Monday, July 26, 2010

Getting Ready to Write: A Special Place, A Special Time

Many successful writers advise that it is important to have a special place set aside in which to write. A room, a desk, a closet—somewhere that is reserved only for the act of writing. I think this is wonderful. If you can do this, and if this helps you get into the “writing mood,” do it.
            Many writers also suggest setting aside a special time to write. To sit in your special place for 30 minutes or 4 hours or however long you’ve set aside, and discipline yourself to write. Again, I think this is great. Some writers are very disciplined and get up at 4 a.m. to have 3 hours to write before starting their workday. This impresses the heck out of me, but I know the snooze button on my alarm would be worn out if I tried it.
            In fact, none of this has ever worked for me. I write any where, any time. I keep a pad of paper by my bedside, so when I awaken at 3 a.m. with the solution to my writing dilemma, I am ready to write. I keep paper in my car, so when I’m waiting to pick up my kids or stuck in traffic, I can write. I keep paper in my oversized handbag, so while I’m at the doctor’s office or the PTA meeting, I can write. And I keep a laptop computer in my living room, in the same room as the television set and the energetic teenagers and the dog and the husband and the birds, and while I’m enjoying family time, I write.
            For me, finding the time to write or the place to write has never been the problem. For me, forcing myself to finish my chores before I write, making myself accept my other responsibilities before I write, is the problem.
            Writer’s Block? Uh-uh. I believe that writer’s block is what happens when we don’t know what comes next in our story. So start another story. I always have several projects open at a time—two or three novels, two or three short stories, and usually a few nonfiction or workshop projects. Anytime my brain gets tired or stuck on one story, I’ve got another to go to. Of course, the danger in this is that it is easy never to actually finish any one project, but that, again, is where discipline comes in. I try to assign “priorities” to my work. I usually have one fiction and one non-fiction project that is my current priority, and I don’t switch to one of the other projects unless I am truly stuck and need a break.
            It is also easy to be overtaken by distractions. During the day, when I am home alone, I never turn on the television set. And those wonderful computer games that are so compelling? I have to admit, I love them. I compete against myself constantly in trying to do better all the time. But I only allow myself to indulge in the late evenings, when my house is usually so active that I would have difficulty concentrating on writing anyway.
            I wrote my first novel while working full-time with three small children at home. I wrote during lunch breaks, while stirring spaghetti sauce, while pumping gas. I wrote at every possible snippet of time, and when I wasn’t physically writing, my mind was busy working out plot and such so that when I could grab a pen and paper, I’d be ready to go.
            The moral of the story: if you want to write, you will find the time and you will find the space. If you are the type of person who needs structure, then give that to yourself. Set aside a desk and a special time. However, if you have such a burning desire to write that nothing will stop you from doing it, then don’t limit yourself to a special place or a special time. Just do it.

What is your special time or place to write?

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Candy, evangelism, Texas, ranch

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Come up with an elevator pitch for a story encompassing those four words. Any genre or time period acceptable.

I look forward to seeing your suggestions in the comments.

I chose those four words because they were the four elements I wanted to include in my latest book proposal. (I won’t bother you with the reasons why). My chosen genre was historical romance. How did I get from those four words to a nine page book synopsis?

I start by asking questions.

• Who are my hero and heroine? What occupations might include candy, evangelism, or a ranch?
• What problems keep them apart? She is a missionary committed to service overseas. He’s a fisherman who once asked her to marry him.
• What problems might interfere with those occupations? The missionary has to stay at home because of family problems. The candy shop fails. Someone unused to a ranch has to learn how to ranch.
• When and where will this story take place? I’m a sucker for natural disasters. Dressed in Scarlet is set during Colorado’s worst blizzard; Beacon of Love takes place in a lighthouse during a hurricane; Bridge to Love examines the infamous Year of No Summer. So it’s no wonder that I was drawn to the Galveston hurricane of 1900.

Okay, with those questions I had enough for an elevator pitch. Next I started on structure: the inciting incident, one or two plot change points, and the black moment.

We’re told to start with action; what is more action-packed than a ship at sea during a hurricane—trying to pick up stranded fishermen? The black moment? Make something happen so that it appears the hero and heroine won’t achieve their hearts’ desire—then resolve it. For my couple, she’s afraid she can’t go back to the mission field, and he’s afraid she will.

In between, though, it gets tougher. One method makes things get progressively worse; the problems escalate. Another resolves the first problem but presents a second.

I used the second method. So by now I have four plot pivots: opening chapter; two change points; and a black moment at the end.

So far I had a page at most. Not much.

Next, I let my mind wander freely. I list scenes and problems as they occur to me, in incomplete sentences, one or two lines each. I don’t enforce any order. Questions I ask myself include how do the hero and heroine get from point A to point B (how do they get from the hurricane-tossed ship to Galveston to evacuation?) Given what I know of my characters, how are they going to react to what’s happening? What problems might arise along each step of the way?

This netted me four-five pages of short ideas. I put them in order, write them into full sentences and paragraphs, add connecting threads and make sure I show emotions and romantic development ...

And I’ve got a nine page synopsis.

Please accept your mission. I look forward to reading your ideas.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Silencing Your Inner Editor

I’ve spoken with a lot of writers who have trouble disconnecting their INNER EDITOR. This overly helpful person lives inside most of us and comes in handy when we’re putting the finishing touches on our manuscript. But when we’re in the midst of a creative surge, that same person can short circuit our progress.

There’s a scientific reason for that roadblock. The creative act of writing your first draft stems from the right side—or creative side—of the brain. Later in the process, when polishing begins, the left side takes over. Here are some of the characteristics of each side.

Right Brain
  • Visual in process, focusing more on patterns and images
  • Generally intuitive, led by feelings
  • Is the epitome of multi-tasking, able to process ideas simultaneously
  • Progresses from the big picture to the details
  • Lacks organization, utilizes free association
Left Brain
  • More verbal, needs to find specific words to express ideas
  • Analytical, led by logic
  • Takes things step by step, one idea at a time
  • Organizes details first before moving to the big picture
  • Very organized, utilizing lists and detailed plans
Mixing up the process—trying to use both sides of the brain at the same time—can lead to a tangled mess and a major roadblock. All of this information is good to know, but what if our left-brained, Inner Editor won’t go away? How do we make her be quiet? Unfortunately, there isn’t one way that works for everyone, but here are some tips that should help.

  1. Don’t give in to temptation. Our Inner Editor gets stronger the more frequently we give in to her demands. If she thinks you need a certain word before you can finish that sentence, stay strong. Type XXX and go on. Later, during the rewriting process, you’ll have plenty of time to find the right word. This goes for anything that demands you slow the creative process. At this point in your manuscript speed is your best friend.
  2. Set a daily and weekly word count goal. This can often sidetrack the Inner Editor because of her need to meet a goal. Sometimes, in her drive to succeed she can even become an ally.
  3. Make lists in a separate notebook. Use your computer for the story, but if the need for details overshadows the creative urge, make a quick note in a notebook. Don’t let yourself get bogged down, but let the free association part of your right brain give you ideas to explore later with your more logical left side.
  4. Don’t give in to fear. Many times our Inner Editor is driven by fear. Fear that this draft isn’t good, won’t work or just doesn’t make sense. Remind yourself that this version isn’t written in stone. Sometimes just giving ourselves permission to write what Ann Lamott calls the sh*%&# first draft is all we need to derail our Inner Editor.
All of these tips can help, but I’d like to know what tricks you use to keep your Inner Editor quiet.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Getting Ready to Write: Inspirations

Writing a novel is a lonely job that has few rewards until it is finished. Therefore, it is imperative to stay focused and to stay positive. Surrounding yourself with reminders is one of the easiest ways to do this. (The other way—paying people to constantly tell you you’re doing great and so forth—becomes costly.)
            When I first started submitting material to agents and received my first rejection letters, I was enthused. Now, some people would think that a rejection letter is a depressing thing, but not to me (not then, anyway). It made me feel like a “real” writer, made me feel like I had made contact with the “real” writing world. So, I taped every rejection letter on the wall. On top of each rejection, I taped an inspirational quote. I called it my “Wall of Shame.” As I received awards for my writing, I added these to my wall. I also copied any checks I received for readings or competitions, any thank-you notes, anything that had to do with writing. Pretty soon, I had half of one dining room wall “papered.” Eventually, my handy husband decided to remodel and my wall came down, but it had served its purpose when I needed it: it kept me focused on writing and connected to the writing world.
            Don’t be embarrassed to do whatever you need to do to bolster your morale. And quit referring to yourself as “wanting to be a writer” or a “writer wannabe.” Once you actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you are a writer. Say that out loud: “I am a writer.” Say it again: “I am a writer.” One more time: “I am a writer.” Make that your new mantra and repeat it several times a day. You are a writer. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this post.

What inspires you? Please share it with us. You never know who else you may inspire or encourage, whether it’s a quote, something someone said or did in regards to your writing, or perhaps it came in the form of a rejection letter.

Inspire us!