Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Fiction Writing Wars

I went out yesterday and bought a new netbook to take with me when I travel or go on my writing retreat or to a writers' conference. Well, now they are all called chromebooks. I guess google has taken over the computer industry. I think there may be a learning curve coming. And the computers come with google-docs which I have never used so I will need to try that out before I have to go on the road with my writing.

So what is this war I speak of? Well, it's nothing new but I am always at war with myself about whether I should write novels or short stories. Here are my thoughts:

With a novel I have a long journey to just write a first draft. Then the hard work of several revisions comes along and then the long process of seeking a publisher or agent. Sometimes it seems too long a trip to take.

When I write a flash fiction story I can knock off a first draft of 1,000 words or less in an hour, revise the story in another hour and send it out to several literary journals by the end of the day.

The other issue is that I believe my true writing voice comes out in short fiction and poetry and the voice I hear when reading a scene from my novel sounds like someone else--too simple and lacking the polish and poetry of my other writing. Of course that could all be fixed with a meticulous rewrite.

Writing a novel is just hard work, though work I love to do. This morning I wrote ten new pages on the present novel-in-progress so it is possible for me to write a novel. I just have to value these day to day leaps of progress.

Craft Notes
My subject for today has to do with first drafts. I am a pantser, I seldom outline and if I do at all it is very sketchy, just imagining the curve of the story from start to finish. I don't outline every scene but I always know how my books will end when I begin to write.

Whatever way you choose to compose a first draft I suggest just writing straight through. Pick a time of day and span of time or number of pages. Just write. Don't over think it and don't try to make it perfect. Just get the pages down and go back for revisions when you're done. Even if it's a rough first draft the feeling of getting from chapter one to the end is a wonderful motivator for future progress.

How to Books
Jack Bickham's book, "Scene and Structure" offers some great lessons in constructing a novel that will engage readers.

He guides you step by step and scene by scene in creating great action and suspense and engaging characters. There is even a template to tell you what action goes where in the book. It may be only one possibility but it offers some great guidance.

Novel Reading
I just finished reading Hank Phillipi Ryan's latest suspense novel, "What You See."

This latest installment of her Jane Ryland series will keep you up into the wee hours reading because you just won't be able to put it down. The twists and turns and surprises are phenomenal. Ryan's writing is amazing and tight, her characters fly off the pages and into your heart. While I couldn't put this book down I wasn't so eager to see it end because I wanted to go on reading. I will anxiously await the next Jane Ryland book which can't come soon enough for me.

Today's Prompt
Your antagonist opens a box wrapped in brown paper that was left at his front door. What does he see inside?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Writing a Fiction Series

I am undertaking the long journey of writing a romantic women's fiction series with the help of Karen Wiesner's book "Writing the Fiction Series." This may seem odd to my writer friends who know that I haven't finished even the one novel I've been writing since forever. But now that I am retired there are no excuses and I came up with an idea that I am excited about.

I will begin by reading all of Karen's book and using her worksheets--which are quite helpful in the novel writing process and available to download from

I have a general idea of the story arc for the series and a solid plan for the story arc for writing the first novel in the series which will be called the Warwick House Series. I will do whatever it takes to accomplish this goal. I plan to have a first draft done by the time my writing critique group goes on retreat in April. I huge goal but I have writing time now and I have to use it to write! I am so looking forward to our retreat at Amagansett

I am also revamping the organization for this blog now that I have a template and appearance I am satisfied with. I will include snippets of the journey in writing these books, discussions of specific writing craft topics, tidbits of advice for the writing process and keeping the writing moving along, recommendations of writing craft reference books and novels. I hope in the near future to include interviews with published writers as well. I will end each blog with a writing prompt.

Here is today's prompt:

"Your main character opens her door to someone she hasn't seen in ten years--who is it?"

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Trying a New Look for My Writer Blog

I am trying out a new look for this blog and would appreciate comments or suggestions. I wanted to create something different and was reading about getting different blogger templates than what are offered on this site but it seems a bit beyond me how to upload them to this blog. I will continue to experiment until I find what I like and then see if I can figure out how to work zip files and "stuffit" programs to apply the new template to my blog. It's easier to write a novel than do this tech stuff.

I wanted a cleaner and more simple look to my writing blog as it deals with writing and I want it to appear professional. 

I am going to create a new blog for my art and poetry or attempt to add a poetry page to this blog if I can figure out how to do that. 

I'm just checking this out now and looking for feedback.'

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Talking about Your Novel-in-Progress

Persistence is a necessary quality when writing a novel. Not to mention when I want to write a series of novels. But something else helps me as well.

I've read in several places now that it's a bad idea for writers to discuss their work in progress with others. I understand the concept that in speaking about your plot or characters you may dispel all your writing energy. In verbally telling the story you may lose the impetus to write it. I disagree, for me anyway.

I find that when I am writing a novel having a brainstorming session with my critique group is immensely helpful. Different viewpoints help the process. If I am stuck the other writers can offer ideas about how to smooth out plot points. If I share a few pages they may note where something isn't working and offer ideas for fixing the problem. Just discussing the general story with two other writers who know my book and know my writing style can unearth a whole array of new scenes that will create a more engaging story.

All of this, rather than depleting my writing energy, expands it in all directions. The new ideas spur even more ideas and jettison me to my notebook. The suggestions often save pages and pages of prose that would end up getting me trapped in a corner that would require chapter after chapter to extricate myself from.

Of course you need to do what works for you. If you think you will lose the motivation to write your story by sharing it too soon, then I suggest keeping it to yourself. For me it acts as kindling to get the writing fires glowing. 

I happen to love my monthly critique group meetings and our twice yearly retreats. The collective group energy is fantastic!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Brainstorm Your Novel Ideas

Despite the frigid temps and chaotic winds we fought the elements and went to Barnes and Noble this morning. Over a hot cup of java and a new notebook I wrote ideas for my new novel and purused some novel writing books.

After spending 6 years working on a novel that was never finished I decided to put it aside and begin something new. However, when I started brainstorming ideas for the new novel it occurred to me that I could turn these 2 ideas into a fiction series of 3 to 4 novels. 

It sounds rather presumtious to plan such a thing since I never finished the last novel. But I'm retired now and have more time and hopefully more stress free focus.

I think the idea was prompted this morning by reading the second book in Robyn Carr's Virgin River series. I thought, "I could do this." I love her writing and I am captivated by her stories and the characters. Her writing very much echoes the kind of books I want to write. Women's fiction with a romance going on and some subplot related to social issues. 

It came to me that my two novel ideas are connected as they revolve around a counseling center. I want to take the characters and translate them into ongoing protagonists and add in more characters and substories as each new book opens up. I think I can do this!

Working the 2 stories into a 2 book series and then expanding it at least assures I won't completely lose the hundreds of pages I've written in the previous novel.

Now I just have to sketch out the way this will go. Some plot lines will stay the same, some will be moved and others eliminated. Not sure how to set up a series yet but I will try my best and see what happens!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Mentors and Routines: It takes a tribe

Even as I sit at my desk alone in the dawn I know that no one truly writes a novel by herself. At least not if she wants to hold onto a shred of sanity as she does so.

Of course, aside from that paper muse I showed you yesterday, I have a little tribe to gain confidence from.

First of all is Tapestries, my local writing group. We are a group of 6 women commited to writing and publishing our novels. Three of us have been meeting monthly for over ten years. Without these women I would have given up long ago. We help each other stay on task, brainstorm plot ideas and provide feedback as we each read portions of our novels.

Sometimes mentors come from outside my writing group, like the help I've gotten from Martha Alderson who is better known as the Plot Whisperer. Her books and videos provide wonderful guidance. Though I don't typically write from an outline her books provide a bit of structure to my plot planning and her prompts and direction in terms of rituals and routines help me stay at my desk.

I'm trying out her plot prompt book for the first draft of this new novel. I helps me spend my morning writing time adding pages to the novel instead of journaling about why I'm not writing.

Brainstorming is a help and I do that as I slowly wake up in the morning or fall asleep at night. Starting a new novel after not having finished the previous one creates a bit of a challenge. The main character in the first novel keeps popping into my head. Her red curly hair and her name haunt me and I have to remember that this new character has a different name, a different story, and long straight black hair.

I'll get there. This time I'm certain and I'll take you along for the circuitous and winding journey from the beginning, into the muddled middle, and on to the climax and ending of this novel.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Every Writer Needs a Muse

So here I am, 2 weeks into the new year and I am just fleshing out the plot for my new novel.  I should have written at least 30 pages of a first draft by now, but as usual I got distracted and sidetracked by art and poetry. 

It's time now to focus on writing this novel. While I have only a few sketchy ideas so far I must sit down with my spiral, one-subject, wide ruled notebook and just begin. I've written 3 novels that way so why try to change my process now. I will continue to fill in the plot points as I go but I won't wait till that's done to write a first draft. After all, writers write.

But all writers need a muse as well. Sometimes more than one. My visual muse looks like this

I created this myself on one of my many excursions back to art and even made a muse for each of the women in my writer's group.

But muses come in all shapes and sizes. Some are ephemeral and only exist in ghost like form as they perch on our shoulders, hopefully whispering helpful affirmations or story suggestions in our ears. Like these, some are concrete and visual. But muses can also take on a more practical side, becoming truly helpful routines, behaviors and tools. Here are some of my favorites.

  1. cleaning up my writing space and hiding art supplies from view--at least to the extent I can since I have so many stored in such a small room
  2. putting away art and poetry books and setting out my novel writing books in plain sight
  3. reading those technique books to keep novel writing in my mind
  4. reading the kinds of novels I write meaning women's fiction, romance, or romantic women's fiction
  5. keeping in touch with my writing group in between meetings
  6. sitting at my desk every morning (before the sun rises) and journaling about my writing goals and keeping my focus on novel writing
All these little helpers gently push me in the direction I need to do. If you're writing a novel you might want to try out a few.