A snow-covered ROW80 check-in

I’m writing to you from Southwest Virginia, where I’m currently trapped in a snow globe–I mean, uh, snowstorm. And not really trapped, since the weather has been so mild and thus, the ground is fairly warm. So, from the sort-of winter wonderland, here’s my check-in for the week.

Spent most of the week writing and combing through Chapter 2 and part of Chapter 3 of Made of Shadows. My initial rewrite of the “meet cute” for Zoe and Blake posed some problems (i.e., messed up the following parts of the plot, which were actually working just fine). Thanks to some stewing today, I’ve located the problem. Then I’m off!

I’ve been reading some of the 43 Light Street books by Rebecca York. I saw her speak at a Virginia Romance Writers meeting last year and learned a lot from her talk. Her books are really addictive and her plots are very character driven, so I’ve been reading some of her work (currently, Guarding Grace) to study how she allows the suspense element of the plot to drive the story forward, while providing plenty of space for romance. This approach actually helped me find the flaw in my meet-cute scene because I realized that’s not how a given character would react to a particular development.

My ROW80 goals:

  • I revised Chapter 2 and part of Chapter 3. I revised Chapter 2 a few times and am proud to have worked the kinks out before I move forward.
  • I’m spending more time on Twitter, taking breaks in the morning at work and before I write in the afternoon, but I haven’t carved out a space for Facebook check-ins yet.
  • Read a lot of awesome blogs this week, but always on the run, so I haven’t started doing regular “mash-ups of awesomeness” yet.
  • Need to work on bio critiques for my Team WANA1011 peeps and immerse myself in a few manuscripts I need to critique as well.

I am still looking for a place of balance, where day job, writing, social media, household management, relationships, social life, exercise/nutrition can all coexist. Looking at that list, LOL, it doesn’t look good. By year’s end, I plan to have not one but two manuscripts ready for query. I will get there. Whether I’ll find a sense of calm within the chaos…well, that remains to be seen. 🙂

Since tomorrow is President’s Day, I’m hoping to spend the day at home, doing a few random things for day job and plunging into Made of Shadows. We’ll see if my boss forces me to clean the snow off my car tomorrow.

How are your writing goals going?

ROW80 Goals and the ‘Latte Effect’ of Writing

Like many of my writerly friends, I’m a very goal-driven person. Think about our job: We write books in the hopes that someone will publish them, read them, benefit from them. That can’t be done without a strong sense of direction. So we set goals, tangible manifestations of our dreams.

I keep those goals near me wherever I am. The whiteboard in my home office lists my writing goals for the year. The sticky notes program on my computer desktop reminds me every time I turn on my laptop. The row of post-its on the bottom of my work computer helps keep me on track when I’m on several different deadlines at once. I believe in taking methodical approaches to big goals. One step at a time.

Don’t believe me? Consider the “latte effect.” In the world of personal finance, the latte effect is used as proof that many of us can, in fact, afford to save up for a rainy day. If you buy a latte a day, five days a week, at $5 a cuppa, that’s $1,300 in one year. Save that money instead, and you’re off to a good start with your savings. In 10 years, you’ve saved $13,000—not too shabby. (I feel obliged to add a disclaimer. I am not Suze Orman and am in no way qualified to give financial advice.)

But imagine if we sat down and said, “I need to save $13,000.” That figure is overwhelming. Maybe 10 years (120 months) is overwhelming. If we think of it instead as $5/day, $25/week, it becomes tangible. Most of us will never hold $13,000 in cash. But $5 or $25 is far more accessible.

Whether we’re saving for a rainy day or writing toward a finished novel, we can use the same approach. The latte effect shows how a little bit of effort each day can add up to a decent chunk of savings over the long haul. What if we wrote 500 words a day or for 30 minutes daily? Over the course of a year, if we write six days a week at 500 words, that’s 156,000 words. Suddenly, writing a novel doesn’t seem so daunting.

I was drawn toward A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) because it’s the “writing challenge that knows you have a life.” I can’t do NaNoWriMo because I’ve taught every fall for the past few years. And the last few weeks of the semester, the beginning of the holiday season, and the writing community’s version of the Insanity Workout don’t mix well. I still managed to write an estimated 125,000 words last year—and that’s not counting back-story, deleted scenes, etc. Little steps, big goals. So I’m hopping into ROW80 because it’s exactly my kind of challenge: set your own goals, and stick with them. It’s not a one-size-fits-all deal.

So here are my ROW80 goals. Feel free to hold me to ‘em. 😉

1.)  Write 3,000 words per week on Pierce My Heart. The story, which started off as a longer short story, is now a full-fledged novella. We’ll see where it goes from there.

2.)  Blog three times per week. Expect to see me on Wednesdays and Sundays for ROW80 check-in, as well as on Fridays.

3.)  Revise the Pierce My Heart synopsis. Don’t expect that one until closer to March, as I revise and expand the story.

So, now it’s your turn. What are your goals for 2012? How are you approaching them?

On failure, discipline, and other life lessons from writing

A lot of what I’ve learned as a writer has helped me in my life outside of writing. It’s not just that writing and effective communication skills are valuable assets (which they are!), but that the trials and tribulations of building a writing career make us stronger, if only we’re willing to learn from them. I think two of the biggest things I’ve learned from my writing career so far are the ability to learn from failure and the importance of discipline, which is a combination of goal-setting, dedication, and follow-through.

Failure:

Whether it’s a rejection, a bad review, or simply acknowledging that a story or a scene isn’t working, we can turn failure into a means to achieve our goals. We can fight failure or blame it on others. We can say the market isn’t ready. We can say family constraints got in the way of our writing. Those things might be true. But the only thing we can control is ourselves, not the market, not the situation. When we do this, failure can become a learning experience. When we were kids, we fell when learning how to walk, and yet we learned anyway. Failure is harder for grownups, but still valuable.

I’m one of those stubborn optimists in life who’s always insisting that you have to risk failure to succeed. The most successful people in life are those who are willing to take professional risks. Now, they have to be calculated risks. You can’t just jump off a proverbial cliff to test if you can fly. You have to do research, learn the right skills, and put those skills to work. But ultimately, we will risk rejection, bad reviews, and even snarky comments, to put our writing to the test. It’s the only way to succeed. And then, when we fail, we reassess and try again, armed with the knowledge we’ve gained.

Discipline:

So many of us “creative types” are thinkers, and it’s easy to get stuck in our heads brainstorming and never put our fingers to the keyboard. Sometimes I take a walk and listen to the birds and admire the trees, and while it might be a vital part of my life or my writing process, it’s not going to get the book done. Unless you’re a published writer with an agent and editor and tight deadlines, no one is leaning over you telling you to get this done. Indie writers have their fellow writers, crit partners, and readers to hold them to deadlines. Especially in the beginning, when you’re setting your own deadlines, it’s easy to say, “I’ll get there when I get there.” No two writers will have the same process.

You can reach out to other writers on Twitter (hashtags like #amwriting, #amediting, #writegoal, #MyWANA, or #1k1hr) or blogs (A Round of Words in 80 Days, http://aroundofwordsin80days, or #ROW80) or participate in NaNoWriMo. Or you can build your own goals and stick to them. You have to find the process that works for you (even if it’s trial and error, and there’s failure involved along the way) and stick to it. If great ideas made great writers, there would be a lot more great books in the world. But the great idea has to be in the hands of someone dedicated enough to follow the story and polish it until the words sing.

We have to be willing to just breathe through the failures, which are a necessary part of success. In investing, the greater the potential yields of an investment, the higher the risk. And writing is a risky business. You have to be willing to weather the storms. And discipline, even if we have days where we totally blow our writing quota, helps us hone our craft and accomplish our goals. And both require us to just breathe through the process. As I continue my journey, I know there are plenty more lessons in store.

What life lesson has writing taught you?

Recap of my “write-cation”:

Okay, so write-cation is my awkward-looking little word for vacation. It’s sorta like a staycation, but with a twist.

See, the whole idea behind a staycation is that you take a vacation but stay at home. Now, personally, I find it challenging. I don’t exactly live in a big city, and living in a small town means that you run out of things to do fairly quickly, and there isn’t much within driving distance. Add to that my restless tendencies and, you know, staycation is not exactly in my nature.

But write-cation, that I can do. So I took a week off from the day job to focus on finishing my current WIP. The target word count was 95,000 words. Now, I’m at 96,000 words. (I wrote about 4,000 words/day Tuesday-Friday, 1,500 on Monday.) But, alas, Blake and Zoe’s story is not done. I figure the draft I’m working on (2.4) will be slightly over 100,000 words. So, a little longer than expected, but not bad for a second draft.

So I’m considering my write-cation a success. Hopefully Saturday and Sunday I can finish up the remaining scenes. I also have some scenes earlier in the story that I need to revise to reflect some world changes that I made as I was writing. And then a big chunk of the story is going to my awesome-o critique partners, Kathleen Foucart and Amelia Ross.

Next week, I’m back to my regular work schedule, but I’m excited to start the revision process. Yeah, I can’t help it. I like revising. It’s the editor in me.

I have a few smaller works in progress that have been on hold and a couple of ideas for novellas that are begging to be written. Well, not so much begging as demanding. My fall teaching schedule will make it tough to pump out any large chunks of writing, but I see a lot of revision work in my future.

February writing:

So, this morning I woke to a new week to find that somehow I had completely vanished from the blogosphere last week. I try to post at least once a week, so I’m not sure how I managed this vanishing act.

Now, I was still around. I know I popped by to read people’s blogs, and I found a few new ones (I’ve just started reading Kristen Lamb’s and Jami Gold’s blogs, both full of fun and useful info.), so I’m sure some of you have comments from me. But no blog posts last week from me. What’s up with that?

Hmm. Well, one, I finally broke down and created a Facebook account, so if you’re on Fb, please log on and friend me so I can communicate with you via that avenue. And if you have a fan page, please recommend it to me, either via a Facebook message or as a comment here. So last week I expanded my horizons, both blogging and social media in general. But I assure you; I was around.

I also attended the Virginia Romance Writers’ monthly meeting in Richmond, where Rebecca York (Ruth Glick) spoke about the intersection of plot and character. She took a really interesting approach to the subject that got me thinking about my current WIP. Maybe it got me thinking a little too much because I spent a lot of time reflecting on plot and hammering out the details.

I haven’t been stuck. Far from it. I’ve been making good progress with the current novel-length manuscript I’m writing, but I’m taking a different approach than in the past.

My goal for February was to write 28,000 words. With one week to go, I’ve penned (OK, typed) about 23,500. But the current draft is only about 17,000. See, I ended up writing the same scene about four times before I was remotely satisfied with it. And I’m sending it off to my crit partners this week, so I’m sure that I’ll be revising it a few more times before it’s reader-worthy.

There are a few reasons for this, but mostly it boils down to one thing: My main character, Zoe, is the most stubborn, fiery, skeptical, hard-nosed, pain-in-the-ass character I’ve ever met. She doesn’t want to believe anything or trust anyone. But because of the situation she’s in, she’s going to have to start believing and trusting someone, ‘cuz she won’t find her way out of this one on her own. Imagine trying to get an impossible character to believe in the impossible. Yikes. I don’t feel too bad for myself, though I do feel bad for Blake, my male lead, and every other character who’s had to deal with Zoe’s insanity.

It’s meant a few rewrites of an essential scene. One of the points Rebecca York brought up at last Saturday’s meeting was that your plot has to emerge from your characters. It has to be believable based on who they are. Which, I know, sounds obvious, but it’s not always the easiest thing in the world, especially with Zoe. I like the unlikely pairing of  a skeptical character like Zoe, who could pretty much say “yeah right” throughout the entire book without batting an eye (relax, she doesn’t. and Zoe is way more colorful than that, anyway.). She’s frustrating, and that’s why I like telling her story. It’s when we’re writing the impossible, when we’re scratching our heads and thinking, “Now what the hell happens?” that things start to get interesting. So getting Zoe where she needs to go has been challenging and will continue to be, but I’m not complaining.

Normally, I just write a scene and keep plowing through the story. But I’m on draft two (2.2, technically), and I’m at the stage in my writing process for this story where I want each scene to build upon the previous. My first draft was somewhat sporadic as I learned about my world, my story, and my characters. The aim of this draft is to be cleaner, so I can move from points a to z, building the story as I go. Some scenes will be cut, others added, and some rewritten twenty times, but if a key scene is problematic, I know I’ll need to stop and work on it so I don’t get stuck later.

I’m not one-hundred percent certain that I’ve got the aforementioned scene where it needs to be, but I feel I’m getting close. More forward momentum is opening the story up to me. I know where I’m going now; my sense of direction is stronger than it was in draft one. Draft two isn’t a final draft. It’s intended to be a “from-start-to-finish” draft for my crit group. Later this year, I hope to get a stronger draft to my beta readers, who will have their way with this story and hand it back to me, hopefully full of questions and honest observations. So, onward I go.

So, I really am still around, even if my blog was eerily quiet last week. I hope everyone else is enjoying their own writing and having fun duking it out with their tough-to-pin-down characters.