Frighteningly Real

Since it’s almost Halloween, John suggested I come up with a themed post. In that vein… 🙂

You may remember, I’ve been writing like mad to make two deadlines this month. I sent in the polished superhero romantic comedy, UNEXPECTED HERO, on October 14 to Harper Voyager. And last Thursday, I sent in the first chapter and synopsis of BELLA AND THE BOUNTY HUNTER to Love Inspired Suspense.

Talk about scary.

Who knew coming up with a romantic suspense would be so difficult?! Not me, obviously. It was easy to see the victim and what happened to her, and I had a fair idea of the ending. For those reasons, I gave it a shot. But figuring out the 200 pages in the middle…Sheesh.

A couple times, I nearly threw in the towel, but then friends would rally and encourage me to at least give it a try. After all, the worst thing that can happen is I’ll get rejected. Well, the worst thing would be to spend weeks and months on it and discover I stink at suspense and I wasted all that time. Actually, the worst thing would be for Love Inspired Suspense to give me a shot and then I find I am incapable of ever writing another suspense novel, and they kick me to the curb.

See? This is the frightening real life pre-Halloween I’ve been living!

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Luckily, two great friends helped me with several plot details. My friend Dave is a deputy sheriff and he let me ask him a thousand questions over lunch. Then I called my friend Janice Cantore, novelist and retired police officer, and she took my stretched out, lumpy balloon knot and created a balloon man walking a balloon dog in a couple of deft twists. Wow. Impressive.

So now I have a month or two (I’ll write the first draft during NaNoWriMo) to see if I can write a story that feels both frighteningly real and believably romantic.

Then I’ll have to decide if I enjoyed it.

It is soooo much easier to write about superheroes! LOL!

Have you written any suspense? How’d it go for you? (If you’re good at it, give a girl some tips!) Or have you written something else that scared the crud out of you?

If you’re participating in NaNo, see you there! (I’m “Kitty Bucholtz”‘ if you want to be friends.) If not, keep writing!

And remember, I’ll be teaching my online class again on goal setting and time management for writers in January. Hope to see you there!

What Are My Options?

One of the big questions in every area of life is – what are my options? How do I want my hamburger cooked, what do I want on my pizza, how do I like my coffee – the smaller questions. What will I do for a living, how can I make ends meet until the work brings in the money, which of several directions should I take to get there – the bigger questions. (Why am I here, what is God’s plan for me, where will I go when I die – the most important questions, but not directly related to writing. 🙂 )

In writing, I’ve asked myself if I want to write fiction or nonfiction, business articles or romances, romantic comedies or superhero books with a romantic thread. While I like each of these ideas and many more, I have learned in life that you have to focus first to get started in any new endeavor. You can spread yourself thinner later. So I published a few nonfiction pieces, then focused on romance.

I went to Christian writers conferences in the early years because those were the writer friends I was hanging around. I got close enough that I was getting phone calls from an editorial assistant at Tyndale House, but I was writing just enough out of step that we could never quite get my work to run along on their track. Things never worked out.

A friend introduced me to her agent and soon I had representation. Surely my big break! It seemed the right thing to do was to continue with the romantic comedies (called chick lit at that moment, but shhh, don’t say that phrase any more). My agent and I talked about different things I could try when chick lit died. I chose not to pursue an opportunity with a Christian publisher who pays tiny advances. I was too insecure to try writing YA when my agent suggested it. I could see I had options, and – right or wrong – I made the best choices I could.

After four and a half years, I talked to my agent and decided to walk away. I was trying to do what I felt she wanted me to do, but my creativity was drying up by trying so hard. I needed a break. I’d been thinking about going to grad school for years, so when the opportunity came up, I took it. It was so beyond different from what I expected, not challenging at all, that I complained for a long time about what a waste of time it was.

But over the last couple of months, I remembered that I do have options. I can choose to live with disappointment over my grad school work, or focus on what I learned from it. For instance, I learned that I can write YA! I got some extraordinary feedback on a YA story I wrote. More excellent feedback on a spiritual dystopia/urban fantasy I wrote for my final project. And after flying to last year’s RWA National Conference the morning after my last class, and hearing a couple more editors tell me they weren’t sure they could sell my work, I knew I had another option.

I came home from that conference and decided, as an experiment, I was going to self-publish Little Miss Lovesick, the book my agent almost sold to two houses before chick lit died. When the process went a bit smoother than I expected, I considered my options again. I could keep trying to write and pitch my work to the current establishment, or I could start my own business again. The idea of running my own publishing company got my endorphins dancing.

One option that worked out for me was choosing to get involved in two self-published anthologies. The first one, Romancing the Pages, will come out in September as an ebook – see the lovely cover here. My superhero short story “Hero in Disguise” is one of nineteen short stories I hope you enjoy. In a few months, another anthology will be published with a dozen or so short stories written by my friends in my Sydney writer’s group. Another group of stories I think you’ll enjoy. My “Rescue at Loon Lake” is a fun little precursor to my novel Love at the Fluff and Fold.

It’s been a heck of a year. Several moves, several deaths, more months of unemployment than paid work between John and me, a lot of trials and testing. Career-wise, the worst part for me has been not being able to follow-through on my goals, my commitments to myself that I made end of last year. I’d planned to get Little Miss Lovesick into print by Christmas, finish and self-publish Love at the Fluff and Fold digitally and in print by March, and have the next book out in September.

Due to the weight of life this year, I’ve thought about sending my work to other publishers, let them do some of the work in return for some of the monetary rewards. I know I have options. Maybe giving myself a little break would help. It’s an awful lot of work to do all of the publishing work yourself. Several wise men in the Bible have said to count the costs before you start building so you don’t wind up broke, half-finished, and a laughingstock. I think I know the costs of continuing down my current path, and I’m willing to pay them.

I’ll continue to try to keep my options in mind at least once a year so I can adjust my course as necessary. It’s a good writing routine to have. In fact, because I love teaching and miss doing it more, I’m going to offer my Goal Setting and Time Management for Writers class again in January. We’ll start bright and early on the first Monday in January and get our ducks in a row for the coming year. I’ll remind you again when you can start signing up.

Whatever is going on in your life and your writing career, remember that you have options. Some will be better than others, but rarely is “I had no choice” true. What are some of your options?

Creative Breakthroughs – Whew!

We’ve talked about where our creativity comes from this month, how our thoughts and feelings influence it, and when procrastination helps or hurts the creative process. Now that we’ve talked about the more difficult side, let’s look at what creativity looks like when it works.

Creative breakthroughs – whew! I don’t know if I could continue trying to live a creative lifestyle and work in a creative endeavor if I didn’t have frequent breakthroughs. I think we get an endorphin rush when the breakthrough is big enough. We’re happy to the point of laughing out loud and we’re filled with sudden energy to keep going! Yay! Thank God for wiring our brains this way!

This past week I’ve been working my way through a book I found in my library, The Right-Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee. Only two chapters in, and I love this book so much it’s on my must-buy list! The web site is also spectacular, full of colorful encouragement and happiness-inducing how-to’s! You may know that I started my own publishing company to publish my books. I did not jump into it with no business sense, though. I have a bachelor degree in business administration as well as a master’s degree in creative writing. I want to work in a creative industry, but I want to do it right.

I’ve written a few business plans in my life, done a halfway decent job with them, but I don’t think I ever looked at them again once they were printed and added to the 3-ring binder of “business stuff.” But the way Jennifer suggests creating your business plan – and I’m only two chapters in, but I think I’m right – both uses common business sense and business tools and the more visual creative side of your brain to create a bona fide business plan that doesn’t get filed away and that you’ll actually use. (Guess what optional reading is being added to my January online class on goal setting?!)

One of your writing routines should be to check in with yourself to see if you’re on the road you meant to be on. When I went to the RWA National Conference in July, one thing I wanted to verify while I was attending workshops and meeting agents and other publishing professionals was – am I on the right road for me?

By the end of the last day, I was doing the Happy Kitty Dance because I knew self-publishing and being a business owner was exactly where I wanted to be! Nothing had changed to make me decide to give it up. Hearing all about what’s going on in New York and who is looking for what didn’t make me want to re-start submitting to agents and editors. Now that I’m making a more visual and creative business plan (and giving myself permission to forego the look of a traditional business plan!), I’m more excited about doing more frequent check-ins with myself. I love Jennifer’s idea of using index cards to keep track of parts of the plan so you can add new ideas when you think of them. I’m sure Jennifer is a friend I just haven’t met yet! I love the way she thinks! 🙂 I’ve been trying to make my business background fit into my creative life, and I’ve tried to get my creative life to fit into a sound business mold, but Jennifer is the one who put the two worlds together.

Am I excited enough here for you to click on those links and check out the book and the web site?! The excitement is because I had a creative breakthrough last week! Something that I’ve been trying to create finally came together and I’ve got the endorphin rush to prove it. And not just an endorphin rush – meeting your friend for coffee and talking about your works-in-progress can give you that, but does it always help you write more and better afterward? Part of knowing you’ve had a creative breakthrough is when you have lists and pages of ideas, and when normal and unrelated “stuff” in your life sparks even more ideas.

Reading the first chapter of The Right-Brain Business Plan on the elliptical machine at the gym (difficult, but it can be done – just don’t fall off when turning pages!), I had so many ideas about getting back into teaching that I was afraid I’d lose some of them. I used to put on an annual one-day writer’s workshop called Write Now! Workshops. I stopped doing them when I started traveling so much. But I have plans for a lot of online and live workshops starting in January 2013. I knew I wanted to get back into teaching, but I wasn’t sure how and where I wanted to start. Jennifer asked all the right questions to get my little brain humming!

I’ve still got most of the work ahead of me in getting my business plan down. But the other thing that excites me is that I can spend a little time “playing.” I can use that drawing class I took two years ago to make little drawings on my business plan. (Oh, how my professors at The Wharton School would faint!) I can use some of the cool programs on my Mac to get more colorful and more creative. I can take pictures of myself in PhotoBooth and record me giving myself a pep talk in GarageBand and add those to my business plan. I’ve been praying for God to help rekindle the fire in my spirit for my work and I think this is part of His answer! I’M SO EXCITED! LOL!

Check out the book and the web site. Get yourself a plan that works for you, no matter how you get it written, and then work at making it happen. You can do this!

Speaking of creative breakthroughs, my friend Mona Hodgson had a creative breakthrough recently. She’s been writing children’s books since before we met (she’s one of my first writer friends!) and has published over a dozen of them. But she wanted to write adult books, too. In 2010, her dream came true. Two Brides Too Many, the first book in the Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek series, was released by WaterBrook Multnomah. Too Rich for a Bride followed in 2011, and The Bride Wore Blue came out in May of this year. On October 2, the fourth and final book, Twice a Bride, will be released.

Today Mona is celebrating the release of her very first book trailer! You get to be among the first people to see it! The trailer is beautifully put together. You’ll want to visit these four sisters yourself. Celebrate with us by picking up a copy of Two Brides Too Many, or finish where you left off if you’ve already started the series. I think you’ll enjoy it. Congratulations, Mona, on your wonderful series and the beautiful book trailer! I can’t wait to see what your next series will be!

You can visit Mona at her web site www.monahodgson.com/ and on Facebook at Facebook.com/Author.Mona.

Retro Post: Stress-free Writing All Year

In January of this year, I posted this blog about organizing the upcoming year’s writing goals. Starting January 16, I’m once again teaching this 4-week online class, Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for the Writer, and I’d love to see you there. This is one of the exercises we’ll be doing in the class. I hope it helps you get started toward organizing your time and achieving your writing goals!

This month we’re all making the handoff between last year’s partially accomplished goals and this year’s fresh new and exciting goals. In the online class I’m teaching this month on goal setting and time management for writers, we’re using an annual planning calendar to find out how many days we really have for writing. Once we know that number and plan around it, we can create goals that can be achieved with a minimum of stress and guilt.

Take a 12-month calendar you can use just for writing. There are pros and cons for using the large laminated year-at-a-glance type, and the monthly flip calendar, so decide which one you prefer and dive in. Begin by crossing off all the days you already know you won’t be available for writing. That list will be different for each of us – birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, public holidays, kids’ school events, etc.

When you’ve crossed out everything you can think of, decide how many sick days you want to plan for. Also choose a number of days for emergencies. (The number will depend on your situation, the people who depend on you at work and home, the number of days last year that something came up unexpectedly, etc.) Count the total number of days you still have available on the calendar, then subtract the sick days and emergency days. This is the number of days you have for the year that you can plan your writing around.

You may also want to plan for some catch-up padding, especially if you’re chronically behind. One way to pad your time is to cross off the last three open days of the month, every month. That automatically gives you a full month of “extra time” for the year – 3 times 12 equals 36 days.

Let’s say you end up with 200 days in 2011 that you can devote X number of hours each day to your writing. Now you need to look at your goals and break them down into the number of hours each will take. For instance, if you can write 500 words a day without a problem, and you plan to write the first draft of a category romance of 50,000 words, it will take you about 100 days, or half of your year. If it takes you twice as long to edit and revise as it does to pound out the first draft, you need another 200 days.

That means you could produce a 50,000 word book every 18 months without stress or guilt. And by stress and guilt I mean feeling like you should be doing something else when you’re writing, or feeling like you should be writing when you’re doing something else. That is the kind of situation this type of planning can help you avoid. After all, you crossed off the holidays and vacation days and birthdays that you wanted to focus on. You’re free!

Now you’ll have to look at all of your goals for the year – which may also include showering every day, sleeping for 6-8 hours a night, driving to the grocery store, etc. – and figure out if you have more goals than can be accomplished in 52 168-hour weeks. If you have too many goals for the next 12 months, you’re setting yourself up for failure. But if you can do the math today and see that before it happens, you can make changes now and end up with a plan that truly can be accomplished.

Good luck!

 

Setting Categories for your Goals

To get a handle on my goals, I like to categorize them under big headings:

Production
Marketing
Professional Development

And this year I’m adding another category: Editing. Previously I included this activity under Production, but this year has taught me that it is SO BIG it needs its own category.

 

  • Production
  • Editing
  • Marketing
  • Professional Development

 

Now, as far as filling in those slots under the headings, I’m still thinking. Last year, my overall intention was focused on learning to create great characters. I might just stick with that one again as I’m still learning. Perhaps it will be great characters tied with plot somehow. Like learn how to develop a character through the different phases of plot. Hmm, that would be Character Arc, wouldn’t it?

For Production, since I didn’t write a new novel this year, perhaps I’ll join up with Camp NaNoWriMo in the summer, or *gasp* write a novel one day at a time until it is finished. A slow and steady approach. I’d like to see if I end up with less editing if I went slower.

Editing? I’m so happy to be past my first 50 pages for real now. The next 50 went much faster, but that could be because I’ve gotten lazy again and my critiquer may have something to say about that. So at least for the beginning of next year, I’ll be focused on editing until I get to the end of this WIP.

That leads me to marketing. What I mostly use this category for is sending out my work to agents, editors, or contests. Other uses include watching and taking notes on what others (who actually have a book to market) are doing.

Professional Development happens to be the easiest and most fun of all the categories. This would include taking classes, going to conferences, reading books about writing, reading other novels and taking notes for my writer’s notebook. I really don’t need to set goals here because I do these things routinely. But I do find it helpful to point myself in a direction and be intentional about what I am learning.

So, to sum up our goal setting here at Routines for Writers: Stephanie is going to come up with one word to guide her momentum through the next year. Kitty has a series of Primary and Secondary Goals. And I’m focusing on Categories. Hopefully one of our methods of goal setting makes sense for you and will help you move forward with your 2012 goals.