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Knowing What You're Going to Write Before You Write

How many words do you put on the page in a typical writing session? Finger-blank-paper-25643-l

500?  1,000?

When I wrote my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, my deal with myself was to write 2,000 words a day.  Didn't matter when I wrote them, but if I hadn't written them before bedtime, I had to stay up until they were done.

I was delighted to produce 2,000 words a day, let me tell you.  But how about routinely writing 10,000 words in a writing session?

Apparently, it can be done.

Somebody (I forget who, forgive me) tweeted this article about author Rachel Aaron, who wrote about how she went from an output of 2,000 to 10,000 words.  Every day.  (If you're in the mood to challenge yourself to write this much in even one day, head on over to Milli's Fear of Writing blog and sign up for one of her regular 10K day challenges.)

Rachel says that she attributes her word count success to three things:

Knowledge--Knowing what you're going to write

Time--Tracking and evaluating productivity

Enthusiasm--Excitement about what you're writing

I'm not so keen on the tracking and evaluating part (which is probably why I ought to pay attention to it), and generally for me enthusiasm is a given.  What can hang me up is not knowing what I'm going to write.

Over and over again I've found that following this simple rule leads to writing success:

Have a place to go.

It'll save you from hours spent internet surfing as you try to figure out what's next in your writing.  It will allow  you writing sessions where you write 10K words.  Your house will be lusciously dirty because you won't be spending time cleaning it instead of writing.

But how do you create yourself a place to go?

When you're in the flow, several chapters in, it is usually pretty easy.  You just write the next chapter on the scene list.  (This is one reason I advocate for outlines.  Nothing fancy, just a structure that gives you someplace to go next. Or, if you get excited about a scene that's out of order, go write that.)

But what if you're just starting out?  Or what if you're just a few chapters in and you don't really know your characters yet?  It can be way too easy to end up staring off into space because you don't know where to go.  (I admit, I've found myself in this place a few times recently.)

This is when the value of prepping to write a novel (or any kind of book) becomes evident.  When you know things about your character, place, and the structure of your novel, it will be much easier to get in stellar word count writing sessions.  I've actually taken the time to go back and really get to know my characters recently and it has made an enormous difference in my writing, and my engagement with the work. While this kind of novel prep can seem like busy work, I highly recommend it for the insights it will give you.  And for the fact that it will give you a place to go.

By the way, I'm going to be presenting a class on prepping for the novel this summer, so if you're interested and you're not on my list, sign up with the form to the right.

Do you have any pet ways that you prep for writing sessions that improve your word count?

Photo by OmirOnia.

Book Review: The First Husband

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions are mine, all mine.

The First Husband

by Laura Dave

This book is snappy.  As in, it snaps right along.  Pick it up and begin reading and before you know it, you're fifty pages in.  The novel tells the story of Annie Adams, a travel writer with a glamorous column for a big-time newspaper (I'm imagining we're supposed to remember the days when such professions were actually still possible).  She's in a fabulous relationship with movie director Nick, whose career is just hitting the big time.  Life is good.

And then Nick dumps her. 

In her grief, Annie repairs to a bar late at night and meets the adorable chef Griffin, who she marries, abruptly and pretty much on the rebound.  Hilarity ensues.  It actually really does--the book is very funny, besides being snappy.  (Maybe funny makes it snap?) 

If you've guessed that this novel is not going to win any literary prizes, you are correct.  But I don't care, I liked it.  I like reading funny novels.  Plus, my novel is funny and many's the agent who told me they loved it but they couldn't sell comedy.  So I'm pleased to be reading a book that is funny.

Also, there's this.  The book is written in first person.  I had been reading it the night before I awoken with the directive to change my novel from third person to first person.  Coincidence?  Probably not.  So reading this novel gave me a creative charge, and I'm grateful.  (For the record, you as a writer should be reading every single damn thing you can get your little hands on and this is why.  Because it inspires you.  And teaches you.)

So that's my book review.  I'd love to hear from you how a book has inspired your writing.  Please leave a comment.

You Can Do It!

"A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere." Joyce A Myers Objects-stationery-draw-10141-l

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about motivation this weekend.

Because I think that sometimes we need it to get ourselves started.  And by "started," I don't mean just beginning a project.  I'm talking about starting a writing session.  Here's what sometimes happens to me:

1.  I commit to taking time to write.

2.  I check email.

3.  I ponder writing, but it seems scary.

4.  I converse on Twitter.

5.  I look at news and entertainment stories.

6.  I ponder writing, but it seems like it will take a lot of energy.

7.  I check email again.

8.  I find another tweet to which I must respond.

9.  And finally, finally, I get to my writing.

And then I love it.  Flat out love it and don't want to do anything else again, ever.  So why did it take so long for me to get to it?

I think its a lack of motivation.  I have failed to remember and capture that wonderful feeling of being in love with my writing.  Truly, hearing sentiments like, "you can do it!" remind me of what it is that I really want to be doing.  Hearty platitudes actually help me because they recall the feeling of accomplishment I want to achieve. They remind me that I am in love with writing.

And the best way to evoke the desire to do something is to think about how it will make you feel.

So, here's my encouragement to you:  You can do it!  Really, you can!  Just pick up that pencil or open that computer and have at it.  

Please comment.  Do motivational phrases and ideas encourage you or annoy you?

Photo by Danzo08.


Guest Post: A Day in the Life of a Writer, Author Cynthia Haggard

CynthiaSallyHaggardA Day in the Life of Writer

by Cynthia Haggard

I dream that I am sitting on a chair in an ocean cruiser, two rows back from the Queen. Yes, that’s right, I’m sitting right behind the Queen of England, or would be were it not for her numerous relatives sitting in the row between us. A bell sounds. My eyelids flutter. I glimpse the clock. Six o’clock, and I must force myself out of bed because I have a yoga class at seven.

I wriggle my way into a seated position, the thrill of being so near the Queen fading as night fades into day. I go to my yoga class, do my shopping afterwards, carry it home in my backpack.

I unpack it, soak myself in a hot bath, and get ready for my day. By ten o’clock I’m finally ready to write.

“Corfeeee!” My husband’s voice intrudes from the room across the way, where he is taking his bath. Sighing I rise, and make a cup of espresso, remembering to add two teaspoonfuls of sweetener. My husband is unable to function without at least one cup of it. And now he’s buried in student papers, propped up on a wire thingy that crosses the bath, and also prevents his laptop from getting wet.

I return to my desk. Where was Cecylee when last I saw her? Was she having an argument? An argument with Richard? But they had a great many disagreements— “Sweetie! Where are my glasses?”

I rise up and hurry into our hallway. My husband is dressed for the day in cords, leather jacket and felt hat. He’s looking around, turning over papers, rattling keys. I hunt around and retrieve them. They were sitting on the table right behind his chair.

“You put them there!” he laughs.

“I did not,” I reply, kissing him, knowing that he loves to accuse me of hiding things. When the truth is that I’ve become very good at finding things he’s constantly losing.

He gives me a squeeze, and strides off down to the garage, where he’ll drive the car to the university.

I sit down again. Nothing happens to fill the blank in my brain. Speak to me please. But Cecylee folds her arms and taps her feet. She doesn’t take kindly to being interrupted.

I read what I’ve written, and do a light copy-edit. The phone rings.

“Hello,” says a well-known voice. “We’re having dinner tonight with—” And my husband names three other people. “Could you get up and look in the fridge?” I rise up, carrying the cordless phone while I peer into the fridge. How can I complain about a husband who is such an enthusiastic cook? So we discuss the menu, for a while.

Back to the desk. Cecylee is positively seething. But you know all about husbands, I say.You were married to yours for twenty-three years. You know how difficult they can be.

She relents, and tells me more of her story. Hours pass. Finally, I look at the clock. I am tired and it is three o’clock in the afternoon. Time to have a late lunch, before I get on with the rest of my day.

Cynthia Haggard is the author of Thwarted Queen.  Here's a bit about the book: TheThwartedQueen

Cecylee is the apple of her mother’s eye. The seventh daughter, she is the only one left unmarried by 1424, the year she turns nine. In her father’s eyes, however, she is merely a valuable pawn in the game of marriage. The Earl of Westmorland plans to marry his youngest daughter to 13-year-old Richard, Duke of York, who is close to the throne. He wants this splendid match to take place so badly, he locks his daughter up.

The event that fuels the narrative is Cecylee’s encounter with Blaybourne, a handsome archer, when she is twenty-six years old. This love affair produces a child (the “One Seed” of Book II), who becomes King Edward IV. But how does a public figure like Cecylee, whose position depends upon the goodwill of her husband, carry off such an affair? The duke could have locked her up, or disposed of this illegitimate son.

But Richard does neither, keeping her firmly by his side as he tries to make his voice heard in the tumultuous years that encompass the end of the Hundred Years War - during which England loses all of her possessions in France - and the opening phase of the Wars of the Roses. He inherits the political mantle of his mentor Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, and become’s the people’s champion. The rambunctious Londoners are unhappy that their country has become mired in misrule due to the ineptitude of a King prone to fits of madness. Nor are they better pleased by the attempts of the King’s French wife to maneuver herself into power, especially as she was responsible for England’s losses in France. But can Richard and Cecylee prevail? Everywhere, their enemies lurk in the shadows.

This book is filled with many voices, not least those of the Londoners, who forged their political destiny by engaging in public debate with the powerful aristocrats of the time. By their courageous acts, these fifteenth-century Londoners set the stage for American Democracy.

And here's a bit about Cynthia Haggard:

Born and raised in Surrey, England, Cynthia Sally Haggard has lived in the United States for twenty-nine years. She has had four careers: violinist, cognitive scientist, medical writer and novelist. Yes, she is related to H. Rider Haggard, the author of She and King Solomon's Mines. (H. Rider Haggard was a younger brother of the author’s great-grandfather.) Cynthia Sally Haggard is a member of the Historical Novel Society. You can visit her website at:

We'd love to hear your comments.  Does your day as a writer resemble Cynthia's in any way?

Got Writing Velocity?

I've been mulling the concept of momentum in writing lately, because I think I'm finally getting some in my new novel.  As I pondered, I hit on the idea of writing velocity. Night_oktogon_budapest_270478_l

What is writing velocity?

Here's the dictionary definition of velocity:  "the distance an object travels in a specified direction during a unit of time."

And we all know the definition of writing.  It means putting words on the page.

So, here are some ideas about what writing velocity means:

-- Writing velocity is writing fast

-- Writing velocity is writing fearless

-- Writing velocity is getting lots of words on the page

-- Writing velocity is satisfying

-- Writing velocity advances you toward your goals

Wait, you may say. Writing fast is scary and at times unwieldy.  Or even ungainly.  Or unholy.  Add whatever "un" word you like.  All of the above can be true.  And they can also be worked through. 

Because, here are some reasons why you want writing velocity:

-- Writing velocity bypasses the conscious mind

-- Writing velocity focuses on process, not product

-- Writing velocity is fun

-- Writing velocity goes deep.

Before I got into how to actually attain writing velocity, let's talk about when it is not appropriate to be writing crazy fast.  That would be when you are pondering big-picture rewrites or doing detailed editing work.

And now, how to get writing velocity into your life:

1.  Read.  All the time.  Read what you want to write.  Read self-help books.  Read spiritual tomes.  Read anything.  Words in, words out.

2.  Pre-write.  Take notes about what you're going to write about ahead of time.  This helps you to get a starting point, and having a way in is always useful.

3.  Connect with your work.  Read what you've last written (or your notes) before bed.  Or before you take a walk.  Find a time to get your work into your brain so your subconscious will work on ideas about it.

4.  Write every day.  There really is no better option than to just do it.

5.  Take a break.  On the other hand, some modes of healing such as Chinese medicine advocate rest for healing.  We can heed these as writers, too.  Sometimes going full out with the writing can burn us out, especially when working on a long project.  So build in intentional rest times (intentional being the operative word).

Please comment.  Do you write fast?  Does it help your writing process? What have I missed about attaining writing velocity? I'd love to hear more from you.

 Photo by fresh-m.

How Many Times Has Your Writing Been Rejected?

Last night, one of the members of my writing group got married. Love-marriage-weddings-39211-l

All but one of the current members of the group were there, and a couple former members turned up as well. 

Talk turned, as it will amongst such groups, to rejection.  Soon we were attempting to outdo each other with how many rejections we'd each received.

  • I allowed as how I'd sent out Emma Jean at least 50 times.
  • My retreat partner said she'd sent out her book of cat photographs well over 100 times.
  • And yet another writer told me he'd submitted his novel 120 times.*

Lest you think we're all just bad writers, consider this:

  • My novel will be published by Vagabondage Press in February of 2013.
  • My retreat partner just got word yesterday that the cat book will be published next year as well.
  • And the other writer's earlier novel has been made into a movie that will be released in September.

Rejection.  It is part of the writer's life.  To become a successful, published writer, you have to steel yourself againt rejection.  You have to learn to live with it.  And you need to be able to bounce back from it and submit again, as the numbers above testify.  Too many writers stop after getting two or three rejections.

Here are some posts I've written about rejection:

7 Steps to Handle Rejection

A 5-Step Process to Deal With Rejection

Handling Rejection

Getting Your Work Out in the World: The Mindset

Getting Your Work Out in the World: The Mechanics

That ought to keep you reading for awhile.  While you're at it,

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Submit something.  Maybe it is something that's been rejected before, maybe it is something new.  Doesn't matter.  Just do it.

Please, please, comment.  Care to admit how many times you've been rejected?  How do you handle it?

*Names have been omitted to protect the rejectees.

Photo by clshearin.

Beginner's Mind

Sometimes, as a professional writer, I worry too much about product and don't focus enough on process.

Yes, I need to worry about outcomes--my income depends on it.  So it would seem to be a no-brainer to focus on it.

Over the years of practicing writing every day, you get better at the game.  The words flow a bit more easily and not quite so much rewriting and polishing is necessary. 

It is easy to begin focusing on product, not process, because that product appears so much faster.

There are two prime keys to creativity in writing:

1.  Process, not product

2.  Do the work, don't judge it.

I learned both of these at a creativity camp I took with Julia Cameron, she of the Artist's Way.  And back then, when I was a beginning writer, I practiced them constantly.  And then I got better.  And then I started writing professionally.

And then I forgot these lessons.

I forgot the prime keys to creativity.

And writing got less amusing, less free, less wild.  It got more constrained, more anxious, more blocked.

I figured this out in my novel writing, where suddenly I was second guessing every word I put on the page and going back over everything I'd written a million times rather than just sailing through a rough draft.

I figured it out when the novel writing got un-fun.

And now I've gone back to beginner's mind.  I've gone back to focusing on process and doing the work without judging it.

And life is good.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Assess where you are in your writing. Do you need to rethink your process?

I'd love to hear your take on this.  Are  you utilizing the two prime keys in your writing?  Or have you gotten anxious and constrained?


7 Ways to Meditate and Why Writers Should

I know.  Lisbon-lisboa-214799-h


Crap.  Must we?

For many of us, meditation is an item on the to-do list that never gets done, akin to cleaning the basement and scrubbing baseboards.  (And if you actually accomplish those things, please, please, please come to my house and help with mine.)

Meditation is boring.  Meditation takes time away from writing.  Meditation is hard to do correctly.  Did I mention that it is boring?

And yet, many of those pesky spiritual traditions, mine included, emphasize meditation.

Again, crap.  Do we really have to?  We're writers, not swamis or priests, right?  Right?

Right. But what if I told you that meditation:

  • Helps with clarity
  • Aids focus
  • Assists with ideas
  • Gives you peace of mind (helps you not angst over agents, etc.)
  • Helps you concentrate

Now it starts to sound interesting, right?  Because what writer doesn't want increased focus and ability to concentrate, peace of mind, more clarity, and perhaps best of all, lots and lots of ideas?

Me, pick me!

So, here are some ways for writers to meditate.  If you're a slacker, like me, start with #7.

Ways to Meditate

1.  Breathe.  Because, really, that's all you have to do.  That's all there is to it.  Breathe in, breathe out, focusing on the breath while you do so.

2. Guided Meditation The world is full of recorded meditations that will take you to a deeply relaxed place and guide you to visualizations if you so desire.  Google accordingly or create your own by talking into a tape recorder.

3.  Use a Mantra.  Some meditation traditions rely on the use of a mantra, which is just a word or phrase repeated over and over.  If you study certain kinds of meditation, you'll be given a mantra, but there's no reason you can't come up with your own.

4. Count Breaths.  I like this style of meditation because it gives my ego something to do.  Count your breaths from one to ten and then start over again.  If you lose count and your mind wanders, start with one again.

5.  Walk Mindfully.  Take slow, purposeful steps while staying mindful of every movement your body makes.  Not my cup of tea, because I get impatient, but hey, it could well be yours.

6. Combine with Prayer.  It can be incredibly soothing to talk to a higher power, however you envision that higher power to be, even if it is simply your higher self.   Use one of these meditation techniques and then have a chat with whomever you choose.  End by focusing again on your breath.

7. Short Bursts.  Sitting down to write?  Close your eyes and center yourself by taking a few deep breaths and centering yourself.  Getting tired?  Close your eyes and count breaths to ten.  And so on.

And there you have it, some ideas about how you, as a writer, might want to try meditating.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Commit to one of these meditations and try it for a week.  See if it doesn't help you with your writing.

Please, please comment!  I love to hear how other writers find inspiration in meditation, or not.  And if you liked this post, feel free to share it anywhere you like.

Image by Joi.

Excerpt: The Moon She Rocks You

For my Monday post, I have something different for you: an excerpt of a cool book called The Moon She Rocks You by Gurutej.

MoonSheRocksYouCoverIf you are a woman, knowing about The Moon Centers gives you power over your negative emotions. If you are a man, it gives you the key to understand women of all ages. You learn to listen to the voice of their emotions. Women – we can have control over those crazy emotional times in our lives. For more information, visit the author's website or her Amazon page.

What are Moon Center cycles and why should we as women care about them? Because these cycles have a direct and deep effect on us. Have you noticed that some days you feel strong and powerful and can take on the entire universe and other days someone looks at you cross-eyed and you want to find a bathroom to hide in? Why is that? This theory of Moon centers will shed some light on all this. This is not a shield to hide behind but information to make us more aware, informed complete with support tools that will make you more powerful.

Moon Centers unveil the hidden secrets to the inner workings of women. This is the next biggest leap after Men are from Mars Women are from Venus. Do you want to understand yourself as a women in your many aspects? Men do you want to be able to see and chart the emotional and devotional landscape of the women in your life? You will know when and how to support yourself and your women and when to move away from the firing line. Priceless information.

Moon Centers is a secret and sacred science: Do you want Greater harmony in your life? If yes then skip the text and just say yes buy it now. If you need more information carry on. If only all women and men for that matter could learn of these moon centers in their teens what a wonderful world it would be. This is an ancient secret science unveiled, how the moon affects women each day.

This is the secret code to women’s inner states. The positive, challenged and neutral aspects within each center, within each women. The moon moves into a different part of a women’s body every 2.25 days. Learn how to utilize the gifts of each center and recognize the moods that come from the challenged aspects ahead of time. Then turn them into harmony. Utilize the gifts of each center. All this can be yours

About the Author

To know Gurutej, you first need to know her name, which means “the one who brings you from darkness into light at the speed of light.” What she teaches emanates from her name and her purpose to lead others towards their inner self by mastering their own energy. Even at six years old, she already had the vocation to help others connect to their essence through healing, meditation, yoga, and chanting. She is a born leader, a creational genius, and a visionary. Her boundless energy enlivens the day and her gift for lightness, comedy, and humor radiates with every breath and every word of her powerful message. Gurutej is one of Yogi Bhajan’s original disciples and close collaborators. She is a true Master Teacher of Kundalini Yoga.

Saturday Writing Tip: Experiment with Viewpoint

At the Diamond writing retreat I co-led, I got clarity about where I'm going with my current novel.  (On some odd subliminal level, getting my first novel accepted has made a huge difference in my commitment level to this WIP.) Light-light-bulbs-110673-l

But last week I spent most of my time caring for my daughter and The Most Beautiful Baby Ever Born, and not a lot of time working on my next novel.

So imagine my surprise one morning this week when the first thought I had upon rising was this:

Change Jemima's viewpoint to first person(In case you hadn't guessed, Jemima is my protagonist.)

Clear marching orders.

Or guidance from the divine.

My reaction?


Changing the viewpoint made me nervous.  One could say panicky. 

Because Emma Jean is written in third person.  The entire book is her viewpoint, and it is a very close-in third.  I like third person.  A lot.  I wrote my MFA novel in first person and after I finished it (sort of, it's still a mess), I decided I hated that viewpoint.   Thought it was too chummy.  Swore I'd never write in first person again.  I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when I started writing Emma Jean in third.

So, of course, when I began writing Jemima, I swung naturally to third person.

And I didn't want to change.

But divine guidance is divine guidance.  I figured I could give first person a whirl.  Just to play with it. ( For the record, changing viewpoints is not as simple as doing a global search for "she" and changing it to "I."  If you don't believe me, try it some time and check back here.  That's all I'm going to say.)

So I spent some time retyping Chapter One into my computer, this time in first person.  I was convinced I was going to hate it.  Hate it.  But guess what?

I'm sure you know where this is going.

I love it.  Love it.

In the third person version, I struggled with a sense of distance from Jemima.  She's a cool cucumber, and judging by the reaction from members of my writing group, a bit too cool.  Like, unlikeable.  (Yes, I struggled with this problem in Emma Jean, too, go figure.  I'm really a very nice human being in person, I swear it.)

First person is inherently friendlier.  It is as if you're sitting down with the narrator, having yourselves a chat.  Sometimes it feels as if the narrator is letting you in on secrets and deep thoughts.  And Jemima sorely needed this.  Suddenly, in first person, her voice came together.

And now I'm happy.

Create a successful, happy writing life:  Play with this.  If you're struggling with a character, switch it up, first to third, third to first.  Hell, try second.  (The "you" voice.  Read Bright Lights, Big City if you think it can't be done.)

Oh, how it would delight me if you commented.  Have you ever experienced a distance voice?  Or have you switched up viewpoints with success?

Photo by ferrison.

7 Ways to Get to Know Your Character

Iceland-160976-hNo matter what you're writing, memoir, fiction or even web copy, character is everything. You've got to know your character through and through in order to write successfully. This was brought home to me all over again last week, when I spent the week with my daughter and her baby and learned, first hand, what their life is like together.

It is worth it to take the time to learn more about your character.  Otherwise, you'll get midway through your novel and realize you don't understand your character's backstory and hence, her motivation.  Or you'll be rolling along on your memoir and realize there are holes where you don't know some crucial bit of a character's timeline.

So here are some of my favorite ways to advance your understanding of your characters.

1. The Basics.  You gotta know this stuff.  You know, height, weight, hair color, eyes, age, astrological sign, etc.  The absolute bedrock basics you'd know about, say, someone in your family.  Write this stuff down and keep it somewhere you can access it so your character's eyes don't change color from page 5 to page 128, when her new love is gazing into them.

2.  Timeline.  What are the big events in your character's life, and the dates of them?  Things like birth, graduation, marriage, birth of babies, and so on.  You can also do an emotional timeline of important events and put the two together.

3. Ordinary Day.  I'm big on this one, because it is deceptively helpful.  From the time your character gets up in the morning, what does he do?  Start with getting out of bed and proceed in as much detail as you can muster.  You'll learn all kinds of interesting things, because how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, as Annie Dillard says.

4.  The Interview.  Ask your character questions about her life, the way you would if you were a journalist interviewing her for an article.  This can be especially helpful to jar loose secrets, conflict, and motivation.

5.  The Dream.  Author Robert J. Ray recommends this exercise, and its a doozy.  Doesn't seem like it would be worth much, but it can help a lot.  Start by writing, in the dream.....and then keep repeating the words in the dream as you write.  It gets you into a meditative state that will reveal depths.

6.  Look at Yourself.  You can find a lot of inspiration for your characters in how you approach life.  Write a journal entry and then rewrite it in the viewpoint of your character.  See how things change or remain the same. 

7.  Examine Setting.  Landscape shapes who we are.   A character who lives in rural South Dakota has different ideas and opinions than one who lives in Manhattan.  And yet, as Janet Burroway says, setting is so much more than just landscape.  It is the house you live in, the books on your coffee table, the mug you drink coffee from.  All of these things influence our character.

So there you have it, 7 ways to look at character.  Please comment and tell me your favorite ways to uncover the secrets of your characters!

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Take the time to get to know each of your main characters as intimately as possible.  It will save you time in the long run!


Photo by cogdogblog.

The Sometime Hell of Writing

I had an assignment to write an article for my buddy Roy's new magazine, 2nd & Church. The assignment was fairly open-ended: go see the new movie, The Raven about Edgar Allan Poe, and write about it.  Since I was due to be gone on various retreats for two weeks, Roy gave me a special dispensation to get the article in much later than everyone else's deadline.

200px-Edgar_Allan_Poe_2_retouched_and_transparent_bgWell, shit happened, and I dithered.  Wasn't sure I wanted to see the movie, didn't know how I'd write about it.  I emailed Roy and dissembled.  He emailed back and told me to just do it, already.  (Actually, he said, in a very kind way, that I could have until the end of this week to just do it.)

And so yesterday I went to see the movie, figuring I'd write up the article today and send it off.


Today I procrastinated.  I did everything but write. I hung out with my daughter.  We walked The Most Beautiful Baby Ever Born to the New Deal cafe and ate lunch on the back patio.  I wrote some emails.  Watched HGTV.

And once in awhile, in between these important activities, once in awhile, I'd do a little research.  I looked up articles on Edgar Allan Poe, re-read the poem The Raven. And then I went back to other more important activities.

My daughter left, I went to the store for groceries, came home and fed the animals.  And then with a half an hour before I had to cook dinner, I sat down and wrote.  The article just flowed out of me.  Took a break to cook dinner and sat back down again.  More words flowed.  I ignored the weeding I promised to do and wrote more. 

Finished the rough draft just shy of 8 PM.  And you know what?  It's not half bad.  (Well, Roy will actually be the judge of that.)  I still have to go back in and rewrite and polish, but I'm happy with what I produced.

And here's the deal:  throughout all that time that I was supposedly procrastinating, my subconscious mind was working.  Processing.  Making connections.  The funny thing is, I could feel this happening in some part of my mind.  Which is probably why I didn't panic at any point during the day.

Keep calm and carry on.

Somebody said that, I don't know who, but I think it's my new writing motto.

And now, I've got to go rewrite that article....

Has this ever happened to you?  Have you procrastinated and then suddenly hit paydirt in the rush of writing words?  Or have you had the opposite experience?  Please share your experiences with us by commenting below.

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Next time you're procrastinating, try relaxing and letting your brain wander, too.  You might just come up with the written piece you are looking for.

And if you found this article useful, please share it on Twitter, or Facebook, or Pinterest! Thanks, I appreciate you so much.

Photo from Wikipedia.

Tips on Writing: Slow and Fast

Green_blur_highway_696698_hThis weekend, I started a new series called the Saturday Writing Tip and wrote about scenes.  One of my loyal, longtime readers, J.D., who I adore, wrote a couple of comments.  In one of them he noted how the author Lee Child had said, "Write the slow parts fast and the fast parts slow."

Which got me thinking I needed to write a blog post.

Because I've heard the same thing, from an author whose name I've long since forgotten.    And it is very good advice.  Yet, sometimes, in trying to explain it, I falter.  J.D. himself said it took him awhile to figure out what Child meant. 

Let's see if we can parse it out.

When writing the slow parts fast you'll be writing narrative (which compresses time).

When writing the fast parts slow you'll be writing in scene (which is much more real time than narrative).

So, as an example, your character enjoys a long, languid summer afternoon, sipping chilled sweet tea, reading a book, and occassionally chatting with her husband, who is doing the same.  This is not an activity you need to write a scene about.  It can be dispatched in one sentence.  It is happening slowly.  It can be written about fast.

But then the same character decides to ignore the dictates of society when she falls in love with another man.  The first time that they are together, time flies because every moment is charged with emotion.   Later, looking back on it, time is a blur.  Yet this is a time when you will want to write in scene, because you will want to explore every nuance of emotion of your main character.  This is an important moment in her life.  It needs to be written slowly.  In scene.

Make sense?  I asked in the Saturday post if readers struggle to write in scene.  Do you?  Do you feel like you need more help with this?  I ask because it is one of the things I most often write on student manuscripts--make into scene.  So I presume it's a difficulty.   Please comment and if there's a common theme I'll write more about it.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Examine your WIP and see if any scenes need to be put into narrative and vice-versa.

Photo of fast-moving truck on a highway by funkblast.

Saturday Writing Tip: Scenes

This morning while writing Morning Pages I had a brainstorm for a new series of Saturday posts.  Short and sweet, offering one writing tip.

This, my friends, is the inaugural post, on scenes.

Scenes dramatize writing.  They bring it to life on the page.  Scenes have dialogues, interiority, description and movement.    I know, you know all this.  Here's something else:

Scenes need to have rising or falling action.

Too many writers start and end scenes at the same place.  And by, at the same place I generally mean emotionally.  If the scene starts with your character happy, end it with him angry.  Or vice-versa. Or whatever works in the context of your story. 

This is a simplistic way of getting you to look at scenes as a whole, self-contained package.  They need to have a beginning, middle and end.  Each scene needs to have a purpose, preferably several purposes: to advance the action, to reveal character, to show setting.

To really get down and dirty with the concept of scenes, read books on screenplay structure.  Screenplays must have scenes that are tightly contained and structured.  You'll learn a lot from the genre.

Please comment.  Do you love writing scenes or do you struggle with them?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Study scenes.  Read about them and apply what you've learned to your own work--even if you're writing non-fiction.

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Guest Post: It's Between the Page and I, 6 Things I Learned Over 10 Days of Morning Pages

While I'm on retreat, I've got a variety of guest posts for you.  Today, please welcome Resham Khiani, as she writes about morning pages.

It's Between the Page and I, 6 Things I Learned Over 10 Days of Morning Pages

by Resham Khiani

It's 8:00am on Saturday morning.

Another long, hard week in London has come to an end and I'm looking forward to a cosy lie in.... until the challenge I've set myself bursts my bubble.

For 10 days straight, I will be doing my Morning Pages Exercises. For those of you who are new to hearing it for the first time, they are an exercise devised by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way. The concept is basic: write three long hand pages, non-stop once you wake up in the morning. It doesn't matter what you write, just write.... even if it's line after line of "I don't know what to write,"  your subconscious mind will kick in and messages will appear.

Bleary eyed, I made my way to the kitchen, prepared a green tea and grudgingly sat at my desk. "I'm too tired to write" - the voice of sabotage has arrived. I gently say to shut up or I will smack it (I know, I know, it's weird, how on earth can anyone smack their conscious mind?!). A sip of green tea and my hand begins to glide, almost insanely, within seconds. Scribbling messily, sloppily, uncontrollably I see I'm just whinging and moaning about all the things in my life. I'm fed up, tired, can't be bothered and don't want to take responsibility of my life.

But then, I feel an urgent message coming along, something profound, almost spiritual. I'm alert. I'm ready: "Do you remember what it was like to fall in love?" Before I answer this message, my subconscious begins misbehaving and complaining how annyoing my flatmate has become. It begins hatching a plan all by itself, with me, merely being an onlooker with no say. All I know is, the retalation is quite harsh. And then I hear: "muhahahahaha." Note to reader: writing down the evil laugh diminishes it's effect.

Each day, of course, was a battlefield with the mind. Getting up on time to actually do the exercise was a challenge; however, I remained disciplined throughout. Looking back at my pages, I could see myself swinging from exhilarating happiness, to downright depression, to simmering, passionate feelings and finally spiritual, optimistic statements. The Morning Pages revealed so many messages in a short space of time. And they were:

1) I write a lot about sex, so much so, I make myself blush after I finish reading it! (I blame the Mills & Boon romance books I read on a regular basis, whereas Sigmund Freud will blame me for suppressing my natural instincts).

2) I goad myself to set up my own business, based on NLP and helping woman change their beauty beliefs.

3) I have a depressive and philosophical streak in me enough to put Milan Kundera (author of The Incredible Lightness of Being) to shame.

4) Apart from being depressive, at the base of it, I'm optimistic, and realise I have the power to direct my thoughts.

5) I question myself too much: I live too much in the future or past,without fully being present.

6) I am a diva.

Putting ink on paper, coupled with honesty is a revelation to oneself. Morning Pages have switched on my intuition, my creativity, my belief of trusting myself. I realised I had fallen out of love with my life and my creativity - hence the reason why I got such a message. As a result of being persistent with the exercises, I no longer walk around with a feeling of frustration or anger because I've dealt with it on paper. I'm free from negative emotions and drama. Funnily enough, my life has become simpler, more fun, opportunities are flowing, inspiration is soaring. I'm writing a lot more, I've got a few romantic dates lined up and certainly feel life is on my side. Perhaps getting up on the first morning really was the beginning of a new life......



Resham Khiani (on the left in the photo) is the founder of InnerBellissima blog, devoted to helping
woman change their beauty beliefs. She writes regularly on her blog.

Book Review: You Have No Idea

This is a paid review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine and mine alone!

The book I'm reviewing today is a bit of a departure for me, or at least these pages, where we focus on literary and creative writing topics.  But in a part of my life I don't publicize, for obvious reasons, I'm sort of a fiend for celebrity gossip.

I'm not proud of this.  But there it is.

But it is also why I leaped at the chance to review You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-Nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other), by Vanessa Williams, and her mother Helen Williams.

It is mostly the story of the life of Vanessa Williams, she of Miss America, Ugly Betty, and Desperate Housewives fame.  But throughout the book, direct and forthright Helen, Vanessa's mother, speaks up, adding her point of view to the proceedings.

I've always liked Vanessa Williams, because to me she comes across as an intelligent non-diva, and that's exactly the impression I still have of her after reading this book.  Helen's part in the narrative really helps this.  Both women are good company.  I often get bored reading books like this, but I finished this one with interest.  And I loved all the photos that are interspersed throughout.  Vanessa Williams really is a stunningly beautiful woman who manages to look good no matter what.  Sigh. 

One of the things I kept thinking about as I wrote was ghostwriting.  As most of you know, one of the writer's hats I wear is ghostwriter.  In this case, the ghostwriter got a credit.  Irene Zutell is listed as a "with" on the cover.  I think she did a good job on this book, as the narrative of each woman comes across as the distinct personalities they are.  From a note at the back, I presume there was lots of meeting for interviews in locations across the country.

Sounds easy, right? Meet a celebrity in some glamorous location, interview her, transcribe the pages and clean it up a bit.  And voila! You've got yourself a memoir.  But it doesn't work like that, because the spoken word doesn't necessarily translate to a unique written voice.  Weird phenomenon, but there it is. The ghostwriter has to really work to get the voice of the subject on the page.

Anyway, if you're a fan and you get the chance to read this book, do it.  You'll enjoy it.  And it would make a great Mother's Day gift.  Also, you can read tons more about it on the BlogHer Book Club page.

Now It Can Be Told

VPWebsiteBannerClassic-600x230So, the contract for my novel is signed, sealed, and delivered.  And I now feel comfortable revealing the name of the publisher.

It is Vagabondage Press.   If you go to the link, you'll see they are looking for "literary quality quirky romance and love stories, fantasy, horror, and women's fiction."  What's not to love about that?  I adore that they have such a varied list and that they use the word "quirky" in their description.

I'm pretty excited about being allied with such a staunch member of the independent publishing world.  So far all my dealings with them have been great and I'm looking forward to beginning the editing process soon.  We're on track for a February 2013 pub date!

Now I want to direct you to 5935f7efe4ed0e8e9bee8f38dfba37db700155f3-thumba Vagabondage Press publication, that of the novel Facing the Furies, by Dan DiStasio.

I love this book.

I read it in manuscript form, more than once.  Dan and I met when I returned to my alma mater, Spalding University, to work as a graduate assistant.  Dan was in my workshop and when it was over he asked me if I would read his novel.  I'd enjoyed the story he'd submitted to workshop, so I said yes.

I had no idea the treat I was in for.  It's an amazing novel about storms within and without, beautifully written, with characters you'll fall in love with.  I can't wait to read the edited version and see the changes that publication brought.

Dan is the reason I'm with Vagabondage.  When he told me his novel had been accepted by them, I decided to check them out, liked what I saw, and you know the rest of the story.  I felt confident submitting to them since they'd accepted his high quality novel.  So check it out, you won't be disappointed. 

Another note: one of the participants in the Diamond retreat last week had read some of my posts on getting accepted for publication and looking for an agent and come away thinking that I had to have an agent to sign the contract. 

Not so. That's the beauty of the indie publishing world, they are much more open to writers.

I just thought it would be a good way to nab myself an agent and have a pair of eyes from the publishing world look over the contract.  So here's the upshot of all that: I did have an agent look over the contract and pronounce it good and viable.  And, (and this is my favorite part), she's very interested in my next novel.  So keep your fingers crossed for me.

And go check out Dan's book.

And in the meantime, I'd love to hear what's on your reading list.  I'll start: I just began A Game of Thrones.  You?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Read.  As a writer, you should be inhaling every book, magazine, short story, article, essay, and blog post you can get your hands on.

***PS, if you're writing a book, don't forget to download my free Ebook, Jumpstart Your Book With a Vision Board.  It'll help you visualize the book no matter what stage you're at.