Monday, December 29, 2014

Writing Goals for 2015

By this time next week we will be in a new year, with many goals, including writing goals for 2015.
First off, Happy New Year!
I’m approaching goals a little differently this year. I’m using the SMART system. That means, each goal is SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ACHIEVABLE, RESULTS-ORIENTED AND TIME-BOUND.
There are countless web pages that define SMART goals. If you’re interested, here’s an excellent SMART goal description. I’ve always set goals for myself; it’s an annual tradition for most people, eh? And I’ve always been good at the SMAR.
But I tend to fall down on the TIME-BOUND aspect of it. So this year, I am building deadlines into my goals. It should make a difference. 
Here are my WRITING goals for 2015
Write one book
Draft another book
Read one novel each week
Enter all relevant contests with my completed manuscript and, as the new book gets written, begin entering it in relevant contests
Write one blog post each week
Find an agent by June. Barring that, send my manuscript directly to the publisher and line I am targeting 
That’s all. I think because the list is modest, it should also be achievable, and especially since I built time-bound aspect into it, although it’s not shown on this page. 
What goals, writing or otherwise, have you set for 2015?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Harvest at 110 degrees

If you’ve ever heard about the cushy life of farmers who harvest their fields from the air-conditioned cabs of their combines, and truck drivers doing the same, well, it might be true for BIG farmers, but for average Joes like us, the American Small Farmer, it’s hardly true at all.
Yes cabs of our very old combines are air-conditioned. But … these cabs are designed like mini-glass greenhouses to begin with. If they weren’t air-conditioned, the combine driver would literally fry to death.
Frequently, it’s necessary to open the door a crack, because the outside air IS actually cooler. But then the dust blows in. (Before cabs, farmers used to get emphysema from all the dust.)
If the air-conditioning is working well, it can only keep the inside of the cabs about ten degrees cooler than the outside air. So yesterday, it was 90 degrees in those tiny little glass boxes.
But the truck drivers have it worse. Yesterday, we had a skeleton crew. Our older truck driver, Ken, is out for the rest of the season, due to the fact that he thinks he may be suffering from lyme disease. (He hunts bears in Michigan every fall, which is where he may’ve contracted it. We have no lyme-bearing tics in this area.) Our daughter with the three children also took the day off (and me! not babysitting her kids and puppy).
The truck-driving crew was down to Rosanna and our 21-year-old nephew, Jens. Fortunately, we were harvesting at the River Ranch, where we have home storage (grain bins) and it wasn’t necessary to truck the wheat more than a mile or so. Home storage means that fewer truck drivers are needed to keep up with the output of the combines. Assuming both combines are running. Very often, one or both of them is broke down.
Back to harvesting at 110 degrees: Rosanna drives the Kenworth, which is does not have air-conditioning at all. But the air-conditioning in the other trucks is faulty at best. 
Poor Rosanna, with the heat coming off the truck’s enormous, (Cummins) Diesel engine all day long, the inside of her cab was about 110 degrees
She complained about it, but not as much as you might think. She is a real trooper out in the harvest field, and an excellent semi-driver.
What do you do when you’re working in that kind of heat? 
  • You drink, literally, a gallon of water throughout the day. 
  • And you hop inside your dad’s “air-conditioned cab” whenever possible, to enjoy the mere 90-degree heat. 
  • You also confiscate every lunchbox ice pack that you can find–your own, your dad’s, your brother’s–and press it against your overheated body until the ice in the ice packs melts. 
  • Then you get out the towels you had soaked in water and press them against your skin. The towels are wet, but unfortunately, they’re not cool. 
  • You look forward to when it’s time to unload your truck, so you can get out and stand by the auger at the grain bins and watch while the wheat unloads. (You also need to be proficient at getting your truck in exactly the right spot, running and manipulating a 60′ auger. Rosanna can do it!)
So that’s what harvesting at 110 degrees was like yesterday. Rosanna’s biggest beef was that a half-dozen photographers from Seattle (or somewhere) had discovered the River Ranch Road and were there, taking pictures of the incredible views. But also of the trucks as they passed by them on the dusty, single-lane, sometimes winding road. I guess they were taking pictures of the “wildlife” (combine/truck drivers) in their natural habitat. 
Oh, and Rosanna had never seen the GeoCache that someone had planted behind a tree ten years ago. She opened it up and studied its contents. Unfortunately, there was tree sap all over the openers, and so her hands got pretty sticky.
The dust, the heat, the sap … her energy was still quite sapped (pun intended) this morning as she headed off for work.
But we called in reinforcements … her sister will be out by 11:00 am, and I will be babysitting again … 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Of Harvest, Gardens, Grandkids and Puppies

For our crew, which includes two combine drivers (husband and son) and three or four truck drivers, harvest so far’s been about keeping the combines and trucks running so that the grain can be cut and taken to storage. That’s what it’s always about.
This year, there’s been so many combine breakdowns that if the crop yields are good enough, and our cash flow warrants it, it’s time to upgrade to a newer combine sometime before harvest next year. We’re driving combines that are 20 and 35 years old, and metal fatigue is setting in big time. At least one of the combines breaks down just about every day. What a headache, and hours’ worth of lost production time.
For me this year, harvest has been about babysitting three of our grandchildren while their mother (our daughter) drives one of the semis. Our other daughter is also a truck driver, as well as our nephew and Ken, a retired truck driver who is no relation to us. It is a house full, with MaryAnn and her kids camping out at night on the sofas in the living room and a queen-sized air mattress that sits between the sofa and the TV. Our other daughter has her own bedroom in the basement, as she is living with us for a few months. 

Besides babysitting the kids, I’ve been taking care of the kids’ 6-week old puppy, Ruby, who is a Boston Terrier/Boxer mix. (Well, that was how old she was when harvest started. Now she’s 8 weeks old, and by the time harvest is over, she’ll be 9 weeks old.) The puppy loves and wants to make friends with our cat, but the cat is afraid of the puppy, so the cat hides out most of the time, outside, or on the third floor, or in the basement. 
The puppy is adorable, simply adorable, but I also discovered that she is SUCH A DOG!
Whenever I take her outside to pee, her nose zeros in on all the booby traps in our yard, namely dead mice that the cat caught and left under the shrubs; cat poo; dried up bird carcasses–all of which the puppy has chowed down on. Disgusting!
So when the puppy comes inside, she gets her mouth cleansed with pieces of cooked chicken, pork chops, whatever–and, nonetheless, I warned the kids not to let puppy lick their faces. Oops, looks like puppy’s about ready to lick Felicia’s face. 

Besides the wheat, garbanzos and barley being ripe, so are our gardens. We have two–a traditional field garden and a raised-bed garden, which was something new this year. The raised beds are so overflowing with produce (onions, beets, bush beans, lettuce and carrots), they look like Chia Pets. 

My flowers are also pretty. The rose on the deck is done blooming, but you can’t beat annuals to keep flowering throughout summer until frost. 
I’ll be babysitting most of next week too. It’s been fun (and exhausting) to be “mommy” again. The grandkids have taken to calling me “Mom–I mean, Grandma …” 
With luck, my daughter will get a day off next week and so will I. When that happens, I plan to drive out to the River Ranch and ride with my husband in his combine for a couple of hours … assuming it’s he’s not standing outside of it, welding up a huge crack in the metal or some other annoyance. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Weekly Update

A to Z Challenge: Three more letters to go. My husband's probably had more fun reading my entries than anyone, and he's had only one criticism of what I've written.

He says our airplane does not climb at a rate of 1000 feet/minute, but on average, 1500 feet/min. It depends on several factors, one of them being the weight of the load it's carrying. If he's in it alone, it will climb at 2000 feet/minute.

Writing: I've not done any writing, and I won't for a couple more weeks. Been busy helping move farm machinery, as well as hosting a family Easter gathering last weekend. It meant several days' worth of housecleaning and other preps.

I've also been very involved in setting up a self-hosted WordPress website. I chose a premium theme--Chameleon, part of the Elegant Themes package. It's a minimalist theme that looks quiet and beautiful. When it's fully functional, it will be like switching from a Model T (blogger) to a ferrari (WordPress). If you ever look under the hood of a self-hosted, premium WordPress site, you'll see what I mean.

But I must say, I have been gnashing my teeth over setting it up. They say it's so easy. After all, something like 30,000 plugins have been developed for WordPress. But it's not been easy for me. Some plugins have caused my site to crash. Others work for awhile and then start malfunctioning. The theme itself is buggy and frustrating. I've given up on creating a gallery page.

Then there are the 1001 details to attend to, not to mention the upcoming, huge and scary task of migrating my Blogger site to WordPress.

I've always felt clever enough to get the job done, and I will stay with this until it's the way I want it. But there's been more than one afternoon recently--more like every afternoon--when I've walked away from the computer feeling frustrated and discouraged. By God's grace, I'll have it all figured out in another 2-3 weeks.

Reading: I'm reading and judging six books for ACFW's Carol Award. These books were all published by traditional inspirational publishers in 2013.

The only other reading I've been doing, and there's been a lot of it, is WordPress tutorials, tips and tricks. And they, I've found, aren't always reliable.

That sums up my week. How was your week, reading, writing, or otherwise?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Weekly Writing and Life Update

My week started normally.

Regarding writing, after having taken so many notes about the 6,000 word section that had yet to be written, I was busting through it on Monday and Tuesday. I have about 2500 words left to write, although most of the segments slated to be a single page are now about two pages. So instead of ending up with 6,000 words, I'll have about 12,000.

Because I'm working within a strict word count, that will require studying my pacing to see what can be cut earlier on. I'm thinking that what I had slated to happen at half actually happens about 10 pages later than that at this point. I can probably find some bloat in one other section as well.


But then on Tuesday evening, our world fell apart. We had a family emergency that was truly a matter of life and death. The person involved was air lifted to a hospital in Spokane and in critical condition for two days. I do not want to talk about it on so public a venue as my blog. I will say that the person involved will recover fully. Praise God for that.  

Needless to say, I did not attend the Inland Northwest Christian Writers Conference, which I had been planning to attend on Friday and Saturday. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

An Insanely Useful Way to Develop Character Actions ... and a Weekly Writing Update

I was happily chugging along, revising in the last quarter of my book when I discovered brief notes for 24 pages (6000 words) that I had forgotten to write in the first draft. It required two full writing days' worth of thought to decide how to write those scenes. I now have 5735 words' worth of notes/ideas that I will use when I write the scenes, and writing them should be a snap. Does it seem odd that my notes are almost as long as the final scenes will be? It happened because of this statement (which writers need to be asking themselves constantly):


I've read over the years that the first two or three ideas that pop into our heads are almost always not very good. They're stale. Writers have suggested that the remedy is to list up to ten additional ideas, and to select from the best.

I do that, but in a different way, I suspect, than anyone on the planet.

For example, in one of the unwritten scenes, the hero's mother (antagonistic character) must convince the hero to take her to visit her friend (who is the same age as the hero) who Mother had tried to set up with her son earlier in the book. He's in love with someone else at this point, although they've (temporarily!) broken up, thus he has no interest in his mother's friend. It will take some doing on her part to convince him. Her scene goal is to convince him. His scene goal is to resist ... all in one page. (This is really only a small movement in a larger scene.)

Prior to the scene's opening, he'd gone down a rung or two of emotional health, due to the breakup. Briefly and crudely put, he is unhappy when the scene begins.

Prior to the scene's opening, his mother's gone up a rung or two of emotional health because of the breakup. She'd been trying to keep John and Rose apart from the beginning. Briefly and crudely put, she is happy when the scene begins.

I could have each character exhibit the attitudes and behaviors of "happiness" or "unhappiness" according to their Enneagram personality styles. John is Style 1. Mother is Style 2. Each style experiences the attitudes and behaviors of "happiness" and "unhappiness" in very different ways. They also behave in highly different ways while trying to get what they want.

So, they could react according to their Enneagram style, at a default level of emotional health. The default level for all Enneagram types is Level 4. Levels of emotional health range from Level 1 being so emotionally healthy, you're godlike, all the way down to Level 9, when you are so emotionally unhealthy, you are psychotic and possibly criminal or suicidal.

Usually, people move only a notch or two above or below the default level in their lifetimes, depending on their circumstances. My people, except for the arch-villain, aren't that emotionally unhealthy. John, who is unhappy, has dropped to Level 5. Mother, who is happy, has risen to Level 3 within their types.

But behaving according to their Enneagram style is not what is needed at this stage of the book. This final quarter is where character transformation, which has been happening in dribs and drabs all along, now picks up speed. Behaving according to their types and even employing Levels of Emotional Health is not going to cut it. When a character always behaves according to type, they may've gotten a little healthier or unhealthier emotionally, but their personality still hasn't changed AT ALL.

Almost all of us act like robots 99% of the time, as we fall back on familiar attitudes and ways of behaving. Think of the movie Groundhog's Day, and you'll understand what I mean.

So, if I want to come up with fresh ideas for what can happen in the scene, I need to explore other more interesting but still believable behavioral options for my characters. Some options will work better and be more likely than others, but all are possible. 

I can have John's attitudes and behaviors be that of either of his Enneagram wing styles. In his case, he could behave like a Style 9 or a Style 2. Or, he could behave according to his "integrating" style, which would happen if he were feeling really great, which is Style 7. Or, he could behave according to his "disintegrating" style, which he would default to if he were feeling really bad. In John's case, it's Style 4. Because he's feeling unhappy, I'll bump him down to Level 5 of emotional health in each style.

His mother's choices are to employ the attitudes and behaviors of Enneagram styles 1,2,3,4 or 8. Because she's feeling good, I'll bump her up to Level 3 of emotional health in each style.

Then I get out my Riso-Hudson Levels of Development charts and see what the attitudes and behaviors would be for all of the listed possibilities. The charts show the attitudes and behaviors of each enneagram style at each of the nine levels of emotional health/development from emotionally healthy to emotionally unhealthy.

After comparing the varieties of how they could behave, I select the attitude and behavior possibilities that would work best, and be most interesting, for the particular scene I'm working on.

It's almost as if I'm using a slide rule, isn't it? It sounds ridiculously left-brained and like way too much work, doesn't it? It sounds like I've reduced my characters to concepts, rather than living, breathing people, doesn't it?

But wait a minute. They are only concepts. Can a book, even a long one, ever capture ever facet of a human being? Heck no. We capture only a limited spectrum of possible attitudes and behaviors.

And right-brained thinking does indeed come to play, when I translate the descriptions of these attitudes and behaviors into actual behaviors. What does someone who is feeling melancholy, misunderstood DO? He withdraws, he broods, he acts touchy and temperamental.

The easiest way to write a scene is to "wing it" and have my characters reacting according to how I would feel, and what I would do in that situation. That takes no work at all.

But if I were to do that, I would come up with a seriously bland, unimaginative book. If sent to an editor or to a contest judge, the terminology they might jot next to a bland passage is, "dig deeper."

It's another way of saying, "think up ten ideas about what the character could do now, and throw out the first three or four ... or eight or nine."

That's what I'm doing when I go to all the trouble with the Enneagram Levels of Development Charts. This tool enables my imagination to "dig deeper."

It's time-consuming, but I always come up with ideas that surprise and delight me, that I would not imagine, had I not painstakingly used this information. It's my genie in a bottle, my magic dust.

Anyway, that's how I come up with my list of better ideas for writing a scene than if I were to use the first idea that popped into my head, and an insanely useful way to develop character actions.

So I'm working at completing those 6000 words, and then I'm pretty much done with my first-round revision. I'll let the manuscript cool for a couple of weeks, and then I'll do what I hope will be a final pass before taking the next step. It it's a "go," that means looking for an agent.

Here's what I'll be doing at the end of the week:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Using the Three-Act Structure for Scenes ... and a weekly writing update

Although I’ve always used the classic three-act structure in plotting my novels, I began using it recently for scene revision. I’d read (on occasion over the years) that scenes should have that structure, but I’d never paid much attention to it. After all, a scene is usually only 4-8 pages long, so why go to all the trouble?

I’ve discovered it’s not that much trouble. It's terribly interesting. And it often improves the scene dramatically. (If it doesn't improve it, it's only because the scene was sound to begin with.) Worth the time? Heck yes. It makes for excellent scene structure, which needs to be achieved in the revision stage. 

You’re probably all familiar with the classic, three-act structure, which applies to your overarching plot:

OH, so I said in the chart that I wasn't going to explain the pinch points, but I probably should. They are actually the 1/8 segments between quarter and half, and again between half and black. In book length, important things happen there, but in scene length, unless I'm writing a 2000 word scene, I ignore the pinch points.

I'm talking about scene revision, so that's all I'll say about the pinch points in this post. 


When I do a first draft of a scene, prior to writing it, I always sketch out the character’s goal and the antagonist’s goal, and the various moves the character will make to achieve it, and the moves the antagonist will make to block it. I generally know the “disaster” at the end, but who can ever say how a scene will actually play out, until the actors start playing it? My characters always surprise me, which is what keeps writing so engaging and fun. I use the three-act structure for my scene, but lightly at this point.

Once the book is written, and I am revising my first draft, I have discovered that if I drop each scene into the structure table (above, with the explanations stripped out ;) ), I can spot weaknesses immediately

For example, I tend to dump too much introspection into my scene beginnings, between the first word and the inciting incident (where the scene really gets rolling). If I’m writing a 1000 word scene, that means the beginning part should weigh in at around 125 words, or my scene will automatically be paced too slow.
There are two solutions:
  1. Break up the introspection and move it down in the scene as appropriate.
  2. Or if it’s a major scene (2000 words long, with higher stakes), it could mean that I should’ve written what’s known as a scene sequel between the last major scene and this one, to transition into this, so it can begin without lengthy explanations.
Another problem I have is that I tend to rush things in general. I tend not to flesh out my scenes enough. Scenes should rarely be less than 1000 words, or you run the risk of having the book feel choppy, and especially if you’re writing in dual or multiple viewpoints. In cases where I’ve written only 650-750 words, I put what I’ve written into appropriate slots in the table. Immediately, I see the areas that need to be fleshed out, to bring the total to 1000-1200 words.

Each 1/8 segment is important, with important functions that need to happen within it. It’s very important for the reader to feel the emotion building throughout the scene, but perhaps most important in the segment leading to the black moment. If I’ve found I’ve written only 50 words in that segment, that’s a huge red flag. In a 1000 word scene, I should devote around 125 words to it. If it’s a 2000 word scene, I need to devote a full page.

The segment after the black moment is also important, but for different reasons. It’s where the character decides what to do, finally, in this particular scene, to achieve her goal. Introspection fits nicely in this segment. If I’ve written 10 words, the reader won't fully understand why she made this particular decision. It's where the Stimulus-Response unit needs to be presented in full. Throughout the scene, we've had countless S-R units. Often, a response doesn't need a full package showing. (Response = feelings, thoughts, actions, speech--in that order.) Frequently, if the feeling or thought is well-understood by the reader without showing it, it can be skipped and only the action or speech response shown. But not in this segment. In a well-shaped, 1000 word scene, it should weigh in around 125 words. Or if it's a 2000 word scene, a full page. 

Anyway, since I’ve begun using the three-act structure to revise my scenes, they have greatly improved. They're both tighter and fuller, more understandable, and more complete.

Do you use the three-act structure to plot or revise your scenes? If not, what method works best for you?


OH, and I said I would have a weekly writing update. I am in the midst of the black moment, and will begin revision on the final quarter by tomorrow. 

Monday, March 03, 2014

Writing Moods and a Weekly Update

I’ve been more aware of my moods lately than usual. Maybe it’s because winter is dragging on. It’s nice that writing takes my mind off the snow, grayness and fog, but the moods still manage to attach themselves to the writing.

Unless the moods have nothing to do with the weather, and everything to do with writing. Might that be?

Here’s a typical range of moods:
  • When it’s time to start writing in the morning: I read at the day’s planned revising/editing and feel at sea (i.e. sick) about how rough the draft is, and how many hours it will take today to sculpt the scenes into something better.  
  • Then as I’m in the flow, being the characters, I want to cry for my heroine. I’m just past the halfway mark, approaching the black moment where all will appear lost for her. It’s a rough patch for her and for me to get through, and it will get worse before it gets better. It will probably be another two weeks before I can give her a happy ending. And before my own sadness for her ends, darn.  
  • Later in the afternoon, as my brain tires, my mood takes another dip. At 2:00 pm, I look at the clock and wonder how many more hours it will be before I’ve completed the day’s scenes to my satisfaction. If I’m not done by 4:00 pm, I throw in the towel, regardless. Writing is supposed to bring us joy, right? We shouldn’t work until we are abusing ourselves instead. I understand it when people say they don't like to write, but they like having written.   
  • Fortunately, whether I declare I’m finished at 4:00 pm, or whether I finish before that—like today, when I finished at 1:30 pm—the forces tamping down on my mood lift immediately. My brain is tired, but I reward myself with of a cup of tea and a snack. And then I to go to my scrapbooking room for some further mood lifting. The moment I walk into the room, I feel a tangible lift, thank goodness. 

So that’s my writing day via moods. Does writing make you moody? What do your moods look like?

  • Scrapbooking: Only three more double-page layouts, and I am done with all four scrapbooks for 2013. Woohoo!  If I can keep up with 2014 as it happens, I should be able to do at least one other year of the many, many years left to scrapbook.
  • Social
  • On Friday, with me desperately needing to get out of the house, hubby and I went to a home and garden show in Spokane with some friends and then ate dinner at a wonderful German restaurant. My chicken cordon bleu was tender and delicious. Hubby’s black forest cake, of which I stole three bites, was out of this world. Even the decaf coffee was wonderful, imagine that.   
  • On Saturday, my daughter brought her kids over for dinner and a movie while her hubby was busy being an exhibitor at the home show. 
  • On Sunday, hubby and I enjoyed our tradition of watching the Academy Awards . We watched them together for the first time the year our oldest daughter was born. That was in 1975, and we watched it while sitting together on my hospital bed, after having given birth to her. That’s how long this tradition’s been going on! Really enjoyed how funny Ellen DeGeneres is. 
  • WRITING: I entered ACFW’s Genesis contest this morning. As each contest asks for different things, the notable differences about this one was in asking for a media contact as well as a high-resolution picture of me. I had hoped a selfie I took a few weeks ago would work, but no.

    So I had hubby take another one, and here is the goofy farmer’s wife (er, writer)  at the required 300 ppi resolution. I was rather frustrated about having to have my picture taken, but hubby's usually able to lift my mood. At least a little. For a while. Too bad I chopped off my bangs a couple of days ago.
  • After spending all morning preparing my submission and getting my picture taken (well, that part took only a click of a camera), part of me is saying that I should clean my messy office.
  • Another part of me is saying, “Pfft. You deserve a reward. For goodness sake, take one.”
  • So I’m going now to scrapbook.

How was your week, reading, writing or otherwise?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Writing and Life Update

I didn't do a writing update last week, so this week, I’m posting two weeks’ worth of writing/life updates ... and doing it via a (limited capacity) modem. We've been without our regular internet service now four four days ... while the owner of the internet provider is in McCall, Idaho ... probably skiing. It will be nice when he returns and fixes it, so we can have reliable, 24/7 internet again!

Hubby was out of town to Portland and then to Sacramento for a total of eight days over the past two weeks. During that time, I did what most wives do, I suspect—I kept no hours, and had no regular mealtimes! Routines? Wiped off the slate.

I stayed up waaaay past midnight. Got up at the crack of dawn. Was up for two or more hours each day before finally getting around to making my breakfast. Ate lunch and dinner when the spirit moved me. Ate simpler meals, although even when he’s home, I am by no means a gourmet cook. I bought a roasted chicken, which served me well for lunch and dinner for two full days. 

Projects: During his absence, I worked on, or completed, numerous writing-related tasks that’d been on a back burner for months. They’d been on a mental to-do list, and got checked off a mental to-do list. I didn’t complete everything—that would probably take a month or more—but I was happy to make some progress in that realm. 

As to writing, when I was reaching the halfway point of my first revision, I realized I didn’t have a super-solid handle on where my lead characters were emotionally. External plot-wise? No problem. I write simple plots. Internal plot-wise?—Well, I decided I needed to go back to the beginning and do a second revision. The second revision helped to further deepen the story, as well as give me the necessary grounding I needed.

Words were replaced, but there was no net gain or loss in word count. After the way I was ripping words out in some places and adding them in, in others, that came as a surprise to me. In most scenes, the revisions were fairly subtle, more like editing than true revision. The image below shows, on the left, the first revision of a particular scene, and on the right, the second (current) revision. (I love doing this in Scrivener, because I can do a true, side-by-side comparison. 

I've now begun to tackle the first revision of the second half of the first draft. (That was a mouthful!)

Other activities:

Babysitting: When both of my kids needed a babysitter on Saturday, I volunteered to take all five grandkids to a movie. Hubby thought I was nuts. I asked him if he wanted to help. He said no, and urged me to make some changes.

But heck, I'm a former children's librarian. I'm used to wielding 40-60-sometimes even 100 running and screaming kids at Summer Reading programs inside the library, and sometimes to great peril. (Anytime it involved glitter, glue, or paint, look out!--If it was paint, I always took it outdoors.)

I figured I could handle my own five grandkids from four to twelve years old, and I did just fine, thank-you very much. My oldest granddaughter was a great help, especially since the theater was packed out, kids running around everywhere, and not a single extra seat. We went to Jamms afterwards and spent a hefty $27.00 on frozen yogurt, but the kids were thrilled for the treat. (My daughter seldom lets her kids have sugar or gluten.)

Reading:  Still working on Wheat Belly from time-to-time. Most of the rest of my reading was in chipping away at those 299 blog posts I'd saved to Pocket, printed, and tucked into a thick three-ring binder. Still a lot to read there ...

How was your week, reading, writing, or otherwise?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What's your Writing Routine? Here's Mine ... and Weekly Update

For all of us, I suspect that our writing routines change as our lives change. I am finally, fully in a place where I can spend as much (or as little) time on my writing as the mood strikes me, and that is a very good place to be! We're still having winter here, as evidenced by the picture below. That's how farmers shovel the snow off their driveway, LOL.

Those eleven years when I worked 25 miles from home, I disliked days like these. It meant hubby needed to plow me out of the driveway, and then, frequently, plow the county road we live on, the half-mile distance to the highway. Frequently, the highway would be a mess as well. Sometimes, conditions were so bad, I had to call in and say I couldn't get to work--which meant I had to use a day, or days, of my oh-so-precious and very limited annual leave. Bummers. (Get out the hankies and violins.) Again, LOL.

Now, I get up in the morning, have a leisurely breakfast, spend up to an hour reading blogs while tending to personal hygiene and getting dressed. Then I head to the basement to write. The basement is usually chilly, as we don't heat it unless we're spending time in it. So I fire up the pellet stove and pull out a packet of Little Hotties Hand Warmers, shake them and tuck them into the pockets of my flannel. Even when the basement's warm, cold air still seeps through the leaky double doors near my treadmill, so it feels good to tuck my hands in my pockets from time-to-time and warm my fingers while pondering my story. In all, it's still much, much warmer than my office when I worked in a Carnegie Library built of cinder blocks in 1906.  
I set my treadmill to 1.0-1.5, and away I go. That's very slow--slow enough to write at my computer. If I were jogging and not writing, I would set it from 3.5-4.5, spending most of my time at 3.8-4.2, and jog for up to an hour. 

My treadmill desk is the best thing that's happened to my winter writing routine. Last winter, my first winter as someone who was pursuing writing as a job, I never once went down to the cold, cold basement. Instead, I sat for long hours, sitting while writing, and getting no other exercise, and paid a price. 

I didn't know then that I was/am a diabetic, and I need to exercise almost daily to help keep my body from becoming more and more insulin resistant. For the uninformed, insulin resistance is bad news. 

I work for a minimum of 90 minutes, and sometimes up to three hours at the treadmill desk before moving on to something else. By that time, my brain is exhausted from the intense concentration required to write. It's time to be kind to my brain and give it a rest.   

When it's time to move on, I generally move around the corner and into my scrapbooking room, where I spend 30 minutes to an hour before going upstairs to fix lunch. It's an excellent mental break, and much-needed creative one. ('Funny, but writing feels far too mental for me for it to "feel" creative, although of course it is.)

I never feel more alive, as the saying goes, than when I am scrapbooking. In other words, I am never more present than when I am pondering a layout, its colors and patterns, its journaling and so on. Maybe the creative difference between writing and scrapbooking is that with scrapbooking, I can literally put my fingers on, and visually see (rather than mentally seeing) the story that is being created on the page.

As to why I am more present while scrapbooking, as opposed to writing--can't answer that question now. I need to think about it.

If the day's business allows it (frequently there are errands to run, other tasks to tend to), I try to spend another hour or two at my writing in the afternoon. That writing is done in my office on the third floor, sitting at my desk.

In the spring, my routine will probably change. I'm so looking forward to being able to jog outdoors again, which might eliminate the writing/walking at the treadmill. Or maybe not. Time will tell.

In other news, I discovered I didn't do quite so badly, after all, in the contest that I thought I had bungled. As a finalist, I had been given a one-week opportunity to revise and resubmit before it was sent on to an agent and an editor.

I made changes suggested by judges and then resubmitted it. Unfortunately, in my haste to make the changes, I discovered when I re-read it later that it was riddled with typos and other problems. I have no doubt that it counted against me greatly, however I still managed to tie for third place, I discovered a few days ago.

There is so much to be learned about your entry, and your personal writing behaviors, by entering contests. I highly recommend it. 

The editor who read it was David Long, from Bethany House. The agent was Laura Bradford, of Bradford Literary. The scores they gave me weren't as bad as I had expected, but neither asked to see more. Laura Bradford gave me a very good tip, which I am working on now. She liked the story, the set-up, the characters, and wanted to know where the story would go next, but said I need to work on my voice to make it more distinctive.

On looking over what I wrote, I couldn't agree more, and am working on that now. My details tend to be vague; I'm making them more specific. As they say, God is in the details.

So that's my writing routine, and some news about my writing journey.


What I've been reading: 

Journey of Hope by Debbie Kaufman is a historical romance and somewhat of an African Queen story, but with an inspirational twist. It's wonderful!

Wheat Belly by William Davis came out in 2011, but I'm only now getting around to reading it. Downloaded it to my Kindle yesterday after seeing when I was in Costco that it's in its 38th printing! Holy moly. I've read several other books that deal with the popular topic, the most prominent one being Grain Brain, which came out a couple years after Wheat Belly. I don't know if wheat is terrible for everyone, as the authors of books on this topic contend, but it is definitely bad for people with gluten intolerance and diabetes--I know that for a fact, as hubby and I are gluten intolerant (him) and diabetic (me). When he eats wheat, he gets leg pains and headaches. For diabetics, all carbohydrates result in an increase in blood sugar, but wheat apparently raises it even more than simple table sugar. Ugly.

Awareness by Anthony deMello is a book on mysticism by deceased Jesuit Anthony deMello. Someone on a blog post that I was reading recommended deMello, so decided to download a couple of his books to my IPad. I've always had an interest in mysticism, however almost everything I've read so far of deMello's book, and I am 75% finished, breaks no new ground for me. The book was published a couple of decades ago. I think a lot of its ideas have become relatively mainstream--or at least, mainstream for people who are interested in the subject. Other good authors on the subject are Eckhart Tolle and Alan Watts, both of whom I enjoyed, and learned more from, than deMello.

My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren is a contemporary inspirational romance with dual love stories. The characters are all deeply physically or emotionally scarred. Life isn't easy for them, and I am definitely rooting for love, and trust in God, to help heal their wounds.

What does your writing routine look like? How was your week, reading, writing or otherwise? What books are you reading? Anything noteworthy?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Weekly Writing Update

I'm feeling good today because I've put a bunch of things behind me. Finally, the path is clear to get back to my writing.

It's been TWO weeks since I've worked on revisions.

So, what the heck have I been doing? Two things took up a lot of time last week. Several other things took up less time, but still kept me away from the book.

1. I entered The Perfect Wife in a couple more RWA contests. Again, each contest wanted a different entry length, different header requirements, and so on. One wanted a single-page synopsis.

It requires some jiggering to end a contest entry on a hook each time, especially when each one asks for different page/word counts. Ditto for synopses. I now have synopses for this manuscript in lengths that vary from 500-1500 words.

It's time-consuming, but also a very good practice, IMO, to be able to manipulate your manuscript and/or synopsis like that. I'm always reading that a writer needs to be flexible, and that a manuscript should be as malleable as clay.

There is yet another huge contest that I want to enter, ACFW's Genesis Contest. It requires, of all things, a high resolution image of the entrant. I don't have any professional photos of me. The rules don't define high-resolution. If it needs to be bigger than a typical web image, then I'm okay. I got out my IPad and took a selfie. I'll take my chances on it being good enough. I *think* they require this because, if you are a finalist in this contest, it's a really, really big deal. A lot of publicity goes out in various venues about the finalists. Most will have professional photos taken, with themselves all glammed up. If I should happen to have the (remote) honor of being a finalist, maybe they'll allow me to send a different image.

2. The other biggie this past week was that I taught my Creative Writing course for the Community Colleges of Spokane's Act Two program. It was so much fun! We ended up with eleven participants, which was almost too many, given the activities I had planned, but it went very well anyway. We didn't get to all of the exercises, but I gave them a handout of everything that I covered, and had planned to cover. They can finish the exercises at home. When it was over, they broke into spontaneous applause. That was very cool. 

We all also might get a critique group out of it. That's on my agenda this week. 

3. Other things I did last week
Next Writing Project: Speaking of writer flexibility and books that need to be as malleable as clay, I decided to take my YA novel and cast the characters ahead in time by nine years, and spent a day working on that possibility. I want to rework that story into something that might sell as a Harlequin Heartwarming, which is a line in which its editors have said they're looking for new authors in 2014.  
It will require an almost total rewrite, of course. But I know the story so very well, it wouldn't be like starting from zero. The side I take on the overall theme will shift once again. It's been interesting for me to watch how my feelings have snaked like a river from one side of the issue to the other, through all the incarnations this story has experienced. 
Scrapbooking: This might actually be more important to me than any of my other projects, ever. When I am very old, I want to be able to look at my whole life, year-by-year, through the physical scrapbooks I've made. I'll probably have a room full of them by then, and that's perfectly okay. To do that, I need to keep up with it. I've hardly scratched the surface of this project. But if I do two layouts each week, that should at least keep me up-to-date with the current year and, hopefully, making progress, or completing, at least one other year. 
Besides, I get grumpy when there is so much on my plate that there isn't time to scrapboook. Scrapbooking is my form of therapy. 
WordPress:  A year ago, I downloaded three freebie e-books on how to set up a WordPress website, but hadn't found the time to read them. (Strategically, there was no need, but the need is drawing closer.) I took the next step last week by printing each one up, which was a painstaking process, given that I had to clip each page, and then drop it into a Word file. It took an afternoon. I suppose I should've just forked out the $ to get a physical copy of a book, but anyway, those three books are now tucked away in those notebooks, below. All that information is ready for me to read when the time is right.   

How was your week, reading, writing, or otherwise? 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Weekly Update

Still haven't gotten back to my revision!

Picture at left shows what I did most of last week. I collected and printed all the information I've been saving off the internet since about the time I started working in earnest on The Perfect Wife. (Early last July.)

There wasn't time to read it, so I tucked it away in Pocket. I LOVE Pocket, way better than EverNote or OneNote. It's limited in what it can do, but it does exactly what I want it to do.

Though I was tucking this information into Pocket, that doesn't mean I wasn't still spending about an hour a day reading blog posts. These were just the ones I felt had enough complex information to warrant further study.

Actually, it's only the royal blue notebook on the bottom that is full of this type of information, printed on about 750 pieces of paper, double-sided. There were 299 articles I hadn't read. Most have to do with social media in one form or another.

The other notebooks include at least three e-books, as well as a notebook full of information I received when I bought Brandgasm on Sunday. Three of the notebooks are simply my own thoughts and plans, information that needs to be studied, processed, and eventually taken action on. It still needs a whole lot of strategic planning on my part.  

I'm just so glad that it's finally organized. I know what I've collected, and I can follow my thought trails, which had been littered all over my office for the past six months. (You know? Loose papers? Crap written on napkins? On envelopes? On anything I could get my hands on, when the thought struck? But none of it had anything whatsoever to do with my novel. That information went directly and immediately into Scrivener.)

I even took down all the sticky notes that had my username and password for about 30 internet sites that I use. Now they're all written in a file. Yay. No more sticky notes littering the area around my desk.  

As to Brandgasm, this is a $200 program which claims to teach you the things you need to know to design your website yourself. I'm a DIY gal, and there is no way in heaven that I could ever justify hiring someone to design my website for $6000, unless I were a bestselling author earning a six-digit income off my works. Since I'm decidedly not that, this course really appealed to me.

I plunked my money down and opened the first file while beginning the download process for the other files. It took about four hours to download everything.

The first sentence I read was that I needed to buy Photoshop for $699 and become familiar with using it before I could even begin the Brandgasm design-side lessons.

Ugh. I was so hoping to avoid that. Well, I do own an old version of Photoshop and I have used it in the past, but it's my least favorite software of any software I own. It is so dang complex. Why use it, when I own three or four other pieces of software that can do all the things I want to do? And, probably, even the same things Photoshop does?

But all the video demonstrations for Brandgasm are done in Photoshop, and so I gritted my teeth, got out my old Photoshop Classroom Book, and said, OKAY, darn. I'll need to refresh myself about using it before doing much of the design-side coursework.

I've printed all the information about the copy-writing side of the course, which fills a notebook, and am about half finished reading it.

Am I learning anything? Oh, yes. Yes indeed.

The design end of the program, which resides in Photoshop, will be significantly slower going for me.

So, having done these things in the past week, I feel well-equipped to begin tackling some new goals.

Among them, I need to get back to my revision!

But before that, I want to enter another RWA contest. The deadline is looming. I also need to attend my book club on Wednesday night, my ladies' club on Friday. AND, I need to teach my Creative Writing class at the local library on Saturday.

The picture at right is a visual reminder I made for myself about what my Social Media goals are for 2014. I couldn't get all of the information on one file folder, so, well, I made another.

It's kinda like making a vision board, except that it's limited to only social media goals. Plus, well, I think vision boards are dumb. Not for anyone else, but for me. I don't want anyone to see my goals when they walk into my office, not even my husband, who is the only person who would come into my office.

I'm just, frankly, an intensely private person. It's why I'm a writer, and lo, the irony of the age we live in, where writers need to be so "out there," which so goes against my grain. But it's why I created the file-folder vision boards, to keep reminding myself of the importance of being social on the internet. 

I will tuck them into my To-Do notebook, which includes a calendar and other things that I am working on, re: social media.

How was your week, reading, writing, or otherwise?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Weekly Writing Update

There is no revised-word count to report this week. I didn't make the journey into Scrivener, nor into the lives of my characters. I did not work on coaxing them into changing. My own needs were more important last week.

I did work on coaxing myself into changing, in order to negotiate the next steps on my writing journey.

First, it required identifying ways in which I need to change. (What and Why)
Second, it required planning the changes. (Where and When)
Third, it will require daily action.

I'm still working on steps one and two. Once that's worked out, completing the action is just a matter of doing what I have set a time for in my daily schedule.

How was your week, reading, writing, or otherwise?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Use last year's writing Failures to Build this year's Successes

Recently, I ran across Keli Gwyn's blog, Romance Writers on the Journey, where she interviewed some 200 (give or take--I round numbers) aspiring romance writers between the years of 2008 and 2012. She ended the blog when she signed her own first book contract. Kudos to Keli for creating such a fine resource, and also for her recent good news--a second book contract, with Love Inspired Historical. I don't know Keli, but I felt a literal rush of happiness for her when I read this.

Romance Writers on the Journey is filled with author and wanna-be-author interviews, as well as a wealth of information about writing itself. But what I want to talk about are the numbers. Of the 200 people she interviewed, most were "on the contest circuit," meaning that their writing had reached a level of competence that the writers felt they wouldn't be embarrassing themselves and wasting their time/money by competing in RWA contests. Many had been finalists in, or won, various RWA contests.

I have read every single interview, and of those 200 people, only about 20 have gone on to become traditionally published. That's only 10%. Of the remaining 180, I discovered that only 10% are even still blogging. Now, I don't know if they've given up on their dream, but they have given up on blogging.

The point I want to make is this one by Winston Churchill:
 Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
Given that, I decided to think about my writing successes and failures last year with regard to the facet of entering RWA contests. There are so many facets to the writing life, if I noted my successes and failures in all of them, this post would end up being very long. If you're interested in reading specifically what I learned, and can't read the small print, click on the image and it will become a readable size.

    So, have you taken a look at your writing failures last year, and figured out a way to leverage them to build your eventual success?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Weekly Writing Update ... a day early

The weather here is glorious. We're planning to go skiing at Mt. Spokane tomorrow, hence an early update. We haven't skiied since 1999 (hmm, isn't there a Prince song about partying like it's 1999)? 

Will it be a party? Doubt it. 
A picnic? Doubt it. 

At least a little bit enjoyable? Hope so. 

The best news is that I still fit into the ski pants I wore sometime in the distant past. I found another pair in my closet as well, but they fit like they were made for an elephant. In fact, hubby's thinking of wearing them. Not that he's an elephant. Nothing of the sort. Unless those were the ski pants he'd lost a few years back, and has been looking for ever since ... Nah. They're mine. 

Was reading a blog post by Patience Bloom, a Harlequin editor, who blogs at Romance is my Day Job, and who just published a book by that title. I'll need to buy it soon. She was asking writers about their writing routines. 

Among other things, she asked, "Do you time yourself or just write until you can’t bear it anymore?"

I write until I just can't bear it anymore, and then hate myself for writing that long. I write until my brain is mush, and I can't distinguish between a good sentence and a bad one. Which is a good reason to have stopped hours before, right? It *might* eliminate having to go over and over my manuscript to eliminate all the brain-mush sentences. 

Or, such was the way I'd written and revised every manuscript before my current one

With this one, I still work on it until I can't bear it anymore, and hate myself. But I am working extremely hard to make sure there are no brain-mush sentences, especially in this stage: revision. 

When there's the temptation to start shifting scenes around for no compellingly good reason, as I often did before, I threaten to stab myself with a pen if I do it. When I'm tempted to fiddle with a perfectly fine sentence, ditto. 

So where was I last week? I had revised 23,000 words. This week, I'm smack dab in the middle: 35,000 words

I couldn't find any pictures of us skiing in 1999, but here's a picture of me on our driveway with our beloved, but now deceased, Moe. (Mobitty-doo-dog-day). Yeah, I'm a writer. My kids and animals have always had a couple dozen nicknames each. 

Other things I've been up to

Judging: I spent all morning judging three-25-page (each) entries for a  Texas RWA chapter's contest, Inspirational category. Can't talk about it and have no desire to, but I had fun doing it. 

Teaching: It looks like I'll be doing my Creative Writing class for the Community Colleges of Spokane's ACT 2 program, after all. Enrollment had been sluggish, but I saw this morning that enough people have signed up for it to be a go. So I'll spend some time next week preparing for it. Ack.

Scrapbooking: I've now completed three of four scrapbooks for the year 2013. Event layouts are easy. I'd been struggling a bit with what to do with front and back pages for each b00k, but got that figured out yesterday. I generally use those pages for events that matter enough to be recorded with words and images, but not enough for a full, two-page layout.

How was your week? 

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