My “On Writing” as told to my Jr. High Ex-Boyfriend

For almost the last twenty-odd years, my first boyfriend and I have called each other on our birthdays. We “dated” for maybe two months, but we have kept in contact and still manage to talk at least twice a year.
As I chatted with my friend on his birthday this year, the subject of writing came up. He also writes, but he is having difficulties finishing his projects. I talked to him about where I am in the process of becoming a published writer and he asked for some tips. I referenced various sites which helped me, but it was his birthday and I didn’t want to keep him him hostage on the phone so I offered to send an email with all of the information I was blabbing about.
Here is the email I sent him:
Hey Dude,
So the program I recommend is called Scrivener. There are a million videos on how to best utilize it. But it is so helpful, it’s amazing.
The book I recommend is called Writer’s Digest Writer’s Market. They have different ones for agents, genre, etc . At this juncture I find the Writer’s Market covers a good amount on its own.
I listen to a podcast called Writing Excuses. I’ve gotten amazing insight into the publishing world and writing. They are short and there are years of them covering all kinds of topics.
So, writing….
Everyone does it differently, there is really no right or wrong way as long as you keep on going and eventually finish it.
With that in mind a few little tips I have picked up, that I have to remind myself of practically daily.
I find a little humor can really motivate me
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I find Pinterest can be very helpful with this as long as you keep it down to 30 minutes. It saves you lots of time in googling funny cat memes.
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READ! Leave the reality show of your choice behind and read a half hour a day. When I am writing I marvel at how people can put words and ideas together in a published book. I pick up techniques of how they were able to string thoughts together or how they describe an awkward pause without ever writing those exact words. Read highly respected classics and new authors. You will think to yourself when reading (both categories) “I can write better than this!” And you might be right, but here’s the thing they kept on writing and they finished it.
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Do not edit your book as you write, you are learning your own story. Take notes in a journal, but do not go back, even if it is just to fill in that word you forgot three days ago. Write it down in a notebook, specifically designated for this book. (p.s. label the notebook, yes there is a story there).
The first draft is you telling yourself the story. I can’t tell you how many times I have started writing a book with one intention and then the actual process of getting the ideas down on paper made me realize the story was not where I thought.
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Find out if you are a planner or a pantser. (I think there is a Writing Excuses on this). Most people are a little bit of both.
I plot around the first third of the book before I start writing with sometimes a very specific ending. I do this in the notebook. I write the first third of the book on the computer and then one night when the house is quiet, I pour myself a glass of red wine and start outlining the rest of the book. Usually a second glass is poured in this process.
I find in the first third of the book I am just getting to know the characters, so I don’t really know what they truly want until we’ve “hung out” for a while.
If you write fiction, your characters will start talking to you. Don’t be alarmed, listen and start writing-they will lower the voices eventually.
“First find out what your hero wants, then just follow him (them)!”- Ray Bradbury
That quote saved my first book’s never ending plot.
Starting a new story, when you are half through your WIP….don’t
I follow V.E. Schwab, a writer who you are probably going to hear a lot about in the next few years. Several of her stories are being turned into movies/series. Anyway, on social media she is very honest about what it is like to be a successful full time writer. It has been enlightening and humbling. Suddenly your work in progress does not seem so daunting since there is not a publishing company poking you every few days.
Here is her video on Shiny New Ideas. I think you need to see it. Her videos are awesome, I can’t wait for more.
No 180k YA book, mkay?
After the first draft
Here’s how it has been going for me.
You write a first draft, finish it and then put it away for a month (this is hard).
Month passes and you now you don’t want t read what you wrote, you’re scared…but you do it anyway. Have tea, tea is good.
Some people edit on this first read through. I don’t and I wouldn’t recommend it for you my Virgo friend ;-)*  Remember that notebook I mentioned? Take notes by chapter.
After your first read through, chew on your feeling for a week. Write lots of thoughts and ideas down for this story and how you think it can be better. Decide what direction you want to go.
Edit! short word, long process. It will make writing the first draft seem easy because if you just kept on writing you knew you could go back and fix it. Now is the time to fix it. I find doing between a chapter or two a day is a good pace, you want to take your time with this.
Delete all excessive words (that, have, actually, really, etc.) there’s a list, google it. Hey look at that your WIP just lost 5,000 words. It’s ready for that a bikini.
Finish second draft…do a happy dance and then nap.
Start asking for beta readers. You want a mix of people who read your genre and those who don’t. People who read a lot are the best to ask. Be nice and ask, don’t tell them to read your book. Reading an unpublished book is a chore to most people. Thank them accordingly. I use baked goods.
Take their criticisms, don’t argue. Be open to being wrong.
Make changes.
Find some more people to read this version, some of your 2nd draft readers might be willing.
Take their criticisms, don’t argue. Be open to being wrong.
Then revise, revise, revise.
Make sure you are happy (but not in love with your book before querying)
We’ll talk about querying later. That is whole other email, that’s when the hard liquor comes out.
I hope this helps, let me know if you have any questions for me.
Hope you have a great and productive day. Remember if you only write 1,000 words of 1,600 word goal for a day, it is still 1,000 more words than you had yesterday.
~MJ
*this is reference to his comment on the call that his Virgo mind won’t let him progress in the story until it is perfect.
So what do you guys think, any suggestions for my friend?
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Just Finish It

Lately I have found myself not making the progress I want on a few projects.

I’ve been writing, querying the last book, trying to stay on top of the yard to avoid the dreaded HOA letter, and (I think this is what solidified my feeling of non-progression) reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

First of all I loved the book, but it is longer than my usual nighttime reading choices and the description I got for what it was about was a little misleading (what I thought it was about didn’t happen until almost sixty percent into the book-I was confused). I read this book off of a Kindle so I couldn’t refer to the back cover and I really only had percentage points and how many minutes left of the chapter to go on. I also blame myself and my household’s new interest in a tv show called Midsomer Murders and its near two hour episodes for keeping me up and away from my reading.

Anyway, so here I was writing the first third of my Work in Progress and not progressing as much as I anticipated. I was reading a thick ole book that I wondered if (with the confusion in story line) I had picked up mistakenly. And then battling the ever growing lawn and fixing the patio which had been torn up since January that we loving referred to as the “pit of despair” while we decided what we wanted to do with the space.

So I prioritized. First, it was not going to get any cooler so once we (Honey rocks) removed the roots from the misplaced tree on the patio I started putting the patio back together. One paver at a time because it was a hard jigsaw puzzle that I needed a rubber mallet and an evening board to complete. Sometimes I could only put in a few a day with the heat and burning stones under my ass.

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Until one day when I was too close to the end to let things like heat indexes, unexpected new roots, and an emergency trip to the store for more pavers get in my way.51802819526__263E4D49-AEE0-4288-AB5B-43B7C0ACAD9B.JPG

 

And I finished. I won’t lie, I did a happy dance. It’s been a long time since I had completed a physical task that wasn’t going to change in a week. A clean house gets dirty, food gets eaten, and the yard-whew- changes daily =) But the patio is going to relatively stay there and it’s done. Task checked off the list. Now we can have friends over again.

The book I’m writing, well…I’ve met my word count some days, not every day. Being only a third of the way through and scenes taking longer than I planned has been distressing, not to mention the story can be hard to write. It’s women’s fiction about a band and heartbreak. The subject matter is tough, it has made me had to dive into some old scars on getting my heart broken and use what I know about marriage to make up this fictional situation. It is uncomfortable diving into that combination of feelings.

Originally I had a plan to NaNoWriMo this thing, just get out and over with and pick up the pieces later. So far I have been unable to write the story everyday. The closest I came was when I headed out to the Atlantic Coast  and spent three days alone while I housesat for some friends. At the end of my visit I only had 8,000 more words, an outline, and sleep deprivation from low battery fire alarms I was scared to mess with (story for another time).

You may be asking, why do I keep on writing it if it’s hard? Because it is hard. It won’t get easier by letting it knock around in my brain for a year, it will become that “pit of despair” we had on our back patio for a few months… always nagging, always reminding me there was something I needed to do. Now I look at that patio with the table and umbrella on top and see there is a place I want to have breakfast with my husband or maybe a glass of wine in the evening with friends.

That’s the feeling I get when I finish a first draft. The possibilities seem endless for what you can do with it, what to add to it, and now truly ponder if you want your friends around it 😉

I won’t meet my self-imposed deadline, but that’s ok I am going to keep on chipping away at it until it’s done. And who know it might be like when I read The Name of the Wind, when I got to the 83% mark I just kept on going until I finished. But from now on while I am writing the first draft I will just stick to the shorter 200-350 page novel. When your on long term project sometimes you need something/anything to just finish.

 

 

Cough Syrup Drenched Feelings

Last week a nasty head cold invaded my throat and threatened my lungs, the medicine I was taking to stop the “Cold of Doom” made time roll itself into one continuous cough ball. If any of you are getting knocked down by a cold, seriously just listen to your body and rest, it will be over so much faster. Thankfully I am doing much better now, but still suspicious of the tickling feeling on the top of my throat from allergies. Yay Spring!

Though honestly since moving to the East Coast Spring has become my favorite season to see. I enjoy the cooling and the warm colors of Fall and the stillness of Winter (still not a fan of Summer), but Spring has such a wonderful fresh feeling, like a new beginning. Also I adore Spring veggies.

While I was lying in the ditch of my couch with a stream of old “Bones” episodes playing I pondered the whole writing thing. It is completely possible this story will never see the light of day or the fluorescent bulbs of a book store, so I wondered if it’s worth it.

I decided it is.

I’ve found the stories I have been kicking around in the back of my head only get louder and more annoying if I try to ignore them. It’s like a Top 40 song from the 90s, you pushed it aside and think you’ve moved on from it but then.. Bam! you are minding your own business in the grocery store and the tune starts blaring at you for attention and now it’s stuck and you find you still know all of the words. I also enjoy the challenge of getting something that seems perfect in my head on to paper and seeing it for the moth-eaten curtain that it is, then filling in the holes.

In the downtime my cold caused I realized I need to move on from the book I have been working on for the last year, it’s time. I fixed the beginning of the book shortly before I got sick and sent it out to three of my friends to get their take on the changes. In the midst of a particularly bad afternoon of “sick” I got an email back from one of my friends telling me the new beginning worked. She also said a few more things that got my cough-syrup-drenched emotions all verklempt, and it was what I needed. I am still trying to an agent, but now I need to poking at it.

So today I am starting a new book, not the sequel to the Witchy Women story but something completely different. It will be a Women’s Fiction novel, no paranormal characters in sight. This one will be about rock-n-roll, heartbreak, devotion, art, identity, and hopefully love. It will require some interesting film and article research.

I hope everyone is enjoying a happy and healthy Spring, and like Bailey stopping to smell the flowers every once in a while.

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Just Novel Today

I am only half striking today..the housewife part. The “novel” part as I like to call it, can’t strike unless I am sedated, which in that case is that really striking?

What I am trying to do today is listen to women artists.

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through their music, in the words they write, and in what they say aloudIMG_5018.JPG

I will write today. Hopefully I can finish the new beginning to the novel and work some more on its sequel. After that I plan to jump back into reading A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab and be inspired by some of the stories in In The Company of Women.

Today’s protest is a hard one to go full force into. Most women can’t protest all of the labors they do in a day. Where do you draw the line? Even if one is lucky enough to have a job where they can request a day off, if you have a family you are part of or care for there is not time off. One can go into with good intentions, but life happens. Women hold many titles in their life and give a lot of ourselves into the people and world around us, often without appreciation. Hopefully with this day that might become just a little more obvious to some people who think women want an excuse to take a day off from work. I can tell you from experience there is no such thing, the work not done today will still be waiting tomorrow on the desk, in the house, in the office, in the schools- it doesn’t go anywhere it just grows.

So with the inconveniences that might come up throughout the day with the women in your life taking their work or domestic duties off, please remember that women contribute all we can to this world that still denies us equal rights, pay, autonomy over our bodies, and representation.

I’d Like to Thank My Fan

Hi All!

It’s been a long hot summer, no really- like watering the garden at 6:30 in the morning and still coming inside covered in sweat kind of hot. Also the absence of rain has been reminding me of my former SoCal environment. So with those factors my early morning watering was pretty much daily.

But a storm rolled through last week and even though the highs are still in the 90s, there has been a shift. I have been able to sneak out a few mornings and take walks, I mowed the yard with ease, and patio time has become enjoyable again.

So with this breath of new weather, my mind has started to refocus and I realize how much I miss blogging and connecting with people. So…hi, again.

I found that one of the side effects of extremely hot summer weather is the desire to do nothing outside (at least for me). This leads to more indoor activities, which leads to making the indoors more comfortable. To achieve this I had three ceiling fans installed…

I think this was a wise choice because it became so comfortable to sit at my desk that I accidentally finished a novel.

Seriously if the book ever gets published I am thanking my ceiling fan on the appreciation page, next to all the humans that I love and kept me going psychologically and even physically.  But the fan deserves some credit.

I finished in mid-July,  at 95,378 word count. My husband volunteered to take a look at it, overall he like it. He thought it should be longer, but this a guy who reads three-inch thick books as his light reading. It’s so bad that I had to get him this button:

I Like Big Books

I also got him a “Read Local” Button, because he always offers to read my books & it doesn’t get more local than the person snoring next to you while you try to sleep.

I did some clean up, rephrased lines, cut scenes, and then added a few things.

I think I surprised him when I easily added 11,000 additional words in my “editing”.

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Being the amusing fellow that he is, he said that was nice start but I should go for 125k. I assured him that it will be a series, so there will be more to read.

Now my 2nd Draft is the hands of my Beta-Readers. *furiously chomping on fingernails*

This is the first time someone besides my husband has read a book I have written. It’s a huge step for me as a writer. I’m a little bit more confident in sharing this one because it is purely fiction, while my first had echoes of things that happened. It also helped I had wonderful people around me telling me how they couldn’t wait to read it.

Of course Honey, my husband was always the loudest with his “cheerleading” and I couldn’t have done it without him. Thank you Sweetie.

You are my favorite Fan. xoxo

 

I Need to Wear a Bra When I Meditate & Other Uncomfortable Conclusions

Warning: This is my experience with mediation, individual results may very.

Towards the beginning of the year I decided to take up meditation.  A few artists that I admire do it, it has been linked to making the body and mind more healthy, and couldn’t we all use a little quiet time? Now Pinterest and other such websites have told me that all I have to sit down and concentrate on something to be meditating but I wanted to dive a little deeper into it and make sure I was doing it right.  I used a Christmas gift card to get The Three Pillars of Zen by Phillip Kapleau Roshi. It has fabulous reviews and the forward is written by one of my favorite writers Huston Smith.  Ironically the forward was my least favorite part of it.  The forward was good, but very deep- it was like a thick piece of food that my mind had to chew on for a while, almost every sentence having to be worked over in my mind before I could go to the next thing.  It was just a lot to take in at first, but that’s what I wanted right?  So I read on and eventually got to the practice of meditating and how to sit what to do, etc.

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The interesting part is I still don’t now if I’m doing it right.  I count to ten while I breath, starting with inhaling on one, exhaling on two, so on so forth.  Then you move onto other types of counting. I usually would start right after I woke up and fed the cats, because any pet owner knows there is no peace when kitty is hungry. I only meditated for five minute a day the first week.  It was a new position for my body; my feet would fall asleep and I was always over correcting my posture.  Now in the book it says to wear loose, comfortable clothing.  Well most women will tell you bras are rarely loose or comfortable, so I would go sans bra.  By day three I realized my “ladies” were pulling me to floor and my back was really starting to hurt from just trying to keep those babies off the carpet.  So I found one of my more worn out, comfortable bras (which I affectionate refer to as a “house bra”) and suddenly my posture was not so painful.  I don’t know if I am breaking the rules by doing this, but I don’t care it works for me and gives me one less thing to be distracted by.

So in the book it mentions that certain thoughts will come into your mind that make situations and relationships very clear.  He recommends having a pad and pen nearby.  I’ve have yet to remember a pad and paper, but from day one I had some interesting revelations.  As I began counting (probably only up to 4) a thought came in my mind:

Wouldn’t it be so cool to talk to my Dad about this?  He’s meditated before…though not very regularly.  But I’m sure he would be happy I was trying it.  Wait, I lost count…I have to start at one again…inhale one, exhale two.  You know, he never really stuck with any hobbies.  Shit…inhale one, exhale two…

I think I got up to six that time. Maybe that’s why I have never taken to hobbies.  Would this really be described as a hobby? Probably not. Why should I care if he’s happy I’m doing this?

And the thoughts kept on creeping in and I would have to start over again.  As you can imagine five minutes became very long and very short all at the same time.   I did not feel very peaceful or Zen…and I felt a sudden desire to take a kick boxing class.  But, just like that a very complex relationship that had some walls were knocked down for me to see.

I went back the next day, tried again. This time when a thought came in my mind I tried to gently push it away.  It took me two weeks to do that gracefully. To this day I still don’t know if I am doing it correctly.

Early on thoughts of what I could be doing with the five, ten, fifteen minutes that I had eventually worked up to were the constant agitators.  All the little morning things that needed to be done to start a day right,  should be getting done with this new found time.  But I noticed that I slept better on the days I meditated and my anxiety was a little bit more manageable.  I only had to check that I locked the door once, instead of many times.  For a few months I meditated about five times a week, sometimes more than once a day.  It was only twenty minutes of my day-I just watched one less show or multi-tasked a little better later.

Eventually when those thoughts of all of the things I could be doing with the time crept in, I was able to tell my mind: No, this is your time.  You have the rest of the day to think about those things, or remember to make a call, or whatever else I thought needed to be analyzed at that moment.  Right then I was just going to breath and focus.

It’s kind of amazing how my my brain won’t let me just count to ten slowly without throwing in a whole bunch of thoughts that usually have nothing to do with anything.  They just pop up and say Boo!  And it’s not that you think of nothing when you meditate, you just ….I can’t explain it, but it’s not nothing.

Sometimes it has led me to some pretty hard stuff, realizations about my life and how my brain works.  In early summer I ended up taking a break for a while.  We had my Mother-In-Law in town for a few weeks and I couldn’t block out the noise I felt when she was here.  So I didn’t meditate…which I think my brain had gotten accustomed to and my reactions and feelings manifested in strange new ways.  But everyone made it though in tact and birthday cards were still exchanged this year, so let’s call it a win.

Eventually I made my way back to the mat.  Still wrestling with the thoughts that want to lead me away from what I’m doing.  If anything it is at least a daily moment to claim as my own.  I think many of us allocate our time to others so easily by necessity or obligation, but we don’t usually have the same approach for ourselves.  Not to say that we need to be more selfish (there’s enough of that going around), but I think we need to give ourselves at least a five minute break from everything else once in a while.  We don’t seem to be big on breaks in modern society.  If we have one were usually checking our personal email or playing with our phones (I’m still totally guilty of this by the way).  But maybe things would be a little more clear, a little easier if we felt obligated to treat ourselves how we treat the ones we care for.

Namaste Y’all.

George R.R. Martin No Longer Haunts My Dreams

A few weeks ago I finished the first draft of my novel!  I know the battle is far from over, but the mere thought that there is actually a completed story (albeit full of typing and grammatical errors) is out of my head and on my recently backed up computer, is an unique feeling that I hope to repeat again and again.

The End, well sort-of

The End, well sort-of

I’ve read that it’s best to let the first draft rest for a while before you start editing.  I decided to wait a few weeks and let my husband read the first draft before I began digging back into it.  He was honest, though probably sugar coated it a bit.  He gave me some good feedback and some things to think about in my rewrites.  But the one thing I really wanted his opinion on was the ending.  Did he like it?  When he watches movies or reads a book he can enjoy the story to a point, but if he is unsatifisied with the ending the journey to it is completely ruined for him. Thankfully he liked the ending of my book. Phew!

Editing is a whole different game than writing.  When you write you can highlight and underline something that doesn’t feel right and tell yourself you’ll come back to it later.  In editing you actually have to find a way to fix it.  I think I’m going to need my own personal electric tea kettle to get through this step.

Besides checking Write A Novel off my list, I have been keeping busy with more house projects and visiting with friends.  We got a chance to go out to the coast a few weeks back and I met the Atlantic for the first time.  We went out there to see our friends Kudra and Porter, but more on that next time.  We’ve been seeing a lot of Poppy and Guac and now that they’re settled into their home we are having fun trading off hosting duties.  A local friend had a baby and I have been visiting her every so often.  Our garden is coming alive and we have enjoyed fresh greens for many meals.  Mustard leaves are great for you but be sure to keep a handkerchief nearby if you have a salad with that as the main green.  Spicy! But at least it cleared out the sinuses, which I need all the help I can get this time of year.