Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Weekend Novelist

So, I have to confess....I am a weekend novelist. I try to touch my manuscript every day, but with a full-time career and a work schedule that has me arriving at work at 7 AM and leaving at 5 PM, there are many evenings when I get home too tired to do much more than curl up on the couch with a good book and the dog in my lap.

Finding time, energy, and motivation to write when you work full-time is difficult. My writing group spends time each session encouraging each other and offering ideas that will help keep us on track as we all strive to finish works in progress. 

A year or two ago I purchased the book, "The Weekend Novelist".  Along with many other writing books, it sat on a shelf in my office, collecting dust. Then a month or two ago in a frenzy of frustration I pulled it out and sat down to read it (again). 

I was hooked. Using weekends for writing, and following the schedule laid out in the book, it is possible to write an entire novel in one year (or less if you’re a super-achiever)! The book starts out with directions and activities (writing assignments) that get you plotting, then creating character sketches, writing the back story, and more. The rough draft doesn’t even start until weekend twenty-nine! 

Right now I am up to weekends 7-8 (a bit ahead of schedule, actually) and enjoying every moment. The other writers in my group are using the book, too (one writer is having fun with a different version of the book geared for mystery writers). Since we all have the same homework assignments we can share our frustrations and successes and cheer each other on! 

I definitely recommend this book for anyone else who gets stuck during the novel writing process.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Top Five Reasons to go on a Writing Retreat

My writing group recently returned from our third or fourth retreat. We go twice a year, once in the summer months and once in the winter. Every time we do this I return home rejuvenated and excited about my writing.....I strongly encourage everyone to find a way to go on a retreat at least once! Once you start, you'll be hooked!

 Why are retreats a great idea?

  • Sometimes we all just need a break from routine.  Whether our routine is sitting in the local Starbucks or writing at the kitchen table, getting away can spark new ideas. 
  •    On a retreat you do not have chores calling to you from every corner of the house. Yes, you might need to cook or load the dishwasher (if you choose to eat in) but you won’t be tempted to vacuum the house, do laundry, or clean the rain gutters. At least, I hope you won’t!
  •  Most of us don’t have unlimited hours to devote to writing. We have day jobs, household tasks, family members who need us, and dogs who need to be walked. Going on a retreat presents us with many open hours and compels us to fill them with writing. After all, isn’t that the purpose of the retreat?
  •   If you go with writing buddies (strongly encouraged) you have a built in support system. Whether you want to whine, write, or celebrate, you have partners who will do so with you. And if your buddies are also critique partners, all the better.
  •   And finally, the word “retreat” has quite a few meanings. As a noun it is a place of refuge, privacy, or seclusion. As a verb, it can mean to “treat again”. What better gift for a writer than to treat yourself to a private time for writing? 

View from the deck at our rental home....La Conner, Washington


Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Randomness of Life

Lately I have been thinking about paths not taken. In my mind I travel back one year, five years, ten years, twenty years….even thirty years. And I think about the decisions I made at various points and the consequences of those decisions.

Everything from the length of my marriage, to the number of children we have, the places we’ve lived, the pets we’ve owned, and the jobs I’ve held. It’s like each juncture led to two or more different stories and by choosing one, the other story never got told.

I sometimes think about writing those untold stories…..creating a character and have her make that other decision and then see how it turns out. Makes me wish I believed in reincarnation and could start over, again and again, altering events each time to see how things turn out. 

But the choices I made led to the life I have now, and I do love my life. I just sometimes wonder where I would be, what I would be doing, and who I would be with if I hadn’t gone to that college, or taken that job, or visited that place at that time. The randomness of life just sometimes seems overwhelming. Does everyone else think like this or is it just me?

And there’s a great book that does sort of address this issue. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. Great book, highly recommend.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Value of Beta-Readers

You’ve finished your manuscript. Written your query letter and synopsis. Compiled a list of agents and/or editors. Ready to hit ‘send’? STOP! Have you sent your manuscript off to any beta-readers? 

Many of us ask others to read our work as we go. Our critique groups might read one thousand words at a time or a chapter here and there. And that’s all well and good, but the problem with relying on this method is that no one really looks at the big picture.

How does the plot hold up over the course of the book? Any gaping plot holes? Character descriptions that change between chapter one and chapter twelve? Any time warp issues? When do they put the book down and why? I want my readers to stay up late reading because they can’t put the book down. If they do, I want to know exactly where in the book it happened. 

I recently finished my novel and sent it off to eight beta readers. The first two discovered a major issue immediately. I had done a “find and replace” when I changed a character’s name. Unfortunately, I forgot to specify that I wanted to replace “whole words only”. Every single instance where the word ‘Tray’ appeared in the book changed. So ‘betrayal’ became ‘beAxel” and ‘she picked up her tray’ became ‘she picked up her Axel’. 

I have to laugh about it now, but my immediate reaction was panic because I’d already sent a query letter off to an agent. And guess what? Those first pages I sent her contain that error. It was definitely a live and learn moment. Will I do that again? Nope.

 Other issues my beta-readers have found include things like: one minute the character is commenting on how beautiful the clouds are at dawn and two hours later she’s eating dinner.  Or a character walks into a room, and two paragraphs later he walks into the room again. Argh.

As the author, it’s too easy for me to miss some of these. I read what I thought I wrote. Even when I slow myself down, I don’t always catch the little things. 

I ask my beta-readers to not worry about line-by-line editing. I want their perspective on the big picture. Once I’m satisfied my team has found all the major issues and I’ve corrected them, then I’ll be ready to hit “send”.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Saga of the Squirrels

I love watching the birds in our yard. Jays, finches, woodpeckers, robins, starlings, flickers, and more.  When we first moved in I set up a bird feeder on our upper deck. Then I added another. And another. I can see the birds from every east-facing window. We now have four different feeders and birds of every type and color visit us daily. 
Birds on tube feeder

Love this fluffed up little guy!

Bird waiting patiently for his food

Flicker at suet feeder

There was only one problem. The birds weren’t the only ones who liked the feeders. So did the squirrels. And even though our deck is two stories up from the yard, the squirrels didn’t seem to mind. They leaped from trees, jumped from the roof, and treated the feeders like their personal Old Country Buffet.  
This squirrel is quite the contortionist

He's just waiting for us to go away so he can eat in peace

I tried all sorts of things to get the squirrels to leave the feeders alone. Spicy hot chili pepper cakes in the suet feeder. Safflower seeds in another and thistle seed in the third. But those darn squirrels were persistent. 

I made a trip to the bird store. Bags of peanuts and corn-on-the-cob were stacked along one wall.  If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em. I bought a bungee squirrel feeder and hung it over the edge of the deck. It dangled a few feet off the ground. The first visitors were stellar jays. I heard the bells jingle and the wire snap and I peeked over the edge. I wasn’t sure whether to shoo them away or hope the squirrels were observing and taking notes. 

It took another day or two, but the squirrels finally figured it out. Every morning the jingle of the bells tells me the squirrels are busy swinging like acrobats on a high wire. I can’t help but laugh as they bounce up and down while pulling off kernels of corn.
Squirrel on bungee feeder

And the best part? They haven’t visited the feeders on the deck since.