23 December 2011

Can't talk...writing.

I haven't been posting as often as I'd like, but I have good reasons. They are:

Bean likes fruit snacks


Not even one, and already a couch potato....


My goofballs!

And, really, what could be better?

That said, I am writing. Quite a lot, actually. And after Christmas, I'll have updates on the coffee house book. Enjoy your holidays, and may you be surrounded by friends and family.

15 December 2011

My Reading Challenge for 2012

Reading is important.

As a writer, I turn to other authors for inspiration and advice. Reading about the worlds others have created leads to me creating my own fictional worlds. Seeing how an author handles a certain type of relationship or villain or format can help me tackle it in my own writing. I have found that the more I read, the more motivated I am to write. And as an added benefit, reading is fun. It's nice to be able to escape from my own world for a little while and occupy someone else's.

Unfortunately, though, I haven't been reading nearly as much as I'd like to. I could give the standard excuses--kids, work, life--but it doesn't change the fact that I just haven't made time to sit down and read. So my goal for 2012 is to get back to reading for pleasure. And the way for me to do that is to take a challenge laid down by Book Chick City:

That's right: 100 or more books in 12 months. It equates to almost nine books each month. It's a lot, but I think I can do it. And even if I don't, I'll have read a lot more than I did this year, and that's what I want.

Here are the challenge details laid out in the sign-up post of Book Chick City's blog:

  • The timeline is from January 1, 2012 until December 31, 2012.
  • The challenge is to read 100 or more books in any genre during the timeline.
  • Books don't need to be selected ahead of time. If they are, you can change your list as you go. Your list can also overlap with other challenges you may be doing.
  • You can join in anytime. All the books you read in 2012 count toward the challenge, even if you didn't start it in January.
  • Audiobooks and non-fiction don't count toward the challenge.
  • To officially join the challenge, go here and add your blog. (Link directly to the challenge post, not a link to your blog's main page.) If you don't have a blog, there's a form you can fill out to join instead.
I already have an idea of some of the books I'm going to read for the challenge, and I hope I'll discover some new and exciting authors along the way. If you're interested in joining in, check out Book Chick City's post on the challenge (linked above). There's still plenty of time to decide if you want to do it or not!

Happy reading!

13 December 2011

How to prepare to write a series

The coffee house book is not part of a series. It's the first book in a collection of stories, but each book can be read and appreciated independently.

I am, however, also working on a different story line that will be a series. (I know, I know. I promise I'm not brainstorming this other story to avoid the coffee house book.) So I'm preparing to write this series in a similar way to preparing for the coffee house book collection.

The first steps for the series is an outline. I have an overreaching story line in mind, which I'll be breaking into smaller outlines for the individual books. I know some of you start foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of outlines, but in order to maintain continuity, I have to be able to look through notes and make sure I'm in line with where I need to be.

Once I have the outlines, I'll write the character biographies, and then I'll be ready to start writing. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?

For me, the key is making sure I'm consistent throughout the series. I have to make sure that, as I write the individual stories, I keep the overall series story line in mind. For that purpose, I'll be using story cards. I'll write the major series plot points on index cards and stick them on a board in order. Then I'll take the plot points and separate them for the individual books. I'll then use the sets of story cards to develop the individual outlines for the books.

I'm looking forward to working on the series. Of course, the coffee house book has priority, but when I'm ready to start working on the series, I'll have my plan.

Have you ever written a series? If so, how did you prepare for it?

05 December 2011

Wrapping up the office for 2011

Photo source:
nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
If there's anything I love it's paperwork. (end sarcasm)

Unfortunately, paperwork is necessary even in a paperless office. Of course, by paperwork, I mean all those little administrative things that need to be done like invoicing and updating records and organizing (digital) files. And the next few weeks I'll have to spend some extra time going through all that paperwork-y stuff. It's getting to the end of the year, and I have to close out the office for 2011 and get it ready for 2012. There's not too much more I have to do, but since I'm spreading it out to give myself time to, yanno, do freelance writing, it will take the next few weeks to get done.

This year, I'm also taking the time to write a business plan for 2012. In the past I only had small business plans (more like a list of goals) because while I was technically a full time writer, I was only spending about half my work day doing freelance work. The rest of my time was divided between mommyhood and fiction. This year, though, I hope to grow my freelance career, and the best way to make sure I do that the right way is to have a specific, written business plan that I can turn to as the year goes.

Even if you're not incorporated or doing freelance writing once in a while for extra cash, a business plan is a good idea. It will help keep you accountable to yourself and give you a direction for your career. Having a business plan will help remind me that what I do is, in fact, business, and will help keep me on track for my earning goals throughout the year so I can make sure my son has all the "fruit snackehs" he can eat.

Do you have a business plan? Why or why not? How did you develop it?

02 December 2011

NaNoWriMo: the aftermath

Well, the whirlwind that was November is over. The deadline has come and gone, and you've had a day to lay comatose with ice on your wrists. You've managed to crawl out of bed long enough to check your blogs, so I have a very important question for you: how did it go?

Here's the thing about NaNoWriMo. It gives you a goal and a deadline. But the only reason it does that is to get you at your desk and writing. The month is not about the magic number, it's about the writing. It's about proving to yourself and your characters and your family that you can make time to tell stories. And you showed that.

The most important thing is that you wrote. Whether you ended with 50,000+ words or 25,000 words or even 2,000 words, you ended the month with more words than you started with. As long as you wrote something, you won!

You may want to keep working on your NaNo novel, or you may not. If you do, take some time to let it sit first. Give yourself some time to recover from the craziness of the month. And, when you're ready, get the manuscript out again, read through it, and start tweaking.

If it stays in a folder on your computer forever, that's fine, too. Sometimes a NaNo novel is just something you wrote one month. (You can always use it for parts!) It still showed you that you can do it.

Just because it's December doesn't mean you have to stop writing. Keep the motivation and excitement from NaNo through the rest of the year. Use it to fuel other projects, edit your WIP, start something new.

Just keep writing.

And congratulations on all you accomplished in November!

17 November 2011

Do what you love vs. love what you do

In 2008 I had the unique pleasure of declaring myself a full-time freelance writer. And I haven't looked back. I love what I do.

Even so, there are difficult days doing what I love. There are difficult projects, snarky (potential) clients, and long days of figuring things out. Not to mention no paid time off, getting health insurance on my own, and sometimes patching income together to make it all work. And there are days when I take on a project or a client I'm not wild about because it has good potential or provides steady work.

And still, when I'm slogging through a less-than-exciting project, I remind myself that even on the difficult days, I'm doing what I love. That's what it's about, isn't it? Perspective?

Yes, it's wonderful to be able to do what you love, particularly as a career. However, it's just as important to love what you do, wherever you are in your life and career.

There are likely to be jobs you don't like, both in and out of your field of study. And when you're faced with a less-than-pleasant job, you have to make the most of your position. If you don't do what you love, find a way to love what you do. Do what you can to make every moment of the job your own and enjoy it the best you can.

And you may just find that, after a while, you'll love what you do, and if you aren't already, you'll be doing what you love!

16 November 2011

NaNoWriMo Pep Talk: the last half of the month

Today is the 16th of November, which means we're officially in the last half of NaNoWriMo, ladies and gentlemen.

I can hardly believe how quickly it's gone by. I hope you've all been able to get big word counts every day and that you've nearly reached your 50,000-word count goal for the month! If not, that's okay. Just keep writing! There's still lots of time to finish. And even if you don't hit 50,000 words by the end of the day on the 30th, you've got lots more writing now than you did on October 31st, so be happy!

I'm not going to lie--the last half of the month has always been the most difficult for me. Your motivation is likely waning, your story may not be as robust as you initially anticipated, and as Thanksgiving approaches, you may be finding less and less time to work on your NaNo novel.

There are things you can do to keep your story moving forward, unusual as they may be.

If you've written yourself into a corner, well...change the architecture. Make it a dream or something. I know, it may be a cheap escape, but that's what revision is for. November is about getting words on the page.

If you've run out of plot, add a character. Or a conflict. Or transport your entire cast to a new location. Crazy, I know. But crazy adventures call for crazy action.

Whatever else you do, just keep at it. Even if you only get a paragraph down in a day, it's a paragraph more than you had yesterday. And it's a paragraph closer to 50,000 words by the end of the month.

You can do this. I know you can. So close this browser window, open you NaNo novel, and keep writing.

Happy scribbling!

10 November 2011

NaNoWriMo Pep Talk: pushing through the mid-month slump

NaNoWriMo is fast-approaching the mid-month mark. Can you believe you've been scribbling for almost two weeks already? Are you at 25,000 words yet?

If you're not, that's okay. The word count goal for November 10th is a little over 16,000 words. And if you're below that, it's okay. Because even if you only have 1,000 words written (or even less!), it's more than you had on October 31st! How is your writing going?

A lot of people start to slow down as it gets closer to the middle of the month. The initial excitement and adrenaline of NaNoWriMo is past, lengthy descriptions of characters and setting are likely already written, and you're getting to the meat of the story. So it gets a little harder to write it.

Keep writing. Keep pushing through, page by page, word by word. If you have to, add more description. Add long, convoluted explanations by your characters. Just keep writing.

It will get better. Because even though the middle of the month can be a nightmare, the end of the month is so sweet! You'll start on the downward slope of your NaNoWriMo mountain. You'll see your word count inching closer and closer to 50,000 and your adrenaline will start pumping again. You can do it. I know you can. All you have to do is keep putting words together today, tomorrow, and the next day. Keep writing.

And then the month will be over. And you'll have written a novel in 30 days.

08 November 2011

Sometimes inspiration strikes inconveniently

Writers across the globe are scribbling furiously this month as they participate in NaNoWriMo. It's a fun adventure, and shows writers that regardless of your schedule or situation, you can make time to write about 2,000 words a day, and focus on a novel to get it done.

I'm not officially participating in NaNo this year, but I am working on the coffee house book. Focusing on one story is good. It lets me get into the characters and story. But, as can happen with writers, focusing on one story leads to a new, shiny idea begging to be written. It's happening to me right now, in fact. I have an idea for a story I think would be fun to write--much more fun than slogging through character biographies and background information for the coffee house book.

What do you do when this happens to you? Do you take a little time to jot ideas down? Do you use the shiny, new idea as a way to break from the WIP when you feel stuck? Do you ignore the new idea until you're ready to write it?

04 November 2011

NaNoWriMo Pep Talk: the first weekend

Today is the first Friday of November, and many of you may be planning ahead as to how to spend your weekend in regards to NaNoWriMo. Have you set goals yet?

Regardless of your word count at this moment, this weekend is a good one to get ahead in writing. It's still early in the month, so energy and creativity are still high. Use them to fuel your word count so you can start this next full week with a positive outlook. If you can break 10,000 words by the end of the day on Sunday, you'll be right on track for the rest of the month.

This is still the exciting stage of NaNo. The honeymoon phase, really. You've been waiting a year to get to this point. Maybe you've even had a story rattling around in your head that whole year, just waiting for November 1st to appear on your calendar so you can scribble away at it. Use that excitement to fuel your word count.

The minimum word count for NaNo is 1667 words each day. That will allow you to end on November 30th with a word count of 50,010 words. But it's just the minimum. If your excitement and energy and creativity is flowing freely right now, and you find yourself writing 2,000 or 3,000 or even 4,000 words in a day, keep at it! And don't use those large word count days to give yourself a day off later. Sure, you can use it that way, but if you stick with the minimum every day, and ignore any extra you do, you won't fall behind. And if you don't fall behind, you'll find it easier to stay motivated.

Keep writing. Set high goals for this weekend, next week, and the rest of the month. Now is your time to write a novel, and I know you can do it!

Happy scribbling!

01 November 2011

A new chapter

I'm venturing away from the writing world momentarily to update you on my personal life. (This will also offer an explanation about the lack of posting over the past few weeks.)

Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I am now a resident of Illinois. After a lot of discussion about some things that have been happening in our lives, my husband and I decided moving to Illinois (near my family) was the best decision for our family. I got back to Illinois on Sunday after my dad and I packed and moved our Florida household ourselves. It was quite a task, but we got it done!

We are currently bunking at my mom's house until we find a rental property in the area.

This is a good move for us. It's going to be better in a lot of ways, and I'll have much more time for blog posting (I know how important that is to all of you!). I will still be working full time as a freelance writer for the foreseeable future. I have a few good clients, and a few potential clients I'm working to bring on board.

I'm hoping this change will give me some extra free time I can use for fiction-writing. NaNoWriMo is upon us, and while I won't be officially participating, I will be using the month to work on the coffee house book. I will have the coffee house book query-ready by the end of next summer.

I'm optimistic about this big change in our family's life. It's a big change (especially at the end of fall/beginning of winter), but it's going to be a good one. And I know there will be some good writing that will come from it!

Now that I'm back to Illinois and we're getting settled, I'm going to be starting a new routine. And, at least this month, that routine involves about 2,000 words a day devoted to the coffee house book. How is your November starting out?

10 October 2011

NaNoWriMo prep: developing your story

Before November 1st rolls around, it's really a good idea to know the basics of your NaNoWriMo* story. You don't necessarily need to know every detail of every step in the story arc, but knowing you have a story arc (and what it is) will certainly help you as you scribble about 2,000 words each day. You're less likely to write yourself into a corner or be at a loss for what comes next if you already have a destination (or resolution) point in your mind before you start.

Here are a few things to think about as you develop your story:


Where does your story start? Do you have an established world or situation that changes at the beginning of the story, or has the change already occurred? What characters are important to setting the scene for getting the action of your story going? How do you want to introduce your readers to what's going on?


What is the climax of the story? How do you get there? What happens immediately after? How do the characters react to what's going on?


How does your story resolve? Does it resolve? What happens to your characters when the story ends? What do you want readers to take away with them from the story? Is there a "moral"? How do you reveal it to your readers without actually stating it?

November is just around the corner. Yes, it may still only be the beginning of October, but time goes quickly, and NaNoWriMo will be here before you know it. What do you know about your story? Is it enough to start writing it? Are you ready for this scary, fun adventure?

*NOTE: NaNoWriMo's website will be relaunching for 2011 on Monday, October 10. This means that it's likely to be a bit laggy as people poke around the site and order their shirts for this year. If you log on, be patient. You can also follow NaNoWriMo on Twitter for updated info about the site and goings-on.

03 October 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011: let the fun begin!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's that time of year again.

We're less than 30 days from starting the writing adventure known as National Novel Writing Month. I wasn't originally going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but my schedule is going to be changing to give me more time to work on fiction, so I decided I can at least use the NaNo time to work on the coffee house book. (All the work I've been doing on it has been background, so I suppose writing it "counts," doesn't it? Either way, I plan to write 50,000+ words on the coffee house book during the month of November.)

If you haven't already, it's time to start planning and organizing and working on all those background notes you're going to need in order to write 50,000 words in 30 short days. Yes, you can just jump into a story on November 1st without anything other than an idea, but being a somewhat organization-obsessed person, I'm all about the preparation. Wouldn't it go so much more smoothly if you had character biographies and an outline and background notes and a setting map?

Over the next few weeks I'm going to walk you through some of the steps you can use to help prepare yourself for NaNoWriMo 2011. And, before you know it, we'll be smack dab in the middle of a big, crazy, scary, fun adventure. Who needs sleep, anyway?

28 September 2011

An update from the road

I'm still happily working from vacation. It's been harder than I thought to stay on top of things while away from home. It's so tempting to leave work until later when you're spending time with family you haven't seen in more than six months!

I'll be working from the road for another week or so, and then I'll be back to my normal office with a brand new schedule (more on that when it's established).

How's your September winding down?

13 September 2011

Vacation-ready office

[ETA: I'll be leaving tomorrow (Wednesday) morning instead. A family member is in the hospital, so I need to move my vacation up a few days.]

On Saturday morning (very early), Bean, Bunny and I will load up in the car and drive about 20 hours to visit my family in Illinois.

This week, in addition to getting my house ready to be a quasi-bachelor pad for a few weeks (Hubby is staying home) and packing, I'm getting ready to work from the road.

Since my office is paperless, and all my work is online articles/posts right now, it's pretty easy to pack up my office for vacation. In fact, all I'll have to do is put my laptop, calendar, notebook and a couple of books in my bag and it'll be ready.

I have to make sure I won't have any deadlines on my driving days this weekend, but other than that, the work itself is ready.

I will be letting my clients know I'm working from the road, though. I'll still be working while I'm on vacation, but I want them to know I'll technically be out of my office, and unreachable during the days I'll be driving.

I wish I could leave my work behind for the few weeks I'll be gone, but I'm just thankful I get to go at all, so I'll gladly make it a working vacation.

What do you do in the office to get ready for vacation?

11 September 2011

What I will tell my children

On September 11, 2001, I was a freshman at Eastern Illinois University. That morning I had an Intro to Theatre class. I went, learned about some concepts about drama and stage performance, and went back to my dorm room with the intention of doing my English 101 homework before class in the afternoon.

Sometime after ten--I don't know what time it was--my roommate came in our room and changed the channel. I'd been watching some rerun of something on TNT. She switched to a network channel. "Don't you know what's going on?" she asked. I told her no. Another girl, who lived on our floor, was with her and glared at me. "This is why people leave their dorm rooms open," she snapped.

I thought something had happened on campus. I thought it was something local. But the news coverage told a different story.

By the time the news was turned on in our dorm room, the first tower had fallen. It didn't seem real. I didn't understand what was happening. It had to be some kind of accident, right? But one word burned into my ears and on my heart as I watched chaotic news coverage of what no one fully understood: attack.

It didn't register at first. Attack? What did that mean? As in, someone did it on purpose? Who would do that? Why would someone do that?

I'd grown up in a world in which mass attacks like this simply didn't happen. Violence was one person against another person, sometimes a small group of people. Events like Columbine were a rarity, but a special circumstance. When Timothy McVeigh attacked the federal building in Oklahoma City, it was 1995. I was only 12. That kind of violence was beyond my comprehension. And, again, it seemed a special circumstance. But the attacks on September 11th were different. These were the kinds of things that happened in war-torn nations on the other side of the world.

I watched the news all day. I didn't go English that afternoon. I went to lunch with my roommate, and we ate in silence, our swollen, teary eyes watching CNN in the dining hall.

I went to bed that night feeling like a different person.

That was my experience ten years ago. And when my children are old enough, I'll tell them where I was on that day, how I felt, what I did. And maybe they'll write an essay for school about it. But I hope, instead, they'll use what their father tells them for school assignments.

My husband was still in high school on September 11, 2001. He was in school.

After the first plane hit, the teachers turned on the TV in the cafeteria. The first thing Gamer Dad saw was smoke billowing from the first tower; he thought it was a fire. Then he watched as the second plane hit.

He and the students went to their classes, but spent them watching the news and talking about what they saw. Being so close to Washington, D.C., there was worry about invasions, and the city being a target. And then the Pentagon was hit.

My husband's father is a retired Air Force colonel. Ten years ago, he was working at the Pentagon. Gamer Dad said that when he heard about the Pentagon, he froze. The only thing he could think about was that his dad had gone to work that morning, and Gamer Dad didn't tell him he loved him before he left because he was tired.

Students tried to make phone calls from their cell phones, but no one could get through to anyone. Gamer Dad went to the office to use the phone, and one of the counselors let him use hers; she knew his dad worked at the Pentagon. He called his mom, and he said it was one of the scariest phone calls he'd ever made because he didn't know if she knew what was happening. She did, but hadn't heard from his dad.

Gamer Dad knew people who had family members who should have been working in one of the towers, but weren't there that day. And both the parents of one girl worked at the World Trade Center. He never found out if her parents were all right.

A couple of hours later, a note came to Gamer Dad from the office. It said "Dad is ok." He still has that note in his wallet.

Gamer Dad didn't get to see his dad until two or three in the morning. He was busy helping transport people here and there, and was part of the emergency command team that stepped in to run things after the attacks. But Gamer Dad stayed up until his dad got home.

When I asked Gamer Dad to tell me his story for this post, he told me that as he was riding the bus home from school, he realized it was the first time that he felt like he was part of a country because everyone was sharing some level of pain in this tragedy together. Everyone knew someone who was affected by the attacks. It was unifying, and he felt that.

Ten years later, I am encouraged that the focus of our memorials is those who tragically lost their lives on that day. We tell stories of heroes--in and out of uniform--who sacrificed their own safety (and, in some cases, lives) so others could live. We pray for the survivors, the families of the victims, each other, as we still try to make sense of what happened.

2753 empty chairs sit in Bryant Park to honor
the memories of those lost on September 11, 2001.
Most importantly, we remember.

We don't let what happened become just another tragedy. We acknowledge that this was different from other violence we have known in our lives and in our society.

Across the nation today, there are memorial services. Flags are at half mast. People are going about their lives, yes, but when they write the date on a check or see the calendar on the kitchen wall, they stop for just a moment and remember.

They think about where they were ten years ago. They think about those they know who were there, the families of those who didn't come home.

Ten years from now my son will be 12. My daughter will be 10. They'll be in school and, very likely, this day will be the focus of a social studies lesson. They might come home and ask me, "Mom, do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001?" And I will say yes. I remember vividly.

And I will never forget.

09 September 2011

Fiction Friday: getting into your characters' heads

I write a lot about characters and characterization. It's probably because the characters are such an important part of the coffee house book (and the other books in the collection). In fact, the characters tell the stories. The characters are the stories.

When characters are that important to a story, you have to understand them. You have to know everything about your characters, even the stuff that never makes it into the story. You have to be in your characters' heads in a way only a writer can be. But it's more than simply knowing your characters because you created them. You kind of have to stalk them. And there are writerly ways to do it.

Extensive character biographies

I've written on the topic of character biographies in the past. (Here, here, and here, for just a few.) I think they're useful tools for writers in developing your story. Finding a good biography template and using it for your major characters (and sometimes your minor ones*) can help you understand your characters. You can use it to develop and know your characters before you start writing, and you can refer back to the biographies to refresh your memory as you write. (Is Vivi's favorite color teal or orange? Is Colin allergic to macadamia nuts or peanuts?)

When you have a character-driven story, the biographies are even more important. I've mentioned before that I use the life story interview in Atkinson's The Gift of Stories, and I'm very happy with it. Sure, there are aspects of it I skip for different characters (for example, Vivi isn't married, so I skipped the section about marriage), but it gives you a really good foundation for your characters. And, life story interview aside, it's a great resource for story-crafting. (In fact, I'll be ordering myself a new copy soon since mine is just about worn out.)

Put your characters in real situations

Of course, this can apply to your stories, but I'm thinking more in the "writers think about their stories/characters all.the.time" realm. You know what I'm talking about. You have a strange encounter with a cashier or find yourself lost on one-way streets downtown, and you wonder, "What would [CHARACTER NAME] do in this situation?" Answering those types of questions can help you get to know your characters. And the more you answer, the better you know your characters.

After all, your stories aren't going to simply be talking-head stories (I hope), so you're going to need to know how to incorporate your characters into real situations, and have the unfolding conversation/situation read as realistic. Even with willing suspension of disbelief, there have to be facts. Just ask Dana. Because even in the most fantastical story, there are elements of realism. There are people and situations and conflicts that are recognizable to readers. So think about those people and situations and conflicts. Put your characters in them.

Yes, it's a lot of work to get in your characters' heads. But in character-driven stories, it's necessary. Just as you know your plot inside out in a plot-driven story, you have to know your characters inside out in a character-driven story. The better you know them, the stronger your story will be.

How do you get in your characters' heads?

*I have a character I thought was minor who was to be in all the books in the collection in some capacity. After writing his biography, he's turned into a major character. But still doesn't speak for himself.

05 September 2011

Federal holidays and working from home

nixxphotography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Today is Labor Day. My husband is home from work today, glad to be sleeping in and lounging around in his "dad shorts." Across the nation people are going to parades, having barbecues with friends and family, and taking advantage of furniture sales.

In the days leading up to today, I debated how I'd spend my Labor Day. On one hand, it's a federal holiday, and it would be nice to have the day off to spend with the family. On the other hand, having Hubby home to watch the kids would mean I could get a lot accomplished in the office.

It's a common dilemma for the work-at-home mom. Having your husband home an extra day makes it very tempting to get caught up (or ahead) in work. But you don't want to be one of those moms who's always working. After all, isn't one of the reasons you work at home to spend more time with the family?

Of course, depending on your industry it may be easier to take federal holidays off. If you work from home because you telecommute for a company and that company is closed for the day, chances are you aren't going to work. On the other hand, if you work in, say, phone sales, working on federal holidays might be a good idea.

Only you know if working on federal holidays is a good option for you or not. However, it's important to remember that if you do, you should make time here and there to not work. Everyone needs time off to recharge and get away from the office, even if it's only briefly. Don't let yourself get burnt out because you're trying to maximize your time.

Ultimately, I decided to split the difference and work in the morning, then spend the afternoon and evening with the family. (I know. Everything in moderation, eh?)

Are you working today? Why or why not?

02 September 2011

Fiction Friday: trust your writing gut

I very recently asked my heart sister for writing advice about the collection of books I'm working on. Basically, I have a list of books I've been thinking of including in this collection with the coffee house book, but I know it's likely that not all of them will work. So I was seeking her advice about which ones she thought sounded compelling.

She gave me her opinion based on the poorly-written synopses I gave her, and said,
All of these are ideas you can do something wonderful with, mind - it's just the ones I've highlighted, I see the most potential in. I could be wrong. You could take the concept on the list I think is the most dull (no, I'm not telling you which it is!) and turn it into the most extraordinary one of all.
She's right.

She always is.

As much advice as I ask, as much feedback as I get, only I know what these stories have to offer and what I can do with them. Only I know what the best course is for this collection.

I have to trust myself as I write these stories. I have feelings about which stories will work and which should probably be included only in my journal. And I have those feelings for a reason. My writer's gut is telling me which direction to go. I just have to trust it.

As writers, it's sometimes easy to trust other people's opinions more than our own. After all, writers are seeking approval of fellow writers, agents and publishers and, ultimately, readers. We want to know that what we're doing is going to be read and enjoyed by people.

But only you know the best way to do your characters justice. Only you know how to write your stories. You have to trust yourself.

It may not be easy, and I know writers who have self-confidence...issues (like myself) may think it's impossible, but it's what you have to do. After all, if you're going to trust everyone else's opinions about your story, why not just save time and let them write the story from beginning to end?

It can be good to get opinions and feedback, but don't take others' opinions as the only answer about your writing. Your opinion is the most important when you're writing.

Trust yourself! And happy scribbling!

01 September 2011

Preparation Procrastination

I've been doing a lot of background work for the coffee house. Outlines, character biographies, charts, and pages and pages of random background information. It's been necessary, but I've felt I have to do this background stuff before I can actually start writing, since everything is so interrelated in this collection of books.

But I know I have a tendency to use preparation and organization as a procrastination tool. I decide everything has to be organized and laid out before I can start writing, so I get caught up in all the background "stuff" instead of actually writing a story.

Have you ever done that? You spend hours making beautiful outlines (and tweaking them), you organize your pages so every page has the page number and your last name at the top, and after a day of "writing," you haven't actually written anything....

It's an understandable response for writers. Many of us (and I do say us because I include myself in this) believe we're not great writers. Maybe we're not any good at all. So the thought of actually writing the words for these stories we talk about is a little intimidating. So we use background work as an excuse to not write.

Let me tell you something. It's okay to actually write!

You don't have to focus on the background stuff. You don't have to be intimidated. If you write something and don't like it, no one else has to read it. You can stick it away between the pages of a journal or in some password-protected hidden file on your hard drive and chalk it up to a writing exercise. If you decide it's not done, then take time to finish it before others see it.

Because here's the thing: you're not going to improve as a writer unless you (hello!) write. I know. It's shocking, isn't it? But it's true.

Every time you write a story or scribble a character sketch or journal about that weird guy who looks like an android that's always at Walgreen's when you pick up diapers late at night (true story--character sketch coming soon), you learn and grow as a writer. You improve. You change.

And it's true that you may not ever be totally confident in your writing. That's okay. But the more you write, the more you'll be a writer, and the more you'll feel like a writer. And eventually, you'll get an idea, and you'll just....sit down and write it.

Outline if you must. Write character bios if you have to. But remember that outlines and character bios are not stories (unless you're experimenting with a new style, which could be cool.... hmmm......). So for all your outlining and background work, make sure you also take time to write.

Happy scribbling!

30 August 2011

Working vacation vs. vacation

In mid-September, I'm planning to take Bean and Bunny up to Illinois to visit my family. Not only do I feel like I could really use the vacation, but it'll be my mom's birthday, and most of my family hasn't met Bunny yet. So I'll be braving the 18-hour drive with a potty-training two-year-old and a four-month-old.

photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
And as if that wasn't complicated enough, I'm still trying to decide whether this will be a working vacation or a normal vacation. Do I want to set aside time, even if it's less than normal, to work, or should I put work on hold for the couple of weeks I'm up north and play catch-up when I get back?

If I decide to put work on hold during that time, I can work ahead with my two main clients between now and then. If I decide to work while I'm on vacation, I can reduce my work load a little so I can still enjoy the time I have.

There will be at least four days during my vacation I won't be working. Since I'll be the only driver on this trip, I won't be able to work during the travel days. But since the kids are little, they're going to nap, and I could use that time every day to do a little writing.

I would love to simply close my office and take two weeks off, which I could do if I work ahead a little, but I don't want to feel overwhelmed coming back from vacation and having two weeks of work to catch up on in the office, on top of having to get back into the routine with the kids.

What say you, readers? Should I work "part-time" while on vacation, or close the office completely? What would you do?

29 August 2011

Why I don't use my iPhone as a personal organizer

My husband is a bit of a techie. He loves gadgets and seeing how games and technology develops. He listens to gadget/tech podcasts and loves his iPhone and iPad. When I tell him about an upcoming appointment or event, he tells me to email or text him with the details, and he puts it in his phone's calendar or on Google Calendar. We don't have a family calendar on the wall at home because there's no point.

Hubby has often urged me to use an electronic calendar on my phone or online to keep track of everything. He argues that I could figure out my schedule, add article and project deadlines, and update it quickly and easily as things change. I could even keep my daily task lists on my phone!

Yes, that's true. But I will always and forever use a paper day planner for my scheduling and bound notebooks for my task lists. I will always and forever scribble appointments and article deadlines in the squares of my paper day planners. I will always and forever cross off tasks as I complete them, a black line through the middle of the writing.

And here's why.

If I don't write things down, I have a hard time remembering them. Appointments, tasks that need to be done, anything. I have to write them down. So by having physical day planners and task list notebooks, I can physically write things down, and I can be sure they'll get done.

On top of that, what do I do if the network goes down? Or my phone battery dies? With paper and pen, I always have access to what I need to do, even if the technological gods are against me.

I can see how using Google Calendar or your phone's organizer is helpful, especially if you're on the go a lot. But I'll stick with my Luddite organization techniques, thank you. And when the Internet goes down, I'll still be waiting at the coffee shop for our lunch date.

26 August 2011

Fiction Friday: introducing my children to literature

My two-year-old son loves stories. Whether I'm reading his story about Chip & Dale (which he calls "Dale book") for the ten thousandth time or telling him my version of Caps for Sale while we work on potty-training, he adores stories. It makes my heart happy to know that he loves stories as much as I do.

And now that he's getting old enough to sit through short stories, I've started thinking about things I want to read to Bean and Bunny. What stories were favorites of mine that I want to pass on? What books from "the canon" do I want them to be familiar with? So I'm starting to compile a list, which includes short books for now and longer books for later. Things like Amelia Bedelia, lots of Dr. Seuss, the Berenstein Bears, and The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day are on the short book list. Things like Black Beauty, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler are on the longer list. And, of course, The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. (No child's library is complete without it!)

What books do you think are important to childhood memories?

24 August 2011

The Land of Misfit Words

Photo source
Sometimes I find myself scribbling scenes and character sketches and ideas that don't fit with anything I'm writing. These bits of fiction might be inspired by seeing someone walking down the street, a dream, or even a spin-off of something else I'm writing.

I always try to jot them down in my journal, but once I do, I'm never really sure what to do with them. I try to find ways to incorporate them into what I'm writing, which doesn't usually work. So they sit in my journal until I stumble on them again and still don't know what to do with them.

I've sort of given up on trying to find homes for these scraps of misfit words. Instead, I continue to collect them as writing exercises, pretending that the people I see on the street are writing prompts, or that the ideas are simply meant to get my brain going.

Since making that change, I've found the scraps come more frequently, and I don't feel as bad about leaving them to linger in a journal until eternity. Maybe someday I'll have a story that would be perfect for the man playing the violin as he walks his son home from school (true story), but until then, he's content.

And so am I.

23 August 2011

The world is your classroom

Photo source
All across the nation, school is back in session (or will be soon).

Kids are dragging themselves from bed at a decent hour to stand on corners and wait for buses, parents are singing their personal "back to school" songs in joy, pencils are being sharpened, and I'm dancing with glee through the school supply aisles of stores, excited at all the amahzing sales for the things I love so much.

I was one of those nerds who liked school. I liked organizing all my school supplies and loading up my backpack, I liked getting a new assignment notebook. But most of all, I liked learning new things. It was rewarding and encouraging, and as a writer, I always found ways to apply what I was learning to my writing life.

Maybe that's why I always liked school so much: I'm a writer. And writers never stop learning. At least, they shouldn't. Regardless of genre, writers draw from the world around them for inspiration. The people, places, and situations they encounter all contribute to the words they put on the page. So by continuing their education, formally or informally, writers expand the world from which they draw inspiration. The more they learn, the better their foundation for creating stories.

This doesn't mean that, as a writer, you need to enroll in college classes every year. If you can, great! If you take workshops and seminars, that's awesome! Attend lectures and Q&A sessions, go to concerts, ask questions of experts. But learning on your own is just as valuable. Just as you can attend a lecture series at a local college, you can find books by reputable authors and study on your own. You can dive into topics like geology with all the passion you have. And when you come up on the other side, your writing will be richer for it.

Never stop learning and you'll never stop writing.

18 August 2011

Why I watch TV

I have to admit something to you.

I watch too much TV.

My office space is currently in our living/dining room area*, and I can see the TV from my desk. So when I'm working, I usually have something on for background noise. Law & Order reruns on TNT, Storage Wars on A&E, or whatever horrible B movie happens to be on the Lifetime Movie Network. (I know. Don't judge.) Most of time I'm not paying attention to what's on, but sometimes I get drawn in to a show or movie, and find myself writing a bit slower than I should in favor of seeing Six from Blossom as a college student rushing a sorority.

Photo source
But I've learned to use my too-much-TV-watching to my advantage. If I'm drawn in to a show, obviously there's something good about the dialogue and story, right? So when I find myself watching more TV than writing, I try to listen to the dialogue and dissect it. What is it about these lines that's made me want to watch? What does the dialogue tell me about the characters? About the story?

When I was in college, my husband (then boyfriend) and friend would try to get me to play video games with them instead of writing. Once my friend said that I should play video games because it was "for my craft." It was research...or something. After a while, we jokingly justified anything by declaring it "for the craft."

One of the good things about being a writer is that you get inspiration from anywhere, and since you draw from life for stories, all things in life can be source material. Anything can be "for the craft." Sure, the college coffee-stained writer used it as an excuse to play video games and go for a coffee run instead of writing, but there's a lot in life that can be used to help strengthen your writing.

Including TV.

*This fall my office space will be moving to the closet in the master bedroom. It will give me a door I can close, shelves for my files, and privacy when I need it for a deadline (or call with a client). I'm super excited to have an official office, even if I have to share it with my clothes and shoes!

16 August 2011

Weekly Writing Prompts

Every Tuesday, there will be a new writing prompt on the sidebar to the right. Every Monday, I will write my response to the writing prompt and post it on the blog.

If you use the prompt and post it on your blog, let me know and I'll happily link to your blog. If you don't have a blog or don't post it but use the prompt, email me and I'll happily post it on my own blog (with a brief bio).

Happy scribbling!

Fall Reading List

If I ever find time to read, this is what I'm going to work my way through this fall.

Possession by A. S. Byatt (rereading)
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Jeeves Omnibus by P. G. Wodehouse
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

What are you reading? What's next on your list?

15 August 2011

What it means to be a WAHM

My bosses
I am a full time freelance writer. I am also a work-at-home mom (WAHM).

In many ways, my life as a writer and my life as a mom blend together seamlessly. In other ways, I find myself wondering if my children are sacrificing for my career, or if my career is sacrificing for my children.

I think sometimes people think WAHMs have it "easy." After all, they get to work from home, they get to play with their kid(s) all day, and they get to do it all in their pajamas with Days of Our Lives playing during nap time. Right?

Well, not so much.

In order for me to be successful as a WAHM (which means success as a writer and as a mom), I've had to approach my day very differently than a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) or a WOHM (work-outside-the-home mom) does. The biggest difference is in my daily schedule.

I have a very detailed daily schedule. In fact, according to my schedule I have very little down time. In practice, there's more down time than it appears, but I've padded the tasks I have to do each day to allow for distractions or side-tracking caused by "my bosses" (see photo above). If I don't have a very structured schedule, it's too easy for me to not get things done because I figure I can do them later. As it is, I can look at my schedule and simply do what it says to do during a certain time slot and know that, by the end of the day, I'll have gotten through the things I needed to do.

I also get up earlier than the rest of my family. My husband gets up around 7:15 every morning to get ready for work during the week. Bean is up between 9:30 and 10:00 every morning. (Bunny kind of does her own thing.) I get up at 5:00 a.m. every morning (including weekends) and get ready for the day, then spend time working until everyone else gets up. Having that extra time is what I need to get my day going on my terms so I can have a good day once the kids are up.

Though this is one thing I'm still working on, being highly organized is also key to being a successful WAHM. Not only do I have to stay organized to stay on top of deadlines and in contact with clients, but I have to stay organized to stay on top of my home responsibilities. I have lists and a calendar and I write everything down so I don't forget anything.

The biggest thing, which I know I've mentioned many times, is balance. When you work from home, you can't work all the time, and you can't let yourself get distracted so that you don't get anything done.

It's not easy, but I have to tell you that making it work is definitely worth it to get to spend so much time with my kids, and to get paid to do what I love so much.