Give me an R! Give me a W! Give me an A!

I can’t say enough good about Romance Writers of America. I’m just on the outside of the national organization, but the local chapter is a great group of writers and people wanting to be published, all willing to help out. It’s a wonderful thing to know that I will be attending the meetings every month in the coming year. http://www.rwa.org/

Even better, there’s a Convention in March! This will be my first writers’ convention, and I am thirlled about it. I missed the chance to get a room, and that would have been problematic anyway, so I will be driving two hours up and two hours back at least Friday and Saturday. http://caldreaminwritersconf.org/

The convention draws writers from all over, as well as agents and editors. http://caldreaminwritersconf.org/2015-agent-editors/ The workshops look to be awesome. The first one is Friday at noon, when April Kihlstrom will teach her Book in a Week class. http://caldreaminwritersconf.org/2015-book-camp-book-in-a-week/

I’ve already started doing things that have improved my writing, like mapping how I think the story should go. Just as you can’t get in a car and drive and hope to end up in a certain location on time, you can’t expect to write a story in a timely manner without first thinking through how it should go.

By the same token, if you don’t know how you write and how much you are capable of writing, you won’t figure out the optimum writing time and place for you. I began a simple Excel page with the date, starting time, ending time, words written, and where I was at the time. This will give you the data you need to improve.

Both of those last two tips are from Rachel Aaron, and she has more. http://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-day.html Don’t you love it when a published author shares their how-tos with you? And that’s what RWA is all about. Some creative pursuits exist in an environment of cut-throat, you or me, competition. But with writing, there’s enough for everyone. No two readers want the same style of writing, so why hold anyone back?

RWA now has members in many corners of the world. There might not be a chapter near you, but there are loads of great on-line chapters. http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=515 This organization also has constant contests and on-line workshops. http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=517 And there is a forum for the national organization. That is something I have yet to discover, since I rely on the local chapter for most of my socializing.

There’s been a lot of talk about the changed in membership with RWA, because you should be a published author before you can vote on things that will effect other writers. It makes sense to me, but get the information yourself before you make up your mind. Have a great New Year in 2015.

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Status Quo

Writers are a bunch of insecure, sensitive, emotion-driven people. We put our art out in book form or in electronic form, and wait to see what happens. If we sell 100 copies of our books, we might get 8 reviews. If we post 47 blog posts, and have 600 plus followers, we’re lucky to get 10 comments. Soon we are asking, does anyone read this blog? Does it just show up in the email in box and get ignored or deleted?

This blog right here will be number 48, we have 600 plus followers, and we have about 10 comments. But the better news is, the posts have been reblogged 72 times, and shared on Twitter 52 times. So somebody is reading it, not just the group of insecure, sensitive writers who post the bloody thing.

I am not any better about the whole feedback for blog posts thing. And only because I decided to do this subject have I realized. I read lots of blogs, and almost never comment or like or reblog any of them. This could all be Karma due to my lack of action.

I don’t make resolutions for the New Year. I look back at the past year, and find at least 3 things I did that I never have done before. In 2014, I published my first novella, I retired after 24 years with the same employer, and I handfed baby cockatiels and lovebirds. In 2015, I will have 4 short stories in anthologies published, I will have the follow up book to the first novella published, and I will probably start my own humor blog. But I am going to make one more thing happen and I will start right now. I am going to comment on every blog I read. That’s right, I will go say thanks, or good idea, or something to express my appreciation for the work of the writer.

How about you? Do you just take the entertainment provided by these writers, and not say thank you once in a while? Do you like the blogs you read? How hard is it to type those words? If you didn’t like the post, you don’t have to be nasty. You can simply say you appreciate the different point of view.

I also suggest that you make a point to review books when you have read them, especially for up and coming authors. Steven King may not really get a kick out of your review, but someone like me or any of the published writers on this blog (Mika Jolie, Sue Seabury, May Burnett, just to name a few) really want to know what you think. Feedback is vital in almost any pursuit. Give it a go, and see what good Karma comes back to you.

We’ll post again on Wednesday.

Six-year-old-glasses

There’s writing, and then there’s life. I don’t know about you, but I struggle to find a balance. Either I’m writing, my house is a mess, laundry’s piling everywhere, and we’re eating sandwiches for dinner. OR I’m not, my house is clean, I’m making recipes from my favorite food blogger, and not a stitch of laundry can be found in the whole house.  (Okay, that last bit is a small exaggeration.  That never really happens.)

 

Anyway, I once saw a meme that spoke to my heart.

marry

 

Luckily, I married a man who understands me, and knows I’m happiest when I’m creating. But that doesn’t mean I don’t harbor guilt for it! What I really want, is to be the perfect mother, wife, and writer.  Is that so much to ask?

 

The problem is, my best writing happens in silence. I have three kids. Silence doesn’t just happen for me. I usually have to find it in the wee hours of the night. Which means, if you’re reading this, I’m a very tired mama.

 

And then… life happens. It’s not like in my twenties where I could stay up late,  sleep all morning, and roll out of bed for my afternoon shift. My little ones still need to eat. School still needs to happen, I have to take them to sports, music, dance, and whatever else they’re doing at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE being a mom. If I had to choose between the two, my mommy life would win every time. I just wish I could find a balance between the two.

 

So what do I do? I get out a pen and paper and begin writing out a schedule. Yeah, cause schedules always do wonders for my creativity. (Insert dramatic eye-roll here) But it’s almost 2015. Its time to make new goals for yourself, right?

Here’s what that schedule looked like:

 

Monday: Catch up on laundry

Tuesday: Bathrooms/ ”Help” kids clean their rooms.

Wednesday: Busy-list-of-nothing-extra-ever-gets-done-on-Wednesdays

Thursday: Two hours writing between 10pm and 12am. MUST SLEEP.

Friday: Busy, busy, busy. Hang out with hubby. Laundry.

Saturday/Sunday: Family time. Laundry.

 

Then December happened…how does that saying go?  All the best laid plans? Anyway, like for so many, for us it’s the busiest month of the whole year. There’s parties, shopping, baking, crafting, and all those other wonderful, time consuming things we do. One night we were off to yet another party, and I was curling my six year old daughter’s hair. She was standing on a stool in front of my vanity, admiring herself in the mirror. Really genuinely admiring herself, and turned to me and said. “Mom, how did you get so good at everything?”

 

What? Me? Is she freaking serious? I still haven’t gotten dressed for the day. I probably won’t even take a shower. How can she possibly think that of me? But she does…

 

“I’m not good at everything, baby.”

 

“Yes you are. You know how to do hair, and makeup, and cook, and write books…”

 

Her list went on, and my eyes progressively welled over with tears. When she looks around our house, she doesn’t see the mess that I see. She sees her home. When I set a grilled cheese in front of her for dinner, she thinks she just won the lottery, not that Mommy has failed to provide the most perfect balance of nutrition.  When I put on red lipstick, she thinks I’m the most beautiful woman in the world.  And when she sees me typing away on my little laptop, I AM a writer. Not just a wanna be one. I’m a good one.

 

So what’s my resolution for the year? To stop making schedules. To stop measuring my life to things I see on Facebook, and Pinterest, and to look at my life a little more through six-year-old glasses.  Because life is too darned short. Because I don’t even know if I WANT to be perfect, and because I look damned good in red lipstick.

 

And my wish for the rest of you in 2015? That you will find your pair of six-year-old-glasses, and put them on a little more often. Happy New Year everyone! I hope all your hopes and dreams come true!


poor eyesight girl wearing glasses isolated on white

Those Wacky Ancient Greeks

Did you know the word ‘gymnasium’ comes from the Greek word ‘gymnos’ which means ‘naked’? Ancient Olympic athletes competed nude, supposedly to ‘increase the appreciation of the male body’ but also as a tribute to the gods. Wonder which god(desse)s had front row seating…?

Modern Olympic games have been on the skids for a while now. Between judging scandals and host cities losing boatloads of money, nobody seems to care about them the way they used to. I don’t know about you all, but I think this naked competition thing might be just what the Olympics need to recharge interest.

By now you’re probably thinking, that’s interesting, but what the heck does this have to do with story-telling?

A question that comes up on a regular basis when talking to other writers is, ‘Do you think this is original enough to merit writing?’

My (silent) answer is always the same: if the story is any good, it’s already been told. If the Ancients didn’t cover it, Shakespeare did.

But unlike my kid’s religious ed teacher, I’m not here to be a Debby Downer.

[Aside, in her syrupy sweet voice: ‘Does anyone know what King Herrod wanted to do to Jesus? That’s right, he wanted to kill the baby Jesus. And when he couldn’t, he just killed all the two-year-olds in the land.’ Talk about a story that should have been skipped, at least for second graders.]

Back to novelty in story-telling. The fact that the story has been told before shouldn’t discourage anyone from retelling it. If anything, writers of all stripes should be encouraged to reuse the great stories, because those are the ones that resonate most deeply with us.

Despite all our gadgetry, people aren’t much more sophisticated than they were thousands of years ago. Another not-new invention: hair removal. Those ancient Greeks were vainer than any Hollywood wannabe and they didn’t have a No-No to help them in the process of epilation. Cement, quicklime and arsenic were popular methods. If you died, hey, at least you looked good.

Tis the holiday season and I’d like to give everyone the gift of regifting. Go ahead and plagiarize. Slap a little fresh polish on and no one will even care. We love these old stories for good reason.

T.S. Eliot is credited with saying, ‘Mediocre authors borrow; great authors steal;’ but I bet some ancient Greek said it first.

A Dating Catastrophe

I have a confession to make. Last month I cheated.

I’ll admit it. I wanted to test the waters. Flirt with some new characters and see how compatible we were. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was a perfect excuse. I could put my current work in progress on the back burner and spend thirty days and nights wrapped in the arms of a fresh, younger, hipper story.

Not that I’m unhappy in my currently relationship. It’s just things were getting a little stale. Looking at the same words, having the same conversations, and banging my head on the desk because of old issues felt dull. I wanted to feel alive again. Get the spark of excitement a writer gets when we first start a story. The rush a blank page of possibilities creates.

A new story during NaNoWriMo wouldn’t have to be a long term commitment. I promised myself: Fifty thousand words and I’m out. I’ll return to my old characters. They wouldn’t miss me anyway since they tend to be self –absorbed; always worrying about their issues and what’s going on in their lives.

So, with only a few days remaining in October, I began to plan my month long escape. With high anticipation, I outlined the story and did research. Files were set up. My writing desk experienced a purge, sort, and reorganization. There may have also been a shopping trip for a new pair of oh-so-sexy comfy pants.

And then November 1st arrived. I opened my notebook to a crisp new page and started to write a prologue. The date passed by in a blur. Writing something new reminded me how much fun creating a story can be.  Words dropped onto the page with a ferocity I hadn’t experienced in months.  And, most importantly, I loved what I wrote.

I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing first date.

The next week of dates, seven in total, went well. My new characters and I went to some new places- a couple parties, a coffee shop, and a movie. I thought we’d hit it off. My November dalliance promised to be a success.

But circumstances changed during week two. I encountered some problems dating new characters. It turned out, we wanted different things. We were headed in different directions. After numerous concentrated dates, I realized my MMC wasn’t the alpha male I thought he should be on the page. Not only did he have a clingy personality, but his indecisiveness irritated me.  To the point I needed to cancel a writing date night to regroup and gather my thoughts.

So I took my new FMC out for coffee. She has this effervescent personality which makes her adored by everyone who meets her and she’s beautiful too. To be honest, I was a bit of jealous and secretly wanted to be more like her.

That is, until I discovered her flaws. It turns out, given the right circumstance, my FMC had a tendency to be quite forward with men. Overly aggressive actually, in a not-so-flattering way, and it had me questioning what type of story I was actually writing.

I cancelled another date.

The next night, I had every intention of meeting my characters for a late night drink. Really, I’d poured a glass of wine, put my oh-so-sexy comfy pants on and everything. But I wasn’t feeling it. Dating these people felt more like a chore than a clandestine romp.

Facing the truth of where our relationship was heading, I knew I needed to end the relationship prematurely. Mid-month approached and if I could go back to my long-term work in progress, I could complete significant edits by the end of the month.

I tried to break it gently to my characters, telling them we were too different, our interests didn’t align, and I wanted something more out of relationship. But I chocked and gave them the worst line imaginable.

It’s not you. It’s me.

As cliché as it sounds, it’s the truth. The MMC is too whiny and the FMC too sexual because it’s how I wrote them. I made their dialogue take twists and turns which messed with their story line.  I screwed up the chemistry between them.

With all of the anticipation and planning for NaNoWriMo, I forgot an important step. Know your characters. Find out who they are, where they come from, their likes and dislikes, and their motivations. If I had spent our first date getting to know them rather than worrying about word count, November would have turned out differently.

Next year I’ll plan ahead. Check the character profiles in advance. Flush out the plot and storyline. Review potential locations to visit, and find activities to do. No more blind dates for me.

Or perhaps I’ll be so content in my current relationship, cheating won’t be an option.

A Pantser Undercover

This post is going to be part review and part experimental confession. I am a proud pantser, but I realize the process can be very unpredictable and a little less efficient than I’d like to be. Plotters on the other hand are known for their speed and efficiency in writing. For Nanowrimo November’s (National Novel Writing Month) I decided to try Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k writing strategy.  For those of you who don’t know Rachel Aaron, she’s a science fiction author. About three years ago, she was kind enough to share with the world how she increased her writing output from 2,000 words to 10,000 words. It’s available to read for free, here.

After reading her post I thought my new novel Mandinka Pact was the perfect opportunity to try increasing my output. I’ve had days where I’ve written ten thousand words and even one day where I wrote fourteen thousand words. I was glued to the screen on those days and fortunately a Tahoe wedding kept the family away . Thanks cousins. But Aaron’s story went viral, (people are still talking about it three years later) because she was able to create a strategy that allowed her to write ten thousand words every day. Pretty impressive.

Plotting is key to understanding Aaron’s increase in productivity. Since I am a pantser I decided to buy her book, because she talks about her plotting process. So here are the highlights from the book and my experience.

Step one

The first step is to know what you want to write before you sit down to write. Seems like a no brainer, right? But as a pantser I never know more than the beginning and end of a story before I get started. So I created an outline. She even suggests writing character sheets detailing, the character’s appearance, along with their likes and dislikes. The plotting stage was a lot of fun. I thought my inner muse would throw a tantrum and refuse to participate, but after two days I had a pretty decent outline.

The doozy though is that when it came to actually writing the story, my muse was nowhere to be found. I plunged ahead, but my chapters resulted in an extended summary of the outline. Boring.

Step two

Track your word count

The second thing she suggested is to keep track of word count versus time. This is a tip I really liked. Any writer that wants to take their writing from a hobby stage to a career needs to know how fast they’re writing. I found I could write a thousand words per hour. Not superfast. But I noticed after the second hour I always ended up writing double what I wrote the first hour. I attribute this to my brain needing time to get accustomed to the story world in that first hour.

Takeaways

What did I learn from this? I am still a pantser at heart. Plotting doesn’t work for me, although it may be faster and more efficient. My muse doesn’t like it. I think the problem is every story idea I come up with always has a beginning and an end. What makes me want to write the story is figuring out how the characters get to the end. With the outline, I already knew what was going to happen and how. So I didn’t get the joy of discovery, hence the protest from my muse.

There are still a lot of good tips pantsers can use to increase their productivity.

Just because I don’t like plotting before I write the novel doesn’t mean I can’t plot afterwards. This second point coincides with a previous post I wrote about mapping chapters. Once I’m finish with a story I go back and outline it. But why not do a chapter outline after you finish writing each day? The outline doesn’t have to be very detailed. A couple of quick notes about who said what and who went where should do the trick. By the time you’ve finished writing your rough draft you’d have your character map ready to go for the editing stage.

Writing what you know

Even though plotting is a strategy that doesn’t work for me, knowing what you’re going to write beforehand is a good idea. Plus it makes starting a story less daunting. Once Nanowrimo was over I decided to scrap Mandinka Pact and focus on a love story between two lawyers. I didn’t plot this one, but before I got started I made a list of the things I don’t know. For instance, what’s law school like? Then I used good ole Google to help me find articles and forums where people were talking about their experiences. I still didn’t know how my characters were going to get  point A to point B, but I do  know what things are, and aren’t plausible to do to get there.  Researching the story before saves time because you’re not always going online and winding up on pinterest or any other social media site and forgetting what you came for. Which leads to you writing more, because you’re not taking a break to see how your main character does something.

Time

This is probably the biggest take away for me. I noticed after four hours my mind started wandering. Coupling this with the new information about writing double after the first hour, I now know that I need to set aside at least two to four hours a day to get the most out of my writing time. Knowing how long it takes me to write a story is going to make it easier to plan ahead for submitting to anthologies or running my own release schedule.

Those are my thoughts on pantsing versus plotting. What are your tips for increasing your productivity?

About The Author

E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by Black Cat Press, S/tick Magazine and IFF. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label and runs a music blog. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.

Feelings of Inadequacy

It’s hard not to compare ourselves to others. We compare our social status, financial situations, our grades in school. We compare our looks, our cars and our kids, even our abilities as writers.

Many of us post our writing on sites like Scribophile to be evaluated and critiqued by other writers. One of the very first chapters I read as a newbie was so beautifully written, with details and descriptions that jumped off the page causing me to really feel what the character was feeling.

After I read that chapter I cried a little. I felt like my writing was mediocre compared to what I’d just read and I wondered why I should even bother posting my own work. I sent a message to the author letting her know how moved I was by her work. I also made a note for myself describing what I loved about her writing – in this case detailed and vivid descriptions – so I could try to apply it to my own writing.

We as writers have different styles of composing. We have different education levels, different life experiences. These are some of the qualities that make our writing diverse.

Feeling inadequate or inferior may be a natural response when we compare our work to others’, but it’s important to remember that we are all different. There are many whose writing skills are better than ours and some whose skills are not as developed as ours.

What should we do when we come across someone’s work that we admire so much it makes us feel inferior?

One possibility – if it’s a community like Scribophile – is to send a message to the author. Let him or her know that you were impressed with their work. If there is something specific in their work that you would like to improve in your work, ask them if they have any suggestions for you.

Look online. There are so many resources on the internet for improving your writing skills.

Critiquing the work of others. No doubt you will come across many pieces that you feel are written better than your work. But you will also come across some that need more refining than yours. In this case it may help you to realize the strong points in your work. It might also help boost your confidence knowing that you can help others who are less experienced than you are.

Clichés: Fifty Shades of Writing.

I see you all roll your eyes at the title, but it got you here didn’t it? Of course it’s likely to deter as many people as it attracts. That’s the dichotomy of the cliché. We are drawn to them because they are clever. We are repelled because of their overuse and fifty shades is fast becoming a cliché of modern times.

The French word, cliché, is generally defined as a phrase or opinion that is overused and lacks original thought. Its origins lie in the printing industry. A cliché was a stereotype plate used for printing large runs of books or newspapers and acquired its current meaning around 1888.

I am a shameless user of clichés. I justify them on the basis that I am writing in close third POV and it is realistic for characters to speak and think in this way. I recently wrote ‘How long is a piece of string’, a phrase in common usage in the UK, but was surprised when readers from other English-speaking countries alternatively laughed or scratched their heads in puzzlement. Clichés, apparently, do not always transcend borders.

So should we use them in our writing? Never, I think, is a strong word, but sparingly, why not? In the right context they can help a writer connect with the reader because people find comfort in the familiar.

In the book It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Clichés, lexicographer Orin Hargreaves’ says “A quality of clichés that is typically overlooked when people are disparaging them is that many of them are really very clever and original. Or rather, they were very clever and original the first time they appeared… Clichés are very often a victim of their own early success.”

On the other hand there is no substitute for originality. The French poet, Gerard de Naval was of the opinion that “The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.”

One way to harness both the cleverness and familiarity of a cliché is to add a twist, even alter the meaning, like the film producers who came up with the James Bond title ‘Live and Let Die’ as opposed to ‘live and let live’. A more exacting challenge is to produce a new image altogether that expresses the same idea. As an alternative to ‘how long is a piece of string’, for example, I could have said, ‘how many decimal places in the mathematical constant Pi?’

Mmh. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Clearly I need more practice, but that is the beauty of writing. It is a process of evolution, a process of discovery for both the writer and reader. It is about variety, light and dark, shades of grey; fifty of them if you can manage it.

How long is a piece of string? Meaning: “Intrinsically a piece of string has length but that length is unknown hence the phrase means that the quantitative answer is not known and there is an implicate understanding that the answer will be difficult to find.” (Phrases.org)

Possibly a variant of: “How many calves’ tails behoveth to reach from the earth to the sky? – No more but one and it be long enough.” (Demaundes Joyous, early 16th century.) 

 

Pi: The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The ratio (3.141592+) has been calculated to 2.7 trillion decimal places. 

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Kicking The Bucket List

images

Many of us have set goals with our writing. Some like daily, weekly and maybe even monthly or yearly. I challenge you to jot down your aspirations or goals, and rename it as the “Kicking the Bucket List”. Throughout your writing journey cross off what you’ve met and a year or two from now see where what you’ve accomplished. Think about where you’ve been, where you are right now, and where you want to be next year, in three years, or even five.

In my wildest dreams I never believed I would one day be a published author, but the closer I get to finishing my novel CRAZY BEAUTIFUL LIES, it’s becoming reality baby! Ranking number one on my list is to find a publisher, but if that doesn’t pan out I know I have the option of self publishing. Being this close in transitioning from writer to author makes me want to dance in the sunshine, in the rain, under the stars and on top of the world.

Kathryn James’s Bucket List:

1. Get an agent.

2. Get published (either by publisher or be an Indie).

2. Attend a writers conference.

3. Post faithfully on my blog. http://kathrynljames.wordpress.com/

4. Write a novel that makes it to the NYT Bestseller list.

5. Try writing outside my norm, maybe in a cafe, coffee shop, at the park or by the ocean.
6. Learn Twitter

7. Receive emails from fans who love my story.

8. Be kinder to myself regarding balancing and juggling time to write.

9. Be a favorite author of someone.

10. See highlighted parts of my book that score as favorite lines by the reader.

Almost a month ago I started a bucket list on my personal blog and set a reminder on my calendar a year from now to check my successes. I think it will be fun to see what gets crossed off! I hope you accept this challenge and can’t wait to see what we’ve all marked off over the span of the next year or two.

XOXO,
Kathryn L. James (KJ)