Turning off the inner editor

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I am a terrible editor, which could be really sad since I currently make part of my living as an editor. What I mean, however, is that my inner editor cannot SHUT UP when I’m trying to write. It’s a little like having a hard rock band playing in the background when you’re trying to compose an easy listening song.

Because of this quality (something I’ve always considered a flaw) I write very slowly. Every word is carefully selected, considered, debated, and massaged before and after it goes on the page. It’s a challenge to get through a 50K word novel when each word is written 2-3 times.

Lately, however, my inner editor is quieter. I wish I could tell you the secret if this is a challenge you experience but I can’t. The only thing I can imagine is that my inner editor is tired. I spend so much time trying to find the right words for other people that it’s either easier for me to find the for myself or I realize that no word will ever be perfect and I can’t fix what doesn’t exist yet.

Continuity is another challenge I find when writing as slowly as I do. A decision I make for my character or story in chapter one could be forgotten or obsolete by chapters five or fifteen. I’ve started marking important milestones or decisions, even character descriptions, with highlights or comments in the margins, rather than go back and try to align all these decisions every time I make one.

For instance, I’m currently working on book 3 in my Hearts of Louisiana series, Love and Miss Fortune. There’s a case of mistaken identity early in the book that can play into my plot regardless of whether I reveal the mistake early or let it play out longer. I started the book going in one direction but now I’m thinking about switching it up. Rather than make a decision and go back and re-edit everything, I marked the change and am trying to keep writing. So far, so good. I’m averaging 750 words an hour at the moment.

Another tool I’ve found to help keep me focused and shut down that inner editor is FocusMate. It’s a one-to-one sprint, if you’re familiar with that concept. Two people meet and the object is to set a goal and use the accountability of the forum to meet your goal by the end of the session. I love it! There’s a free limited plan so try it out if you need help keeping your fingers on the keyboard.

Whatever has changed in my brain, I’m appreciative to the muses and deities of creativity and I’m going to ride this snowball on down the hill to the words THE END!

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Home office challenges

I’ve been one of the lucky ones since Covid upended the world. I was able to transition to work-at-home with my job(s). I’ve also had some luck building my business over the last six months. I signed a partnership agreement with a freelance client and now officially check “self-employed” on my tax forms.

As I’m sure others have discovered it can be hard to stay focused at home. The distractions of other family members, laundry, dirty dishes, the dog that needs walking, soccer practice, making dinner…there are a dozen things every day drawing our attention away from “work.” With the restrictions we’ve all faced in terms of social distancing there’s little to no escape or separation between the home office and home.

One of the ways I keep my brain engaged in my purpose is to have separate computers for work (technical writing, internet surfing, reading the news, social media) and writing. When I moved in to my current apartment – a 450 sq ft studio – that became difficult to maintain. Working full time on a laptop, sometimes 12 or 14 hours a day, is not easy for me. The small screen. The smaller keyboard.

There’s also not much space to spread out in 450 sq ft. so it’s good I live alone.

I have adjusted. I bought an ergo wireless keyboard and mouse for the laptop. I have dual monitors for my work computer. When the weather is conducive I’ll work out on the patio and now that we’re phasing back into pre-Covid life I’m looking forward to returning to the library or hanging out at the coffee shop.

On the plus side, I recently bought a house and it has an office! I’m really looking forward to having a dedicated work space. My daughter will be moving in with me while she’s in vet school and it will be nice to share space again.

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Patience: Thy Name is Not Mine

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In most parts of my life I’m pretty patient. I don’t have unrealistic expectations of others; I’m fairly realistic when it comes what the world owes me (nothing). My expectations of myself, however, tip in the other direction.

I’m a slower writer and this, I’ve diagnosed, is because I’m a perfectionist on choosing the right word. All the right words. This makes it a fairly cumbersome task to complete a book.

I’ve attended workshops in many, many occasions where authors have said not to focus on the words in the first draft. Just put words on the paper and worry about finding the right words during th editing phase. My brain doesn’t tend to want to cooperate with that logic, however.

After struggling to find words – any words, right, wrong, imperfect – my brain starts to shut down. The analytical part takes over and the creative side starts negotiating. Let’s write 1000 words. Then it’s 500 words. Then 100.

I’m trying new tactics to overcome the analysis paralysis. I set a timer to write for 10 minutes then up the time every couple of days but it’s easy to break the cycle.

There’s a new fad going around called Focus Mate. I have give props to Courtney Milan for turning me on to it. You partner with another user and basically hold each other accountable by being on camera. You don’t interact outside of the initial “howdy” with a brief explanation of what you want to accomplish, then the final “see ya later” and did you meet your goal. But just having another presence is the most remarkable tool I’ve found for keeping me in front of the computer.

Guilt is a great motivator (without actual guilt).

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Textured words

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Sight. Sound. Smell. Taste. Touch. The five senses. We’re supposed to touch each one in our scenes as writers to stir our readers and connect them to the world we are building. Most of us do a good job bringing one or two into a scene. How do you go about capturing all five?

Here’s a little trick I learned a few years ago when writing a scene. I jot down the setting for my scene then list anything and everything I can think of that I would encounter in that situation. Let’s say I’m at the airport baggage claim carousel. Close your eyes and visualize. Some things are obvious – other passengers, luggage on the carousel going round and round, the silver luggage carts being pushed by a harried porter. But that’s all visual.

Start to fill in the other senses. The other passengers – would someone have a crying baby? Or would there be shouts of joy at someone’s reunion? The dull honking of the carousel horn to tell you it’s coming around. The clack of the suitcases as they bang against the metal barriers. The loudspeaker announcing the arrival of the downtown bus. What about luggage? Squeaky wheels. (Sounds)

Or maybe someone runs over your toe or bangs your shin with their oversized suitcase. Or maybe it’s winter and a blast of cold air rushes in on the coattails of each passenger as they hurry outside and you rub the goosebumps as they pebble over your skin. (Touch)

Is there a whiff of cigarette smoke from the automatic doors as the whoosh open and close? The exhaust from the cars as they idle outside to pick up passengers. (Smell)

Do you take the last swig of the flat soda you’ve been carrying around since your delayed connection in Boise. Perhaps you finally toss the piece of gum you chewed in the hopes it would relieve the pressure in your ears during the bumpy landing. (Taste)

I’ll sometimes write my scene first then edit in the details. I find it’s easier to use these little tidbits as I edit. I almost always end up with more than I can use but at least I have a plethora of options to choose from. And whatever is left goes in the “SAVED” folder for another story, another time.

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Coming soon!

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I’m excited about two new short stories I have coming out in the next year. Two of my writers’ groups are putting together anthologies and I have a story in each.

Neither story has gone the direction I intended, which is both exciting and frustrating. I’m a plotter and I spend a ton of time putting together character charts and plot plans. When my characters get rebellious and decide to go off on their own, I look at all my charts and plans and point and say to them, “But I planned something different!” They laugh.

Anyway, rebellious characters aside, here’s what you can look forward to from me in the next year.

Dance of the Butterflies is the story of Maddie Dearborn, a teen struggling with the curve balls life keeps throwing. Her boyfriend is being an ass, her mom has mysteriously disappeared, and the strange new boy in her school has just revealed a secret that will change her life forever. One of them is crazy. And Maddie isn’t sure which one of them it is.

Two if by Sea – Kaley Locke is in the crosshairs of the dangerous man that arrived – unannounced, unwanted, unwelcome – on her island home. He says he’s there to re-acquire the technology she invented and promptly hid from the government. Kaley would rather die than hand it over. He says the government is ok with that.

Keep a look out for release dates soon!

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Retreating from the World

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I belong to several writers’ groups; it’s one of the benefits of moving around the country as much as I do. Many of these groups host a writers’ retreat each year, a weekend where we gather and hide from the world with the intent writing. We have permission to ignore everyone and hunker down with our stories. We also have a steady source of critique partners or brainstorming partners.

There’s something special about being in a secluded environment with other people who share the crazy voices inside our heads. People who understand what it’s like to wonder how to dispose of bodies or what sex position two people can use while canoodling in a canoe without causing permanent spine damage.

I think being in such a space gives my brain permission to relax enough to be creative full time. When I’m at home, there’s laundry and housework and so many distractions that feel more important than writing. Even though I know my writing is a serious pursuit, it’s still something I have to pursue while working other jobs and sometimes feel like I push it to the side when I’m at home. I make money from my writing. It’s a budding career, not a hobby. When I’m at the retreat, writing is my full-time pursuit.

Even if I can’t attend a retreat with one of my writers’ groups, I’ll try and create a retreat on my own. Hopefully, it’s not because the world is in the middle of a pandemic as we are right now. It’s time to refocus my attention on my writing and remind myself why I love doing what I do.

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Not the writer’s haven I dreamed

I used to think all that would have to happen for me to write like crazy was for the world to fall away, leaving me alone to focus on my stories and characters. Well, you know what they say: be careful what you wish for.

I am fortunate. I have my job. My family is safe and healthy. I’m walking about ten miles a week so I’m getting outside. I have started avoiding social media because frankly, it’s just too much and the stress…the stress is all-consuming.

It’s always something, isn’t it?

Like all things, this too shall pass. That’s what I’m going to focus on. I’m going to get back to the basics. Writing here will translate, hopefully, to writing where it counts.

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Brainstorming, Spitballing, and Other Creativity Boosters

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I’ve probably mentioned before how much I love brainstorming. My creative streak is like a bouncy ball – give it a little push in any direction and it will fly.

I’ve been neck-deep in work the last few weeks and the creativity has taken a hit. The creative voice, however, never truly stops. When I watch a movie and see the trailer or read the blurb before the film starts, my brain starts working. What would I do with this plot? Where would I take the characters? Who would I make the good guy or the bad guy? It never fails. I compare what I would do with what the writer does. And yes, I judge. I hate a lazy ending.

There are several methods I use when trying to figure out what to do with a storyline. The most obvious is brainstorming, tossing around ideas with a partner. I like it even more if they are someone who writes differently than I do. They will think in a new way.

Spitballing is very similar to this. It’s a technique I read about in a book on conflict and I’m sorry to say I can’t recall where I read this so I can’t give credit to the author. But the idea was to list anything and everything that could happen at a point in the story. If someone shows up at the door, write down every conceivable option, both practical and impractical, for who could be there. Ed McMahon with the Publisher’s Clearing House check. Long lost father. Aliens. Terrorists.

A new technique I’m using is intended to help me flesh out my scenes, to give them texture. If the setting of my scene is the parking lot, I’ll take a sheet of paper and divide it into the five senses. Then fill in things that could conceivably be experienced in such a place. Is there a playground nearby that would contribute sounds of children playing and laughing? Cars thumping over a speed bump. Engines roaring.  Or is it a high rise parking structure? Would elevator doors swish open and close? Horns echo against the cement walls. The smell of exhaust.

I do this for every scene in some way. Texture is important, it adds dimension to your scene and characters. It also helps me with body language and action sequences when I need to create dialogue tags beyond “he said” or “she said.”

These are just a few of the tools I use to kickstart my brain if it’s been quiet for a bit. All of them can be done solo but also work well with a partner, even a non-writing partner. Sometimes it helps just to say things out loud.

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Building Readership

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I tend to talk about the mechanics of writing. Honestly, it’s the part of writing that I’m comfortable with. I can discuss characterization and plot and POV. It’s not that I think I know it all; I just have solid opinions based on experience that I’m happy to share.

When it comes to finding new readers and enticing them to pick up my books? My experience is rather pathetic. This extends to my professional life as well. I’m not a salesperson. Even when I was a kid and we were tasked with selling M&Ms for the band or trying to get pledges for the swim-a-thon, I didn’t know how to approach a potential customer and convince them they needed my product or wanted to support my cause. And who can say no to melt-in-your-mouth goodness!

Part of me feels that if my product is good enough, enticing enough, buyers will find me. I know now that’s BS. There is literally a sea of books out there and you’re asking a reader to swim into the ocean and find your book.

Here are some things I want to focus on to keep my name out there.

Write! My goal is to publish short stories or novellas when I’m not publishing full length novels. And if I don’t have any of that going on, I want to guest blog with other writers in my genre so their readers get to know me.

Utilize my website. My website is my calling card. I have multiple domain names linked back to the same primary page so wherever the reader is coming from they’ll find me and my other pseudonyms. Even my professional writing leads a potential customer back to these pages. Who knows where the next reader will come from?

Social media. This is one I’m not utilizing enough but it moves almost too fast for me. I haven’t carved out enough time in my day to post the multiple tweets or TikToks or whatever that readers use to connect with an author. I need to work on this more. I do have a Facebook page. I even have a Twitter account, but both are rather dormant.

Newsletters. I think to build a readership you have to talk to them, and a newsletter is a start. Short and sweet seems to be the key to success in this avenue of marketing. But newsletters are the way to talk about your new release in more details than social media allows. There are also chapter newsletters if you’re involved in a professional group like Sisters in Crime or RWA. Local chapters may offer marketing opportunities so use those to your advantage.

C.A.S.E. Copy and Steal Everything. Watch what other successful author do and take your lead from them. They’ve already walked the path so following in their footsteps isn’t a bad way to go.

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Cast of Characters

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Would the Wizard of Oz be the same if Dorothy was a shy people-pleaser unwilling to take chances? What if Harry Potter had a loving aunt and uncle who raised him as their son instead of the “boy beneath the stairs?” Is Starr Carter’s dual life necessary to endear her to readers who don’t look like her?

The next time you are faced with an avid reader, ask them about their current book-of-interest. See if they give you a plot summary or a character summary. My guess is it will be a bit of both. 

“A girl desperate to save her beloved dog ends up in a fantastic world where she must battle an evil witch to find her way home.”

“A boy bridges the magical and non-magical worlds as he and two friends struggle to defeat a dark wizard before he destroys them all.”

“A girl devastated by the death of a friend faces peer pressure and criticism in a journey to do what’s right.”

However good the plot of a book, it’s the characters that drive it. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare has been remade over and over through the years, turning the characters into everything from NY gang members (West Side Story) to a zombie and a human survivor (Warm Bodies). The setting and execution of the plot are varied but the two protagonists remain driven by similar goals – people from different worlds fighting against family and societal pressure to be together. For the reader, it doesn’t matter where this happens – it matters to whom it happens. 

Experts list anywhere from three to 36 unique plot lines. Here’s a link to an article on this. It’s worth the read and I have several of the books. This is not to say that every book that falls into the category of “the Quest” will be the same but in general a quest story has certain characteristics that are identifiable. 

But the character bible for me is The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes coupled with Linda Goodman’s Love Signs, which I have mentioned in other blog posts. While it may seem limiting to narrow down all characters to 16 types, the nuances are as varied as fingerprints once you flesh out a character to fit your plot, setting, and conflict. Here’s a sample of my character chart for Chance Golden, hero in book 3 “Love and Miss Fortune.” 

Chance is a Chief with a strong helping of Professor. He’s strong-willed but not as bossy as many chiefs. He leads and if you’re smart you’ll follow him. He’s logical and intuitive about his business but also frustrated because his current role (consultant) puts him at the mercy of others’ decisions. As a Leo, he’s very protective and won’t abandon someone who needs him.  Sometimes he knows he’s right and will overrule the decisions of others, which can be aggravating to Pisces heroine, Harley.

This will be one source of conflict for Harley and Chance, of course, but it will also help them both broaden their perspectives and see what the other brings to the table.

Build your worlds. Bend and break and ignore the laws of physics, time, and space. Then fill them with people who will resonate with your reader and bring your story to life.

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