I went a little off course because I became caught up in worry about things I can’t control. Today I remembered a great trick: take a break from the news. I don’t really need to know everything right now. I know enough. When I read the headlines, it is triggering a domino effect of thoughts and feelings that really aren’t helping me or anyone else.
I saw this photo meme going around social media, a picture of a buff woman in a weight lifting situation and the quote was: control your mind and the body will follow. I thought, sure, easy for you to say! LOL! Our minds are a little hard to control. Exercise and routines are healthy, and remembering to do the things you can do and not worry about the rest.
There’s a lot of intensity in the world right now as we all struggle with all the information, all the chatter, and saturation, especially of distressing things over which we have no control. Then turn it all off.
I took the weekend off from work and played. Remember how to do that?
Today to get going again, after feeling overwhelmed, I made a list of all the stuff I was supposed to do and forgot about and the things I have to do today. Then I started working through them. If I can’t complete the item because I don’t have something for it, I find a work-around, get in communication with the affected people, and put future To-Do items on my calendar so I won’t forget them again. I’m starting to feel better.
As for writing, here’s the thing about a book. You have to do your best, keep doing your best, then turn it in, let the chips fall where they may, and get to work on the next thing. If the first book doesn’t work out, keep working and sending things out for the opinion of others. That is the only way to get across the bridge between where you are and where you want to be.
I hope you have a good Monday and a great week! See you Friday.
How was your week?
I’ve had my head down working on the new book for the Harlequin call. I have had some exercise as I’m trying to make that a priority again. I’ve written one chapter and exercised three times since Monday. Small steps.
It’s funny with category romance. People look at them and say, oh that’s easy to write. But any book that looks easy to write is only because the writer is very skilled! Harlequin has very clear branding in their different lines. Readers buy them for a consistent experience. Writing to the requirements is challenging. I think I understand the requirements, but there is a matter of coming back again and again to the examples and seeing if the concept I came up with will meet them. I hope it does, but of course I also have to write a book that reflects me. There’s really no point in being someone else! I do believe the book I’m writing does that, so it is win win. I’m gaining more experience by attempting a very exacting type of book, learning more about classic romance, and writing a book that reflects my background and values, my style, or “voice.” At the end of the project, I intend to have a good book, regardless of whether the editors at Harlequin want it.
Hey, I found some more interesting angles from that forest outing. Enjoy! And happy weekend.
After all that, I’m setting aside my work in progress to pursue an opportunity at Harlequin. I’d like to get into Harlequin. I haven’t made a huge effort, I’ve tried a few times, but this year, I’m shooting for it, planning to compete in their So You Think You Can Write Contest in the summer. However another opportunity has come up for their Desire line. So I am setting aside yet another book that I have started to go for this. It requires three chapters and a synopsis by the end of March. Here goes!
Meantime I have some nice new images to share with you. I had not realized how beautiful the coast near me actually is. If it weren’t for photography, I’d be stuck inside all the time and not realizing how totally gorgeous northern California is. Thank goodness for this art form. I went with a very dear friend who is a brilliant artist. Cherryl is also a whole lot of fun and very encouraging.
Here is the loot that I collected, plus a photo my friend took of me. Enjoy!
I plan to go to a romance reading lunch this weekend, and then hopefully get together with one of my writing friends to discuss outlining. Woo hoo! (LOL) Whereas some people love going to sporting events, these are the kinds of activities that thrill me.
What are you plans this weekend?
So I’ve been working all week on the plot for the last of the Cruz sisters’ trilogy. The third one has a mystery plot. It’s a lot of fun, but requires a lot of thinking, and my concentration seems way off. I flit around the project, every time the thinking gets hard, I jump to the internet. I have to keep reminding myself to go back to the work. I don’t know why this is.
Well one of the things about creative writing is that you spend a lot of time with your own mind and discover things about it. I was not happy with this jumping thing. Seems like I need to concentrate and fill in the plot one thing at a time, but I don’t know what to put in all the slots.
This post is sprinkled with unrelated photos, but their very lack of relatedness, relates, because this is the kind of thing I’ve been doing all week, think a little, then do something else.
I would read the outline and the guidelines for the classic mystery. Get stuck. Jump to something else. This behavior seemed very unproductive, and I was getting frustrated with myself for not sticking to the plan and concentrating.
Did I share this info graphic with you? This is actually for the book I worked on during NaNo, but which I have set aside to work on the last of the Cruz sisters.
Yes, that novel is very outdoorsy, and there are horses.
So here’s what happened when it seemed all I was doing was thinking sideways. Solutions came. I filled these into the outline. It’s sort of like translating vertical motion to circular and therefore useful motion the way a car translates the piston motion to the wheel motion.
What are your plans for the weekend? I hope you will be having fun.
Oh my gosh, it’s working. Um, that’s why I missed yesterday’s scheduled blog post, sorry about that. I’m so excited by the ideas that are coming to me as I’m planning and writing the last of the Cruz Sisters Trilogy (as I’m now calling it). I talked about the recent twists and turns in my creative journey here:
Check these ideas out if you want to try some new stuff. Not that anyone has time. I’ve been making the time because I am really enjoying going deep and doing research, too.
I was rereading A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young the other night. I’ve been implementing his techniques, in my own way, and seeing results. In rereading, I ran across this quote in the beginning.
An idea, I thought, has some of that mysterious quality which romance lends to tales of the sudden appearance of islands in the South Seas. …to ancient mariners…there would suddenly appear a lovely atoll above the surface of the waters. An air of magic hung about it. … And so it is, I thought, with Ideas. … They appear just as suddenly above the surface of the mind; and with that same air of magic. … But the scientist knows that the South Sea atoll is the work of countless, unseen coral builders, working below the surface of the sea. And so I asked myself: “Is an idea; too, like this? Is it only, the final result of a long series of unseen idea-building processes which go on beneath ‘the surface’ of the conscious mind?
I had this experience today, this sudden appearance of an idea. The sequel to Love Caters All and Third Strike’s the Charm is coming together magically, exactly as James Webb Young said it would. I recognized in the process an amalgamation of two other novels I’ve written and a novella. Also a couple months of hard work on developing massive character analysis sheets and applying them to the new story are paying off as are the combined former careers of my husband and me.
I’ve done a little art work for you today. Here you go, an image from Bodie California, a ghost town.
I’m off to take a peek at what’s going on in your worlds now. Have a good week, and see you again Friday.
I haven’t yet started using the index cards to jot down observations from in-depth research of what my characters do for a living. I’ve been deeply absorbed in The Plot Thickens, by Noah Lukeman, from which I’ve developed worksheets. I’m now applying those to my characters. It’s hard work. I like that the worksheets derived from Lukeman’s book are facilitating deep thinking about the characters. When I come to a trait or bit of background that I’ve checked as yes, the character has this, sometimes I have to think a long time about the circumstances that made that happen or the effects of that trait. And this is starting to bring scenes from the character’s life into focus. These bits are like puzzle pieces and these are starting to form a mosaic of the character’s life.
I guess these worksheets are part of my in-depth research for the book, so instead of index cards I have spreadsheets, at least for this part of the research.
I have started the scrapbook, which is for capturing interesting things from each day’s reading or just living, things that inspire me in some way as well as just spontaneous ideas I have on my own. This has been good.
I do so much of my reading online now, but I figured out the equivalent of cutting articles out of newspapers. When I read something online that is interesting, I print it out and paste it in my scrapbook. If it’s an image, I print that too. My new creativity journal, a Christmas gift from one of my critique partners, has blank pages on the right side, and lined paper on the left, which encourages me to write but also to draw and paste.
I’ve kept tons of journals, but I’m going to index and cross-index this one, as suggested in A Technique for Generating Ideas. I’ve been getting a lot of ideas beyond the scope of my work-in-progress from the in-depth application of The Plot Thickens. Just creating the worksheets has made ideas for short stories pop into my head. Also I’ve had ideas for how to tackle a rewrite of a big novel I wrote a while back that has been beyond me to figure out how to revise and sell. I’ve jotted these in my journal/scrapbook. I might even go back to old journals I kept when writing that book and index the notes there.
What I’m really doing here is embracing how I really am instead of criticizing myself for not being like how I think creative writers should be. This idea of being very disciplined and methodical about thinking appeals to me so much, and the approach is working because it suits my basic personality.
I’ve quadrupled my reading goals this year and am active in two groups in Goodreads. This is also feeding my writing. I recently figured out what makes a book amazing to me, and different ways a book falls short for me. My instincts told me that by really applying The Plot Thickens, I would gain access to making my books more like the books that amaze me.
Time for a pretty picture. Here’s something I toyed with tonight.
Have a great week!
So as not to overwhelm yourself, look at the big picture and keep it simple. Make sure you get big things done. We need to protect our big things against the tide of small things, which we tend to do because they are smaller, easier to accomplish. Think about what big things will make you feel the most fulfilled at the end of the year.
If you complete your big projects before the end of the year, then you can make more goals.
For 2015, my big project accomplishments were:
I didn’t write two other books I wanted to write, but that’s okay. I’m still getting the hang of my process. But I want to get to the point that I complete my goals. It’s okay to abandon some goals and make new ones within the year, but I want to accomplish the number of big projects that I set out to do.
I used the second half of December to read, think, and to work on the tools that will help me get where I want to go with my writing.
I’m enjoying my process, and I’m not working under contract. (With Wild Rose Press, authors enter the contract after the book is written, not before.)
What are you looking forward to accomplishing this year?
Before you go, I’ve been working on this photo. Which do you prefer?
I want to share with you the long and winding exploration in which I’ve indulged during the magical cold days of December, days that somehow lend themselves to introspection, giving the psyche time to go deep like the dormant trees doing whatever it is they do to prepare themselves to leaf out in the spring.
This exploration all started when I read my friend Gayle Parness‘ debut novel Rebirth (Rogues Shifter Series 1). She has a dozen or so books out, and she gave me the audio book of the first one, which starts the series. Rebirth brims with imagination and gorgeously rich language not to mention brilliant characterization, snappy dialogue and good plotting. But it’s the brimming imagination that triggered a negative thought about myself as a writer.
When something happens to make me doubt myself as a writer, I am all over it. I am a disciple of Eric Maisel, my go-to writer for all the baggage that goes with being an artist. Because I’m a “self-coach,” as he teaches, I know when I am having a self-defeating thought about writing, and I get on that. Not to deny it, but to examine it and understand the thought so that I can then dispute it.
First the examination. It is a known self-defeating action to compare oneself to other writers. However, if we have the solid anchor of being a creativity self coach and know that we are not going to let the self-defeating part take root, it can be a useful exercise. I do have this creativity self coach thing down now, so let’s take a look.
Unlike Gayle, who is prolific, I am a lean writer. With my debut novel, my newly assigned editor said, “This could be a lot longer.” I said, “I know. I write lean. I don’t know why, but no matter how much I try, that is what I do.” She said, “It’s your style. Most authors throw everything on the page and I have to sort through it.” I felt lots better. This leanness is just my style.
However, I want to do more, much more.
As I was examining this comparison of myself to Gayle, I thought, I’m semi-scientific. I say semi-scientific as I like to dwell on the fringes of science; I am not myself a disciplined scientist. In my previous career, I was a senior technical writer, a role that is on the border of the engineer the IT professional and the written word. Nothing in my life has ever come to me so naturally as technical writing; the field was a perfect match for someone who majored in math and English.
This thought that I am semi-scientific rather than richly imaginative led to the idea of Googling creativity for scientific minds, which led me to: How to Train Your Creative Brain, which led me to: A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb Young. Gold mine. I need a deliberate methodology for cultivating creativity because while flashes of insight and imagination come to me, I want to go deeper and I want to have some control over it. If I am analytical, how can I use that quality in the service of my art?
I put together this from A Technique for Producing Ideas. This book is about advertising, which is a highly applied form of creativity. I translated the book to writing fiction this way:
Here is a longish quote from the shortish book:
We constantly talk about the importance of having an intimate knowledge of the product and the consumer, but in fact we seldom work at it.
This I suppose is because a real knowledge of a product, and of people in relation to it, is not easy to come by. Getting it is something like the process which was recommended to De Maupassant as the way to learn to write. “Go out into the streets of Paris,” he was told by an older writer, “and pick out a cab driver. He will look to you very much like every other cab driver. But study him until you can describe him so that he is seen in your description to be an individual, different from every other cab driver in the world.”
This is the real meaning of that trite talk about getting an intimate knowledge of a product and its consumers. Most of us stop too soon in the process of getting it. If the surface differences are not striking we assume that there are no differences. But if we go deeply enough, or far enough, we nearly always find that between every product and some consumers there is an individuality of relationship which may lead to an idea.*
Another book I read in December had a major impact on my writing: Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. So I looked him up and found this quote which captures what is so genius about Freedom and which ties in neatly to what James Webb Young said:
…if you pay careful enough attention to a character’s inner life, it turns out to be a marvelously detailed mirror of the character’s outer world.**
Here’s another quote from a book that is playing into my new methodology of creativity (The Plot Thickens, by Noah Lukeman):
…it is the purpose of this book to show that plot is not just about having a single great idea; on the contrary, a good plot is an amalgamation of many ideas or elements of writing, including characterization, journey, suspense, conflict, and context. An idea is paramount but without the supporting elements, an idea by itself is just that — an idea, not a 124 or 300 page living being replete with shades, colors, and textures. Most stories do not come in one flash — on the contrary, the best stories or are organic to their characters, to their layers of suspense and conflict.***
Creativity and imagination can be cultivated. Stay tuned for Part II on how I employed the methods and the results.
* A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb Young
***The Plot Thickens, by Noah Lukeman
Do you have goals? Do you resist your goals?
I go through phases when I resist my goals. Right now, though, I am on a roll, checking things off my great project management master list. Right now I’m feeling very energized because I finished the next step in Third Strike’s the Charm, the second edit.
Here’s a writing tip I just recorded for myself in a new document called Process. Process is another topic. I’ll do that soon. But this was just something I learned during second edits that I wanted to share.
I decided to go ahead and read the manuscript backwards. I usually reserve that step for the galleys. However, with my publisher, when you have the galleys, the manuscript is locked down in a PDF and you cannot make changes to it directly. You have to give the line number, the error, and the correction. You have to type that all up. I figured it would behoove me to go ahead and do my very detailed proofreading now while I can make big changes directly in the manuscript.
I expected to find typos, grammatical errors, that kind of thing. I did. However, I also noticed story element things. I had a small thematic element that I had not revisited and two minor plot points that would be nice to revisit as well. I’m excited because I feel that rounding off these elements will provide a more satisfying and richer experience for the reader.
I don’t know why reading it backwards did that, but I think the process keeps your mind alert. Any time I read a sentence but realized I had spaced out, I stopped and read it again and again and again until I was concentrating again. So I was really keeping my mind alert. I did about 12 pages a day.
Reading forward, you miss things because you’re caught up in the story. You’ve read it so many times by now that your mind is filling in what should be there.
Theme has been interesting in this book for me as well and what I learned was that there can be more than one theme. I had a theme that I consciously developed and two smaller themes for one of the characters that I almost didn’t develop. One of my critique partners noticed that one of them hadn’t been developed enough. And the other very small one I caught on the reverse read.
My takeaway tip for this is to watch for themes when you are doing a careful read-through of the manuscript. You might find some minor or even major themes or seeds of themes lurking in the text. If so, find ways to weave the themes through in more places or to at least complete on them one time.
Theme is really important. If you are a writer, what do you think about theme? If you are a reader but not a writer, do you notice themes in books?
I’m listening to Freedom by Jonathan Franzen now. Okay, the theme is freedom. I’m 7 discs in and I’m starting to feel the hits on Freedom, and oh it’s glorious. One place to look for your theme is in the title.
My process seems to include this kind of amorphous big picture feeling about the book when I start, and oftentimes I have the title, which suggests the theme. But executing the theme? Yeah, it doesn’t happen in the first draft. Some seeds get planted though. And those were the seeds I noticed in second edits and realized I hadn’t grown.
Here are some photos from an outdoor shopping mall near me where I met a friend for coffee. Nighttime is sure to be more spectacular when the swans are lit against a background of darkness, but I do like the elegant shapes, the Italian style background, the bows, poinsettias and wreathes. Enjoy.