Writing When You Don’t Wanna

This week I signed up with Book-in-a-Week to force me to be accountable to others about writing on my WIP. Each writer sends a page-goal for the week, and then every night participants report how many pages they’ve written, culminating on Sunday night with the total pages for the week.  Sometimes, without others saying, “How’s the writing going?” I can be quite lazy or find about anything else to write about or think about or do than work on my WIP. Even though I’ve not met any fellow BIWers face-to-face, it’s still a nice push to hold me accountable to produce something this week, or make me feel guilty if I didn’t reach my goal.

Mind you, some writing days flow like warm, sweet honey, during which I can crank out 2,000 words in a day with no problems. And then there are other days (like today) when getting 250 words, or one page, completed is a struggle. It’s not like I’m stuck in a plot problem. It’s not like I don’t know where the novel is going or what’s going to happen. I just don’t wanna work on it.

I suppose writing is a lot like dieting. Instead of losing pounds, you’re trying to gain word count. Dieters may put signs on refrigerators or keep written track of every single calorie intake. Writers also may put signs up, like sticky notes on computer screens or at the breakfast table. We can also record every single word written in one day to mark the progress.

Whatever method works for you — having other writers give you a push, putting up reminders for, or anything else — just write! So quit reading this, and guess what you’re supposed to be doing now?

Writing AND Marketing — It’s All About Relationships

In fiction writing, character-driven stories are quite popular. These stories are about characters relating to other characters (as well as nature and self). All around you are characters from which to draw, each individual. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based Sherlock on an actual professor he had. When neighbors of Samuel Clemens read Mark Twain, they laughed as they identified which characters were based on people in their own town where the author had lived. “The Big Bang Theory” was created from real people the writer knew in grad school.

So you don’t have to do a lot of making up of individuals from your own imagination. There are unique characters all around you. And they make for very interesting characters. However, you may want to change the identity to protect yourself. For instance, that mean neighbor who terrorizes the willy-nillies out of you? My,  how he’d make a lovely troll. That boss who accuses you of things you never did? She’d make a great character who whines and screeches and threatens, “I’m gonna tell the teacher.” The ordinary boy who did a small kind act, like stopping in the hallway to help you pick up your books? Oh, yeah. He’ll make a nice YA love interest.

Relationships for writers is more than just our characters. How could I continue writing another word without the encouragement of my critique group or other writers I’ve met over the years?

And now that I’m published and involved in the crazy world of marketing, I’m finding relationships continue, but in an entirely new area. I have multiple contacts and relationships with school and library visits. What a joy it is to work with these people who want the best for their people and believe I am the best for them.

I have multiple contacts and relationships with booksellers which have developed over the years. Just last week, I met an indy bookseller who has regularly reordered my books since the first one was published in spring of 2013. Even though her store is in a delightful touristy town, it’s still ninety minutes away from my home. In the past, she was always gone when I was there. This last week, meeting Pam Haferman face-to-face was a delightful and emotional experience and I left her store bouncing from cloud to cloud — a feeling which stayed with me all the way home.

So whether you’re experiencing potential characters, writing about characters, or working with others to make an event be superior, it’s all about relationships.

Bkst owner Pam H 'n Sandy 4-2015

Pam Haferman of Black River Books, South Haven, MI, and Sandy Carlson, April, 2014

TAXES (for and by writers) (You can do it!)

Two years ago I started my own publishing house because several writers I knew had done it and praised doing it. What they didn’t talk about was, well, lots of the pitfalls of owning your own business, but mostly no one spoke of…TAXES. (Da-da-daaaaah!)

Until last year, I’d never filed income tax in my life. Let me amend that:

Until I graduated from college, my daddy filed my income taxes; when I was single and teaching, I dumped all my tax info to a tax person who figured it all out for me; and when I got married, my husband filed our joint taxes. So it wasn’t until I was in my 60’s (!) that I filed taxes, by myself, for the first time ever, for my new writing business.

I have to admit that I dreaded the thought of doing taxes. I was terrified of it. What if I did something wrong? Would the government swoop down upon me and fine me for an error I missed or for something I forgot or for something didn’t understand? I mean, taxes on my earnings have been filed my entire life. It wasn’t like I was avoiding them (like some people nominated to political offices; oh, let’s not go there). I was just nervous about making a mistake. Yes, that’s true, but I was even more concerned that I was too stupid to figure out this government form which every American citizen needs to file, every year.

Guess what? I’m smart!

Even with all the record keeping necessary with running a business (buying and selling books, advertizing, traveling, etc.), filing taxes is more about time consumption than doing it wrong. With everything available on-line, tax time is good. Well, do-able. Just make sure you remember from year to year tiny details, like you want a Schedule C form for a small LLC business, not a Section C form for deporting aliens. It’s the tiny details which can confuse.

My tax filing suggestions for writers:

1) Keep accurate and records. I keep a monthly hand-written log of expenses and income and giveaways. I also have a zip-lock bag I keep for the year’s receipts — upon which I write what the purchase was for on the top of the slip before putting it into the bag.

2) Download the right tax form. :)

3) Don’t be afraid. Take a deep breath and focus on your task.

4) Read the line-by-line instructions, one section at a time.

Dialogue Writing Techniques

When I was in high school and college, I was involved in theatre. I was never pretty enough to be one of the leads. Not ugly, mind you, but not pretty, either. Plus I was quite shy. I did a lot of stage work, which my busy hands loved, but often got a bit part in the plays as well. Perhaps because I spent so much time behind the scenes, my biggest dream in high school was to write a play — a grand play, a play to be remembered. That dream has not been realized yet. But plays have mostly to do with dialogue. (Oh, okay, the stage hands have a lot to do with “setting the stage,” if you will–providing appropriate props, costumes, and sets. But let’s stick to the actor dialogue for now.)

For me, writing dialogue has never been a problem. There were the plays. But also, as a kid lying in bed at the dark of night, I used to have dialogues with people who weren’t there. You know. Coming up with that better comeback than I had during the day. Or imagining a conversation between a boy I liked and me.

One of the techniques I use today for dialogue:

Picture the face of your character. This could be done in your mind, or with a photo or magazine (what are those?) picture or an actual small figure. Decades ago, we used to play D&D, so I have over one hundred metal characters to pick from. You could also use stuffed animals. Think of the distinct characters in Winnie the Pooh. I have also pictured my characters as different animal with their traits. The large and strong, but silent and loyal elephant. The sneaky, gang-like dingo. The sparrow who is many, and argue like crazy.

Picture your characters and then put them together at a party, or going on a quest, going to algebra class together when the fire alarm goes off, etc. Even if your own story doesn’t have a scene like this. You can get to know who they are better in other situations. What are their reactions to events, to each other? What do they say?

I’ve also been known to talk into my iPhone. I put a space between the dialogue lines to distinguish the different characters, or adding the person’s name who’s being spoken to. I later cut and paste it into my story and add all the other stuff, like grammar and punctuation, like tag lines, like emotional reactions, like a view of the setting to keep the characters grounded. I also have carried a notebook and pen as I walk the house, physically writing out the dialogue or scenes. It’s that eye-hand movement and charges up to the brain thing.

Whatever technique you use, make your characters distinct.

Off to play with some D&D figures.

Power Outage – End of World

Our electrical power went out two Sunday mornings ago at 12:30 and again at 5:30. It was 24 degrees out. My first thought was I hoped my hubby backed up his sermon. My second thought was to bring in a couple of gallons of water from the garage to warm up to our 62 degree house temp for cleaning up, since we’re on well water which requires electricity to get the liquid into the house. No electricity = No water.  Then, when I looked out of every window to see not a single light anywhere, my third thought was IT WAS THE END OF THE WORLD! Of course, with me revising one of my stories which is an apocalypse tale, it wasn’t hard for my mind to slip into what survival items I would need for a three-week walk to our grandchildren’s house three states away. Wait. We’d have to go around, not through, Chicago. After all, if it was the end of the world, we would have to avoid urban zombies, too. So make that a four-week walk.

I write historical fiction (a time of no electricity). I write fantasy (a place of no electricity). In reality, in my 20’s I did a lot of backpacking. Our seven week honeymoon was all tent camping except four nights in hotels. It’s not difficult for me to plan for and imagine an extended walk like this — until I remembered we had half a tank of gas in our car, which might well get us past Chicago, if the roads weren’t blocked with abandoned vans and semis…and zombies. So, that would amend the time to just two weeks of walking through an everyone-for-themselves crazy world. Oh, and my heart was nearly breaking for our son 3,000 miles away in Arizona whom we’d never-ever see again.

At 6:20 a.m., the power came back on and all was well-ish.

Just so you don’t think I’m normally this mental whack-o at something as simple as a power outage — I mean, some writers are mental wack-os, I’m told — I must assure you that I was sick and my head was, I was certain, twice its normal size with plugged ears, sore throat, deep cough, runny nose and eyes, and sickly marshmallow-brain thoughts. The world didn’t end. I got healthy again (physically and mentally) followed by another cold. And I get to see our extended family again. (Hurray.)

But I think I’d better hurry up and finish the revision on my apocalypse tale so that at the next power outage I can figure out how to successfully battle dragons in our backyard or stampede my family to safety with the unicorn herd. That is, I’d only imagine things like that during a power outage if I’m sick again. When I’m heathy and think up those very things, it’s okay because then it’s the writer’s creative imagination working.

Does anyone else have odd mental images or thoughts when you are sick? I think we can take those and work them into our stories. Seriously.

Identifying and Setting Priorities

When we were younger, my husband and I used to say two things stopped us from doing many things we wanted to do: time and money. As we’ve gotten older,  we’ve added a third thing: energy.

Identifying what you do

Make a percentage of your waking hours and mark off: 1) what you do which takes up your time in a day or week; 2) what you spend money on in a day or in a week (or month); and 3) what you feel enthused about doing in a day or week.

Analyzing what you do

Look at your percentages. What do you spend time and money and energy on which is necessary (e.g., shelter and food)? IIs your present square footage of living space what you need or what you want? Do you eat out because you appreciate the treat, because you don’t like to cook, or something else? And what do you spend time and money and energy on which refreshes and renews you? What do you really want to do to spend your time and money and energy?

Prioritizing what you do

The last question above should be your goal for how to spend your time and money and energy. Never forget your dreams. There may be times when you can’t do anything else (e.g., pay for school or medical expenses). But through it all, keep your sights on your vision. And keep on writing, which, if you’re reading this blog, I hope is a priority.

Storytelling and Writing/ Repetition and Revision

Last week I had the privilege to spend a few days with my grandkids, one-month-old twins and a three-year-old. I’d taken my laptop along to write in my spare time–there’s always so much to be working on–but oh, hahahaha, I found that the only spare time was when I slept. (I really don’t know how young mothers find time to write. Really.)

Last January, I’d tell my smart-as-a-whip three-year-old Nursery Rhymes. If she liked it she’d say, “Again.” By the fourth time through, the kid was reciting the rhyme with me. This last visit, because there was often a babe in my arms, I told her folk tales instead.

Once when I asked if she wanted to hear about the Three Little Pigs, she said, “NO!” So I turned to her baby brother in my arms and asked him if he wanted to hear the story. He stared at me, flailing his arms and kicking, anxious for me to get on with it. I told the boy the story of the pigs with his older sister kneeling beside me on the couch, facing me, but not saying a word. It became one of her two favorite “tell it again” stories this visit. Interestingly enough (but not really), I found that each time I told it, I tweeked it a bit, I stumbled over my wording less, until it was storytelling perfection, until at last my telling had come to a point where there wasn’t a word I wanted to change. The three-year-old and I would do a Reader’s Theatre (without us reading, of course), and switch roles of who said the lines of the Big Bad Wolf and who spoke the lines of the Three Little Pigs. I was always the narrator.

Naturally, most of what I do, even if not writing, I can relate back to writing. The retelling over and over of the Three Little Pigs until there wasn’t any word to change reminded me of revisions of my own tales. Every time I read something I’ve written, there’s always some phrase I can rewrite better, always unnecessary words I can cut out, always points where I can add more feeeeeelings.

My writing challenge to you: Keep rewriting until there isn’t a single word you would want to change.

Art and Art Lessons Learned — Watercoloring and Writing

Last night I attended a watercoloring demo with Ken Dey at the Battle Creek Art Center. I’ve taken watercolor classes before, but this style of demo was new to my experience. (And thank you, all my illustrator friends, for your cheers and encouragement at my untalented-but-willing painting-for-fun efforts.)

I do like to dabble with both sketches and paints, but I’ve never felt I was very good. That said, I know from my writing experience the more practice and more I study about the craft, the better I become. But any craft takes time to learn in order to get it…acceptable for others’ eyes. Time is a huge factor in pursuits. At least for me.

With most of my adult life focused on writing (v.s. illustrating), it wasn’t much of a surprise to find my mind last night translating what Ken was teaching into writing. So here are the things I parallel-learned from last night’s demo:

1)  Study and practice your craft under someone who is more experienced than you, someone who also answers even the most basic questions. (For writers, these can be conferences, workshops, webinars, writing craft book clubs, etc.)

2) Good equipment and materials make the act of doing your craft more seamless. (For illustrators, a workspace, paper, paint, and brushes; for writers, a workspace, working computer (or paper and pen), related computer programs.)

3) Have a plan. (Illustrators–sketches; Writers–theme, plot outline, and character sheets)

4) Start with general placement. (Watercolorers–wet on wet, section by section; Writers–rough draft, or what I call Raw Writing, loosely following the Three Act plan until your story is “done.”)

5) Take time to let it set. (Painters–wait till the next day, or use a hair dryer; Writers–time is your hairdryer. There’s no rushing the set time for us. Put your story aside a few days or months and come back to it with fresh eyes.)

6) Go back to fill in details. (For artists this would mean tree branches, grass blades, shadows, removing gumm, etc. For writers this is what we call “revisions,” like making clearer motivations for each action, working on language to make your words count, making sure your readers can use their five senses which you’ve planted in your scenes, etc.)

7) Say thank you to your friend who invited you to the demo (or whatever), and make sure to invite others to things you care about as well. (It’s a lot about connections and networking, people.)

A Taste of Outsider Plots (with thoughts from Cheryl Klein)

I know. I know. Two weeks in a row with a book review (of sorts). My excuse: I’m on vacation, so tend to read non-fiction I can pick up and put down at any time, either to think about what I’ve read or because vacation interrupts my reading. With fiction, I’m more of a cover-to-cover in a breath or two sort of reader, hence the NF.

So this week I’ve been reading SECOND SIGHT, AN EDITOR’S TALKS ON WRITING, REVISING & PUBLISHING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS (December 2013) by Cheryl B. Klein.

First off, I love Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein, and would love to work with her and her stunning insights…That said even though she has very politely rejected everything I’ve sent her. My association: I was once her Personal Assistant for a SCBWI-Michigan conference years ago, and eat up her words of editorial wisdom.

Naturally, I would recommend reading her entire book, but for this post, I’d like to share an example of two “Outsider Plot Structures” she mentions. One is the “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” outsider — someone different who is scorned by the community, but saves them, anyway. The other is the “Ugly Duckling” outsider — someone scorned by the community, who ends up leaving to find his own like-minded kind.

Isn’t that just brilliantly simple? And that’s just from half a page of her 305-page book! Did I mention that I love Cheryl Klein? So if you’re stuck on plot and need a writing or rewriting challenge, when you’re on vacation (or now), pick up Cheryl’s book to keep you on your writing toes.

The Artist’s Way Revisited

For you writers who have not gone through an Artist’s Way course…why haven’t you? Perhaps you’ve heard of the benefits of Morning Pages or the Artist’s Date? Those come from this course.

THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron is a must-read-must-do book for all writers, artists, composers, and other creators (but especially for writers). It is a twelve-week course, with each week’s chapter starting with the word “Recovering.”

I’d heard mummers of it in the writing community when it first came out. A friend took it as a college course. I went through it in an on-line group (with strangers). Now, several years later, I’m going through it again on my own. I appreciate going through THE ARTIST’S WAY as a course or on-line group because then you can whine and complain about how you can’t do some of the things or how hard they are, as well as sharing the joys of recovering your creativity. I like going through the book alone now because I can jump around the chapters or select only some of the activities, plus I have no time factor of when assignments must be done.

In each chapter there are tasks or activities to do. For instance, in week seven you are supposed to make a Jealousy Map. Who in their right mind wants to think about negatives things like jealousy? Well, by doing this exercise (one of several in this chapter), you begin to rethink things. You are to list the who (you are jealous of), why, and one action to move out of jealousy. For one of the examples Cameron gives:  Who (my sister Libby); Why (she has a real art studio); Action Antidote (fix the spare room). An example from me: Who (Stephen King); Why (he writes half the day then takes l-o-n-g walks in the afternoons); My action antidote (write 30 minutes each day and take a 30 minute walk each day, with hopes of increasing those times). With baby steps you can move forward, plus get rid of the negative (jealous) feelings in order to move on to your own creativity.

So if you feel in the middle of winter blues and need a creative perk to get you out of your glum-chum mood, or are simply curious about a way to increase your creativity, I recommend THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron.

Commercial over, but I encourage you to renew your creativity. Learn. Think. Grow. Write.