Posts Tagged ‘writing life’

Overcoming Avoidance – Part One, Writing

August 12, 2019

I need a patron saint for procrastinators. My gargoyle of “get going, girl!” hasn’t been doing the job. Oh, I’m getting some things done (note that this blog is posted), but I’m not getting enough done. Perhaps I can’t really call my problem procrastination. If I had an idea where my characters were taking me I’d be writing those scenes, and if I had decided where I wanted to take them I’d have finished the book. There’s a great scene in an episode of Babylon Five where Zathrus says, “Cannot say. Knowing, would say. Do not know, so cannot say.” That pretty much sums up my writing these days. I’m open to suggestions for overcoming avoidance. In the meantime, I will meditate on journeys and hope my characters speak up about the ones they want to take.

Luck and wisdom!

A Sense of Place

August 5, 2019

I write fiction, therefore I must create a sense of place for my readers. This is harder than it sounds, especially since my own sense of place is tenuous at best. I moved around a lot in my youth, and came to accept “home” as wherever I happened to be at the moment. Usually I leave most of the setting to the reader’s imagination. The few descriptions I include are more for my benefit, to keep clear in my own mind where my characters are. Then I picked up St. Petersburg by Solomon Volkov, and recognized the depth of my failing. From the very first page, Volkov throws the reader into the heart of the city – then the kidney, then the spleen, then that weird little place in the elbow that kicks up a ruckus whenever the weather changes. Volkov cites diarists and novelists to show how the city molded perception.

I realized that I had been ignoring the effect of my location on my own perception, and my writing. Yes, St. Petersburg is in a harsh environment and I live in lovely California; yes, St. Petersburg has seen war and revolution while my own town has been an oasis of safety; yes, St. Petersburg has been peopled with oversize egos and extraordinary will while I am surrounded by – well, let’s not go there. The point is, where your characters live influences who they are. I don’t have to describe every river in the valley if I understand how living near water has shaped the worldview of my protagonist, or living between two highways has molded my villain. I still may not ground my stories in a specific place as well as my readers might like, but my goal from now on will be to create an understanding of what being here as opposed to there means to my characters.

Luck and wisdom!

Volunteer Your Way To Better Jacket Copy

July 29, 2019

Nathan Bransford wrote a helpful blog about writing good jacket copy. The first step – knowing your selling points – seems obvious, but getting to that understanding is painful. Trying to sell my own work is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Even after I’ve finished paring down all the wonderful things I want to share with readers to a few bullet points, I’m still never certain my promotional material is appealing.

Bransford suggests using social media ads to test your jacket material. This is great if you’re made of money, but I am not. I am, however, one who volunteers. My work for the quilt guild this year includes writing the newsletter articles for our speakers and their workshops. “Self,” I said, “you’ve just created your own personal, private training program for self-promotion.” I’ve got ten speakers who – like me – have varying degrees of skill in advertising themselves and their work. I have a limited word count for newsletter articles, so I often have to edit the biography, lecture topic, and workshop description to fit the space. Since the guild members are also the target audience for The Chenille series, the feedback I get on my articles will be ideally suited to help me craft my own ad copy.

Consider volunteering to work with Program or Publicity for the guild, club, or non-profit that matches your target audience. As you see what entices the members to come to the lecture or sign up for the workshop, consider how you can use your new skills to promote yourself.

Luck and wisdom!

What Is Supposed To Be

July 22, 2019

Today is Monday, so I am supposed to post a writing blog. I paused for a good five minutes after I wrote that line, and still nothing popped into my little brain. Instead, I’m posting a picture of my shrimp plant.

The shrimp plant is supposed to put out these lovely pinky-red bracts with white flowers that droop over and look like swimming shrimp when the breeze blows. I’ve got the bracts and the flowers, but danged little drooping. The bracts are shooting up like spear tips. That’s okay, but not what I was expecting; not what is supposed to be.

To which the universe replies, “Oh, adjust already!”

The plant is still lovely, and healthy, and I like it. What more do I really want? Well, to have more of my novel written, but that may not happen today. Today, I will appreciate my shrimp plant.

Luck and wisdom!

Panic, Procrastination, and Progress

July 15, 2019

I had to get outside my comfort zone a little bit this week. The resulting (mild) panic first made me angry, then got me thinking about plot and character development. I write cozy and comedy, so the tension on my pages can’t ramp up to the level of a crime thriller. My readers know my characters are going to survive (I am writing a series, after all), so tossing in a gratuitous train crash would be silly. I need small tensions that can take my character off the rails temporarily and be funny at the same time, things like the anxiety of creating yet another password (which was one of the things that took me out of my comfort zone). It’s not huge, but it presents a conflict that most readers understand.

Then I read an article about a study which proclaims procrastination is not a moral failure but a response to an unresolved emotional reaction. Well, I could have told you that. I know very well that when I procrastinate about my writing it is because I haven’t dealt with my fear of A) losing the thread of the plot, B) getting wrapped up in a new character to the exclusion of the main ones, or C) having no new story waiting for my attention when the current project is over. Figuring out what I’m afraid of, and acknowledging that even if irrational fear must be faced not suppressed, goes a long way toward getting me back on track.

Rewards help too. Sometimes the reward of finishing the task at hand is enough. Sometimes, I need more. I am quite willing to bribe myself to get to the end of an unpleasant chore (“Self, clean one more room and then you can have an hour of free reading!”), but on occasion I get a reward out of the blue. This week I received a gift from my good friend Margaret Misegades. She found the fabulous addition to my reindeer collection pictured above, and it arrived just when I needed a little pick-me-up.

Moral of the story? I’m not sure. All I know is that finding the reason why I’m panicking or procrastinating is more useful than yelling at myself for not accomplishing more; that I can use whatever insight I might glean to create more nuanced characters; that reindeer are still cool.

Luck and wisdom!

History and Your Story

July 8, 2019

We are all connected by history, whether or not those connections show up in our family stories. While reading The Great Influenza (by John M. Barry), my husband realized that his grandfather (pictured above) brought the family from Canada through New York in late 1918, when thousands of people in that region were dying every day from the flu. My husband wondered what his grandparents might have known about the epidemic, since wartime censorship and bureaucratic panic kept some newspapers from reporting the full extent of the crisis. If they knew, how worried were they about bringing their young children into the area? Could this also be the reason why all records of that crossing disappeared – perhaps the clerk who processed them died before he had a chance to file the paperwork?

When you are creating the world your characters inhabit, consider the way history will affect their lives. Even if you aren’t writing a historical novel, the past has a way of intruding on the present. If nothing else, a random connection with some great historical event could explain an odd behavior in a parent or grandparent that shapes your character’s choices.

Luck and wisdom!

Motivation and Your Characters

July 1, 2019

If the reader doesn’t understand why your characters do what they do, chances are she’ll close the book at a convenient stopping place – usually after your protagonist has behaved in a way that just doesn’t make sense. I am clearly not the target audience for a book I am reading now, and it has taken me a long time to figure out the main character’s motivation. Rather than being pleased with myself for being clever, I am angry with the character for feeling bound to a tradition that does nothing for her. I suspect that at the end – when I expect our heroine will finally be granted a place in her community – I will be hoping for a massive wildfire to burn the town to the ground. This, I am sure, is not what the author intended the reader to feel.

Since I write for a targeted audience, I am analyzing this book carefully. I’m trying to identify one or two places early in the story where I wish the author had shown me a time when the heroine was rewarded for her loyalty. I will use that insight to add a line or two in my novels so the non-quilter reading any book in the Chenille series will understand what motivates the characters. More important, I want that reader to believe this is a rational motivation, and bonds with the character. This will keep the reader invested in the book, and (one can always hope) happy with the ending.

Luck and wisdom!

What I Missed and How I Found It

June 24, 2019


How did I miss Good Omens? Okay, so I often have to ask myself a similar question when I come across something that everyone else knew about (the young Gary Cooper comes to mind). My husband and I watched the Amazon miniseries made from the novel after our son recommended it, then our daughter reminded us she owned a copy of the book and had left it when she went to graduate school. Even if you see the miniseries first, it is well worth your time to read the book. Aside from being darn good entertainment, the writing is fabulous. It’s the kind of book you read and say, “Self, this is what you should be doing with your story.” I was particularly impressed with how Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman wove in physical details about their characters throughout the story. I thought I had a good grasp of that technique, but I was wrong. This is the way it should be done. Read it for yourself and see.

Luck and wisdom!

Practice Good Critique Technique

June 17, 2019

In the last week I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of mistakes, which means I was asking and being asked for forgiveness simultaneously, which got me thinking about good critique technique. First, don’t make excuses. When hearing that your piece didn’t work for your critique partners, listen first, then ask questions. What you intended the reader (or viewer, if you are critiquing art quilts) to perceive doesn’t matter nearly as much as understanding why someone else didn’t see what you thought was already there.

When telling a writer that the piece didn’t work for you, accept that the story may never be the one you want your critique partner to write. State how you expected the characters to behave – which gives the writer valuable information – rather than give orders for how they should be rewritten.

Finally, always remember to be kind. Well-considered words spoken with a friendly tone will encourage your critique partners to keep trying. And isn’t that what you want from them?

Luck and wisdom!

Can Your Characters Save Your Plot?

June 10, 2019

Author, instructor, and former agent Nathan Bransford suggests journaling about your plot from your characters’ points of view when the words stop flowing (read his blog post here). When I read this, my first thought was, “Brilliant!” When my second thought was equally positive, I knew this was advice I could use.

That isn’t always the case – not in writing, quilting, or home decorating. I watched too many home improvement shows where my first reaction was, “Who the heck is going to clean a [room of your choice] with all that stuff in it?” I even worked up an idea for an anti-improvement show called “Like You’re Really Going To Do That.”

I’ve nodded appreciatively when writing friends share their spreadsheets for character development, or their flip charts for braiding plot lines. That’s not for me. I can’t even manage to keep a simple filing system going, so how am I supposed to keep programs and charts in order? For me, the best solution is one I can keep on scraps of paper, because I can always find a scrap of paper and a pen.

Luck and wisdom!