Lessons from 2014

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

It’s hard to believe that this will be my last blog post for 2014 – the year has gone way too quickly! At this time of year I always find myself ‘ruminating’ over the year in terms of my writing and realizing (yet again) that I never do achieve all the goals I set in January. I didn’t ever reach my ‘words per day’  writing quota and, although I have a new book out on submission with editors, I didn’t manage to write two books this year – more like fragments of about 1 and 3/4:) 

But taking my cue from Jim’s post yesterday on his Nanowrimo  experience, I thought I’d take stock of the year that is almost past and think about what I learned (rather than setting off 2015 with a whole new set of unrealistic goals!)

So….what did I actually learn this year?

  1. I write the way I write. No point trying to impose early morning regimes or daily writing quotas – I just have to make sure my bum hits the seat each day and let myself go where the writing takes me. Some nights I’m going to write into the early hours of the morning, others I’m going to binge watch ‘The Good Wife’ instead…that’s just how I roll…
  2. That being said, I’m a planner and outlines are critical. For every book I start I now draft an outline, a proposal and sample chapters to run past my agent. This not only helps focus my work but also enables me to get valuable input before I become too enmeshed (and perhaps too enamored) with an idea.
  3. Scrivener is an awesome tool but I still somehow find myself copying the manuscript over into Word at the end for final revisions…maybe I still need to work on weaning myself off the old ways:)
  4. Deadlines are necessary. Self-imposed deadlines are mandatory – ditto for conference calls and face-to-face meetings with my agent. 
  5. I have to respect my creative process – and recognize that extra volunteer work (like being the PTCO president at my twins’ elementary school) seems to sap me of creative strength – so I need to impose limits on this (otherwise I have nothing left to put into the writing). Not sure why that is – but that’s just the way I am and I have to accept that.
  6. I also have to accept that I will never be satisfied with my output – I always want things to be finished faster or achieved quicker. I now have to set that aside and honor the work that has been completed rather than constantly berating myself for what hasn’t. 
  7. There really is no point in worrying about all the elements you cannot control (so why do I still try?!)
  8. And finally, I learned this year that my best writing happens when I relax and have fun. That’s when my true creative voice shines through:)…You’d have thought I would have realized that by now…but no:)…

So, as 2014 draws to a close what have you learned about your writing process?

Rituals and Superstititions

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I remember hearing a talk given by a historical writer who went into great detail about how she got herself prepared to write each day. Her rituals included mood lightning, music, incense, and a few historically appropriate artifacts to get her into the mood, and I remember thinking “what?! I don’t have the luxury of time for all of that, I just have to sit down and write!”. But in many ways that’s not strictly speaking true. I was thinking about it this morning and realized that, like many writers, I do have my own set of rituals and superstitions that form part of the creative process that leads to sitting down, facing the empty page, and writing.

First of all, I have to mentally prepare myself – that means from the moment I get up the words are already forming. In the shower I’m formulating sentences and by the time I’m in the car on the way back from school I feel the ghosts of my characters coming to take their seats. I’m mentally rehearsing for when I finally sit down and write…and when I do I have  a separate notebook for each new novel. I have a scrapbook too – in which I jot down historical notes and cut and paste maps or photographs. When I write in long hand, which I sometimes do rather than type, it has to always be done in a rolling-ball or  fountain pen as I hate ballpoint pens (I used to only write in ink using a fountain pen until my dog Hamish chewed it to bits…) I always write at home, never in cafes, and always in total silence.

Okay, so I admit it’s a pretty lame ritual. I’m not up at the crack of dawn like some writers who get their best work done at 4am, and if I had my choice I wouldn’t be up at 2am either (although I often end up writing this late out of necessity).  I don’t write in a shed like Roald Dahl or use ballpoint pen on A4 paper with only two punch holes (not four) like Philip Pullman. I don’t have an antique hour glass like Dan Brown that I use to mark the time (nor do I do a session of push ups or sit ups either!). I also usually write fully clothed (unlike John Cheever  who apparently wrote in his underwear). So I guess I fall on the rather dull end of the writing ritual scale.

But how about you? Do you have any  specific writing rituals? Are you superstitious (or OCD…) and insist on anything specific when you write? 

The Post-Book Blues

Everyone knows about post-partum depression, but how about the post-book blues? A writer works for months on a project. Momentum builds to the grand finale. And then poof, it’s all over. You’re done. Finished. Past the creative hurdle. What happens next?

What’s next is that you face reality, just like new parents who come home from the hospital with a squalling baby. Now it’s time to exert your parenting skills. For a writer, a manuscript is her baby. You polish your masterpiece, submit it, and then risk rejection, but you learn a lot along the way. Meanwhile, you begin to gather the research materials for the next story. It’s sort of like learning how to change a diaper and warm formula while already thinking about baby number two.

During this gap between writing projects, you can pay attention to bills, family members, and household issues that you’ve skirted while absorbed in your story. Dental cleaning? Check. Doctor visits? Check. Sort through files in home office? Check. Call for repair estimates? Check. If you have a day job, you can throw yourself into your work with renewed frenzy.

Is any of this fun? Nope. But you also have time to meet friends for lunch, to stroll in the park, to go shopping, or to do sports. Your mind is free to follow other pursuits. And yet as you go about your business, a yawning emptiness erupts. Where are those voices in your head? The characters who keep you company? The plot threads that invade your dreams?

When you can’t stand the silence any longer, the time has come to plant the seed for the next story or the next child, if you will. The joy of creation becomes impossible to deny.

So when you finish a book, how does it make you feel? Are you elated, relieved, or depressed?

Storytelling Magic

Over the weekend, one of our neighbors a block away had a loud party. The music reverberated through our house. As our bedrooms faced the direction of their home, I took refuge in the family room with a pair of earplugs and a sound-making machine. I turned on the steady rain sound and curled up on the couch. Around 1:00 am, I woke up and crawled into the bedroom for the rest of the night. The house was blessedly quiet. Ah, Silence is Golden.

Wait a minute. I’m getting a mental message.

Silence is a treasure beyond words.

This sentence popped into my mind. Of course, silence is a treasure, and the absence of words may describe the quiet state. But this phrase means something more. It relates to my Work in Progress, a paranormal romance based on Norse mythology. My characters are hunting for the legendary Book of Odin, while other characters in my trilogy search for a fabled rune.

What if the rune translates to the above sentence? What does it mean? Does it refer to a real treasure? Or is it the silence that will ensue once the evil demon Loki is defeated and the final battle is over?
It’s wonderful when your subconscious supplies you with ideas. Usually, these gems come to me when taking a walk, in the shower, driving, or nearing sleep. This is the magic that occurs when your story inhabits your head and it just can’t wait to come out. You think that all you need to do is sit at the computer and let the words pour through your fingers. But unexpected ideas seep through the barriers when your defenses are down. They can provide you with solutions to plotting problems or add a new wrinkle to complicate your tale.

Twice in the midst of mysteries, I’ve tossed in a new character that wasn’t in my original synopsis. Then I had to relate this character to the story. I’ll do the same with the above sentence, but oh, what a delightful challenge. Hey, my characters don’t know what it means when they interpret the rune. Why should I? We’ll discover its significance together.

For those of you who are writers, can you recall instances when ideas related to your story have flashed into your mind like a neon sign, begging you to incorporate them into your tale?

What Gives Me the Writing Heebie Jeebies

heebie-jeebies |ˈhēbē ˈjēbēz|, pl. n., a state of nervous fear or anxiety

I love almost everything about writing fiction.
Getting the idea is the most fun. I can come up with concepts all day long. Ideas constantly pop into my head, or I’ll see something on the street that gets me asking, “What if . . . ?” I write these down put them in an electronic file. Every so often I go over the ideas and cut-and-paste the best ones into a document called “Front Burner Concepts.”
Eventually one of these grabs hold and says, “I’m the one, Dude.” And then I’m totally jazzed. Because starting a book with a killer idea is like falling in love. The writing of a first draft is the first year of marriage. You’re committed. You’ve still got glow. It’s young love and that keeps you going, keeps you bringing flowers to the project all the way through.
Then comes the editing process. This is like marriage counseling. Now you’ve got to work to keep you and your story together. There are problems to address. And if you’ve received an advance, divorce is out of the question. But with time and patience and some give-and-take, you’ve got your final draft done.
And then . . .
I just received the page proofs from my publisher for the next book in my Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law series. The title is The Year of Eating Dangerously and it takes Mallory through a full year of dealing with her brain-consuming ways while defending the downtrodden in the courtrooms of Los Angeles.
This is where I get the heebie jeebies. This is the last time I’ll get a crack at the book before it goes to the bookstores and readers.
Which is why I never read any of my books once they’re in print. I’m too afraid I’ll find a mistake, or something I wish I’d phrased differently. At least with digital self-publishing one can make changes fairly easily. But in the traditional world, usually it’s one-and-out.
So, dear reader, send up a good thought for your humble correspondent as he takes pencil to page . . . and trembles.
What part of the writing process do you dearly love . . . or dread? 

When is it Time?

An author friend of mine came to me the other day and posed a sensitive writing question that her husband had raised with her the day before, namely: “How long are you going to keep trying to get published before you give up?”

Now before we all jump in and scream at the guy for being an unsupportive #$&@ to even ask such a thing, I guess on one level, he has a point. I mean, in his mind, he has been watching his wife put in hundreds of hours of effort and, thus far, to no avail (well, publishing wise, not writing wise, she has completed three manuscripts). She has had an agent for a couple of years now, but he hasn’t been able to place her work…so she has (with her friends’ support) continued to try and write full-time while juggling being a mum (and I know all about how hard that juggling process can be!)

At first her husband was really supportive, especially once she landed an agent, but, as the years passed and the rejections mounted up, I could tell he was starting to get antsy. I’m not sure whether he doesn’t want his wife to waste her time or whether he thinks she should use that time on a ‘real paying job’, but I do know that he finds all the angst that accompanies his wife’s ‘hobby’ (his words, not mine) unnerving. I think he worries that all his wife’s hard work, anxiety and pain will never pay off.

I’ve tried to tell my friend that there are countless examples of great writers who took years to get published and many who then went on to be very successful…but, she countered, exactly how long should I wait before I give up on the dream? 5 years? 10 years? 20? I couldn’t answer – except to point (rather lamely) that there are a multitude of ways writers can now get their work out into the public domain. My friend is, however, a traditionalist and is hanging out for a traditional publishing contract. I also suspect she feels that her husband won’t really accept anything else as ‘success’.

So how would you answer my friend? How long should she continue to dedicate the hours in pursuit of her publishing dream? Would your answer be any different if she had been published before (perhaps many years ago) and was still finding it hard to get the next contract? What advice would you give her (or her husband:)!)…

The Void Between Books

I’m in between books, and normally, this makes me anxious. I feel lost, adrift without a goal. But this time I am enjoying the freedom. Maybe it’s because I’ve set other goals. I am revising my last backlist book so I can get it into e-book format. Now that I’m off my regular writing schedule, I can devote myself full-time to finishing the revision. It’s a long story, over 500 manuscript pages, so it’s been tedious. I have to compare the printed book to my Word file, which does not include the edited version. Besides making these editorial changes, I’m also tightening up the work. It’s amazing the difference a few years of experience makes. I’ll feel a sense of relief when I’m done, but then begins the confusing array of choices re book cover design, formatting, etc. One step at a time. 

Meanwhile, I’ve done a list of suspects for my next mystery. I have already turned in the first completed book in this series. I’m only dabbling at the synopsis for book two because the next couple of weeks will be a washout for creativity. Window installers are here this morning and they’ll be making noise and havoc for two days straight. Plus, we have other events going on that might prove to be too distracting. So it’s a good time for a break. Eventually I’ll just sit down and write the whole synopsis.

And then what? I’ll probably write the first three chapters of this next mystery and then move on to book three in my proposed paranormal romance trilogy. Or I could tackle Smashwords for the backlist book. Or…you see, there’s always something to do.

How do you feel about the void between books? Are you relieved to have reached the finish line and to be mentally free of your project, or does the freedom cause you anxiety until you plunge into the next story?


by Michelle Gagnon

I’m attempting to finish a draft of my current WIP by the end of the week, so this post will of necessity be brief. And in lieu of dispensing advice, today I’m hoping to receive some.

Here’s my issue: timelines.

By the end of a book, I always hit a point where I realize that the timeframe in which the story is taking place has become hopelessly jumbled and needs some sorting out. For example, my characters might have suffered through an extraordinarily long night (which is only helpful in vampire stories, really), or there’s a sudden, jarring leap from dawn one day to dawn the next with little or no interlude.

Generally I spend a few days going back through the story and sorting that out. I mark on an Excel spreadsheet which day the story starts on (which is generally randomly chosen, ie: “Monday, March 6th”), and plot out scene by scene what approximate time and day everything is transpiring on.

But it occurs to me that there must be an easier way to track that during the writing process.

I’m using Scrivener for the first time with this manuscript, and it has in many ways transformed how I write. I find that my scenes tend to be longer. I have a much clearer sense of point of view shifts thanks to their handy color-coded virtual index cards. I love that I can shift scenes around with abandon.

But the one feature that appears to be lacking is some larger calendar on which I could keep track of WHEN the scenes are happening, not just where and to who.

So I thought I’d throw this out there: does anyone have a better system to recommend? A program that makes it easier to manage timelines during the writing process?