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Costume Drama Thursday: Winter’s Tale

Thursday, September 18, 2014


I thought maybe it was time to reintroduce this weekly feature, although a little less intensely this time—by simply sharing a video or two (trailers, odes, tributes, etc.) to some of my favorite costume dramas from over the years.

Here’s one of my recent favorites.

Title: Winter’s Tale
Historical Setting: New York, Early 20th Century (and present time)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe
Original Release Year: 2014



Writing Tip #10: YOU Are Your Best Source of Motivation

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

There are going to be days (weeks . . . months . . .) when we don’t feel like writing. We may sit in front of the computer for an hour and write six words—and then delete three of them. Or during our designated writing time, we find that’s the best time to scrub the toilet and clean out that dark corner cabinet that’s been emanating a funky smell for at least three months.

We’ve turned into Rick Castle staring at his laptop for hours on end and then jumping to grab the phone when it rings and, instead of hello, saying, “Please tell me there’s a dead body,” so he can get away from the writing he’s supposed to be doing.

What we need is motivation. So where do we get it?

Writing Tip #10. YOU are your best source of motivation.

No matter how many writing groups you join, no matter how active you are in them, no matter how many blogs you write and read and comment on, no matter how many writers’ forums you participate in, when it comes down to it, writing is a solitary venture. Unless you put YOUR butt in YOUR chair and start committing words to paper (whether electronic or wood pulp), your story will not get written.

And, yes, I need this lesson as much as or more than anyone who may be reading this post.

There are external stimuli that can put the pressure on you to write: school, critique partners, readers expecting the next chapter (contracts, deadlines, agents, editors). But the truth of the matter is, they aren’t in control of your writing, you are.

If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not apt to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work, and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.

(L’Engle, p. 149)

Remember the most famous line to come out of the movie A League of Their Own about baseball and crying? Well . . .

There’s no whining—there’s no whining in writing!

But I don’t feel like writing.

Tough. Do it anyway. Sure, you may find that you’re writing drivel that you’re eventually going to edit out in a future revision—but as our guru Ms. L’Engle said, more often than not, you’ll find that once you make yourself sit down and do the work, the inspiration will come.

I’ll double up my word count tomorrow.

“You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays” (The Music Man).

That’s a really slippery slope—I don’t feel like writing today, so I’ll double up tomorrow. And then tomorrow—I don’t feel like writing today, but I can get three days worth of words written tomorrow. And soon, you’re pressed up against your deadline (whether it’s self-imposed or external) and you’re having to write 28,000 words over Thanksgiving week to make your deadline. (Hello, Ransome’s Crossing.) Or you’re sitting on about 22,000 words on June 17 with forty-four days in which to write the remaining 83,000 words. (Hello, Ransome’s Quest.)

So what are some ways in which you can keep yourself motivated?

1. Pick a project you want to work on.

    For those of you who are not yet under contract, you’re at a beautiful, glorious time in your writing journey—because you can choose to work on anything you want to. So, hearkening back to yesterday’s post about writing your passion, make sure you choose a story that’s going to keep you motivated to write it. Yes, there are still going to be times when you don’t feel like writing it; there may be times when you hate it. But if you choose something that interests and intrigues you, you’re more likely to stay the course and get it finished.

2. Take a moment to remember why you started writing in the first place.

    Why did we start writing in the first place? Was it so that we could get our wrists slapped and be told “no” and “don’t” and “you can’t do it that way”? So we could sit at the computer and stare at the screen and feel so inadequate and full of self-doubt that we’d never be able to do it “right” that we’re unable to write at all?

    Of course not. We all started writing because WE LOVE TELLING STORIES!

3. If your story has lost steam, stop writing and sit down and read it.

    Not to edit it, but to see if it’s your story or you that’s lost steam. If it’s your story, see if you can find the place where it went off track—or see if there’s a place where you can introduce a new character or a new plot twist. I couldn’t get rolling on Stand-In Groom after three full drafts (written, not revised) of the first ten chapters until I came up with the hidden-identity plot.

    Do the “what if” exercise. Get out a notebook/legal pad and your favorite pen or pencil (or do it on a white board or easel pad on the wall)—and just start brainstorming. What if instead of George being resentful at having been sent to Louisiana to plan his boss’s wedding, he’s having to pretend to be the groom? What if instead of butting heads with George because it’s obvious he doesn’t want to be there, Anne’s conflict is that she’s afraid she’s falling in love with a client? What if the last time William and Julia saw each other wasn’t when she was ten, but when she was seventeen? And what if when she was seventeen and he was twenty-two, they fell in love and he almost asked her to marry him?

4. If you can’t come up with any ideas on your own, brainstorm with a few trusted people.

    These can be other writers, family members, friends, anyone who is creative and with whom you’ve talked about your writing before. No, you probably won’t be able to use 90 percent of what you come up with, but it may stimulate you to come up with some new ideas on your own (but be sure to write everything down just in case).

5. Set daily goals.

    Whether it’s a word count goal, a goal to write one scene, one chapter, one page, one paragraph, whatever, per day, set a standard and make yourself meet it every day. I know, I’m the world’s biggest hypocrite in writing that. After each book deadline, I always say the next one’s going to be different. I’m going to write 1,000 or 1,500 words a day and get the first draft finished early so I actually have time to re-read it and edit it before I have to turn it in. But it never seems to stick.

6. Reward yourself when you meet your goals.

    Did you meet your daily word goal today? Great, now you can watch Castle. Did you exceed the number of pages you wanted to get written this week? Excellent, enjoy dinner out and get the biggest, gooiest, fudgiest dessert on the menu—as your appetizer. Have you reached a total word count higher than anything you’ve ever reached before? Superb. Go get a mani/pedi. Did you finish your first draft? Pop open a bottle of wine, go get a massage, meet the girls (or guys) for a fun night out on the town. Go see that movie you’ve been wanting to see. Take a mini-vacation. (Try to not make all of them food rewards.)

7. Develop a routine/create a schedule.

    AND STICK TO IT! I would imagine that for someone with other people in the house, it’s all about setting rules and boundaries. Rules about what time certain things will be done, and boundaries to let the other people in the house know that during those certain times, they aren’t allowed to cross certain boundaries (like the threshold of the room you’re trying to write in). Make a DO NOT DISTURB sign and hang it on the door of the room in which you’re working—or if your writing space is in a common space in the house, hang the sign from a string and wear it around your neck. Let the people in your house know what your schedule is and what their boundaries are (Unless someone is bleeding and needs to be taken to the hospital, do not talk to me for the next forty-five minutes.) Once you establish your routine, the rest of the people in your life will adjust to it. As long as you stick to it.

8. Unplug.

    A while back, a friend of mine posted a link for some software she’d purchased that will block her access to the internet for a specified period of time. Now, I’m bad about keeping Outlook and Twitter turned on when I’m sitting at the computer—unless I go somewhere (like the library at my undergrad college) where I can’t access the internet—and reading each e-mail as it comes in when I’m supposed to be working. We complain about how addicted kids are to their smartphones—there is actually evidence that it is an addictive disorder. How many of us have the same problem, it’s just hidden because it’s coming in on the computer where we’re “working,” instead of on a more obvious hand-held device? Try working away from the computer (writing longhand) or try unplugging/turning off your modem (most laptops have a key which will sever a WiFi connection—mine is on the F2 key). Turn the TV off—or move out of the room where it is. Turn the sound on your phone off (if there’s another parent/adult who can be the designated emergency-dealer-with’er for that span of time).

    Writing is your job, your profession, so act like a professional who’s on the clock. You’d be amazed how much you can get accomplished when you don’t allow yourself to become distracted. (Though you may need to shoot the neighbor’s dog who barks constantly underneath your office window.)

9. Take regular breaks.

    When I worked at the newspaper, I was the ergonomics specialist for my department. One of the things that I was tasked with training everyone to understand is that you must take regular breaks while you’re working to stay fresh and to stave off physical strain and exhaustion.

        Every fifteen to twenty minutes, look away from your computer screen or notepad for at least a minute and up to two minutes at something in the distance, at least ten to twenty feet away. This cuts down on eye strain and on headaches.

        While you’re taking your eye break, give your hands a break, too. Put your pen down or take your fingers off the keyboard and rest your hands in a relaxed, flat position. Your wrists and fingers should be straight. If you’d like, you can stand and stretch or just move around your desk area for these few moments.

    Don’t go longer than an hour without taking a real break. Get up from your desk. Walk into another room. Get a glass of water. Go to the bathroom. Do something else for about five to ten minutes. But time yourself. Don’t allow this to distract you from your writing.

    If you’re going to work longer than two hours, do some stretching exercises at least once an hour.

    Make sure you’re working in an ergonomically correct position.

10. Believe in yourself.

    You’ll have enough rejection and negativity rolling in from the outside. You don’t need to be another source of it.

You know it takes courage to write. It takes courage to write when you’re not published and you don’t have an agent.

It takes courage to write when you are published and you do have an agent (this is why so many writers drink to excess or anything they can think of to drink to).

You have it inside you to fight this fight. Write, think about what you write, then write some more.

Day by day. Year by year.

Do that, and you’ll jump ahead of 90 percent of the folks out there who want to get published.

(Bell, p. 258)

Works Cited:

Bell, James Scott. The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. Print.

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980. Print.

Music Man, The. Dir. Morton DaCosta. Warner Bros. 1962. Film.

Writing Tip #9: Write your passion—but keep an eye on the market.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

There are two pieces of advice you’re bound to hear at just about every writing conference or group you’ll ever attend: First, write the book of your heart; second, if you want to sell, make sure you know the market and if the genre you’ve chosen to write is selling.

And that brings us to today’s writing tip:

Writing Tip #9. Write your passion—but keep an eye on the market.

This is a hard balancing act, which we’ve discussed many times. It goes back to the two types of writers Don Maass mentioned in The Fire in Fiction: the status seeker and the storyteller. Are you seeking merely to be published and chasing the market, or are you looking to tell the story that’s on your heart?

Is there a way to do both? Yes. But one takes much longer than the other. If you have a good grasp of the market, of what’s selling, and you can write in a genre that’s selling—but still write from the heart, not just “knock something out”—and you have a good grasp of the craft of writing and storytelling, you’ll probably find success a lot sooner than someone who’s writing the story of her heart without knowing how to make sure it fits the guidelines and expectations for what’s actually selling. “Heart stories” are typically those that don’t fall neatly into any existing publishing category. They’re not always easy to market. But if you hone your craft in addition to writing the best story you can, you may eventually be able to sell it.

The best rule of thumb when it comes to choosing the kind of book you’re going to write is to write the kind of book you would want to read. This is different from saying write a book that fits neatly into your favorite genre to read. You may not actually write the same genre you like to read—for example, you may be best suited to write bittersweet women’s fiction but your favorite books to read may be cozy mysteries. You may write Old West action-adventure but enjoy reading literary fiction. There is no rule that says you have to write the same genre you like to read (although that makes it a lot easier and more fun).

As we’ve already discussed, even if it isn’t your favorite genre to read you still need to read a good number of currently published books in the genre in which you’re writing to keep up with standards and styles and what’s already been published.

If the book of your heart happens to fit neatly within the genre you like to read, you’re already a few steps ahead—because you’re already familiar with the conventions and recent publishing history of your genre and you know personally what readers are looking for in a particular book in that genre.

What you shouldn’t do, though, is choose to write a certain genre because you’ve been led to believe that it’s the “shoo-in” genre or one that’s easier to get published or easier to market.

All other considerations aside, be sure to choose a story that will keep you motivated to write it, passion and market notwithstanding.

Madeleine L’Engle explained it this way in Walking on Water:

The artist, like the child, is a good believer. The depth and strength of the belief is reflected in the work; if the artist does not believe, then no one else will; no amount of technique will make the responder see the truth in something the artist knows to be phony.

(p. 148)

You must carefully balance the choice between “choosing your genre” and “choosing your story.” Don’t compromise the integrity of your story for the expedience of “writing a book that will sell.” If you don’t believe in your story, your readers won’t believe in it either. It becomes formula, dry, with a “dashed off” feeling. (You’ve all read books like that, I’m sure.)

By staying true to the story of your heart rather than chasing the market, it may take you longer to get published, but you’re going to have better success with the story that’s meaningful, that’s from the heart. But even a book-of-the-heart needs to be marketable if you want to see it published one day.

Once you have determined what your “heart story” is, figure out how it will fit into the market. If you’re lucky, like me, the stories you want to write already fit into a genre (every story idea I come up with automatically turns into a romance, whether it’s contemporary, historical, or science fiction). Here are some “tests” to put to yourself and your story (adapted from Writing Fiction for Dummies, pp. 39–41):

  • Who are the authors you think you write most like? Which authors’ voices, language, and style most speak to you and inform your own writing?
  • What genre does your story fit into best? You’re allowed to cross genre lines, but for the sake of marketing it, one genre should be dominant—keeping in mind that there are many hybrid genres, such as Romantic Suspense, SFR (science-fiction romance), PNR (paranormal romance), Urban Fantasy, etc.
  • What do you think is the strongest element of your writing—what parts do you like writing most? Complex worldbuilding? Deep characterization? Snappy back-and-forth dialogue? Steamy romantic scenes? Answer honestly, not with the answer you think is “expected” or “right.”
  • What settings do you like to write? Real places in the here and now? Historical settings with as much accuracy as you can get without a time machine? Fantastical settings from historical-ish to urban? Otherworldly? How do the settings you enjoy writing fit in with the market for your genre?
  • What “expertise” do you bring to the type of story you want to write? How can you tie that into marketing your story?
      (For example, from my One Sheet for the Ransome series: “Kaye’s love of the Regency era started with Jane Austen. Her undergraduate literary thesis was entitled “Wealth and Social Status as a Theme in Pride and Prejudice,” and much of her final semester of undergraduate school was spent studying Austen’s novels. Her minor in history has given her a love—a thirst—for conducting in-depth, accurate research from original source materials as well as historical, academic, and literary criticism sources.”)
  • How long is your story going to be? Are you writing a short story? The market for those is completely different than it is for novellas, short novels (e.g., category romances), novels, and epics.
  • Who is your target audience? What are their interests? their education? age? gender? reading habits? spirituality?
  • How can you adjust existing parts of or add elements to your story that will help it better fit in with the market you’ve identified for yourself?

Once you’ve analyzed your story and your writing and determined whether or not you’re writing only for yourself or for yourself and the market, then you’re ready to figure out how you can incorporate the elements that the market desires into your writing so that you can eventually share the story of your heart with your chosen audience.

But remember, above all else:

Don’t chase the market;
write the best story you can
and let the market chase you.

Work Cited:

Ingermanson, Randy and Peter Economy. Writing Fiction for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010. Print.

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980. Print.

Writing Tip #8: It’s Okay If What You Write Stinks

Monday, September 15, 2014

One of the main reasons so many would-be writers never get further than being would-be writers—people with bits and pieces of started, but never finished, manuscripts hidden in drawers or secret files on the computer—is because they’ve let something that all of us who write know paralyze them and keep them from moving forward with their writing. Which brings us to today’s writing tip.

Writing Tip #8. It’s Okay If What You Write Stinks.

As Stephen King wrote in On Writing, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right—as right as you can, anyway—it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it” (King, p. 47).

Author and marketing guru Randy Ingermanson put it this way:

Nobody is ever going to see your first draft except a very few people who already love you, warts, backstory, and all. Those are your critique buddies. Frankly, they already know your first draft sucks, so it’s OK. . . . It’ll give them something to feel good about when they point it out to you.

(Advanced Fiction Writing Blog, 2010)

Let me put it another way . . .

Do you think Yo-Yo Ma sounded like this or like this the first time he picked up the cello?

How many times do you think Evan Lysacek had to do this before he could do this?

It’s okay if what you write stinks
because you can always fix it later.
The only thing you can’t fix is a blank page.

When you’re in the creative process, you don’t need to be bogging yourself down with worrying about whether or not what you’re writing is “good.” You just need to write. You need to get the first draft finished. You need to turn off the analytical/self-doubting/self-criticizing side of the brain.

I love my computers. Y’all know that. I couldn’t live without them. But writing at the computer does something weird to me: by seeing the words coming out as printed prose—i.e., the way they might actually look in hard copy/printed in a book—I feel like I have to “get it right” before I type it into the computer . . . like what I’m writing has to be the correct words, without telling or loose POV or embellished dialogue tags or adverbs or whatever “rule” my brain is pecking at me with at that moment.

So when I’m really struggling with those negative thoughts and writer’s block that comes from the worries and fears that what I’m writing isn’t good enough, I pull out my trusty spiral notebook.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg gives the reason why writing longhand can help with writer’s block and overcoming those nasty “it has to be perfect as soon as you commit it to text” voices:

In my notebooks, I don’t bother with the side margins or the one at the top: I fill the whole page. I am not writing anymore for a teacher or for school. I am writing for myself first and I don’t have to stay within my limits, not even margins. This gives me a psychological freedom and permission. And when my writing is on and I’m really cooking, I usually forget about punctuation, spelling, etc. I also notice that my handwriting changes. It becomes larger and looser. . . .

One of the main aims in writing is to learn to trust your own mind and body; to grow patient and nonaggressive.

(p. 12)

If we’re constantly questioning the quality and craft-level of what we’re writing, are we really trusting our own mind? Our talent? The story we’ve been given?

Sure, it’s easy to stand in awe of published authors—those who’ve gone out there and taken the risk of putting their writing in front of others and faced rejection and won. But, you’re thinking, they’re great writers, they’re great storytellers. I’ll never be like that.

Let me refer you back to the video examples I linked to above. No talent comes out of the gate fully formed without the need for lots of practice, lots of studying, and lots of defeating self-doubt and fear that what we’re doing (writing, music, sports, art, cooking, etc.) isn’t good enough.

Why do people assume that writing is the only art
or profession which can be perfected without practice—
lots and lots of practice?

To become a doctor, one must go to school for years beyond the first college degree. Then they must spend more years in internships and residencies before they enter their what? Their practice. The job they do on a daily basis is called a practice for a very good reason—they are putting into action (into practice) the skills they’ve learned over years and years of education and hands-on training. And they do it EVERY DAY. And they continue to pursue training and education, staying on top of the latest techniques and skills to remain at peak performance.

This is what we’re called to do as writers, too—prepare ourselves for the practice of writing by years of diligent study and hands-on training by writing daily, finishing as many manuscripts as we can, working with critique partners, and learning how to revise. But we can’t do that if we don’t write it first—despite our fears that it stinks.

I’ve had so many conversations or read e-mails from multi-published authors of whose talents I stand in awe who say they are sure that with every manuscript they turn in, it’s the worst one they’ve ever written and will be the one that ends their career. So, you see, those fears and doubts never go away.

So allow yourself to write stinky prose. Allow yourself to write info dumps. Allow yourself to use clichés and ignore punctuation and write scenes of dialogue with only he-said/she-said attributions. Allow yourself to draw _______________ blank lines in places where you need to research something or you can’t think of the right word. Write longhand and scribble things out and ignore the margins.

It can all be fixed later.

People usually write novels in several drafts, and writers agree that the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. Many writers will tell you frankly that their first drafts are a crime against the humanities. But they write a first draft anyway, because you can’t write a second draft until you’ve done a first. So your first task as a writer is to give yourself permission to write a first draft that stinks. . . .

You always write your first draft in creative mode. When we talk about a first draft, we mean the first version you write on the page or type on the screen. Everything after that is edited copy. If you’re doing your job right, some of your first draft will be excellent, and some will be awful. Your goal is to make sure that all of your final draft is excellent, and the only way to get there is to start with a first draft, no matter how bad.

Give yourself permission to be bad on the first draft. After all, your editor isn’t going to see that first draft. Just get it written. Later on, when you go into editing mode, you can worry about making it pretty. After you finish editing, everyone will think that you were brilliant all along. Only you’ll know the truth, and you don’t have to tell anyone.

(Ingermanson, Writing Fiction for Dummies, pp. 59, 60)

Works Cited:

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2005. Print.

Ingermanson, Randy. “Backstory and the Cursed Writer’s Block.” Advanced Fiction Writing. 2010. Web. 14 Sept 2014.

Ingermanson, Randy and Peter Economy. Writing Fiction for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010. Print.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York, NY: Pocket Books, 2000. Print.

Fun Friday–Men in Costume Dramas Tributes

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fun Friday 2013

It’s time for some Men in Costume Dramas tributes. It’s probably also time for me to break out some of these movies/miniseries and re-watch them.

Our first is set to one of my favorite songs, “L-O-V-E” by Nat “King” Cole and features Richard Armitage as John Thornton in North & South and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice ’05.


This next one is a tribute to men in costume dramas set to a very unexpected song (though, unfortunately, not the original version of the song, which would have been better). The compiler pulled from a wider variety of historical-set movies than we usually see in these—including a really quick clip from Timeline featuring the yummylicious Gerard Butler opposite Anna Friel, the template for Julia in the Ransome books.)


This may be my favorite one that I’ve seen—it’s more a tribute to the couples/relationships than just the men in costumes, but it gave me chills. (And the couple it ends with should make several of my regular readers VERY happy!)

Writing Tip #7: MAKE LISTS

Thursday, September 11, 2014

As you all know, for many years before I changed careers and started working full-time in academia, I worked as a freelance editor to support my career as a full-time writer. One of my jobs was a copy-and-content edit of the first novel in a trilogy. The editor asked me, in addition to the in-document edits and comments, to create a “series guide” for the trilogy—because whether I edited the other two books in the series or not, whoever did it was going to need to know what was established in the first book about the characters (their physical attributes, ages, likes/dislikes, backstories, quirks, etc.), the setting (geography, town names, store names, area layout, who lives where, and so on), the timeline of the story (if someone says in book 1, in May, she’s six weeks pregnant, she can’t have the baby in book 3, which takes place from August to October), and so on.

Which brings me to today’s writing tip.

Writing Tip #7. Make lists. Lots and lots of lists.

Something every successful con artist or pathological liar knows is that you MUST keep track of the details; you have to know whom you told what and when. Since those of us who call ourselves writers know that what we’re doing is basically telling lies for fun and fortune (okay, maybe not so much fortune as farthings), we need to remember what we’ve made up.

But there are a lot of other things we want to remember also. For example:
Potential Character Names (some of mine are: Elaine, Stephen, Montgomery, Elisa, Joycelyn, Brandon, Kyle, Dacia, Liane, Neal, Ryan, Shaun (F), Alexander, Deborah, Grace)

Interesting Words (synonyms for loud: forte, fortissimo, sonorous, deafening, ear-rending, thunderous, crashing, booming, full-throated, trumpet-voiced, clangorous, clamorous, blaring; synonyms for do: act, serve, practice, take action, proceed, go ahead, run with it, make it so, get on with it, have a go, effect, bring about, deliver)

Possible Titles (The Wooing of Mrs. Paroo, House Mother, The Thirty-Five Guarantee, There Is Nothing Lost, Your Right to Remain Wrong, The Very Thought of You, The Bride’s Spinster Aunt, The Spinster Aunt Conquers the World, etc.)

Interesting Things Overheard (At a restaurant: “As soon as we get back to the office, we need to put a kill order in on McCall.” Guy on the phone at Panera: “How do you feel about widows?” Heard on ESPN: “Cooler than the flip side of the pillow.”)

There are also business/industry things we need to keep track of:
Networking Contacts (Agents/editors met at conferences; authors met at conferences; authors, publicists, book sellers met at book signings; librarians, book buyers, writing teachers)

Blogs (those to read daily, weekly, or occasionally—Google Reader is great for this)

Reading Lists (books to read for fun; books in my genre for critical reading/study; research books; craft books; nonfiction; devotionals)

Research Resources (contacts for interviews, websites, books, museums)

And so on.

These can be kept hand-written in notebooks or you can use my old method of various sizes and colors of Post-it Notes stuck to the sides of the computer and the wall. Or you can type them up and keep them electronically.

But even more important than these are continuity lists and style sheets.

Continuity Tracking
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, one of the main components an editor looks for, especially with a series, is continuity. One of my long-term projects as a freelancer was an ongoing series about four characters who worked in a hospital in a small town, which was written by multiple authors. To try to keep all of the authors up to date with what all the other authors have done in the volumes they’d written was to have created a Series Guide—a way of trying to ensure continuity from book to book to book.

But it isn’t just from book to book that we need to ensure continuity. It’s within the same book. Because we’re writing them over an extended period of time, we may not remember certain details—a character’s eye color or a minor character’s first name.

Obviously, when creating a series guide or continuity lists, that others (co-authors, editors) will be using, it’s usually done as text, with possibly a few images appended. But when you’re doing this for yourself, you can be as creative and visual as you’d like.

One of my favorite programs for writing is Microsoft’s One Note, which acts like a virtual three-ring binder. Here are some screen captures of how I used it to track continuity in Love Remains:

And, as I was writing Love Remains, I tracked details I would need for characters in The Art of Romance and Turnabout’s Fair Play:

That way, I’m not having to recreate the wheel (or the descriptions/lives of my characters). I try to write these types of details down as I’m writing, but most of the time, it’s easier to do in the revision process.

Of course, sometimes the old-fashioned way works just fine:

Style Sheets
More often than not, style sheets are kept by editors. For example, here’s the house style sheet (the decisions made among the editorial staff that applied to everything we worked on) that I developed when I was working at Ideals Publications.

If you’re writing something that includes unusual names (such as Cajun, foreign, or otherworldly/supernatural), it would be a good idea to make a style sheet so that once your manuscript is acquired and sent to copy editing, you can make things easier for the copy editor by sending along a document showing how things are spelled, punctuated, capitalized, etc. For example, I should have done this on Ransome’s Honor, because port admiralty shouldn’t have been capitalized but the Admiralty (referring to the group that oversaw the entire Royal Navy in London) should have been capitalized. And I didn’t realize how much I needed it to help out my editor when I was writing Ransome’s Crossing because I wrote things differently in RC than I did in RH (in RH I had poop deck and Aye, aye, sir; but when writing RC I wrote them as poop-deck and aye-aye, sir, so she had to go in and correct all the little details like that).

I’ve recently revisited the Bonneterre books as I’m playing around with the idea of writing a sequel novella/novel for a much beloved character from those books. In re-reading those books, I’ve started a style-sheet based on a lot of the back-and-forth discussions/debates/down-right arguments I had with the copy editor who was hired to work on my books for that publisher.

Bonneterre Style Sheet

I know certain multi-published authors have personal style sheets that their publishing house gives to all of their copy editors who work on that author’s books (with instructions such as “don’t use semicolons”).

So that, little ones, is why we need to MAKE LISTS. Lots and lots of lists.

FOR DISCUSSION: How do you keep track of your information for your stories?

Writing Tip #6: Don’t Think. Just Write.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Before you read the rest of this post, take this quick quiz:
Are You Right or Left Brained?

As expected, this was my result:

You Are 50% Left Brained, 50% Right Brained

The long and short of it is: the left side of the brain is analytical, the right side of the brain is creative. Which side do you think you’re supposed to be using when you’re writing?

One of the reasons I’ve written some of my favorite scenes in those final weeks before a deadline is because when I have thirty thousand words to write in just a couple of weeks, panic and adrenaline allow the the right side of my brain to take over. And that leads into the next writing tip.

Writing Tip #6. Don’t think. Just write.

Try to shut off the left side of your brain when writing. When you’re writing you want to tap into your creativity—the right side of the brain.

The more we learn about craft, the harder it gets to write. That’s because learning about craft strengthens the left side of the brain. And that’s a good thing. Really, it is—except for when you’re trying to follow Writing Tip #1 and get your first draft finished.

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.

–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Although the whole left-side, right-side thing has been under quite a bit of scrutiny and debate in the past few months, I’m still a firm believer in it. So I’m gonna run with it.

The left side of the brain is the self-analyst, the self-critic, the self-doubter, the little voice that says you’re not good enough, not talented enough, and that you’ll never be able to write the story the way you see it in your head. This is the side you want in charge after you finish the first draft when it’s time to edit and revise. This side isn’t very helpful when it comes to writing the first draft.

The right side is the creative side. The side that wants to make believe and play and laugh and spin around the room until we’re dizzy. This is the side of the brain we need to tap into when writing that first draft. We don’t need to analyze. We just need to tell a story. In writing.

In the creative act we can experience the same freedom we know in dreams. This happens as I write a story. I am bound by neither time nor space. I know those distant galaxies to which Meg Murray went with Charles Wallace and Calvin. But this freedom comes only when, as in a dream, I do not feel that I have to dictate and control what happens. I dream, sometimes, that I am in a beautiful white city I have never seen in real life, but I believe in it. When we are writing . . . we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions and opened to a wider world, where colors are brighter, sounds clearer, and people more wondrously complex than we normally realize.

–Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

The brain is like a kitchen. Reason provides the raw ingredients, imagination is the recipe, understanding and knowledge the pot and stove; the product is a complete, well-rounded “meal” or worldview.

Imagination gives us the ability to distance ourselves from oppression or stress. Over the past twenty years, multiple studies have been conducted on the efficacy of creative writing as therapy (the emphasis being on creative). Results have shown that college students’ test scores increased an average of about one letter-grade; blood pressure and heart rate can decrease; it can improve immune function and reduce the rate of minor illnesses such as colds and flu; it can reduce psychological distress over a traumatic experience by reducing “intrusive” thoughts about the event; and so on.

I know very little about how this story was born. That is, I don’t know where the pictures came from. And I don’t believe anyone knows exactly how he ‘makes things up.’ Making up is a very mysterious thing. When you ‘have an idea,’ could you tell anyone exactly how you thought of it?

–C.S. Lewis, qtd. in The Christian Imagination

Where does inspiration come from? Well, in Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle wrote that inspiration “far more often comes during the work than before it.”

Have you ever used an old-fashioned water pump? If it hasn’t been used in quite a while, you’re going to have to work long and hard to get anything out of it. But if it’s used regularly—every day—when you go to it wanting a drink of water, the pump is already primed. The water is right there, waiting to pour out.

Inspiration comes when we prime the creative pump. It is not thinking about a final product that gives us inspiration. What gives us inspiration is what leads us to write in the first place: the joy we take in imagination and creativity. When we are in the creative process and inspiration hits, everything else falls away. We lose track of time; we’re deaf to anything going on around us; nothing fills us with more joy than creating a story from our imagination. Or, as Gordon Dickson put it, we “fall through the words into the story.” That’s using the right side of the brain.

When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.

But before he can listen, paradoxically, he must work, getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily. . . .

We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it. . . .

Inspiration comes much more often during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work, and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.

–Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

In this busy world, when, at any given time during the day, there are at least five things vying for our attention—between work, email, phone, blog, writing, bills, family, and so on—allowing time for the free-flow of the imagination doesn’t get priority. But the good thing about creativity is that it can happen anytime. So instead of listening to the radio in the shower or in the car, turn it off and turn on your imagination. Same goes for the TV. If you have a set amount of time to write every day, take fifteen minutes at the beginning of it to just let your mind wander: try to remember what you dreamed about last night, or take a snippet of a conversation you had earlier in the day and imagine it went in a totally different direction, or imagine you’d made a decision differently earlier in the day. Anything to tap into the right side of your brain.

Time for you to do some left-brain work:

Creative Analytical
Writing (try longhand) Trying to find the “right word”
Character casting Trying to figure out how to show what emotion the character is experiencing rather than tell it
“What If-ing” Trying to figure out how to do an action/introspection tag instead of using “said.”
“Listening to the voices” Trying to apply GMC to every single scene before writing it.

For Discussion: What are some other activities you can add to the “Creative” column that you should be doing? What are some other “Analytical” activities you are doing that are hindering you from being able to just write?

Works Cited:

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980. Print.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1994. Print.

Ryken, Leland (Ed.). The Christian Imagination. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2002. Print.


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