Category Archives: Writing

All about writing and the journey as I work to figure out how best to publish a novel that I accidentally wrote on purpose.

10 things I do when I’m avoiding writing

All writers know (heck, all people know) that when you have work to do there’s a pretty good chance you’ll spend at least some of your time avoiding actually doing it. Here are a few ways I might avoid work (in no particular order):

10. Eat jordan almonds. They are delicious and addictive. And if I only take four at a time, I can keep going back to the cupboard to get more, thus delaying work further. I like to think of it as “pondering time.”

9. Play a game. A board game with my kids if they’re awake. If not, then it’s Trivia Crack or Candy Crush all the way. Wasting time has never been so fun.

8. Take online quizzes. Turns out I’m Daenerys Targaryen.

7. Watch TED Talks, such as this lovely one on procrastination. I can literally feel the monkey on my back.

6. Read everyone else’s Facebook status updates, because there’s nothing so important as being sure your friend’s kid did great at their soccer game/dance recital/school project that you just became aware of.

5. Clean out my email. Needs doing, and now is as good a time as any.

4. Recenter my Chi. No, wait, that’s something Iron Fist does. Maybe I could learn to do it? That would almost certainly take some time.

3. Do research. Which is to say, google a bunch of stuff that may or may not be relevant to my writing, going down one rabbit hole after another, until I’ve found out whether ancient Romans used toilets. That may not have been the question I was asking, but I feel completely satisfied with the answer.

2. Read a book. Probably a YA fantasy or scifi novel. Hey, as a writer I’m supposed to read to improve my craft, right?

1. Write a blog post about avoiding writing. ’nuff said.

Which of these do I recommend? None. Get back to writing. 😉

What are your favorite ways to avoid work? I’d love to get some more ideas…

Emotion vs physical action in writing

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the first in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 1: “The way readers connect to your character is through emotion.”

My weekend began with an intensive workshop called Plotlines and Heartlines given by Jill Santopolo (@jillsantopolo), an Editorial Director with Philomel books who also authored the Sparkle Spa series and an adult contemporary novel called The Light We Lost. The main goal of the workshop was to bring our own story ideas and work through the action as well as the emotional journey our main characters

Is she hungry for love, or a sandwich? Make sure readers can connect with your characters’ emotions.

As we worked through the five act plot structure and the emotional arc of our stories, I discovered something very important:

My character had nothing driving her other than my keystrokes. Plot structure isn’t enough. If the protagonist isn’t following a desire then she’s just floating along through the story. Sometimes a character’s deepest desire might be hidden from herself, but as the writer I need to know what’s driving her, and I need to make sure readers know. Turns out, the unspecified desire and drive might be why my story feels so slow in some places.

Result: I knew it deep down, but I put into writing what it is that drives my character. Now I need to go back through and make it apparent to the reader. I need to make sure the emotional arc is tied throughout, and that the reader has reasons to care about the character.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, let me know how you feel about whether your character needs to know her own drive, or just share what’s driving your characters.

Happy writing!

5 tips to get past #writer’s block #writing #amwriting

5 tips to get past writer’s block

I recently read a post by a fellow writer who talked about how she doesn’t have the luxury for writer’s block. Like me, she is a busy mother who also works, so when there’s time to write we MUST take advantage of that time or lose it. With so little extra time, losing it takes a heavy toll.

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Her contention was that she doesn’t get writer’s block because she can’t afford to. I agree with her, but as I pondered the post I realized that I do sometimes get writer’s block, I’ve just had to come up with ways to deal with it as quickly as possible. Here are five of those ways:

1) Read something

That’s right, grab someone else’s work and read it. Flip through a magazine. Read a chapter of one of the books you’re in the middle of. You could even read a short story or a chapter of one of your other pieces of writing. Sometimes, a turn of phrase will catch your fancy, or an idea will lead you to further research. Inspiration can come from places you don’t expect.*

2) Take a brain break

Yep, seems counter-intuitive. Take a break when there’s no time to waste? But the truth is that you can’t force it, either. So do something else — something that you’ve been wanting to do; something that gets your juices flowing. Just be sure to set a timer (about 15 min usually works for me) so that you can try to get back to writing while you’ve still got time to do it.

3) Write something else

So you’ve got a block that won’t let you move forward with your main story and characters? Write a different story. Maybe with different characters. Or maybe just a totally different part of this story that you haven’t gotten to yet. Maybe skip to the end you’ve envisioned and write that scene. Either way, the key is to keep writing.

4) Draw a picture

This tip came from one of the pieces I read in preparation for NaNoWriMo last fall. Sometimes, the reason you’re blocked is because you just can’t picture it. No matter whether you’re good at drawing or whether (like me) your drawings are still riddled with stick figures, try sketching something about your story. Maybe it’s something your characters are wearing. Maybe it’s a map of their city, street, or house. Or maybe you just try a quick Tangle (see my post on Zentangle for more info). But just using that part of your brain can help get the other creative parts working as well.

5) Walk the stairs

It is well known that exercise can get your brain working again. However, if you’ve got limited time to write, you probably can’t throw on your sweats and head to the gym either. So you take the exercise you can get. Walk up and down the stairs three or four times. Or you could do a few yoga poses, squats, or sit ups. Just take five minutes to get your body moving and your blood flowing to your brain. Then get yourself back into that chair and write.

I hope these tips help you get past your next bout of writer’s block!

Happy writing!

*For example, I was once writing a tricky scene on a pirate ship, and got an idea from reading a few chapters of a Geronimo Stilton book to my kids.

(image: Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak; from Wikimedia Commons)

Three tips for succeeding at #CampNaNoWriMo — week 1 in review #amwriting #writing

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Dear mom and dad,

Here I am at Camp NaNoWriMo!

As you know, I was super excited to come to Camp NaNo for the first time this year. In fact, before camp began I was thinking, “Yay! The support of NaNoWriMo in a spring month! I can’t wait to get writing!”

I’m writing to let you know how my camp experience has been going so far.

Here’s what happened on April 1st:

“Well, it’s not REALLY NaNoWriMo — I mean, I got to pick my own goal and it’s lower than normal NaNoWriMo — so I could blow off the first day and still be okay.”

Here’s what happened on April 3rd:

“Even with my lower-than-50K goal I still need to get almost 1,000 words per day. Better get going!”

One week in, with a goal of 7,000 words the first week, I’ve only completed about 2,000 words. (cue Debbie Downer music: wah wah wah waaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.)

But you taught me to always look on the bright side. Just call my Pollyanna! Here’s what I plan to do for the rest of the month to re-start my momentum:

Tips for Camp NaNoWriMo

1) Treat it just like you treat NaNo in November.

That means no excuses. Somehow, in November I managed to find time to finish 50,000 words even with work, kids, laundry, etc. So this month, I need to stop letting work be an excuse. And just because I set myself a goal of 30K rather than 50, I still need to take it just as seriously if I actually want to meet that goal. (And I do. I soooooooooo do.)

2) Shoot to exceed, rather than just meet the goal

For most of us, even when we’re not using excuses, there just isn’t time to always write every day. Given that, rather than shooting to meet goal each time I sit down, I’m going to write as much as I possibly can. If that falls short, meets, or exceeds the goal for the day, I’m going to be proud of myself for getting it done. And if it exceeds enough times, hopefully I can make up for what I missed.

3) Make use of the time you have

Who says writing has to all happen in one big block during the day, anyway? Back in November, I took my Chromebook everywhere I went. If I was in a waiting room for 20 minutes, that meant 20 minutes of writing. In an effort to catch up to my goal for Camp, I’m pledging to myself that I’ll do the same this month.

Bonus tip:

There are SO many resources available at the Camp NaNoWriMo site (cabin mates, pep talks, writing resources, etc) — if you’re not already taking advantage of these, this would be a good time to start doing that. (Yes, I was talking particularly to myself just there, but you’re welcome to take that advice as well.)

After taking the time to write all of this, I’m pumped! Maybe I’ll take this momentum and get going on catching up. 30K, here I come!

Happy writing!

P.S. If you’re at Camp NaNo as well, feel free to message me and say hello! I’m JaeRuss on the site.

Boosting the #brain with #zentangle? #doodles #writing

I recently heard (apparently late, because TONS of people already do this) about a technique to enhance creativity called Zentangle. According to their website:

“Almost anyone can use it to create beautiful images. It increases focus and creativity, provides artistic satisfaction along with an increased sense of personal well being. The Zentangle Method is enjoyed all over this world across a wide range of skills, interests and ages.”

It intrigued me. I’m definitely not someone who draws — in fact, when I “doodle” it’s mostly in words — so I thought this could be a good way to try to exercise a different part of my brain. In fact, some people said that they use it as a quick way to get the creative juices flowing before they do their writing.

The idea is that you take a small space, randomly separate it into smaller areas, then doodle those in, not worrying about making it perfect. I used the website and some YouTube tutorials to get the gist, and bought one book to get some pattern ideas:

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Here’s my first tangle:  

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I also tried to figure out a slightly more complicated pattern:

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I thought that doing this for a few minutes before sitting down for a writing session might help me get focused, but haven’t tried that yet. I’ll report back once I do to let you know whether it helped me, but I’d love anyone’s opinion who has already tried it — did it work for you?

Happy tangling!

Choose your own #romance adventure #writing

A while back, I answered an ad for a company that was starting a line of “choose your own adventure” style romance stories. While romance isn’t my forte, it seemed like a cool concept so I decided to take a stab at it. Though I sent in my entry in July of last year, I never heard back. I don’t know whether my writing wasn’t good enough, or if they just had filled their need before I entered, but I thought my first and only attempt at writing romance should get some air time, so I’ve reproduced it below.

The task was to write in second person (“you do this, you do that”), to stay under 2500 words, to make it to the first place where the reader would have to make a choice, and to get at least one paragraph in to each branch of the first choice.

Please enjoy — whether that means reading because you really like this type of story, or just laughing at my attempt.  🙂

Happy reading!

———————————————————————————————————-

You roll over, and his warm body is still there. Running your hands gently down his back, you feel him give a small shudder of awareness. Now that you know he’s awake, you gently kiss his shoulder, asking a question with silent lips. When he starts to turn, you feel your body warming up in anticipation, particularly when his hand slides down your thigh. Just as he is turning his face to yours, but before you can make out any distinct features, you are interrupted by a loud ringing.

You open your eyes and realize that you’ve just been dragged out of a very pleasant dream. If it weren’t for your phone ringing, you would have had a few more minutes of blissful sleep, and your body might not be aching so much for something that just isn’t going to happen this morning. Damn.

With no time to luxuriate in the afterimages of a hard body and soft eyes, you hardly have a moment to wonder who the mystery man in your dream was before you quickly check the screen and see that it’s your boss calling. As the Executive Admin to Shawn Whittington, the CEO of a small, but growing, international company, you have grown used to calls at strange hours. Shawn doesn’t call for personal reasons, so you know he probably needs you to do something before you get to the office. “Hello?” you say, trying to sound like you weren’t just pulled out of dreamland.

“Kelly. I hope I didn’t wake you?” His voice is deep, and you always find it soothing. You have to concentrate to not fall back to sleep.

“No, no. Of course not,” you lie, hoping that you don’t sound too tired. Or annoyed, given that you were just about to get intimate with your dream man. Scrubbing a weary hand over your face you ask, “what can I do for you?”

“I need you to pick up coffee on the way to the office for the board meeting this morning.” He sounds almost apologetic.

“Of course,” you say. You can’t understand why Shawn can’t just pick up coffee himself, but of course that’s why he pays you so well. “Any special orders?”

“The usual. It’s just the eight of us this morning,” he says.

Great. You were pulled out of your amazing dream to get eight specialized coffees because you work for a bunch of prima donnas, half of whom need half decaf, and the other half of whom will only take soy. “I’ll have those in the conference room by the time you’re in this morning,” you say, gritting your teeth to keep yourself from groaning in frustration. It’s lucky you keep a spreadsheet of the executive board’s current dietary habits.

“Thanks.” he says. It feels like he hesitates a moment. His voice softens as if he’s going to say something meant for your ears alone. He starts to say, “Kelly…” but before you can ask if there’s anything else he ends lamely with, “thanks a lot,” and hangs up.

What could he have been about to say? It was almost like he was going to ask you an intimate question, or confess a dark secret. But it’s just Shawn, who is both 10 years older than you and your boss, so that can’t possibly have been it. Can it?

You picture Shawn’s classically handsome face. His coal dark hair that’s tousled just enough to look like it wasn’t done on purpose, and chocolate brown eyes that you could melt in… Your dream must have affected you more than you thought if you’re thinking about Shawn this way. You’ve got to pull it together.

You glance at the clock. You’re tempted to close your eyes and try to conjure up the vision of dream man once more, but now that you have to stop and get coffees you need to get up right away. Taking just one more minute to wonder whose face you would have seen if he’d had time to turn around, you sigh and get up to head to the shower.

**********************

You rush into the office, late again. Stopping for all of the coffees for the executive team is a real chore, particularly since you’ve got to juggle your purse and the cardboard containers stacked on top of each other, all without spilling on your dress. Sherry, the receptionist, frowns at you as you try to sneak past. Given the look on her face, you’re surprised she hasn’t actually burst into flames. This thought is so funny, that you have to hold in a giggle until you make it past the harpy.

As you head to your desk and your grimace becomes the giggle you’ve been trying to suppress, you accidentally catch the eye of Jeremy, one of the newest additions to the company, heading the other direction down the hall. His look of confusion quickly turns into a twinkle in his eye as he realizes that you’re stifling a giggle.

Amazingly, he stops and says, “Kelly, right? May I help you carry those?”

For a moment, you’re totally flustered. First, you had no idea he knew your name. Second, he’s so incredibly handsome. You look directly into his dark blue eyes and you’re suddenly transported back to your dream. You realize you’re blushing furiously, and try to cover it by looking down at your full hands.

“Thank you, but I’ve got it,” you mumble.

“Really, it’s no trouble,” he says, taking the coffees out of your hands. “To the conference room?” he asks.

You nod and follow, your brain still reeling too much to say anything else. “Get it under control,” you think. And then, “stupid dream.” Walking behind him is a treat, though, as you get to see his amazing body. With those broad shoulders, narrow waist, and firm butt, he must work out. You almost ask out loud, but think better of it. Imagining what he’d say if he caught you staring makes you giggle again, but you hold it down, which causes you to burst into hiccups.

Arriving at the conference room, he asks, “right on the table?”

You really have to get control of your thoughts, because for a moment you think he’s asking whether you want to do something else on the table. By the time you realize he means the coffee, you are blushing again, and your hiccups are worse. “>hic< Yes, set them right on the >hic< table, please,” you say.

He leans down to set the coffee on the table, his golden-bronze hair glinting in the halogen lighting, giving you a heart-stopping view of the exact part of his anatomy you’d just been admiring. When he straightens up and turns to face you, the twinkle is back.

You feel completely stupid, and before you can stop yourself you snap, “what?! >hic<”

His grin widens and he says, “your hiccups are really cute.”

Before you can say another word, he’s headed back out to the hallway to continue whatever he’d been about to do before he stopped to act as your fetch boy. You start to wonder if you’ve had him pegged all wrong…

 *********************

At the end of the day, after taking meeting notes, planning lunch, and putting out all of the fires that come up in a normal day for an Executive Admin, you’re ready to crawl into bed with a good book. Just as you’re getting ready to go, Jeremy walks up.

“A bunch of us are going out for drinks around the corner after work. Interested?” He looks at you expectantly.

You can’t really believe he’s asking you to go out. Yes, it’s with a group, but you are still definitely interested. You look up into his dark blue eyes and say, “I’d love to go. Where do you want me?” Oops! “I mean, where do I meet everyone?” you say, hoping he didn’t notice your slip, but blushing furiously when his smile widens.

Too much of a gentleman to bring attention to your embarrassment, he merely gives you the details and says, “see you in a half hour.” He begins to turn away, but turns back to say, “we’d better exchange phone numbers in case something happens…?”

Is he asking for your phone number? Your heart is pounding as you give him your number, and he takes your phone to put his number in. He smiles again before heading back to his office, and your stomach feels fluttery.

You duck into your boss’s office to make sure he doesn’t need anything, but the smile on your face fades when you see his head down on his desk. Tentatively, you say, “sir?” And then, when that feels too formal, you walk right up to his desk and say, “Shawn?”

He lifts his head and you can see that his eyes are red. “A hard day.” He tries to smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Is there anything I can do?” you ask, feeling helpless, but wanting to be supportive of a man who has been a great boss to you for many years, and who is obviously unhappy. Suddenly, you remember what day it is.

He obviously sees the realization cross your face, because he grimaces. If you thought he would have wanted you to, you’d have had flowers on his desk, but you know him well enough to know he isn’t the type to want to commemorate the first anniversary of his wife’s death. If anything, he’d be the kind to want to forget it.

Trying another tack, you smile and say, “let me get you something to drink. I just restocked the break room fridge with the smoothies you like…”

He shakes his head as he says, “I could really go for something a little more…”

“There are some people going out for an after work drink…” you begin, but stop when you see the look on his face. He doesn’t want company right now, and a noisy bar is probably the last place he wants to be, but he also shouldn’t be alone.

“I’ll be fine, really,” he says. He smiles a real smile this time, and your heart clenches at the thought of this sweet man sitting by himself, thinking about a wife whom he loved, and whom he’ll never see again.

Before you give yourself time to think, you say, “I could stay.” He looks a little bit taken aback, but also a little bit hopeful.

“I wouldn’t want to impose,” he says firmly, but his brown, melted chocolate eyes seem to be saying something else.

Do you keep your date with Jeremy, even though it’s not really a date? He could definitely be your dream man, but you’re not sure that he thinks of you that way. He’s always been kind, and he did seem like he was flirting this morning…

Or do you stay and help your boss, who is certainly hurting for company and a shoulder to cry on. Yes, he’s your boss, but he is absolutely delicious to look at, smart, funny, and he needs someone. Could that be you?

Either way, your evening just got a lot more interesting.

*************************

[if you choose to go to the bar with Jeremy]

“You’re right sir,” you say. What were you even thinking a moment ago? A fifteen-year age difference, and he’s your boss. It’s a good thing you came to your senses.

“There’s probably someone better suited to…  Is there someone I could call?”

“No, Kelly,” he says, “I think it’s best if I just go home. Thanks for doing another great job today.”

“And you’re sure you won’t join us at the bar?” you ask, mostly to be kind. He knows as well as you do that no one really wants the boss to come along.

“I’m sure,” he says, smiling a genuine smile. “Go on. Have fun.”

You smile back, then head to the door, anticipating seeing Jeremy again.

*************************

[if you choose to stay with Shawn]

“Of course I’m going to stay,” you say.

With a look of relief that he can’t quite hide, Shawn reaches down and pulls a bottle of scotch and two glasses out of his bottom desk drawer. At your raised eyebrows, he looks a little bit sheepish and says, “care for a drink?”

Not really expecting an answer, you grin and say, “do you always keep that in there?” Then, remembering Jeremy, you say, “I’ll be right back,” and head out into the hall to make a quick call.

Unlocking the #brain for better #writing? #TEDx

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I just finished watching a TEDx Talk given by Bill Donius called “Unlocking Your Brain’s Hidden App.”

It’s 17 minutes long, but if you have a few minutes it’s definitely worth the watch. Find it here.

Now that you’ve seen it, did you write down the same animal or a different? What does it mean to you?

Unfortunately, I wrote the same one twice. I was overthinking it (if you know me, you know I overthink a lot of stuff). Plus, in college I used to practice writing the alphabet over and over with my left hand, so maybe that had an impact.*

However, even though it didn’t “work” for me the first time, I feel like there’s something here. I want to figure a way to surprise myself into not overthinking — maybe get my husband to shoot questions at me quick-fire style? — and see what happens.

My hope is that it can help me break through some of the writers’ block that’s been keeping me from understanding some of my characters. If I get a good result, I’ll certainly share…

Happy writing!

 

*This is a true story. It was during a particularly boring lecture class where the prof tended to repeat himself a good deal. He was an amazing man and had a multitude of experience to share, but he was in his 80s and often forgot which stories he’d already shared. Anyone who took a Cultural Anthropology class at Kent State during the time I was there, you know who I mean. (RIP Dr. P)  Upon realizing I was hearing the same stories for a second time, I got to thinking that if I ever hurt my right hand maybe I should know how to write with my left, so I literally filled notebook pages with left-handed alphabets. That way I’d still get my A for attendance (yes, that’s how easy that particular class was), and I’d look like I was taking notes.

Key for #character development? Need advice. #writing #amwriting

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I recently saw a suggestion on Twitter to cast your novel — that is, to think of which actors (or characters from another story) you’d cast if your novel was a movie.

Wow. Mind blown.

Yes, the bulk of character work still has to come from my own head — my character can’t be exactly like someone else’s or else I’m going to end up writing someone else’s story. However, character development is my weaker area. I’m a very plot-driven writer, and prefer to read plot-driven stories with some character development, rather than stories that focus mostly on character and not so much on plot. Therefore, it was a complete revelation that I could get a jump start on character building by gaining inspiration from a character I already know.

Now that I’ve started researching it I realize that there are MANY people and groups who advocate doing this. I don’t know the original source of the idea, but good for whomever had it first, and for everyone who uses it.

Anyone out there who has already been doing this, what do you like about it? What are your hints and tips for doing it well?

Anyone tried it and didn’t like it? Why not?

Thanks, and happy writing!

#Writing. It’s what I do.

In my (limited) free time, I’m working on a novel. However, unlike those accountants or dentists who do their job every day and go home to work on their novel to escape work, I actually also get to write for my job.

I am blessed to be part of an amazing team over at Branditarians. We get to do what we love, working for great clients. Some might ask why, when I do what I love every day, I’d want to spend my free time also writing? That’s actually a subject for another post, but in short it’s because these two types of writing exercise different parts of my brain, and satisfy my creative needs in different ways.

No matter what I’m writing, though — whether it’s a marketing document, an ad, a set of brand guidelines, or a YA Fantasy story — I get to do what I love. Every day.