Finding Inspiration Everywhere

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While I feel writing is my artistic outlet, there are times where producing actual writing is hampered, by real life, by other interests and responsibilities, by the lack of time. This happens to be one of those two week periods where finding a good, solid block of writing time is just not possible.

It’s not that I’m lazy – well, yes, I’m kind of lazy, although I’m trying to reform myself. It’s not like I’m lying around eating bonbons and watching daytime TV (which I guess is now NOT soaps and might be Judge Judy). I work – a lot, in fact, it’s a holiday and I’m taking a break from work right now (and the phone is ringing off the hook! Shouldn’t they be barbecuing or something?) I have a huge house and a bigger yard that I maintain on my own (with the help from the other half), and there are other commitments that eat into time. It’s not unusual, in fact, you could say that outside influences are a prevailing factor amongst us “struggling” artists. It’s a monumental struggle to create.

Still, you can find inspiration everywhere.

I force myself to do writing prompts. I’m currently doing 21 Moments (I’d link you, but this month will be the last set). Short writing prompts are the easiest. They take about 30 minutes to complete, perfect for those days where a block of three or four hours just doesn’t exist.

Even without the prompts, life gives you plenty of opportunities to explore your creative side. I have a huge vegetable garden, and have had to devote many days recently (thank heavens the days are sunny and clear!) to tending it.

At my age, I rather enjoy gardening. There’s something organic about the human hand digging in dirt, getting rid of the weeds, planting new material and seeds. There’s an order, a certain Zen about it. It’s the circle of life, and hopefully in a few months, I’ll be able to bring the fruits of my labor to the table. In the quiet of the early morning hours, I can entertain entire conversations in my head, play out plots and scenes, and think about the larger picture.

During breaks, I scribble down the meat of the moment. I’ll uncover it later, and use it in my writing.

It might seem strange, but I find cooking gives me a similar artistic charge. Many modern people think cooking is a bore, that it takes a lot of time, that you can nourish yourself a lot quicker through a drive-through or with ready-made meals. Not me. Home cooking takes a little forethought but it’s not difficult. There’s a care and love in making a meal, and the machinations always translate into tasty literary morsels. In fact, I’m working on a story with food as an underlying theme.

(I used to be able to write at work; unfortunately, things are more stressful now than they used to be.)

Art can be born of any action. The artist has to take a germ of an idea and go from there.

Any art takes a commitment. The artist has to be able to carve out time from the day to create.

It’s a daunting task, but you can find inspiration everywhere.

And Now a Few Words That Have Nothing to Do With Writing

I am currently armpit deep into a MS with a beginning and a middle but no end, and waiting on my Editor for Life to provide feedback for another finished novel. My head is full of [too many] words. So I guess I’ll just unleash a rant on a completely unrelated subject.

Equality and the Fairness Issue

For some reason, there’s been a lot of emphasis put on the “virtues” of being “equal” or “fair.” I really don’t get it.

I know. I’m old. I’m a freaking dinosaur. I’m definitely not hip. I’m so opinionated that I’m politically incorrect. I’m also busy with my own pursuits; I don’t have time to luxuriate in new (maybe imagined?) slights.

There seems to be some consensus that if only the playing field were level, people would be happy. If only minorities could get a special dispensation for being minorities, they could get into college. Or if only the Evil Rich One Percent would give away all their money, the poor wouldn’t be poor. Even our President and our Pope says we have to do something about income inequality.

If only we could get special consideration for our shortcomings, no matter what they are.

If only, if only.

(Let me say right here, right now, that I’m several shades of minority, I’m a woman, and I’ve been on the dole – for three months, the worst three months of my life. So I’m not an over-privileged white person who has never had to struggle.)

It’s not fair! *stomps foot* Remind you of something? Like a headstrong toddler who wants candy NOW or a defiant teen who wants a later curfew? As if demanding “fairness” will make the world right.

The world isn’t right; it was never right. It’s not going to be right, ever.

Life is not fair, so what?

I might be in the minority, but the purpose of life is not to get everything you want. The purpose of life is to work for everything you want. It’s to take your struggles, puzzle out a solution, and come out on the other side a better person.

The past might be a bad thing, full of heartbreak and injustices. So what?

At what point do you drop the past and journey into the present (and the future) on your own two feet?

One should build (positively) on the mistakes of others, instead of falling back on the negatives of the past.

And here, for my own personal rant of things that aren’t fair:

1. It’s not fair that my ancestors were Native American. It’s not fair that my great-grandfather had to take my grandmother (when she was a toddler) and hide her in the northern bogs of Minnesota to escape the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their plan to put them on a reservation. It’s not fair that for much of her life my grandma couldn’t vote, hold property, or drink alcohol because she was 1/2 Chippewa.

2. It’s not fair that the male members of my Greek grandfather’s family were killed by the Turks, and that he had to travel across the ocean all by himself to start a new life in America.

3. It’s not fair that my father had to join the Army to escape poverty. It’s not fair that after he married my mother, she had to wait in the immigration line for two years and accumulate 4 inches of paperwork to come here and become a citizen.

4. It’s not fair that I had to quit college before finishing my degree. It’s not fair that eating and putting a roof over my head became more important than my education.

5. It’s not fair that my health insurance is so high (even though for an old lady, I’m in fairly good shape) that I’ll probably have to work the rest of my life just to be able to afford it.

6. Speaking of that, it’s not fair that I’ve worked since 16 (actually 13, if you count the time spent working for my father in his gas station) and that I’ll NEVER be able to retire.

7. It’s not fair that I have to pay taxes. It wasn’t fair that my tax dollars couldn’t fund a decent school system and we had to pay out of pocket of our kids’ education, or that our tax dollars aren’t enough to repair the city-owned sidewalk in front of our house and we’ll have to pay for that ourselves. Or that we pay exorbitant fuel taxes to keep the roads up, but they’re still like driving on the moon. (I wouldn’t mind taxes, if I could see a return on investment that wasn’t lining some millionaire politician’s pocket with retirement possibilities.)

I guess I could throw a couple more trivial unfairness issues on that shit pile, ones that have to do with writing. It’s not fair that I don’t have unlimited time to write, or that I don’t have a wonderful agent, or that I’m not traditionally published, or that I’m not sitting on a pile of writing-related money.

*********This part of unfairness rant over. It didn’t feel good, so it was likely not worth it.************

My husband (who is very wise) says that for some the whole “fairness” issue is not one of leveling the field, but rather it’s borne out of jealousy. Whipping out fairness (or unfairness) is the easy fall-back explanation for everything not right in your world. It’s a way of blaming everyone else for your woes, instead of working toward fixing the problem on your own. You can give people whatever they want, but you can’t give them happiness, or equality. These things come from within.

As for me, I’m going back to doing what I do best: making my own world better, despite my shortcomings, my history, and my circumstances.

And I’ll be happy no matter how unfair life is.

 

 

 

 

Latest on the New Blog

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Moving to This Shiny New Web Site!

I’m moving to this shiny new web site!

I have asked WordPress to move my email subscribers over, but if you haven’t heard from me in a week, please feel free to drop over to the new pad and sign up for email notices.

Meanwhile, I’ll check back here occasionally to see if I can round up any stragglers.

Happy reading.

The Indie-Trad Argument, From My Perspective, or Yes, I’m Self-Publishing

cadence coverThe cover for my new book.

If you want to be thoroughly entertained and crave a shower of fireworks on the Internet, one might be better served to stay away from the political realm and follow authors and agents embroiled in the brouhaha over self vs. traditional publishing (or as Barry Eisler would say, as he did during the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference, the indies vs. legacy options). It’s a virtual shit show of information and misinformation, competing opinions, mud slinging, happy and less-than-happy endings, spreadsheets produced with dreamy algorithms, and nightmarish anecdotes. Both factions are passionate. Both have valid points. Both are loud and proud.

Beats TV. With. A. Stick. Yes, even House of Cards.

Even with the path fraught with pitfalls of evil operators (including some small presses) who want to drain the unsuspecting writer of every dime they can scrape together, indie publishing is an option that the modern writer can’t take off the table.  “Eyes wide open,” I always say. It is why I have decided to self-publish my next book, Finding Cadence.

It’s not just the successfully indie-published authors like Eisler and Konrath or the Create Spaces and Author Houses who think this way. I’ve spoken to plenty of literary agents, some of whom encourage self-publishing, for various reasons.

My PRO reasons are many, including this brief Cliff Notes version:

1. I have a story to tell. In recent days, I’ve picked the brain of many an artist, including visual artists and musicians. My informal poll shows most artists want their work OUT THERE. Sure, they want gallery time and recording contracts, but reaching that level does not confirm (in their minds anyway) the fact that they are artists. Example: If you create a painting and it sits in your closet, or if you write a song and you never play it in public, is it art? Probably. But art is meant to be enjoyed. If it’s not being enjoyed by a wider public, is it worth the effort?

2. I have limited time with which to get my story out. I’ve read some very depressing stories of late of writers working for twenty years or more before they received a traditional book deal. Twenty years? In twenty years, I’ll be dead, no probablies about it. I’d just as soon begin the next WIP and worry about my next story than to spend that time wishing and hoping and praying for lightning to strike me.

3. The technology is there, why not use it? Back in the day, hell, only ten years ago, e-pubbing and self-publishing books weren’t even options, or they were limited in scope. Aspiring authors had to send out queries, and wait, and wait. And go to church and make offerings to the literary gods. It’s different now. Most people (even dinosaurs like me) are Internet savvy, and if they’re not, there are other people in the world who are. Even after paying for help, in the form of editing services, book cover design, and file conversions, you realize it’s not going to drain the bank.

4. The process is quick. Instead of taking two years from agent deal to finished product on the bookshelves, the indie author can complete the job in two months.

The CONS? There are a few:

1. The stigma of “vanity.” Yes, we’ve all heard the term. Self-publishing equals “vanity” publishing. Vanity publishing calls to mind anyone with a pen (or word processing program) who hastily writes a book and puts it out there for the world to see. Vanity publishing was often full of grammatical errors and/or sported horrific covers. However, the new breed of indie author is different. They’re excellent writers with great stories, and they realize that the finished product reflects on them and the sales of now and future work.

2. It’s nice to have an agent on your side. Yes, having an agent working for you is great validation, and I hope to be on the agented bus soon. Scoring a literary agent is just the first step; next comes selling to a major house. And even though you might have landed an agent, that doesn’t leave you, the writer, to sip scotch while you’re pounding out the next novel. You’re expected to market your work as well. (And remember, days of BIG advances are long gone.)

3. The expenditures of time and money, or “you should get paid for your work, not the other way around.” Yes, it costs a little to self publish. Yes, you’ll be pulling the hair out of your head trying to imagine marketing ploys that won’t leave you looking like a common shill. Yes, writing checks or begging people to buy your book is less than pleasant. I know agented authors who sell 100 books and think this is a good thing. (Yes, it is.) They don’t make enough from writing to quit their day jobs.

4. If you self-publish, you’re just adding your drop to an ocean filled with books, and no one will see your work. Yes, and if you don’t self-publish, no one will have a chance to see your work, EVER. (BTW, the traditionally published authors suffer that same predicament now, competing with a tsunami of books, some of which are interesting and just as entertaining as those traditionally published.)

This is my take: I’ve been writing online for nearly ten years. I’ve gotten paid for some of it, and I’ve not been paid for the rest. If you look at PRO reason #1 above, you’ll see that I’m not writing because I’m thinking I’ll make a windfall from my words. I write because it’s my art of choice.

Does this mean I’m going to stay an indie publisher?

Hell, the no! I’m going to always write, and I’m still going to query what I’ve finished writing. In fact, my dream agent would be Donald Maass and my dream publishing house would be Simon and Schuster. In the meantime, I’ll choose a parallel path and keep to my goal. As long as there are viable options, I might as well explore all of them.

There’s a Reason I’ve Been Mostly Quiet…

It has to do with the fact that I’ve been busy getting my novel ready for release.

Can we say “YAY” or SQUEE? Or sympathize and pray for my soul? :-)

Yes, I’ve decided to publish FINDING CADENCE myself and I’ll go into the reasons why in a later post (I keep saying I’m going to do that, but my notes keep getting larger and larger and I might have to chop my one post into three more manageable ones), but today I will tell you a little about my book by using the world-famous Chuck Wendig’s Ten Questions About [Fill in the Title]. I hope he won’t be mad that I lifted his device from his web site, but I figure if an author can’t answer the ten questions, he/she should probably find another line of work.

So without further ado, I’ll get on it.

1. Tell us about yourself; who are you?

Wife, mother, business owner. I MAKE time to write. I began writing as soon as my mother put a pencil in my hand. (Cliche, I know. She regretted it, especially after I was expelled from Catholic school for…writing.) I enjoyed some local success in high school, some journalistic endeavors in college, 100 pages of a first novel (still in my basement – somewhere).  Then came life and I figured eating and putting a roof over my head was more important than art. Marriage, babies, when the babies went to college, I started writing again. It’s a full circle.

2. Give the 140 character pitch.

Recent widow learns ugly truths about her husband, her best friend and herself. She overcomes financial and personal hurdles to find peace.

3. Where does the story come from?

While obviously the story is fiction, you may pull threads of it from my life. I drew much on what has happened to me, my time in Michigan, Colorado, and my love for San Francisco. How music has played an important role in my life. There are parallels with the son in the story and my own son, both classically trained pianists, both attended the San Francisco Conservatory, both with a soft spot for Rachmaninoff. The list goes on and on, but remember…this is fiction.

4. How is this a story only you could have written?

See #3. Plus I’ve felt that ultimate betrayal in the way Cadie experiences it – enough of a blow where it leaves you incapable of functioning. I wanted to get that across, as well as the healing.

5. What was the hardest thing about writing FINDING CADENCE?

There were many. The first one, getting to “The End.” It took two years. After that, cutting and editing. My first draft was 175K words. It took some convincing for me to see I didn’t need all the words. After that, editing became a matter of tightening.

6. What did you learn by writing this book?

Everything! This was my first completed novel and I made all the rookie mistakes you can think of. I took classes, I bought reference books. Somehow I turned a mindless stream of consciousness blob into a story with an arc, a reveal, and everything!

7. What do you love most about this book?

It’s cohesive and makes sense. It’s a book about adversity and hope. I love how it’s finished (finally!) and I can move on to other projects.

8. What don’t you like about it?

Dare I say it? I don’t know if it’s “literary” enough. I know it shouldn’t matter, I should write my best story and let it go. I went for literary with this one, and don’t know if I succeeded.

9. A favorite paragraph from the story (the fourth paragraph):

Carter, consistently late, would be later still because of the storm. A fine pinot, first a glass, then more, kept me company. Hours of waiting on my husband turned my annoyance to vexation. Outside, my wind chime collection banged hard against the garage wall, the once soothing tinkles replaced with dissonant clatter. I remember thinking, if Jackson were here he could name the pitches of each steel and copper rod, contralto A flats clanging against high C sharps. Behind the discordant score, the wind’s relentless, anguished caterwaul vying for attention.

10. What’s next for you as a storyteller?

I have two completed manuscripts to edit and query. One is Virtually Yours Forever, the sequel to my first novel, and a YA tentatively titled Acorns and Oaks. There are other 100 page starters that beg to be completed too. I’ll be busy, no doubt.

Hunting and Bagging the Elusive ‘Write’ Time

It’s Monday, and my Real Life plate runneth over. Our office survived four days of painters, which is no easy task.  (Think trying to paint around an explosion, and you’ll know what the painters had to deal with.) Today’s enrollments are way up (must be between sport seasons, or the fact that the snow is finally melting – now everyone wants to drive). It’s a payroll week. Last Thursday, we got our curriculum approved by the state (finally), so I’ve spent the last three days making manuals – through the obstacle course that was my office full of painters. The house hasn’t seen a thorough cleaning in I don’t know how long, which caused my husband to dust my bookshelves yesterday. It was either that, or the spider building a high-rise cobweb condo was going to make his digs permanent.

When I tell people I write, they wonder how I can squeeze it into my day. I can firmly attest that it’s not easy. Making time to write is like going on a safari. There’s only so much time to get things done.

Writers write. Dreamers talk about it. ~Jerry B. Jenkins

As a writer, you have to do more than WANT to write. That part is easy. The hard part is sitting your butt into a chair and making it happen.

You don’t find time to write. You make time. It’s my job. ~Nora Roberts

The thing I’ve learned since beginning to write again: Writing is a commitment. It’s a flower you have to water, it’s a pet you have to feed. That means daily, people. I find if I skip a day, I feel terrible, like I forgot to breathe.

If you don’t write the book, the book ain’t gonna get written. ~Tom Clancy

Unless you are fabulously wealthy and have gobs of money to live on while you write, you’ll have to work. This means there must be a conscious effort to carve out a niche for your “write” time. For example, I’m doing it right now. I’m taking a half hour break from the disaster that is my life to write this blog post.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit. ~Richard Bach

Your “write” time doesn’t have to be hours. You can find it in shorter segments. Right now, I’m doing the Writer Mama 21 Moments, because right now, 250 to 400 words a day is all I can spare. I find myself looking forward to the prompts each day. The upside is that my little moments are shaping up to be the basis of my new novel.

Technique alone is not enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder. ~Raymond Chandler

It’s true that the more you write, the more you write. I’ve spent the last year in a massive edit. There was an urgency to finalize my work. At first, it was hard to commit to an hour or so (or more) a day in order to see to the end of my goal. With practice, exercising your mind on a regular schedule is much like exercising your body. It gets easier. You get an adrenaline rush.

Writing is hard work; it’s also the best job I’ve ever had. ~Raymond E. Feist

The best thing that a writer, like any other artist, can do is to fill your time with creativity. I’ve given up on most TV. I don’t have time for it. I’d rather fill my head with my own creations, or the creative works of others. If you’re serious about writing, you’ll keep your eye on the prize. Use whatever precious moments you might have to hone your craft. And if you need a word of encouragement, reach out to other writers. Yes, even me!

You’ll find putting yourself on a schedule will be time well spent.

Writing: On Which I Yield to the Idea of a Muse

A long, long time ago (holy cow, five years ago!), I wrote this article about kicking my muse to the curb.

Thanks to a workshop at the San Francisco Writers Conference this year, I have changed my mind.

When I first started writing – back in the day when dinosaurs ruled the earth – I subscribed to the idea of a muse. My muses would invariably take the form of human beings. Most likely, they would be human being males that I was romantically involved with, or were men I longed to be involved with, or were guys who had snubbed me and therefore I wrote as a way to beat down my enemies with the power of my words. I’d never really puzzled through the fact that my relationships (i.e. muses) were somehow compelling me to write, that they were responsible for my thoughts. All I knew is that I was most prolific in times of conflict and angst.

As a writer, it’s nice to have a fairy godmother muse to sit on your shoulder. She can tap you with magic dust whenever you need her and voila! you begin to type as though your keyboard is on fire and you only have twenty minutes to get it down before it spontaneously combusts, Mission Impossible style.

Yee-ahhhh… That might work for some people. I happen to be more pragmatic. If I don’t cattle prod myself to write something everyday, I’d never have completed three novels. Which is why I decided back in 2009 to kick my muse to the curb and set a schedule.

Five years after writing that article, I wandered into a SFWC workshop totally by accident (because the workshop I’d wanted to attend was standing room only and I really needed to sit down) with Lisa Tener regarding writing in the zone. She insisted that we must find a muse, and went about describing other writers’ various muses: mice, insects, old men, young children, birds, etc. Dictionary.com’s definition is the goddess or the power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker, or the like.

Our first task was to close our eyes and imagine ourselves going down a path in the woods toward a house where we would then introduce ourselves to our muse. We’d ask for direction and guidance.

(You can imagine here how I reacted. With total skepticism. And with horror, as I had killed off my own muse a long time ago. If I revived my muse, I feared he/she would probably kick my ass in retaliation.)

I decided to humor her and play along, but when I got to the house (invariably located in Golden Gate Park) and opened the door, instead of a room, I walked onto the large plain of Ocean Beach.

I mentioned this, and Lisa said, “Yes! That’s good. Water can be a great muse, and the ocean is vast.” Whodathunkit?

Later on, as I was sorting through my handouts of the day, I thought about using the ocean as a muse. Haven’t I been doing it all along? Isn’t that why I return to San Francisco on a regular basis? To stay by the beach, walk near the water, fight a biting wind, collect my thoughts? Isn’t this where my stories are born? My attachment is so great, I’ve used the photo of the Richmond, taken from the beach, on my blog. This photograph has been enlarged and framed and hangs over my bed, so when I feel a need to connect to Ocean Beach, I can look at it whenever I want.

I might have wanted to deny my muse, but I will no more. After all, it’s been there the whole time.

Sparks Fly During The San Francisco Writers Conference

It had to happen.

After weeks of Internet back and forth on the self-publishing versus traditionally publishing options (which kind of blossomed into WWIII), with articles like this,  and this, and this monstrosity of a blog post that took me three hours to read and that time was spent on the post, not counting the comments, you’d figure that some of that fiery emotion still lingered in the air.

The keynote speaker for the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference was Barry Eisler, renowned writer of thrillers. He is also an engaging and charismatic speaker. While the ensuing address wasn’t exactly a s*** show, the sparks were definitely flying, mostly because Mr. Eisler gave a spirited speech on the current state of publishing. He listed toward the side of self or indie publishing, giving his own personal experiences and the reasons why he decided to go that route, while acknowledging the fact that there is still a place for an author to choose the traditional publishing route of gaining an agent and then a Big New York Publishing House. (I’m not going to rehash his words; you can click on any of those above links to get the gist of the debate.)

Keep your eyes wide open and make a decision based on gathering all of the facts. That’s what I got out of this address. Sage words for everyday living, wouldn’t you say?

I observed a wide range of reaction in this crowded room of 500 attendees. Keep in mind that the room was not only full of wannabe writers who have never published a word either on their own or with assistance, but it was also filled with authors, agents, editors, and those who make their living on the “legacy” model. In between the green with a freshly completed manuscript and the greenest at the top of the food chain were people like me, who had attended the conference before, or who had some success in self publishing, or who had started companies specifically designed to make the self publishing experience easier. By the end of Mr. Eisler’s speech, some were nodding in agreement, some were visibly blanched and upset, and others experienced a light bulb moment of “Oh! I can do that?”

At the end of the address, Michael Larsen came up and gave a just as spirited counterpoint to everything Barry Eisler said.

sfwc

I don’t know Barry Eisler. I’ve never read his books, as they’re not in the genre I like to read for enjoyment, but I might buy one of them to throw on the To Read pile that I can now build a small house with. To be honest, I don’t know any of the authors who have broken away from the traditional publishing model. I know the most visible ones write great books and have strong followings and they’re all immensely wealthy as a result. I do know that what works for one might not work for another.

On the other hand, I know agented authors with published works who haven’t seen book sales rise over 100.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe in leprechauns or pots at the end of the rainbow. I buy lottery tickets, but I’m pretty sure I’m never going to win. I missed out on the eBay and Martha Stewart IPOs, and totally missed the bitcoin boat altogether, which means I will work like a dog until I drop dead.

Economic success is a combination of creating a viable product, brilliant marketing, being at the right place at the right time, finding a loyal niche and consistently delivering. There’s also a bit of serendipity in the way the cards fall; all the stars have to be aligned perfectly, especially in the writing world where a book is a work of art and the art of gatekeeping is a subjective (i.e. artistic) one. Not everyone can find that level, if it were that easy, everyone would be rich and famous.

The reason why I attend the San Francisco Writers Conference is that it consistently provides a wealth of information on the writing world, in craft, in marketing, in giving the opportunity for writers to briefly touch those in the publishing world. Michael and Elizabeth have been generous in allowing all points of view, thereby giving the attendees many options.

I go each year, because by mid-February, I need a recharging badly.

And it doesn’t hurt at all when the sparks fly.

I’m SO Ready for San Francisco!

This will be a short post, because I have a thousand things to do before I leave Thursday (way early) morning.

SFWC Sign up Now

1. I am so ready for San Francisco! I’m always ready for the City by the Bay, but right now I am craving some interaction with creative types, authors, editors, movers, shakers. The San Francisco Writers Conference couldn’t come at a better time. Besides, it’s so cold and snowy here, I need a mini-escape LIKE RIGHT NOW.

2. After the last year, I’m finally feeling like a real writer! That’s because I’ve been writing or editing or outlining almost every day. It’s been tough to get on a schedule, and believe me, you would know. I’ve been bitching about my Real Life problems for years now. However, I’m getting better at carving out a space for me and my writing time. It’s true, if you write, you will write more.

3. I’m planning another book, this one YA. Like I don’t have enough to do? This one will have death as a theme, and I haven’t decided whether I should put my story in Michigan, Minnesota, or California. Hopefully, it’ll be funny. Maybe not.

4. I’ve started editing Virtually Yours Forever (for those of you who were wondering what happened to my Beanie Moms), and I hope to self-publish the sequel by the end of the year. I already have a eCover design, it’s just a matter of getting the story to the point where it makes sense. There’s a lot going on with my moms!

5. I’ve undertaken another launch, but since it’s in the gestational stage, I’m not going to talk about it. Don’t want to jinx it.

I know it’s only Monday, but I’m already packing. I’ll be gone for longer than usual (ten days) so I’ve been plotting and planning my Real Life so there won’t be any Real Life disasters while I’m gone.

Finally, I’m praying that Mother Nature will cut me a break this week. Please don’t send any monster blizzards my way on Wednesday or Thursday, PLEASE. I want all airlines to be running on time, without delay. If I miss one second of this conference, I’m going to be super PO’ed.

Writing, Editing, and Twelve Days to the San Francisco Writers Conference

For some reason, I felt that 2013 was a banner year in my writing endeavors. Never mind that it took me the entire year to re-work and re-edit my first manuscript…even though that was a major undertaking full of major hurdles, I got the job done, which is a major accomplishment. It’s as good as it’s going to get; in fact, I can’t think of anything I left out. (Of course, someone is going to find something I missed – that’s a given.)

On to a new year, and I have plans for 2014. Now I’m tackling other writing tasks, such as editing the other TWO manuscripts that need my attention, and coming up with a new story from bits and pieces of other stories.

One thing I’ve learned from the last year is that 1. It’s not completely God-awful to forsake all of your other projects and concentrate on one thing (I honestly thought I was too ADD to try focusing on one project, much less succeed at finishing one project all the way through), and 2. It helps to get as many sets of eyes on your work as possible. I could possibly throw in a #3. – I’m getting better. Edits of subsequent novels are going so much faster, because now when I write a first draft, I catch myself before I make a mistake. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

:-)

San Francisco Writers Conference

I’ll be attending the San Francisco Writers Conference again this year, and only have twelve days to get it together. While I’ve signed up for the agent speed dating, I’m not so interested in pitching my work this year, and will look upon the experience as an exercise in sociability – something I’m not so good at. Of course, I’ll network with other writers, some who like me attend every year, but my main objective is to learn as much as humanly possible, and maybe absorb some positive vibes. I’m not totally down in the dumps about writing or life in general, but with this Massive Winter, I could use a little rah-rah to rally my flagging ambition.

To kick start some of my storytelling, I’ve signed up for Christina Katz’s 21 Moments Challenge. I suggest all writers give it a whirl. (I’ve just started, so I can’t tell you yet how helpful it is, but I’ll give a full report later.) The price is certainly right – $21. I need a cattle prod – I mean, classes – to get me going. I’m only a partial self-starter.

The new year is still young, so make the best of it now! I see good things in my future, and hope you do too.

Querying…Again

OK, so I’ve been over this manuscript, what? A million times? Rough draft, second rough draft, third rough draft, final draft, three edits with MR ED, after which, a year of self-imposed edits, one edit with a completely different, third party editor, several contests, a half dozen SmartEdits, another edit this month, and finally a proofread or two. I even thought of a scene that I’d forgotten to put in, and have bookmarked a scene to take out in case I can’t get permission to quote two lines of lyric. This baby about as tight as it’s going to get.

And so today, with tentative fingers, I decided to open my query (newly polished from a LitReactor query class I took in December). I spiffed it up, and then opened QueryTracker and scanned down my list of agents (since it’s January, thankfully many have opened to queries again), studied their web sites, including the types of clients they represent and the titles of books they’ve helped get published, and, OH MY GOD, I clicked SEND on three of them.

“No big deal,” you say.

Are you shitting me? I started hyperventilating after the first one.

Especially when I saw my email after I sent the first one. Why is it my formatting is so wonky? Many agents want the first few chapters imbedded into the email. Once I copy and paste, the formatting goes right to hell and stays there. I’m not a newbie, I know how to format a manuscript now. I’m doing it the right way. And this story is so straightforward; there are no text messages and very few email, only some italics, so it’s not like I’m trying to perform literary gymnastics.

It’s not just the query letter, or my email server problems. I’m well acquainted with my story, and it think it’s a good  great one. I’m well-versed in penning business letters, I do that every day. I’ve married the pitch to my business style in a beautiful ceremony that’s not too staid and not too sappy.

That part doesn’t bother me. My (now) angst is the result of moving on to the next step. This story is finished, complete, as good as it’s going to get. Now I leave the artist phase and enter the hopeful-for-an-agent phase, to be continued on to the product-selling phase.

I queried three agents today.

*deep breath*

I’ve done it before, and it’s not any easier now than it was then. It’s like getting on a roller coaster and realizing your seat belt isn’t secure. WHEE! and oh, shit.

This part of the process takes time, and you can’t take it too seriously, or you’ll lose your mind. I have a plan, though. I’ll distract myself by working on the next edit. It’s been nagging at me for a long time.

And maybe I’ll query someone else tomorrow.

Writers, Please Don’t…

Having just spent the better portion of a year editing my Epic Tome (and just completing a perfunctory proofreading a few days ago), I have to pat myself on the back. It’s been a long, strange, hard, ass-kicking journey since my first thousand words scribbled on a series of Northwest Airlines napkins (and the back of my itinerary, and my boarding pass, and along the margins of a magazine I was reading). That idea ballooned into a monster that I ended up giving a literary colonic bypass to. Thanks to classes, reference books, writing friends, my Editor for Life, etc., I learned the ropes to better writing – the hard way.

The most basic rule concerns descriptors: adverbs and adjectives. Especially with the dreaded adverbs, if you use them, don’t, or at least, use sparingly.

I didn’t believe this rule at first. I LOVE words. I LOVE descriptors. I love flowers, and I (thought) loved flowery prose. I love obscure words, I love reading them and discovering them. I like to throw in a couple of unusual words here and there. A seldom used word causes me to think, and I would imagine the reader has to reach inside and think too. (That’s my thought anyway.)

The -ly words add punch to ordinary speech. My father is a big user of them – literally, evidently, actually; to me, it makes him sound like a backwoods philosopher, even though it’s been more than a half century since he’s lived in the backwoods and he’s not much for philosophy. But writing is not speech, as I was to learn later. The human brain doesn’t need to see these words, and super descriptors end up being super distractions. So for my own work, I searched and replaced, and used SmartEdit to remove the redundancies, to eliminate the adverbs, and to tone down the adjectives.

Really, just, completely, seriously, you don’t need them.

After all these years, I think I’ve gotten smarter about writing.

Unfortunately for me, now that I have a working grasp of the rules, the descriptor overdose in other writers’ work is glaringly apparent. I not only read for entertainment, now I’m an accidental English teacher armed with a red Sharpie. Believe me, I’m no teacher, but adjectives and adverbs blink at me from the page. It’s disconcerting. Sometimes it’s so annoying, I cannot finish reading the book.

I’m currently reading a sweet little romance (an ARC sent to me by Simon and Schuster) that I’ve been asked to write a review for. I like the characters, but I found it hard getting over the uber-liberal use of descriptors, especially within the first two chapters. It so annoyed me, I had to put the book down. I’m about halfway through now, and the reading is easier. It’s as if the author came to her senses during Chapter Three and toned down the adverbs to a sensible level.

As a person who once suffered from LUAA (Liberal Use of Adverbs and Adjectives), I know why she and others write like that. We think it’s witty. We think we are wordsmiths, turning a phrase with literary gymnastics. We think it will make our characters appear snarky/sassy/sad/insert-descriptor-here. We think it will draw attention to our work.

Well, writers, I can tell you, it DOES. But it’s not the kind of attention you want, really.

It’s like dressing up a beautiful girl in sequins and hooker heels. We’re stunned by the get-up, not by the person under it.

What writers need for a successful book is a compelling story, honest characters, and eventual redemption. Feather boas and chrome plating gets in the way of the story.

Yes, descriptors were used in the writing of this piece. Please feel free to ignore.

:-)

And Now For the (Semi) Good News…

As you know, I’m lucky enough to have a permanent editor, i.e. my Editor for Life. He’s a nice guy, is personable, does good work. Seems to even care about me. :-) I also take online classes (currently taking a LitReactor query class), and have many eyes both professional and not reading my manuscripts.

I’ve taken Finding Cadence down a very long journey, from conception on a windswept beach in San Francisco, to bits of prose jotted on napkins, slips of paper, and backs of deposit slips, to a bloated manuscript (170K words) clogging my hard drive, to a complete re-write, to major editing (over and over and over…and over), to the lean and mean 120K words it is today. I’ve sliced and diced and eliminated adverbs and adjectives and junk and chaos, reworded my cliches, showed more and told less. I’ve entered it into contests (positively received). I’ve toiled over this novel for SIX YEARS. (I know, that’s forever.) The last ten months of my writing life have been dedicated specifically to this story.

After this last edit – completed December 3 – I sent the manuscript over to my alternate set of eyes. When I called her Thursday for her opinion, she intoned the words I never thought I’d hear; “I can’t tell you another thing to do. This book is ready.”

It’s ready?

As in, I have nothing else (except proofreading for typos, and the dreaded query) to do?

Whoa…

To hear news such as this is a double-edged sword. You’re giddy, because finally there is validation from a professional that your life’s work (and believe me, it’s my life and it’s been a labor) is complete. You can finally move on to another project, another edit. You reach for the champagne (which you’ve kept in constant state of chill just for this occasion) and vow to down the entire bottle. You want to tweet it from the rafters (or wherever tweeters tweet), and yell it until your throat is sore.

On the other hand, a certain sadness falls, fast like a winter dusk. Your baby has grown up, sprouted wings, taken off without so much as a backward glance. You won’t have to spend three or four hours at a time studying your characters, layering into the story psychic suffering and the resultant scar tissue, smiling at their triumphs and crying at their heartbreak. Your characters are your family, your friends, and to finally (and literally) close the chapter isn’t easy.

It’s a somber goodbye, but it’s also a new beginning. Writing a book, like any art, isn’t just the idea hatched in the artist’s head. It’s also technique and time, and later, marketing.

Now I must gather the strength and courage to start the query process, and hope (and pray) some agent somewhere will feel the same as I (and my alternate set of eyes) do.

Fear not, I’m not out of ideas. You (and I) might see these same characters again, someday, in a new situation.

That’s the beauty of storytelling.

NaNoWriMo 2013: I Failed, But I Prioritized

I wish I could say I completed the 2013 NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words written easily and under my belt, but it was not to be…

*sigh*

Oh, I had good intentions. I started out with a bang. I knew the story I wanted to tell. I racked up a worthy word count within the first week – even exceeding the minimum daily count. But something else happened.

One, I really wanted to finish my edit of Finding Cadence. NO, I REALLY WANTED TO FINISH IT, ASAP. This is a story that must come out, somehow. I’m not getting any younger, and this novel has languished in various stages of disrepair since 2007.

After you’ve stripped and layered a manuscript for nine months (funny, that gestational metaphor), after you’ve taken classes specifically for this MS, after you’ve deleted and inserted, sweated, re-inserted what you deleted two weeks before, ran the thing through SmartEdit a couple of times, and let two editors and a couple of BETA readers have a go, there was only one thing in my sights: Finishing this sucker.

This is where I tell you that 2013 NaNo was a bust. Yes, I’m an abject failure this year. I had to suspend my new story – which is going to be great by the way, once I get going again – to polish my old (very old) story.

I had to make a gut-wrenching decision, one that didn’t come easily. I decided to prioritize.

I fretted over it for days. I like to write while the fire is hot, because there is nothing more motivating than passion. I had a burning desire to begin the new story, but I had a bigger urge to finish the old. That’s because by hook or crook, if I have to crawl over shards of broken glass, I’m going to get this story out of the edit stage of its life and into the final production stage of its life.

This is a huge move for me. After years of cobbling together a writing schedule, I realized I can’t flit from one work in progress to another. Maybe other writers can do it, but I can’t. My novels are so different from each other, i.e. they don’t fit into a single genre, that I have to concentrate on one at a time. It’s too hard to get into the serious-literary-thoughtful voice after you’ve been playing in the sassy-fun-romantic voice.

So I spent the last three weeks of November working on Cadence, jiggering the developments, the ending, the arc. I took that baby apart and put it together. I somehow eliminated 6K words. (I might have to add a few somewhere, but I’m not so concerned about it; I think this incarnation is as tight as it can be.) Then I shipped it off for more eyes to view.

I’m going to take a couple of days off, just vegging and clearing my head, before I start working on another first draft in sore need of editing. And when I have the time, I’ll add to the new story, but my main priority is to get what I’ve already finished (two manuscripts!) whipped into shape before I finish NaNo 2013.

Sometimes you have to prioritize. It hurts. But sometimes you must. Believe me. A finished result will lessen the hurt.

A Very Quick NaNoWriMo Note

And I mean very quick. I have things to do – lots of things to do.

First of all, it’s Day 2 and I’ve already exceeded my minimum word count per day. Chugging right along! I am thinking there are several reasons why this year’s NaNo seems to be easier in previous years. I’m basically a pantser, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a plan.

If you’re attempting NaNoWriMo and are having difficulties, just keep these things in mind:

1. It helps you you have the characters, at least one or two main characters. You won’t need to know the depth of character yet, but it’s helpful to name them, have a general idea of what they look like, and also have a plan for them. Your plans can always change, but it’s easier to write if you already know their beginning, middle and end.

2. It helps to have a time set aside for writing. And I mean time you use wisely. The last two days, I’ve been out of town and therefore on my East Coast schedule while on the West Coast. I’m up at 3 a.m. as a result, and I’m using my sleeplessness to write.

3. Write as fast as you can. Don’t edit, don’t worry. That comes later, after you finish the challenge. Grammar doesn’t have to be perfect, the plot doesn’t have to thicken, just get down as much as you can as quickly as possible.

4. Always carry a notebook! I lost my hotspot capabilities and my trusty notebook came into play as a back up. You can’t easily count the words, but it’s easy enough to type them in when you’re ready.

5. Most of all, be kind to yourself. If you falter, don’t beat yourself up. Try to do better the next time.

Okay, fellow writers, that’s it for now. I’m going back in.

Happy writing!

I Dream, Therefore I Write

One of the bad things about getting old(er) is that it seems I don’t dream quite as often as I used to. I used to have so many dreams, so vivid in place and time and persons, that I kept a notebook by the bed. As soon as I woke up, I’d write down what happened so I would remember it later. Even though I mostly dream about real people in this world, my subconscious world is quite strange and exciting, not at all like my Real Life. Many of my dreams have ended up in bits and pieces of my writing.

I’m quite a fan of the unconscious state, although lately, I have too many things on the agenda to take advantage of sleep. When I was younger, I used to be a napper, but these days I feel guilty if I’m not cramming every spare minute with some sort of productive activity. I can’t remember the last time I napped in the middle of the day, but there must have been a malady or jet lag associated with sleeping while the sun shines.

The other night, I had a very weird dream. It was about my 40th high school reunion, which will be coming up shortly. (I know. How the hell did that happen?) I was speaking with my best friend from high school, who I haven’t seen nor spoken to in thirty years. He’s always been an artist; I’ve always been a writer. What was odd about this dream was that he congratulated me on my successful novel.

I woke up, sans notebook, and quickly jotted down the gist of the dream into my iPhone (where would civilization be without it? I ask you.)

Later, I opened my Notes and thought about the dream. First of all, I hardly ever think about my once high school best friend, although he comes to me in dreams occasionally and we have cogent discussions about what’s going on. Secondly…success? What does that mean? I’ve self-published the one short, romantically leaning novel. It was fun to write, and for some readers, fun to read, but can’t be considered a financial success. I mean, I’m not swimming in dough, lunching at chi-chi restaurants, and schmoozing with the elite over it. I’m still a coupon-clipping woman sliding into middle age and worried about retirement.

Success is relative, and you can look at success in other ways. For example, I completed the novel. That alone is a difficult task. I (with my Editor for Life) worked it over and reworked it over. Editing a piece is even harder than writing, if you want my honest opinion. Then after a year of rejection email from agents all over the country stating my work was too “out there” for them, I got the bright idea to produce it myself, to design the cover, and to market it myself (not a hard sell salesman yet).

So I only sold 100 books. It seems like a mere pittance, certainly not enough to quit the Day Job over, but it’s something. I know of authors with agents and contracts and hard covers who don’t sell 100 books. Writing isn’t a lucrative vocation, and if you think it might be a goldmine, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps the “success” comes from the fact that writing, like any other art form, is something that must be honed. It’s a skill that needs constant attention and practice. Perhaps the “success” comes from being able to touch and entertain a few readers with your words.

Gore Vidal is quoted as saying, “Ideally, the writer needs no audience other than the few who understand. It is immodest and greedy to want more.”

Got that, I guess I’m a success. :-)

In the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming, not of money or contracts or fame or fortune, but of another story to tell. And therefore, I will write.

 

Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo

Can you believe we’re already into the second week of October? With the current edit, I’ve been neglecting this blog (The original deadline for edit completion was the end of February. Then the end of July. Then the end of September. You know how that goes…) Because I’m armpit deep into rewrites, I  haven’t given much thought to NaNoWriMo this year, even though I plan on participating.

Some of my best work comes out of NaNo. No, really. There’s something about a forced program that really makes one productive. It could be the whips and chains on the wall. And Dr. Wicked running on my laptop helps, too.

NaNoWriMo forced me to complete both Virtually Yours (a love story in thirty days) and Virtually Yours Forever (a wedding in thirty days). Both books were relatively easy for the NaNo challenge. I had characters that I knew intimately (much, much easier for the second book). I had story lines for each character, and an end result in mind.

I’m a pantser, and I detest writing outlines with a passion reserved for my other dislike (squirrels), but it helps to have a plan. While waiting for October to whiz by quickly, why not take a few minutes of time to sketch out your NaNoWriMo strategy. These seem to work for me:

1. Devise your story. This means you must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It doesn’t have to make sense, so don’t worry about that. Just remember this mantra: a person you like wants something very badly and is having a terrible time obtaining the goal.

2. Figure out your basic characters. You don’t need an entire cast, but start out with one or two people. Antagonist? Protagonist? You can fold in other secondary characters later. You’ll want to write down names, ages, what they look like, and a few basic personality traits. BASIC, remember? Save the rest for the real rewrite on December 1.

3. Choose a setting and become familiar with it. My settings tend to be places I’ve been or lived in. Virtually Yours started out as an online venture. If you are writing fantasy, you’ll have a harder job. I personally don’t get how some writers devise elaborate other worlds (I still think the Three Acre Wood was out of the ordinary) but hey, go with your talent.

4. If you have time, work on a schedule. You’ll have to somehow spew forth at least 1,667 words per day during the month of November, and unless you’re a magician or are retired with all the time in the world, finding time is going to be an issue. (It is for me.) Just remember: It can be done!

Once NaNoWriMo begins, just write. Don’t worry about back story, don’t concern yourself with spelling, edits, don’t even think about grammar. Just start writing, and don’t stop. You might want to carry a notebook like I do. Sometimes you can’t get to a computer, but inspiration will hit you where you can write things down for later.

Look to other participants for help, with strategies or just to commiserate. There’s no such thing as having too many writerly friends, and most writers make great cheerleaders.

If you would like to follow me on my NaNo journey, you can find me here.

What a Writer Needs

I’m in Las Vegas.

Before you think, “Oh, she’s there for gambling and debauchery,” think again. I’m not all that fond of Sin City. It’s the desert, a way too hot desert. There are lots of things to see and do, restaurants serving food to kill for and shopping the likes of which I’d never see in Detroit, because really, even though there are rich people in Detroit (one or two), there’s not enough to sustain the uber-fantastical, over the top, Michael Jackson-esque offerings here. I’m not fond of crowds, and especially not fond of sightseeing foreigners (nothing personal, I just grew up in a tourist area that lead to a general disdain of tourists – especially the bad ones). I don’t gamble. I’d rather spend my money in a manner that guarantees a small measure of return. Plus, Las Vegas is massive. There are just TOO MANY people. My agoraphobia flares just thinking about it.

No, I’m here for a wedding.

Until the big to-doo on Saturday, I plan on holing up in my nicely air-conditioned room (overlooking the parking lot roof) and writing like a fiend.

At home, I do not have the luxury of hours of time to concentrate on writing. I’m lucky if I have an hour or two every couple of days to crack open the laptop. “Let’s see, where did I leave off…” My writing is like piecing together a crazy quilt. (I have a crazy quilt in progress, about one third of the way finished, that I started in 1985. Yes. I might finish it someday.)

This morning, I devoted three full, unadulterated hours to finishing up the edit of the first part of my manuscript. I discovered that I had somehow deleted an entire chapter. This caused a great deal of concern, and not because it was deleted for good (I have back ups of back ups). No, it’s because after (painstakingly) taking out 7K words, I ended up putting in 3K back.

Two steps forward, one step back.

What a writer needs is air conditioning, an expanse of silence, plenty of ice water, and time to muddle through the mistakes.

And a maid.

And a personal assistant.

Since I don’t have a maid or a personal assistant, I guess I will take advantage of what little AC filled silent time I have.

Editing: The Cut the Dead Wood Out Edition

Anyone who knows me (and probably a lot of people who don’t) and who has been listening to me bitch over the last month and a half has probably known that I’ve been armpit deep into a major edit.

Writers, here is the down lo: Editing a manuscript is not easy. Editing a first manuscript is enough to make you tear your eyeballs out with your jaggedly fingernailed hands (jagged because who has time for a manicure when there’s so much to do?) and throw said peepers across the kitchen and into the compost bowl. Your eyes will belong with the slugs and the fruit flies after a gazillion hours of cut and paste, semi-and-major plot shifts, and more cut, cut, cutting.

Obviously, it’s my feeling that my story is good. This story is my life, on more than one level. If I’d thought it was a stupid story, a horrible story, or a meager attempt, I would have cut my losses and erased all 175K words from my hard drive the weekend after attending my first writers conference. (In San Francisco. In 2009.) That weekend was an eyeball-opener, when I learned that what I thought was complete was so far from it, I might well have started from scratch. But you know me, hard-headed. I have a burning need to complete this novel to my satisfaction. And I would not have invested in critique groups, in associations, in conference fees, in online classes, in reference books, in following authors or studying (stalking) agents, or in editing services if I thought the book wasn’t worth it. (Let’s not add all those boxes of hair color to that fire. I have children I can blame my gray hair on.) No, I would have given up on fiction and continued my path as a wag and food snob and travel reviewer, with occasional forays into opinion pieces.

I still love food and travel, and I have plenty of opinions, but I made the choice to write a N-O-V-E-L. Writing fiction is an awesome choice, one fraught with pitfalls, one full of responsibility, and certainly not one taken lightly.

Editing is like trimming a tree. I personally subscribe to the Sukiya  or Japanese style of pruning. I try to get as close to the tree trunk as possible. I might sit under it or inside. I study whether the branches cross. I snip away anything that does, or any growth that might point down. Unlike Western gardeners, who whip out their electric trimmers and hack from the outside, I trim from within.

You know what they say, cut the dead wood out, new growth will take off.

Now that the major plot shift hurdle has been achieved, I’m back on the path of not-so-major editing. You know, tightening up my sentences, Things have been going swimmingly, at least the last few days. But in case you don’t get enough advice as to how to edit, here are a few tips that have worked for me.

1. Back story – do you need it? I thought I needed mine. After the twenty-fifth edit (or thereabouts), I realized why I wrote it in. Back story is comforting to a writer. It supports the reason for the character’s being in the writer’s mind. Other that that, you really don’t need it. The reader doesn’t need it. The reader first wants to be let in on your world. Your character must be sympathetic enough for the reader to want read on. Later on you can explain your character’s motivation by using the back story. LATER ON. I’m now in the process of eliminating all references to back story in the first part of my book. I plan on introducing some of it in the second and third parts. Where it belongs.

2. Passive verbs. Was, is, weak verbs, take them out. Change the sentence structure so that your verbs are meaty. You’re not going to eliminate all of those passive verbs, but you can definitely remove a ton.

3. Adverbs, adjectives – No, no, and no. In this current run through, I can see – clearly – too many descriptors. I’m taking out all that are unnecessary.

and finally…

4. Dialogue. It’s a good idea to read OUT LOUD your dialogue. I’ve done it several times already, but this last trip down the editing lane, I realized the speech of the son was rather stilted. Excellent grammar and good English, but not how a 20-year-old would speak. Even the socialite wouldn’t quite speak the way I had her speaking.

Keep in mind that I’m no expert and am only a student of the written word. And while the book’s not perfect – yet – I think I’ll still bask in the glow of my modest achievements.

Social Media and the Time Management (What Time?) of the Antisocial Writer

This is about selling, this is about social media, and of course, time management.

Even though I’m a writer, and writers are notoriously introverted, it doesn’t mean we’re anti-social.

Well, it does. It’s the nature of the beast. We sit in dark rooms in the middle of the night, or in coffee shops nursing a double venti for six hours, alone with our thoughts and the characters who populate our imaginary worlds. However, in order to sell books, we have to resort to becoming salesmen. It’s really not that icky of a proposition, even though sometimes I feel like a used car salesman peddling a Yugo. (Let me insert here that my book is NOT a Yugo! It’s more like a Scion.) Selling means a modicum of social activity must occur. You can’t sit in your basement and hope and pray that someone is going to buy your work, because it doesn’t happen that way

Writers can improve their socialness in many ways: Going to conferences helps; smiling, introducing yourself to random strangers – including those in the position of power like agents and editors – that’s a scary exercise, but it must be done. But in the modern world, writers must also sell online.

Whee, the Internet! That’s where it’s happening. It’s so easy to be a social butterfly if no one can see your face! or your middle-aged spare tire, or your ugly shoes. You can even socialize in your unmentionables – hell, even in the nude. But wait! The Internet is fraught with sinkholes. That’s because the Internet, that shiny beautiful thing full of information and networks and contacts, is an incredible time sucking m-a-c-h-i-n-e.

And let’s face it, if your time has been sucked, there is no time left for writing.

Here are my strategies (both in time and otherwise) and reviews of the major social networks:

LINKEDIN:

I belong, but I don’t get it. Perhaps it’s because I’m a dinosaur, or maybe because I’m not very “professional” in the strictest sense of the word. I see LinkedIn as a place for… well, salesmen. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel comfortable there. Every once in a while, I’ll get an email notification that I have pending whatever and whoos-it to approve and will dive in and look around for a hot minute. But honestly, LinkedIn does nothing for me.

MYSPACE:

Good for musicians, not so for writers. And of course, it is so totally un-cool. I have a MySpace account, but haven’t been in in forever. I spend zero time there.

FACEBOOK:

At one time, I was enamored of the Book of Face. Let’s see, it was right after the Powers of Face decided to allow more than college students to participate. I joined right away, at the suggestion of my then college-aged son. Facebook was snarky and new, a bright bauble of online fun. I could easily connect to not only my family, but to agents and editors and authors.

While the bloom is off the rose, thanks to many upgrades, and the fact that everyone on the planet (even my Boston terrier, Gracie Boo) has a Facebook page, Facebook still kinda-sorta fun. However, there’s a lot of drama going on. Politics, sniping, dumb shit. I don’t have time to get sucked into one side or the other. The jury is out as to whether or not posting links to your book generates more sales. You hope more than just your friends and relatives will buy your work, but I’m not a pushy salesman, so I don’t know. If I were a better salesman, I would conduct a survey. But I’m not, so there.

My strategy: Go in, spend no more than 15 minutes updating my page with a writer’s quote or a blog post, check out a few friends, and get the hell out. Push my book once a month.

TWITTER:

My new favorite social network. What I love about Twitter is that I can keep the feed open and not have to worry about people IM’ing me. Not that I don’t want to talk to my friends, but I don’t have sound on my work computer, and so I never hear the Facebook IMs. Not answering a Facebook IM makes me look antisocial, not deaf.

Twitter is very much like being at a cocktail party. You can eavesdrop on conversations, insert a witty comment here and there, or just plain stalk (and I mean that in the nicest way) people.

On Twitter, I can narrow who I follow. With a few exceptions, I follow agents, editors, and authors. The writing community on Twitter is a HUGE resource, even though I keep who I follow to under 200. Monday’s are great, so many links to so many great articles, it’s hard to choose what to read first. (I open up a browser just for these links, so it’s not on the same page as my Real Life work links.) Even if you don’t have any time, you can *favorite* the tweet and go back to it later.

I have no idea whether or not I’ve sold any books via Twitter. Ever the non-salesman, I just want to observe, learn, and keep my nose clean. I want people to see I’m not some sort of flake, that I’m serious about writing, even with the pitfalls I stumble into along the way. (I did experience one brief WHEE! TWITTER moment when an agent once tweeted out that she was looking for serious, literary fiction, I answered, and she tweeted back that once I was finished editing, I should query her. Update: I haven’t yet.)

My Twitter strategy is to leave the page open. For me, it’s the most bang for the social media buck.

The key thing for writers to remember is this: being a social is nice, but if you haven’t written anything, you’re a butterfly without a book.

:-)

And here’s where you can find me.

Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Virtually Yours, now on Amazon

Fluff and Stuff – Getting The Junk Out of the Trunk

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. ~Stephen King

Truer, writerly words have never been written. When editing, the rule of thumb is to eliminate any word that ends in the dreaded “-ly.”

I’ve been editing my completed novels (one for YEARS), and while the first pass-through with the red pen might include a perfunctory Microsoft Word Find and Replace of adverbs (and adjectives, the adverbs’ junky step-sibs), there are several other writing no-nos a serious writer might miss. (Easy to do in a shit-storm of fancy descriptors, believe me.)

However, Word’s Find and Replace is rudimentary. I also use Smart Edit, which takes your entire manuscripts and evaluates it for language redundancies. The first time I ran my words through, I realized (with dismay) that, yes, I really DO write like I speak. I cringed as I went through the work to tighten up my sloppy sentences. Some of my mistakes didn’t occur once, twice or three times, but HUNDREDS of times.

It’s nearly impossible to write 100K words and not use the same word or phrase a number of times, especially in dialogue. The reader learns about your characters through their speech. Still, nothing in the written word irritates me more than hum-drum prose, I didn’t want to sound boring. (My first incarnation of Cadence included several thousand uses of “family.” Oy. And OUCH.) With much thought, I kept most of my re-usable words down to 50 or less throughout the entire manuscript.

After you edit out the adverbs and adjectives, then the writer must take a look at the verbs. Passive verbs, a no-no-no. Finding Cadence was once full of passive verbs, perhaps because when I first started writing, Cadence was a passive woman, and I was a passive writer. While toughening her up, I became the warrior writer. All it took was to take the “was” out. “I was looking” turned into “I looked.” (This is a gross simplification, of course.) It’s so brainlessly easy, I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.

And of course, there are the weak, junky verbs: brought, came, enter, gave, held, go, turn, look, stare, watch, struck, ran, move, climb, remove, put, stand, saw. Weak verbs are precisely the reason why I reach for the Thesaurus.

Recently, I’ve taken to tightening up even more. I call this method of editing getting out the fluff and stuff. For one thing, I noticed that I use “something” and “everything” way too much, even in dialogue. I evaluated my usage: Perhaps the speaker knows what the “something” or “everything” is, but does the reader? Is it implied in a previous passage? If that’s the case, you don’t need it. If it’s not implied, it’s necessary to spell it out. Yes, I know what I’m seeing in my head, but the reader may not see it with the words I choose.

You’ll want to delete overused phrases – “at the end of the day” or “through the years” etc. and the purple-y, clumsy prose.

Editing out the fluff and stuff isn’t easy. It may be a harder edit to accomplish. You’ve been looking at your words for months (or in my case, YEARS). You’re invested in your character, you think about the time you’ve spent, the blood, sweat and tears and labor pains. It’s a lot to push that all aside and do the right thing. (And if you’re like me, you’re a horrible proofreader anyway.) What I’ve found is that my paragraphs are lean and mean, and I’ve managed to pare down my word count. (Yes, I’m paring DOWN. I have too many words!)

My advice is to take the plunge. It may take a lot to trim and tone, but in the end, it might be the best exercise your manuscript will ever get.

 

The (High) Price of Art

I spent Friday and Saturday in the Michigan Silversmith Guild booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, where I drank lots of water in stifling hot and humidity and hoped to sell a bunch of my creations.

(As luck would have it, my newly re-named “Merkabah” (in honor of my author-friend, LZ Marie) bracelets sold out by Thursday afternoon. Win for me.)

As with writing, I do a fairly decent job of making jewelry, but I’m not such the hot commodity that I can quit my day job. If only…

It’s hard to compete at the art fair. It’s the self-proclaimed largest one in the country, and that means creativity is oozing from every pore of every human being within five miles of the A-Squared. Plus, each Guild member is a great talent, and there are twelve of us sharing a booth. I have no idea yet how I did, as I haven’t picked my inventory up. Hopefully, it’s enough to cover the booth rent.

While my jewelry is cool, it’s also rather eclectic. Steam-punk-y. Left of center. Big! With lots of rocks and stones, and lots of twisted wire. It takes a certain type of person to wear one of my creations; my art is not meant for mass consumption, which is why I don’t mind that I’m not deluged with fans. I like the slow and easy pace of creating. I’m lazy! Well…lackadaisical. Art of any kind for me is about the journey, not about the cha-ching at the end of the road.

Which is why I price my stuff reasonably. I love the creative process, but I don’t ever want to see my work again. Let someone else love it.

At the end of the final day, a couple of older ladies stepped up to the booth. One was enamored of this:

pendantsold

(It’s copper, with pyrite, agate, citrine, and peridot. And I made the chain and clasp.)

The other lady preferred my silver creations. It was late, nearly the end of the fair, but I pulled out piece after piece (after piece – I sometimes forget how many pieces I have!) and they both ooh-ed and ahh-ed.

The one woman, however, kept coming back to the copper pendant. She really loved it.

She asked me for a discount. I gave her a little bit of one, but she hesitated. She was a little older and lived on a fixed income, but her friend was encouraging. She eyed the piece, fingered it, kept bringing it to her neck and back again, looked at herself in the mirror. I explained the hours of work I’d invested in the piece, that making the chain itself was a pain in the behind, that the peridot alone was worth a lot of money. She said she understood.

They both spoke of losing family members in the last year. These were new friends, their bond made while in group grief counseling. Shopping the art fair wasn’t just retail therapy, it was a search for some sort of beauty in a tumultuous life, a life that wasn’t always fair.

Again they came back to the copper pendant. Lady’s Friend said, “You should get this. The way it’s designed, it really speaks to you.”

Lady: “Yes. It’s just like my life.”

What could I do? I discounted it more, and she walked away happy.

I’m happy too. Happy that she’s happy.

You might ask why I’m writing about this, when this blog is all about the writing experience from my perspective. Basically it’s this: sometimes writing, like art, isn’t about making money. Oh sure, money is nice, it’s real nice, especially if you have bills to pay.

A writer can get frustrated with creating, with the editing process, with querying, with rejection. You might want to skip over the journey to get to the pot of gold. If you feel that way, DON’T DO IT. It’s not about the money, and if it is for you, you’re in the wrong line of work. Sometimes you have to give joy to get joy.

Spread that mantra around to the rest of your life, and you’ll find contentment.

 

Review Watching: Dangerous Waters, Don’t Go Near

I keep my Twitter-feed open while I work at my day job. You never know what might pop up. Most Tweets are mundane (like my own regarding my craving for horseradish), some are hilarious (Texts from Last Night, or my daughter’s arcane musings as a hipster in San Francisco), but mostly I use Twitter as a writing reference. Lots of good articles on these Internets, you know.

Oh. And I *discreetly* stalk agents and authors.

So this Tweet recently pops up. Truer words have never been spoken.

Amy Boggs@notjustanyboggs 7m A reminder not to respond to reviews. Once your book leaves your hands, it’s no longer solely yours. You can’t control how readers react.

Thinking about reviews is a timely subject. While on my quick trip to Colorado, I finished two novels, one by an author-friend, the other a random novel I picked up at Barnes and Noble, one with a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge on the cover. (I’m such a sucker for these covers. Authors should slap a photo of the Golden Gate on every cover, no matter what the genre, and I’d buy the book. Yeah. Math for Dummies with a photo of the Bridge on it-priceless.)

Once home from my voyage, I did the Goodreads thing and logged that I’d read the books and also gave my reviews. I rarely have time for words, but I make use of the star ratings. While there, I scrolled down to read the reviews of other readers.

Okay, so I’m clueless, or perhaps just too busy to peruse the entirety of the Goodreads web site. Or maybe I never noticed that readers were writing such comprehensive reviews. Tons of readers, dozens of reviews.

Each book had both huge fans who wrote glowingly of great story lines and meaningful social situations, and those non-fans who panned the book in question, saying that the characters were shallow or the proof-reading was flawed, or something else didn’t appeal. Blah, blah, blah. While it’s interesting to read what others think, their opinions will not sway my opinion of the author or the book.

(It’s actually amusing. Like reading the comment section of the Huff-Po Political Page.)

In fact, I have purchased books because they’ve gotten bad reviews. Largest case in point: Fifty Shades of Gray, although I’ve also purchased other books simply because someone else hated it. I guess I need to see for myself. Besides, every book is worth something, even if it’s horribly written. The author obviously put in time, effort, and energy into producing a novel. To me, even a self-published e-book is worth a spin, if you have the time to read it.

I know my own book and my past articles have reviews. I’ve read them, but I don’t take them to heart. Like Ms. Boggs says, once your work leaves your hands, it’s no longer your baby. It’s sprouted wings and belongs to the masses. If every sharp word from a reviewer causes a pang, perhaps you should consider a different calling than writing. As authors, you certainly don’t want to get dragged into a shouting match with a person who has penned a bad review on your baby. Smile, take a deep breath, and walk away. Silence is golden.

That’s my wise word to the author. For readers, I would weigh each book review carefully. What appeals to one person might not appeal to you, and vice versa. Don’t judge a book by its review.

Watching reviews is like watching the white waters of a swollen river. It might be pretty, but you don’t want to go near. If you’re a writer, write something else; if you’re a reader, pick up a book.

 

Real Life Imitates Art, and Then Some

My first self-published book, Virtually Yours, is a tale of Internet relationships. The online moms’ group featured in the novel is loosely based upon an online group I’ve belonged to since the mid-90’s. We’d met each other in an AOL chat room on our way to scoring Beanie Babies for our then-babies, and somehow forged and maintained the friendship for the last almost twenty years. (Almost twenty years – holy cow!) We have weathered relationships, breakups, hook-ups, our kids growing up, Columbine, 9-11, job searches, health issues, family loss – you name the life change, and we’ve lived through and commiserated with each other over it.VIrtually Yours (300dpi 2700x1800)

I penned the second novel in the series, Virtually Yours Forever, about a year and a half ago. (Yes, there might be a third in the works. I have ideas, lots of ideas. :-) Once I get a spare minute to get them down…Ah, ha ha ha….) For those of you who have been waiting patiently for me to produce VY4Ever, yes, I know. I’m slow. VERY slow. I’ve been picking at a couple of other projects at the same time. I swear, I have adult onset ADD, because just when I get going on one track, a shiny bauble tempts me from the other side of the room – or my laptop.

Now comes Real Life word that might get my butt into gear with regard to finishing the sequel.

One of my Beanie Mom friends has invited all of us to her daughter’s wedding…in Las Vegas, this September! At the Bellagio! Can you say O-M-G?

Now I have met some of the moms at various points in the last decade and a half. There are a couple who I’ve missed, for whatever the reason. It’s far easier to maintain a long distance relationship with the Internet and cell phones, a helluva lot easier than it was 20 years ago when we emailed, arranged to meet in private chat rooms, or snail mailed. Although we still maintain our email ‘loop’, we now have a private Facebook group, and we send each other group texts on a regular basis. We keep in touch using Instagram and Pinterest. It’s like we’re right next door, even though we’re all over the country.

This might be the first time we’ll all be in the same place at the same time, and you can bet I’m going to do my best to be there.

What is funny is that the premise of VY4ever is a wedding gone (partially) awry. (There are some other things going sour too, but I’m not going to spoil it by revealing too much.) While I don’t wish sweet Rachel (the Real Life bride) and her mother a wedding from hell, you can bet your booties if I make it to the ceremony, I’m going to take furious notes.

Honest to God. A writer needs Real Life. Some things you just can’t make up.

A Rant Unrelated to Writing… Or Maybe It Is

I love social media.

Usually.

It’s fast, it’s easy. I can keep track of my friends and relatives without calling them. I can laugh at jokes and eCards, view photos and videos from all over the world, and shop for bargains. I can monitor world events, see what’s hot and what’s not, and find large bits of useful and useless information, both meaningful and dumb. I gave up my newspaper subscription, because 1. the Detroit News is a shadow of its former self, 2. news is readily available online, and 3. my bird died.

I especially love social media because I write. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads (social media for writers), and Instagram – writers tend to use these forums to dispense information. I can check out my favorite authors’ new releases; I can research people and places; I can stalk agents (discreetly) and find out what they really think about us poor, helpless writer-schlubs. I can learn about upcoming contests quickly, thus freeing me from blog hopping all over the information superhighway. Saves both time and aspirin.

But social media isn’t all about ONE THING. It’s…well, social, meaning that what happens in the world spills over with some of these personalities. Believe me, I have narrowed my follows to people I really know or like, or authors, writers, agents, and/or others in the business. While I tend to shy away from the troll types, I engage with people who, quite frankly, I don’t agree with on many issues.

I’m not a pithy Tweeter, and I try to stay away from Facebook as much as possible. I love to be sociable, but these Internet water cooler-coffee klatch-parties are a time suck, my friends. My plate overfloweth. I run a business, a household, and I’m trying to write in between many crushing Real Life commitments.

That being said, while I like a nicely executed verbal exchange of ideas, there are things I do not like. One, I don’t care for a constant battering of positions which inevitably winds up some hapless soul being virtually lynched. I (and others) can have our opinions without being called stupid or worse.

Recently, I’ve noticed the online tone changing from an exchange of ideas to a pity party, where people tend to play the victim card with every revelation or change in government. I don’t care if you’re white, black, red or purple, I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, straight or gay, born here or (like me) not, if you had perfect loving parents or were abused, I don’t even care if you’re a Donkey or an Elephant. Honest to God, when I look at people, I see none of this.

What irks me more than any or all of these distinctions is that people tend to claim victimhood as a valid argument for any position.

I suppose it’s because I’ve had my craw full this week. Not only do I see this online, I see this in offline relationships. If your mother was a child abuser, if your skin is a certain color, if your spouse cheated, if your boss is a bitch – all these are reasons to justify bad behavior. WHAT? (That sound you heard was my head hitting a brick wall.) First of all, why give the other side that much power? Secondly, if you’re over 18, why not own your situation and carry on? If you have brains and strength and chutzpah, figure out your problems and devise a workable solution.

I am a woman, I am of mixed race, I am old, I have issues. I’m flawed BIG TIME. A physically and emotionally abusive mother raised me. Never once in the last 57 years have I blamed any of my shortcomings on my external environment, that the “man” was keeping me down as a woman or anything else. That’s because I control my life and my destiny, and the parts I can’t control I deal with the best I can.

After ruminating on this revelation and my subsequent annoyance for a few hours (after shutting down Twitter, because I couldn’t stand it anymore), I realized that the victim card is played by aspiring authors too. I’ve been to plenty of writers conferences where there are a few disgruntled and unhappy attendees. They see other writers as enemies or rivals, and agents as tyrants. Perhaps their manuscripts aren‘t the next Harry Potter and need more work. Instead of taking control of their work and their destiny, they choose to play the blame game.

It’s so much easier, right?

Grow and let go.

Rant over.

Writing Like You Speak – Good, Bad, or Ugly

I’m pretty sure I sound like a blonde on the phone. In fact, I know I sound blonde, because I’ve had people (employees) who know me by phone only, meet me later and tell me so. (They also think I’m a lot taller than I am.) It’s likely disconcerting to discover that your boss is a short Asian woman, especially after your imagination has convinced you that I’m fair-skinned and statuesque.

(I’m only bringing this up because my daughter decided to dye her hair blonde this weekend. This has nothing to do with anything…)

When analyzing the “why” of this phenomenon, I can only come to one conclusion: It’s my voice. I laugh too loud, my humor is left of center, and I am overly emotional. (I have no theories about the 5′ 8″ supposition.)

I’ve often said that I write like I speak. Which isn’t completely true, because my mouth is not as fast on the draw as my brain. (That’s why I started writing, because speaking was difficult.) It is true in the sense that I pepper my speech with words and phrases I’m in the habit of saying – we all do this, it’s human nature. My own father was fond of “evidently” and “Suzie Q.” But when writing and/or reading, we don’t need those extra filler words.

Take the first sentence of this blog post:

I’m pretty sure I sound like a blonde on the phone.

This is how I sound in real life – full of adverbs, when all I wanted to say was this:

I sound blonde on the phone.

Now that I’ve been writing seriously, as I edit, these filler words stare back at me with the illumination of a thousand suns. It’s amazing how worthless they are. I’d been told many times before that the mind skips over these words as they’re read. Since I had originally written the words, I didn’t believe it – until the edit. Heck, if I can see I don’t need them, I probably don’t.

However, writing how you speak does have an upside. Let’s say you’re working on a novel in first person. If your main character is middle aged and high class, or a teenager with attitude, or a sassy thirty-something in search of love, you can imbue some of these characteristics in speech. Or, in period pieces like Monte Schulz’s This Side of Jordan, where the rag-tag cast of characters from the Depression era says things like “My cousin Frenchy eats crawdads cold,” a hint of uneducated dialect goes a long way in portraying the look and feel of the character. (Just so you know, the book also features also a dwarf who is extremely well-educated; you know this through his dialogue.)

Writing how you speak has a bad and ugly side, however. Too much can be too distracting. The reader can get the gist of a heavy accent with a light touch. The author does not have to misspell words in order to get the point across. The reader will tire of a character who (perhaps like you) has trouble conversing.

Personally, I have to be in the mood to write in first person as a character. For Amberly Cooper, I have to listen to a lot of teenagers beforehand, the more self-absorbed the better. For Cadence Reed, I have to either read deep, depressing novels or watch movies that make me cry. I had the worst time when I wrote Virtually Yours, a book with seven distinctive characters from different parts of the country. My first draft found all of the characters sounding the same – like me. Slowly, I had to separate the “me” in my characters and give each of them believable voices of their own. I accomplished this by talking to people in various parts of the country and listening to their speech patterns.

If you’re like me and write like you speak, make sure your edit is thorough. Your writing must convey character, but it must also make sense.

Writing: Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees

It’s true: sometimes you must step away from your work long enough to gain a different perspective.

This is why writers seek feedback. (Perhaps not all writers, but this one does!) We use our family members and friends, look for critique groups, employ the use of editors and book doctors – basically run our manuscripts through the wringer and then some. Some use feedback to gloat and marinate in praise. I need it because I see the value in being slapped silly every now and again.

Take my good friend, The Little Fluffy Cat. She’s not really a cat, but a great writer, and on top of that, a kick-ass editor. I’ve emailed her passages and she red-lines and returns them in minutes. “No, this won’t work.” “Adverbs?” “Purple here.” (These aren’t quotes, but it’s along those lines. Plus there’s many strike throughs. I can almost hear her sighing from Texas.) I don’t ask her often, because she’s a busy woman. I ask her when I need an unvarnished review. I’m not sure what she really thinks of me, but I must be somewhat amusing because we’re still friends after all these years.

It smarts a little to read a LFC edit, but she’s 100% right.

And while I have an Editor for Life, I like the idea of another pair of eyes. I’ve signed up for classes to work on my manuscript, one that’s already been through the editorial process. MANY times. I am thinking that my ED may be too close to me to give me an unabashed review. (He likes me. I like him. As a person, not just an editor.) I suspect my ED is like me, the writer. We are too close to the trees to see the forest. (Or too close to the forest to see the trees.)

Recently, I signed up for a Savvy Author mentoree class for my manuscript, Finding Cadence. The current edit is better, much better, but I’m going for making this manuscript the best I can. While waiting for my Book Doctor-Mentor to read the manuscript, I hurried to finish the current edit.

Then I put the book away.

She called me a week or so later and we had a nice chat about what she liked, what she didn’t like, what was unclear, and what could be improved. New Eyes Hillary pointed out a few things that were true, basically the sapling trees I’d forgotten were in my forest. She had me send her an outline. This took a while, because the outline saved on my computer was a few incarnations of this book ago and the middle and end was nowhere close to what it is now.

Again I put the book away.

Lately I’ve been working on a different edit. My brain has been full of Cadence for the last six months. It’s time to give it a temporary rest, while I pursue some other work.

If your work is starting to look like a blur of green, step away from the forest. When you return, it will be that much clearer.

Change: Not Bad, But Scary – So USE It!

Celebrating the fact that I’ve been writing every day this week!

As I alluded to in this post, a writer can make use of the rigors of daily life as a tool.

Thinking about rigors, I realize most emotion springs from one thing: CHANGE.

Some people don’t like change. They think change is bad. If you’re old, you want life to stay as it was “in the good old days.” If you’re young, you don’t want to leave your mommy and go to school all day. No matter what the scenario, if you like a situation and it changes, the immediate reaction is of repulsion.

Let’s face it; change is damned scary. You’re enjoying your life, comfortable in the status quo, when suddenly a gust of wind (change) knocks you off your moorings and into the unknown.

How dare there be change! Right?

Writers should take advantage of the gust of wind and note their emotional response.

Example: Your marriage of many years threatens to disintegrate. You get news that a close family member has a life threatening medical condition. You make one small mistake and end up totaling your car.

It would be SO EASY to wallow in the emotion of your change. For example: damn it, but I’ve given him two decades of my life! or how will I live without my mom? or I hate walking, and that guy (uninsured, of course) in the other lane is a jerk for hitting me! Instead of marinating in emotion, write down the emotion of your change; the hurt you felt when you learned of the infidelity, the vulnerability of abandonment, the loss of your family member, the rage you feel knowing the insurance won’t cover it and you have no money. Your characters will need to express these things, once you, Author-Person, gets down to the business of weaving the bits of your ideas into a viable story.

It doesn’t have to make sense; it doesn’t even have to be sentences or paragraphs. It doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t have to be pretty. On the off occasion when I don’t have a notebook, I’ll jot down my winds of change in my iPhone notes.

There is only so much time in a day. Make use of it.

With Real Life to Contend With, How Can You NOT Write?

Once, two, maybe three years ago, I suffered from a case of Lack of Writing. I refuse to call the inability to string a series coherent sentences outlining character and plot ‘writer’s block’ – I wasn’t blocked as much as I was overwhelmed/tired/bored/busy/juggling/severely ADD. After several weeks (or maybe months) of N-O-T-H-I-N-G – not a chapter, not a paragraph, not a word, I emailed my ED, throwing him an SOS. I couldn’t believe I was without WORDS. Nice guy, he offered an online intervention, but since I haven’t been able to sign into my Yahoo! account since 2009, getting to the messenger for my wake up call was daunting.

He probably could have called me to jump start my flat-lined ambition, but he didn’t have to. While in the middle of figuring a way around Yahoo! (lowly step-brother of that demon-child Google), something happened. Something epic.

I began to write.

There was no “ah-ha” moment, no light bulb over my head. No dynamiting the log jam, or self-abuse. Somehow, some way, without prompts or nudging,  somewhere in the puzzle of getting hooked up, I wrote.

I must admit that I do love a good writing prompt. I have a whole book of them I can turn to in case of brain freeze. A writing competition is a great tool for getting the juices flowing, especially if you get a friend or two involved. But sometimes LIFE is more than enough impetus to write. Even if it threatens to bury you. (Especially if it threatens to bury you.)

The past few months have found me in that lazy/overwhelmed/tired/bored mode. Sometimes it’s  hard to get excited. Sometimes your creative energy is sucked out of you. Many times there’s no TIME. Writing, as all my  creative pursuits, is an indulgent luxury. (I hope it always is.) Many pressing tasks stand between me and my computer and three hours of peace and quiet. I’ve taken to notebooks and writing quickies when I have a minute to spare.

This is my life the last few months: business, people quitting, friends and family contending with illness or other challenges, drama and more drama, money (or lack of), a crumbling house, the police and jail (don’t ask) – with all this Real Life to contend with, how can I NOT write? The only things I haven’t experienced in the last few months would be dragons, murder (although someone did threaten my husband’s life), and vampires, but there’s always tomorrow.

Today my temporary Lack of Writing has officially ended. I’ve been writing like a fool ever since.

Look out, world.

An Omen: When Your Dog Soils Your Query

It’s a beautiful Sunday in the neighborhood, and while the sun shines and the temperatures are mild, I figured I would get up early and finish weeding and planting my vegetable garden. I made significant progress yesterday and want to finish NOW, so I can enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Gardening used to be a lot easier when I was young(er). I bounced out of bed today with an aching shoulder and a bum knee. Still, I’m on a mission – to eradicate weeds and plant more tomatoes. (Sorry. It’s my Army brat upbringing. Plus, you can never have too many tomatoes!)

On my way to locating my tennis shoes, which were next to my laptop and a six inch pile of printed manuscripts waiting for me to edit, I noticed that my dog had a gastronomical accident. On two pieces of paper that had escaped the tower of editing. Those two pieces of paper happened to be my query. On the query I sent to and received back and edit from a Big Name Agent as part of the Writers Digest class I took on querying back a couple of months ago.

Nothing says “YOU SUCK” better than runny diarrhea on my corrected query.

This, my writing friends, is an omen. First of all, I should have never left my query on the floor. Secondly, I should have spiffed it up and produced a better query from Helpful Agent’s notes a long time ago. Thirdly, I should really impress upon my husband that feeding the dog steak bones and whipped cream is not good for a Boston terrier.

Of course this disaster could be a more serious omen. Like God telling me I should ditch that particular manuscript (FINDING CADENCE) and perhaps channel my time more wisely into something that has more than a snowball’s chance in hell of making it past an agent’s assistant. Or maybe that I should give up writing altogether.

Yeah. Giving up. That would be the easy way out.

After I finish my urban farming, I’m going to work on my edits, dammit. And I’m going to make serious headway.

Because somewhere in my email, I have a copy of that edit from Helpful Agent.

Take that, Powers That Be. Your nasty little omen is powerless against this writer.

Real Life Bulldozer

I have to admit this, but as a writer, I’ve been really bad.

No, really, really bad. (Note the use of that adverb. It’s doubled, italicized, and bolded for a reason.) In fact, I’m almost a non-writer.

I won’t go into the grim specifics, but let’s just say that Real Life is kicking my ass.

The older I get, the more I realize there aren’t enough minutes in a day. Honest to God, it was just February and my return from the San Francisco Writers Conference last week! Wasn’t it?

I have three edits printed and waiting for me to slice and dice. Okay. So I did get to one of them about a month ago and made some significant progress, but then… yes. I ended up nowhere near my computer as I raced from one end of the world to the other.

So what do you do when life bitch-slaps you and leaves you with no time?

This is what I’ve been doing.

1. Write in my little notebook. The one I carry in my purse, religiously. I jot down ideas, lists, emotions, character traits I want to use later. Names. Places. Smells. Sights and sounds. It takes just a second. Sure it’s not a novel, probably it’s not serious, but every little bit helps.

2. Read. Here, I’m not doing so well, even with Kindle on my iPhone. BUT… I have discovered Audible.com. I am listening to THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand. I’m up to Chapter Three. I mostly listen in the car or…

3. While exercising. Because if you’re not going to exercise your brain, you might as well work out. Not that working out has made this aging hipster a babe. In fact, while losing a pants size, I have gained two pounds. Go figure.

4. Channeling my creativity to other endeavors. You don’t know how beautifully I can scrub soap scum off my shower tile. Of course, I have to break the chore up into four days. I can’t hack away in one sitting. Cooking is another way to expand on creativity, and it doesn’t take much time. Cooking, however, is fraught with pitfalls. According to my husband, who rails against my creme brulee or cherry duck, I should stop cooking altogether. But when I do, he gets mad.

5. Gardening. It is somewhat time consuming, but at least there are edibles at the end of the season.

6. As a writer, you should give yourself a simple, stupid-easy to accomplish task to achieve daily. Mine is THIS. I know. It’s frivolous, it’s silly, it’s dumb even, but it only takes me five minutes.

7. Buy a tool to help you in your quest to write. My current is 642 Things to Write About. I picked this book up at the airport in San Francisco on the way back from the writers conference (like I needed extra books? my bag was stuffed full of books -and wine), for a couple of reasons: 1., I am a HUGE Chronicle Books groupie, and 2., I often find myself without writing prompts. In fact, I just filled out a page yesterday.

Writing during real life can be done, although, the road isn’t exactly a scenic drive on new asphalt.  When the bulldozer threatens to mow you down, push back, even if the only tool you have is a child’s beach shovel.

It’s the only way to write.

Diversion: Things I Would Rather Do Than Write a Query Letter…

Get this: I have a finished manuscript on my hard drive, one that I really like, one that I slaved over for YEARS, one that I think is ready for the Big Time (at least, for publishing), one that I have stripped and clipped and polished and buzz sawed and tightened and dreamed about, and I’m at an impasse. I can’t seem to get myself to send it to query.

Why?

Because although the manuscript is good, my query is not. And I’ve been laboring over the query just as hard as I have the actual story. Yes. I started working on the current incarnation of my query letter in December. I even took a Writers Digest webinar on query letters, and received an edited copy of one of my incarnations back from the agent holding the class. I also have several writers who were kind enough to critique my letter, writers from many different genres. And I gave the query letter to my MR. ED, hoping he could add his own spin.

I’ve researched the masses and masses of info online, for hours and hours, and have come away with killer headaches every time. I’d pull out my hair, but I don’t have much left. I can’t spare a single strand.

I honestly have at least a dozen different query letters for the same query, ranging from bare bones, here’s the story, here’s my contact information, to business letter snappy, to a mini-synopsis wedged into two paragraphs. I’m not happy with any of them. (I’m happy with the story, not with the queries.)

The query letter is a fine art all its own. A good query letter conveys a great pitch. Katharine Sands (high powered agent whom I’ve met and observed in workshops) says the pitch must ‘pop.’ It has to sustain enough pizazz to capture an agent’s attention, leaving God (I mean) he or she, clamoring to read more. I understand that publishing is a business and businesses survive only by making money, and that agents and publishers tend to gravitate toward that goal, meaning a manuscript and a writer who is succinct and shows promise. Querying is very much like selling your idea.

You know me, I’m not much of a salesman.

Honestly, what if your story is ‘pop’-less? What if it’s not about dragons, demons, vampires, dystopian future worlds, wild bondage sex, wizard man-children, war, pestilence, charmed city girls with a closet full of designer shoes, or impudent teenagers? What if it’s about a woman and her personal struggle, internally, within her friends and family, and/or with an external force dogging her? (Novels I like to read, by the way.)

Enough of my rant: It’s Monday and I have a minute. Quickly (before the phone starts to ring), I will list a few things I would rather do than write a query letter.

1. Laundry.

2. Vacuuming.

3. Dusting.

4. The dreaded once a year pelvic exam.

5. Picking up dog poo.

6. State audit.

7. Day Job work.

8. Working on the new manuscript.

9. Devising a complicated spreadsheet for the other half.

and last but not least:

10. Poke a needle in my eye.

Enough of my bitching. I have a bookmarked page I must peruse.

Onward and upward, query.

 

Writing and The Art of the Metal Scrap Pile

In addition to writing – like I have time for other pursuits – I also create jewelry. It started out a simple diversion with pretty beads, but has now grown into a monster of another color. I love rocks and stones, I like copper and silver (silver especially now that the price has plummeted.) My creations are, how do we say this? Not mainstream. It’s not exactly steampunk either. Like my writing, it’s… me. Singular, unusual, and me.

Okay, it’s more than a diversion and you twisted my arm; call me a jewelry artist. A crazed one.

Each Tuesday during the school year, I take a metals class at the local art center. This is known as three hours of ME TIME. I’m a busy woman; if I didn’t consciously manufacture time for writing, working out, gardening, cooking, or cleaning, I would not write, I’d be 300 lbs., my yard would be overgrown, I’d subsist on fast food, and you wouldn’t be able to see the floor through the cat hair. That’s why I carve out one teeny, tiny three hour niche for playing with wire (and fire).

My latest endeavor once I get to class is going through the discards box, which normally contains about 50 lbs. of copper scrap. Copper is the provided metal of choice for this studio. (Honey, if I work in silver and there are leftovers, my bits and pieces goes into my own personal scrap pile.) The failed pieces of other classes, twisted wire, sheets of fire patina flat stock, shards of cut copper triangles that are sharp enough to be used in an operating room, I scavenge through for just the perfect shade or color or twist. I especially love the wire I pull out of there; you can’t replicate the compaction and then the freed wire squiggles, even if you tried.

I take home my little gems of garbage that start out like this:

wire

and sometimes I end up creating something like this:

twistedbracelet

It’s the same with writing.

On my computer hard drive, I have bits and pieces of creative moments. Maybe they’re not well formed stories. Maybe they’re failed stories or the beginnings of ambitious novels. Maybe they are observations or opinions or love letters or chastising treatises on the human condition. Maybe they are parts of poems or the chorus of a song that I wanted to finish once I came into close proximity to my guitar. I have a file of interesting names, places, restaurants. I might note the debris on the beach or the sway of black-eyed Susans in the wind or the roiling energy of clouds before the impending storm.

As a writer, there are always times of self-doubt and self-loathing. Unless you’re a big name author, and a super smart one at that, you’re going to find that writing is hard work. You might love your work, but someone else cuts it down. Your real life might take a turn for the worse and you may want to blow up the entire works as a result. I know of writers who delete and start over.

I’m not that type of artist. I can’t be; I’ve invested too much in my art. I don’t have a lot of free time, and I especially have little time to create anew. Besides, it’s worth it to poke around in the scrap pile. From my perspective, some of the best art can be culled from the depths of the trash heap, re-worked, re-purposed, spiffed up and shined to a glossy finish.

It is so worth the effort.

Setting My Baby Free – Or, It’s Query Time (Again)

On a cold day in February in 2007, I walked north along Ocean Beach in San Francisco and snapped the photo that now resides as the header of this blog. (It’s also a framed poster over my bed, where it gives me constant inspiration.)

Later that day, on a Northwest Airline flight to Detroit, I began writing in a notebook. It wasn’t a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, it was more a stream of consciousness about my walk on the beach.

When I arrived home, I put my musings into the computer. The seven or eight mini pages grew. And grew, and grew.

I honestly couldn’t write a word of dialogue back then, so my paragraphs were full of internal musings. Since I couldn’t write dialogue, I had eight different POVs…yeah. About 7 POVs too many. If there was a rule about writing fiction, I broke it – in spades, over and over.

When I had 70K words (of which 90% was pure garbage), I finally visualized the story: a woman of common beginnings, longing for love, thrust into a world of money and prestige. I leaned toward writing a romance, until I learned what the definition of “romance” was. There are plenty of romantic elements in the story, but this is no Happily Ever After. My main character suffers. A LOT. There was no room for flirtation in this tale.

The story: Cadence’s husband of many years killed in a car accident. His death uncovers many secrets, the kind that could devastate a strong woman, but they totally rattle Cadie. But it’s not just his hidden life and indiscretions she must wade through – in beating herself over his choices, she discovers that the compass guiding her own life is severely skewed. She spends a good majority of the book “finding” herself, thus the title: FINDING CADENCE.

It took two long years and 176K words (still 75% garbage) before The End appeared at the bottom of the page. Two years – I finished the first draft the Sunday before my first San Francisco Writers Conference (2009), scheduled for the upcoming Friday. If you are a writer you know the feeling of typing those two magic words; you’re on Cloud 9 for days. And I was going to attend my first writers conference. I was giddy beyond belief.

I was. Until I realized The End is just The Beginning.

Especially if you attend a kick-ass writing conference like the SFWC. I learned in two and a half days that my work was so not ready for the big time.

With that cold slap in the face, I put the manuscript away. And cried a little. (Let’s be honest; I cried a lot.) At first I’d shuttered it for thirty days, but when I peeked at it again, it was so awful, I put it away for a YEAR. I honestly thought my writing “career” – such as it was – was over.

After many online classes, another SFWC, a new manuscript (VIRTUALLY YOURS, totally different in feel and genre), and much prodding by my writing friends, I decided to give it another go. Opening the now dusty computer file, I discovered that while the execution was terrible, the story wasn’t half bad.

There was editing. Once, to get rid of redundant words, the adverbs, etc. That chopped off 10K post haste. The second go-’round I changed the POV from eight (maybe nine) to ONE – first person. The third, I cut, and cut, and cut some more. By this time the result was about 50% garbage. So off it went to not one, but two editors. I meditated  on this story – A LOT. As there is a musical component, I listened to a lot of music, especially Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2, and the subsequent modern day rip off riffs from the common themes of the piece. Like Cadie, her life appeared to undulate much like the three movements of the concerto. And so I discovered my theme!

I visited San Francisco many times, to get the feel. Also returned to Colorado, because the feel of the High Plains is NOTHING like San Francisco – or Michigan.

I also ran the manuscript through a Savvy Author class, devised a workable ending that made sense. When it was down to about 20% garbage, it went through another developmental edit, and voila! what I have is what I have now. (Hopefully with less than 10% garbage.)

So you can see how I view my work as my baby. :-)

Now it’s time to set my baby free. Look out agents, the queries are coming, the queries are coming.

Soon.

What’s In a Name? Just About Everything!

Funny this article came through my email blast today, regarding naming your characters. Just in time, right when I needed it.

(As an aside: “Grayson?” Are you kidding me? I would have never come up with such a name. George, maybe, but never Grayson.)

I’m in awe of writers who can come up with witty names for their characters. They’re also the ones with inventive Twitter handles and email addresses. I am notoriously terrible when it comes to character names (and Twitter handles and email addresses – it’s j-l-h-u-s-p-e-k for everything). I usually use something generic and stupid, until I’ve finished the piece and start the first edit. Then inspiration might hit me like a bolt of lightning and I might come up with something more interesting. Maybe. Maybe not.

Now that I’ve finished my second edit of Finding Cadence, I’m seriously considering name changes. The manuscript is almost ready for querying, and I don’t want to saddle my baby with character names that are humdrum. I can just see some agent looking at my query and saying, “Maggie? She couldn’t think of anything besides Maggie?” I must give the name process careful consideration; after all, this book is my labor of literary love. When I first began writing, the original name for Cadence’s two-timing husband was “Tom” – as in my brother Tom. I love you, Brother Tom, but the name is BORING. Then my daughter went away to college and hooked up with an a**hole surfer boyfriend from Marin named Carter. After a bit of drama which included several tickets he incurred on her car and a trip to the emergency room (accompanied by a panicked phone call in the middle of the night), I decided to rename my errant-husband-character CARTER. Fit perfectly, and gave me more than a smidgen of satisfaction to click “Find-Replace” with such wild abandon.

Actually, I labored over Cadence’s name for a long time. I started writing the story without a first name, that’s how bad I was. I wanted a musical inference, and Harmony was too cheesy. (My apologies to anyone named Harmony. It’s not personal, honest.) Melody is Cadence’s sister’s name. Then I opened up my son’s Dictionary of Musical Terms and Cadence popped out at me. Now the name makes so much sense, since she didn’t feel any harmony at all for the duration of the story, and her life’s cadence endured its shares of ups and downs.

I might have to rename “Bill,” Jackson’s (Cadie’s son) roommate. I just don’t like the name, it doesn’t fit the character. The character is a big, lumbering, old hippie type. Smart, laid-back, and mildly attractive. Teddy, perhaps? Jerry? Kenneth? Definitely not Fabian.

In Virtually Yours, I ended up renaming just about everyone. Diana became SKYE, Lori became LAUREN, Scarlett became RHETT. (In that case, there was a gender change as well. Don’t ask me, just read the book to find out.)

By the time I’d penned Oaks and Acorns and Acorns and Oaks, I’d already started with kick-ass main character names. Amberly Cooper. Maya Cooper. Clementine Bartlett. Of course, I’m not happy with the sister’s name. Martina. Don’t like it. I’ll probably change it someday. I also will have to change the name of Amberly’s love interest, Trent, and probably Grandma’s. Don’t like either one.

I tend to draw upon my real life peeps for names, which might be why I’d gravitate toward George rather than Grayson. My choices may be thinly or heavily disguised. For example, Jackson’s girlfriend’s initials are M.T., just like the initials of the Real Life girl I based her on. Or I might name someone after a place I’ve been. Blaine comes to mind.

Come to think of it, I had a difficult time naming both of my kids. We called our son “Baby Boy” and wouldn’t name him until the hospital threatened to not release him without a name. And while I came up with my daughter’s name while she was still in utero, we ended up changing her middle name from George (there I go again) to Cristina. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I wanted to keep the peace.

Perhaps I name my characters lamely because they are just germs of ideas, not full fledged people, at least, not until I take them out for a spin and slap them around a little. I saddle them with emotions and problems and flaws they must overcome. Only then do they somehow morph from a two-dimensional thought into a many-layered organism.

Readers: Are They the Exception or the Norm?

The one thing I enjoy about the San Francisco Writers Conference are the contests. Yes, I enter, and yes, I’ve had mixed results, but that’s the whole point. How will you know if you’ll win or not unless you try? I’m also impressed that they hold a similar contest for high school students. Even though I don’t currently have any high school students, I was once one – a long, long time ago.

I have, in fact, told stories as long as I can remember. I like to draw, so many of my tales were illustrated. I had a wild imagination, one so off the beaten path, that in 7th grade I was expelled from Catholic school because of a rather racy short story I wrote that got passed around until it landed in the hands of Sister Mary Ruler-Slapper. (I can laugh about it now, but my mother didn’t speak to me for three months.) It was so bad, I was not only banished, but so were my siblings.

My shortcomings were not in writing, they were in speaking, which is why I never said a word during debate class. However, I read voraciously, skipping right over anything age appropriate and going straight to the classics. The “harder” the book, the more I wanted to tackle it. Book reports: in 4th grade I wrote nearly 30 of them, for extra credit and because I loved to read. That’s more books read than there are weeks of school.

In my junior year of high school, I decided to enter the city-wide Junior League Creative Writing Contest. Okay, so the city was Colorado Springs and not the Big Apple, but it was a big deal to me. My short story was a dystopian, future set tale of a broken down world and one man’s love for a priceless antique chair. I dug it out of the basement about a year ago and typed it — it was TERRIBLE. How did I win Second Place?

I have no idea.

Now I am old(er), and starting to sound like my dad. I am concerned about the reading abilities of our children. I deal with teenagers all the time in my Day Job, and I had two children. As a writer, I’m fearful for these new readers, my potential audience. Many of them can’t read because they were taught some cockamamie theory when in kindergarten. I’m surprised my son can read at all, because at the time, “inventive” spelling was all the rage. He was encouraged (by the school) to spell words however he wanted to. On the other hand, I, as the mean mom, would make him write his spelling words twenty times and then grill him in mock tests. (What can I say? I’m half-Japanese.)

Other kids are dyslexic or have ADD. This would be my daughter. She would read out loud perfectly, but would write out of context or not retain one iota of information. That’s because her mind was thinking about something else – it’s always thinking about something else. She doesn’t enjoy reading, and the only way I could get her to ‘read’ Harry Potter books was to buy the accompanying audio books so she could read along while listening.

My children didn’t grow up deprived; we read to both, all of the time. We supplemented what they were learning in school (had to, even though they went to private schools). We could afford books and I bought plenty. Yet, I believe that neither one (for whatever reason) could read to my ability in 7th grade.

Sure, kids these days read, and the popularity of the Hunger Games and the mad YA market are testament to that. But my own kids have been in “reading” classes where they watch the movies the books were made from – not exactly reading.

I live in the Detroit area, and the city schools have notoriously low graduation rates. Many of the kids I see come through here can barely write their names. Some can’t spell or pronounce the streets they live on. They can read abbreviated text messages, but have no idea how to read a book for the enjoyment of it. Suburban kids might fare a little better, but the standards are still mediocre. Some kids (and adults) these days want to do the least amount of work, to just do enough to get by.

I place advertising in school newspapers, partly because I am a product of several school newspapers (junior high, high school, and college), and partly because I like to read what the current crop of kids are writing. Most of the writing is good, witty, relevant. However, one by one, I am seeing school newspapers being dropped as a class. One advisor told me it was not just the money, but the school spends a good deal of time trying to get test scores up, so they drop the classes that don’t apply to the state test, like newspapers, wood shop, home ec, etc.

The result is kids who can’t create because they aren’t given the chance, and not given the chance, can’t improve their minds. I don’t know if what I’m seeing on a day to day basis is an anomaly, or if it’s a trend. The other question that lingers is if these are writers of the future, what will become of books? What will become of opinion, or art?

That’s why when I see articulate, intelligent teenage writers at the San Francisco Writers Conference pick up their awards and get recognized for excellence, it quickens my heart, if only temporarily.

I still have my fingers crossed.

Another Kernel of Wisdom via the San Francisco Writers Conference

I know. I am pitifully behind. That’s because I’m semi-recently returned from the 2013 San Francisco Writers Conference. Thanks to this great conference, my head is *b-u-r-s-t-i-n-g* with ideas. Unfortunately, having been out of town for over a week, the other areas of my life are bursting as well.

Before I forget, I would like to relay the best advice on storytelling that I have ever received, thanks to a SFWC workshop lead by Mary Knippel and Teresa LeYung-Ryan. These are two, very smart ladies, and I don’t love them because Mary and I shared lunch and Instagrams of Mark Hopkins’ famed room service hamburgers, or that Teresa is so effusive, she dragged me into a photo after last year’s workshop.

Are you ready? Because this is the wisest sentence I’ve ever heard about writing:

Someone we care about wants something very badly and is having a difficult time achieving his/her goal.

Honestly, it was a lightbulb-over-the-head moment. (Yes, I know. I’m slow. That’s already been established.)

Wiser words have never been spoken. Okay, so you can study hard and obtain a Masters of Fine Art in literature. You can take all the classes on story arcs and layering and the intricacies of denouement the world has to offer. You can belong to the critique group made in heaven (I’d have Edgar Allen Poe, Ayn Rand, and Carly Phillips in my fantasy crit group), or to national writers organizations. You could line the basement walls with past issues of Writers Digest. You might even be able to lock yourself in a room for eight hours straight with no internet and no distractions and tap at the keyboard until your fingers atrophy. You can hang out at conferences and learn from the best.

You can do all these things and more, but if your story cannot be told in this simple sentence, you don’t have a compelling story.

I grew up eons ago, when creative writing teachers claimed a good story had to have conflict – man against man, man against nature, or man against himself. I’m also a fervent believer of having a beginning, a middle, and an end. (You wouldn’t believe some of the writing I’ve read that has none of this.)

Someone we care about [protagonist] wants something very badly [possible end result] and is having a difficult time [the journey] achieving his/her goal.

It’s so simple, I’m wondering why I’d never considered it before. Like, DUH. No wonder I had a difficult time writing the first novel. (By the second one, I’d kinda-sorta figured it out. By the third, I’d fleshed out stories for each of my characters before sitting down to write.)

My new mantra also makes for an excellent measurement for the casual elevator pitch or for the first sentence of a query letter. Breaking down your story to its most basic form (a single sentence) crystallizes the concept, making it easy for the prospective agent to see what the heck your story is about.

I spent the plane ride back to Detroit devising a simple sentence to explain each of my novels. See?

Finding Cadence:

After her husband dies, Cadence Reed tries to find a new normal, but confronted with Carter’s secret life and with finances in disarray, she battles a powerful attorney (and once friend) for control.

Virtually Yours:

A bereaved parent wants to get closer to an online moms’ group, but traverses a minefield of secrets that could blow up the friendship, until the truth finally comes out.

Virtually Yours Forever:

Janna and Ashe are (finally) getting married – that is, if she can lose ten pounds, if Ashe can get over his cold feet, and if the Virtual Moms can book flights through a Snow-maggedon Nor’easter.

Acorns and Oaks:

Amberly Cooper escapes frozen Michigan to her tony life in LA despite a few minor roadblocks: her grandma is crazy, her mom doesn’t want to leave, her Cali friends are uninspired, and oh…she’s 14.

While these aren’t perfect, completing this exercise helped focus my attention on the story, the guts of the matter.

Everything else is icing.

 

Place as a Character Builder, Tool, and Embellishment

Another San Francisco Writers Conference has come to an end, and just as with the other SFWC I’ve attended, I’ve learned so much. Honestly, they could hold a month-long conference and there would still be things to learn.

One of the workshops I attended was on place being an intrinsic part of the novel. It makes so much sense, you’d think it was a no-brainer. Location description is one tool the novelist can use to transport the reader into the characters’ world.

This is preaching to the choir. I enjoy writing about different places, just as I enjoy reading about different (or familiar) places. As a reader, I want to be able to feel, touch, and smell where the action is. One book that does this seamlessly is the Hunger Games series. I’m a reader not “into” dystopian, teen fantasy, but the author does such a great job of place description (an imagined place), and along with the compelling story, I couldn’t put the book down. In fact, I think about that world even today, months after I finished the series, and compare and contrast the author’s world with the present day one.

I’ve said elsewhere that I enjoy reading stories about places I’ve been. San Francisco comes to mind immediately. I’ll pick up and read any novel with a photo of the Golden Gate on it. San Francisco is a city rich with history, culture, and diversity. The architecture is stunning, the nature of the ocean here is so unlike any seaside I’ve ever been to, and the native plants are intriguing in look and feel. No where else could you find squat trees with gnarled bark, calla lilies growing out of postage stamp sized yards, or trees precariously angled toward the east, their stance shaped by relentless ocean winds. I love the smell of the neighborhoods, the scent of eucalyptus. The people are different, too, a contrast from those in the Midwest, the West, and even from Southern California. Being in the City is an all-out assault on the senses.

Is it any wonder that I love to use San Francisco as a setting? :-) It’s why I return: to get an accurate feel of a driving wind on Ocean Beach, the bustle of Union Square, the squeak of MUNI brakes. Because even though I’ve experienced those things in the past, I can lose the memory of such things.

Because a character is in a certain place obviously shapes the way they behave. In the book I’m working on now, Finding Cadence, Cadie begins life in Colorado in the late 1960s, when the high plains were wide open and wild. Then she moves to Michigan and marries into a rich family and assumes the role of socialite, even though deep down she’s far from it. By the time she ‘finds’ herself, in San Francisco, she is a different person altogether, but probably the truest she’ll ever be.

One of the presenters stated you can use the Internet to help with research on your place. I agree, but only to a point. Some places have to experienced in order to get the correct pulse of place. I grew up in Colorado, and every time I return, some sensation comes to mind that I had forgotten; the subtle shading of the mountains, the way storms roll in, the arid landscape. (That’s why it’s handy to keep a notebook on you at all times!) Also, you as the writer will have a different view of a place than another might. You can only trust the Internet so far.

In using place, be careful; I sometimes concentrate so much on place description, it detracts from the story. It’s because I’m so excited about the place, I want to take you there. As a writer, you don’t want to overload your work with too much description (unless you’re writing a travel book). As with all parts of the novel, the descriptions should be succinct, and your use of words should be judicious. Take your readers there with vivid and realistic portrayals, and let the story begin.

The San Francisco Writers Conference – 2013 Edition

Five years ago I was THIS: an author with a freshly pressed “The End” at the bottom of an abyss-like (and therefore abysmal) tome of 175K words. My first novel. I’d researched plenty of writers conferences and thought the San Francisco Writers Conference was the one for me. Highly touted by everyone, and when my writer pals found out Donald Maass was slated as one of the speakers, they pushed me to attend. It’s held in February, when I can usually take a week off without the (Real) world coming to a crushing end. And my son was going to college there, so visiting after the conference was a definite plus. But I was self-conscious and didn’t think my work was good enough. That was the year I thought, “I’m just going to be a fly on the wall and observe dispassionately.” I’ll become the human sponge and soak up all the knowledge I can.

Yeah. Right.

I must admit, I was star struck, flabbergasted, and so amazed that my head didn’t stop spinning for a month. Agents, writers, editors – genuine best selling authors! But there was more to it than a reporter’s unbiased look at a world class writers conference. As with any love, I fell, deep and hard.

Wallflower no more, I made friends. I chatted with people around the country and around the world. Their positive energy and enthusiasm caused me to step outside of my comfort zone. Even though my draft was a first draft, and needed a TON of work, I signed up for agent speed dating and gave it a whirl – where I learned not only was my book not ready for the big time, I was not ready either.

Tomorrow morning at 6 a.m., I’ll be jetting back to the City by the Bay for yet another conference. This year, it’s different. I’m seasoned. Thanks to the SFWC, I have accumulated a ton of writing friends, belong to the RWA (PRO member!) and Greater Detroit RWA, and have an editor that I work with. I self-published what was my second completed novel last year. I’ve learned to stalk agents on Twitter without having them take out a personal protection order out on me. I’m hooked up with so many helpful writing web sites, and have increased my writing reference library by 10 fold. But just because I’ve attended five years in a row doesn’t mean I know it all.

I’m counting on Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada to host another kick-ass conference, where I’ll learn more than my head can possibly contain (and therefore will take copious notes), be thrilled and encouraged by the successes of others, and jump start my mojo so that I can write yet another day.

They haven’t let me down yet.

:-)

Preparing for the 2013 San Francisco Writers Conference – Yikes!

OMG. I just realized that in one short week, I’ll be packing to go. Am I ready?

Not really, and it’s not just because I realized when my wayward 7 By 7 (code for San Francisco) daughter came home for Christmas that her suitcase was bulging with MY sweaters (I was wondering where my sweaters ran off to…I dry clean them, so they couldn’t have gone the way of missing socks) and I really need to shop for replacements to fill the holes in my trendy, business casual wardrobe – retail therapy I don’t have time for.

No, it could be that my re-write on FINDING CADENCE still is not finished.

That’s because I’ve been tightening and deleting, and tightening some more. Then I had to reread what was left to determine if it all still made sense. I have to balance a tenuous psychological component with the fact that my antagonist is an attorney running for Governor,  so I’ve had to button down the legalities of my story. And I still need to exterminate at least 5K words, to take it from the scary, over 126K mark down to a count that won’t scare off an agent. (I’m fairly confident a little white query lie of 120K will petrify anyone in the biz.) Every once in a while, I drag out my query and take a stab at it. The art of the query is not my major forte. Honestly, it’s like trying to kill an opossum with a chopstick. It’s slow, I’m stupid, and it just won’t offer me a speedy demise.

And while I’m feeling super confident and open to any and all suggestions, I am suffering from the same stomach-trapped butterflies I found in my stomach five years ago – just before attending my FIRST San Francisco Writers Conference. When I was a newbie and afraid of not only agents and editors, but of fellow writers.

Now editors and agents don’t scare me anymore. They’re people, just like me. And fellow writers are the best! They are helpful and kind and many of them stay in touch after our weekend is over. While I’ve made huge strides in my writing, have learned, struggled, written a LOT, queried, even self-e-pubbed, there is still the lingering d.o.u.b.t. You know the drill. Am I good enough? Will my epic tale ever find a home with a good agent, one who has faith in me and my work? Will I ever sell more than a hundred books?

I recently learned I’m not a finalist in the contest this year, another semi-crushing blow (for a minute).

And the final, Big Truth moment? THIS IS MY FIFTH CONFERENCE.

Not that I don’t love it; I do. When I go, I get caught up in the enthusiasm and all the positive energy. I learn something new every year. The SFWC is what I need to drag me out of winter doldrums and writer’s slowdown. No, while the venue is heavenly, it’s just that one would think my learning curve might have improved over time. Over the span of five years (not counting the two years before that I spent on the first draft). Shouldn’t I have been scooped up by now?

Well, I have expended my twenty minutes of doubt and self-pity. It’s time to get back to the edit, and my Honeybaked ham bean soup. And my edit.

See you in San Francisco.

:-)

The Upside to Writing

I will divert myself from lamenting of the woes and trauma associated with writing and trying to get published. Writing is a lot like golf: too many things to think about. Swing, conditions, clubs, stance, reach, etc. Just when you get one thing right, something else falls to the wayside and you’re back to square one. Yada, yada, yada.

Let’s not forget one thing, however; there is an upside to writing.

I’m basking in mine at the moment. :-)

My friend, Edie, wanted to read VIRTUALLY YOURS, but she’s not very Internet savvy and doesn’t have her own eReader, instead occasionally borrowing one from her friend. On a completely random note having ABSOLUTELY nothing whatsoever to do with this post, HERE is her son. (He’s a hottie.) Edie didn’t want to burden her friend by asking her to buy the book on Amazon ($3.59! Now on sale!). It’s only in ebook format, but I just so happened to have a few review copies in the back of my car, leftovers from when I had sent them to a few book bloggers, so I gave Edie one.

It’s taken her a few days to read, but 20 pages in, she texted me and said how much she loved it. Then halfway through, she called me and wanted to be friends with all of the Virtual Moms. (I’d explained to her that I based this book on a real online group I belong to.) Then came another text wanting to know what was up with Ashe. (It’s a spoiler, so I’m not going to say.)

I saw her at my jewelry class yesterday, and she finally made it through the Big Reveal. “I thought **** was ****! And she remarked how similar the Virtual Mom relationships were like her longtime girlfriends she has known for 30 years. Last night, I received a text saying she finished, she loved it, and when was the sequel coming out.

This morning, I received a short voice mail from her, thanking me for allowing her to read my review copy, and that she can’t stop thinking about the characters, they are so real and interesting. Where the story will take them, where will they be, what will happen in the future.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to bring her a blurb the next time I see her. VIRTUALLY YOURS FOREVER, covers all of that and more. Now I am wondering if I should consider writing yet another novel based on these characters. Perhaps, from the kids’ points of view? The possibilities are boundless.

Listen, I know I may never grace the New York Times Best Seller’s List. I might never win awards for my writing. But the glow a writer gets from just ONE satisfied reader provides enough motivation for me to slog on through the mundane or the bad times. The next time I feel writer’s block coming on (rarely these days, but it can happen), I’m going to refer back to this week, remembering Edie singing my praises.

Writing and Finding Your Inner Artist

If you’ve wondered where I’ve been, the editing of Finding Cadence has taken up a lion’s share of my time. Update: I’m still on the second part, although I’m very close to nailing it down, and will then go on to the third part, which will be more like a second edit since it’s so full of new plot twists and characters. The ending is also new.

In the meantime, I’ve finally figured out the RWA PRO loop. I’ve been PRO for over a year, but Yahoo! forums make me want to sell all of my modern devices and go live in a forest somewhere, a forest without electricity. For one, I can’t get into my Yahoo! mail, because my password changed (!) and my attempts to recover are futile. Even when I got into the mail, 90% of it was junk, and I’d spend an hour or so deleting the junk. Somehow, the Yahoo! loop mail now gets transferred to my regular email account. How that happens, please do not ask me. I’m woefully terrible on the computer.

The main topic for the PROs this week was sales, going indie, and more sales. Small house vs. Big House vs. indie, self-pub vs. helped self-pub, etc. The upside of this rather depressing exchange is that selling 100 books is actually not a bad thing (I mention this because that’s just about what I’ve sold). Many, many authors sell that or less. Many, many PRO authors.

I’ve said before that I just don’t get into sales. I have a product, but I’m not going to push it. My lackadaisical attitude probably stems from the fact that when I want to buy something, I despise getting “sold.” Not to decry salesmen (although the used car salesmen are rather slimy-I can say that because there are some in my family) many of whom are great people, but that’s just not me. I’m similarly that way with my jewelry. If people are interested, cool, if not, cool too. In this world, there is art for everyone. I won’t be offended if you don’t like mine.

I might mention VIRTUALLY YOURS every once in a while (currently ranked 519,148 HA!), but I don’t spam my Facebook or Twitter feed with impassioned pleas to buy. I don’t have a “real” author web site, although someday I might, when there is more than one book available. Perhaps if I begged, or invested in blog tours, or passed out freebies, or stood on my head, I could sell more than 100 books.

But…I do not use my creative side to make money (obviously). Being in the business of making money rather sucks. You have to push, sell (a little bit), cut corners, stay within budget, and worry, worry, worry. Oh, we need to make money, and I do it in my day job, but it’s not what I live to do. I’m an artist; I live to create.

Coincidentally, I’m taking another Savvy Author class, this one on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She looks at writing as what it is: art.

Unlike a job, though, being an artist requires a certain amount of freedom. You must free yourself from all sorts of conflicts (anger, shame) inside yourself. This makes perfect sense to me, and is how I generally look at living, as though it’s a spiritual journey. A person full of fear, loathing, angst, and doubt cannot possibly make the best art. Of course, trying and trying again, perfecting the art, as well as the artist, is the whole point.

And this week, I was also directed by Book Baby to this post by Michael Larsen of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the Larsen Pomada Literary Agency. Creating Your Literary Ecosystem-I liked it! The ten “P’s” of writing. I was so impressed, I printed it out to keep near my computer when I write.

You see, I might never be a best-selling author, but I will truly be the best artist I can be.

:-)

A Writer’s Beware… The Big Bamboozle

I don’t like to address this part of the writing biz, because I don’t look at writing (or any art I produce) as a business, but perhaps we as writers should. My cautionary tale today deals with the Big Bamboozle, or how people and companies can make money off your art, leaving you with pennies for your effort. And getting pennies is the positive scenario. There’s also outright plagiarism and broken promises and contracts. Several web sites and email blasts I’ve received this week deal with this problem. I also attended a Greater Detroit Area Romance Writers meeting on Tuesday, and many of the members addressed the issue.

Let me preface this by saying only that a writer should be aware, much like the adage ‘buyer beware.’ I should also say I know nothing from nothing, only whispers and reports. No decent writer wants to slam anyone, be it another writer, an agent, an agency, a publisher (either e-pub or traditional), because, let’s face it, we might not want to burn a bridge we may need later. But with the economy being tenuous at best and the publishing world now a cyber as well as a brick and mortar experience, the likelihood of getting scammed increases exponentially.

I am excited to write. I love it. I like creating a world that started out residing in my head and ends up living in an actual document. I like learning, too. Writing as an art is a learning experience. However, I’m kind of fuzzy on the mechanics of the business. Who wants to bean count anyway? Keeping track of sales is boring. And if you’re like me, you trust in the judgment of others, especially in names that are big, or purport to be big.

I self-e-pubbed my first book, because after a year of querying, I knew it would never be traditionally published because of a lack of narrow genre. It’s not a romance, but has romantic elements. There’s a mystery component, but it’s not a suspense. Chick lit? Well, maybe, if the chicks are old enough to have grandchildren. It’s definitely not literary fiction. It’s a beachy read. There were too many characters. Ya-da, ya-da. There was also the element of being based on the Internet, and the Internet was changing with every keystroke. I also have a sequel in the works, where I’ve updated the technology, but this is a losing battle, as anyone who has bought an i-Anything can tell you. You walk out of the store and *poof* it’s already an antique. So you see how this paragraph alone is enough to send most agents scurrying into the netherlands.

I’ve lately heard a lot of negative press about a lot of presses. This concerns me greatly. I actually spoke with the CEO of one of these firms, several times in person, during the course of several writers conferences. He seems very down to earth, very honest, very helpful, promised to do a good job, yet how could his company garner warning articles all over the Internet? Of not paying on time, not paying at all, providing false documentation as to how many books were sold, etc.?

I will not include links to these articles, on the off-chance that the reviews are specious sour grapes from disgruntled customers; however, I will say this, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. First of all, Google (or Bing-that’s my favorite) “writers beware.” What will happen is TONS of web sites will pop up. Peruse them, study them, keep them as bookmarks for later searches.

Secondly, if you know any writers, ask them if they’ve heard anything about a particular agent/publisher. Published authors have the inside scoop. They won’t want to tell you anything negative, at least the ones I know. Take their comments with a grain of salt, but investigate.

Third, if you’re considering any form of publishing, whether agented or not, read the contract. Understand the terms. If doing so leaves you with a sour pit in your stomach, at least walk away and investigate further.

With the proliferation of do-it-yourself and indie operations online and off, it’s a buyer beware world. It’s heady to see your name in print, but you don’t want to give it away, or worse yet, have it stolen. Don’t slip into the Big Bamboozle.

 

Editing the Speedy Way

This weekend’s editing was frustrating, among other things. But Tuesday afternoon I came home and went back at it. Whoa! So much easier that day (why, don’t ask me), and I managed to eliminate another couple thousand worthless words (sorry, “just,” but you’re just not worth it). Having completed the first third of the novel – and feeling very satisfied, indeed – I decided to take a break and cruised around the Internet.

That’s where I found AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It looked interesting, so I decided to test out a few hundred words of the newly edited Part I. In a few short seconds (amazingly short), I received the results. I found I was not in the “danger” zone on anything, except for three cliches (in 40K words, that’s awesome). I’d done a good job of eliminating my overused words, my empty words, and adverbs. Yay, me!

Let me preface this post by saying I do not recommend this form of editing. There is nothing better than to learn the proper way to write, create, and edit. Yes, yes, I know. I am a pantser, but one with an enormous library of reference books and an Internet bookmark list of good writing web sites to back me up. Plus, I am cheap, very cheap. The AutoCrit Editor is expensive; well, expensive to a writer who has sunk a lot of time, energy, and money into reference books and decent editors. At $117 a year for a “membership” – it’s not software you own –  it’s not like Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die ($10 donation, and one payment allows you to put the software on every computer you own).

However, AutoCrit is a very fun diversion. I entered a short story I’d written at 16 (second place winner in a city contest) and found it was full of terrible errors. Like I didn’t know that before… when I look at it now, I cringe. To remain on the “free” side of things, you can submit 400 – 700 words to AutoCrit at a time, so it might do well as a final polish to a scene or chapter.

Now, back to work.

Let’s Clear The Air: Editing is a Bitch

My New Year writing resolution would be going quite swimmingly, except for the fact that I’m editing (for the seventh time) Finding Cadence. I signed up for a mentor’s class at Savvy Author, and received the final edit back mid-December. So I’ve been industriously working on her suggestions as to plot and pacing, as well as tightening up my sentences and eliminating all of the unnecessary words. My goal is to finalize the edit and streamline The Epic Tome to 120K words. Should be easy, right? I’ve been working on this baby since 2007. I’ve taken classes, I’ve let BETA readers take a stab, and editors. I’ve bookmarked every helpful writer site on the Internet. This book should be just about finished. Armed with this kind of firepower, I should have the edit sewed up in no time.

Heh…

After this weekend, I’ve come to the conclusion that editing is a bitch.

Saturday afternoon was spent on an entire chapter. After three hours of painstaking concentration, I was nearly ready to throw in the towel. (Yes, I have felt this way about this particular book many, many times in the last five years.) I had to get up, do something else. Changing the sheets seemed like a good idea, especially since I suffer from night sweats and my husband sleeps with a heating pad under his knee. Refreshed by the freshness of Bounced bedding, I returned to the computer, only to struggle for a few more hours.

I took out sentences, I shortened long, cumbersome ones. I reworded and eliminated gerunds and “justs” and questions and empty words like “oh” and “well.” (And “oh, well.”) Still, this particular chapter was a huge struggle, and I felt as though I wasn’t getting anywhere. Especially when I reached the end of the chapter and found my editor’s notes (she must have nothing to edit in between, they are always at the end). She thought I had to pick up the pace in order not to lose readers.

*sigh*

We’re talking Chapter 6 here. There are thirty more to go.

All of a sudden (I know…so cliche), I looked up and realized it was dark. I hadn’t even started dinner; heck, I wasn’t hungry. My husband was on his way home from work; I implored him to pick something up from the grocery store. (My normal modus operandi is to cook from scratch, which is probably why both of us need a crash diet. He was not amused that I hadn’t even planned a meal.) Luckily, I had just wrapped up Chapter 6 (for now), and rushed to put my computer away.

Sunday was a much better editing day. I actually breezed through three more chapters. Still, I’m on a search and destroy mission to pare the first part down. 7K to go. Oh, my.

Cross your fingers, and your toes.

Happy New Year! Some Sadness… Now Get Back to Work!

I’ve been hit by a case of the lazies, and it’s only January 4. So this is my announcement that as soon as I post this, I’m going back to editing.

In the meantime, here’s the scoop: I’ve been successfully larded up by the holidays, so will now go into anti-hibernation mode. This includes the writing schedule. For Christmas, one of my little birdies flew back into the nest with her boyfriend. Visitors are a high-caloric time suck. Now that they have returned to San Francisco, I can get busy.

I had a semi-depression on the day before New Years Eve. That’s because I decided to visit the Facebook page of one of my writing friends.

I knew something was up. He hadn’t felt very well throughout the spring and summer. He was like me, posting a couple of things a day on Facebook, then going back to working on his novel or his real life pursuits. All of a sudden, I noted a lack of posts. But I don’t spend much time on the Book of Face, so I figured we were both busy.

Actually, something in the back of my mind scared me from searching further. Something ominous. I’ve always prided myself on my intuition, but this premonition was uncomfortable.

This past Sunday, I decided to look him up, and that’s when I learned the bad news: my internet writing friend had passed away.

His other Facebook friends left glowing accolades, ones that my friend deserved. Because he was not only a writer, a blogger, and a published author, he was also a doctor, a husband, and a father. He played golf and played bluegrass, both fairly well. He possessed a sense of being that’s rare to find. And although he passed away much too young (just 3 years older than I am), he lived a life that can only be described as overflowing.

We couldn’t be more different, he a country doctor in North Carolina and me a sassy Jill of All Trades in the Rust Belt, but I think he liked me. I certainly liked him. He gave me tips on everything, the writing, the music, the golf, the child-rearing, even on the tenuous life of the self-employed.

As I scrolled down the wonderful wishes, all I could think was thank goodness he lived to see his book being published.

I was sad and sick to my stomach for two days. Would I ever see my own book being published by a Real Live Publishing House? I mean before I die. Or was I destined to exit without seeing my goals being met?

I wallowed in my loss for forty-eight hours.

Then I took out my manuscript and started to edit.

Nothing Could Be More Perfect Than This Stolen Post

This lovely missive was in my email inbox today, from Michael Larsen of the San Francisco Writers Conference. The sentiments expressed are perfect not only for writers, but for anyone who wishes to live a more perfect life.

Thank you, Michael, for keeping it real, and see you in February. :-)

A Wish List for Perfect Days

In memory of my brother Ray,

a San Francisco Writers Conference benefactor, who had many of them.

 

If your days were perfect, what would they be like?

Your list will be different, but it might include:

Inside

  • having harmonious personal and professional goals that motivate you to do whatever it takes to achieve them
  • putting short-term goals in the service of long-term achievements with enduring value
  • living as simply as possible, as if every day were your last
  • knowing what enough is and earning it with daily effort
  • loving what you do so much you don’t notice time
  • balancing

–desire and necessity

–giving and having

–time and money

–thought and feeling

–comfort and the need to create and serve

–serving others and yourself

–sitting and moving

–screen time and the rest of your life

–work, home, and leisure

–ownership and access

–sound and silence

–planning, flexibility, and spontaneity

–imbalances created by the need to focus on an activity

–yin and yang 

In the World

  • filling your days with challenges that inspire your creativity
  • seeing opportunities in change, problems, and the unexpected
  • earning and enjoying the respect, admiration, friendship, and support of everyone you know
  • expressing gratitude through giving and service
  • having time and money to devote to the people, ideas, projects, and organizations you’re passionate about
  • learning about what excites you and what you need to know
  • laughing and making others laugh
  • making decisions, knowing that that money, technology, and other forms of power are useful tools but destructive masters
  • meeting your responsibilities as a citizen of a neighborhood, city, state, country, and the world
  • transforming anger about problems into positive action
  • needing no contact with the legal, medical, or corporate world, government, or large institutions, except to try to improve them
  • being able to work anywhere
  • helping strangers who can’t help you
  • celebrating your achievements

At Home

  • waking early, after an uninterrupted night’s sleep, next to your beloved, knowing the best way to use the day and eager to start it
  • having a home that has charm, character, and a garden, and that  is filled with love, light, color, art, music, and books, and that enlightens, entertains, and inspires everyone who enters
  • spending time with a family that is a source of love, renewal, encouragement, and wisdom
  • loving and needing the joys of domesticity but not letting them lessen your courage, discipline, and determination to pursue the dreams you were born to fulfill
  • sharing simple, varied, beautiful, colorful, delicious, nutritious, locally produced food
  • having a spiritual practice that brings you peace of mind
  • being at peace with your significance in 400 billion galaxies
  • living in a place that’s safe, good for raising children and provides privacy, diversity, a sense of community, natural beauty, a creative environment, access to culture and kindred spirits, local and independent sources of products and services, effective schools and government, full employment, freedom from want, a climate without extremes, planned growth that enhances the quality of life, community involvement, and the freedom to live as you wish
  • renewing your sense of wonder at the beauty and grandeur of nature
  • reading books you love without being disturbed, with Bach or Mozart providing the  soundtrack
  • working in your garden growing the fruits, vegetables, and flowers
  • using only what you need and minimizing waste
  • exercising your mind and body
  • understanding the value of people, information, and experiences and giving them the attention they deserve
  • having patience with others and yourself
  • being debt-free and saving for the future you want
  • experiencing no form of marketing
  • doing all you can as well as you can and expressing your gratitude for the day
  • making love as if it were the first time and the last
  • renewing yourself with sleep that begins the moment you snuggle your beloved

What makes a day perfect is subjective, but unlike this list, it’s likely to be simple. May every day be as close to perfect as you can make it. Like a rose, you were born to bloom. Now is the time to start doing whatever is best for you and becoming who you were born to be. As Anne Frank wrote: “It is never too late to start doing the right thing.”

Please feel free to share this list. I hope it inspires you and those you love to make a list and share it. This list will always be a work in progress, and I’d like to learn from yours. Many thanks for your time.

Michael Larsen

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