Who Are Your Influences?

John has a knack for finding cool photos of other people’s amazing libraries, reading rooms, and funny things made out of books. This staircase is something he promises to paint for me when we have a home of our own. I love it! When I look at it, I see a pyramid of influences.

When we paint our own stairs someday, I think I’ll paint the Bible on the bottom step. It’s my first and most important foundation for all things including my writing life. There is excellent advice on the best way to use your time, how to manage your money, how to grow as a person, and how to build healthy relationships with other people. It also gives me a lot of story ideas! The backstory of my superhero novels comes from Genesis chapter 4.

I haven’t decided who I’m going to paint on the other steps, but some of the other influencers in my writing life include Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Philips, Christopher Vogler, Dean Koontz, and C.S. Lewis. To name a very few!

When it comes to who I really listen to, though, that’s a somewhat different list. Of course, Shonna and Stephanie here at Routines for Writers are major influencers in my writing life. So are my writing friends Lauraine Snelling, Kathleen Damp Wright, Marcy Weydemuller, the Reunioners group, and The Coven, my writers group in Australia. My Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America are also high on my list. And I listen to almost all of the workshops of the annual RWA conference when I’m running, so those writer-speakers are some of my big influencers as well.

I’m beginning to find that some of my readers – old friends and new – are becoming influencers for me, too. I’ve gotten some of the nicest compliments from friends and strangers (i.e., friends I don’t know well yet) who have read Little Miss Lovesick or my short story that just came out, “Hero in Disguise” in the anthology Romancing the Pages. The things they’ve told me about what made them laugh and what they found to be romantic gave me good ideas for how to keep giving them more of the same. (And, of course, it felt great to get such positive feedback!)

I just went to the Dave Ramsey one-day EntreLeadership course on Friday. Dave has become another one of my influencers on the business side of writing. (Well, personal finances, too.) He and the other speakers at the event reminded me that if you “just” have a business and it’s not doing well, there’s nothing wrong with quitting, shutting it down, trying something else. But if you feel strongly that there is a reason for what you’re doing – I want to help young women understand they have more power over their happiness than they realize – then you should never, never, never give up!

When it comes to encouragement, I want to be one of your influencers reminding you of that same thing: if this is more than a hobby, if it’s more important than pursuing a dream for yourself, if your writing is about changing the world for the better – never, never, never give up! And while you’re at it, try to be a positive influence on those around you. Slowly, but surely, you will make the world a better place! And in that you’ll find that you have more power over your own happiness than you may realize.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation – Kitty

What a quick two months it has been! Another month and summer will be over?! Holy smokes! So what have I been doing? Well…

As many of you know, my mother died in May. That was rough, and I don’t seem to remember much about June. In that respect, I’m glad that we decided to take a summer break here at Routines for Writers. I needed time. (And I thank all of you who have commented or sent me encouraging notes or hugged me when you saw me. You’re all such a great group of people!)

In July, I hit the restart button again. (We’ve talked about that before. I love that button.) I got back into my writing groove, finalizing a short story for one anthology and writing a new one for another anthology.

In August, “Hero in Disguise” will be published in Romancing the Pages, an ebook anthology of 17 short stories by writers of the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America. (See a picture of the cover here by Winterheart Design.) My story is the romantic meeting of the hero and heroine in my upcoming superhero romantic comedy series, The Adventures of Lewis and Clark. I love the way they meet, all dressed up on Halloween, lots of secrets between them.

Later this year, “Rescue at Loon Lake” will appear in Moonlit Encounters, an ebook anthology of 10 short stories and novellas written by my Sydney chapter-mates of the Romance Writers of Australia. Mine is the funny story of a newcomer, a lost dog, and the dog catcher. It’s part of the Strays of Loon Lake romantic comedy series about lonely men and lost dogs finding love and a good home with women who are learning to find their strength. The first book in the series, Love at the Fluff and Fold, will also be out later this year.

In addition, John and I have been taking advantage of a break in his schedule to get cracking on the print version of Little Miss Lovesick. You may remember that I signed up to attend the Self-Publishers Online Conference in May. Due to my mom’s illness, I wasn’t able to participate at the time, but I am catching up. The suggested reading (Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, and Publishize) has been extremely helpful in putting together a nice looking print edition of the book. This also will be available later this year. You can see how busy I’ve been!

Last week, I attended the RWA National Conference in Anaheim, CA. I expected to learn a lot about craft and self-publishing and spend lots of time and energy networking – and all that happened to an even greater degree than I had hoped. But before noon on the first day, I had an unexpected surprise – I won a brand new Sony Reader!

I was so excited, I was jumping up and down. Here is a picture of me moments after Stephanie Beam Warner from the Sony Reader Store announced I’d won. I haven’t figured out yet how to get Little Miss Lovesick on it without having to purchase it, but I’ve got a nice “bookshelf” full of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and H.G. Wells already.

Because I love excellent desserts, I have to admit – I took a picture of the amazing chocolate something-or-other we had on Friday. I texted my author friend Kathleen Wright and told her I wanted to lick the plate. She texted me back to do it, but I restrained myself. Barely. Oh my gosh, it was delicious! Of course, I remembered to take a picture of the food, but I was so focused on what I was doing and learning during the conference that I forgot to take pictures of anything else. Not even a picture of me with my friend and roommate, Lauraine Snelling. Darn!

Lauraine and I had some great brainstorming sessions and great conversations with some of our other friends who were there – authors Charlotte Carter, Nancy Farrier, and DiAnn Mills especially. I also met the president of the Independent Book Publishers Association and had a great talk with her about that organization. I now have in my budget the amount of the membership dues so I can join as soon as possible. Plus, I think I know who I want to contact when my budget can support an attorney. One of the speakers was excellent and practices law in the publishing field (and in my state!).

Finally, to round out my busy July, the day after I got home from the conference, Lauraine and Kathleen and I spent another half a day brainstorming. Exhausting, but so worth it! During five hours of using Fring and Skype, we worked through some issues for the fourth book in their S.A.V.E. Squad series and the first book in my Strays of Loon Lake series. Both books are so much better for our time together.

So there you have it. That’s more or less what I did on my summer vacation. And it doesn’t even include all the non-writing things I did! Like most good vacations, I sort of wish it wasn’t over and I still had lots of extra time to work on my book instead of our blog. But like most good vacations, I’m also glad to be back.

Now tell us what you’ve been up to this summer!

My Author Crush Faves

What a great month! I love Author Crush month. There is always someone you never heard of who becomes a new fave. I might’ve picked up three new favorites!

After reading Cat Weatherill’s blog post, I downloaded the Kindle sample of her book Wild Magic and fell in love! I absolutely must buy her book! Just reading a few pages of it, I became immersed in not just a magical story world, but an overwhelming sense of magic washing over me. I stopped reading several times and asked myself, how did she do that?! I’m totally going to keep reading and try to figure it out. I want my books to instill that sense of the magical!

Similarly, when I read the Kindle sample for Stephanie S. SaundersVillain School: Good Curses Evil, I was laughing out loud more than I was reading silently! Another must-buy for me!

The title alone made me curious about PJ Sharon’s upcoming release, Savage Cinderella. But reading the blurb on it, I’m hooked. I’ve got to give that one a try as soon as it comes out! (Release day is March 15.)

The rest of the posts this month had all kinds of new and interesting thoughts to consider.

James Scott Bell made me wonder if should give a little more thought to writing short stories. Hmm, something to think about.

Reading Jacqueline Diamond’s post about making her own book covers made me want to give it a try, if only for the fun of it.

Art Holcomb gave me a lot to think about with his thoughts on plotting the larger arc for a series, and how I need to stay enthusiastic about my story in order to write a great book.

Thanks to Gail Carson Levine, I am more determined to write wherever I have to, whenever I have to. I was ten minutes early for Bible study this week, so I turned on the inside light in the car, and wrote another few lines of my latest short story.

Debra Holland’s self-publishing journey is always inspiring, no matter how many times I read about it. Go Debra!

I loved that I’m not the only one who picks out just the right pretty or quirky notebook for my next story. Thanks, Nancy Rue!

And Stephanie’s posts about the books she’s reading that help her in her journey toward healing – well, I admire her so much for making it a public journey so that others might be helped as well.

Even though they aren’t really part of Author Crush month, per se, I also am tickled to death that my dear friends Janice Cantore, Lauraine Snelling and Kathleen Damp Wright put bookends to our month with fantastic tales of newly published novels!

Ahh, what a great month! I always feel so refreshed and excited and motivated by March 1! I hope you do, too! 🙂

P.S. Remember to tune in tomorrow and welcome our new monthly contributor, Jamie Raintree!

Interview: Lauraine Snelling and Kathleen Damp Wright, Authors of “Dog Daze”

I am so excited! My friends Lauraine and Kathleen have written a chapter book for ages 8-12 – Dog Daze, the first book in The S.A.V.E. Squad series – and it releases today from Barbour Books! And it’s Kathleen’s first book! Yay! I asked the ladies if they would stop by and join us for an interview. Please welcome Lauraine and Kathleen!

Kitty: How did the two of you meet and come to the idea of co-authoring a book?

Kathleen: I still don’t know how it started. I got a flyer for a writing conference I don’t remember asking to get.

Lauraine: We met when I was the teacher at a writer’s workshop in Grand Junction, CO, a bunch of years ago. We stayed in touch and became good friends, thank you Lord.

Kathleen: At the conference, she asked us to raise our hands if we were writers. I didn’t, because I was seriously discouraged about writing fiction for publication. I didn’t want to lie. She noticed that. Then, I said to Lauraine that it would be cool if I could come to her house and have her teach fiction tips. So she began a fiction intensive week at her house. I eventually ended up teaching at it.

Lauraine: We critiqued the projects we were working on separately and several years ago, came up the idea of this series. Now we go camping together, trailer/RV style and what do we talk about—-a lot? Why faith and writing, our two favorite topics. And our dogs. My rescue basset Sir Winston–

Kathleen: —And our rescue border collie, Cash the Wonder Dog.  The two couldn’t be more different.

Lauraine: We figure God has a plan for these two couples and this summer, I will have a bike to ride with the others too. Look out world.

Kathleen: I can’t wait. I found her a great bike for $27.50 that retailed for $399 and still looks new.

Lauraine: And yes, Cash the wonder dog, and Sir Winston C ob de mountains, go along–but not on the bikes. We hope that eventually they’ll become as good a friends as we are.

Kathleen: I am not optimistic.

Kitty: Good luck with that. Sounds like you’ll need it! So how are your work habits alike and different from each other?

Lauraine: We both love brainstorming, looking for the unusual and finding the humor in life’s situations. However, Kathleen is a techie whiz and I’m not. But she helps me along, dragging me into today’s world of technical wonders. I brainstorm on paper with a pen or pencil; she adores the cool programs that are out there to assist writers.

Kathleen: Yep. I’m always looking for a way to eliminate the paper issue since I don’t work at a desk. My “office” is wherever I’m sitting at the moment. I use Scrivener in a very basic way to get the scenes going for a story. I wish it was available on the iPad. I have also fallen in love with Evernote for my Android phone, my Mac, and my iPad. I love Infinotes for my iPad for brainstorming. I like moving stuff around.

Lauraine: We both trust that God will give us supremo ideas, and then use our work in ways we can’t even dream of. That makes for exciting discoveries and conversations.

Kathleen: I can tell you that there are things in Dog Daze that were a direct present from God, that’s for sure. They were dancing around and shouting moments when I saw how they enriched the story.

Kitty: Oo, I love stuff like that. How did you work the collaboration?

Lauraine: We brainstorm the ideas, both do research. My favorite is go to the place and talk with the people who are doing or have done what I need to know.

Kathleen: I’m lucky that I have been teaching long enough that there are almost always kids of some age that know about what I’m writing about. Like how whiskers work for cats. For the third book, Second-Hand Horses, I have a former student who is shooting pictures for me at her aunt’s ranch (’cause I need to see a barn and covered corral) and sending me YouTube videos on horses doing the very thing I need to know about. She’s loving it and so am I. I’ve gotten to see up close and personal the great work that rescue organizations are doing in my local area as well.

Lauraine: We go back and forth in the idea stage and critique the outline or synopsis. Then Kathleen writes the story with me commenting. We go back and forth with suggestions. We meet and talk more through; we both love to work in coffee shops with lattes at hand.

Kathleen: That’s my favorite way to work. Us with our husbands and dogs and RVs in the same place and finding the local coffee shop–with high speed wifi. And then a good hot tub later.

Lauraine: And then the final edits. Now we are learning more about marketing and publicity.  There’s a lot that goes into the making of a book that readers will love.

Kitty: I’ve brainstormed with you two in a hot tub. The ideas come faster than we can write them down! I understand you two used Skype to line edit the book together. How did that go?

Lauraine: We did use Skype and it was a great experience, me from my office in Tehachapi, CA–

Kathleen: —And me from my travel trailer on a lake in Utah where my husband and border collie were spending the month working and living. Lauraine kept talking about how amazing it was we could do this.

Lauraine: We went over Dog Daze line by line, word by word. What a marvelous way to rewrite and edit. Our editor was rather pleased too. So few changes needed.

Kathleen: As in about eight! And most of them were about timeline bumps that show up after chopping and editing.

Kitty: That’s amazing! Was this a first for you to publish a children’s book?

Kathleen: Yup! Well, make that, publish any book. I’m a complete newbie and shrieking my head off regularly now that I’ve touched Dog Daze, which is Book #1 of the four-book series The S.A.V.E. Squad. Miss Eight Million Published next to me here can tell you about her kid series.

Lauraine: Not a first for me. My lifetime dream was to write horse books for girls. So my first book was titled Tragedy on the Toutle about a family that lived in the valley when Mt. St. Helens erupted. The title now on the reissue is What About Cimmaron? By the way, a first clue for beginning writers is to write what you know. Cimmaron lived in our back yard and belonged to my daughter Marie and I. He was quite a character.

Since then I have written twenty children’s books with the horse theme, two series of ten books each. The Golden Filly series and the High Hurdles series. Both series are now available in four volumes of five books each.

Kitty: How is writing for children different from writing for adults?

Lauraine: The main difference is the age of the characters. The pacing is usually faster too with less introspection, characters thinking and feeling things. But readers of all ages have enjoyed these series because they are books about families.

Kathleen: I think the dialogue is different as well as word choice. Kids see things differently and can be very profound in a very short comment. The four girls and CP, the neighbor boy, all are smart kids who don’t miss much. As an example of a kid and their depth of feeling but short of speech, here’s a quote from the book that a reviewer used as a favorite: “”A forever home,” she said, rolling the words around in her mouth. They sounded safe.”

Kitty: There are four books, right? How did you get the idea for the series?

Lauraine: Kathleen and I have both had numerous rescued pets and I wrote an adult book called Breaking Free about rescued Bassets and Thoroughbred race horses who could no longer work the track. Disposable animals?  How sad, so we try to do something about that. But one day we were talking and you could have seen the lighbulbs going off over our heads. What if?

Kathleen: Two of my favorite words–what if. As a fiction coach, I gained the nickname The Whatif Girl.

Lauraine: Now those are two magic words for writers. What if we were to do a series for girls about rescuing animals? I think we’d just read one of those marvelous stories of all the great things that kids manage to accomplish. The ideas started popping and haven’t stopped.

Kitty: That’s so cool. And the girls are so different. How did you come up with such differences?

Kathleen: I wanted to make the girls very different and tie each girl’s story arc with the animal’s need. I was very intentional with where they each went to school and what their personalities were like. One 5-star review mentioned the girls were so diverse, any girl could find herself relating to one of them. That’s what I was going for!

Lauraine: That is always a goal for story tellers, make your characters different so they react to things differently, so the reader knows which character they are reading about at that moment. So we talked about general differences and then Kathleen hit on the different education programs for our girls. We thought of three, but then four girls and a neighbor boy  just kind of waved their hands and screamed “pick me, pick me.” So we did.

Kathleen: How the name of the squad came about was very cool. Makes me want to spin thinking about it! I can’t tell you anymore than that, ’cause you have to read the book, but it’s neat.

Lauraine: It really put some major pieces in the wild puzzle called, figure out the story. Just think how boring this world would be if everyone were exactly alike?

Kitty: So true. Which girl do you think you’re most like?

Lauraine: Probably Sunny since she is such a great example of a sanguine personality. And not finishing things? Hey, I’ve spent most of my life as the queen of starting great and then having another to-be-finished project somewhere. Sunny spins when she is excited and I rub my knuckles together and look about to fly. Just ask some of my cousins.  See me doing the eye roll thing. After all these years, that’s what they remember about me most? Not good.

Kathleen: Yayness! (one of Sunny’s words). She is the fave so far of everyone who’s read the book. For me, I’d like to be Sunny and have such a great view of life and fun. Some days I’m Sunny, only I wave my arms instead of spin. Other days, I’ve got my hands flying to my hips with a real Esther thing going on or I’m making lists like Vee. I’m not much like Aneta, although I have a friend who’s very MUCH like Aneta.

Kitty: This sound so fun! Are there any other children’s books planned from either of you?

Lauraine: I certainly hope so, although maybe a better term is dreamed rather than planned at the moment.

Kathleen: I have a magic realism series for the same age group that is close to getting the proposal finished. The rest are women’s contemporary and cozy mystery book and series ideas in varying stages of finished and pitch-able.

Kitty: What other books are in the works for you?

Lauraine: Since I write both contemporary and historical novels, I have others coming out in both genres. Currently I am finishing up a three-book series titled Wild West Wind, set in South Dakota. Wind Dancer is a black and white paint who excels in performing as part of a trick riding act, with his human Cassie. George the bull buffalo also plays a part, oh and don’t forget, Othello who likes to ride behind Cassie. Wind Dancer doesn’t mind.

Kitty: Wow, what a fascinating and exciting journey! I’m sure our readers will be looking for Dog Daze today, and your other books, too! Thanks so much for joining us!

Lauraine and Kathleen will be stopping in during the day to chat with us, so please leave your questions and comments below. Dog Daze is available today at your local bookstore and at online retailers. You can watch the totally cute book trailer on YouTube. I hope you enjoyed our interview!


Award-winning and best selling author Lauraine Snelling began living her dream to be a writer with her first published book for young adult readers, Tragedy on the Toutle, in 1982. She has since continued writing more horse books for young girls, adding historical and contemporary fiction and nonfiction for adults and young readers to her repertoire. All told, she has more than sixty books published. You can follow her on Facebook.

Kathleen Wright teaches writing to homeschoolers and online college freshmen and can’t wait to buy a student’s first novel! Her first series debuts in March with book one Dog Daze in The S.A.V.E Squad series, co-authored with good friend Lauraine Snelling.When Utah-based Kathleen’s not dreaming up adventures for her characters, she’s riding bikes with her husband, playing pickleball, and trying to convince her rescued Border Collie that Mom knows best. Join her on Facebook and Twitter.

Author Crush Month: Kathleen Wright

My last guest for this month has a very exciting and inspiring story to share! Kathleen and I have been friends for over a decade, since we met at Lauraine Snelling’s Fiction Intensive. Since then we’ve shared all the ups and downs of the writing life – getting agents, losing agents, “almost” selling our books, hearing nothing at all.

Last year, I was afraid Kathleen had given up completely, so I started praying that God would help her to be at peace during this break but also help her to know when it was time to get back to writing. I was sooo excited when she and Lauraine called me in Sydney to tell me what happened! Please welcome Kathleen!

The Grace Note

In August, I stopped writing fiction. Stopped obsessing on how I was spending my time and how much time I was spending avoiding sitting down and working on fiction projects. Gave up the idea that I was actively working on a publishing career. Additional income was needed. It wasn’t coming in through fiction. I had been dropped by my agent the previous November. Had I been kidding myself I had what it took to be a published author?

So I quit. Or tabled it. Or set it aside. Not sure even now what’s the right term. Did I stop thinking about my stories or new story ideas? I did not. They flowed unchecked. Rather entertaining actually, because I didn’t plan on doing anything on them. At least not now. Maybe not ever.

I moved into online tutoring, began my eighth or ninth year of teaching writing at the homeschool cooperative, and started lifting weights–sporadically. I got pickleball started at my rec center, began BeamFit classes for balance and flexibility–sporadically. I continued to regret a prevailing pattern in my life–inconsistency.

Then I began to hear about grace and mercy in a sermon series. As a Christian, I’d heard about it lots before. I was, after all, saved by grace and not by anything I did. For some reason I thought the two words were interchangeable.

That grace is God’s enabling ability seemed a brand new thing. Call me a slow learner, hearing impaired, (insert your favorite NOT GETTING IT phrase).

A friend of mine is fond of repeating the Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” In the wonderfulness of God, I didn’t know I was ready, wasn’t thinking of getting ready, yet He showed up and began to shine some love light, in the form of grace.

The G-shells:

  • I am inside a huge plan orchestrated by God. Detonation: inside, by God. Gulp: huge
  • “Grace is the reign maker.” I’m not here just cuz… Reigning in life is more than having stuff… Detonation: Rain/reign, fall on me!
  • By the grace of God I am who I am. By the enabling ability of God I am who I am. Detonation: “Grace is the vehicle by which I travel; faith is the fuel.”
  • Grace is not a replacement for hard work and discipline. Detonation: It’s work powered by grace.

Then one Sunday I heard this: Learning how to do it all right is not grace–another G-shell detonated. I leaned over and whispered to my husband, “That’s what I’ve been doing with my fiction writing.”

I’d read all the techniques, faithfully ingested the “rules” of publishing and what sells and what isn’t, etc. Availing myself of the amniotic fluid of grace which surrounds me and doesn’t have to be chased or “got” had been a foreign concept. I was living as though grace had finished its work when I said yes to the sacrifice that Jesus offered as my way to become friends with God.

The pastor offered the opportunity to pray for those who might have stepped off the grace path. When he prayed for me, he said something about not thinking anything “outlandish” or too much. I thought of my fiction, tucked away in computer files.

That was Sunday, November 14.

On Wednesday, my dear friend Lauraine Snelling left messages on my cell and home phones. When I finally connected with her, she was barely able to speak for her excitement. A four-book series for ages 9-12 that we had developed in 2006 and put out for interest had been sold.

The first book in the series is scheduled to launch in Spring 2012.

Four years. I had quit. Grace hadn’t.

Thanks be to God!

Kathleen Wright caught, rather than sought, the moniker The What If Girl. She’s a fiction coach for beginning and multi-published writers, and gets to teach writing to fascinating junior and senior high school students in an educational co-op. Living in the Wasatch Mountains, she writes and plays and not always in that order. Follow her on Twitter as TheWhatIfGirl and tweet her with your fiction questions.

The premise for the first book in the new series, The S.A.V.E Squad: Since they can’t save the whole world, what about their piece of it? Four sixth grade girls join together as The S.A.V.E. Squad and tackle homeless dogs in book one, feral cats in book two, retired Thoroughbreds in book three and injured raptors in book four.  In helping the animals, they find themselves giggling, going deeper with God and growing up.

Author Crush Month: Lauraine Snelling

My very first writers conference was a gift from my friend Janet. She didn’t want to go to her first writers conference alone. Together with our also-first-timer friend Lisa, the three of us sat in on a five-day workshop for fiction writers, all of us trying to believe we weren’t scared to death. But as soon as Lauraine Snelling started to speak, we started to relax. She encouraged us, she hugged us, she told us we were wonderful, and she believed with all her heart that God had us all there in that workshop for a reason. Over the years, Lauraine became a mentor to me, and then a dear friend. She writes with passion and heart about the kind of people you can imagine are real, people with flaws but good hearts… people like you and me. If you haven’t read her books yet, give one a try. And I hope you find encouragement as you read about Lauraine’s writing routines… or lack thereof.

Available April 2010
Available April 2010

Ever since I was a kid, which is some years ago now, I rebelled against the idea of routines. Things like do your homework right when you get home from school. I don’t think so, riding my horse was not to be done after dark and homework could be. As I grew older, got married and had children, I was locked into more routines than I cared for but when someone told me about a card file to organize housework, I took off running—away. You see routines come easily to organized people and those of us born without that gene, have trouble.

Enter writing when my three kids were teenagers. Even at that first writer’s conference, I heard about organizing your work, organizing your life to find time for writing, organize your children to take over some of the household chores so you have time to write. Well, my kids were already pulling their share so that wasn’t such a big deal, but a chart on the fridge with chores listed and points or stars or money added and subtracted, well, let’s just say not one ever cluttered our fridge door.

So now I’ve been writing for thirty years come April. That really looks scary written down. I am one of the old timers, that’s even scarier. Kitty asked me to blog about routines—and she knows me well enough to know this is part of a joke. You see, she was born organized, like our younger son, and she comes up with wonderful charts and graphs and systems. People like me are truly blessed by people like her. And I know there are a lot of people like me. So basically this blog is for you, the not naturally organized. Or routinized. Red line says that’s not a word but to me it is so it stays.

I have learned that at least some kind of routine will help me be better organized and build effective routines. Hope that makes sense. I have the good fortune to have contracts back to back which is wonderful but that also means, you guessed it, deadlines, routines, organizational efforts. The problem with deadlines is that if you miss one, you mess up the others. Domino effect. So I have spent the better part of the last years being behind, sometimes worse than others.

My word of wisdom for you is, being behind is a killer. A killer of creativity, a killer of joy, a killer of your word and self esteem and after awhile, it damages your body. So I beg of you, don’t let it happen to you.

Available now

Now then, before you figure your routine, you have to figure out when you work best, what hours for you are most productive writing time. I am NOT a lark who rises up singing before the dawn. I used to be a night owl and that’s when I did my best writing, between ten and two, as in a.m. That has changed through the years and now I agree with the concept that I am a swing shift person. My best writing hours are between eleven a.m. and three, then back at it in the evening for an hour or so, like eight to nine. I write fast then, most of the time, not pulling words out one by one. This is not an easy time to keep out the world, late night was much easier but I am resigned to the fact that this is what works best for me. I know, I have the privilege of setting my own hours. But pardon the cliché, where there is a will, or necessity, there is a way.

So that’s first, work during your most productive time.

I’ve had a couple of years that pretty much messed up any routine or creativity, but that is now past and one of the things I had to do, was go back to see what worked best when I was writing. So that is step number two. Look at your years of writing and what worked best for you, not just well, but best. If you are a new writer, watch yourself to learn what works best.

I am a strong proponent about do not edit until the end of the novel, so you write the first draft as fast as you can. Stopping to edit wrecks the flow and the pacing and your joy in writing. I know some of you would argue with that, but this is my blog. You get to write your own. I also know that ten to twelve pages a day, with some spurts of more, are not only possible but probable for me with this routine. And the thing that is so hard to admit, I do so much better when I do this. Arggg. Sorry, I relapsed. So I outline my story, a rough outline and begin with chapter one, writing as fast as I can. At the end of the writing time, I make a list of the things that I know have to come next to get me from A to B, either on a separate pad or paper on a clipboard, or lately right at the bottom of what I’ve written. That’s it for the day.

When I open the file the next morning, I read through what I wrote the day before, not the entire ms., fill in whatever places I left blank, change a few words, make notes if this prompts a change for earlier chapters and read through the outline for the day. I start writing and go as hard as I can until…you get the picture. I do not look for words either online or a thesaurus or anything else while writing. I do not look up facts, like what color were her eyes? I write. Those things I can look up off writing hours. I make notes for research needed and do that on off hours too. Usually I do that at the end of the book but I am getting better at research online.

If I do this five or six days a week, I am about two thirds of the way through the book by the end of the month. This is utopia. When I get a week away, I can get a hundred pages done, so a couple of times a year, I am blessed to have other writers to run away with.

We have a Motor Coach and love to travel. Last year that cost me a lot of writing time because I was having trouble focusing due to travel and health stuff. Today I am writing while Wayne is driving and this works when we are in an area I know well. When in new country, I want to see the scenery too. But I am back in the groove so we’ll see how this goes. I have to get started on the next book too.

Two classic quotes that I use often to get myself going. Yoda from Star Wars. “Try, there is no try. There is do or do not. There is no try.” And the second, the Nike slogan. “Just do it.” It is easier to just do it, if the doing has become a habit. Routines are part of habits.

I am, besides a recovering procrastinator, an all or nothing person. Not good thinking. Another friend that God dropped into my life convinced me that anything is better than nothing. Another phrase of hers and others, “do the next right thing.” That could be altered to “the next write thing.” Because of her counsel and prayer I have learned to be grateful with two pages a day or sometimes five, rather than ten or nothing. This is keeping me from throwing the whole thing over and escaping into the pages of a good book and the refrigerator.

A hint I have for all of us. Email, Twitter and Facebook are not part of writing time. Pages in the book are writing time. Yes, they are writing related, often enough but not writing time. I have one other suggestion. If you need something to transverse from life time to writing time, find something that works well for you. Some suggestions: morning pages that can be done any time of the day, a letter, a journal entry, or even ONE game of Free Cell or Solitaire. Choose according to your needs and self control.

May you all be blessed with writing and life routines that work and bring you closer to those goals you have written down. Oops, that’s another routine. Think DAILY. That’s a marvelous word. And may all your goals come true.

Today laurainephoto1Lauraine Snelling is a member of the More Than Two Million Books in Print club, but when she first began she was a mother of three teenagers with a simple dream to write “horse books for kids.” Her dreams manifested into reality in 1982 with Tragedy on the Toutle, a story about a girl and her horse caught in the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington state. All told, Lauraine now has over 50 books published. Helping others reach their writing dream is the reason Lauraine teaches at writer’s conferences across the country. Her latest release is A Measure of Mercy, and No Distance Too Far comes out in April.

Revision – Taming a Wild Horse

January means a new start for many people in a variety of areas in life. For those of us who wrote madly during November, January is often the first chance we have to sit down and focus on rewriting that crazy new story. I took two weeks off at Christmas, so the details of my book are a bit hazy now. Where should I begin?

There are a lot of great books – and some not-so-great ones – on revision. I own two that I love: Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, and Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction by David Michael Kaplan. For all the great advice I’ve read or heard, the approach that works best for me came from Lauraine Snelling when I was at her Advanced Fiction Intensive.

She suggests first reading your new manuscript all the way through, preferably in one sitting. On paper. Yes, print out the entire book. Yes, I know, it’s a lot of pages. But it will help you catch things you might miss on your computer screen. You’ll also experience the joy of reading your story all the way through the first time curled up in your favorite reading chair. That joy will go a long way to helping you feel energized for the task ahead instead of feeling overwhelmed.

Before I print it all out, though, I make sure I have the page numbers set to print as “page x of y” so that I don’t have to worry about the wind blowing through them (it’s summer here in Sydney, so my windows are all open) or one of my infamous “piles” tipping over, which has happened on many occasions. I also make sure I have chapter titles and/or numbers at the beginning of each chapter if I already know where those breaks are. If I don’t know, going through the book on hard copy will help me decide where are good chapter breaks. I also make sure I save a copy of this full manuscript as a separate file. Oh, and I print in double-space, or 1 1/2 space so I can make notes.

Then I take my many pages to the most comfortable reading spot I have, and I choose a time when no one is likely to bother me. I may even get a yummy snack out, whatever I would do when reading one of my favorite authors’ books. For me, the point is to envelop myself in the story, and make notes about places where the story isn’t working. This first read isn’t about dialogue or description or emotion, it’s about finding out what is working and what isn’t, what’s enjoyable to read and what takes me out of the story.

I make smiley faces and other short notes on the manuscript itself. But notes on story problems and changes that need to be made are jotted down on a separate piece of paper. That way all the things I have to fix are written down in one place, not scattered over 300+ pages. When you have your notes together, you’re ready to create a plan of attack. This plan may be slightly different for each book, so I’ll talk about it in more detail next week.

To recap:
1. Print out your entire manuscript with page numbers and chapter numbers, double-spaced. Be sure to save a copy of this completed file.

2. Read it straight through in one sitting in your favorite reading spot. Make notes on story changes and problems on a separate pad of paper.

3. Prepare a plan for how to proceed with this book’s revision. More on that next week.

So go fill up your printer with paper and enjoy reading your book! We’ll talk more next week.

Plan Your Own Writing Retreat

Writing retreats can be a rejuvenating and valuable experience. If you know yourself well enough to know what you really need, they can pump up your productivity as well as your creativity. The key is to know the difference between what you need and what you want.

Here are some things to help you decide what you want and need in a writing retreat so that you can find – or create – the one that best suits you. Do you NEED or WANT:

  • Time with other writers to brainstorm, plot, etc.
  • Some instruction as well as some writing time
  • Time alone to write/rewrite without distractions
  • Fun time with friends, hanging out with people who don’t think you’re weird
  • Pampering – spa time, massage, shopping, dinners out, etc.
  • Internet, TV, DVD player, fitness center
  • Location you can drive to, or someplace different

Let me tell you how I ended up creating my own retreats. First, I prefer to go to writers conferences for instruction because I think I get more for the money, and my brain is in learning mode the whole time. So I never looked at any of the “retreats” available longer than it takes to find the cost and keel over from sticker shock. (I’m from the Midwest; we’re born cheap.)

When I thought about what I really needed, what I felt I didn’t have enough of at home, it was simply uninterrupted time. For me to be comfortable writing for days in a row, I realized that I need a clean comfortable room with no pests (Lauraine and I shared an ant-infested room once for a weekend conference – yuck!), hot and cold running water (I don’t camp – shocking to most of my Midwestern friends and family!), a mini-fridge and a microwave (though I’ve survived without), and enough electrical outlets to plug in my computer and my printer.

One of the best values for my money has often been the TraveLodge! For less than $100 per night (much less, depending on your location), you get one or two beds, a desk, a TV, sometimes a DVD player, a full bathroom, a mini fridge and microwave, and often a pool! If you share the room with another writer, you’re looking at less than $400 for the week! Keep in mind, I need a place to sit and write, to sleep, and to shower. I’ve survived without my wants before when I had to – no TV, no fridge or microwave, no Internet. Times when I couldn’t even afford the TraveLodge, I’ve found a way to at least get my needs met.

Since purchasing a timeshare, almost every week used has been by me for a writing retreat. (John and I are going on our first vacation together using the timeshare next month!) I often go by myself because my biggest need is writing time. But many times I’ve taken a writing friend – Stephanie and Shonna have both shared with me, as well as other writing friends. This is great for brainstorming and plotting. Less great if one of you is focused on getting away to write, and one is focused on just getting away. (I can barely force myself to write if my friend is watching a movie I want to see!)

But you don’t need to own a timeshare or rent a hotel room to find what you want. You can housesit. You can combine visiting a relative who works during the day with the vacation aspect of visiting them. You can find a friend with a larger house and have everyone come there. (Stephanie has been trying to get Shonna and I to “retreat” at her home in the country. We both want to, but it hasn’t worked out – yet!) You can even talk to the religious retreat centers and monasteries that offer silent retreats and ask if you can bring your computer and write.

The point I wanted to share with you is that you can find a way to take some writing time for yourself once you put your mind to it. It may be only for a weekend. It may only be every couple years. Or maybe you’ll find a group of writers you click with so well that you have to see them every year. I was in one of Lauraine Snelling’s Fiction Intensive classes at her home, and every summer everyone who was ever in that class is invited back for Reunion Weekend. We spend some time focusing on a particular aspect of writing, some time actually writing, and some time focusing on the spiritual side of the writing life. Oh, and a lot of time cooking and eating and laughing together!

Start making your list now! What do you NEED? What do you WANT? How can you get it? Let us know how it works out for you!

The Good, The Bad, and the AAARRGHHH!!!!

Writing groups and critique partners. This is a topic where writers nod sagely to each other over the heads of new folks asking the question…

How do I find a critique group?

Maybe it’s because I live in Los Angeles and worked in the film and television industry before I started writing full-time, but I have one word for you: audition.

I’m so serious. ‘Cause here’s the thing. Everyone looks at writing differently, especially when they are critiquing it. (Honestly, what are some of those Amazon reviewers thinking?)

Take a sweet old woman who used to run a Christian bookstore for 70 years and ask her about your novel.

“Lies! It’s all lies!” she said to me, all fired up. “How can you write such nonsense?” I stared at her dumbly for a moment, seriously weighing whether she was teasing me and this was my cue to laugh. Then I mumbled something about Jesus telling stories and abruptly changed the subject.

Bring in an English teacher with 30+ years of red-pen-marking experience and ask her what she thinks.

“I counted 27 uses of the word ‘was’ in the first five pages, and made a note that you abuse contractions and exclamation points,” she said, handing me back my now-bleeding pages. “Other than that, I don’t understand why you would make the point of the story about her finding a man. Not in this day and age.”

Uh, thank you?

It doesn’t take much of the wrong kind of critiquing to squelch the lively, fun, creative kid in you, and dry up your page count. Fast. So decide what kind of group you need – critiquing each week or each month, plotting, brainstorming – and what kind of people you want in that group.

I’ve accidentally ended up with three trios of groups. Lauraine and Kathleen and I do a lot of “plot-storming” together, usually about once a year with a lot of emails flying in the meantime. Kathleen is the The What-If Girl you’ve heard from here (see archives), and she is a master at brainstorming plots and characters. Lauraine has been writing for 20 years and has over 2 million books in print so she brings a lot of experience to the table. And all three of us are strongly motivated by our faith in Christ as we build stories that we hope move people. So there are times when I really need their input.

Shonna and Stephanie and I hooked up when we were all members of the Tempe Christian Writers Group in Arizona. Half a dozen of us were seriously writing fiction and met separately from the rest of the two dozen members who wrote primarily non-fiction. We found that we could be great critique partners because we had about the same level of experience and motivation, and we enjoyed each other’s writing even though we don’t write the same kind of fiction.

In the last few months, I’ve been getting together more and more often with Kimberly and Lynn. (Kimberly has also written guest blogs here, and will be joining us again next week.) They’re the only partners that I actually live near, so that’s a plus! LOL! But honestly, these two are just freaking brilliant! We’re all members of Romance Writers of America, so we’re already on the same page topically. And again, we really enjoy each other’s writing. That makes critiquing and brainstorming more fun than work, which is extremely important for long-term success.

I’ve been a member of several groups, and have found myself growing as a writer by actively working with these three pairs of women. But that isn’t always the case. So again – audition. Audition people who might want to join your group. Ask a group if you can audition with them. Then you can all see how the others operate and whether it seems like a good match. When my friend Andrea asked me to stop sending her my work because she really didn’t like the genre I wrote and didn’t think she could critique it in a helpful manner, my respect for her as a writer and a friend soared! Know your own strengths and know what you’re looking for in a group.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned about finding and being a good critique partner.

First and best rule – start by telling the other person what you liked. Not only does everyone need encouragement, but it builds a positive foundation for constructive criticism.

Second, be sure to ask the person what they’re looking for today. If they want to know if the plot makes sense and you do a line-edit, you’re both going to be frustrated. On the flip side, be sure to tell people what you need when you ask them to critique. If Lynn is sending her work to an editor next week, she does need a line edit so there is not a single mistake. But if Kimberly is working on her first draft, she may only want to know if the plot makes sense and her characters are believable. When they tell me what they need, they get what they want. And vice-versa.

Third, remember whose story it is – not yours. On Monday I was working with Lynn and Kimberly, and I made a suggestion to Lynn about not going a certain direction. I tried to make it clear that it was only my opinion, and I suggested some alternatives, but in the end I tried to make sure she knew I supported her in her choice. Because it’s her story.

Which brings me to an important fourth point – constructive criticism gives a reason why (not “it just doesn’t feel right”) and offers suggestions or alternatives (“I’m not sure why this doesn’t flow… maybe it’s a POV switch? the wrong word usage for the time period? a wordy sentence?”).

Finally, end again with a positive note. Force yourself if you have to (but if you’re in the right group, you probably don’t have to), but be sure to end with what you like or love about the book so far. You need this yourself, so offer it to others as well.

I hope you found some helpful tips in here. If you’re looking for a critique group, do some searches for local groups in your area – non-affiliated groups who meet at the library, or organized groups like Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, etc. Many groups develop online, sometimes just “meeting” people in an online class. Keep looking, keep trying. Worst case scenario, write up what you’re looking for and start your own group! Good luck!

Back Away From Your Computer!

The more we blog about our routines, the more Stephanie and Shonna and I realize how different we are! I am sooo not like Stephanie!  LOL!  Yes, sometimes I get caught up in the 80 directions a story could go if I let my imagination run wild. But I’m too much of a control freak and have too great a need for accomplishment and closure to let a story go on too long. When we’re talking, I sometimes want to approach Stephanie like a wild deer, quietly, hand extended, whispering, “Just back away from your computer, Stephanie.” Read her blog from Monday to understand why!  🙂

I only do two or three drafts of a story if I started out with an outline and didn’t confuse myself out of the gate. (Note to self: Do not let the NaNoWriMo free spirits talk you out of doing an outline beforehand. Remember the catastrophe of 2007!) The first draft is more or less what I had in mind, per my outline, with occasional bursts of “Oh! This will be great!

In the second draft, I go through Draft 1 and write a sticky note for every scene with a single sentence for each. I put these in order on a laminated sheet I created in Lauraine Snelling’s Advanced Fiction Intensive Week. (It’s butcher paper with squares drawn on it the size of my preferred size of sticky notes. Along the top are the steps of the Hero’s Journey. It’s basically a huge sheet of laminated hand-made graph paper.)

I use a different color of sticky note for each major character’s POV, and one more color to be used for all minor characters’ POV. (This is assuming a single title novel. In the category romance I’m writing now, it only has the heroine’s and hero’s POVs.) I write the current chapter number and/or page number on the corner of the sticky note so I can find that scene easily in the final document of the first draft.

(I save my work every day as a new file just in case something happens that I wish I could undo. So my first draft file that I work on today would be named “1D 0128.doc”. I know it’s part of the first draft, and I know when I worked on it in case I think – oh man, I deleted that whole section around the end of January and now I want it back! If I worked on the second draft of a book today, I’d name it “2D 0128.doc”. Using numbers instead of letters keeps your files in chronological order. Sadly, a file named “August 15” will appear above “January 28”.)

Looking over the sticky notes in their current order, and with the color coding, I can tell at a glance if I’m over- or under-using a POV. But most importantly, I can see if the story beats are in the right order. I move the sticky notes around, adding new ones (in a new color to remind me it’s a “Add This Scene” note), and occasionally deleting scenes that aren’t working.

Then I open a new blank document and start copying and pasting the scenes from the original into their new order. Where the new scenes are to be added, I just write in all caps – ADD SCENE: [and the one sentence I wrote on the sticky note]. I used to cut and paste the scenes into the new correct order in the current document, but then I’d start losing scenes. As soon as you move the very first one, the page numbers you wrote in the corner of the sticky notes are no longer accurate. Much easier to copy into a new document.

After that, I go back and write in the new scenes, read it over to make sure it feels right, then check for areas where I can improve the dialogue, the setting, word choices, sensory choices, etc. One more read-through and – wait for it, Stephanie! – I’M DONE! Time to work on queries and proposals!  🙂

If this method sounds like something that can help you organize your editing, please use it! And let me know if you end up liking it.