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!

Learning Something New Every Day

I love to learn. Always have. I was the annoying kid in class who got excited about a pop quiz! I haven’t generally been a fan of the kind of writing class you find at college, but I love the kind you find online.

When I first heard of online writing classes, I think it was through Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapters. The classes were primarily taught by published authors <gasp!>, and covered practical topics you need to know to become a published author. Very different from the high-brow stuff I’d heard in college. And far more useful.

What I learned over time is that a 4-week online course is not the only kind of useful class. Yes, it’s necessary (and fun!) to learn how to write better dialogue and how to make revisions that will help sell your book. But I loved learning at what temperature the human head explodes (one-day forensics seminar put on by a medical examiner) and how to produce an independent feature film (UCLA Extension class) and about the life of King David (a class at church).

Those three classes, along with others, helped me with a series I’m writing. There is going to be a huge explosion at the end – the forensics class gave me some ideas. I want to focus the story so that it draws the widest audience without diluting that audience – learned about that in the film class. And hearing about the fighting skills of David’s Mighty Men gave me some ideas for the hero and his family.

In fact, I’ve long been considering going back to school and getting a Master’s Degree, studying where religion, philosophy, anthropology and sociology intersect with storytelling, and why humans have a need for storytelling. If all goes well, I’ll be starting next year!

Meanwhile, I still take online writing classes – balancing them as best as I can with actual writing. LOL! I also am a big fan of buying the CDs of taped workshops at conferences. I am working through the 100 or so workshops from last year’s RWA conference (which can be purchased here using Internet Explorer; you do not have to be an RWA member). And I’ve found you can combine work with pleasure if you put them on your iPod or MP3 player and take a notebook and a lawn chair outside in the sun!

If you’re a member of an organization that offers online classes, ask them about volunteering to moderate a few. In our chapter, a group of volunteers each moderate 2-4 classes a year. For giving their time like this, they get to audit all the classes during the year. It’s sooo worth it!

That’s my take on classes – what do you think?

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!