Good Question

Last week I read an interesting post, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, from fellow writer S of JSMawdsley. My initial reaction was one of surprise quickly followed by familiarity and finally relief. What S had written struck a chord with me because so many times I’ve wondered why I’m doing what I’m doing with my writing.

My surprise came from the fact that so many writers play it close to the vest never revealing that the writing life isn’t going exactly as they had hoped. S put all her cards on the table by admitting that she wasn’t having fun and planned to rectify the situation by only writing what she wanted to write.

I am familiar with her desire to maintain a quality blog as well as working myself into a tizzy over what to write. When S said she’d give half an hour every two weeks to writing posts, I thought either she’s committing blogging suicide or I’m insane for overworking it. For me, the fear on this subject stems from being told I must have an author platform to market myself prior to publishing my book. This is such a distraction and takes away from my writing time.

By the end of S’s post, I felt encouragement knowing that I am not alone in my concerns. If she can refocus herself by only writing what she loves, so can I. I’d rather be ruled by my passion for writing than by my fear of falling social media stats.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you are a writer, you’re not alone. In fact, musicians, photographers, painters, dancers, and all those who create art, it’s time to wrest your craft back from the hands of those who are more concerned with profits than they are with the creation process. Take inspiration from each other and step back to reassess when things go askew. Rediscover your passion, and then go forth and create.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 20

writers-soul-20I’m two years into my author platform with my third-year anniversary coming up this August. I have a nice quantity of followers on my blog which is the most important part of my platform as far as I’m concerned because it reflects me most personally. I greatly appreciate the people who take the time to view, and hopefully read, my blog.

For this reason, I maintain quality posts that I trust my followers find interesting. These posts include samples of my writing, stories about my family life to give people a feel for who I am, and articles and recipes promoting my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I try to post on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and I revisit these posts based on a follow-up schedule of one week, one month, and two months. Then there is my presence on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Why do I mention all this? Because once again I find myself questioning the benefit of the author platform. I went in search of articles, statistics, and/or facts that would answer my question, and here is what I found. Keep in mind that I’m interested in finding info as it relates to the fiction writer.

Per Jane Friedman’s July 25, 2016, post, A Definition of Author Platform, in answer to the question Do you need a platform to get published?:

It depends. If you’re a fiction writer, no.  Fiction writers should focus on crafting the best work possible. That’s not to say a platform is unwelcome if you have one, but an agent or publisher will make a decision first based on the quality of your manuscript and its suitability for the current marketplace.

I was quite pleased to know Mrs. Friedman believes the most important part of our careers is to write good fiction. As anyone who writes knows, that doesn’t always come easily. I try to write 1000 words a day, but life has a way of crashing in on my writing that sometimes makes this difficult. Still, I press on without making pathetic excuses, and if I don’t meet my word goal, I hope I come away with at least one brilliantly written sentence for the day.

Here’s the thing, though: writing three quality posts for my blog takes quite a lot of time. True, they vary in word count, and sometimes I can squeeze three posts out of my 1000 words a day goal, sometimes more, sometimes less. I devote Sundays to writing my posts. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling that the blog is taking away valuable time from my other writing.

Coming up with three different blog posts is like having three different battle fronts open on top of the one for my novel, the one for querying, and the one for maintaining the other aspects of my platform. That’s a whole lot of fighting going on which leads to stress and fatigue. It can negatively affect my frame of mind when I approach my novel. In short, there are too many irons in the fire to allow for good writing on one project.

Then I came across statistics for the fiction writer, who is given the grace of shooting for lower stats than the non-fiction writer for whom platform is crucial, on the Writer Unboxed site in the article Building Your Writer Platform — How Much is Enough?, and I almost had a heart attack. These are loosely defined targets that the fiction writer is to aim for:

Blog Page Views Notable: 20,000/month

Twitter Followers Notable: 5,000

Newsletter Subscribers Notable: 5,000

Public Speaking Appearances Notable: Speaking to 1,000 people (total) a year

Sales of Previous Self-Published Books Notable: 2,000+ for fiction

So, now I’m curious to know if my platform is enough. Luckily, a few agents addressed the question of readiness within the same article, and I would direct you to Writer Unboxed to read them as they are quite lengthy. I’m also not sure if the agents are speaking to non-fiction or fiction writers, but in either case, I’m wondering if an author platform is a good and/or just measure of how worthy a fiction writer’s work is for publication.

I don’t want to live in fear of dropping stats on any portion of my platform, and more than that, I don’t want to offend my followers in any way that would result in losing them. And yet, so much of what I read and hear from fellow writers, whether traditionally, self-, or pre-published, is that it all comes down to how much money a writer will make for a publisher. Worse, if sales are poor, the publisher has a tendency to place the blame on the writer. Does that mean I won’t get looked at until I achieve a certain level of stats on my author platform thus guaranteeing big sales for a publisher?

Perhaps the question I should be asking is: what’s being done to make writers’ lives more conducive to writing and less stressful? I found some relief in the latter portion of Mrs. Friedman’s article, and although she was addressing non-fiction writers, I believe the same clarifications apply to fiction writers when she expounds upon What platform is NOT, What activities build author platform?, and Platform building is not one size fits all.

At the heart of this matter in my quest for publication is the desire to make a connection with other writers who may be experiencing the same concerns. I don’t want to feed the misery loves company aspect of this busines. Rather, I would love to hear from people on how they view the issue and how they are positively dealing with it.  But here is another portion of my anxiety regarding my author platform: why don’t followers engage? In a world where people love to give their opinion on anything and everything, writers are asking, begging even, for people to leave feedback and input, reviews and comments.

In closing, I agree yet again with Jane Friedman from her above-mentioned article when she says:

It rips me apart to hear very new writers express confusion and anxiety about their platform, especially when they have not a single book or credit to their name. Well, it’s not a mystery why platform is so confusing when you may not yet know who you are as a writer.  First and foremost, platform grows out of your body of work—or from producing great work. Remember that.  It’s very difficult, next to impossible, to build a platform for work that does not yet exist.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 19

I’ve admitted before in my Writer’s Soul series that I’m not the opening up and sharing kind of person. I created Baring My Writer’s Soul to help me get over that as well as many of the anxieties I have about writing. Well, it worked until it didn’t. Now I find myself back at the beginning of my own series, reading Part 1, and trying to figure out how I derailed myself yet again.

I’ll take responsibility for my derailment when what I really want to say is that I allowed it to happen. I could even pinpoint the exact moment it happened three days before Christmas of 2016. Instead, I’ll return to the methods that had been working for me up until I jumped the tracks and seek fresh methods for dealing with the new worries that have sneaked into my life.

I’ll start by making peace with all the bad, whether real or perceived, that occurred up to this point for it’s the only way I’m going move forward. Even as I do this, I know the negative thoughts will rear their ugly heads to remind me that the sky is falling in my world and that this never happens to anyone else. It would be so wonderful if I could predict when this is going to happen, but since I can’t, I’ll keep stockpiling my Writer’s Toolbox with the tools and supplies I need to move past the bad.

Another thing I’ll stop doing is thinking so much. I overanalyze until I’ve worked myself into a tizzy which dumps me into the middle of comparing myself to others, and we all know that’s the death of joy. I must learn to content myself with not knowing all the answers right now, all at once, or ever. Giving myself a reasonable amount of time to make it back to a healthy writing me is also essential. This is a tricky one for me, and I must admit that, but I must also not fall into the trap of believing that I don’t have time to get it right.

writers-soul-19The biggest issue I’ll need to deal with in my writing life is one that I’ve been working up to:  rejection. All writers face it at some point, but we are also aware that knowing this doesn’t make it one whit easier. The first ones were the hardest, but then I leveled out for a while and took them in stride. At the end of last year when my submission tracking spreadsheet began to pile up with Nos and No Responses, I pushed my writing muse off a high mental bridge and jumped in after her. Together we wallowed in the river of grief.

The best way I have found to deal with rejection is to remember that it is not a reflection on who I am, what I have written, or how I present myself and my writing. Rejection does not alter the merit of my writing or me. People get turned down all the time for various reasons, and it has nothing to do with their worth. Furthermore, rejection is not a valid excuse for quitting. Just like I kept on looking for the perfect man before I met and married my husband, so will I continue searching for the best agent to represent my work. I feel bad for the ones who passed me up, but I don’t want someone in my life who isn’t thrilled just thinking about me and all that I have to offer. That line of thinking landed me an amazing man, and I trust it will connect me with a terrific agent.

So, as I sift through the past Writer’s Soul posts, I’ll keep in mind that all rejection is just re-direction and begin plotting a new path to happiness as I continue writing. I have to do this for myself because my happiness is dependent on me and no one else is going to do it for me.

Remember: Write Happy!

How I Cheated at NaNoWriMo and Won

how-i-cheated-at-nanowrimoA couple years ago, my friend and fellow writer, S of JSMawdsley, talked me into trying NaNoWriMo. She mentioned it at the writer’s group she facilitates at the library where we worked. At the time, I was mainly a short story writer and dabbled in the occasional picture book. As luck would have it, I had an idea for a novel in mind, and NaNoWriMo seemed like the perfect way to get it out of my head and on my laptop.

Being new to the world of NaNoWriMo, I didn’t prepare at all. I just started writing on November first and quit on November thirtieth. I had 50,000 words, which satisfied the requirements of NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t have a complete novel. What I did have was a lot of work ahead of me and the conviction that maybe I really hadn’t won.

At this point, S would probably have told me I needed to outline my novel, but the first thing I discovered from writing such a lengthy piece is that I’m a pantser. I plot a little when approaching my writing, but I love to explore the rabbit trails because that is where I discover my best writing. My opinion on pantsing can be read here: Are You A Pantser?

So, did I win NaNoWriMo or did I cheat? I started at about the last one-third of the novel because I had the most information for writing that portion. In short, I learned the valuable lesson of researching before you write especially if it’s for a contest such as NaNoWriMo. You don’t want the added stress of trying to conduct research while keeping up a word goal.

I pressed on throughout the year editing what I had written and creating the rest of the novel as I wanted it to be. I researched more thoroughly and ended up chucking quite a bit of what I wrote for NaNoWriMo. Again, part of that was my fault, but I also wondered if one 50,000-word novel every year is what I wanted. Is that what the creators of NaNoWriMo want?

I suspect and sincerely hope the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to keep people writing because that’s what I did. Before I knew it, November had rolled around again, and with it NaNoWriMo. I wasn’t finished with my first novel, so why on earth would I abandon it for the added pressure of creating a new novel. Admittedly, I had no new ideas at the time, and I didn’t want the burden of coming up with one. Also, there was no time to research even the slim ideas that passed through my head.

Instead, I cheated, and I cheated grandly! I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and without a single ounce of shame, I re-entered my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Dr. Welles’s story was almost complete, but I needed a little motivation to finish the missing chapters and tie it all together. NaNoWriMo provided this inspiration by keeping me on track with a daily word goal, but it also became a beneficial editing tool. If I edited my daily word goal, I counted it along with any new writing.

What I achieved wasn’t another half-baked novel, but rather a well-written, well-edited novel with which I was extremely pleased. A titch more editing after the fact, and Dr. Welles was ready for the hands of beta readers.

I took a couple years off from NaNoWriMo, but the point of the contest was always close to my heart. I knew I couldn’t devote time to a new novel and make The Secrets of Dr. John Welles all I wanted it to be.   Then there is the fact that when story inspiration comes to me, I have to begin which sometimes means starting before NaNoWriMo starts. Yes, there is Camp NaNo, but my heart belongs to the original taking place in November.

When NaNoWriMo rolled around this year, I was already a little over halfway through my current novel. During the month of October, I had to set my writing aside to prepare for my son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. When I was ready to restart, good ole NaNoWriMo once again came to the rescue as a means up jumpstarting my writing. Although I didn’t sign up with the official website, I created a spreadsheet to track and tally my daily writing goal. I’m using it to finish the current novel, for which I am prepared research wise, as well as for any writing I do that can be published including my blog posts.

Yes, that’s cheating because it’s not a single new novel of at least 50,000 words. But again, I have to believe the heart and soul purpose of NaNoWriMo is to keep writers writing. That is what I am doing.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 18

writers-soul-18Last week I read the chapter in Heather Sellers’s book, Page After Page, where she compares the source of one’s great writing to a compost heap. That seemed apropos because there are days when I feel like my writing is… well, you get the point.

Anyhow, if you haven’t read her book, I highly recommend you do. There is a reason I keep returning to it as a source of inspiration unlike any other writing book I’ve ever read. Rather than expound upon those reasons again, simply search my blog for posts where I mentioned Heather Sellers and/or Page After Page. Back to the compost.

According to Mrs. Sellers, our life provides the best source of writing material because we keep it hidden beneath layers of time, and like compost, it ferments to the place where the events become less painful and/or incredibly memorable. It is then that we should till the compost of our existence, digging deep, to dredge a great story. How profound.

But I don’t want to write about the time in third grade when two friends, with whom I thought I shared an amazing friendship, passed notes saying they’d rather not hang with me. I intercepted one such note. Or the time my dad gave my dog away on my birthday and packed me off to my cousins’ house to spend the night while he did so. Or the time my mom accidentally put my guinea pig out to graze right after my dad fertilized the yard. Or the time my first real boyfriend trounced my heart with my former best friend. You get the picture.

Just so you don’t think I’m poor-mouthing my life, or parents, there are great memories, too. One that springs to mind I don’t actually recall, but I’m told I gushed, “I love my daddy; he lets me ride my horsey,” after I received a hobby horse for Christmas. Then there are all the wonderful memories of my mother as Troop Leader during my Girl Scout years, especially when she took us to COSI.

What concerns me as a writer is writing about myself and/or writing myself into a story. Several people who have read different pieces of my work say things like, “Oh, Prudence Mayfield is so you,” (The Secrets of Dr. John Welles) and, per my husband regarding my current WIP, “Yeah, the mother in that story is totally you.” My son also says this about the daughter in the same story. And once, my mother said, “I recognize what happened in this short story as you in high school.”

These comments surprised me because I wasn’t consciously writing myself into my work. I suppose subconsciously, I was dredging through my compost. So much the better if it makes the writing great. But to intentionally write about myself and experiences? I’m not so sure about that. There are some dark, dank, compost-y places in my head and heart that I believe should just stay there.

Another reason why this whole thought process intrigues me is because I have a major complaint against writers who vehemently insist that the story wasn’t about them. Then you read their biography and, just as you suspected, it reflects their life so perfectly, they might as well have used their real name.

Now I know there is a small part of every writer that is written into his or her work even if it’s just his or her preferences regarding food which his or her protagonist just happens to like as well. Even hopes and dreams can reflect who the author is. Writers – quit trying to deny this. So, I’m left with the questions: how much of myself do I intentionally write into my work? And, if asked, do I confess that I wrote a passage so well because I experienced what my character(s) did? Or do I turtle my head into my coat and swear it wasn’t me?

I already believe that I serve my heart upon a platter for dissection, AKA public opinion. All artists feel this way. Rather than becoming caught up in trying to determine how much of me is in the story, just enjoy it, and trust that I have quite a bit of compost from which to grow new tales.

A Day in the Life

img_20160922_0851090761So the top portion of my uniform is back from the laundry. I sure hope they removed all the cat hair this time. I adore my cats, Henry and Simon, but let’s face it, they leave quite a bit of hair in places they shouldn’t. Like my couch and my uniform. It’s a good thing they’re light-colored cats or it would really show up! But I hear the laundress is an amazing woman. I believe she’s a writer, too.

a-day-in-the-life-2Anyhow, I have to don the bottom part of my uniform because I have to stop working for a few moments to take the kiddo to school. For some reason, he doesn’t appreciate my choice of uniform pants. I tell him he has no sense of style. He rolls his eyes. What can you expect from a teenager? He comes home from school, wipes out the food in our cupboards like a ravenous locust, and has the gall to look at me in my uniform and say, “You haven’t showered yet?” The ingrate. Does he think all this writing happens by magic? And what does the kid have against the Autobots?

a-day-in-the-lifeAt least I can stop by the refueling station for some gas after dropping him off. I know some people prefer that pricey fuel with the fancy green mermaid on the cup, but I find my favorite establishment brews a tasty cup of java juice. Besides, I don’t require all that frou frou stuff to keep me going. The grittier the brew, the better the writing I always say. And depending on how good they did with mixing the perfect balance of coffee and cream will determine if I visit my other favorite libation in the evening to keep the writing going.

Now the really hard part starts: tending one’s social media without getting sucked in to cute kitten videos and all the political garbage flying around. Ten minutes is what I usually allow myself which means I’ll be on Facebook and Twitter at least an hour. My punishment is to stare at a blank screen for the rest of the day as I try to come up with blog posts, short fiction, and another chapter in my current WIP. One of the benefits of being a writer is that you get to use cool acronyms like WIP, POV, and MSWL.

img_20160812_185540197So here I sit. Instead of fascinating storylines that will keep my readers riveted, all I can think about is the ten years’ worth of scrapbooking I need to do in time for my kid’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. See how I worked a little shameless bragging in there? Another cool part of being a writer. Then there’s the weeding I need to do in the flowerbeds all the while knowing I won’t get to it until next spring when I plan on tearing them out anyhow, all the folding I need to accomplish because I was ill this past week and chores stacked up, decisions about what to make for dinner, wondering who will show up to Critique Group tonight, and my book club selection I need to finish reading. I need a nap.

img_20160906_081749882Time to throw some glitter at the screen and hope the writing fairies show up. Or I could text my mother to see if she’s up. There’s a good chance that making contact with her early in the day will result in an invitation to breakfast. The best part is that I can wear my uniform over to her condominium association because no one over there cares what I look like when I arrive. Got to love the elderly and their screwy sense of fashion! Of course, Mom’s place is the black hole of comfy-ness, and I’ll waste the entire morning over there, accomplishing jack squat toward my writing. Perhaps I’ll just raid the kitchen for some cashews and press on.

Being a writer may sound like an easy job. After all, the uniform alone is a major plus. But imagine giving yourself really hard homework for the rest of your life. Not only do you have to create the task, you have to provide the solution. There are days you love it and days you wish someone would have hit you in the head with a ball bat or at least warned you what it would be like. It’s an addiction, and no matter how long a break you give yourself, you always come back to it. It is a vicious cycle, and the doubts and fears can pop up at any time even when you thought you’d vanquished them two years ago.

And yet, you can’t help but create, and when you remember that you’re part of an amazing group of people known as The Creatives, which also includes artists, musicians, photographers, etc., it helps you get through the long, dry spells of no ideas and rejection letters. Take comfort in the fact that unlike many people who only wished they had taken up the pen, you actually did. When querying feels like you’ve placed your beautiful baby in the public view and begged for someone to tell you everything that’s wrong with it, remember that you had the guts to query in the first place. You rock. I rock. Heck, we’re all pretty amazing when you get right down to it. If me telling you that isn’t enough, take it from people who have been where we’re all hoping to end up. (Writing Inspiration)

Now, go forth and create. I have to get back to staring at my blinking cursor.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Just the Facts, Ma'amI recently discovered a misconception regarding members of the Grammar Police that I feel compelled to correct. The Grammar Police are people who are passionate about grammar. They are not snarky, snippy know-it-alls who want to make you look bad in front of other people. I point this out for members of the Grammar Police as well. If you’re not showing tact when correcting people’s grammar, you might want to step back and reassess why you became a Grammar Policeperson in the first place.

First of all, it’s because of a love of grammar. Second, it’s based on a love for the person speaking or writing. In the event that you don’t have good feelings toward the person whose grammar is in need of correction, refer back to the first point or keep your mouth shut. Remember: there is a time and a place to correct grammar. Choose both wisely.

For those not of the Grammar Police, keep in mind that our passion for grammar does not mean that we are above correction ourselves. Any Grammar Policeperson who believes this to be so needs to turn in his or her badge immediately. Correction is where learning takes place, and who doesn’t want to learn correct grammar?

Two of my favorite grammar websites are Grammarist and Grammar Girl. Between these two, I keep quite a few mistakes out of my speech and writing. Of course, that’s not to say I haven’t made some doozies in both. No, you don’t get to know the details.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 17

Writer's Soul 17If you’re like me, you have to build up to writing, ease into it. To wake up and start writing is like jumping out of bed and going to work without coffee.   There are people who can do this; God bless their perky morning souls. I approach things a little differently by creating a positive work environment and attitude for myself. This is achieved with a cup of hot tea and reading my Bible. The simple activity sets the stage for the rest of my writing day.

Then I take a few minutes to mentally organize and deep breathe. I rid myself of negative thoughts and focus on the positive. As a writer, one of the most negative things I encounter is writer’s block. I can feel the ideas in my head, but I just can’t get them out. I accomplish this by acknowledging that I’m not truly blocked. Rather, I’m giving in to fears, doubts, and insecurities. Being able to say this makes the fears, doubts, and insecurities manageable, and I can move on. Also, I stop guilting myself for what I may or may not be as a writer, and I stop playing the comparison game. Once I’ve dealt with these issues, I’m free to write.

One of the most important things I’ve learned since I took up writing is to keep my equipment simple. All I need to create literary brilliance is a single subject notebook and a pencil. I choose a pencil over a pen because they make noise as they move across the paper. This light scratching is satisfying to my brain and is proof writing efforts. I see and hear my progress. Another technique that helps with this process is to sometimes write on lightly textured paper such as a sketch pad.

I write in capital letters. It took some getting used to, but by doing so, the process slows down my writing and focuses my attention at the same time. My ideas actually flow better. As new ideas pop into my head, I write them in the margins of my notebook.

One of the hardest things to conform to is a writing schedule. You would think making your own hours would be bliss, but I find as my own boss, sometimes I have the tendency to not take my writing seriously. I become lax beyond the point of flexible, and my writing suffers. When I set a schedule and stick with it, choosing the time of day that works best for me, I am more productive. Of course, I allow for emergencies in my life and some flexibility, but I don’t allow myself to get too far off the schedule I created.

As for social media, it took me a while to learn to not be controlled by it. Author platforms are good, but when you spend all your time maintaining them, you’re not writing. Not to mention the rising stats are addictive, and the minute you tell yourself you’ll only be on a minute, you’ve wasted thirty minutes playing. Remember: writers write; they don’t build reputations on what they’re going to do. Resolve this issue by scheduling the time you’ll spend maintaining your social media, and again, stick to it.

Another trick I use to nudge my writing along is the daily word goal. It’s effective, but I learned that when I write what needs to be written, completing a scene or story in fewer words, I still consider myself successful. In other words, I write until I’m finished. I’ve been surprised how long or short a handwritten portion turns out to be when typed. Coming short of the goal isn’t failure as long as I’m writing.

That’s when I reward myself with chocolate, a cup of tea or coffee, pleasure reading, napping, calling a friend, cooking, taking a walk. I warn against using social media or television as a reward because they lure one away from focusing.

Also, I do not punish myself for not meeting my writing goal. There are already too many negative thoughts bombarding my head, negative influences toward my writing from outside, and my resistance will pounce on these to keep me from writing. The goal is writing. The quantity is negotiable.

I keep one main project to work on, usually my novel, and resist the urge to put too many irons in the writing fire. However, I also maintain a notebook of other writing projects I’d like to work on in case I need to switch things up. Sometimes I need a project while waiting for a response to a research question or if my main project becomes heavy and I need a small break. Alternative writing includes journaling, blog posts, letter writing, flash fiction, and short stories. I use caution when setting aside my main writing project for a period of time, making sure it’s for a valid reason such as research, time to think and/or reflect, or major upheavals in my life. I know when I truly need a break and when I’m just sloughing off.

In short, I found what worked for me. Good writing habits take time to establish, so I never quit. I carry a notebook with me everywhere, have one in every room of my house, and write on the run. If I mess up, I start again. My resistance battles me along the way, but I am stronger. Resistance tells me these methods are weird, lame, and ineffective. I do them anyhow.

The easiest thing I do for my writing is be present. I simply put myself in a chair at the table with a pencil and paper. Then I made this process enjoyable by scouting out the best location in my home where I can be the most productive and tailored it to my needs with music, silence, windows, shade, snacks, and beverages. Sometimes I change locations to keep from stagnating.

One of my writing jump starts is to write twenty different words on index cards (the first twenty that come to mind or twenty things that interest me), turn them upside down, take one from top of stack, and free write for ten minutes. I do this for twenty days as a warm up and repeat as needed until I trust myself to jump into my writing day without assistance.

Another is my list of ten. In three minutes, I write down a list of ten things I did yesterday. In ten minutes, I free write about one of the things I did on my list. If nothing grabs me, I choose number three. A month of this particular warmup helped me set healthy routines. Keep in mind that these simple exercises are like mental stretching. No athlete competes without first stretching. True, it can be boring, it isn’t pretty, but it does massage your brain into creative mode.

I never forget good ole visual or audible writing prompts. Some of my best writing has been jumpstarted by a picture or piece of music. The funny things is, when I went looking for a pretty picture to write about or music to put me in the writing mood, I couldn’t find anything. Then there are pictures I wouldn’t have looked at twice and music that crossed my path that flashed a story through my brain so quickly I knew I had to put it down on paper. Don’t discount any source of inspiration.

Making myself accountable to others is effective for meeting my writing goals. I chose a writing buddy who will encourage me to stick to my goals and help me address why I might not be. I’m careful not to compare what I am doing to what my buddy is doing, and I don’t swap work with them. My buddy should have a different writing buddy to help manage his writing goals. In that vein of thought, choose wisely with whom you share your writing. He or she should be able to provide constructive feedback because poorly given feedback can knock you off your focus.

Based on my own personal experience, I don’t read writing books while I’m writing, especially the how to variety and those on writing style. I find them to be distracting because I try to incorporate all the wonderful new ideas I’m reading into my writing, and they don’t all fit. They don’t all belong, and they can hamper my writing if I’m not careful.

Most of what I learned about creating a writing life came from Heather Sellers’s book Page After Page. Some of it came from other inspirational sources. I’d love to hear what works for you and your writing, your process, and your thoughts on what I’ve written. Remember, feedback is what we authors live for.

A Snapshot of Writing

A Snapshot of WritingThe creation of art can be a wonderful and dreadful process at the same time. Some of the struggles I’ve encountered with my chosen art form of writing include writer’s block, doubts and fears regarding my abilities, the evil query and rejection letters, comparison, envy, impatience, and the list goes on and on. But every now and then, there are lamps along the tunnel as I travel toward the light at the end. That’s when it’s wonderful.

As an outlet for my frustration, I began to tag along with my sister-in-law when she took photographs. She’s really quite good and a patient teacher as well when I asked her questions on how she approached her shot. One of the ways she explained the process was to hand the camera to me. I declined the opportunity to even hold her camera, which looked far too technical and expensive, but in addition to being a great teacher, my sister-in-law is mildly insistent. There was no way I was getting off the hook.

So, I snapped a few pictures as she taught me what the various dials and buttons on the camera do. She talked me through the procedure, and by allowing me to make mistakes, I learned quite a bit and became addicted to photography.

Here’s where the wonderful part happened. After setting up an account on ViewBug for my photos, joining challenges, and voting on other peoples’ pictures, I earned a free tutorial on landscape photography. Even though I don’t own a camera, I watched the video with the hopes of gaining more knowledge and possibly impressing my sister-in-law.

The lesson on photography will help me hone my skill, but what truly impressed me was how much of what the instructor said could be applied to writing. For starters, new experiences are good for you. Even if you’ve been writing for a while, keep in mind that every time you start a new piece, you’re taking yourself someplace you’ve never been with a different location, characters, style, descriptions, etc. And even if you’re working on a series, you have the power to make something new happen each time. Then there is your unique perspective. You are going to see things differently than anyone else in the world, so write them from the perspective that you alone possess.

As for equipment, writers have the luxury of keeping it simple, and I strongly suggest you do. A well-sharpened pencil and single-subject, college ruled notebook is all you need to create literary brilliance. Know the basics and fundamentals of your technique. Scouting a good location is important for a writer because distractions, even in the home, will keep you from your goal. Timing is important for the same reason: determine when in your day you are the most productive and stick to the schedule. And when it comes to composition, that’s where your personal style will shine through.

So now it’s time to address your process. The instructor on the tutorial called it a mind process and used words every writer knows. He started with subject. Identify what deserves to be written. Don’t forget POV. Take a small bit of advice from a photographer, and don’t be afraid to explore multiple POVs at the same time. What it does for photography will not be lost on writing. The formula for determining exposure translates into plotting, pantsing, or a combination thereof for a writer. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment. Next, decide what you’d like to focus on. Once all of this is determined, work that composition.

When you show your photographs to other people, they don’t know what else is going on around the scene you’ve captured or how you felt when you took it. Writers can combat this issue by providing essential backstory at the appropriate time. But just like a photographer, you don’t have to show it all. Leave a little mystery, a little something to the imagination, and your reader won’t feel led around by the nose. Write about the most interesting parts because that’s where the story is, and you’ll capture a good picture. A mental picture in this case. Remember that the objective is not to capture one big picture of everything all at once, but rather a frame that tells a clear story. You are the director, you choose the content.

Don’t fall in love with the first thing you write. Investigate your characters’ surroundings and discover what else you can do with it or them. Walk through their world. Return many times with breaks in between. Take another look at your subject, and decide what else you can do with it. Then apply your creative style in a way no one else has thought of.

Add vibrant but well-written details and structure, and a sense of order will emerge. You can do this on different levels of your writing whether writing on a grand scale, intimate stories, or the minute particulars. Keep in mind that your ideal and the reality won’t always match, but don’t let this discourage you. Work with what you’re given, seek inspiration, and the great story will come.

As for filters, they apply to the writer during the editing stage. You’ll be able to filter out the bad in your own writing after you’ve set it aside for a couple months and return to it fresh. Beta readers provide some of the best filtering toward your writing goal, seeing things you didn’t, and offering advice from their own perspective.

With a few modifications, the guidelines for taking a great photograph apply to writing with stunning clarity. I mentioned this at my writer’s group and was told by a poet that this is known as the rules of the creatives. They are a set of standards that transcend one artistic form to positively influence another. Hanging with the poets a couple of times a year has already lent valuable insight to my writing. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that my newfound hobby would as well.

There are so many artistic pursuits that crossover to supply inspiration and encouragement. Already I’m viewing the story ingredients in my mind and trying to figure a way to bake them all together so as to produce a perfect word painting. I suggest you do the same.

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the TradeAt this month’s Critique Group, a fellow writer said that he thought he’d done everything correctly when writing his novel only to find that it had to be double spaced with one-inch margins, Times New Roman 12 point, starting a third of the way down the page—

“Wait, wait, wait,” I said when I noticed panic widening the eyes of another new member. “What you’re talking about is a manuscript submission copy.”

We had a discussion on how to write a story and touched on plotting versus pantsing, writing by hand versus typing on a laptop, etc. The first point I want to make is just write the story. As Will Shetterly said, “It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.” I’m also fond of “Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.” There are many such encouraging quotes, but I’m sure you understand what I’m saying. Get that story written.

With that being said, the second point and true purpose of this post is to offer another resource where new writers can find the information they require to turn their manuscripts into acceptable submission copies. I’m all about giving back the information I discovered and/or processes I learned.

These steps are for formatting a novel:

  1. Set 1″ margins on all sides.
  2. Prepare a title page with your name and contact information in the upper left-hand corner of the page (some sources say include the word count here), title in ALL CAPS about one-third of the way down the page, skip a line, followed with a novel by, skip a line, and your name.
  3. Don’t number the title page. Begin numbering (1) with the first page of the text of the manuscript, usually the introduction, prologue, or chapter one.
  4. Use a header on each page, including your last name, the title of your novel in ALL CAPS, and the page number. Remember to make the font of the header match the font of your manuscript.
  5. Start each new chapter on its own page, one-third of the way down the page.
  6. The chapter number and chapter title should be in all caps, separated by two hyphens: CHAPTER 1—THE BODY.
  7. Begin the body of the chapter four to six lines below the chapter title.
  8. Indent fives spaces for each new paragraph.
  9. Double-space the entire text.
  10. Use a standard font, 12-point type. Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier is fine.
  11. Alignment should be to the left, not justified. The right edges will not be uniform.
  12. Indicate scene breaks with a blank line and five centered dashes or number signs.
  13. End your manuscript with the five centered dashes or number signs or simply type THE END.
  14. Use 20-lb. bond paper.

The guidelines for a manuscript submission copy may vary a titch based on which websites you reference and/or who you talk to. The steps presented above are the basics and will ensure that your manuscript doesn’t get rejected because it is sloppy.

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