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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On this, the Last Day of My Billing Cycle

The week before Memorial Day I housesat for my friends Kudra & Porter on the Atlantic Coast. I looked forward to it as a chance for a “writing retreat”. For the short task of feeding their cats and occasionally scooping out the cat box, I had a house all to myself where I could write whenever I wanted and work on my own schedule.

Although some progress in my latest book was made, I had to learn to go with the flow little bit more than I anticipated.

First of the weather going out there was horrible, like I can’t see two car lengths in front of me for 3 of the 4 hours trip. But I made it, only to find a three car accident two stop lights away from their house. Add on another 30 minute delay and I got to my friends’ house about an hour later than I planned, ok dinner was late for the kitties but I was there.. I went to get in and my method of entry to the house was locked. Panic set in.I texted my friends who were in a very different time zone than me for alternatives and thankfully they responded quickly and with an easy solution. I was in!

I fed the cats, played with them, and settled in while the storm that had been on my heels for most of the trip raged on outside.*

*Please note that I neglected to connect my phone to their WiFi.

And now back to the first night. After a few hours there the power went off for a minute, everything came back on immediately except for the master bedroom suite. A few moments later the fire alarm in there began to chirp the song of a low battery. I think it’s important that I explain that in my house the fire alarms are all connected, so if one goes off-they all go off. I wondered if this alarm’s song had something to do with the power outage because the alarm was going off in their bedroom every twenty minutes or so. I was scared to mess with the alarm over an incident that happened at my house where I tried to replace the batteries of my alarm only to discover the connecting wires had corroded, leaving live exposed wires on my office ceiling for my husband to fix after he got home from work. With the power being temperamental and fearing the fuse box was outside in the storm I let it chirp.

A few moments later I began my bi-monthly Kawfee Talk with Octana and Red via Skype, my beeping soundtrack and voice was all the could get from my end. After the call the storm had stopped and I located the fuse box, that thankfully was inside. The master bedroom switch was clearly labeled and clearly switched off so I tried to reset only to have it flip back to off immediately.  I called my husband and together we attempted to fix the power, via FaceTime. After the reset did not work again Honey told me to leave it alone something was wrong with the ground.

We chatted a little and said good night. With the alarm still chirping I decided to write into the early hours of the morning to make myself pass out so I would not hear the chirping. My plan worked, until 6 am when my body was used to responding to an alarm clock. The chirping had increased to every two minutes so I found a step stool and thought electricity be damned I am unplugging that thing. In my 3 and half hours of sleep brain I couldn’t figure out why it was not coming off the wall, but I did find a hidden reset button and the chirping stopped. I crawled back into bed and tried to go back to sleep, I failed.

Eventually I noticed a break in the weather and I was able to sneak down to the beach and put my toes into the water, something that being four hours inland I miss. the weather predicated said it was going to be yucky the whole time I was there, so I jumped at the chance to be near the ocean, even if it was only for a few minutes.

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I felt rejuvenated, the last day’s complications faded away. I even Instagramed a live shot of the ocean. I stayed there for while, enjoying my self-dictated timeframe and went home when the clouds got darker.

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Later that day I wrote, watched Netflix on my laptop, listened to Podcasts, and drank copious amounts of tea. Later that night I Face-Timed my husband and crawled into bed, only to be woken up by the song of the fire alarm. I pressed the button I had found the day before and went back to my bedroom where the alarm in there had sympathetically joined in the chorus. I found the button on that one and then made more tea and tried to write.

On a trip back from the kettle I walked back to a scene that caught me as something special.

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I was walking back to a table that Porter had been making on the first night I met him, over five years ago. He was a close friend of our neighbor who I wasn’t expecting to meet that night. Porter was taking a break from the construction of the table he was trying to complete before Christmas Dinner so he could accommodate his in-laws who were in town. He left after a beer but a few months later I met his wife Kudra and we became friends. It had been a hard year for all of us, the life paths we had set out to have did not come to fruition as planned. A little while later they would move across the country and a few months later we would end up in the same state only a few hours away from them.

I could have never anticipated five years ago would be working on my third book, on the table he was building, thousands of miles from where our meeting began, while they were in another country with their family over their daughter’s first birthday.

That is not how you think your five year plan will go, and yay for that.

So speaking of plans when I returned home I got an alert from my wireless plan explaining that I had used 70% of my data and they would change my plan (probably forever) if I went over and charge extra. The billing cycle ended three weeks later, today. So the last few weeks I have been present, not messing on my phone in dull moments out, walking without headphones, listening to birds and cicadas, and engaging with a new group of friends we just met. And yesterday while writing in a coffee shop I wrote 3300 words, about my daily output from my “writing retreat”.

I hope that I will keep some of the habits I have had to adopt the last few weeks at least in a social setting and who knows it might help me make my book deadline!

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.

Where Do I Start?

Last summer I finished my second book (1st trying to get published) and since then I have had some Saintly friends read it and give me some feedback. Since then I have poked and prodded at it; adding four chapters and then eliminating many useless words. That, had, very, just, etc. (By the way if I see the word suddenly in a book within the first ten pages, I get “judgy”).

After poking at it I started to query agents, so far no takers which has me wondering about the beginning of my book. When you query you only send in the first five to ten pages, so you have to make an impact quick. I have chopped the first two chapters down from pointless babbling to a little get to know our main character as she walks into a house she pretty much bought off the internet without visiting.

I am starting to wonder if this is a mistake.

A few of my beta readers have had problems getting into the book. They of course have lives and in many cases small children that don’t allow for much SSR. And believe me I really appreciate that they would even offer to spend any of their personal time reading, but I do think perhaps it’s not just the bambinos that are making them put down the book.

I think I need to start at a different point in the story.

There are all kinds of “rules” of where you should start your story.

Don’t start it when your character wakes up

Don’t open with dialogue

Don’t start with a dream

Don’t start with too much information

Don’t start with too little information

and no “it was a dark and stormy night”

So where in the hell are you supposed to start? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Ironically I think I stuck the landing. At the end of the book the story is complete but it still gives a feeling of the world in the book continuing (and hopefully it will). I think it helped that my husband is such a stickler for the endings of books and movies. I’ve listen to his reviews over the years and I know what frustrates him as a reader/viewer and I try not to walk into the same traps. Maybe I should get him to start reviewing the beginnings of books and movies too.

One of the beta readers (Mortdecai) suggested a prologue that features a character that is not alive in book, but makes the story possible. She was intrigued by the character and wanted to know more about her. I have messed around with this idea in my head, but then again another rule is “don’t start with a prologue”. Bloody Hell! Heck, screw the rules.

So fast forward to this last weekend where I went to a local Writer’s Group. You were allowed to bring 3 pages of something you had written and read it allowed and get feedback.

I chose to bring pages from the second chapter, about 1700 words in. I wanted to see if my dialogue was engaging.

It was, they wanted to know what happened next and they loved Nina who only had 200 words of page time. Whistle (Mortdecai’s husband) protested the week before not to cut Nina’s intro when I mentioned eliminating the first few chapters of the book… Everyone loves Nina, I love Nina. So now after hearing nine people’s feedback on the subject I think I need to start as close to Nina as possible.

It was a dark and stormy night, Nina was out walking alone in her purple cowboy boots.

Haha.

Where you do you like to start your stories? How did you decide that was the best place to begin?

Ridiculous Cuteness & Subtle Inspiration

Right now my cats are sun bathing in the corners of the house that they hid away from this weekend. Kudra, Porter, and their ridiculously cute daughter visited over the weekend. With the exception of a late night visit by Bailey when the grown ups talked downstairs, the cats kept themselves tucked away in our bedroom for the two night stay. I should mention that the ridiculously cute daughter is just 8 months old and crawling. When our guests arrived Bailey ran to his favorite hiding place, which unfortunately was under the guest bed. He came out eventually though, one little cry out of the baby and Bailey’s loud paw steps ran from one side of the house to the other over our heads. The cats have been shy to begin with, but I think we finally found Bailey’s kryptonite. Poor Hitch hid in our closet all weekend only coming out at night. If we had ever had kids it seems possible that we would have creatures in the closets that only came out while you slept. That wouldn’t be psychologically damaging for anyone, no..no.

Other than the cats long game of hide-and-go-seek (which I’m sure they took a break from when we went out all of Saturday) it was a nice weekend with friends. We exchanged our little crafty things with one another. The guys exchanged their homebrews and Porter gave us a bottle of his homemade hot sauce made with Carolina Reaper peppers. Kudra gifted me with a Happy Heart scented oil roller and an Olbas oil inhaler, not to mention a bottle of Elderberry syrup (which I just started making myself). I gave her an infused oil and two bags of kale, because that’s the only thing in our garden thriving in this wonky weather. We ate BBQ, drank a little bourbon, and then the guys and I talked about politics late into the night. On Saturday we visited a few local breweries, heard a great band, and then went home and had a homemade lasagna before all being in bed at a more decent hour.

On Sunday Porter made one of his famous fritatas and I danced with their daughter to post-punk revival music while they packed up. Trust me, the kid loved it.

I enjoyed their visit and hope next time I can convince them to come out when it is green and warm. They only seem to come out in the winter when the trees are bare and the outdoor seating chills you through your jeans. Not that I blame them-why you would drive away from the coast in summer? But I’ll keep trying. It’s wonderful to have them over, lots of laughter and kind words to one another. They also get my brain working in ways that usually doesn’t happen around most people. I even had a dream while they were here that would make a good Sci-Fi story, a genre I have never considered writing before.

How about you guys? Are there people in your life that inspire you in fun ways just by being themselves?

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

 

The First Half of January

Much like our little Groundhog friend I am poking up to see what’s going on.  January was a busy and very fun month.  My sister Firefly came to town on New Year’s Day and we crammed as much fun as we could into the two weeks that she was here.  The following two weeks were spent (happily) recovering from the weeks before.

This was the first time she had been out here during Winter.  In previous trips she always came at the beginning of summer, but she wanted to see our version of Winter.  So instead of watching out for thunderstorms while in the pool or hiking through the green in Pisgah, we found the perfect combination of layers to keep her warm outside and not overheated indoors and visited as many places as we could that did not require wonderful weather.  Thankfully almost every trip we went on had gorgeous weather.

Honey, being the wonderful man that he is, pretty much drove us across the entire state of North Carolina.  The first weekend we went to Asheville for a day trip. The sky was blue and the air was freaking cold, but we had fun.  The stores and restaurants were very crowded while the streets looked almost bare (everyone was inside) with of course the exception of French Broad Chocolate that had a line thirty deep outside.

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We promised Firefly as much chocolate as she wanted at another location if we didn’t have to stand in that line.  Perhaps next time French Broad.

During the week we went to coffee shops and book stores and of course a trip here is not complete without a trip to the Goat Farm, where Firefly got to hold a baby goat.

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The next weekend we headed to the coast.  Kudra and Porter were sweet enough to let the three of us stay with them for the weekend.  We just lucked out an Honey got to attend the local Beer Club meeting with Porter, while Kudra, Firefly, and I had a Girl’s Night with the female members of Kudra’s family down at the beach.

Kudra, Firefly, and I somehow pulled out a win on Heads Up, after trailing behind for most of the game against Kudra’s Mom, Aunt, and Cousin. There were a lot laughs and a lot of dancing, and even a few worm dances.  Some truths came out when Kudra’s cousin insisted that her Mom would not be familiar with the movie 9 1/2 Weeks and made her Mom skip the question, when it turned out the adults had all seen it together when it came out.  Haha.

And while they all seem to want to rock into the early hours of the morning, I was all ready to crawl into a ball by two am. Firefly and I made the plan to watch the sunrise over the ocean, since we were a few blocks away from the Atlantic.  Thankfully this time of year the sunrise was past 7, but it took us a lot of willpower to get our butts out of bed.  As luck would have it, it was a very cloudy morning and we didn’t really see the sunrise, but it was really cool just to be there with my sis and share that moment.  There is a picture of us there, but it will not be seen by anyone besides us because it is completely obvious on both of our faces how much sleep we got.  She as able to get a few extra winks when we got back to the house, while I stood outside on the balcony and breathed in some sea air.  Firefly really liked it there, it had two things she loves in location it’s in North Carolina and it’s coastal.

We spent another two days there and were fabulously hosted around the city.  As it usually goes on the visits out there, the time went by too fast and we justified pushing our departure time as far back as we could.

And of course when we got back I realized how quickly her trip time was disappearing.  As she gets older the conversations get more simple, but more complex. The days of her thinking I am on the “gown-ups” team, is less of the hindrance when we talk to each other now.

Firefly’s only disappoint in the trip was that she didn’t get to see it snow.  Which is a rarity here anyway, but of course the weekend after she left we got a few flurries in the morning and then full on snow a week later.  Maybe she’ll see it next year if she choses to spend her Winter Vacation with us.  If she does I am promising now that I will wait in line at French Broad Chocolate, even if it means I have to wear a parka to do it.