Sunday, July 30, 2017

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

I attended a workshop at the Medina library yesterday morning. After publishing sixteen books, having one more in the editing stage which has gone on way too long, two completed and under consideration by various publishers and another which I'm still working on, I really didn't think I'd learn anything new. I only went to help fill up the room, since so many of my romance writing chapter mates were out of town.

The workshop was on plotting, and presented by Mary Ellis.

Mary's a local talent, but she writes Amish books and mystery books, neither of which are my chosen genre. She also writes romances, but they're inspirational and don't contain any sex scenes or vulgar language. Also not my type of writing. Over the years I've tried various types of plotting software and have kind of developed my own method, but my first drafts are always short on word count. I can usually rectify this by the second or third draft, but I'll never be a JK Rowling type of writer.

So here I was, warm body in a chair in the room, Mary giving insight about the way she plots (by chapter and word count)  and how she lays out sub-plots and secondary characters and it hit me. The lightbulb truly went off over my head and I glanced around the room to see if anyone else witnessed the flash of light.
In this current work of mine, I have two brothers returning home from the Civil War. They are so desperate for money they steal from my heroine's father and the heroine goes after them. But I've never explained WHY they are desperate. What a great sub-plot! What a great way to add to my word count! What a great idea to turn these cardboard cut-outs into somewhat sympathetic characters!
Not exactly the bad guys in my book, but you get the drift.
My advice to every writer who reads this is go to every workshop you can, because you never know when inspiration will strike. The library is a great resource, since the workshops are free, but there are events scheduled in northern Ohio throughout the year for whatever genre you write, or want to write, in–children's lit, cozy mystery, romance, you name it. All you need is an open mind and the willingness to listen and then apply what you've learned. And it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Type A or Type B?

We've all heard about the different personality types, A and B. And we probably get asked which camp we fall into at least once in a while. So, I've taken the time to delve into this, especially this week. Here are my findings: 

According to Wikipedia, Type A individuals are outgoing, ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving "workaholics." They push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.

Type B individuals are sometimes attracted to careers of creativity: writer, counselor, therapist, actor or actress. However, network and computer systems managers, professors, and judges are more likely to be Type B individuals as well. Their personal character may enjoy exploring ideas and concepts. They are often reflective, and think of the "outer and inner world. 

When asked the question, especially since retiring from a 'real' job, I always answered that I was a Type B personality. After all, I'm now a full-time writer, creative and reflective, so it seemed to fit. And this year, with no publishing commitments other than a manuscript that's been in edits since January, I was rolling blithely along, working on a story that I will finish before the end of the year. 

Then, this week, all hell broke loose. I accepted a ghostwriting job where I need to crank out 30,000 words in a month's time. I'm still trying to finish the story I'm working on before I lose the thread of it. I got an email from a publisher I'd contacted nearly a year ago asking if the manuscript I queried them about was still available. It is, and if it's accepted, it's the first of a trilogy and of course, books 2 and 3 have not been written. I'm still waiting to hear about another manuscript, a Regency. If that one is accepted by my publisher of choice, it's the first of 4 books, none of which have had more than a paragraph of my time. I should be panicking at this stage of the game, but instead I'm kind of jazzed by the looming deadlines and all the work exploding around me. Maybe I am a Type A after all. 

What about you? Type A or Type B? 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Settling The Dust

My poor house is strewn from one end to the other with dust and dirt, none of which was my doing. I'm laying the blame entirely on the state of Ohio and Mother Nature. The land in my part of Ohio is mostly clay, and when you pour ten more inches of water on clay than it's able to take, you get a flood.
So, for the past week I've had jackhammers going from 9 to 5. The men who did the very filthy job of putting in the French drain and sump pump did a great job, and the dust is beginning to settle.

I'll let the dust continue to settle over the weekend before I begin trying to sop it all up and make my house show-worthy again. Instead of cleaning, I'm using the weekend to work on a couple of writing projects. Settling the dust of another kind.

First, there's my ghostwriting job. I turned in the first 1000 words, and have to get to work on the next 10,000. It's in outline form and shouldn't be too hard to write, but I need time to do it. Then, there's the edits for my next contemporary. I waded through what has been edited today, and will wend my way through the last 1/3 of the book, trying to catch the things that drive this editor crazy before I send them back. Finally, there's my next historical, 2/3 of which got tossed overboard when the plot wasn't working. It's working now, just fine, but I need to think about how the next scene will play out. Letting the dust settle on that story line for a day or so.

And if I reach a point during the weekend when my three projects are at the point where I need to think about them, I'll pick up my dust mop and clear a path through the house. Already, the front door and book shelf in the living room are looking better. If I can get the floor clean by Monday, I'll consider it a good weekend, dust and all.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lines Of Demarcation

A long time ago in my writing experience, I attended a workshop hosted by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She's a very funny, very busy lady who revealed her secret to finding time to write. She bought herself a kitchen timer and every time her creativity was interrupted she stopped the timer.
She'd set herself a number of hours to devote to her writing every day and measured it out with the timer. Sometimes she got done before noon, sometimes it took her until midnight. I tried her timer method for a while, but found it didn't work for me as well as it did for Susan Elizabeth.

I also for a time latched onto a bit of advice to steal minutes of time wherever and whenever you can. I so admire my friends who are able to write while watching their children play soccer or hockey, who can grab fifteen minutes before the baby wakes up to jot down the beginnings of a scene. I wish I had the persistence to do that.

It's taken years for me to figure out what works best for me. And I've determined I can't write in bits and pieces. The first 500 words are a struggle for me. I stare at the screen, lay down sentences and then erase them, glance out the window, grit my teeth and keep plugging away. Then, as if by magic, after 500 words, my eyes glaze over, my fingers begin to fly over the keyboard, and before I know it, my characters have taken over and polished off the scene for me. I come out of my stupor, read the scene and begin to think about what comes next.

Like I said, it's taken years for me to realize that's my approach to writing.

Now, when it comes to walking, it's a different story. As many of you know, I had a problem with my hip replacement surgery that pretty well put me out of commission for 1-1/2 years. I was held together by an awkward brace, so after my final surgery, I had to build my stamina back up. Factor in the Taylor Swift fall from the treadmill, and it's only been within the past six months that I've actually started working on getting fit again. My dog Mary and I head out every day it's pretty and start walking toward town. In the beginning, I measured my progress by getting to the next driveway. Then, my line of demarcation was where the new sidewalk met the old.
Then it was to the stop light. Now it's beyond. One driveway further each day. I figure we'll get to uptown by fall at this rate. Mary likes to lay down in the middle of the street, and there have been times I've been tempted to join her. But. one step at a time, we make it back home.

And, one scene at a time, my next manuscript gets written.

How about you? Do you need a dedicated chunk of time to write, or do you grab a few minutes wherever you can?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Winging It

Last week I wrote about how things that look good on paper don't always cut the mustard when it comes to putting it all together. That's what's happening with my current work in progress (WIP. ) I followed my usual formula for when I get an idea–pull out the Blake Snyder beat sheet and fill it in. I mapped out a set up, an inciting incident, a midpoint, dark night of the soul moment, and a satisfying ending. It looked really good on paper.

Then I began to write the story. The basic story line took place on a riverboat leisurely strolling down the Mississippi toward New Orleans. And that's where the wheels, or paddles, in this case, began to come off the story. The boat was too confining for the story line. So I took a deep breath and tossed hero and heroine overboard. And while I was at it, I tossed the beat sheet overboard as well.

So where does that put me? Up the creek without a paddle, so to speak. I'm totally flying by the seat of my pants this time. No beat sheet allowed. And I'm finding something about this new approach that I really like. Many of you know I'm an obsessive jigsaw player. I've given up on the real ones, but the Magic Jigsaw Puzzle app and I spend a lot of time together. I am becoming quite adept at piecing things together quickly. The same is happening with my story. I've got my damp hero and heroine walking now instead of being on board, and they come upon a fort. It happens to be a Union fort, constructed in 1862. My hero was a Union spy who used to deliver intelligence to the fort, so they're granted access without question. I've got entire scenes from when they were aboard ship that I've abandoned, but there are bits and pieces of those scenes that, with a little tweaking, work well in the new story line. Just like my jigsaw puzzles, it's becoming less and less individual pieces with sharp edges, and is morphing into a discernible picture.

I never thought I'd be one to work by the seat of my pants. I know plenty of great writers who are pantsers, but writing historicals demands that research be done to make the story accurate. But this seems to be working for me for this story, anyway.
I recall what an early mentor told me when I was doing research for a story that's yet to be written. I asked her when I should stop doing the research, which was overwhelming me. She asked if I had a story to write or not. When I nodded, she said, "Write the damn story then. You'll know what research you'll need to add to the story once the story's on paper."

Sage advice. And that's what I'm doing. I'm writing the damn story.