Thursday, June 27, 2013

Novel Writing Diary: Update

It's been a while since I've written about my writing. Last week was the dog fiasco, however I did manage to move forward a little in planning/plotting the book, an inspirational historical romance targeted for Steeple Hill's Love Inspired line.

I'm no snob. I love Love Inspired, and I can think of nothing I would like more than to see my books in Walmart. And to be read by hundreds of thousands, via Steeple Hill's subscription plan.

That's my dream. Now, as to the reality ...

Of course, I was insane to think that I could plot the story and write a 40 Step Outline over a week or two. That's what I get for being an eternal optimist. Or, more like a crazy optimist.

When I began looking at my original plans, which I first created over a year ago, I discovered a couple of things. I had a general idea for the story and a handful of scenes, but I hadn't plotted it scene-by-scene.

The second thing I discovered was that somewhere between January of 2012 and now, the story changed. I had dropped two characters. I had decided a different character was responsible for getting the story rolling. I had changed the way I was planning to illustrate some of the  hero's personality traits.

All of the changes were good! I like the revised idea better than the original.

But I had less to work with than I had thought. Many of the scenes planned for the original idea won't work for the revised idea.

So, during the past two weeks, I've been trying to decide on all possible scenes for the new idea. I'm someone who not only likes to plan, but finds it necessary to plan, or I end up writing literally hundreds of pages that don't quite hit the mark. Way too much wasted time and effort. Even with a lot of planning, I can attest that it's still possible to miss the mark.

That's why I like using Dramatica. Others may find it confining, but I like the security it gives me. It might be false security; time will tell. But for now, I'm sticking with it.

It works for me because my personality type has few internal boundaries. As a true example, I was always the type, as a child, who colored outside the lines. I may not have even seen what was inside the lines.

I remember once when I was about five, coloring with a friend, watching her put big, bold black lines around the image she was coloring, and then watching her work very hard not to color outside the bold black lines.

I thought that was so cool! How could she even think of such a thing? And those bold black lines? They looked great.

Then I looked down at my scribbles--No coloring within the image. Just a bunch of coloring outside of it.

The inability to see clear, identifiable boundaries is also how I view the world, and so for someone like me, I love being inside Dramatica's box.

It's still a playground with infinite possibilities, no kidding.

That said, the image below is how Dramatica suggested I execute the plans for my story, after I answered a couple hundred questions about what I want my story to be. It's the box for this unique storyform.

 It's what I've been working with for the past week. I'm getting close to having all of my scenes planned. Its suggestions help me to understand how to move the story forward on four levels, step by step.

It's all very abstract, but I find it challenging and fun, and it gives me the illusion (hopefully the reality) that I am staying on track--staying within the boundaries and not going off on time-wasting tangents. You can click the image to get a bigger view of it, although I realize it will mean nothing to you if you don't use Dramatica and aren't familiar with its terminology.

The things I'm doing are not all abstract.
Here's one very concrete thing I found today: An image of a pair of fashionable heels worn by ladies in 1912. The heels are in a museum in L.A.

I had been trying to decide when, exactly, to set my book. I'm loosely spinning story ideas for various other characters that appear in this one. One of them, I want to be a reformed bootlegger, and so his story needs to take place after 1917-8.

There could also be stories for four or five other characters from this book, and so I decided this one will be set in 1912.

Regarding the planning of the scenes, I am currently stuck in the exact middle. Everything prior to it is planned, as well as Act Four. But I still need to figure out the scenes for one chapter in the Second Act and all of the scenes and chapters in the Third Act.

The beaded blue shoes were worn to a Gala by the heroine. I'm still trying to figure out how she got them, or who loaned them to her, as she is the penniless housekeeper/cook of the rich hero.

With luck, I will have completed my 40-Step Outline via the Dramatica Story Engine by the end of next week. As I do that--it's very time-consuming--I will discover yet more things about my story, and so it's well worth doing.

Then I'll be gone for a while while we fly our RV-7 to Sturgis, Saskatchewan for a little vacation. When we return, I should be good to go for actually writing the book.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Novel Writing Diary: Updates

It's been a while since I've written an update on my writing progress. I noticed when reading a friend's blog recently that writers can hook into a blog hop for the sole purpose of updating each other on that.

If you're interested, check out What's up Wednesday. I decided against it for the time being because blog hops mean spending time reading and commenting on others' blogs. I'm still a bit burned out on blogging since checking out about 1800 blogs in April via the A-Z Challenge.

I've mentioned The Journal 6 a couple of times recently. I still love this tool, and in fact, I spent Monday taking two years' worth of journal posts, that'd been written in Word files, and inputted each entry into their proper date slot in TJ6.

These two years are especially relevant to me, as they were the years where I made the agonizing decision to retire from my position as a children's librarian and the year afterwards. Or close to one year; it'll be a year on August 1.

I was interested in comparing the me that was weighing the pros and cons of retirement ... to the me after having made the decision, but was waiting for retirement ... to the retired me. The watershed day that I made the decision will be etched in my memory forever and ever. It fundamentally changed who I am to myself.  

A year ago, I made a scrapbook called 31 Things that detailed my thoughts and feelings the month prior to my retirement. I want to do the same again this year to show how my thoughts and feelings have changed, and how my life is different now. I needed to read the entries to refresh my memories. I have plenty of fodder for my 31 Things scrapbook, but still need to take pictures and get more selective about topics and then write it all up.

While reading the journal entries, and also while inputting four years' worth of blog posts into TJ6, I discovered that I wrote, on average, 91,000 words each year between my personal journaling and my blog. That was an eye-opener for me. I'm not a frequent blogger, however I do tend to get wordy. As for my journal entries, they're usually written in a personal shorthand--no complete sentences; abbreviated words.

Ninety-one thousand words is equivalent to having written a hefty-sized book each year. No wonder I was struggling to get a novel written/revised. I also discovered that I finished, and then revised, my YA novel no less than four complete times during that two-year period.

Since first completing the YA novel two years ago, I've wanted to start a new project and, indeed, I did do some of the groundwork on it. But I kept going back to the YA novel. I sent it to four editors and an agent, and got a "no" from the agent; no responses at all from three of the editors, and the final editor said she'd like to see anything else I'd written, and that she would look at a revision.

She's since had a baby and left editing.

For two years, I've shuffled between working on the YA manuscript and the new idea, which is an inspirational historical romance. I spent most of this spring on the new idea, but tabled it a month ago when I learned I'd come so close to being a finalist in the Golden Heart contest.

So for the past month, I was working again on the YA manuscript. I believe in the book. In my not-so-humble or unbiased opinion, I feel it's a wonderful book.

But I am sick to death of working on it!

Recently, I entered it in four more RWA contests. Entering contests takes time, because each one has different requirements about total page length and whether or not they want a synopsis. I tweaked every entry to make it end at a hook, which meant shortening or lengthening the total word count of the synopsis each time. Different formats also let you get away with having a lot more words on a page. If you need to include more words, submit it in .RTF format. It makes a surprising difference.

I've decided I will try to enter the eight other July and August RWA contests, but not with the YA manuscript. I'm going to try to work up a synopsis and the first three chapters for my new idea, the inspy historical romance which I began working on again today. Happily, I discovered that though I haven't looked at it for a month, the greater understanding I gained by taking one last look at the YA manuscript also helped me to understand some additional things about this one. So very, very cool that knowledge can be transferred like that.

I also spent a day, yesterday, trolling for new ideas. I want to develop a series for my inspirational romances, and so I was trolling my HOOKS file that I created about a dozen years ago, that contains literally hundreds of ideas for novels. What I did back then was to compile a list of what I call "sweet spot hooks." These are actual log lines of books I would've been interested in reading, and did, in fact, read some of them. From the log lines, I'm twisting and turning the ones that still sound interesting to me, to make them my own. And, glory be, if I might not have understood how to develop and write those stories a dozen years ago, I do now.

And I should. How many books have I written? Ten complete manuscripts. I just counted them. A couple of them, I rewrote three or four times, wherein they morphed into significantly different stories. When that happens, it's as if I'd written a couple of additional books. It's also a sign that I've lost control over my story. None of that, ever again!

I feel like I'm finally, truly getting it. I won't need to spend a year or two, or three or four, writing up my newest idea. Comparatively speaking, it will go swiftly.

I cannot wait to begin writing it, but first, I need to lock down each scene and what needs to be in it, and then write a 40-step outline/synopsis. This helps me, because otherwise, I'm the type that can, and often does, wander in the woods forever in a story.

I also spent a day tweaking my Enneagram Matching project. As I looked at the story ideas from my sweet spot files, I considered the types of character matching that would be appropriate, or inappropriate for each one. It's nice to understand the types of characters that would obviously not work for a given idea, although in many ideas, any number of personality combinations would work. Then it's a matter of deciding which one would make for the most interesting story. Or the one that feels most interesting, and do-able, given my own personality type.

That's what I've been up to in the past week or so.
How about you? What have you been doing? How do you feel about your writing lately?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds and *The Sharkives*

I've been aware of, but haven't been following, literary agent Janet Reid's Query Shark blog. Last week, however, I stumbled across a post saying she'd made the entire blog downloadable for the asking, so I asked.

If you're unaware, Ms. Reid critiques query letters sent to her for that purpose on the blog. I don't know her M.O. for choosing the letters, but if yours is chosen, she gives great advice, as would be expected of someone who reads thousands of queries each year.

The author of the query letter is then invited to revise it two or three times. Each time, Ms. Reid further coaches the author on how to improve it.

She recommends reading the whole kit and kaboodle. I printed up a large chunk, which used up one ream of paper, duplex printed. If I were to print the rest, I'm looking at another 300 sheets of paper, duplex printed. It also used up a laser ink cartridge. (Granted, it was a starter cartridge for our new laser printer.) The reason there's so much data is that the comments are included.

I read through the first 1000 pages and feel I've learned enough that I'm not going to print up the last 600 pages.

Some of my observations:

  • If a large percentage of query letters that agents receive are as bad as these, it's no wonder that agents reject, as they say, 99% of what they receive. Almost all of the letters are simply dreadful, even if the story they're describing seems to have some interesting qualities. 
  • The Sharkives are entertaining to read for Ms. Reid's brilliant, snarky, razor sharp wit and her (im)patience in coaching the author to bring out what their story is really about. Her wit reminds me of my husband's, although her barbs are on a different subject than my husband's would ever be. 
  • In addition to Ms. Reid's observations, the people who comment frequently have some very useful things to add. 
  • The people who comment have also formed a cult following. When they're not critiquing the queries, they're generally shooting the breeze in a highly literate, entertaining manner. 
  • Other times, they're majorly kissing up to Ms. Reid about her brilliant, snarky wit. (And yes, she is brilliant.)

Given that, I suppose it was worth wading through 1000 pages, using up a ream of paper and a laser ink cartridge.

But then something else floated my way via an email from RWA, that is ultimately, I suspect, more useful. Or perhaps both should be consulted in crafting a query.

It's a book by Michael Hauge, Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds. Though his 200-page book is geared toward the face-to-face pitching of scripts to agents and buyers in Hollywood, there's a wealth of information that could be translated into pitching a novel to an agent via a query letter.

My recommendation? Read Michael Hauge first. It takes only a couple of hours to breeze through what he has to say. Then move on to the Sharkives to read about common mistakes made in query letters, and how to improve them.

The principles Ms. Reid expounds are exactly the same as those that Michael Hauge puts forth. The Sharkives have the added benefit of actual, gawd-awful query letters that go through a succession of changes to make them sparkle. Sometimes they never do, because the author's overall writing skills just aren't there yet. Those are the sad ones, because their idea sounds good, but you just know that the novel is written at the same, non-publishable level as the query letter.

Other times, and rather infrequently, even after three or four revisions, Ms. Reid will declare of the letter, "By George, I think you've got it." And then everyone does a lot of high-fiving, and congratulating of the author.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Seven Reasons to love The Journal 6 for blogging and everything else in your life

There are far more than seven reasons to love The Journal 6, but I wanted to show you just a few. Being a former librarian, the need to be organized is an overriding desire in my life.

I love to blog, but have always wished there was a streamlined, user-friendly way to organize my thoughts. Now, I've finally found one in TJ6. I can organize not only my blog, but many other things as well.

1. The first screen shot on the right shows how I can now see a calendar and the date and title of every blog post I've done in the past four years. I find this far more valuable, and useful, than the labels in Blogger. However, each post is also cross-referenced with labels, should I want to look at my posts from a different vantage point, which I'll show you in another screen shot.

2. The second screen shot shows a monthly calendar of the title of every blog post uploaded during that month. I love the visual, at-a-glance feel of this.

3. The third screen shot, at right, I will admit, isn't particularly useful, but if I want to see how often I posted, or to notice posting patterns, this shows every post I did over an entire year. If I click on a date, it will take me to that day's post (as does the first calendar, above).

4. The fourth screen shot shows one of several calendar trees I've created. I'm currently importing blog post ideas that'd been stored in Windows Explorer for the past couple of years. There are hundreds of them, as well as hundreds of possible images that coordinate with post ideas. The image on the right shows the images I've collected and have categorized under the title of "writing images."

If or when I need to ramp up my blogging frequency (meaning, if or when I sell a book), it will be completely doable for me, and fairly easily. Most of the post ideas cover the broad topics of "How to Write" and "How to Succeed." I've spent thousands of dollars, and had a lot of education in how to succeed, and how to be a coach (via Landmark Education); I can speak with authority on this. Another viable avenue would be to write more about personality types, however I haven't, as yet, collected ideas for that. I'll see what I feel like doing when the time comes. I'll probably do a bit of all three broad categories.

5. The fifth screen shot shows, not the blog, but simply my daily calendar/journal in which I write my thoughts and cross-reference to To-Do lists.

Calendar areas of the journal such as this and #1 are expandable by as many different types of calendars as you want to keep. Or, you can keep everything in a single calendar. I like separating my life from my blog.

The calendar will also alert you as to appointments, birthdays, and so on, just like any interactive calendar.

If you click on the picture to expand it, top right corner you'll see a dropdown box that says "No Tags." Tags are the same as Labels in Blogger. I have probably a hundred tags that I can use to label and cross-reference everything I put into TJ6. So when I want to find something in particular across all of my TJ6, I just search by tag.

6. The sixth screen shot shows the various categories I've created, so far, for TJ6. I have my blog and my daily journal; To-Do lists; blog post ideas; blog images; books read and/or reviewed; contest entries.

There's also what I call my Holding Tank, where I dump stuff that will then be sorted into other categories as time permits. Currently, I'm planning to retrofit my daily journal, meaning I'm going to insert journal entries from the past two years (which I've been keeping in a Word file) into it.

This, as everything in TJ6, is as expandable as you want it to be.

You can control how you want the journal to look. Like any word processor, you can fiddle with fonts and colors and so on.

I had mentioned in a previous post that I can write a blog post in TJ6 and upload it to Blogger directly from TJ6. This is true, but with one caveat: I need to upload images from the Blogger platform. Apparently if you use Wordpress, the image will be uploaded as well as the rest of the post. Still, I don't find this to be much of a problem. I upload the post, then immediately go to Blogger and upload the image.

7. This is another example of reason #4, but instead of showing how I organize blogging ideas or images, it's a screen shot of some of the cover images of the 300 e-books I have on my Ipad. I've also organized the books into about 30 categories, which are in lists, however looking at titles is a more interesting way for me to remember, sometimes, what I want to read next, and I have a record of all of the images in TJ6 for handy reference.

So, enough about my cool new software tool. Does TJ6 look like something that would be useful to you? Do you use something similar? If so, what software works for you?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Sometimes it's nice to own a couple of Kenworths

I've been feeling disconnected to my blog and to my writing over the past few days. Here's why ...

Yesterday, I spent 3 hours building (re-building) a brick retaining wall on the back patio. The wall has undergone some changes over the years. It started out as 12' long, reaching only to the spiral stairway that came off the deck. A few years later, we added another 12' beyond the stairway.

Unfortunately, the access to the septic tank is located in the embankment that the retaining wall holds back. 

Every five years when the septic tank needs to be pumped, the shrubs get torn out; the wall gets dismantled; the bank gets dug out with our bucket tractor--all due to the fact that the lids to the tank (were) 4' underground in the 6' total embankment depth. What a headache! With constant replanting, the embankment looked sparse, then great, and then horrible, over and over again in the 30+ years we've lived here.

Finally, I convinced hubby that something's got to change. 
I called Roto-Rooter and asked them to bring out some taller culverts when they came to pump the tank. 

After getting the septic tank pumped yesterday, this time, we raised the culverts over the tank, so that hubby will need to dig down only 2' to get to them. He could probably even do it by using only a shovel. Next time, there will be no need to rip out the wall, scoop out all the dirt, and so on. I've even talked him into terracing the bank, which will take some work, but not an incredible amount.

Those bricks are heavy! I'd estimate 15-20 pounds each. But it's done now, and so we can start filling the dirt in again, and creating the terrace.

But that's only part of what needs to be done. For the past three years, we haven't had a deck. Not that we ever used it much. My son-in-law doesn't remember us ever using it, and he's been in the family for 16 years. He's wondering why we want to build a new one. For one thing, there's a new, $1200 sliding glass door that opens to a 10' drop-off. Pretty good reason to build one.  

But also, as I said to him yesterday, when I asked him if he wanted to build the deck, "Dad and I are getting older. I'm retired. It's possible that we (or at least me, if not Dad), might  want to sit outside and read, or maybe want to eat outside, sometimes."

That we seldom sit outside might seem odd to suburban or city dwellers. I think it's because hubby doesn't see any particular draw to it. He's a farmer, and during three seasons of the year, farmers spend most of their time outdoors to begin with, so why spend more? For me, it was because I worked full time and was seldom home. When I was at home, there were too many other things that needed to be done, to consider sitting outdoors for a few minutes.

So the big project this week (and in the coming weeks) is outdoor work. I already replanted the 30' x 4' flowerbed that runs along the north side of the house. It's been a mess for the past two years, since hubby re-roofed the house, and then last year, when we put in all new windows and new siding.

I need to design the new deck. It's probably going to be just a simple deck with a pergola and some retractable shades that can add shade to the pergola's "roof," as well as to the West and East sides of the deck. Sun exposure was another reason our former deck was never used. With a southern exposure, it was never cool or shady, however there was shade on the patio beneath the deck.

Accompanying that, I'll be pushing some dirt around to create the dual terrace on the newly redesigned embankment. We'll need to rent a packer to pack the dirt down, so that I can build a second retaining wall. Then, next summer, I'll plant perennials. Or maybe annuals. I might start growing plants from seeds in the basement, under grow lights, like I did many years ago. It might seem hard to imagine, but I used to spend 20 hours/week gardening. But then I realized I wasn't making any money at it, and so I decided to pursue full time employment instead.

Driving home from Lewiston the other day, I was marveling at how sunny and warm it was. The hillsides look so green and beautiful. For the first time in a dozen years, I will get to enjoy my summer!!!! For the first time in a dozen years, I won't be cooped up in a library all day long, 12 months of the year.

Now, I've finally earned the freedom to enjoy my summers again. Even if it means being up to my elbows in dirt.

I'll give you my writing update in the next post. Yes, I actually did make a tad bit of progress on that front over the past week.

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