.

Weeks 3 and 4 (I'm on week 3) are supposed to be the most difficult recovery weeks for hysterectomy patients because we feel like doing more, but our bodies have other ideas. Therefore, we usually do end up doing more and overdoing it.

Thus landing us back in bed, flat on our backs.

So today, I'm practicing patience. I'm moving slow. I'm reclining in bed and allowing my body to heal. After all, I only get one shot at this. I better make it count!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Let's Talk About Plot

One of the toughest parts of writing a good, solid novel is plotting. And it's something I struggle with on every single book.

I've tried a couple of different methods to find out which one "works" for me. Here's what I've discovered.

No outline. When I decided to write without knowing a single thing about my characters or about the plot, I had a great time - for awhile. But then it all came to a crashing halt when I didn't have solid goals or motivations for my characters, and I discovered what was supposed to be a "historical" setting was more or less window dressing.

Result? I wasted months revising it all.

Detailed outline. A few years ago, I had an idea for a modern-day novel (new for me since I write historical) that was set in my great-grandparents' hometown of Volpiano, Italy. I made lots and lots of notes. I plotted the entire thing out.

Result? I had pre-planned so much of the novel that I sucked the magic out of it all. I didn't even want to write it anymore, and I haven't looked at it in years. I hope to return to it someday.

So what's the solution? Middle ground, obviously. I usually like to know the basics about my character, but making an extensive list of their likes and dislikes is out for me. I discover those things through the story itself. But I need to have the bare bones of the plot, a sort of roadmap to where I'm going. But here's the thing - my course can change at any time. Detours are a part of it all. As long as I get from point A to point B, it doesn't matter how I get there.

However, I sometimes feel like I need a better process.

This is where you, my lovely followers and readers and lurkers, come in. What is your process for plotting? What books would you recommend?

Spill in the comments!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cure for Insomnia? Writing

For some reason, I haven't been sleeping very well, even though my body cries out in exhaustion most of the time bedtime rolls around. I tend to toss and turn, my mind racing, until I finally give up, turn on the light, and start reading.

Last night I was determined to thwart the Insomnia Beast, and even though it was nearing 11 p.m., I started writing.

And I kept writing until 1:30 a.m.

Result? I slept like a baby.

Except I had to wake up early to take my daughter to school. And then I had to come home and take a nap.

Slick is a master napper.
Hmm. I may have to rethink this strategy...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Randomness Round-Up

It's been awhile since I've done a randomness post, so here goes!

1. The pathology report came back from my hysterectomy and I'm happy to report it was negative. I'm in the clear! I'm so glad I got this taken care of when I did before it turned into something.

2. The day I got to drive again - after being restricted for two weeks - I also got to pay Uncle Sam. Gee, just what I wanted for my first outing: a trip to the post office to send money to the IRS.

3. Chocolate in moderation is unheard of lately. I don't know why, but it's the only thing I can't seem to get enough of. I really don't have much of an appetite and hardly eat except for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but hand me a bag of Dove Dark Chocolate and I devour more than a serving. Naughty, naughty.

4. I have to go back to work in two weeks. I am dreading it. I am so completely and utterly content being at home, writing (though I need to do more of that), being with my kitties, being able to pick my daughter up from school and be home with her, and just enjoying my house. I am a homebody at heart.

5. One day, I watched four movies in one afternoon: Casablanca, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, North by Northwest, and Suspicion. Three out of four of those star Cary Grant. All of them were made more than 50 years ago. Yes, I am also an old soul at heart.

6. I've been playing a LOT of games of Words with Friends on Facebook - it's pretty similar to Scrabble. Despite loving words and loving to make words, I tend to lose rather well to my kid brother. He has a knack for finding plays that don't necessarily create a lovely word, but do create a lot of points. I've had to learn to be more ruthless. When my mother, a fellow writer, and I play, however, we tend to make the long, lovely words and don't worry so much about the scoreboard.

7. Wearing jeans or anything with a firm waistband is a no-no right now. I tried on a pair of shorts yesterday and went to button them, and my belly screamed in protest. But my incisions are healing nicely, according to my doctor, and that's worth not being able to button my waistband!

8. It's amazing to me how the body heals itself, and further amazing that you can remove an organ and still survive just fine. With all the problems my uterus was giving me, I don't miss it. I also won't miss the monthly visits, if you know what I mean!

9. I'm trying to take my own advice and write my first draft with my heart instead of my head. To me, this means just getting the words on the page without worrying about the internal editor. Unfortunately, that internal editor has been particularly strong lately and I've had to fight it back. I'm still struggling and I need to just let it go. Working on that...

10. I've had some pity party moments lately. With this beautiful weather, everyone is wearing shorts and skimpy outfits and looking cute and trim. I feel like a blob. I tell myself I just had major surgery and then I eat more chocolate. Ha! Seriously, though, I can't wait to get back to regular exercise.

And last, but not least...

11.

'Nuff said.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fighting Internet Distraction

There is a reason that, before my surgery, my laptop did not have internet access.

Distraction.

My laptop was for writing, and writing only. If I wanted to get on the Internet, I'd have to go downstairs to our desktop computer. This was a good thing as it kept me from clicking on websites when I should have been writing.

But now that I have wireless on my laptop, I am finding it incredibly difficult to concentrate solely on my manuscript. I love checking out writing blogs and hanging out at the Facebook page of the blog, Writer Unboxed, where there's always a good conversation to be had. That's all well and good, but I need to write.

Yesterday, we had a lot of wind and it must have played havoc with the Internet as it wasn't available for several hours. I got a lot of writing done during that time, and I think it was God's way of putting His foot down where my writing procrastination was concerned.

All this is to say that I have shoddy will power. I knew that to begin with, which is why I didn't have Internet on the laptop in the first place.

While I can easily disable the Internet once my recovery is over, that's really not the point. I should be able to develop the will power to focus on my manuscript when I need to.

To that end, I've already developed a few strategies.

1. The Ten Minute Rule. I tell myself that I have to write for ten minutes. Just ten minutes of pure writing with no distractions. The ten minutes invariably turns into much longer. Once I get into the story, it's not as easy to get back out again.

2. No Open Windows. I close all open windows to the Internet. Sure, it's just one click to open them again, but that's one more step I have to take. It's just a simple mind trick, but it seems to work.

3. Good, Old-Fashioned Discipline. Sometimes, I just have to give myself a stern talk and make myself write.

These strategies don't always work, of course, and over the last several days, I've found myself flitting from one page to the next. But I do have to remind myself that I'm recovering. Sometimes I simply don't feel like writing. I don't have the concentration due to my pain medications or otherwise not feeling good. It's at those moments when I need to be kind to myself.

What about you? What are your distractions for writing when so many delicious goodies await on the Internet?

Friday, April 13, 2012

When You Need Inspiration

We all know that writing can be a lonely business. I remember when I first started writing, the only connection I had to other writers was through a subscription to Writer's Digest and my mother. That was back in 1986 or so. Today, we have the absolute blessing of the Internet (well, it's mostly a blessing if you don't count all those pesky drawbacks like scammers and identity thieves, etc.) and we can communicate with other writers. It's wonderful.

Still, writing is a solitary business when you get right down to it. It's just you and the page. We all know this. There are times I need inspiration and encouragement to keep going, and there are some people I turn to again and again for this.

One of my resources is a recent find. His name is Jeff Goins and his blog is always full of inspiration and encouragement. You can even download his free ebook, The Writer's Manifesto, and learn to fall in love with your writing again. I'd also suggest subscribing to his newsletter. It never fails to give me the nudge I need to get back to the page.

In fact, the quote below is his. I think it sums up his mission statement quite well.

Do you have some favorite bloggers that offer you inspiration when you just can't get the words to come? Please share if you do!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Using Description

I finished reading Monica Wood's excellent book, Description, which is part of the Elements of Fiction Writing Series.

I can honestly say this is one of the best books on the writing craft I've ever read. Wood doesn't waste time, but gets right to the point and shows you how to use description through narrative, dialogue, point of view, and more. She discusses each technique, and then offers a summary at the end of the chapter called a "wrap up" that neatly ties it all together. I was impressed with her no nonsense style. So many craft books veer into tangents and never really get to the point. Wood cuts the BS and delivers the goods.

There were so many meaty nuggets of wisdom in this short book that I couldn't possibly name them all, but here are a few that really spoke to me.

1.  Don't use long, detailed character descriptions. For example, when a man meets his love interest for the first time, our tendency is to describe her from head to toe. Don't. Instead, do as Wood suggests: "Deliver physical characteristics a few at a time, and the character in question becomes much more seeable." And don't show us every single feature. That's just boring and plain irritating. A few solid, vivid details will do more to characterize your character than an entire paragraph.

2.  Use dialogue to describe a setting. Wood's example: "My God, this place looks like the dark side of the moon," Henrietta said. You can also use dialogue to show what something isn't. Wood's example: "It's not exactly Sesame Street," Brenda murmured.

3.  Get rid of melodrama and sentimentality. One of Wood's rules: "Avoid the pathetic fallacy." What is a pathetic fallacy? Wood describes it as "ascribing human emotions to natural phenomena or inanimate objects." Examples: "happy hydrangeas" or "grateful daisies." Just...don't. It sounds tacky. And bad.

4. Long, rambling descriptions of your setting are also a no-no. This is one we've all been guilty of doing. I've spent a lot of time describing the entire interior of a room before. To what end? Does it move the story ahead? Do we need to care that the window has priscilla curtains or the floors are polished oak? Maybe - if it is important to the story. As Wood says, "You must add details that remind readers that the setting has a purpose." Are the priscilla curtains dirty because the main character has developed a fear of cleaning? Do they mask cracks in the window from a gunshot? This is how to make your setting details fit the story.

This is Slick. He asked if he could be included in this post even though it has nothing to do with him. I didn't argue. He likes to head butt at 2 a.m. That's why I didn't argue.
This is just a very brief sampling of what you can find in Wood's book. This is really a must for your writing craft shelf, and as I have a HUGE shelf of books on the writing craft, I don't say this flippantly. It really is that good!

Monday, April 09, 2012

It's 12:11 A.M.

The funny thing about not having anything to do or anywhere to go is that time becomes your friend.

But it can also become your enemy.

Though I haven't felt up to writing yet, I think it's just around the corner - possibly even tomorrow - that I will dig out the file for my novel and start getting reacquainted with my characters.

I have three weeks of recovery time looming ahead of me and I keep thinking to myself, "Oh, you have plenty o time to work on the novel."

Yet there is a danger in letting that time get away from me. I know because I've done it in the past.

Before I began working full-time, I stayed home with my kids, and had oodles and oodles of time to spare. But I hardly got any writing done.

Now that I have this nice three-week window of recovery time where I can't do anything physical and can't work, this is the ideal time to write on the novel (in between naps). I don't want to squander this time. (And yes, I will not push myself to do work when I don't feel like it...no worries on that score!).

So I think I need to set some realistic, but do-able goals for myself for the next three weeks. These include:

1. Reading through my notes and getting familiar with the plot and characters again
2. Study the craft. I am reading a book called Description by Monica Wood that is excellent.
3. Write with abandon.

Jane Austen's desk at her home in Bath
The third is perhaps the most important goal. For too long, I've sucked the joy out of my writing by allowing the internal editor to shove my writer persona out of the way when I pen first drafts. That has to stop. The editor can come out and play after I've written that first draft. But for now, I need to write with abandon and write for the sheer joy of it. I believe only then can my true writer emerge.

So that's the goals for the next three weeks. I have this time and I intend to use it.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Recovery Time!

Greetings from the world of puffed pillows and pain pills, of naps and comfy clothes!

My hysterectomy surgery on April 3 was a success, and I am so blessed to have had wonderful doctors, a wonderful nursing staff, wonderful family, my wonderful husband and daughter, and of course, all of the wonderful prayers sent by you all. In short, it was, well, as wonderful as surgery can be!

My doctor was able to keep my remaining ovary, which means I won't be going into menopause, and that is a blessing, indeed! We still need to wait for pathology to come back on the uterus and cervix, but I pray it is all cancer-free and nothing further is needed.

I came home from the hospital on Wednesday afternoon and have been taking it nice and easy ever since. Yes, I'm in some pain, but it's not terrible, and is definitely manageable with pain medication. My two cats have been keeping me company and I've been doing my best to follow the doctor's orders: namely, to rest, rest, rest.

Thanks to my brother, I now have wireless internet and can stay in bed and surf the 'Net. Previously, we only had the 'Net downstairs and there's no way I'm up to navigating stairs at this point.

So! I cannot wait to get to your blogs and read what you've been up to! It's been far too long since I've thought about much else besides this surgery and everythin that went along with it, so my brain is rather enjoying its ability to read and watch movies and sleep and yes, write (though that is probably a few days off yet...).

And as it is Easter weekend here in the States, a huge Easter blessing to all of you who celebrate!

New Digs

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