Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Kick those bad (writing) habits!

Every writer, whether full-time or part-time, has her various routines. Sometimes they vary from one day to the next. Other times they’re set in stone. We all know the bad habits which creep in to disrupt our writing routines. But do we know how to kick them?

What works for me

Through trial and error, I’ve come up with a few habits which work for me. That’s the key--finding out what works for you. There’s a lot of sage advice and how-to articles out there, but if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work.
·        Sketching out blog topics for a month at a time X 3 blogs per week = 12-14 blogs per month.
·        Writing the blogs on weekends.
·        Posting the blogs with labels, pictures, and links at The Word Place usually on Sunday night and scheduling them to go public on M-W-F.
·        Using Buffer to schedule Tweets about the blogs on the correct days.
·        Making a weekly calendar to keep track of “real life” and also work in times to write each day.
·        Finding a place to write (short story, novel, edits, rewrites) undistracted by the internet, whether it be a fast-food place, a park, or the back seat of my car at Sonic.
·        Doing what needs to be done with internet availability first and at home in the study before taking off on a mini-writing retreat.
·        Setting up the right “atmosphere”--blinds open, lights on as necessary, essential oil diffuser on, CD player going (classical music)--whether I’ve chosen to write at home or am just taking care of business on the computer
·        Checking off tasks completed--a great motivator.
·        Keeping personal business and writing business organized in separate notebooks and handy on my desk.
·        Leaving my desk clean and organized every night--a holdover habit from my teaching days. When I walked into the classroom every morning--other than distributing materials or writing instructions for students on the overhead projector, I was good to go--and it made for a productive and less stressful day.
·        Giving myself permission to deviate from my schedule so long as all the tasks are checked off by the end of the week.

What happens when routine/habits/plans are disrupted?

Well, it happens. I’ve had carefully-laid plans to write all day, for example, while multi-tasking with such mundane necessities as laundry or waiting on a service person to arrive. Then comes the early-morning phone call to say a grandchild needs to stay home sick from school--and could she hang out with Mimi? Yes, of course, she can. At that point, the writing just takes a back seat--although at times, when on a deadline with edits, I’ve explained to said munchkin that Mimi must have some time. They’re really pretty good about entertaining themselves with books, cartoon videos, or art work--although they always migrate to the study. Proximity to Mimi seems to be a necessary thing.
The point is, life happens. I don’t earn my living writing, so I have more leeway than a person who does. Also, I’m retired--and the day I closed my classroom door for the last time, I stopped hurrying. Life’s too short.

Kick the (bad) habits

·        Aimless internet browsing (not solid research for a writing project)
·        Unnecessary social media time--a kitchen timer set for 5-10-15 minutes is a good way to pull yourself back into reality.
·        Putting off ‘til tomorrow what you have time to do today--whether you want to do it or not isn’t negotiable.
·        Running between one non-writing task and what you’re trying to accomplish with writing. (Leaving long enough to transfer clothes from washer to dryer doesn’t count--anything more complicated is going to interfere with your word count!)

Don’t kick the (good) habits!

Routines get disrupted, yes, but not every day. Do first things first. Keep a separate list of the top three or four priorities for the week. If you get those done, even if something else has languished, you can claim success.

 And, of course, keep writing!!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Not my (current) cup of tea

Actually, the title is a little misleading because I have been to a few conferences and haven’t written off the idea of attending again.  As with anything, there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly--though I won’t even touch the latter.

Generically speaking…

There are, however, a few generic reasons why I haven’t turned up recently.
      After a while, there’s nothing new under the sun--that is, speakers tend to rehash the same topics with their own twist.
·        Some speakers approach advice with the “my way or no way” attitude.
·        Some (not all conferences) sponsor contests, and the same people tend to take home the prizes every year--which tends to discourage newbies who need some encouragement.
·        Conferences develop a “following” for various reasons and occasionally become cliquish.
·        Attendees can easily develop an “It’s all about me” attitude rather than “We’re all in this together”.

Specifically speaking…

·        Large conferences often have large prices, so one has to weigh the ultimate value of attendance against the monetary outlay. Expenses include transportation, lodging (usually at upscale hotels), apparel (for social events), and meals other than those provided by the conference fees.
·        Large conferences can be somewhat inaccessible for the ordinary run-of-the-mill author who writes more for pleasure than profit but who would enjoy mingling with others who write and learning from them.
·        Many people attend these big-name conferences to be “seen” rather than to learn.

Personal preferences

·        One-day conferences hosted by local writing groups are smaller with an opportunity to meet most of the people there. Three or four “keynote” speakers with time limits often offer surprisingly new insights into all facets of writing.
·        Local in-state conferences offer the advantage of being more easily accessible--i.e. by car rather than the necessity to fly. If you’re taking advantage of having a free or low-cost book table for sales exposure or networking, it’s difficult to lug one’s wares on a plane.
·        Well-attended but not over-crowded conferences make it easier to meet folks and establish supportive relationships.

Conferences to check out

·        18 Writer’s Conferences Every Writer Should Attend (dated 2016 but probably annual events)

Friday, May 19, 2017

For the eyes of real women only!

Graphic  Warning:  If you feel oppressed, discriminated against, mad at the world, in need of a "safe space", like men only for what they can do for you...DON'T read any further. You won't like it, and I don't want to hear about it! 


Today's Topic: Strong Women
Today’s younger women (most of them anyway) want to read about strong, independent women who take no nonsense from anyone, least of all the men in their lives. They’re fearless, opinionated, focused on themselves and their personal and professional success, and they’ll fight to the death for their rights (whatever they consider those to be at any given time). Strong. Immovable. Strong--or did I say that?
I jotted down on my blog calendar that my topic for today would be “Why it’s hard for me to write strong women”. I’ve had to rethink that, however, because my female protagonists are strong. They just don’t fit the mold of so many women today. But, I might suggest, if those women spent less time organizing, protesting, taking offense at the written/spoken word, and trying to be men, they might actually become those strong women they want to be.
What Women Are and Aren't
Now, this isn’t a treatise on women’s rights. Women’s rights are human rights. We all, I hope, espouse that cause. No, I’m talking about real, enduring strength--the kind that’s been around since God gave Eve to Adam. (Okay, so she messed up--but so did Adam--so do we all.)
I doubt any of this generation’s female members know the old proverb The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. I’ve heard it all my life. So what does it say? It says that, for those who choose motherhood, they’ve also chosen the most lasting influence (for good or ill) ever thought about.  Once upon a time, we used to hear “great” men bless their mothers for the influence these women had in their lives. Today it would be politically incorrect to evoke the memory of a mother--stay-at-home or working. Women aren’t just mothers--they’re, well, women, and all that stands for! But the proverb also, I believe, credits women in general as being strong and influential in this world, whether they bring home the bacon or cook it or have to do both!
Yesterday's Women--Not Outdated
I came from a generation when most mothers stayed at home. A family’s economic status rested on the earnings of the husband. Mothers, unpaid, would’ve been billionaires if remunerated for their individual services. Most, however, took joy in their homes and their children and managed to juggle all their responsibilities just fine. (I guess nobody told them they were repressed!)
Even as a little girl, I knew without being told that I could choose motherhood or a career or both. One didn’t exclude the other. No one told me I couldn’t be whatever I wanted to be. I wasn’t by any means repressed in that uncertain era after the end of World War II and the frightening “Cold War”. Who and what I was didn’t come into question. I wore dresses and dungarees, played with dolls in the house and cap pistols and little cars outside. And wonder of wonders, I knew who and what I was!
I attended a women’s college where we were held to strict standards of behavior and dress. We dressed like ladies, acted like ladies, and were treated like ladies. We knew we were privileged to be such. And never, ever were we told we couldn’t be or do whatever we chose!
Left on my own to raise two children after the death of my husband, I encountered my share of men who tried to take advantage of my status in business matters. Their problem became not only their misguided and outdated attitudes but their failure to understand I had as much or more business sense than they did. Irritated at the time, I look back now and laugh and wonder when (not if) they tangled with a female who wasn’t a well-mannered lady--and who dealt in revenge rather than dignity.
Who Are Today's Women?
Speaking of dignity--no, let’s put decency before that--recent so-called protests by “women” in the name of their “rights” leave me (and probably many others) feeling ashamed for them. They certainly have no shame for themselves. Knowing right and wrong, understanding decency and civility--these qualities are what make women strong--and men, too.
I see women in all walks of life--actresses, entertainers, journalists, and politicians who can out-nasty any of their male counterparts. They’re not strong women. They’re just vulgar, egotistical, and power-hungry people of the female gender. They don’t respect anyone, and it follows they can’t really respect themselves. When the chips are down, self-respect is the winning number. The possibility they might be role models for younger women--like my granddaughters-- leaves me cold.
The Women I Write
You’ll find villainous women in my books all right--losers to be pitied and maybe redeemed somehow. But first and foremost you’ll find real women--and real women are strong women in a way that “feminists” and “organizers” are not.
I am a woman created by God and grateful for it. I can’t write anything else.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

My friends...but are they me?

Do your characters resemble you?
There’s probably not an author out there who hasn’t heard, “So, how much of you is in this/that character?” I expect the standard answer is an enigmatic dropping of the eyes or turning of the head or perhaps a simple shrug. I mean, come on, how many of us are going to admit we’ve bared our hidden souls in a particular character? Not I, said the fly!
But if we told the truth--if we didn’t deflect such questions or even outright lie--we’d have to admit our characters is who we are--or who we were--or who we’d like to be.
Jean and Nick,
The Showboat Affair
Do my characters resemble me?
To be (partially) truthful…in The Showboat Affair (written as Gwyneth
Greer), perhaps I dreamed of starting over like Jean Kingston. Widowed early, I never remarried nor really entertained too many thoughts of doing so because I had children to raise. Now, of course, firmly settled into aging, I definitely don’t want anything of the two-legged (or four-legged) variety in my tidy empty nest!

Fascinated with the eras of The Great Depression and World War II (in which I was born), I would have reveled in being Celeste (Dancing with Velvet) or Ruthann (Ruthann’s War). Living their struggles, their
Penelope Pembroke
dreams, even their realities would’ve been very satisfying.
And, of course, we can’t forget Penelope Pembroke (The Penelope Pembroke Cozy Mystery Series--boxed set or sold separately) because, in truth, I actually wanted to be a lady detective. It must’ve been around the fifth grade when I received a handy-dandy detective kit for Christmas and decided there were mysteries everywhere. Wearing a tam and carrying a purse as well as the tools of my trace (fingerprint powder, tape, and a spy glass), I trotted off to school with a sense of purpose to do more than just get my lessons--I wanted to get the bad guy, too!

You’ll find bits and pieces of me in my short stories, too. Visit “I’ll Tell You a Story” at my website for a new free read every month, or check out Off the Shelf in which, if you look hard enough, you’ll definitely find me in some of the stories and all of the interspersed poems. (But shhhh! Don’t tell anyone!)

And in summation...
Writing has always been something I’ve done for fun and, later on, for a little profit. But it’s also become, as I’ve entered the final chapters of my life, cathartic, a legacy to leave behind for anyone to whom it matters.

Like any other hobby, avocation, or true vocation, writing has its ups and downs, but it should be, first and foremast, a joy at least 95% of the time--or, perhaps, we should be doing something else!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Do you really want to publish?

Why Publish?

An interesting article in the May 2017 issue of The Writer Magazine asks the question “Should getting published always be the ultimate goal?” (Joel Fishbane, p. 5) He points out Harper Lee’s 1960 best-seller To Kill a Mockingbird which stood alone in her list of literary credits until over 50 years later. I also seem to remember that Margaret Mitchell never published again after Gone with the Wind.
Authors, especially those new to the publishing game, hear the advice, “Start writing your next novel immediately”. Personally, I always have something going, but I don’t always have publication uppermost in my mind.
In the first flush of delight over having a novel accepted by publisher, I couldn’t wait to get that second contract. The third and fourth novels were only slightly less wondrous events. Then I waited probably four years before submitting a fifth. In the meantime, however, I was busy trying my hand at indie/self-publishing, which started out to be the main topic of this blog. So, I’ve digressed, and now it’s time to get back on track!

Traditional or Indie Pub?

Let’s jump ahead a few pages in the above-mentioned magazine and talk about “Going Rogue: Is self-publishing right for you?” by Kerrie Flanagan. She breaks down the traditional publishing model  and then the self-publishing model with factual as well as thoughtful insights into each one. I’d recommend this article for newbies especially, but it holds insights for those of us who have been around the block before.
My personal preference was being traditionally published before trying my hand at indie publishing. If nothing else, it gave me confidence that what I write is worth reading. And, with almost no marketing, The Penelope Pembroke Cozy Mystery Series (6 books) amazed me by selling at a phenomenal rate. I plunged ahead with a second three-book romantic suspense series, The Dreamland Series and several stand-alones which unfortunately did not mimic Penelope in sales. However, I learned a great deal about writing/publishing/marketing and continue to keep indie publishing as a viable option.
Not wanting to sever ties with my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, I submitted a fifth book, also a delight to hold in my hands, and two “shorts” to Solstice which had been recommended to me by a friend. The novel currently in edits, The Legacy of Diamond Springs is destined to go the indie publishing route, as is Keeping Promises which is in the hands of a beta reader.
The choice of traditional or indie is one which must be made by the individual writer, but it’s not a black or white thing. One can do both, and I think both models offer their own distinct advantages based on what the author wants/expects as an outcome for a particular piece.

Know what’s going on!

For newbies (as well as oldies) I’d offer the quite obvious sage advice of knowing everything about a publisher before you sign on the dotted line. Preditors and Editors is the go-to site for the skinny on such. Unfortunately, they’re on something of a sabbatical until they can find new leadership. However, following the link will lead you to more helpful links. Just remember--you wouldn’t hire someone to remodel your house without checking with the Better Business Bureau to see if they’re legit. The same goes for places where you submit your babies (written words)!
I’d also recommend learning everything you can before you start down the indie-publishing road. At the same time, if you become overwhelmed (especially with the technical aspects), don’t throw up your hands in despair and say, “I can’t do this.” You can. I did, an so did innumerable others.
After ten years, I’ve evolved from “I have to get this published” to “I’m enjoying writing this”. You have to decide why you want to write, and your reasons may change as mine did. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something which gives you pleasure and satisfaction--and remember, those are things you make for yourself. No one else can do it.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Summer Journaling Journey

This summer, as in past ones, I’ll have my granddaughters with me several days a week. We’ve done different versions of “Mimi School”, and this year will be yet another.
First of all, the Small Person is my author-in-training. She wants to write and does pound out stories in pencil and on the purple computer I bought for her use. Our lofty goal this summer is to complete something which can go to CreateSpace and become a printed copy for her to hold in her hands. There’s no greater inspiration for future endeavors!
Journaling will also be on the menu. The SP has journaled before. I’ve never read it because I told her it was private. Occasionally she wanted me to read something she’d written, but otherwise it’s remained closed to everyone but here. There’s room left, so I want her to complete it.
The Wee Bear Cub is finishing first grade and can now read and write well enough to participate in the activity. She’s not a writer in the same sense as her sister, but we’ll see what we can do.
My thought is to take them to the library once a week, put them at a table with their journals, and have them think or dream or people-watch, making notes of their thought processes for five minutes. (The kitchen timer will go with us.) Later, they can turn their notes into a brief narrative.
Perhaps we’ll go to the park with a topic in mind, and some brainstorming can take place. Maybe a trip to their favorite of favorites, Chik-Fil-a, will allow one or two minutes of jotting down ideas. Even listening to a story (and it’s way past time for the WBC to hear more from the 1939 Child Craft volumes) can paint a mental picture which can then be translated into words. Finally, I’ve been collecting a series of DVDs about America History geared to children, and we’ll be watching one a day. By the end of the summer, I’d like to progress to summarizing in the journals. That’s a lofty ambition, but it might happen.
In today’s world of electronics and television, children don’t do as much thinking as they should. I want two bright little minds to do more than stare at a screen. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Journals I Have Known..but not too well!

Monday’s topic was journaling, so today I thought I’d show you all the journals I’ve collected over the years. I’m a pushover for a blank page with a cute cover--but I’m not necessarily reliable about filling said blank pages.  But that doesn’t mean things can’t change…


This shabby little volume, however, found its way into my hands sometime around 1953. It is not blank. A Five-Year Diary was popular in those days. While I didn’t keep it for five years, I did make entries for two. You won’t find any scandals or even story ideas within its pages, but it’s a reminder to me of a kinder, gentler time, when children had time for such things.

Friday:  A Journey in Journaling for the Small Person and the Wee Bear Cub this summer.