A Christmas Post

Well, it’s that time of year. Holiday posts, songs, stories, and events abound. This holiday season has been harder than some for me, but not as hard as others. Every year is different, I suppose. And no matter how many traditions we try to keep, there are no two Christmases alike. I don’t have much wisdom to impart here, but I did want to share a new song and story with all of you. I hope you enjoy! Happy holidays, and a happy new year!

To NaNo or Not to NaNo

Creativity is everywhere. I’m feeling it almost palpably all around me, almost as if the whole universe is on fire. I can’t remember the last time I experienced the gift of this level of constant creative flow, but it’s been a long, long time. I’ve just completed writing the songs that will be made into a soundtrack album for A Light from the Ashes. That was a definite surprise to me and absolutely a labor of love. You can go check out some of the songs HERE.

Next, I’m jumping straight from that into the actual writing process for my Maude Adams book (tentatively titled This Way But Once.) Maude has been sadly neglected in the past couple of months, although I’ve tried to keep up on organizing my notes, plotting new scenes, and outlining. It almost felt like missing a friend on the days I didn’t work on her book.

Well, friends, it is November, and therefore, officially National Novel Writing Month. I had not originally planned on participating this year as I am knee deep in promotion and marketing for A Light from the Ashes. But neglecting Maude was making me sad. So, at the very last minute, I decided to join a NaNoWriMo challenge.

Is it for me?

There are lots of things to consider before embarking on a NaNoWrimo challenge. The first of which is MOTIVATION with a capital M. Not every author works the same way. Some are “planners,” needing notes, general outlines, detailed outlines, plot arcs, character arcs, etc. before they can begin writing the chapter. Some are “pantsers,” preferring to wing it by the seat of their pants and just write off the cuff.

Who is to say which way works better? Motivation is a key factor in both scenarios. It takes motivation to sit down in front of a blank page (or screen) and put words down. It takes motivation to take the time in the first place. It takes motivation to be consistent enough to finish what you start. For most writers, the motivation is intrinsic, meaning it comes from inside us, and not from any promise of outside reward. We write because we can’t imagine ourselves doing anything else. We write because we have stories inside us screaming to come out.

Personally, I am a planner (especially when writing historical fiction or biographical fiction, as I am now). I have to organize plots and characters, etc. so that when I sit down to actually write the chapters, I can focus on things like literary devices and crafting beautiful sentences, rather than trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. It makes my editing process a lot less messy and the writing process more fun.

The purpose of NaNoWrimo for me is to increase my motivation by adding an outside source. I need deadlines to keep me on track. I need clear-cut goals. Also, if I publicly announce my goals, I am more likely to try harder to keep them and not give myself excuses.

How to do it?

So, you’ve decided to join NaNoWrimo, now what? First of all, remember this is YOUR goal, not someone else’s. It is there to encourage you, not to become a stick with which to beat yourself. You don’t have to follow anyone else’s goals. Some people say the goal is to write an entire novel in a month. (Well, I’m here to say that’s nearly impossible.) Some people say the goal is to write 50,000 words in a month and that should be the length of a novel. That too is up to you and is contingent on a lot of things, including the genre you’re writing in. For me, 50,000 words would equal about a third of my normal length of novels. The point is, you get to set your own goal.

Maybe your goal will be just a certain number of words a day. (This will be less daunting if you figure out how many words are on a typical page of your writing. i.e. A general guideline is that one page double spaced is approximately 250 words, although that varies.)

Maybe your goal will be a certain amount of time spent writing every day.

The main point, though, is to help establish discipline, consistency, and a solid habit of writing. If you really want to finish writing your book, you have to treat it like a job and show up consistently every day, whether you are feeling inspired or not.

Always remember, the muse is more likely to join you in your writing if she knows the two of you have a standing date and she’s not worried that you’ll stand her up for some other distraction.

So, what are your creative goals this month? Comment below.

Going Where the Path Leads

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

Confucious

It’s a cold and rainy day, so what better time to snuggle in for a good writing session? I’ve made myself a cozy warm green tea with ginger, and scooched down under a fuzzy blanket. So, I’m ready to go. Now what?

It’s been made clear to me lately that things don’t always go according to plan, either in real life or in writing. I had so many plans for this weekend. I had even made a dictatorial to do list full or bullet points and bravado of all the things I was going to accomplish this weekend. But then the thunderstorms came in, which inevitably means at least a day of debilitating headaches for me. (Oh, the life of living with chronic illness.) At times like that, it would be easy to feel sorry for myself and cry and whine about all the things I could do if I didn’t have a chronic illness, but that wouldn’t help me or anyone else for that matter. So, what’s the point? The only thing to do when life changes your planned course is to follow the path as it winds and twists and turns and falls out from under you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about forging new paths, creating roads where none ever existed, slashing through forests of obstacles to reach your goals. But every now and then, the fight is more destructive to you than it is to the obstacles. So, in times like those, the only thing to do is become zen with your surroundings and let the path lead you wherever it will.

A Writing Obstacle

I am reminded of a writing obstacle that came up for me recently, one that possibly could have derailed my whole publishing project if I had chosen to fight it rather than following the path.

Not long after I found a publisher and editor, we realized that I had referenced in my novel a significant number or books and songs. I didn’t have a strong grasp of copyright law while I was originally writing the story, and I mistakenly thought if the authors/songwriters were no longer alive, then I was safe to use a line here or there from their works as long as I gave credit in the back of the book. That was certainly not the case.

Fight or Change Course?

So, I had a choice before me: I could cling to my story as it was written, including all book and song references, and pay a possibly exorbitant amount in licensing fees, OR I could rewrite certain sections, change the references or take them out completely. For the most part, you are safe to use works whose authors have been dead for 50 years or more, the cut off publication dates from 2019 being anything before 1924. (In 2020, it will be 1925, and so on.) Of course there are exceptions to those rules if copyrights have been renewed or purchased by others, or as in the case of Peter Pan, the copyright has been granted to a children’s hospital in England by Parliament until the end of time. So, what was I going to do?

I decided to let the path dictate my direction rather than tenaciously clinging to my original ideas. So, I went through and changed all of the books referenced by my characters, which was a considerable amount. Then it came to the songs. There were two songs which were integral to the story, were emotional touch stones for my characters, and connected several generations. What was I going to do about those? The meanings of the songs I had chosen and the feel of the music were important. So, what else was there to do, but to write my own songs?

A New Creative Opportunity

The lyrics came fairly easy, but then I thought, “I need to know what the song sounds like to be able to describe it.” I’ve also always been that person who when coming across lyrics to a song I don’t know in a book, was driven crazy by not knowing how it sounds. Have you ever seen lyrics in a book and wondered what the song really sounded like?

Then it occurred to me that we live in a world of technology and mixed media where text, video, pictures, and music interact with each other all the time. Think of Instagram posts and stories with music or memes, just to name a couple of examples.

So, I decided to write and produce some of the music to go along with A Light from the Ashes to help my readers fully immerse themselves in the world and the story. I consulted my niece Elisabeth Grace, my resident expert on Garage Band, then I just started playing around with it. I had never tried to make music with anything other than my piano and my own voice before, so this was all new territory. But what a wonderful experience it has been! I’ve learned new things, made something completely new that never would have existed without the original obstacle, and let my new path lead me where it would.

What About You?

Have there been times in your life where you were faced with a daunting obstacle? How did you face it or get around it?

The next time you are faced with an obstacle, either in life or in your creative world, ask yourself: Is it time to fight the obstacle or let the path lead me in a new direction? You may be surprised at the new world you find.

Check out the songs from A Light from the Ashes here or on Soundcloud.

Writing in Different Genres

Well, I have been promising this post for over a month, but the summer got away from me, as summers seem to do.  So, here I am finally fulfilling my promise.

Writing is not a simple action, nor is it the same for every author or for every genre.  Everyone’s process is different.  But to complicate matters even more, everyone’s process can be different as they engage in writing different genres.  I noticed this the most when I was looking over my notebooks for my current historical fiction project as compared to my dystopian novel.  The dystopian novel had two notebooks full of ideas.  But for my historical fiction project, I just began my fourth notebook, and I am sure it will be filled as well.

First, I will walk you through my writing process in general.  Then, I will go through the differences between writing a dystopian novel and writing a historical fiction novel.

General Writing Process

  • The original seed–The seed of an idea usually comes to me in the form of my main character and one scene.  From there, the plot building process begins.  Basically, just playing with ideas in my head and letting my imagination run free.  There is a lot of thinking time in this stage, jotting down ideas here and there.
  • Research–Next, I start researching, either about the time period or the world in which my story will take place.  I also begin putting together a playlist of songs that put me in the mood for the individual story so I can fully immerse myself. This phase can last through the duration of the project.  I never feel like I have enough information, but eventually we do have to start actually writing.
  • Simmering–This phase can co-exist with the research phase.  This is where the plot is starting to take shape, characters are making themselves known to me, and dialogue starts to flow.  During this time, I am writing daily notes of scenes, descriptions, dialogue, plots, etc. I always carry a notebook with me, and have a running note on my notebook app on my phone, so I never miss an idea when it comes.  These notes are a disorganized jumble of anything that pops into my head story related.
  • Organization–Next, I begin to type my random hand-written notes into a cohesive document in the general order that they will be used in the book.  I may create documents specifically for narration/descriptions and specifically for scenes. I will also create a document for each main character to flesh out characteristics, back story, etc.
  • Outlining–First, I start with a general outline with plot arc, etc.  Here I make decisions about timeline, whether or not the story will be told chronologically, point of view, and narrator.
  • Detailed Outlining–After the general outline, I begin putting together chapter outlines.  On these documents, I cut and paste scenes, dialogue, and descriptions from my notes documents.
  • Writing the chapters–When I write my chapters, I use my chapter outline as a jumping off place, and then I just let it flow.  I sometimes find in this phase that characters decide to insert themselves into scenes where I hadn’t originally planned them, but I let that happen organically.  I have found that it’s best not to make characters do what you want them to do. I think of it as them telling me their stories and I am just writing them down. At times when I have tried to force it, the writing came out stilted and stiff.

This is my writing process on the front end.  It is by no means complete, as a major part of the writing process is editing and rewriting.  But that is a blog post all itself.

Genre Differences

  • Research
    • When I was writing my dystopian novel, there was a lot of technical, scientific, and political research to help me begin to build the world in which my characters would live.  The research phase for that project was very short.
    • For my current historical fiction novel, I have found the research process to be extremely long and detailed, not just into the life of my main character, but into the numerous lives who surrounded hers.  It is important for me to know what things in their lives would influence their decisions and relationships, the driving forces and motivations in all of the main and secondary characters lives.  The more information I have, the better.
  • World-Building
    • In science fiction, it’s called world-building.  In other fiction, it’s simply referred to as setting.  World-building for a dystopian novel was at once freeing and daunting.  There was the freedom to make my world whatever I wanted it to be and whatever made sense for my characters.  But at the same time, it can feel like there is a tyranny in too many choices, making it difficult to leave the world-building stage and jump into writing the story.  Let me encourage you to be as basic as you can in the world-building at first.  Leave your characters free and organic enough that they can move around unencumbered.  Then you can fill in with more specifics about the world later.  In the beginning focus only on those things that will affect plot and character.
    • For historical fiction, setting is very much connected to your research and making sure you are accurate in your depiction of the time period.  This means not just in physical aspects, but also in non-tangible things such as ideas, mindset, language, etc.  You don’t want someone in the late 19th century, for example, to have a modern day mindset about or way of talking about ideas that would only be in modern day.  Research for setting the scene should include language, popular phrases, and idioms.
  • What drives the story?
    • In dystopian fiction (and several other sub-genres of fiction), you can basically let the story and characters drive themselves.  You are free to let your imagination run wild.  A new character not originally conceived can present himself midway through the writing of the novel.  There is a freedom there that is almost unparalleled.
    • In historical fiction, your story is driven by historical facts, dates, and places, with only some creative license allowed for changing what happened.  Depending on whether your main characters are real people or fictional characters, the reins may be tighter or looser here.  I wrote one story with fictional main characters placed in actual historical events.  This gave me a little more freedom to change their stories as the plot or characters dictated.  However, right now I am writing a story about a real person, in essence a non-fiction novel, and her story is interesting enough on its own that it doesn’t need much embellishment or creative license from me beyond the dramatization of actual events.  My job in this case is to fill in the gaps that history left.  But the story is very much driven by the actual events of her life.

These are just some of my thoughts on my experiences of writing in multiple genres.  There are things I love about both.  What are some of your experiences with different genres?

Don’t forget to pre-order the Kindle version of my debut novel A Light from the Ashes on Amazon, release date September 30!

 

Editing Round 10…or Is It 11?

 

This week we are going through the physical proof copy of A Light from the Ashes with a fine tooth comb and a purple pen.  It is a strange fact that there are things you can catch in a print copy that you can’t catch in an electronic copy.  It is surprising to think that after I’ve gone through many rounds of edits on my own and with beta readers there are still pieces of my novel which could be changed or improved, but it is true.

So, I thought I would throw out a few suggestions on how to make the editing process less painful.

1. Surround yourself with positive, comforting things.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the problems or mistakes you see in your own writing, and before long you are beating up on yourself and wondering why you ever tried to become a writer. One way to combat this phenomenon is to soothe your nerves with your favorite things.  For me today that means a cup of coffee in my favorite mug, and the Anne of Avonlea miniseries in the background. Anne is one of the most positive characters in literature, and she always makes me feel better about life. Beyond that, she too was a writer, and I’m sure could feel my pain about the editing process.

Sometimes I write and edit in the outdoors at my favorite park.  Sometimes I feel better at the desk in my library.  Sometimes I’m huddled on the couch with a fuzzy blanket.  Go wherever you feel the most comfortable and uplifted.

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2. Don’t always edit in red.

I have found that red marks all over my written text tends to have a negative emotional effect on me. The red ink somehow feels like a personal affront. So, in my own writing, and even on my students’ papers, I use purple pens for comments and editing marks. I don’t have the same visceral reaction to the color purple. So find a pen in your favorite color and go at it.

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3. Change the recording in your head.

I get it: this is your baby.  You’ve spent countless hours planning, creating, and crying over your work.  The last thing you want to do is cover it in editing marks and corrections.  Suddenly the demon of your inner critic comes to life shouting criticisms, insults, and jabs in your brain.  “Why did I ever think I was a writer?  No one is every going to read my story.  This is the worst thing I’ve ever read.”

Let me suggest that you muzzle that demon and change the recording that plays in your head.  Instead of corrections or criticisms, think of editing as just improving the great writing that is already there.  You have already done some of the hardest work.  You have written a story (or an article, or a book, or whatever).  You’ve gone further than you thought you could already.  You have gained the strength and insight to face down the editing process.  So, be kind to yourself.  Insults and attacks on your self-esteem will not help you be a better writer.