5 Things on Friday: August 21, 2015, Better Late Than Never Edition

Cat and puterHere it is Friday afternoon on a beautiful day in Portland.  And here, at last, are my five things for the week:

What I'm Reading: The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer.  I'm leading a discussion group on Singer's most popular book, The Untethered Soul, in October, which is why I got onto this title.  It is fascinating, all about how he essentially just said yes to whatever life put in front of him.  With fabulous results: he's build several multi-million dollar businesses, wrote a best-selling book, and still manages to maintain a rigorous twice daily meditation practice.

What I'm Writing: I'm kind of going back and forth between what I call prep work for my next novel and the actual writing of it. I was going great guns with the writing until I wasn't. As sometimes happens.  That is a sure sign one needs to go do some planning.  And it has paid off, as always happens.  I know a ton more about my character now.  (Don't forget I'm teaching my Get Your Novel Written Now Class in October.  Go here to learn more.)

What I'm Loving: My new computer.  I'm switching from a Mac to a PC, so there's a bit of a learning curve.  I was also using a version of Word from 2007 on my old computer, so, yeah. And don't throw things at me if you're a Mac lover but I'm thrilled to be back in PC land.  Sorry, but I kinda don't get what the mystique of the Mac is all about.  Anyway, my new baby is a Dell Inspiron 2-in-1 laptop with a touchscreen (and a stylus).  At 13", it is smaller than my old 15" version but I like that.

What I'm Grateful For: The neuro-prolo therapy that I got at my naturopath's office this week.  I've mentioned my problems with different length legs and the issues it was causing a few times in passing.  It was seriously cramping my style, most especially my love of walking.  But this new therapy is amazing!  Its not for the faint of heart, as it involves much injecting of solution into the body with tons of tiny needles, but I walked pain free for the first time in a couple of years yesterday.

What I'm Doing This Weekend: Moving furniture and boxes.  As you know, I've moved my office downstairs.  We accomplished that a couple weekends ago.  Much busy-ness ensued.  But now we have to deal with what we left behind--specifically my old office suite and, oh yeah, all those boxes of books and office supplies.

What is new with you? What are you doing this weekend?

*** My photo captioning is not working but in the above photo you can see that Lieutenant likes my new computer, too.


How to Write While Traveling (Or Otherwise Distracted): 7 Strategies

JournalAugust2015
The best travel journal ever

I am distracted. My thoughts, I will admit, are on Europe these days.  Because, I WILL BE THERE IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.  So I am distracted.  And when I am there I will be distracted.  (Because, Barcelona, people.  Paris.  Collioure.)  

And yet, I am still doing my best to write regularly. Why? Because I am a masochist.  No, really, its because I feel weird when I'm not writing.  Antsy.  A little anxious.  Like something is missing in my life.  Like my best friend is gone. (I felt this way for a year after I quit smoking but that's another story.)

I just feel better when I am writing, period.

You may be distracted, too.  By summertime travel.  Or small children (as I used to be 24-7 for what seemed an eternity and now am again whenever my beloved grown children can cajole me to babysit their children, which is, ahem, often). Or those pesky day jobs.  Or caring for an aging parent.  Or any number of the things that we deal with in life.

I know plenty of people who just set their writing aside when they get overwhelmed with distraction. But I'm here to advocate that you do not do this.  Because time is precious, and short. Because if you set your writing project aside, when you return to it, you'll have to spend lots of that precious time getting yourself up to speed.  And because, writers write.  Period.

So how shall we manage when the baby wakes up at 3 AM crying, or the hospital calls to tell you your mother has just arrived in the ER again, or you have to stay at work until 11 to finish something? Or you just might get to go to an exotic foreign land?  Here's how:

Use what you've got in front of you.  When you're traveling, this is obvious.  Everything is bright and shiny and new and different and it is relatively easy to write about it.  But it might not be so evident with the less positive distractions in your life.  So, write about how exhausted you are as the mother of a newborn, how worried you are about your parent, how much you loathe your job.  Of such conflicts many books have been born.

Take advantage of odd bits of time. Because, they may be all you have.  So maybe you've got a chunk of time while you are riding the high-speed train from Paris to Perpignan but you fall asleep because you're so jet-lagged so you only end up having twenty minutes.  Or you have fifteen minutes in the morning when you wake up before the rest of the house.  I know it doesn't seem like much, but let me share a little secret: I get more done with I have less time.  On the days when I have all day to write I fart around.  I tell myself I've got plenty of time to get to it and so I don't.  But if I know I only have thirty minutes, chop chop, I'm at the page.

Carry pen and paper with you everywhere.  Because you never know when you'll have a window of opportunity open up.  (Get a load of my adorable new carry-around-in-my-travel-bag journal above.)  Maybe there will be a bit of time when you arrive to pick your daughter up from soccer practice early.  (I knew a woman who wrote a novel this way.) Whip out your pen and paper.   You know the drill.  But it is worth reminding you because recently I found myself without a pen, which was a shocking state of affairs.

Remind yourself why you love writing.  And why it is important to you.  And thus why you are going to take just a few--a very few minutes--out of the 1440 we have every day to engage in it.  I can't answer this for you, but you can.  And while you are busy doing so, you might also write about--or ponder--why you love the project you're working on.

Quit worrying about not writing.  Because, what you resist, persists.  What you focus on grows. So stop worrying about not writing and use that energy to write.  A brief story: when my son, now a strapping man with a great job and the most adorable little girl in the whole history of the world, was a child, he used to complain and moan about cleaning his room.  And I always told him that if he just put the energy he was using to whine into cleaning, his room would be finished in a jiffy.  I think a lot of us are like that.  We spend so much time thinking about why we're not doing something, we forget we could be using that time to do it.

Just take notes.  Or make lists of things you want to remember.  Years ago, on a trip to Mexico, I made lists of the things I wanted to remember: the way the jungle pressed in on the resort, the flamingoes in the pool by the lobby bar (where they made the good, strong drinks), the terror I felt as I tried paragliding.  I didn't have time to journal, but I took good notes.  And came home and wrote a story about it, which you can actually read here.

If all else fails, have yourself a good think.  You're gazing out the window of the plane.  Think about your plot.  You're rocking the baby in the middle of the night.  Figure out your main character's backstory.  You're sitting by a hospital bed.  Ponder deep themes.  I believe that thinking is highly underrated for writers.  But the trick is to keep your brain on the plot, not the glass of wine and delicious dinner you're going to have when you get to Paris.

Those are my suggestions.  What about you?  How do you deal with distractions?  Leave a comment!


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #54

Ah summertime....I've been on vacation, I've been slacking...no scratch that last one, I have not been slacking since I got home.  There's much to do to catch up from vacation and get ready to be out of the country for three weeks.  Awk! The thought of it makes my heart pound--in a good way and a bad way. Anyway, all this is by way of saying that this week on my Tumblr blog, I missed a few days.  Blame it on brain overload, but I thought I had a bunch of prompts scheduled to run and then I came home and realized I didn't.  Alas.  But I did publish two prompts on one day to make up for it!  So here you go:

#376  The look on her face said it all.

#377 There was nothing she could do but quit worrying about it.

#378  Write about what happens when your main character travels.  Is she intrepid, an adventurer? Or does he hate leaving home, needing everything to be just as he likes it?

#379  How does your main character want others to see her? How does she see herself? Are the answers to these two questions the same? If not, explore the rich space in between.

#380  What is your very first memory?  What is your main character’s?

 So, yeah, a bit sparser than usual.  But there should be enough to keep you going for a little while. How is your writing proceeding? 


Five Things on Friday: August 14, 2015

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I saw a sunset just like this one!

Where I've Been: I kinda fell down on posting at the end of last week (no 5 on Friday post) and the beginning of this week.  That's because I was at the beach.  I stayed with my family at my daughter's in-law's house in Garibaldi (thank you, Dennis and Carlene).  We also visited old, old, old (and by old, I mean since birth) family friends in Arch Cape.  I shouldn't be posting about Arch Cape here because it is pretty unknown, as in on a weekday in summer the beach is deserted, and I would like it to remain that way.  So don't go there, (as one of our favorite governors famously told people about coming to Oregon to live), please.

What I've Been Reading: Have I obsessed about Dietland here yet?  It is the best book I've read in ages, so full of unflinching, radical and incredibly brave commentary about body image and the way women are treated in North America.   Every woman should read it immediately.  Men, you should too, but prepare to become very defensive.  I'm now reading The Ambassador's Wife, by Jennifer Steil.  I kinda put it down to read a couple books about writing, but I like it well enough.  

What I'm Excited About: A really, really, really, really good publisher is considering my novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery.  Think good thoughts, please!

Where I'm Teaching Next Fall and Winter: I'll be teaching my Get Your Novel Written Now class right here online this fall, starting in October and early-bird pricing is good until I leave for Europe on September 1st.  And then, for those of you farther east and south, I'm part of the staff of the reborn Room to Write in Nashville in January.  Join me at one or both.

What I'm Obsessing About: Clothes.  As in, what to take to Barcelona, Collioure, and Paris.  I gave away half my wardrobe (not exaggerating but I will admit to having a lot of clothes) earlier this summer and felt like I had nothing to wear.  So I've been ordering things like crazy.  I love shopping online.  I think I have it all figured out now.  And I realize how very lucky I am to have this problem.

Oh, and by the way, I'm going to try my best to post regularly from Europe.  Yeah, that worked out well last year.  But on the off chance you've had an idea for a guest post, this would be the time to hit me up with a query about it.

And also--follow me on Instagram because I'm going to be posting photos from my travels there, and at the moment you can see pictures of Poo and Mr. Rock.

What's going on in your world? Please do tell.


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #53

As usual on Saturday, here is my weekly collection of writing prompts from my Tumblr blog.  Write tons everyday! 

#369 Write a description of the house your main character grew up in.

#370 Write about a time in your main character’s life when everything felt shiny and new again.

#371  What does your main character do when she is frustrated?  Cry, rage, meditate, do yoga, go for a run? Write a scene with this happening.

#372  Does your main character pray?

#373  Organization.  Not my strong suit, she thought as she surveyed the mess of the room.

#374  Is your main character a workaholic or a slacker?

#375  Write about a time your character didn't know what to do.

How's your writing going? What are you working on? 

 


How To Have Writer's Block

Blocks_262707_lI don't know about you, but I sure want writer's block.

I have absolutely no interest in writing quickly and easily.  Or feeling like the words are tumbling off my fingers so fast I can barely keep up.  Uh-uh, not me.  

I would MUCH rather sit and stare at the blank screen on my computer.  And when that gets boring, look out the window.  I'd prefer to do laundry, or scrub the kitchen floor.  Or organize my junk drawer. I don't know about you, but I find that surfing the internet all day is vastly preferable to getting a lot of writing done.

But, writer's block.  No matter how hard we try, sometimes it is just damned hard to get there.  So I offer the following suggestions so that you, too, can spend whole days not writing:

1.  Don't know where you are going.   Start randomly anew each day, without any concern for what came before.  Just pluck inspiration out of thin air and write.  Because, you know, that happens.  Not.  But fortunately you don't want it to, so you are all set!

2.  Don't do any prep work.  Similar to above, remember that you don't need to know anything about your characters, or where they live and work, or the theme, or absolutely anything about anything at all.  Just tell yourself to write!  Not knowing any of the above will bring on writer's block faster than you can whisper grammar.

3.  Don't write regularly.  Nah.  Much better to give yourself, oh, say an hour every month or so. Because then by the time you've remembered what it was you thought you might write, your time will be up--and you won't have written anything!  Which is, after all the goal.  Writer's block, baby!

4.  Focus on how blocked you are.  Because, you know, what you focus on, you get more of.  So pondering your writer's block in all its glory is a surefire way to make sure it sticks around!

5. Check email every five minutes.  Surely something to distract you will have arrived.  Oh look--here's a missive from a nice man in Nigeria who wants to give you money.  It's probably worth writing back to him, don't you think?

Wait, what? You're tired of having writer's block after all? Your kitchen is sparkling, your laundry is finished, and there's nothing happening in the world worth reading about on the internet  You want to write again?  Geesh.  Some people.  Well, if you insist, here are the antidotes to the above suggestions:

1A. Always have a place to go.  Hemingway famously stopped mid-sentence at the end of a writing session.  That may be a bit much, but leave off somewhere that you know what happens next.  And/or, write yourself a note about where to go.  Time and time again I find that I flounder when I'm confused about where I'm going.

2A.  Do your prep work!  This will help enormously with #1A. A really fun approach is this book called The Writer's Coloring Book, which I just discovered today.  But even if it doesn't suit your style, do some advance work.  Think about character, setting, theme and plot.  It will pay you huge dividends if you do.

3A.  Write every day.  Just shut up and do it.

4A.  Good, better, best.  The Qi Gong master I follow emphasizes this.  Do your best in the given moment, whether that is five minutes of writing or two hours.  And focus on what you've done, not what you are not doing.  Good is better than nothing.

5A.  Shut out distractions. Ha! I'm the queen of checking email and looking up news stories.  But I also use Freedom, which disconnects me from the internet for a pre-set amount of time.  It is a lifesaver for a writer, and at $10, a steal of a deal!. (I just went to the website to check the link, and you can also download a tool that blocks you from social media.)

That's it for my suggestions.  How do you encourage writer's block--or find ways to get over it?

Photo by wbd.


What Effect Do Your Surroundings Have On Your Writing?

"Started treating my office like it was a real room that was worthy of my best treasures, not the 'spare room made into an office.'"  Danielle LaPorte, from a post titled "28 of the Best Things I Ever Did--From the Bedroom to my Business."

DeskinthewildWhen I first started writing, many years ago, my "office" was a desk shoved up against a corner of our bedroom.   The desk came from my father's printing plant, and it was huge and weighed a ton. (My husband hated it for that reason, and also because whenever I wanted to move it, it had to be disassembled.  It finally got taken apart one too many times, and died.)

I also sometime wrote at the kitchen counter, with small children swarming around me, asking for food or begging for my attention.  

Finally, when we put an addition on our house, I progressed to my own office.  It was downstairs with a view of the backyard and I loved it.  I filled it with a mismatch of furniture, anything I could scrounge, and tons of bookshelves, of course.  

Then, when my children moved out, I transferred my office to my daughter's former upstairs bedroom.  And there I've been for the past many years.  After my mother died six years ago and I inherited some money, I decided to invest in a proper office suite of furniture.  And so I went to Ikea and filled my room with a grouping that looked very official, very heavy, very dark.  I chose a huge desk with a curved front that had room for my computer, my printer and piles.  Lots of piles.  I also chose a file cabinet and glass-fronted cabinets to match.  You can see photos of it on this old blog post.  (As far as I can tell, Ikea doesn't even make this set of furniture anymore.) I loved it for awhile.  For quite awhile.

And then I decided I wanted to move back downstairs.  The thought was daunting--carrying all that heavy furniture down our narrow staircase! But I persevered.  Because I wanted to be more in the center of things.  To be able to start dinner and run back to write a few words while things simmered.  To be able to watch grandchildren and write a few words while they napped.  I started packing things up, but the project stalled and I ended up working in my upstairs office with stacks of boxes filling most of it.

Enter summer.  Gorgeous, soft Oregon mornings with the temperature hovering just above 60 degrees.  I took to carrying my computer out to the table on the back deck early every morning and doing my writing there.  Which was when I realized that I didn't need a huge desk with tons of area to pile things on.  It was actually a detriment to my process, because it started to overwhelm me. And so a whole new idea for my office was born. All I really needed was a good old-fashioned writing desk. At the same time, I started reading a favorite blogger's account of her time in Stockholm and fell in love with the look of the apartment she stayed in.

Out with the dark, heavy black office furniture! In with a light, white and natural wood look! At least in my vision.  I happened to have coffee with my friend Leigh, who has a business restoring old furniture and, on a whim, asked her if she had a writing desk.  Guess what? She did! And not only that, it was painted a lovely delicate light yellow, which went along with the look I had in mind.  

So we spent this weekend moving furniture.  We're still not finished--our living room looks like a thrift store as we sort through hundreds of old CDs, and figure out where extra boxes and pieces of furniture goes.  There are quite a few photos of the process on my Instagram. And you can see the photo of my writing area above.  But so far, I love it.  The room is bright and light and I love not working on my little yellow writing desk.  I feel lighter and brighter! And now I realize how that Ikea suite never truly suited me.  As my daughter said, "I never heard you say how much you loved it." True dat.

I expect to write wonderful novels and blog posts and offer classes and all kinds of good things from this space, because it makes me happy just to be in here.  (Oh, I almost forgot--I engineered it so I have a separate space for art projects, too.  Woot!)  And all this leads me to ask--what is your writing space like? Is it feeding your soul, and making you happy?  Or does it drag you down every time you walk in?  Is there something you can do to make it work better for you?


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #53

Here is the latest collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog, minus one because I, um, forgot.

#363  Write about how your character reacts in an emergency.  Cool and composed, the one everyone else can count on? Or the opposite?

#364  Use the words sunlight, sailing ship, and stained glass in a sentence.  Now use that sentence as a prompt.

#365  What a difference a year makes! It had been a year since ________________.  She found that hard to believe, because ________________.

#366  Here’s to beginning again….

What has your main character had to start over and how many times? 

#367  The noise! The smell! The glare! It was worse than he thought…

#368  Write about a time your main character recovered from something–an illness, a broken limb, an accident, a break-up, a loss.

 How is your writing going? Feel free to share, or share a response to a prompt in the comments!

 

 


Five Things on Friday: July 21, 2015

I'm late with this (and nearly everything else in my life at the moment) so I'll keep this edition brief.

Tinyhouses

What I'm Reading:  I finished Life As We Knew It, and have the other two in the series on hold at the library (along with half the catalog).  Still reading After Perfect by Christina McDowell, and also started Safekeeping by Karen Hesse, which is yet another in my current string of apocalyptic YA novels.  Main character Radley returns home from volunteering in Haiti to find an America transformed by the recent election of the American Political Party and the assassination of the president.  It is written in a very spare manner and is quite absorbing.  Also, two books on Tiny Houses that my son gave me as a belated birthday present.  I'm determined to build one!

Gp_portland_4

What I'm in Awe Of: The #ShellNo protestors who dangled from a Portland bridge for 40 hours earlier this week, in order to stop the passage of the Fennica out of dock to Alaska.  I'm also amazed at the courage of a hardy band of kayakers who paddled right in front of the ship to try to stop it. And I'm proud to live in a city where such protests are considered important, no matter how much traffic they disrupt.

Themometer

What I'm Complaining About: The heat.  Again.  It was 103 yesterday, and is forecast to be 102 today.  This is our second intense heat wave this summer and I'm tired of it.

ToshibaSatellite

What I'm Shopping For: A new computer.  Maybe this one. Mine is six years old and freezes all the time.  Plus it gets slow and balky as I'm working.  I'm going smaller and less complicated.  And, I'm also switching back from a Mac to a PC.  I know, gasp.  But I just can't see that spending good money on a Mac was worth it.

Sandbox-in-home-office-1

What I'm Doing This Weekend: Moving my office downstairs.  I have a lovely new desk and rug and curtains and I'm excited.  If I remember, I'll post photos when its done.  And no, I'm not adding a sandbox, as in the photo above, but I am going to the beach next week so I thought it appropriate. And kinda cute.

That's whats up with me this week.  What's going on with you?

 Images from commondreams.org, ronnieb, bitrebels.com, and some random computer shopping site.


Writers, Do This and Be Amazed At the Success of Your Marketing Efforts

Marketing. Ugh

Megaphone

I am one of the worst marketers in the world.  There's something about shouting my name out from the rooftops that makes me cringe.  And I know that I am not alone in this.  But last week I had an experience that gave me some new perspective on the topic.  And from that I learned something that I hope to figure out how to apply going forward.

I've heard that one way to succeed is to quit worrying about promoting yourself and put others first. But how, exactly, are you supposed to do this? Beats me.  Don't have a clue.   In the past, I'd read this sage wisdom, nod my head, think for a minute how this might work, come up blank, and quit thinking about it.  Then go back to my usual marketing ploys.  In other words, doing nothing.

Maybe a Different Way?

But here's what happened last week that put this into perspective and showed me how it might work:

TS at Another Read Through

#1 I had a reading at a local bookstore that I like a lot.  I like the owner a lot, too.  She supports local authors like crazy and is doing her best to create a nice community around her store.  More than anything, I really wanted to introduce people to her store.  

#2 I was reading with my Twitter friend Kayla Dawn Thomas, who was coming down from Washington.  She didn't know many people in the area, and this was her first reading.  So I wanted to make sure she had an audience, too.

Are you sensing a theme here? I had two people I wanted to make happy.  And because of that, I pulled out the stops, sending out emails and promoting on Twitter like crazy.  In the emails, I wrote about how great the bookstore was, and asked people to stop in some time even if they couldn't make it to the reading.  

In other words, I had a mission larger than myself.  

And the Winner Is...

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The ultimate result was a reading that about 25 people attended, which is not bad at all for a Thursday night in summer.  And I've cemented a wonderful relationship with Elisa, the bookstore owner.  She's offered to do my launch for The Bonne Chance, about which I am very excited, and Debbie and I will likely do our workshops there in the future.  (Local writers--we are planning one in October about all aspects of publishing, including how to get an agent, book contracts, and indie publishing.)

The thing is, I felt so much more comfortable doing the marketing when I was talking about the bookstore and Kayla.  How to expand this into larger marketing efforts?  I don't have a clue.  But recently on the Women's Fiction Writer's Association mailing, there was a link to Kristin Lamb's blog, which I hadn't read for awhile.  In wandering through its pages, I found the link to her most recent book, Rise of the Machine, Human Authors in a Digital World, which I gather from the reviews has a somewhat similar theme.  (From a review: "Well, here's the big deal.  It's not about promoting yourself.  It's about caring for your neighbor.")

So, I'm onto something here, even if I am late to the party.  And I'm going to figure out how it works.

Do you have ideas about how to put this in motion?  Ideas about marketing in general? Please do share in the comments.  This is a topic all writers need to know more about, I'd wager! Your ideas may help someone else--which is the whole point.

Photos are by xenia and brsky and Another Read Through.


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #52

Here we go again with our weekly collection of prompts from my daily Tumblr blog.  Enjoy and write a lot, will you please?  It would make me happy.

#357  Use the words umbrella, metal and sunlight in a sentence.  Now use that sentence as a prompt.

#358  He couldn’t understand a word she said.  

#359  Write about your character experiencing a storm.  Is he/she scared or exhilarated?  Eager for it to end or happy to let it rage around her? Does it energize her or tire him?

#360  Who is the love of your main character’s life?

#361  “I’d stay another year if I saw a teardrop in your eye.” Heard it In a Love Song,by the Marshall Tucker band.  Write about what’s going on here.

#362  It was over.  Thank God.  She breathed a huge sigh of relief.  But then….

#363  Oh, the exhilaration of it all!  

There you go! How is your writing going this week?

 

 


Five Things on Friday: July 24, 2015

AnotherReadThroughSignHere we go again.  It's still summer, still hot, but rain is forecast tomorrow.  Yay!

What I'm grateful for: Friends and family who turned out en masse last night to hear me read from The Bonne Chance Bakery manuscript, and to also hear Kayla Dawn Thomas read from her latest novel, Tackling Summer.  She and I are Twitter friends and since she lives in Washington and I live in Oregon we'd never met until last night.  So fun. She's awesome!  The bookstore where we read, Another Read Through, is awesome, too, and owner Elisa offers readings every Thursday night.  She's a huge supporter of local writers and a really cool person, too.

What I'm reading: The last two weeks I've been struggling through Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. She's a NYT bestselling author, but frankly, I was not overly impressed with her writing.  It was certainly serviceable enough, but the characters never grabbed or charmed me. I looked up the reviews on Amazon, and while many were over-the-top glowing, several agreed with me.  I also learned that she is known for her twists at the end, so I skimmed and skipped to find out what this one was.  And can I just say that if I'd bothered to read the whole thing I would have been furious? Like, throw-the-book-across-the-room, rip-it-into-shreds-even-though-it-was-a-library-book furious.  The twist was as hackneyed and stupid as the old it was all a dream schtick.  

Now I'm reading, sort of, Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  I say sort of, because it's sort of depressing.  Not giving anything away here to tell you the premise, which is that the moon gets whacked out of orbit by an asteroid and terrible things happen on earth.  It's all written from a teenager's perspective.  It is compelling, but sometimes I just can't take apocalyptic fiction. Although, in looking for a link I've just discovered this book launched a whole series, so that's hopeful.  I also discovered that Pfeffer retired from writing books last year, which I just don't get. I want to write books until they shovel me into the ground, many years into the future.

I'm also reading After Perfect, a memoir by Christina McDowell, the story of a wealthy family losing everything.  Another cheery one.  But its good.

Where I've Been: Seattle, last weekend.  More to the point, the suburbs south of Seattle, near the Sea-Tac airport.  My cousin (and fifty million other cousins) lives up there in a house a few feet from Puget Sound.  Nice spot, to put it mildly.  We were celebrating the wedding of her youngest daughter, and even though I nearly got arrested (I'm exaggerating the tiniest bit) by an overly zealous traffic-type person who didn't want to let us cross a street where a parade was congregating, it was a lot of fun.  After all, few things are better in life than watching your three-year-old grandson entertain a roomful of people by dancing to Shut Up and Dance.

 

What I Need: A housecleaner.  Every time I gaze (in a writerly manner) in any direction in this house I see cobwebs. Sigh.  At least I'm making progress on sorting through files and books in my office, in advance of moving it back downstairs.  I WILL get this project done before I leave for Europe in September.

What I'm Reading Online: I read a lot of blogs and newsletters, but surprisingly, not a lot on writing.  Oh well, my tastes have always been eclectic.  For writing blogs, I recommend Writer Unboxed (I love Barbara O'Neal's posts there), Janice Hardy's Fiction University, and Shawn Coyne's work on Story Grid.  Oh, also Steven Pressfield.  

And now, here's my compendium of non-writing blogs and newsletters I follow: thekitchensgarden, where New Zealand transplant Cecilia writes every day about her "farmy" and also dispenses all manner of practical wisdom; Dispatch From La and Kelly Rae Roberts for visual inspiration, emails from Steve Chandler and Brian Johnson for kick-ass motivation, and Leonie Dawson for a combination of visual, crazy, and down-to-earth inspiration.  I know there are more, but these are enough for now.

And that's enough from me for now! What's going on with you as we cruise toward the end of July? I think we should all take a cue from Henry and get some dancing in this weekend!


When You Don't Know How to Write

Painter_sidewalk_easel_596182_hYears ago, as a freelance writer, I wrote a lot of articles about art.  One of them was about the Makk family of artists, who lived in Hawaii.  The big thing I remember from this article happened while I interviewed the Eva, the matriarch of the family. She told me how when she was a young artist she had images in her head that she wanted to paint--but it took her a long time to figure out how to get those images onto canvas.

I could relate.  As a fledgling fiction writer, I often had trouble translating the stories in my head onto the page.  And even now, after writing fiction a gazillion years, sometimes I just can't quite get what I'm writing to work right.   I have the idea in my head.  I can see it.  But when I put it on the page, it is dead and lifeless.  Something about it doesn't work, and I moan and groan and wring my hands and decide I'm going to sell yarn for a living.  Or get a job in a restaurant.  Or something, anything, other than writing. At times like these, I need to remind myself how to write all over again.  

But the great thing about writing for so many years is that I've figured out a few things about how to get myself out of these situations.  And so I offer them to you.

1. Write a scene.  Often, deadly boring prose is written in narrative summary, which is, as the name implies, words written in summary.  She spent the afternoon reading on the couch, is an example.  Or, six months later, the baby was born.  You glide over a short or long amount of time or compactly explain some information.  Narrative summary most definitely has its place--it is a useful technique for all manner of things--but when it is used too often it results in big yawns.  Writing a scene, which incorporates dialogue, description, action, and interiority, will be much livelier and it may be just what the writing doctor ordered.

2. Try a line of dialogue.   Have one of your characters say something.  This can often lead you into a full-blown scene, or a half-scene, which is a bit of narrative summary with a line of dialogue as its anchor.  This link has great definitions of half-scene, scene, and narrative summary.

3. Copy exactly.   Take out your favorite novel or memoir, prop it next to your computer, and copy a scene word for word.  You know, of course, that I offer this as an exercise only and you aren't going to use this plagiarizing for anything but your own learning purposes.  This is kind of an amazing way to get the cadence of writing into your brain and heart and is a great learning tool.  Try it.  You'll be amazed at how much you glean from it.

4. Copy and rewrite.  A variation of the above.  First complete #3, then take the scene or paragraph and rewrite it in your own words, maintaining the same idea and actions as the original.  Another surprisingly fabulous learning tool.

5. Read.  Take a break from your struggles and go read a book.  Nine times out of ten, this sends me running back to the computer.  Its as if I just need to refill myself with words.  Note: reading blog posts, gossip sites, news articles, or anything on the internet DOES NOT COUNT.

6. Take a class.  If you are a true rank beginner, a class is going to be your best starting point.  If you are an introvert or don't have time for an in-person class, there's a ton of great offerings online, and many of them are self-paced.

7. Hire a coach.  Like me.  This would sound incredibly self-serving but for the fact that I'm not taking on new clients for the time being--unless you call and beg me on bending knee, in which case I'll consider it.  But whether it is me or someone else you work with, a coach can point out your strengths and weaknesses and help you learn to implement more of the latter.

So there you have it.  Oh, by the way, you might also be interested in my post on What to Do When You Don't Know What to Write, which inspired this one.

What do you do when you don't know what to write?

Photo by moriza.


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #51

We are coming up on a year of writing prompts--isn't it amazing what a passing fancy of an idea can produce if you set your mind to it? Plans are afoot to compile the entire year of them into a book--that's a little project for August, before I take off for Europe.

But in the meantime, I'm wondering what to do next: keep going with the prompt a day/weekly round-up? Or try something new.  Ponder, ponder, ponder.  

Anyway, here you go:

#350 The worst day of your life.

#351  What’s your alibi?

#352  Every step was painful, but still he walked, on and on.  He had to, because ______.

#353  Write a scene featuring your protagonist arguing with another character about something he doesn’t want to do but knows he must.

#354  She watched the sun rise through the trees, lighting first the leaves, then everything around it.  Usually the sunrise made her feel happy and hopeful, but not today. 

#355  Write a story about a character who either forgets an important birthday or anniversary, or whose birthday or anniversary is forgotten.

#356  Write a scene with your character at her closet, trying to decide what to wear to a party.  

 There you go--have at it! And please weigh in on whether I should continue with the daily/weekly prompts or do something else.   

 


Five Things on Friday: July 17, 2015

Ngfood_ngobj_food_228316_lIt's another Five Things on Friday post.  Admit it, you woke up this morning just dying to hop on over here and read the latest one.  Well, here it is.

What I'm Reading:  Still working on a couple of books from last week, including Leaving Time. Don't tell them, but its due today at the library and its going to be late.  I would say it is pretty good, but I'm skimming a bit here and there in order to get through it.  I've been doing that with books more and more lately.  The impatience of old age (see below).  I'm also still working on Alexandra Fuller's  Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and I still haven't forgiven her for not having a website.   The lack of forward motion in that one has slowed me down.  I am, however, reading her most recent one, Leaving Before the Rains Come, which came in at the library and liking it better.  Because there's conflict aplenty, as in money trouble and divorce, and we all know that lots of conflict makes for great reading.

I'm also reading Stones of Consciousness, for research purposes, and Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach.  Yeah, I've got a million books going at once.  I see a book I want to read and put a hold on it at the library and then all the holds come in at once.  Haven't quite figured out how to get the flow working better.

What I'm Thinking About: My novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, which is currently being considered by a list of 20 excellent publishers.  Think good thoughts!  And I'm pondering my next novel.  I finally, as of yesterday, figured out a loose outline of the first segment.  I've been writing and writing, wondering how it would all come together.  More like praying it would all come together.  This is a testament to the idea that you should just keep writing, because it does work eventually.

What I'm Watching: I bet you're expecting me to wax poetic about some golden age of television show.  Ha! Not a chance.  I'm currently totally into American Ninja Warrior and America's Got Talent.  Summer nights, I need something light and frothy.  I also have the Woody Allen movie Vicky Christina Barcelona in the queue because we will be in Barcelona in September for a few days.

What I'm Complaining About:  Well, nothing at the moment.  It's summer.  Life is good.  Okay, maybe I'll bitch about the fact that my son's dog, who is here for the day, barks at EVERYTHING OUTSIDE THAT MOVES. And maybe some things that don't.  This is a dog who barks at jet contrails, after all.

What I'm Celebrating:  My birthday.  It's today.  I'm old.  And I love it.  As I always say, the alternative, being 6 feet under, is worse.  I take issue with all those people who say aging is awful. Yeah, the body has its issues, but the mind and emotions are better than ever.   I intend to live to be 100 and love almost every minute of it.

 That's it.  That's all I've got.  What's going on with you this Friday?

Photo by ngould.


Guest Post: 5 Apps for Writers

I would like to thank Charlotte Rains Dixon for having this guest post on wordstrumpet.com. I find her to be a phenomenal writer with a lot of wisdom to impart on her readers. In addition, the website is fantastic and I would recommend this article on basic writer mistakes, because it is important to review the fundamentals every once in a while. (Editor's note: I did not pay her to say this, I swear!)

Depending on your niche, freelance writing can be a very competitive career path or an extremely competitive career path. Either way, you need every edge you have that is coming out and that means to be a successful freelance writer these days you need to be in the know when it comes to apps and technology.

One of the benefits of having the smartphone you almost certainly need for your career is its customizability and versatility. Has your smartphone replaced your notebook and pen? Has your smartphone even replaced your laptop in certain instances?

Phone in hand

Here are 5 apps you should be using to make sure that you have the technological advantage in your freelancing career:

TeuxDeux

One of the best calendar and to-do list applications out there, TeuxDeux is great for freelance writers that have a lot of trouble organizing their busy lives and managing their deadlines. This app is probably the closest to pen and paper out there, and editing tasks is easy and moving them around is even easier.

This app is useful for the freelance writers who merely want to get other aspects of their lives under control as well, as the recurring tasks feature allows you to set up weekly tasks for yourself (for example taking out the trash or doing laundry). Great for carving out a balance between work and other things in your life, or for managing time and making personal business decisions.

Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus

Not too much needs to be said about the Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus app, as the value of a good dictionary is self-evident. While you can always look online for words, with this application you won’t have to worry if you can’t get a connection. Another bonus is that you won’t have to deal with ads, and this app goes a great deal deeper than most thesauruses out there. This is great to have by your side when writing on paper.

Evernote

Evernote is probably the best note-taking app out there in general, considering the great range of ways you can put notes into your device. In addition, writers will like that the account can sync up from anywhere you input information. This way, you won’t have to fish around for information you wrote on your phone late at night in a moment of inspiration when using your laptop. It even allows for alarms and different file types other than text.

While there are subscription options out there which allow for greater data usage within the app, a lot of users won’t need to bother with them and just stick to the basic application. Even if the limit is met for some users, the premium options are not all that expensive.

A VPN

If you are a freelance writer you will at some point deal with client data that is sensitive and should not be released to the public. If this data were compromised it would cost you the client and a good deal of your reputation, not to mention the time you already spent on the project. In addition to this, your own personal data is just as important to maintain your brand and your financial stability.

To protect this sensitive data, you are going to want to get a Virtual Private Network application on your smartphone. It will connect your smartphone to a secure server via an encrypted connection and guard you when you use public networks (where your important data is most vulnerable). In addition to this, it will mask your location data and your browsing to anyone who wants to take a look at what you are doing or any website with regional restrictions. This can be extremely beneficial to a journalist or a travel writer of any sort.

WordPress

WordPress has a mobile app, and of course you should be using it if you have a blog. You should most certainly have a blog. It is a way that you as a writer can connect with an audience all your own and a hub that people who are interested in your work can travel to in order to find your other work.

While no app is perfect compared to the website that it is based on due to the limitations of a smartphone, you can expect a great deal of options from the WordPress application. In fact, you won’t really be slowed down much at all other than having to deal with a smaller screen than you are normally used to and your typing speed on a smartphone. This is an absolute recommendation for any serious freelance writer.

Untitled

Thank you for reading, and keep on writing!

CassieCassie Phillips is a technology enthusiast and blogger. She enjoys writing about all kinds of technology and gadgets but has a special interest in internet security.

Do you use any of these apps?  Have any other favorites?


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #50

Here are the prompts for the week from my Tumblr blog.  Have at it!

#343 When the party ended…

#344  He walked and walked and walked until he couldn’t walk anymore because….

#345  A nun, a cowboy and a CEO dressed in a fancy suit walked into a bar.   You write the rest.

#346  What is your main character’s happily ever after? Does he or she attain it?

#347  Escape! You are free at last!  What have you escaped from and why did it bind you for so long?

#348  Happy Hour.  What does your character drink: wine, beer, hard liquor, tea, coffee, water?  And why?

#349  The best day of your life.

How's your writing going this week?  What are you working on?

 


Five Things on Friday: July 10, 2015

CaptainwithLieutenant
The tub wads, back when they were young, thin, and innocent

This series (we'll see how long it lasts) is my summertime whimsy.   I started it last week, with the inaugural Five Things on Friday post.  Here's this week's obsessions passions:

What I'm Reading.  Just yesterday, I started Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, who is a New York Times best-selling writer.  I'll be honest, I've tried to read her books before and not been impressed.  But I was intrigued by the subject matter of this one, elephants, and put it on hold at the library.  After a long wait, it finally came.  It's been sitting in a stack for a week or so, and finally I started it.  Have to say, I'm hooked.  

I'm also reading Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller's second terrific Africa memoir.  I liked the first one (Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight) better, I must say.  This one is quite episodic and is mostly based on conversations with her mother, who is quoted heavily throughout, which makes for an odd flow.  But I'm still enjoying it.  

Brief aside: can I just vent for a minute?  Because I consulted the Google for her website to link to, and all she has is a listing of her agent for speaking requests.  I'm sure she's a lovely woman, but honestly, could she not deign to have a website?  (The link I provided above is Wikipedia.) 

What I'm Thinking About.  Structure.  As in, novel structure.  It looms large at the moment for a couple of reasons.  One, because I'm embarking on writing my next novel and so far totally at sea about how the plot is going to come together.  And two, because structure is the topic of my upcoming France retreat.  I swear I've at least glanced at every book and website ever written on the topic.  But if you have a favorite one, please share it.

What I'm Listening To.  This goofy track from Tom Bird.  It is free to download and it supposedly has subliminal messages embedded in it, urging one to write.  In some weird way I don't understand, I swear it works.  Of course, those messages could be convincing me to do something unrelated to writing...excuse me, I must now go dance naked in the park.

What I'm Complaining About.  Besides authors who don't have websites, cats.  Two fat tabbies, to be exact.  My tub wads have taken to doing their business in inappropriate places, like the bathroom and kitchen.  We have no idea why.  Their kitty litter is pristine.  Maybe they are mad about the heat?  If anybody has any suggestions as to what their little feline brains might be thinking, please share.

What I'm Loving.  Qi Gong.  I've started practicing this ancient Chinese form off and on through the years.  Lately I've been doing the Spring Forest Qi Gong from Chunyi Lin and it is amazing. Soothing, energizing, focusing and I swear it is also helping all my stupid aches and pains heal.

What's on your mind this Friday?


What to Do When You Don't Know What to Write

Thoughtful-creative-moved-22614-lSo there you are.  You've cleared your schedule and made time to write.  The kids are farmed out, the dog is asleep, your partner is happily watching something stupid on TV.  You open a file, place your hands on your keyboard, and ..... nothing happens.

You don't know what to write.  And when you don't know what to write, writing doesn't happen.

This can occur whether you are starting something new, or in the middle of a writing project.  And no matter when it happens, it can stop you cold.  Maybe you're trying to parse out the plot of your novel, or maybe you're partway through and you thought you knew where you were going but suddenly you don't.

One of the single best pieces of advice I can give you, writer to writer, is this: always know where you are going next.  (My daughter-in-law drove up to Bainbridge Island last weekend to hear one of her favorite authors, Annie Barrows of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society fame speak, and guess what?  That's the exact same advice she gave.)  I'm experiencing this first hand as I get up and work on my new WIP every morning.  The days I know where I'm going next, my fingers fly.  The days where I'm not sure, I meander.  And on those meandering days I get nothing done.

But what if you find yourself at the page and you don't have a freaking clue what to write?  Here are some suggestions.

1.  Write about your project.  Don't worry about writing within the project, write around it.  I always keep a spiral handy for notes and "writing about" sessions.  These help me clarify where I am and can get me back to the project at hand.  I thought everyone did this, so much so that I'd never bothered to mention it--but then we had a long discussion about it in the writing group I lead and to most, it was a novel idea.  Go figure.  Anyway, for me, inspiration always comes through the writing itself.

2.  Use a prompt.  Yeah, I know.  But they work.  There are tons here and a million other places on the web.  The thing to remember about using prompts successfully is to not make yourself hew to them religiously.  By this I mean, use them as a starting point.  Doesn't matter if the prompt is about a cat and you write about dogs.  The idea is to get you getting words on the page.

3.  Fill out a character dossier.  This is another thing I thought everyone did.  Turns out, not so.  I have standard character forms I've developed from a variety of sources over the years--and I invariably find myself figuring things out as I write fill them in.  (If you need a template for that, just email me and I'll send you mine.)

4.  Remember, nothing is wasted.  Sometimes it is valuable just to plunge in.  Put your character somewhere and start writing.  It may not turn into anything at all, but then again, it might.  And even if you don't use it this time around, maybe it will work itself into your next WIP.  Who knows? The muse works in mysterious ways--but she's happiest when you meet her partway.

5.  Also remember that maybe something is wrong.  If you are in the middle of a project and you don't know what to right, consider that something isn't working.  Maybe you've conceived the scene wrong, or it belongs in a different place.  Maybe it needs to be in a different location or with a different set of characters.  In order not to get stuck here, either move on to a different scene, or write something else--play around with a short story or an essay, for instance.

6.  Make a list of what you know and don't know.  Approach this like free writing and set a timer, then write down every thing you can think of that you don't know.  Ask yourself questions.  Make odd connections.  See what comes out on the page.  You know more than you think, you just need to unlock it from within.

7.  Change up your routine.  I rarely listen to music while writing, but at the moment I'm listening to a soundtrack that purports to zap you into the right brain and allow the words to flow.  It seems to be working! (Though I must admit I found the bird calls on it a bit distracting at first.) I've written recently about how working outside every morning has improved my writing.  So try something different--it may give you inspiration, and that's really what we're talking about here.

8.  Write a description.  Some people love it, some people hate it, but writing it is good practice.  Maybe you'll actually use it somewhere--or maybe it will spark the words you're looking for.

9.  Walk away.  If all else fails, go do something else.  Take a walk, mow the lawn, pull weeds, something.  It amazes me how often I don't know what to write next, get up from my chair, and find myself running back to the computer because everything has clicked into place.

10.  Keep a writer's journal.  Carry a journal around with you and take notes.  I don't do this as often as I should but when I do, it makes me happy.  Write about the woman with magenta hair and tattoos sitting next to you at the coffee shop, make notes on dialogue.  You can do this quickly, in phrases and lists, or elaborately, whatever your pleasure.  Then when you're sitting back at your desk, despairing because you don't know what to write, flip through it for inspiration.

So....what do you do when you don't know what to write?  Please share in the comments.

Photo by corpitho.


Author Interview: Kayla Dawn Thomas

I'm happy to share an interview with my friend, Kayla Dawn Thomas, today.  Actually, Kayla and I have only met through social media (primarily Twitter and Instagram), but that is about to change. Because this summer, she and her family are visiting Portland.  And on July 23rd, the two of us will be doing a reading at a cool local bookstore, Another Read Through on Mississippi, one of Portland's happening neighborhoods.  I love this bookstore, and I love that the owner, Elisa Saphier, is a huge supporter of local authors.  So come on out and join us on the 23rd at 7 PM.  And even if you can't come that night, please do drop into the store if you live in town or are visiting. And now, without further ado, let's find out more about Kayla Dawn. KaylaDawn

Tell us a little about yourself. I’m a family, book, wine lovin’ lady. My husband, daughter, and I are living a mostly peaceful, quiet life in Eastern Washington (Go Cougs!) 

How and why did you get started writing novels? 

It was something I wanted to do since about second or third grade. That’s when the reading bug really bit me, and I wanted to make cool books like the ones I was tearing through. I wrote stories in one form or another all the way through high school. Some harsh college professors slashed my writing confidence, so there was about a decade where I didn’t write anything. Then one day in my early thirties, I started journaling. I was battling anxiety and depression. The idea was to work through that, but what ended up happening was a novel! My childhood dream came true in the midst of that darkness. It’s amazing how life works.

Please tell us a little bit about each of your titles.

Swept Up is my first novel. It was the result of scribbling in that journal. The process of writing broken characters and working them through healing, and of course, falling in love was very cathartic.

TS Cover finalThe Jenna Ray Stories have been a hoot to write. It all started when a Twitter friend posted a picture of a note he found in a library book that read: Have a stranger come to the bar-tell her he loves her-asks her to go to Chicago with him the next weekend-she doesn’t go. I let my imagination run wild and created a woman vigilante who’s life’s mission is to put an end to wandering penis syndrome (AKA cheating husbands). After writing Narrow Miss on a whim, my husband encouraged me to make it a series. Currently I’m working on the fourth installment. At the moment, I believe there will be five total.

 Tackling Summer is my newest novel. It’s very near and dear to my heart as it takes place on a cattle ranch very similar to the one I grew up on. It was fun to revisit childhood memories and the beautiful mountains that left their indelible mark on me. There are so many adventures one can have out in the sticks. I have a feeling there will be more books in this type of setting. 

 Why did you decide to go the indie publishing route?  Do you plan to continue in this arena? 

Ahhh, the million dollar question. First off, I’ve always wanted to work for myself. After doing LOTS of homework and realizing I could turn my passion for writing into a viable business, there was no question of the direction I would take. The idea of skipping over the gatekeepers and doing things my way was beyond exciting. At this time, I plan to continue with indie publishing.

 Who inspires you?  In the same vein, who do you like to read? 

 It’s tough to narrow down who inspires me the most! First off, my mom and sister. They are both successful entrepreneurs in different fields, and it’s been very inspiring to watch them grow their businesses. Toby Neal and Shanna Hatfield are the two female indie authors I want to be when I grow up. They’re producing great work, run impressive businesses, and are downright good people. They always make time to answer my newbie questions and have been so encouraging to me.

I read a little bit of everything except horror. I hate being scared and/or grossed out. I like happy endings. I turn to Shanna Hatfield when I want something light and friendly. Janet Evanovich is my got to when I want to laugh. Toby Neal and J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts oftentimes take care of my need for a mystery/romance combo fix. I guess there’s a common thread running through that list. I like a good love story, and they can take many forms.

 Writing plans for the future? 

I’m working on the fourth novella in the Jenna Ray Stories. I’m hoping to have that out in early fall. I’m also sketching an outline for a novel based around Webb Baker’s sister, Celeste, from Swept Up. I knew the moment I typed “the end” on that manuscript that Celeste had a story to tell.

Where can we connect with you? You can find me over at my website www.kayladawnthomas.com. My monthly newsletter is the best way to keep up with my new releases, sales, events, special giveaways. I also spend a fair bit of time on Facebook

Kayla Dawn Thomas writes general and women’s fiction, as well as chick lit novels and novellas. Her mission is to give her readers an escape, from a chronically busy, overwhelmed world offering them the opportunity to settle in and discover someplace new, maybe crack a smile, and find a little romance. She’s been a storyteller all her life. Before she knew how to write, she told stories to a jump rope. Thankfully that stage ended once she learned how to work a pencil. Now she’s blessed to be able to write full time and looks forward to sharing her crazy ideas with readers. Always a romantic, Kayla managed to marry her high school sweetheart. They have a very bright, active nine-year-old daughter.

When not writing or being mom, Kayla can most likely be found in a cozy spot with a good book. Reading, sunshine, and hanging out with family and friends bring her joy.