Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Samsung_840_EVO_SSD-8_-_front_blackIt is Friday the 13th, and yet I am cloning and installing a new SSD in my laptop. Nope, no triskaidekaphobia, paraskevidekatriaphobia, or friggatriskaidekaphobia here.

It’s been a good week for writing, and my NaNoWriMo WIP has topped 30k words. I spent the first 29k of that figuring out what the novel was about, and then yesterday finding out how it would all fit together, but it’s not the process, it’s the product, right? For a usual November I would be ecstatic to be at 30k words on this date (and it is, in my 13-year tenure, unheard-of), because I’d be more than halfway to goal–but of course, this year’s actual goal is much higher, and so I am merely satisfied. Satisfied is also a good place to be, however.

I had a story rejection this week but…well, as my good friend Nancy says, at some point they get to be more like a kick on the shin than a devastating injury. They sting for a bit and then you shrug them off and that’s it. I haven’t found a new place to send the story yet because, darn, it’s long, and the majority of markets these days are looking for 5k or less, it seems. I just don’t write that many stories in that length. I’ll try to find some time to focus on that in the next week.

I’m doing a lot of on-call story advising this month since there are so many stories happening in this household right now. But that’s fun, and it’s so interesting to be able to watch other writers develop under the microscope, so to speak. And it’s nice to be able to answer many of the questions that I had to research long ago.

I set up a new blog over at WordPress.com this week, called Stalking the Story. Why do I want another website to look after? Well, I plan to make it the repository for just my writing-related posts, so if that’s all you’re here for, they’ll be cross-posted over there as well. I’m also hoping to have some guest bloggers over there in the coming months. It may, over time, turn into a cooperative blog, which is something I’ve thought I’d like to do for some time now, in partnership with other writers. We’ll have to see how it evolves.

Habitica avatarMy desk is actually getting a bit messy, as it is wont to do during NaNoWriMo, so I plan to take a break this weekend and tidy it up. No, I will not be procrastinating on my WIP. The other thing I did this week was set up an account at Habitica, which is essentially a way to manage your productivity and habits by gamifying your life and translating it into a video RPG. So far, I love it. It’s amazing how much more satisfying it is to make my bed when I know I’m getting XP and virtual gold for it. :) I mean, I’ve only been using it for a few days and I’m already level 5!

Some things I did to earn gold and XP this week:

  • made my bed
  • walked on the treadmill
  • wrote. a lot.
  • did laundry
  • drank more water
  • finished the fall yard work

I’ll bet you did some of those things this week too. BUT did you get XP for them?

SSD Photo Credit: By Samsung Belgium (Flickr: SSD840EVO_008_Dynamic_Black) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Grey Area coverThe small press in which I’m a partner, Third Person Press, launched its first Indiegogo fundraising campaign yesterday. It’s been a busy few weeks getting everything set, and a busy few months in the larger planning stages. It’s quite amazing just how much time you can spend thinking about and planning your perks, changing your mind, tweaking, adding, subtracting and rearranging,  to say nothing of creating prototypes and mockups of rewards, writing website copy, and writing emails.

Then the campaign launches, and the real work begins!

Our project for this campaign is Grey Area: 13 Ghost Stories. It’s a collection of ghost stories (obviously), all by authors from Cape Breton or with a substantial connection to Cape Breton. Of course, one doesn’ t have to be from here to appreciate the stories; most of them are not even set here geographically. There’s a wide mix of tales, from scary to spooky to funny. And everyone loves a good ghost story, right?

So, you might be wondering, if the stories have little, if anything, to actually do with Cape Breton, why do we make a point of noting the connection of the authors?

Partly it’s because of our mandate at Third Person Press: we strive to provide a voice and venue for regional fiction and authors in the speculative fiction genres. You may not know it, but there’s a bit of a stereotype that Cape Breton authors (indeed, maybe even Atlantic Canadian authors) all write about farming and fishing and coal mining, with a little bit of historical fiction thrown in for good measure. And while there’s not a thing wrong with those stories, they’re certainly not representative of the whole of our regional fiction!

If you’re familiar with our other titles, you’ll know that we like a broad range of types of stories, and Grey Area is no different. We think they’ll have wide appeal, so if you’re even slightly interested, please check out the campaign and consider supporting us and this project.

P1040283So, some of you know that I set up a treadmill desk near the end of last year. I bought a secondhand treadmill in good condition, and my husband and I rigged up a prototype desk attachment with wood and duct tape so I could see if I was going to like it. I did. It took me a very short time to get used to typing while walking, and I used the desk a fair bit during NaNoWriMo in November. Not much in December, what with holidays and catching up after November. :)

Now we've ditched the prototype and made the "good" desktop from a piece of project pine. It's bolted into place and there to stay  (although it could be removed quite easily and the treadmill converted back to non-desk status in the future). I still need to put a few coats of finish oil on the wood, but it's done for all intents and purposes. (If you are interested in more details on the DIY, please let me know!)

I planned that starting in January, I would try to track my usage of the desk (and the various outcomes). January turned out not to be what I consider a "normal" month, since some serious illness in our family affected both the time I had to walk and the things I did while walking. Still, I kept my records, so I can share them now. Aren't you excited?

I track the time and distance I spend walking, average speed, the calories the treadmill tells me I burn (fwiw), and how I spent the time each session. Also, if I'm writing "new" words in a first draft, the number of words written. The breakdown for January is:

Time: 902 minutes (just over 15 hours)

26.93 miles (Yes, I'm in Canada, I should be tracking kilometers; however, I haven't figured out how to change that setting on the treadmill yet. However, being of a certain age, both miles and kms make perfect sense to me, so it's all good.)

Calories burned: 5077 (Wow, that sounds like a LOT. It translates to having lost 3.6 pounds, so it IS a lot!)

Avg. speed: 1.78 mph (I try to keep up around 1.8-2.0, but depending on what I'm doing while walking, sometimes a bit slower is better.)graph-treadmill-january

Activities: For this, I made a chart! As you can see, I spent half my time on the treadmill in January--playing Torchlight II. I make no excuses for this. It was good stress relief at a very stressful time for our family. The editing was for the deadline I was working toward on the 15th of the month; I think all of it took place at the beginning of the month, and then I moved on to Torchlight in the second part of the month. I am hoping the breakdown for February will be different, because that will mean things have improved. :)

I have to say, I love my desk. Although it takes up a fair amount of space in my relatively tiny office, it's well worth it. Writing is by nature a sedentary pursuit, but it doesn't really have to be! (And yes, I wrote this while walking on the treadmill!)

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

file0002054526820Clock on the wall ticks

Fingers dart, flash over keys

Write faster, writer

Photo credit: giggs

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

typeCN0047“I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, ‘I will tell you a story,’ and then he passes the hat.”
~ Robertson Davies (1913-1995), Canadian novelist, journalist

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Photo by stockarch“Yeah, right,” I can hear you saying. “Deadlines are horrible. Deadlines are stressful. Nobody likes deadlines, let alone loves them!”

Well, I can see your point. Even the name is kind of scary, isn’t it? Deadline. Obviously there are going to be dire consequences if such a thing arrives and you are not prepared.

For writers, though (as well as others, but on this blog, we mainly talk writers, right?), having a deadline can be a positive experience—if you look at it in the right light. Here are eleven* reasons that a deadline can actually be your friend.

1. Deadlines force you to plan your time realistically. You’re always trying to get more organized and use your time better, right? Well, a deadline will make you look at how you’re spending your time and how much time it actually takes you to accomplish something. If you take that knowledge with you beyond the deadline, that time-planning can spill over into your other work and help your productivity beyond this one project.

2. Deadlines make you take control of your work instead of letting it control you. This is a common pitfall for writers; let me give you an example. If you are going to have this eight-thousand-word short story ready to submit before the submission period closes, you don’t have the luxury of following every whimsy of subplot and character idiosyncrasy that your brain comes up with. You have to write this story in a good tight first draft, edit it judiciously, and call it done. You have to take control. Bring that kind of control to other projects, and you’ll end up more productive overall.

3. Deadlines force you to be focused and efficient. Here’s another example. You have five days to finish this manuscript. It shouldn’t take you more than one of those five days to figure out, for instance, that you work most productively in the mornings and are essentially useless after dinner. The next four days, you’re going to make sure you spend time on your deadline project in the mornings. Take this knowledge with you to the next project, and stop doing email and blogging in the mornings instead of writing. Let deadlines teach you skills that go beyond a single project.

4. Deadlines force you to re-evaluate your level of perfectionism. If you have too many manuscripts sitting around on your hard drive because they’re just “not quite ready yet,” this one is for you. Yes, you may end up with a less-than-perfect manuscript if you set a deadline to finish it. But the perfect manuscript is something of a mirage, anyway. Better to have a finished one in submission than a never-done one languishing in a drawer.

5. Deadlines make you develop strategies to bypass procrastination. This one doesn’t need much explanation. You may have the cleanest house on the block or be the best Angry Birds player in town, but if you’re going to meet deadlines, you have to learn to recognize and bypass your own procrastination strategies. One way to do this is to make your procrastination tasks reward tasks instead. You can play ten minutes of Angry Birds or switch your laundry loads along after you work on your project for an hour (be sure to set timers for both!). You may find such things less appealing as rewards. If so, swap them out for something that really appeals to you–as a reward.

6. Deadlines make you realize what it is actually possible for you to achieve. Anyone who’s participated successfully in NaNoWriMo understands this one. Deadlines take all the skills we’re talking about here and let you smoosh them into a big ball of I-can-do-this. And once you know what’s possible…well, you’re likely to take on, and accomplish, more.

7. Deadlines allow you to plan for what’s beyond the deadline. If you have a deadline to meet, it means you’re actually going to finish this project and be able to move on to something else. No-one really wants to edit the same novel manuscript for the rest of their lives, do they? Of course not! You want to finish something so you can get to the Next Big Thing. But neither do you want to drop half-finished projects just to get to the next one. Deadlines let you set parameters to work on things, finish them, and then move ahead.

8. Deadlines help you figure out what your real priorities are. This is sort of related to #7. Sometimes you’ll have to choose between projects because of conflicting deadlines. If you’ve been dithering, trying to work on two or more projects but not really making satisfying progress on anything, a deadline can make you choose what’s important and focus on that.

9. Deadlines make you stop wasting time and actually complete something. Maybe you’re one of those people who’s always talking about writing but not really writing. Maybe you’ve been working on the same damn manuscript for so long that even you’re sick of it. Maybe you’re really trying to write, but something is holding you back—fear of failure, fear of success, yada, yada, you know the list as well as I do. A deadline can make you, er, produce—or get off the pot.

10. Deadlines let you cross something off your project list. Ah, the list. Don’t tell me you don’t have one, and that you don’t know the sweet, sweet satisfaction of crossing something off it. And if you don’t, you should make one. Really. Because there’s nothing as lovely as “Finish X by DD/MM/YYYY” with a big fat strikethrough running across it.  Unless it’s writing “The End.”

Off to try and meet a big deadline of my own.

*Why eleven? Because everyone does lists of ten. I’m trying to think outside the box, here, people.

Photo credit: stockarch

November 30th

Nov. 30th, 2012 07:46 pm
sherrydramsey: (paper stack)
Well, that's another NaNoWriMo over with, another 50k+ words written--and another partial novel to add to the stack. I do believe that next year I am going to--gasp!--write an outline and just see if I can get to "The End."

I've done it a couple of times in the past (gotten to the end, not used an outline), and those were the most satisfying NaNoWriMo experiences for me. Going back to finish is really, really difficult. I am still resolved to finish some of the other incomplete drafts, but it's a goal that seems very elusive.

So, despite my past bad experiences with outlines, I think I might just try it again. Maybe with a looser, more flexible and fluid outline this time.

This is not to say that I'm unhappy with NaNoWriMo 2012--the story is quirky and funny and has a lot of potential. Definitely one I want to finish; it just has to get in line. :)

Anyway, now it's back to the rewrite to finish that up by my deadline. Oh, and a little thing called Christmas.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

By Filosofias filosoficas (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsBe Your Own Random Generator

Okay, think of this as a bonus idea if you’re feeling skeptical about the whole idea of using ideas generated by someone else. The germ of this idea comes from the Working Writer’s Daily Planner.

Try to have a quiet block of time when you’re not likely to face many interruptions. Sit down at the computer or grab pen and paper. Now, as quickly as you can, write fifty first lines. You don’t have to know anything about the story they might start. Don’t stop to think too much–if you must, set a timer for twenty minutes and see how many you can do in this amount of time This is just to see what your brain comes up with.

Got that? Good. That’s the part that came from the WWDP. Here’s my expansion on the exercise:

Now start a new list and invent fifty characters. They can be names or short descriptions: “Ludwig Thimbledown” or “a fastidious undertaker” or “a college student with a secret.” They can be archetypes or atypical and unusual. It doesn’t matter. Fifty, as fast as you can.

Getting tired? One more part. A new list, and this time you’re going to write down fifty problems, conflicts, or themes–or any mix of the three. They’re going to be short snappers, like “stolen inheritance” or “demon possession” or “physical loss leads to emotional loss” or “destruction of the natural world.” Whatever pops into your head, jot it down.

Whew! By now your brain is reeling and exhausted, I’m sure. So put your lists away for a little while; an hour or an afternoon or a day. Then when you’re ready, take them out, line them up, and see what happens.

Chances are, there will be some things from each list that you really have no interest in writing about, but others will jump out at you as intriguing. Don’t be afraid to cross some out, highlight others, or put what you feel are the best ones into a separate file or mind map. Play with combinations, try writing a few first paragraphs starting with the lines you like best, put characters and conflicts together, and chances are that story ideas will be sprouting in no time. Sometimes the brain just needs a metaphorical kick in the pants, but the raw material is all in there, just waiting for the right opportunity to make it into the light. Or a chance to mix its metaphors. Or whatever. Just go write!

Image credit: By Filosofias filosoficas (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Image courtesy of UncyclomediaOkay, it’s October 5th, 26 days until NaNoWriMo, and you don’t know what you’re writing about. You know folks who have been planning this year’s novel for months (we hates, them, Precious, what has they got in their pocketses? Index cards!), but you have–nothing. No plot, no characters, no ideas.

It’s a horrible place to be, but there’s hope. And that hope has a name–random generators.

As an experiment, one year for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a novel which was almost entirely based on the results of random generators. I started with the title. Then anytime I needed to name a character, create a place or object, or find a plot twist, I went to a generator. I can hear you laughing, but here’s a secret–that novel is one of the ones that I, in my ten-year expedition with NNWM, completed, edited, and am now doing the final line-edit pass on before sending it out to a publisher. It’s one of my best stories. So don’t be too quick to pooh-pooh the idea of generators.

The thing about generators is knowing how to use them. They are great for sparking ideas, putting together ideas that you might not have thought of combining, and pulling words up to the top of your subconscious where you can play with them. You don’t have to feel constrained by them…once that idea is sparking, it will eventually take on a life of its own.

Here is a list of a few generators that I particularly like. Play around with them–don’t just look for loglines, bring up some plot twists, conflicts, character names, oddities, anything at all–and write down anything that sounds interesting. Maybe use a mind map like Freemind to gather together everything that speaks to you, and then look for connections in the jumble of ideas. Think of it as brainstorming, with the help of an outside brain. :)

StoryToolz.com: At StoryToolz, you’ll find a generator that gives you three conflicts, and a brief explanation of how to use them to flesh out a story idea. There’s also a random conflict generator, and a half title generator.

Seventh Sanctum: Here you’ll find a motherlode of generators, for all sorts of endeavours. You might want to start with the ones in the writing section for story ideas, but you never know where inspiration will strike!

The Writer’s Den at Pantomimepony: Another great collection of generators, including one for first lines. Sometimes a great first line is all you need to grow a story. (I tried it out and got: “That weekend, shortly before the parrot bit my Dad, Aunt Maude became a gangster’s tailor.” Now really, if you can’t grow a story out of that, there’s something wrong with you!)

Serendipity: Although recovering from a spam attack that took the old site down, the owner has restored some of the generators here and I hope will be able to continue to add more back in–this was one of my favorites.

Archetype: Three nice generators here, along with a link to a great article on all the different ways of beginning your story.

There are lots more generators on the net; if you don’t like these, do a search and find one that suits you. In my next post, we’ll take a look at a way to be your OWN random generator. Sounds like fun, huh?


Apr. 22nd, 2011 08:29 pm
sherrydramsey: (fortune)
I'm putting this lucky ladybug I drew as my userpic for this post, because I am feeling very fortunate right now.  A number of good things have happened lately, not all of which I can talk about in detail, but I can throw out some hints. :)

Well, as to the first one, I can talk about it freely--I have a short story collection scheduled to come out later this year.  It will consist of many of my previously-published short stories and probably one new one.  My editors and I are working on the TOC now, and cover art is pretty much done.  It's exciting!  It'll be available in print and ebook formats.

I also have a publisher interested in one of my novels--provided I can make satisfactory revisions.  That's a somewhat nerve-wracking proposition, but I do have some ideas and will be diving into the project in the next day or so, once I clear a few more items off my list. I have a couple of months to make the changes, which should be do-able.  We have a vacation in there but I'll work around it.  This is also, of course, hugely exciting, but I am trying not to get too worked up over it since nothing's certain until those revisions are done and meet with approval.  Of course I can let myself enjoy the fact that they liked the story enough to ask for revisions. :)

The third item was an invitation that I should really keep quiet about for now.  But it's very nice.

Will share more details on all of this as I can.  For now--feeling lucky indeed!
I've been trying to write a new story for an anthology for months now.  In fact, I've tried three stories--bouncing back and forth between ideas without really settling in to any one of them.  Well, that's not really true.  I tried to make two half-written stories fit the theme I was looking for, ditched both of those ideas, thought about a new idea but didn't start it, got a fourth idea and wrote a few pages before getting stuck...and now I'm back to the other idea.

This time, I think it's going to stick.  I'm still not sure exactly where the story is going--or rather, I know where it's going, but not precisely how it's going to get there.  However, I'm over 2k into it now in just a couple of writing sessions, so I feel hopeful that this will be the one.
It's enough to make a writer's head spin.  That's what I think about the state of publishing today.

Maybe it's always been that way, I don't know.  But the conclusion I've come to of late is that no matter how much advice you hear from other writers, editors, publishers, industry commentators and anyone else...no one really knows what's going on.  The entire publishing industry has been thrown into a giant colander and we're all just waiting to see what falls out of the holes.  (I know that's a weird metaphor, but it works for me.)

I read a lot about the industry, I read a lot of advice and observation from other writers, and I'm in an interesting position, being a writer and an independent editor/publisher.  A lot of writers--and genre writers are especially generous about this--a lot of writers share a lot of opinions and advice about what the new face of publishing is going to be like, what has worked for them/is working for them, and what routes newer writers should take in their quest for publication.  There's a ton of advice, being freely shared, on everything from putting your short stories up on the Kindle store, to attending conventions to increase your chances of landing a traditional publishing deal, to the relative merits of writing short fiction vs. novels, to--well, just fill in the blank yourself. It's all out there.

As it turns out, a lot of this advice is, if not contradictory, at least...very different.  And while it's extremely helpful and enlightening to take all this advice in, I think it's up to each individual writer to plot his or her own course.  What worked for Writer A, although she may be your personal writing heroine, is not necessarily going to work for you.  What Writer B considers a big mistake in his career may work out to your benefit.

There are a few givens, of course.  Always submit your best work.  Never submit or publish anything that has not been read or edited by a competent person whom you trust (this may be yourself, if you've really honed your self-editing chops, but make sure you've done the work on those editing skills).  Money flows TO the writer and anytime it's going to flow the other way, turn your back and walk away or at least think long and hard about the decisions you're making.  If you're desperate to have something in print, wouldn't you rather it was something that made you look good rather than just something published for the sake of being published?

As to all the rest of it, I think it's up to every writer to educate him-or-herself and then make those decisions based on personal situations, experience, and priorities.   By all means, read everything you can get your hands on about the state of publishing these days.  Then put it into your own personal colander and see what shakes out.
Earlier today I browsed through this photo collection of famous authors and their typewriters. If you haven’t seen it, take a moment to do so. Go ahead, I’ll wait until you get back.

straightens up desk for a few moments

Oh, you’re back? Cool photos, aren’t they? But you know what struck me most about them, apart from their coolness? The almost total lack of clutter around these authors as they wrote.

Yes, there were a few exceptions, but if you go back you’ll notice that these were, of the bunch, more recent photos. In most of them, it was just the author, the typewriter, and one or two other items like paper, a book or two, or maybe an ashtray.

Now, yes, it’s entirely possible that in the brief time before the photo was taken, there was a mad rush of tidying, of sweeping half-empty gin bottles and wineglasses out of sight, of doctoring up the scene to look more professional and “author-ish.” But still, as I look around my desk, I notice all the things that would not have to be tidied away: computer mouse, gadget dock, portable phone, USB drives, CDs, lists of website references, etc. I have approximately 30 pens on my desk, a stack of sticky notes (used and blank), notepads, file folders, timesheets, a mug warmer, and a handful of writing “totems.” In the computer background I’m running Twitter, a browser with a research or dictionary site, and an IM/chat client. Maybe I’m just messier and more cluttered than most people–but somehow I don’t think so.

Not that I want to trade my computer and go back to using a typewriter. Been there, done that, no thanks. Not that I want my writing space to be necessarily as sterile and empty as that in many of the photos. But still–is there something to be said for fewer distractions, fewer projects, fewer deadlines? Would less visual clutter lead to less mental clutter, and a clearer vision of the work in progress?

It’s ironic that many writers probably have made something of a return to the days pictured in this photo collection, as their workspace becomes whatever spot they plunk down their laptop, tablet, or gadget-of-the-week. However, in this connected world, I think it’s probably a rare moment when it’s really stripped down to the writer, the device, and the words. I wonder which group, the ones in the photos, or those of us working today, are really working smarter?

So, I've added a new secret project to the long list of things I'm working on.  It's one of those things that you think you're just going to work on in tiny bits, and then you look up and realize you've put the last five hours on it without noticing.

You're wondering what it is, I know.  Well, I can't tell just now because, you know...it's a secret.  It's still in the initial stages, so I don't want to jinx it by saying too much.  But so far, it's going well.

I promise, when I have more to tell, you'll be the first to know.
I saw some Facebook friends referencing this lately, so of course I had to try it: http://iwl.me/

Basically, you plug in an excerpt of your writing, it's analyzed, and you get a result comparing your writing to that of a famous author.  Sounds like fun!

So I plugged in the first excerpt (the instructions were to use at least a few paragraphs, so I went one better and pasted in about ten pages).  The result?  I write like...Dan Brown!


Okay, so I don't think he's the worst writer ever, and he has certainly made his writing work for him, from a fame and fortune point of view.  Not such a bad thing.  But...but...really?

So I chose another story (you can see where this is going, can't you?) and plugged in ten pages of that.  This time I was channeling David Foster Wallace, whom I am sorry to say I had to look up on Wikipedia.  Okay, "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years" is pretty cool, but he wrote postmodern literature and hysterical realism (which I also had to look up) and ultimately committed suicide?  Doesn't really sound like me...

The next six attempts had me writing like H.P Lovecraft, Kurt Vonnegut, William Gibson, and Mark Twain, and a repeat each of Brown and Wallace. Now I was addicted.  Another excerpt.  Chuck Palahniuk.  My two YA novel excerpts got Wallace again, then James Joyce.

James Joyce?

Okay, at this point I was trying to decide what it all meant.  I didn't keep trying in order to get a writer I liked--I mean, I already had some great genre writers in the list.  Did it mean that the program is just wonky, or that I have my own unique style, which I alter slightly to fit the piece I'm writing?  I liked that idea.  But still...one more time.

Oh, yeah.  I'll take it. :)
My regional writer's organization recently asked the membership about writing groups--our experiences, advice, do's and dont's, etc.  Thought I'd share my reply to them here.

Our writing group (The Story Forge) has been running continuously for (and I can’t believe I’m about to type this) twelve years.  It began after I, my sister, and a writing friend took a creative writing course together at the local community college, and enjoyed it so much that we wanted to keep that writerly cameraderie and inspiration going in some form or another.  We talked to a local library branch about holding meetings in their program room, put the word out by way of flyers at libraries and grocery store bulletin boards, and we were off.


We didn’t make a whole lot of decisions or lay a lot of ground rules to start, which was a bit of an oversight.  We knew that we did not want to pressure members to produce new work for every meeting, as several of us had young kids and writing time was at a premium.  We did want to support and encourage each other, share our accumulated writing knowledge, and foster some creativity.  This took the form of freewriting exercises we’d do during the meetings, sharing the results when we were through.  We also have always been ready to critique each others’ work, and we keep a “committment sheet” where members make note of what they’d like to accomplish by the next meeting.  Sometimes we just spend an entire meeting talking about nothing but writing.  Sometimes we spend the entire time talking about everything else *but* writing.  :)  We have a very diverse group of writers in terms of age, writing interests, and writing goals, and while that may not work for all groups, we’ve always enjoyed the various perspectives that diversity brought to the group.


Our membership has ranged from a high of twenty+ to a low of about six regular members, but we usually hover somewhere in the middle of those extremes.  Although many faces have come and gone over the twelve years, much of our core group has remained and grown.  The group has hosted readings at the library, organized weekend retreats, and gone on “field trips” to book launches and other literary events.  We’ve advised each other on submissions, commiserated on rejections, and rejoiced over acceptances.  I think it’s safe to say the group is an important part of our writing lives.


As for advice to those forming a new group, I’d say:

>  Decide what kind of group you want to have.  Is it primarily for critiques?  To encourage members to produce new work?  To jump-start creativity?  To share knowledge and experience? Different people have different expectations of a writing group, and it’s best to know what yours will have to offer when someone asks.

>  If your group is going to have a very specific focus (like romance writing, speculative fiction, non-fiction) make sure that’s clear to anyone who expresses an interest in joining.

>  Decide whether your group will be focused on writers aiming for publication, or will be open to writers with other personal or self-publishing goals. 

>  If you are going to do critiques, have a set format.  That way members will know what’s expected of them, and what they can expect in return.  Also make sure that everyone receives some instruction in the fine art of critiquing.

>  Realize that someone has to “be in charge”, even if that responsibility is a rotating one.  Groups without leadership can be hijacked by a newcomer with a strong personality.  Also, if there are members who don’t see eye-to-eye, it’s a good idea to have a “referee” ready to step in and change the subject when necessary.

>  Think at least a little bit about how you will deal with the situation if a troublesome member has to be asked to leave the group.  It’s not fun to contemplate, but it happens, and it’s better to be prepared.

>  Make sure that you have contact information from members and a way to get in touch in case a meeting has to be changed or cancelled.  Make sure someone is in charge of getting the word out in case of schedule changes.

>  If your group of writers has diverse writing interests, try to make sure that everyone is included and made to feel welcome and valued.

I'm now a solid week into the revision process on this novel, and since I've recently had questions about how to tackle a big revision, I think I will detail the procedure I'm following here. It may or may not be helpful to those undertaking their own revisions, but it might offer a starting point or help you figure out your own method. I'll have to break this down into several parts to provide the kind of detail I'm going to get into.

I had already read through this particular manuscript a couple of times looking for things to fix, but I had not tackled anything major. My general impression from these initial read-throughs was that it was basically okay, but ran a bit short, needed a few more scenes, concluded too quickly, and needed some further development of the world and the magic system--at least for my own understanding. There were inconsistencies requiring attention, a long section of chapters where a particular character seemed to disappear (I don't mean he disappeared in the story, I mean he disappeared FROM the story), and I felt that the world and some of the characters needed deepening.

Before I started, I reread two Holly Lisle articles I remembered reading a while back: they are here and here. While I`m not following either method exactly, I do use a lot of her advice from these articles. They are well worth the time it takes to read them.
Read more... )I`m also using a piece of software to assist me: Writer`s Cafe, particularly the StoryLines application. StoryLines "is a multi-storyline planning tool that helps you weave a set of virtual index cards into a finished, formatted story." You can see a screenshot of it here. You can download a free trial of this program and see if it works for you; you could also do essentially the same thing with a big stack of index cards (but not as neatly).

In addition to the software, I started with:

  • all previous notes, character sheets, and jottings concerning the novel

  • a binder with looseleaf

  • colored pens, pencil, and highlighter

  • a clean printout of the novel manuscript, including all notes I`ve made in the ms while writing or reading it. In my case, these have each printed out (instead of inline) on their own sheet of paper, so I have to figure out how to deal with that.

  • an area big enough to hold the binder, a couple of different piles of manuscript pages, and my laptop, on which I`m using the software

I set up StoryLines to keep track of three things: a scene-by-scene breakdown of the action of the novel, which characters appeared in each scene, and a timeline of when and where each scene took place. Especially because this began life as a NaNoWriMo novel (which means it was written in a very fast first draft), I knew that there were probably inconsistencies of time and place. Here`s what my StoryLines sheet looks like:


You can see that the chapter numbers and titles appear in the black ovals, scene numbers in little white boxes, and that I have three horizontal rows of cards: purple for `Scene-by-Scene,` mauve for `Character Tracking,`and green for `Timeline and Location.` I can see at a glance what happened in a given scene, who was there, and where and when it took place.

So with that all set up, I choose a pen color to start with, and begin reading from the first line of the manuscript.

...to be continued...

*Photo credit: ladyheart at morguefile.com
The image on the right is a thing of beauty. :)

Having started the month of November flat on my back and in pain with a slipped disc, there were times when I thought I might not get to say "I did it!" this year. However, with the help of the voice recognition software, it worked out. At 50k words, I'm maybe halfway through this novel, and I quite like it so far. I'm setting a tentative date of January 15th to try and finish the first draft. With Christmas in the offing that would usually be unrealistic, but the silver lining of my slipped disc experience is this: my shopping is 90% finished. Knowing I likely would not be very mobile even by December, I interspersed my novel-writing with online shopping and have arrived at this enviable place.

It's too bad I can't be in this place without major health interventions, but I'll take what I can get.
Well, it's a good thing I was not also participating in NaBloPoMo this year, because my blog posting has taken a serious backseat to novel-writing. However, in the circumstances, I am not berating myself about it.

Last night I actually caught up on my word count for the first time since the month started. (Of course, I haven't written yet today, so now I'm behind again, but that's NaNoWriMo for you.) I'm really liking the story I'm writing. It's turning out to be much more complex than I had realized, and of course I don't have all those complexities planned out, but that is a big part of the fun of writing for me, so it's a good thing. I'm about at the point now where I need to sit down with a stack of index cards and figure out the shape of the thing, and I may get to that this afternoon. Looking forward to it quite a bit. It's my first real stab at alternate history, and I'm finding that aspect of it a blast.

The slipped disc problem has improved considerably in the last few days, although I'm still constrained in what I can undertake. I was able to attend my writing workshop session yesterday morning, which made me very happy since I did not want to miss out on these last two sessions. I went to the mall last night to pick up a birthday card for my brother and came to the realization that my mall-walking limit is about half an hour. Good to know, and it's fortunate that I am in the habit of doing a large part of my Christmas shopping online. I'm doing a little of that today, too.

One side effect of being confined to be for a large part of the past two weeks is that the puppies have managed to infiltrate the house to the point of sleeping on the end of my bed, mostly because it's just easier to keep an eye on them there and I haven't had the energy to keep shooing them away. So if anyone came out of this experience to the good, it's the furrier members of the household.

Something fun: a tweet from Elizabeth Bear today pointed me to these random fractal backgrounds, which are lovely, and poking around the site I found the free program to make your own. You can tile them to fill whatever size background you want. Take a look and try it out; they are really beautiful! Here are a few I got on the first run of the program (it generates 20 every time you run it):

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