Writing Influences: L.M. Montgomery

Blog Housekeeping:

Our format for this blog has generally been One Topic, Three Ways. We pick a theme and then we each write our POV on it. If you are finding us again after our hiatus, welcome back! We are still taking this same format, but are cutting back our frequency so that each of us takes a week to be responsible for the blog, with the last week of the month up for grabs to whoever has extra news to share.

Author Crush:

And while I’m reminiscing, let me remind you that February has traditionally been our Author Crush Month. To review past guest blogs of the month, check out the Author Crush archive tab above, or click here for the list. I’ve made a pin-able Author Crush graphic for you Pinterest folks out there.

Writing Influences:

Instead of guest blogs we are talking about writing influences this month. For me, this goes back to my childhood. I’ve had so many favorite authors over the years, but if I had to choose just one who influences how I view YA books today, I’d have to pick L.M. Montgomery who was published in the early 1900s.

Now, her writing style would be hard to carry off in today’s fast-paced, media-influenced world. I’m sure most agents and editors, even those who love the Anne books, would be reluctant to touch a book written in that style today. Too much purple prose, even if that’s what makes the main character so charming.

What carries over for me is the mood. The tone. The feeling I get when I read her work. Her books make me want to curl up on a big comfy couch with a quilt and a cup of tea and simply disappear for a few hours. They’re cozy books. Romantic books. Evergreen books.

Even her diaries are fun to read. You can find out how she was influenced by her everyday life when you read her diaries. My diaries? At some point I went back in and scribbled out all the interesting bits. Wish I hadn’t! I would love to read what I was really thinking back in the day.

Trying to capture the mood of the Anne books, I started an Anne of Green Gables Pinterest board here:
http://www.pinterest.com/shonnaslayton/anne-girl/


Why Write What You Know?

“Write what you know” may be one of the most common bits of advice given to writers over time. Once we’ve heard it enough and think we understand it, we spout the words ourselves.

When I thought about what I know, I started writing romances. Happily married for over a decade at the time I began, I figured what better for me to write about. I read hundreds of romance novels and started writing, aiming for the mainstream romance audience. I didn’t want to write about sex, so I switched to inspirational romances. When I read a bunch of those…well, let’s just say that the ones I read at the time didn’t interest me.

j0316779Nonetheless, I didn’t think I really “knew” much about anything interesting. I grew up in a small town. I went to an Ivy League University where I dropped out after a year to “change the world” in the Marine Corps. I got shipped home after three months when I hurt my knee. I met a young man, chased after him relentlessly, and got married.

And that’s pretty much it.

I kept writing romances because I wanted to write for a living, my own life had a lot of romance in it, and romance novels were 45% of the paperback market. I finally found a place for the voice I’d been trying to hide (you know, because you need to make your story voice fit into the category of romances you’re pitching to) when chick lit came into vogue. I wrote a chick lit book that got some very positive attention – right about the time chick lit collapsed.

After some internal struggles – I’m a Christian but I can’t seem to write inspirational novels that I like that publishers like, I’m madly in love with my college sweetheart but I get bored with stories that are only about the romance, I’d like to spend all my time writing but even if I signed with a Big Six publisher I’d have to spend a huge amount of time marketing and promoting – I finally made a decision.

I decided to take a step back and think about what I REALLY wanted to write, no matter what, and then I’d write it and publish it myself.

I’ve been walking that path for the last two and a half years. It’s been a slow road, but a really good one. And listening to a workshop by Donald Maass recently put the “write what you know” advice in clearer perspective. Don suggested questions like, what am I as the author passionate about? What do I as the author think is so important that my readers must get it? What about my story makes me as the author crazy angry?

That’s when it really came together for me. I’m unabashedly passionate about love that lasts forever. I get really upset about people who are unfair or mean. I think it’s super important that my readers understand they always have a choice – good or bad, right or wrong, easy or difficult.

These are the sorts of things I always knew I was writing about. I just didn’t realize until recently that this is what people meant when they said, “Write what you know.” Another way to say it might be, “Write what you know to be true.”

Now that I’ve got that clearly in mind, my writing is going to be stronger than ever.

What about your writing?

New Beginnings

New beginnings. Lots of new beginnings happening here at Routines for Writers. Kitty has self-published two books and is working on others; Shonna’s book will be published soon; we have a new look here at RFW; and, now, a renewed commitment to regular postings. The schedule is a little changed, with only one post a month from each of us, but we do plan to keep you apprised of what we are doing and what we are learning in our journeys as writers.

Some of you may be long-time followers from before almost 2 years ago when we decided to discontinue regular postings. (Welcome back!) Most of you probably weren’t. (We’re glad you found us now. Welcome!) You may or may not know that I went through a difficult time about three years ago. More precisely, many negative aspects of my life culminated to a crisis point three years ago. (I may write about that more specifically later, but this post is about where I’m going, not where I’ve been.) My creativity was a casualty of that crisis. Along with my self-confidence, motivation, financial security, life dreams, and more. Try as I would, I found it harder and harder to string words together into meaningful sentences, much less creative, compelling and interesting ones.

I spent many months floundering, with no clear idea of what to do. (I’ve since realized that was a normal and necessary part of the healing process.) During all that floundering, I made the decision to return to school. (I reasoned that any degree was better than no degree.) Because of a previous interest and limited success in web design, I chose to pursue a degree in “Design, Technology and Innovation” at Troy University. (The university in the town where I live.) The beginning art courses I had to take (Drawing, Form and Space, Time and Space, eDrawing) were instrumental to my emotional and creative recovery. (I’m still healing, of course, but much more able to live life intentionally and to the fullest.)

Those courses gave me specific assignments to accomplish while I worked in mediums unfamiliar to me. I had to create new methods of working, learn new ways of doing unfamiliar things and experience my creative cycle in new environments.While working through all those unfamiliar assignments, I discovered insights into my creative process. Insights that apply to my entire life. Most important among those insights is that a part of my creative cycle includes a dark time when I am convinced I will fail at the current project. Along with that certainty comes a plethora of internal negative voices, often sounding quite reasonable, berating, discouraging and ridiculing me for being stupid enough to even try, much less think I can succeed.) Pushing through that certainty, combating those negative voices with facts or with just the plain stubborn decision not to quit, almost always results in an astounding success or breakthrough. Usually the very next time I return to the project. (Taking that break is also an integral part of my process.)

Step by step, I’m rebuilding my life and my dreams. I still have at least three semesters left before I obtain a degree, but that is only a portion of the plans and dreams being rediscovered, reignited and reimagined. This semester I am enrolled in several classes that will be stretching and expanding my skills in design and communication. In my Design for the Internet, I’ll be learning Dreamweaver and designing several websites. Another class requires that I create and maintain a blog. If you want to follow my progress there, go to AnotherVoiceOnTheWeb.wordpress.com. I’m also taking an ePublishing class, with a goal that we will write and format a 30-40 page book, which we will upload to Amazon. Of course, I’ll announce that here when it is available. (Not completely sure of the topic. Most likely, either Christian Feminism or Homeschooling.)

Along with the progress toward my degree and the discovery of new outlets of creativity, I’m tentatively returning to my fiction writing. It’s mostly journal entries and snippets of scenes, but that aspect of my imagination is returning to life. In sleeping dreams or waking thoughts, that creative voice is gaining strength as I heal emotionally and creatively. It’s good to be back!

Goodreads Giveaway Winners!

Hello Friends!

Shonna and Stephanie and I are looking into ways we can continue to be of service to you. We’ll be putting up occasional posts about things that may be helpful, so please continue to check in at Routines for Writers. Soon I’ll be announcing a new class that I’ll be teaching in the fall. It will be a video-based class on how to self-publish your book. Details will be posted on the Classes page on my own web site.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to announce the winners of the Goodreads Giveaway that ran from mid-June to mid-July. All ten winners received an autographed print copy of Unexpected Superhero. (Books should have already arrived at your homes by now, my friends!)

Thank you to the other 662 people who entered the giveaway! I’m so pleased that you were interested in reading the book. Thank you for adding Unexpected Superhero to your To Be Read queue.

Super_ip09_FINALCongratulations to –
Jessica from Brampton, Ontario
Trannae from San Dimas, California
Wendy from Abilene, Kansas
Emily from Yuba City, California
Winnie from Vancouver, British Columbia
Krystel from Sudbury, Ontario
Robyn from Stratford, Ontario
Kai from Los Angeles, California
Marie from Pomona, California
Julie from King George, Virginia

Happy Reading! 😀

Imagine the Changes That Can Bring Good Things

One of my favorite movies is Music & Lyrics with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. Drew’s character has a creative block at one point and she insists they go for a walk out in the city night. She says, sometimes you have to go see new things, do new things, eat new things to get past the block. And she does!

I’ve read several creativity and neuroscience books that suggest traveling to open up your creativity. (I’m still reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer right now.) All the new experiences help to create new thoughts and patterns in your head. It’s particularly useful if you go somewhere quite unlike what you’re used to. If you live in the countryside of Alabama, a visit to New York City would be very different. If you live in Chicago, a visit to Albuquerque might really surprise you. Even though it was mostly the same language, living in Australia for a couple years definitely changed some of my neural pathways. 🙂

I think this way of thinking, looking for new ways of thinking, really does open up your creativity. If you have been in a normal, everyday kind of rut, do something different, eat something different.

I said last week that I’d spent the last two weeks working in a warehouse doing manual labor. I wondered how much my creativity would spike just by going from normal routine to something completely different and back to writing. Well, whether it was the change, or whether it was desperately wanting to get away and write again, I don’t know. But I got about 55,000 words edited last week! Woo-hooo!!

If you’re trying to figure out how to jumpstart your creativity, read something different like neuroscience books on creativity (I’ve read about half a dozen so far), or nonfiction history books (I heard Killing Lincoln is good), or children’s books (just saw that Lemony Snicket is coming out with a new book).

Or listen to something you haven’t listened to before. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately – Dave Ramsey and Joyce Meyer in particular. I’m learning a lot about new ways to think about money and new ways to think about living my life. Joyce has a great podcast series on watching your tongue, what you say to and about yourself, because you can make things happen – or not happen – by the way you talk, including how complaining affects your attitude and life.

I mentioned last week that I’m going to participate in the open submission window for Harper Voyager going on now. Then I heard that Love Inspired Suspense (part of Harlequin) has a Fast Track Event (open submissions) later this month. I’m brainstorming a new story for them, too. Carina Press, a digital imprint at Harlequin who accepts both romance and non-romance, has an open submission period going on now through Thursday. If you have a completed manuscript, or a synopsis and first chapter for Love Inspired Suspense, maybe the thing you need to do to change it up in your writing life is to submit your work. Right now.

The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll get feedback on why your book wasn’t right for the two Harlequin lines, or no response at all from Harper Voyager (per guidelines). That’s not bad. The best thing that could happen by submitting is that you’ve got a book someone wants to publish.

But the exciting thing that may well happen for you – it’s happening for me! – is that the deadline will add fire to your writing now. Trust me, it feels great!

Whatever you decide to do, try something different this week. It may change your writing, and your writing routines, for the better.

P.S. In the vein of sharing what I’m learning in the world of self-publishing, you’ve got to read this blog by Lindsay Buroker about her self-publishing journey. She really nails the points you need to be focusing on if you go this direction in your career.

October Oops

          This isn’t the first time I’ve been surprised that it is Wednesday and I have no blog written. I think it might be the first time that I haven’t twisted my schedule into knots trying to write something at least a little interesting and helpful. This time, though, I really have no time. I have papers due, computer labs to finish, art projects and studying for mid-terms all vying for my attention. I’m taking 20 minutes to compose and upload this, then it’s back to doling out pieces to each of the screaming vultures devouring my time.

          In the course of writing a paper defining the term subplot for my English Composition class, I came across a website, Seven Story Plat Patterns, that might be useful. It’s written to those teaching children. Your first inclination may be to dismiss it or to be insulted. Don’t. When I homeschooled my children, I discover the best way to get a good overview of a topic was to get a children’s book on the topic. Although I did not use this site in my paper, it was a huge help in focusing the direction of my research and my writing. I hope it helps you, too.

         Off to feed those birds!

Change Things Up, Make It Happen

As in any part of life, sometimes our writing gets in a rut. Either we’re doing the same old thing over and over again with no results, or we can’t seem to get it together at all. My rut this year has had elements of both. Sometimes something kicks us in the butt and makes us change up our routine – and that kick can get us out of our rut.

My kick came in the form of a temp job. John is in between projects and I was feeling like I should do something to help. My $10 a month from Amazon doesn’t go very far towards our rent. So I called up my temp agency to see what they had. The job I got was a twisted combination of great and horrible.

“It’s a publishing company”, the representative told me.

A publishing company? In my little town? Could I be so lucky? I remembered reading there was a Christian book distributor a couple towns over; could it be there?

“You’ll be working in the warehouse, pulling books to be shipped out,” she said.

Thunk. (That’s the sound of the other shoe falling.)

Right. Of course. Because it’s the hottest summer people can remember, and I hate being hot and sweating. Of course that’s the job I would get. (Insert growing bad attitude here.)

Then she told me how much I’d be paid. It’s been nearly 20 years since I got paid so little. I couldn’t decide if this job would be humbling or straight out humiliating. (Increasingly bad attitude battles with attempts to thank God for providing a job in the first place.)

So for the last two weeks I pulled construction books out of a warehouse and wheeled them over to shipping. All day long. By the time I got home from work every night, my feet and back and neck hurt from the work. (I think it might be a sign I need new tennis shoes that my feet hurt every day. The arches must’ve lost their support over the last few years. I wonder how often you’re supposed to replace tennis shoes for healthy, unhurting feet.)

I wanted to work on my superhero book at night, but I just fell onto the couch when I got home, breathing deeply and trying to relax. Then I’d chow down on dinner because now I was so hungry every night! And since it’s an unnaturally hot summer, and our area has no air conditioning in houses or apartments because we’re near the ocean, our apartment was in the 80s inside when I came home. The best I could do to stay cool was soak my shirt in cool water and sit in front of the fan. I was fairly miserable the first week.

The weather cooled down slightly at the beginning of the second week, and we were catching up on orders so sometimes I got to sit inside at a desk and do actual accounting. I got to know my co-workers a little since I was inside, and that made the job easier because they’re all really nice people.

But I was still freaking out about getting my superhero book edited and off to Harper Voyager by their October 14 deadline. And I was still too tired to do much at night. And too hot. I checked the weather and it was supposed to get even hotter by the time my job ended! Thursday night I had the brainstorm to call our timeshare company and see if there were any openings anywhere within driving distance this week. There was!! (THANK YOU, GOD!!!)

So yesterday we drove 2 hours (in an air conditioned car) to a timeshare where I can write all day (in air conditioning) to prep my book for submission. I don’t think I can get it done in one week, especially since John’s birthday is tomorrow and that will require some fun time off to celebrate, but this is what I learned in that warehouse.

Sometimes you have to change your routine for a little while in order to come back to your work with more energy.

During those ten days in the warehouse, I couldn’t help but think that if I was going to work this hard for someone else – hard manual labor, sweating through my clothes, exhausted and unable to move at the end of the day – I could and would work that hard for myself!

Being someplace else, doing something else, makes the neurons in your brain fire in new ways. Learning something completely alien and new makes your brain work differently. I’ve been reading a lot about this in a variety of neuroscience books (fascinating stuff!!) and I’ll share more of that with you next week. I’m hoping that this week, with all the changes from the last couple weeks, my brain is even better equipped for creating a crazy fun story people will want to read.

So keep in mind that changes – even seemingly negative ones – can be good for helping you create new and better routines. With that in mind, I’m going to curl up with my laptop in this wonderfully cool room and work furiously away on my superhero story! We’ll see next week how much being someplace different helped me get work done.  🙂

My Creative Mis-Beliefs

          Recently I had a revelation. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind-heart, I believe I don’t deserve time to nurture my creativity. That any form of creativity, be it writing, drawing, painting, daydreaming, crafting or anything else is a waste of time, a luxury. It might be an activity I can do after I do “the important things” but to routinely indulge is irresponsible.

          That internal belief (a better term is mis-belief) wars with my compulsive need to express myself creatively. This hidden, destructive mis-belief gives no credence to reality and quantifiable facts. The reality is that I feel most alive when I am creating something. It is an observable and repeatable fact that when I spend time creating something of beauty, I am productive in other areas of life. Case in point: a couple of Saturdays ago I was overloaded with homework assignments from multiple courses. I felt I needed to spend the entire day studying, but I’d signed up for a craft class. Even though I probably could have talked with the studio and convinced them to refund my money, I really wanted to learn this craft. I decided, even though it seemed irresponsible, to take the 2-3 hour class and spend the rest of the day studying. (I absolutely loved the class and have ideas for some impressive Christmas presents.) The next 5-7 hours of studying were so productive that by 7pm Saturday evening I was caught up on all assignments and readings through the middle of the next week.

          What does this have to do with this week’s Routines for Writers big picture/details theme? I’ll tell you. 🙂

          I’ve been wondering if I need to stop trying to hang onto my writing. Maybe it’s time to give it up. It gets harder and harder to write each week. I didn’t expect this. It is understandable that during the emotional upheaval of last year that some of my creativity would shut down. Isn’t it also reasonable to expect at least some of that creativity to return as I have progressed through emotional healing this year? To be honest, I have experienced creative success in several art courses. Not so with writing. In fact, because it has gotten so hard at times to write anything at all, I’ve seriously considered withdrawing from Routines for Writers and abandoning any future writing goals.

          Then came the above mentioned revelation. With it came the realization that it is crucial for me to hang onto anything and everything creative I want to do. At this season in my life, I need to battle and overwhelm that mis-belief by feeding and nurturing my creativity. Currently, I’m aided in this fight by my routines. The art courses I take each semester force me to spend time creating. Writing this blog forces me to write. In these and other creative doings, I find peace and joy and a sense of purpose. As difficult as some of my art assignments have been over these past three semesters, I relish them. I have an excuse now to “do art,” to be creative. Because of that, I’ve realized that need for creative expression is as necessary as breathing for me.

          That’s the big picture for me. My life must include lots of creative time. Creative time in my daily life is valuable, necessary and to be protected and nurtured. It is as necessary to me as breathing clean, fresh air. The details of my life need to support that big picture view. Even though sitting down to write may be difficult, I need to do it. Even in the midst of more prosaic school assignments, I need to carve out time dedicated to creativity just for creativity’s sake. Above all, I need to confront and root out this erroneous belief that my creative expression is worthless and time spent on it is wasted. The only way I know to do that is to continue creating.

          So for now, you’ll find me here each week.

This is it!

Ah, the feeling of finally—FINALLY!—figuring out that problem about your WIP that was driving you crazy.

Sometimes it feels like you are a toddler trying to figure out walking. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Stumble step….think I got it….Down. UP. Step. Step. Step. Aaaaaannnnd down.

For what feels like a kazillion years I’ve been working diligently on a WIP problem. I’ve tried several different ways to make it disappear. I’ve found several new directions/quirks/details to add to my WIP that don’t solve the main problem, but made it seem less obvious and made the WIP stronger overall.

Each time I thought…this is IT! My creative breakthrough.

And then a few weeks later I’d realize, nope. That was just the excitement of writing new words. (Like my young daughter who told me yesterday as she was working on a story—Want to read it, Mom? It’s a good one!)

So, in my latest attempt at creative breakthrough, I have changed the personality of one of my lesser characters so that my main character can step away from the wall. So she can become more of an actor and less of a re-actor. This requires a giant sweep through the entire novel changing motivations, dialogue, reactions, etc. When I first wrote this lesser character, I had reasons for writing her the way I did. But as the novel evolved, those reasons disappeared.

I hope this is it. Right now I’m thinking it is. Time will tell.

Twin Engines of Creativity

          I don’t know much about jet airplanes, but I have watched enough TV and movies to realize there are at least two engines. According to those dramas, a jet plane can still fly even if an engine stops working. It’s not easy nor incredibly safe (which makes good drama opportunity, right?), but it is possible. (There are also small twin-engine planes, but I’m not sure they can fly on only one engine, which means they won’t fit my analogy.)

          This week we are talking about creative breakthroughs. Until recently, I would have said you must be working in order to have a creative breakthrough. How could you break through anything if you aren’t pushing on it? However, as we explored last week, procrastination can actually aid in production. I’ve come to realize that creative breakthroughs are powered by the twin engines of creative discipline and creative procrastination.

          Discipline creates an infrastructure that can support the creativity. The discipline of just “showing up” for work creates a routine that ensures there is time to accomplish the creative work. When a routine time is scheduled (and guarded) for writing and only writing is done during that time, there is a guarantee something will be written. It might not be fantastic; it may not be a breakthrough; but it will be consistent. That consistency creates an environment of productivity as well as giving direction and forward momentum. It doesn’t matter if I am consistently writing every day or only writing from 2-3pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays or for some extended time on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. It’s not the when that matters. It is the consistency. That consistent time for writing, or any other creative endeavor, programs the mind to be ready to work.

          Creative procrastination is the other engine that powers the jet plane of our creative productivity, creating an environment conducive to creative breakthroughs. If an engine is run constantly, it eventually gives out. In the same way, if we are always “on”, always trying to produce something, we’ll eventually burn out. Even when we do have a breakthrough, we may not have the energy to follow through. As we all discussed last week, taking a break from our work, even totally ignoring or abandoning it for a time, can actually make us more productive.

          Taking a break gives our “creative brain” or consciousness a rest. The pressure to produce is removed for a time. Just as several hours of sleep can totally refresh us even though the body is still “working,” so a break from our writing can refresh us even though our subconscious mind, muse, or whatever you want to call it, is most likely still be working on the project. In addition, the activities we engage in during those breaks provide input of new ideas and experiences that fuels our inspiration. That time away from the project allows us to be refreshed and re-energized, returning to the project with new ideas and new enthusiasm.

          I’ve come to believe consistent productivity can only be achieved with a finely tuned balance of creative discipline and creative procrastination. I’m in the process of tuning that balance.