Friday, November 18, 2011

11 million pieces of inspiration

What inspires you when you are writing?

A lot of people have playlists, but I don't listen to music when I write (I can't write with someone else's words in my head). I'm a visual person. Images evoke emotion for me.

Just this past week, a new short story idea caught me. Little pieces started to come together...herbal lore, rural Vermont, a clapboard farmhouse turned restuarant, romance. And kissing. The images were twirling in my head, that ethereal dance before words hit the page.

I posted recently about how turned to different creative pursuits to get past writer's block and opened my own Etsy shop Faerie Lights Studio to get past it. I've been enjoying myself, spending a lot of time looking at the beautiful items people are offering.

Etsy has a lovely feature called a Treasury. You can create a collection of items that you love, things that you want, things that inspire you. It's a visual favorites list. It can be public or just for you. And you can include anything. There are over eleven million items on Etsy. That's a lot of inspiration.

To help those ethereal thoughts find a earthbound home, I created a treasury called Idlewyld Inspirations, full of items that inspire me as I write my new story. I love the photography, the beautiful aura that these artists imbue in their products. I almost feel I'm there...

I wrote over 1000 words last night (very rare for me to write when my family is home), with a pen (unheard of), and then got up in the night to write 500 more (used to be common, but hasn't happened in a while). My block seems to be broken and I have Etsy to partially thank for it, in more ways than one.

So if you are seeking inspiration or an image to represent something in your head, Etsy's a great place to go.

And if you do, pop by Faerie Lights Studio, where I'm selling a new range of Christmas lights and pendants. I'm offering a special discount to anyone visiting from the blog. Just enter coupon code INSPIRE15 to save 15% on any purchase! Feel free to pass this coupon code on to an friends or family.

Have an inspired day!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Creative Pursuits to break through The Block

I have it. The scariest thing a writer can think of, even on Halloween.

Writer's Block. *cue screams here*

If you've experienced this, then you know how frustrating it is. I have a story I need to write (the magazine editor has been waiting oh-so-patiently for it for months). The story line is plotted, the characters named, the files created. But the words won't flow. It is all stuck, like mud, in my head. Everything I write seems wooden and forced.

I've tried working on different projects. I have no shortage of ideas...they're swirling around like mist in my head (which is better than mud, I'll grant you). But again, the ideas won't translate to words on a screen.

I've been through this before and I know it will pass. But still I sit, facing the computer, playing games of solitaire or running pointless searches on Google. And with each day that ends with a pitiful word count, my self-loathing and guilt grows, the feeling that I suck at this job. The knowledge that if it were a "real" job, I would have been fired by now.

Upon reaching my lowest point, when the day came to an end and I'd accomplished nothing more than beating the computer for a sixth game of Scrabble, I knew it was time to step away from the computer and try a different approach.

I'm sure you've noticed how many writers in this blogosphere are multi-faceted when it comes to creativity. Christina Lee of Write Brained has her Tags-n-Stones jewelry line, and Jessica Bell has her beautiful music. And there have been a ton of links lately to all things gorgeous made by writers, like book purses, library necklaces, and literary recipes.

In addition to being a writer, I also make jewelry. I've been working with jewelry and polymer clay for about ten years now and teach both at the local JoAnn's Fabric and Crafts. In recent years, I've spent most of my time on preparing for my classes, rather than on the projects I enjoy. But when it became clear I needed to refocus my creative energy, I knew just what I wanted to do.

It's taken a few weeks of planning and designing and working until my fingers bleed (quite literally) but yesterday, my little Etsy shop went live: Faerie Lights Studio. I have a dozen necklaces up now, like this one here:

I'll be adding more soon, along with a line of holiday lights, like this:

Maybe nothing will come of all this, but I feel like a weight has been lifted. Deep down, there is a slow burn telling me I should be writing. But that can only be a good thing. Two weeks ago, writing felt like a chore, like an obligation. But now, writing is starting to feel like a need -- a want -- again. Sometimes, we must step away and find beauty and purpose in something else in order to find beauty and purpose in our writing.

What about you? Do you have a creative pursuit to turn to when writing gets tough?

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Point of the Journey is not to Arrive

It's 7am and I'm sitting in a silent house for the first time in eleven weeks. Finally, after a summer that involved lots of fun but very little working time, I am at my desk with a whole day of writing stretching before me. And what's the first thing I do? Start blogging. Good to know my powers of procrastination did not desert me over the summer.

This was the summer of an epic journey: a train trip from San Antonio to Saratoga. Two children, two trains, 58 hours, 2100 miles. There were family members who thought I was crazy, not understanding why I would choose to take three days to get somewhere I could reach in six hours by plane. I did it because we could and because I wanted my children to learn that the point of a journey isn't always to arrive (hmm...could make a writing/publication analogy here...will resist).

Once on the train, there was no point in worrying about the time or where we were. We had only to sit back and watch the scenery unfold. We moved between our compartment (never underestimate the magic of a bunk bed that folds down from the ceiling), the observation car, and the dining car. At each meal we were seated with someone new and my children met people from different parts of the country, all undertaking the journey for different reasons. We watched the sun go down somewhere in the piney woods and watched it come up again as we passed the St. Louis arch. And down again in Chicago. And up again on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Whenever I fly, I land with a strange sense of temporal distortion, feeling like I've left some part of myself behind. But on this trip, there was a physical transition of time and miles. Granted, when we arrived we were tired and the ground seemed to sway for a day. But it was a journey in every sense of the word.

Upon reaching our destination, we filled every moment of our vacation. In Upstate New York, we went to a farmer's market and bought handmade soap that smelled of fresh strawberries, we rode an antique carousel in a park as a couple were married at the fountain next to us, we visited my 96-year-old grandmother (who remembered us! worth the journey alone...), went fishing with big fat nightcrawlers, and spent hours enjoying the water and breezes of Lake George.

We traveled down to Long Island (again, by train along the Hudson River). We spent a day at the Museum of Natural History, went kayaking on the Sound, ate more mussels than should be legal, learned to throw pottery on the wheel, saw a nesting osprey, and spent a day getting tossed by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

When we flew home (because I'm not that crazy), my husband asked the children what their favorite part of their vacation was. They said the train trip.

And that is the point of the journey.

And to everyone who has stopped by and commented, and to my new followers, thank you so much for visiting! Now that I'm back at my desk, I'm going to wade through the hundreds of posts on my reader and then start visiting the blogs again...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Judging a Character by a Reaction

In one week, I will be taking my children (ages 6 and 9) and heading up north to visit family. We're going to go the long way. The VERY long way... by train. That's right, a 46 hour journey from San Antonio to Saratoga.

I got two very different reactions when I shared my travel plans with the family members I'm going to visit.

Family member #1: "Are you sure? You'll be so tired when you get here. Do want some money so you could fly instead? The trains are usually late, you know. Are you sure you want to do that?"

Family member #2: "What a fantastic idea! You are going to have such an adventure. The kids will love it! I love travelling by train."

I bet you could form judgements about the speakers based just on the above reactions. And you'd probably be right. This is why dialogue is so critical in writing... it reveals SO much without having to tell the reader specifically.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guest Post at The Writer's Salon

My wonderful critique partner Jacqueline Cangro asked me to write a guest post for her blog at The Writer's Salon. (I meant to link to this last week but things have gotten away from me. Again. Sorry, Jackie!)

So in keeping with my love for all things tech, I've written about the mechanical things you can do as you are getting ready for the big job of rewriting. Check out my post here.

And while you are at it, take a look at the The Writer's Salon, an alternative to formal MFA programs and continuing education classes located in Brooklyn. Each 1-1/2 hour Saturday session is geared to a specific topic. Sessions fall into two categories:
  • Writing techniques. Here is all of the must-have info you need to succeed at the craft of writing, no matter what genre. You'll learn tips and tricks about writing amazing dialogue, fixes for common plot problems and much more!
  • The “business” of writing. This is the insider's guide to publishing, including writing query letters that get noticed and the brave new world of e-books. If you have a completed or almost-completed manuscript and you’re wondering what the next step is, these sessions are for you.
It makes me wish I were in NYC so I could attend!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Comparing Documents in Word

I've revised my WIP nine times. That's right...nine times. Sometimes, I wonder if anything of the original draft remains.

If only there were some way to see how many changes I've made and how the first version compares to the last.

Oh, but there is! (You knew you could count on me for more Word nerdery, right?)

Using Word's Compare Documents feature, you can compare two documents and see the number of insertions, deletions, moves, and format changes. You could also use it find passages that you deleted that you wish you'd hadn't. Of if you have a critique partner that didn't use track changes and made edits directly in your document.

You'll find the Compare button on the Review tab. Here, I've taken an early draft and the most recent (not final, because hey, it's never final, right?) and selected the option to compare them in a new document.

Once you select your original and revised document, you'll see a new document with all the changes combined (marked in the image below with a blue box).

You can select to see the original document (green circle) and revised document (purple circle) on the right hand side. These will scroll in time with the new document.

The red circled area on the left is the reviewing pane. You can put this either vertically, as above, or horizontally, as a long pane below the other documents. The reviewing pane shows the individual changes, plus a count of all the changes made. And since I'm all about the stats, here are the numbers for my WIP:

4983 revisions.

Funny, it felt like more.

Do you ever use Compare Documents?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Getting all random again

1. My six-year-old daughter asked me to mail this letter. I love her.

2. I received the Irresistibly Sweet Blogger award from Jenna over at Literally YA (thanks Jenna!). She received it from blogger Jenna Cooper. (They're both new bloggers...why not pop over and follow them. Let's show them blogging is still going strong!) Does anyone know another blogger named Jenna I could pass it to? Yeah, I'm weird that way.

3. I won Laurel's Triplicity contest and now have $30 to spend at Amazon. Since I have been on a strict book-buying budget, this is HUGE. My problem...there are so many fantastic books coming out I can't decide. Give me a few suggestions in the comments. PLEASE?

4. Did you know Query Tracker has a forum where you can post and get feedback on your query letter, synopsis, and even your first five pages? All you need to do is register, post your material, and give feedback to other users. I just did this and found it extremely helpful. Generally, the feedback was tactful and constructive (there's always one that could have taken a few extra minutes to word something a little nicer).

5. Last night was one of my worst days as a parent. Tomorrow will be worse. My darling boy has been sick. For seven months. Three bouts of pneumonia, one hospital stay that included four failed attempts to get an IV started, six x-rays, two massive shots of antibiotics in his bottom that left a purple bruise the size of a dollar bill, seven vials of blood drawn, one cystic fybrosis test (supposed to be painless, gave him electrical burns - negative, thankfully), one TB test (still waiting for results), one CT scan (which would tell us if they needed to remove part of his lung -- Thank God, no). And no answers.

My child bore all of this is his quiet, stoic way, saying only "Ouch" and squeezing my hand. Last night we had to tell him that on Friday we will go to the hospital where they will sedate him and stick a camera up his nose and into his lungs to try to figure out what's wrong. I couldn't promise him it wouldn't hurt. I couldn't promise there wouldn't be needles. My quiet child shook for a moment and then burst into heart-rending sobs. He cried as I've never seen him cry. I had -- still have -- no idea how to make him feel better. I look in his eyes and see that silent plea for me to make things OK. I don't know how. And lurking all around this is my own fear of what they'll find. Everything else fades to pale when your child is sick.

6. And yet life must go on. We're going to Chuck E. Cheese today, because pizza, skeeball, and large rat-like mascots can help take the pain away.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Using Word Find to Highlight Common Writing Errors

I use Word's Find function to search out my writing tics (words like just, but) and filter words (heard, saw, felt, thought, remembered), but I really put it through the paces to help me find faulty sentence construction.

Using search strings, I can find all incidents of passive voice construction (was *ing). I can flag participle phrasing to check that actions are not happening simultaneously (more on this below). And finally, to check for repetitive sentence structure (I call it the "I blanked" syndrome... too many sentences beginning with I *ed, like I walked, I jumped, I turned).

To begin, open the Find Dialogue box. In older versions of Word, you can press Ctrl + F to open it. In newer versions, that opens the navigation pane (where you can't use wildcards). You can press Ctrl + H, which will open the Replace Dialogue box. Then, click on the Find tab. Here's what you'll see:

Type in (or paste) your search string in the Find What box. Make sure the Use Wildcards box is checked. Click on the Reading Highlight button and select Highlight All.

This will give you a count of the how many times your search string appears in your document and highlight all occurrences in your manuscript.

Note that once you click in your document (to make edits), it will clear the highlighting and you will have to go through the steps again. Your search string should remain in the box.

Passive Voice
If passive voice is one of your downfalls, this search string:

was [a-z,A-Z]@ing

will show all occurrences of was *ing construction.

Participial Phrases
Take this example: I opened the door, taking the rusty key from my pocket. Obviously, you can't take the key out and open the door at the same time, so this construction must be fixed. For me, my mistakes are usually at the end of a sentence, so the construction tends to be after a comma. So this search string:

, [a-z,A-Z]@ing

finds any phrasing like: I turned, jumping into the breach.

If you use participial phrasing at the beginning of a sentence, you could search on:

. [a-z,A-Z]@ing

which would flag any *ing construction after a period, such as: I turned. Flinging it aside, I vaulted...

Sentence Structure
Since I'm writing in first person, I sometimes end up with too many sentences that begin with "I". The search string:

I [a-z,A-Z]@ed

will show any incidents of I jumped, I turned, and so on. Obviously, it won't catch things like I went, I saw, I read.

So, alternatively, you could use the search string:

. I

which would return any sentence beginning with "I", but only if the previous sentence ended with a period. [That search string is (period)space(I)space]

So there you have it. A couple of ways to use Word Find to reveal your grammatical weaknesses. Any other constructions I've left out?

**And seriously, what is going on with Blogger??? I've been trying to leave comments for days!!!**

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Percentage of Agents have you Queried?

My posts on How Many Queries Does it Take both had hundreds of hits, the highest of any of my posts. You know what that tells me? That you like numbers as much as I do.

Good, because I've got some more for you.

Maybe you've sent out a TONS of queries and you feel like you've sent it to everyone. But you haven't sent it to everyone (at least, in most cases you haven't). And here's how I know.

Once again, I went back to Query Tracker. At last count, they have 1244 literary agents on their database. This is not a definitive list, but a pretty good one. I searched on agents representing the different genres and took a tally of how many are listed. (Again, not every genre is listed here. QT has more listed but I took just the more mainstream fiction genres.)

Let's say you send out 68 queries (which is what the average number of queries it takes based on the success stories in my post. Disclaimer: this is not scientific, just an snapshot based on a self-reporting website).  What percentage of agents representing your genre have you reached?

So if you write literary fiction and send out 68 queries, you have queried only 14% of the agents who represent that genre (as per QT). Granted, if you write in areas like horror, action/adventure or inspirational, 68 queries hits them all and then some. But for the other areas? If you sent out 68 Women's Fiction queries, 24% of the agents may say no, but 76% of agents who represent that genre never see your project.
This of course does not mean you blanket every single agent with queries. You still have to do your homework and choose who might be a good fit. But it might give you some comfort when you think your options are exhausted. There are plenty of agents out there who say QUERY WIDELY!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Your Greatest Critic

My latest Woman's Weekly story, "Frozen" -- a four-part serial exploring the implications of embryo donation -- is out on the newsstands this month.  I just received my contributor copies of the first installment, but the others will take a few weeks to get here. It can be hard waiting for them all to arrive, so I rely on comments from my in-laws in the UK to let me know that each new issue has hit the stands.

The Wallaces have always been super-supportive of my writing. Whenever we Skype or chat on the phone, they always ask me how the writing is going or if I'm working on something new. When I have a serial published, they are the first to tell me they are reading and enjoying it. This time, my father-in-law told me that it is "by far" the best story I've written. My mother-in-law said it sparked a lively discussion in her sewing group. Their praise means more to me than they'll ever know. Today, I sat down at the computer raring to write the next serial, because I felt like I must be doing something right.

We need our critics to make us better. We need our critics to make us feel that we are better. It can be hard to share your work, especially if you are new to this. But it is essential. So if you don't have your greatest critic, get one. It will make you a better writer.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How Many Queries Does It Take? -- The Sequel

Once again, I've been looking at Query Tracker's Success Stories.
Within Success Stories, some writers provide an interview, where they reveal how many queries they sent before getting their agent. I went through and tabulated the numbers from the last 34 interviews (where the writer answered that question). So here it is, sorted alphabetically by genre...

The average number of queries sent before getting representation is 68. Even throwing out the top and bottom three, the average is still 65. The fewest queries sent was 9 and the most 361(!!).

I did this last year for the same time frame, so if you want to compare, you can go to the original post here.

So do these stats make you feel better or worse? Give you hope or give you a headache?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A quick look at QT Representation Stats

I went through Query Tracker's Success Stories for the past six months (November 2010 to first week May 2011) and assessed the stats for those indicating an offer of representation.

There were 140 reported offers (where genre was indicated). Here's the percentage by genre:

*Only those specifying a genre were included

And, because I am just that much of a Type-A personality, I went back and compared it to the same period last year.

Here's how they compare, percentage-wise:

*Again, only those indicating a genre were included.
For the 09-10 period, there were 79 offers reported.

Are you surprised by any of these numbers? I'd been feeling like Sci Fi and Fantasy were getting a lot more attention these days and, at least according to this, it seems to be the case. And I'm not sure if the genre was changed from Chick Lit to Women's Fiction in the interim, or if they are different genres.

Obviously, this is only looking at one source. But it is still an interesting snapshot.

If you don't use Query Tracker, go check it out. They have a great blog, a fantastic agent database system, and things like Success Stories to keep you motivated.

Stay tuned for my next May/Type-A extravaganza post: QT's Query Stats!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Visually Mapping Tension in Your Manuscript

I think we've established I'm a bit of a geek. (If you don't believe me, go check out my posts on storyboarding and statistics). I love what programs like Word, Excel and Writer's Cafe can do for me at the click of a few buttons. If you are a visual person, like I am, there are tons of ways you can use these programs to help you with your writing other than just putting words on a page.

I've finally finished the revision on my WIP (phew!). While it is with my beta readers, I'm going through and polishing it up. One of the most critical elements I'm checking is that I have effectively woven my conflict threads (internal, external, and relationship) through the entire book, building tension to the end. Reading through is one thing, but I find it a bit tedious to take written notes as I read. So it got me thinking: what if there was a way to see at a glance how conflict and tension build through my manuscript? There is!

I'm using Text Highlighting to do this. I've assigned each conflict thread a different color:
Internal- yellow
External -red
Relationships (there are three) blue, pink and green.
This WIP contains a story within a story. This storyline will get a separate highlighting treatment, so for the time being I've highlighted it in black so that I know to overlook it this pass through.

So then I've gone through the manuscript and highlighted each scene of conflict in the appropriate color, like this:

Then, I change the zoom level down to 10% so that I can see multiple pages in the window like this:

It gives me an instant visual of where my conflict threads are and how they weave together. I can start at the beginning and scroll down, making sure I continue to build the tension throughout. I can click on a thread in question and zoom back in so I can read it. At a glance, I can see if there are scenes/chapters without some form of conflict, like this:

See the red-circled area? It looks like I might have a lull so I'm marking that down on my list of things to work on after I get my beta feedback. (I'm not making any changes in this particular document -- I've saved this as a separate file).

It only took me about an hour or so to do this and I think it will save me lots of time in the long run.

Do you have any visual tricks you use while editing or writing?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fighting First Sentence Fatigue

That'll do it.

Are you sick of seeing your first sentence every time you open your WIP file? Try your first sentence, go to Text Highlight Color, and choose Black. Tada!

Just don't forget to remove it before you send it out.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Alternative Dialogue Tags

If you are reading the blogs, you are probably up on one of the number one rules of the craft: Thou shalt only use said as a dialogue tag. This is a good rule, one of the best. Nothing screams amatuer like dialogue that is grinned, smiled, or expostulated.


There's always an exception. In one of my chapters, the dialogue happens in a dark room. Therefore, emotion and nuance can not be shown in body language. While I had to convey most of the feelings in the actual words that were spoken, I needed a dialogue tag that would demonstrate the physical way the dialogue was delivered.

And that's the second part of the rule. If the tag indicates how the speaker is speaking, then it can be used (SPARINGLY).

Here's a list of dialogue tags that convey physical properties of how dialogue was delivered.

Alternatives to said

But you should probably use said.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is it ever better to not have a goal?

We all know the big rules of writing: Get your bum in the chair and set a goal.

The goal doesn't have to be a big one. But it has to be something you can accomplish, something that drives you, shames you, makes you stretch.

When I'm drafting, I aim for the standard 1000 words a day. Some days, I write more and feel good. Some days, I write way more and feel great. Some days, I don't get there at all and beat myself up about it. That's what goals are there for.

But now I'm revising my manuscript (and when I say revising, I mean massively rewriting) and the word count goal just doesn't work. Most days, I cut a ton of words and write a whole bunch of new ones so I can't track my progress by looking at my word count on the bottom of my screen.

So I needed a new goal. I decided to make a list of the new scenes I need to write and the existing scenes that need heavy work. I figured I could set a goal of finishing "X of scenes a day".

My list is a whole page, front and back. FRONT AND BACK! I knew I had a long way to go, but seeing it in black and white has floored me. I am overwhelmed. I'm starting to wonder whether I was better off not knowing. And only time will show whether this new goal will drive me faster than no goal at all.

What about you? Do you always have a goal? Does it change as you move through the stages (drafting, revising). Do you work better with or without a goal?

Monday, April 4, 2011

My adventures in Adventures

You probably already know about Adventures in Children's Publishing. After all, they have over a thousand followers. But I just found it and can't recommend it highly enough.

Not only does it offer an amazing collection of informative posts (character worksheets, check lists, and the like) and some great contests (today they are offering 13!! giveaways), but once a month, five lucky people get their first 1250 words posted for a month-long workshop, starting with a critique from contributors Martina and Lisa, as well as the other workshop participants and any other followers who want to comment.

I am fortunate to be one of the five this month (my entry is #5 here). I have to say that Martina and Lisa give some of the best critiques I've seen around. When I went through the other entries to add my comments, I found that Lisa and Martina already made my points, better than I ever could.

If you haven't found Adventures in Children's Publishing yet, go check them out. If you want to offer your comments to the workshop entries, I know I (and I'm sure the other participants) would be very grateful. But definitely check out the comments from Lisa and Martina (both on current entries and on the ones from March), because I learned so much just from reading their critiques.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back away from the Internet connection!

When I'm writing, I am easily distracted. I'll be working a section and think, "Oh, I need info on Regency fireplaces to write this." So I'll stop in the middle of a sentence, do some research, and then check my email, check FB, check Blogger, read the news. And then thirty minutes are gone. Or sixty.

Many times I've wished there was some way to put a lock or a timer on my Internet connection, so that I couldn't access it at random. But alas, the only solution was to disconnect completely. Not an option, of course, because we must have Internet access sometimes. So I relied on my self control. Yeah, that didn't work to well.

In November we bought a new computer. We decided to get a desktop, since working on my laptop was giving me neck problems. We didn't want anything fancy, just something to run Word and the Internet. We found a great Black Friday deal: nice big screen, keyboard, mouse. You know, the basics.

When it arrived, we plugged it in, fired it up, marveled at the speed. And then we clicked on Explorer button. Nothing. Multiple clicks. Nothing. And then we realized: no modem.

Wha?? Is there a computer built today that doesn't have a modem? Yep. We bought it.

And you know what?

Best. Mistake. Ever.

We bought a USB modem, a tiny little thing that plugs into the front of the computer. Easy to use. And easy to hide. Now, I allow myself an hour in the morning to do my social media stuff. And then I unplug the modem and hide it. I retrieve it at lunchtime and give myself another hour. And hide it somewhere else. If I have to research something, I write it down and do it at the allotted hour.

Productivity returns!

What about you? Do you have to take drastic measures to stop yourself from wasting time?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A great contest... Go Enter!

Freelance Editor Cassandra Marshall is having her Spring Edit contest. The prize... a free substantial edit for a manuscript up to 100k words!

I. WANT. But I'm willing to share the chance with you!

Cassandra has just launched a new blog for her business, so head on over to Editor Cassandra now to read up on her services, check out her testimonials, and enter the contest.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wise Words

Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people.

- Randy Pausch ( 1960-2008 )

Monday, March 7, 2011

A lesson in building tension and stakes

I couldn't write today.

I couldn't write because my son has been diagnosed with pneumonia.

My son has pneumonia, which means we may not be allowed to fly to Scotland on Thursday.

We are flying to Scotland on Thursday to celebrate my husband's 40th birthday with his family.

We are traveling 4000 miles to celebrate with the family because one family member is quite ill and we don't know how much more time well will have together.

Sometimes life gives you a harsh example of how upping the stakes can effect the impact of a story. Lesson learned, but frankly I would have rather learned it from a book.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In Praise of Praise

The lovely Julie Kibler over at What Women Write has a fantastic post today about The Other Kind of Critique. In other words, praise.

Her point, and a great one at that, is how we get so focused on tough critiques to improve our work, that we sometimes forget to embrace the compliments we get as well. At the end of her post, she challenged us to post something about praise we've received. (Go read the whole post here.)

Rejections on partials and fulls can be tough to take, but sometimes a few words in a rejection can offer that little bit of solace, that push to keep going. Sure, maybe its a line, a form letter. But sometimes it isn't. And we should take some joy in that.

I went back through some of my rejections and pulled out some personal feedback:
  • I love your writing, and the setting and believe you have a great deal of promise.
  • I think you are a lovely writer.
  • You have a fantastic manuscript; the details of the house and the intrigue are all fascinating – and it’s well written
  • The writing is really hard to fault
  • Your writing is confident and commercial 
Granted, none of these got me an offer of representation. But they did make me believe it could happen in the future. And sometimes, that's all we need.

So think about the praise you've received, no matter how big or how small, and let it sink in. Let it wash over you and fill you with warmth and hope. And share your good news, the praise you've received, because happiness grows with sharing.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Loving this community!

First, I want to open with a link to a contest (not the one I'm begging votes for...that will come at the bottom of this post). DNA Writers, a dynamic group of seven lovely people, is having a contest. You could win gift cards, books, Starbucks, and critiques -- the grand prize is a substantial edit of a full book! Click here and check out these great writers.

Second, I want to say how touched I am by your support for me in the Jane Austen Made Me Do It contest. Thank you for your comments, votes, and especially to Laurel at Laurel's Leaves (she's Poet of the Month over at at Angela Felsted's blog, My Poetry and Prose Place -- go check out her beautiful poetry) for the shout-out on her blog. It's no secret I sometimes find the social media scene a little overwhelming, but it's things like this that remind me why I want to be a part of it. So whether I'm a finalist or not, I feel like a winner. Thanks for that!

The contest ends tonight, with the ten finalists (those stories with the highest number of votes) being announced tomorrow. One of those finalists will be selected to appear in the Jane Austen Made Me Do It anthology, alongside best-selling authors including Lauren Willig, Karen Joy Fowler, and so many more, by Ballantine Books in October.

So if you haven't voted, please stop by the contest to read some fantastic stories and vote. My story "Intent and Intensity" (#74) is a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility. You can vote once only, for up to three stories. If you like my story, I'd appreciate your vote (because as much as I already feel like a winner, I would like to be a finalist, too!).

Thanks again. For everything.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lessons from Third Grade

I have a third grader who doesn't like to read. (I'm a writer and he doesn't like to read, I'm also a chef and he is the world's pickiest child...ah, my little changeling.) His teacher and I have been working hard to help him with his reading comprehension, especially as there are some important standardized test coming up.

His teacher recently told me about some techniques that they use in class so that I can use the same at home with him. One was the prompts for creating a summary:

I had to laugh. For all the hundreds of posts out there on how to write a summary (read: query) the answer was in Third Grade the whole time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

In Which I am Naive...

Sometimes, success is about talent. And sometimes it's not.

As I've mentioned, I am participating in a particular short story contest. In this contest, writers post their entries and voting is opened to the public for two weeks. In the first round, voters can vote once for their three favorite stories. The ten entries with the most votes go on to the final judging, with editors choosing the finalist for inclusion in the anthology.

I worked hard on my entry and allowed myself to think that perhaps, just maybe, enough people would read it and like it enough to vote for it and put me in the top ten.

Twelve hours after the contest opened for voting, they posted the voting stats. And I was stunned to see that a bunch of entries had 30, 40, and even 50 votes. The majority, however, had 2-10 votes.

I was absolutely stunned. Could these high numbers really be the result of people who had read all the entries and chosen their favorites? After all, half of the 88 entries went up on the last day. A brief Google search suggested that maybe the high numbers were a result of promotion -- sending out pleas via email, Facebook, Twitter and blogs to go vote for the writer's story. That's not to say those stories weren't well written (most of them are great -- I know because I've read most of them) but I find it hard to believe that that many people had a chance to read that many 5000-word stories in the first hours of voting.

When I saw those numbers, I panicked. I hadn't told anyone about the voting yet. I only had two votes (but in truth, this made me feel good deep down because these were anonymous readers who read and liked my story enough to vote for it.) But in order to have a shot at the top ten, I knew I'd better start selling myself, and hard. So I did.... here, FB, emails, friends and neighbors, and so on.

And it makes me feel terrible. I would rather it be about the writing. I'd like to be in the top ten because my story is one of the best, not because I have the most friends and followers. I know I'm naive. I know that this is representative of the industry -- and society -- in general these days. We all know promoting yourself is key.

Think ABNA. Think American Idol. Popular votes are everywhere. When you open things up to the popular vote, it becomes a popularity contest and may or may not have anything to do with talent. Wonderfully talented people sometimes go unnoticed because they don't have the presence.

But for all my ranting, I am realistic. I still need votes. (But thank heavens they've taken the vote count down, otherwise I'd be watching that they way I watch my comments and followers count!)

If you haven't voted yet, I'd appreciate it if you could head over here, read a few stories and cast your vote by Feb 28. You do not need to register on the site to vote and you can read as few or as many stories as you like. My story is "Intent and Intensity" (#74) and is a modern take on Sense and Sensibility. I really appreciate it. And if you've voted already, a great big thank you.

But I'd also like to know what you think. Do you have any thoughts on popular votes in contests, whether in writing or singing or anything else? Are they a fair way of assessing talent?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nicole's Bernard Pivot Blogfest

Thanks to Nicole at One Significant Moment for having this blogfest. I've been looking at the entries and it is fascinating how much you can learn from ten simple answers.

And don't forget to go check out the others here.

1.What is your favorite word?
     Peace. Makes me calm just thinking it.
2.What is your least favorite word?
     Maw...gaping, dripping, foul...just, yuck.
3.What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
     Creatively, someone's superior efforts. Inspires me to try harder
4.What turns you off?
     A 'victim' attitude.
5.What is your favorite curse word?
     For Fuck's Sake, said with a Scottish accent
6.What sound or noise do you love?
     The sound of a creek
7.What sound or noise do you hate?
     The squealing of guinea pigs
8.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
     Teaching writing at college level
9.What profession would you not like to do?
     Dentist (maybe it has something to do with the maw thing)
10.If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
     They're waiting for you over there....

Fun!!! What a great blogfest. It really made me think about things. I'll be making the rounds of the other entries of the next couple of days.

(And if you have a moment, I'd be really grateful if you could go vote for my story "Intent and Intensity" (#74) at the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest. Thanks!)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Read and Vote and Affect the course of History

OK, so not really change the course of history. My history, maybe.

The Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest is now open for voting. There are 87 entries for you to read through and select your three favorites. And if one of your favorites happens to be my short story "Intent and Intensity" (#74), all the better! (And I can use all the help I can get...I didn't want to canvas but when one story garnered 55 votes overnight, it became clear I needed to start campaigning too).

Ten finalists will be chosen by popular vote and then the editors will select one story to include in the anthology published by Random House in October. More info on it here.

I've been reading the entries and there is some amazing writing out there. And don't worry, if you aren't into the Jane Austen style, there are plenty of modern approaches (including mine) to Jane-era subjects.

Happy Reading (and voting) (for #74) (mine) (go on and vote... now)!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Just Kiss Already blogfest

 Call it fate, call it luck, call it karma...

On Friday, for my new WIP, I wrote my first kissing scene EVER. I've been writing for a few decades now and for some reason, I've never written a kissing scene before. I lead up to kissing, I mention a kiss, but I've never described that delicious building tension of a kiss. Maybe that's what my writing has been lacking!

And since I logged into Blogger to find Christina Lee's and Stina Lindenblatt's Just Kiss Already blogfest runs today, I have decided things are meant to be. So without further ado...

I slipped in to the calming routine of developing, slowly agitating the tray and watching the image darken and come into view. But I was anything but calm. Liam stood behind me, close but not touching. He was breathing deep and even, stirring the hair on the back of my neck. Wrapped around the familiar chemicals of the dark room was the smell of his skin, dusty with a hint of soap beneath it. The only noises were the hum of the bathroom fan, the ticking of the big black timer, and the swish of the fluid across the paper.

Liam took another step closer. If I turned now, I would kiss him. I wanted more than anything to turn, even if it meant the photo in the tray would be ruined. Forcing myself to wait a few more seconds, I slid the print into the stop bath, dropped the tongs, and turned. Liam’s face just inches from my own, washed in the dull red of the safety light.

He reached out and ran his hands up the length of my arms, the friction of his rough palms against my bare skin ignited me like the striking of a match. Liam leaned and put his mouth against mine, gently at first, and then harder as he pulled me closer. His lips were anything but rough, moving against mine with a softness that tasted of apples. I lost myself in that kiss, falling into the rhythm of staccato clicks as the timer measured off the minutes.

And when you're done here, don't forget to go check out the other entries. Because there's a lot to be said for kissing.

Why didn't I see that before?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Call for Advice on First Chapters and Opening Pages

I fell prey to the classic rookie mistake in my first novel: starting the book in the wrong place. Chapter 1 had lots of backstory and not enough conflict. It was, to say the least, a boring chapter.

As I get to work on my next project, I am DETERMINED that I will not make the same mistake. To that end, I started trolling around the interwebs for good posts on first sentences, first paragraphs, opening pages, and first chapters. I've found some great stuff (I am loving Elena Solodow's list of overdone openings from Nathan's first paragraph contest -- I've already thrown out four opening ideas as a result) but I'm running out of steam. I follow 120 blogs and, boy, are you guys prolific! It was taking way too much time to go to everyone's blog and search for posts, so I have a favor to ask.

If you have written a post on openings, or have read a great post on the subject, can you leave a link (or non-linked address, if like me you are useless at HTML tagging) in the comments? Or maybe you can recommend a book that has good coverage on the topic.

I thank you! (And I'm sure the agents who will someday be reading my opening pages will thank you, too.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sit down, shut up, and everyone will get a turn

I work well with deadlines. At the moment, I seem to have a lot of them. Some of them are specific dates, like for contest entries, and others are self-imposed, such as when I'd like to get back to work on my WIP. Since I am a former journalist, editor, and project manager, I'm pretty good at prioritizing my workload. So I have clear of picture of what I need to do: story X, then work on contest entry Y, and then I can turn to project Z, before finally getting to project AA.

Except my brain is not cooperating. Z doesn't give a damn that I am not allowed to work on Z until the others are done. And AA is getting ticked off that it keeps getting shoved back. Y keeps reminding me that it only needs a few hours of my time. My brain is whirling with three different stories. I'm a little worried that there will be bloodshed. X is tough, but I'm pretty sure AA can take 'em. They're all giving me a headache and I am losing sleep. I had a massage today and I spent most of it spinning from X to Z and back to AA.

Do you have this problem? What do you do when you have multiple ideas demanding attention?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Colors for a gray day

The skies are gray, the grass is brown, the trees are bare. It is 25 degrees here in San Antonio and they're predicting snow. I know that 75% of you are scoffing, saying "That's nothing!" but for a city that freaks out when it rains, snow is like a natural disaster. We might get an inch tonight and they are talking about closing the schools tomorrow. Seriously.

When I'm not writing, I'm teaching jewelry-making classes at JoAnn Craft Stores. While most of the curriculum comes from headquarters, I have to come up with a new "Trend" class every two months. It can be something I have particular interest or skill in, or it can be seasonal. San Antonio celebrates Fiesta in April, with a big parade for Battle of the Flowers. It's a time for pinatas, food, and color. People decorate their houses and themselves with paper flowers.

So for March and April, I'm running a class on Fiesta Flowers. Usually, my designs are more understated. But Fiesta calls for hot, vibrant colors and large, flamboyant decoration, so this is what I made as the sample:

I know it is a bit gaudy showy, but today, when I am desperate for some color, it is making me all kinds of happy. I have some of the extra flowers I've made decorating my desk now.

If it is gray where you are, grab a pretty scarf to wrap around your neck, or make some cupcakes with sprinkles. Find some color to make you all kinds of happy. Stay warm, stay safe, and have a cozy weekend.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It was worth it

A big thanks to everyone who commented and commiserated on my waiting hell. Glad to know I'm not the only one who has developed a callous on my Refresh finger.

The good news is that sometimes the waiting is worth it. I just received word from the editor that my serial short story "Frozen" will appear in Woman's Weekly starting in the May 17 issue and running in four parts. "Frozen" is the story of Emma and Rick, a couple who, after undergoing IVF eight years ago, must now decide the fate of their frozen embryos.

Now I just have to wait for the magazine to come out!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Not built for waiting

Writers are the worst people for waiting. At least this writer is. And the cruelty of this business is that it is all about waiting. Waiting for critiques, waiting for responses on queries, waiting for news on partials or fulls, waiting for results of submissions, waiting for publication, reviews, and on and on.

So we have all the time in the world to think things like...

"OK, it's been 56 hours since I clicked the Send button on my submission. I haven't heard anything back yet. That must mean if got lost in cyberspace." or "No news is good news." followed by "No news is bad news."

It should just be waiting. But it isn't. It is dedicated time for our fertile imaginations to go into overdrive.

Two days ago, I sent my latest serial to the magazine editor for approval. And now I have what I call Refresh Syndrome (the main symptom is uncontrollable clicking of the Refresh button on my inbox). I haven't heard back yet.

Key frantic imaginings, which go along the lines of "I haven't heard back yet because the fiction editor must have liked it enough to send it to the editor in chief, who is now reading it. That's a good sign." Which is immediately followed by "I haven't heard back yet because there is something in it she doesn't like and is writing the revision letter." Logic -- meaning the voice that says "It's only been two days and they have other things to do. Relax."-- has no place here.

My husband is a scientist. Scientists have to wait, too. But they don't stand over an experiment muttering to themselves and thinking up multiple scenarios about what is going on, all while knowing that it will be days before they can expect some kind of meaningful results. No, they just make notes and get on with another project.

Waiting requires us to be detached, cool, logical. These are not things a writer is known for. At least not this writer. Yet one more of the bitter ironies of the writer's world.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Everyone needs an anthem

I've just jumped on Alex J. Cavenaugh's Music Blogfest bandwagon (don't forget to go check out the other entries), but I'm going to break the rules a little bit. You see, I don't listen to music when I'm writing (I have enough words inside my head... adding lyrics just makes it hard to hear them).

I'm going to talk about one song. It's the song that I listen to when this writing business gets really hard (which, of course, seems like most of the time). It's The Climb by Mylie Cyrus (or Hannah Montana).

OK, get the laughs out now. I'll wait.

Done? OK, good. Now I am a thirty-something wife and mother-of-two. I grew up listening to 80s music. I'm married to a former metal head and current electric guitar enthusiast. So I get a lot of stick when this comes booming through the iPod dock at home. (And it happened once when our hip-hop music-producing neighbor was over for dinner).

My reaction? (and I quote...)

Everybody needs an anthem, some piece of music that inspires or speaks to them. And when it feels like you are facing some form of rejection every other day, you take your inspiration where you can get it. Don't diss the Mylie.

So without further ado, here are the lyrics. You be the judge...
The Climb

Mylie Cyrus

I can almost see it
That dream I am dreaming
But there's a voice inside my head saying
"You'll never reach it"

Every step I'm taking
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking

But I gotta keep trying
Gotta keep my head held high

There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose

Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb

The struggles I'm facing
The chances I'm taking
Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I'm not breaking

I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I'm gonna remember most, yeah
Just gotta keep going

And I, I got to be strong
Just keep pushing on
'Cause there's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose

Keep on moving, keep climbing
Keep the faith, baby
It's all about, it's all about the climb
Keep the faith, keep your faith, whoa

Songwriters: Alexander, J; Mabe, J;

I haven't figured out how to embed the audio file so I'll give you the music video (just listen with your eyes closed).

To me, this song perfectly captures how I feel about working toward publication. I might never get there but I am so blessed to have the opportunity to try. Hard or not, this is a journey worth making.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Bridport Prize Writing Contest

Another writing contest for you...

From The Bridport Prize press release:
The Bridport Prize is the richest open writing competition in the English language - with £5000 first prize for a short story (of up to 5000 words); and £5000 first prize for a poem (of up to 42 lines). The new category of Flash Fiction attracts £1,000 to be won for the best short, short story of under 250 words.

The Bridport is also known as a tremendous literary stepping stone - the first step in the careers of writers such as: Kate Atkinson, Tobias Hill, Carol Ann Duffy and Helen Dunmore.

Anyone can enter - so long as the work is previously unpublished. It costs £7 per story, £6 per poem or £5 per flash fiction and the closing date is 30th June 2011.
Full details are available at The Bridport Prize website. Note that this is a UK contest but is open worldwide.

I like writing contests because I work best with a deadline (I try to enter 3-4 contests a year). And I like this writing contest because it has excellent judges, a low entry fee (just over $10 for a short story), and a great payoff if you win (both monetary and reputation). The competition is tough so it challenges me to send my very best work in. I haven't been short-listed yet but I will keep trying!

So if you are a short-story writer, or need a deadline to get you writing daily, this is a great one to check out.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest

Are you inspired by Jane Austen? Love to read her books? Looking for a way to build publication credits? Whether your love to read or write is inspired by Jane Austen, here's a contest for you.

The Republic of Pemberly, an amazing site for all things Regency and Jane Austen, is hosting a short story contest in conjuntion with Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose (another great Austen site) and Random House. The winner's story will appear in the anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, to be edited by Laurel Ann and published by Random House this year.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It contains more than twenty best-selling and popular authors who have contributed short stories inspired by Jane Austen, her novels and her philosophies of life and love. From historical continuations of her plots and characters to contemporary spinoffs and comedies, the stories encapsulate what we love about our favorite author: romance, social satire and witty humor. Contributing to the line-up are best-selling authors Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club), Adriana Trigiani (Brava, Valentine), Lauren Willig (The Pink Carnation series), Laurie Viera Rigler (The Jane Austen Addict series), Syrie James (The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen), Stephanie Barron (Being A Jane Austen Mystery series), and the husband and wife writing team of Frank Delaney (Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show) and Diane Meier (The Season of Second Chances). Many Austenesque authors and others from related genres have already contributed to the project. One spot in the anthology remains open for the lucky Grand Prize winner.

To enter, you must submit an original, previously unpublished 5000 word short story of your own creation inspired by, or based upon, Jane Austen, her novels, characters, letters, philosophies of life and/or love. The story can be set in any era and may include romantic and suspenseful elements, but you must stay within the realm of Jane Austen's sphere of social decorum, avoiding profanity, violence or "adult" content. The contest is open to previously unpublished (short stories OK) US residents. Full details are available here.

The contest is open now and runs through February 13. Voting for the Top Ten finalists runs February 14 - 28, 2011 on Pemberley, with the Top Ten finalists announced on March 1, 2011. The Grand Prize winner receives $500.00 and a contract for publication in the anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It.

Since Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, and as I spent the better part of a year researching the Regency for my novel, I am definitely entering this. Plus, a shot at publication in a Random House book? Sign me up!

If you like writing short stories, head on over. If you like reading short stories, head on over! There are currently a few entries up for viewing and I'm hoping mine will be there soon. And don't worry, I'll post a reminder when it is time to vote.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I can stop anytime I want to...

It's been exactly two months since my last post. Where was I? Here the whole time, but staying away from Blogger Dashboard in my own personal version of rehab. Turns out that blogging is generally bad for me.

Back in 2009, when I first started working on my book, I would get to the computer first thing in the morning, check my email, open Word and write for hours. I was organized, disciplined, and treated writing like my job (which it is). Once I reached the query stage, my world opened up and I discovered blogging. At first, it was a lifeline. Reading other blogs helped me feel like I wasn't alone. But once I started following 100+ blogs, and tried to be a good follower by reading and commenting on everything, my productivity was shot. I was spending hours trying to keep up, and feeling guilty when I didn't.

And then there was my own blog. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but my self-esteem is tied way too closely to comments and stats. When I post something, I constantly check back to see who has commented and how many people have visited. And when the numbers aren't great, I feel terrible. And since I've been querying for a year, my ego really doesn't need much more pummelling before I start to sink into a funk.

So for the past two months, I have limited myself to reading. I skim every blog I follow (though most I do still read in full). I rarely comment anymore, though there are a lot of times I want to, even just to let you know I'm still lurking around. I miss posting, because I keep seeing interesting stuff out there (contests, etc.) that I'd like to share. I even write posts in my head (usually when I'm in the shower). I worry that this post is going to be like a drink for an alcoholic.

So once again I'm going to try to find a balance. I'll need to see how many times I check my stats this week. I'll stop lurking and make a few comments. I'll limit how much time I spend on Blogger.

I'll take it one day at a time.