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Of Course It Makes No Sense. Just Go With It.

You know that crazy person on TV (or maybe in your life) whose office/home/room/laboratory is an absolute disaster? You walk in and have to pause because the sheer chaos makes your skin crawl?

And yet, ask them for anything, and chances are that they can reach into that mess and pull it out in a minute or less?

It makes no sense. It’s inefficient. It shouldn’t work. But for them, it does. So you go with it.

That’s my writing process.

Not really, but that’s how it feels sometimes, especially when I try to explain it to hardcore plotters. I’m what I charitably refer to as a “plotser”. I start with a concept, usually an idea for a character or a snapshot vision in my head of a scene that speaks to me for some reason. I play with it in the back of my mind for a while. I do some quick plotting, typically referring to a simplified beat sheet to make sure I have a beginning, middle and end in mind. I try to get a basic sketch of my characters done. All told, my pre-writing adds up to maybe one page of hand-written scribbles.

And then I draft.

The upside of this method of working is that I have enough structure to write the book but enough flexibility that I get to discover my characters as I go. If there weren’t any surprises, I’d get terribly bored. For me, this keeps the writing process lively and fun.

The downside is that my characters often wait until awfully late in the game to reveal some key information that I would have really liked to have had earlier. This means I have to go back and sew things in. Usually, I pause at about the 20-25k mark to reevaluate. By then some gaping hole has probably revealed itself. I notice there’s not enough conflict or that one of my characters needs a better motivation or that I don’t have a plot after all. I’m not going to pretend it’s fun to go back and fix these things, but after I’ve done it, I’m usually clear to go with drafting the rest of the book. Once the manuscript is finished, I’ll likely have to add another element or two in revisions. All the back and forth and revising used to scare me when I first started, but at this point I’ve come to accept it as just how I work.

My process is a mess. It makes no sense. It’s inefficient chaos that makes more organized people cringe.

But it works. So I trust it. I trust myself.

Just go with it.


Calling It Quits

Recently, I did something that was incredibly difficult for me. I pulled the plug. I gave up. I walked away from something I’d put a lot of time and effort into.

That’s right. I trashed a work in progress.

To give you a little bit of background, I’m a (very, very) slightly reformed pantser who used to trash manuscripts all the time. I’d get excited about the premise for a project, pound out twenty thousand words or so, then realize there was no conflict and no point and get distracted by the next shiny idea dangling in front of my face.

That all changed a few years ago when I finally threw up my hands and recognized that I needed at least a liiiiitle bit of a plan in place before I started a project. Beginning to do some very basic outlining helped me ensure that a plot bunny had some depth to it—enough to get me to the end of it, at any rate.

The difference was immediate and dramatic. I started six projects and finished six projects. Everything was going great.

Then I had a kid.

My little bundle of joy is the light of my life, and for a few months there, she was also the destroyer of productivity and concentration. Desperate to get my writing career back on track in her wake, I started a new document. Something short and light. Something sexy and fun.

Something with no plan.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t go well. As will probably surprise absolutely no one, I pounded out about twenty thousand words and started to stall out. There wasn’t enough there there. The short, light, sexy, fun story wasn’t a great match for my brand.

In short, the project just wasn’t going anywhere.

The moment I realized this, naturally, I panicked. I’d been slogging away at this thing for a month, killing myself to try to write a few hundred words a day during my daughter’s naps and after her bedtime. This was blood, sweat and tears we were talking about here. And yet. I had to face facts. It wasn’t working out.

Resigning that manuscript to the dumpster pile was one of the harder things I’ve done in my writing career. I won’t say that it was a total loss. After a few months of self-imposed maternity leave, I probably needed to warm up a little before getting back up to speed with my writing, and working on a one-off project wasn’t a terrible way to get in the saddle again. Still, I’d been doing so well. I’d been staying focused. I’d been finishing things.

But in the end, I had to remember – there’s no point throwing good time after bad. I closed the file. I mourned.

And after a few days’ reflection, I went back to the drawing board, this time with a plot bunny I hope is a better fit for my brand, my voice, and my readers’ expectations. With characters that make a little more sense to me. Probably without as much of a plan as I should have, but with at least enough of one that I’m pretty sure I can make it to the top of the hill before my engine putters out.

When’s the last time you scrapped a manuscript? What made you decide to pull the plug? And in the end, looking back, do you think you made the right call?


A New Beginning…

This blog cycle we are supposed to be dispensing wisdom about staying physically and emotionally healthy as writers… *twiddles thumbs* <– which makes my carpal tunnel flare so I’m going to stop now.

I wrote a post awhile back on my treadmill desk which has done more than anything to get me healthier and more focused on my writing. I still read my reviews (slaps hand) and hate release days (pass the wine.) My “wisdom” is rather lacking.

Instead I’d thought I’d pull a Monty Python…a now for something completely different!!

I’m going to discuss beginnings. Like literally the beginning of your manuscript. I really don’t consider myself an expert on anything writing related. I’m always looking to learn from someone farther along on the journey. So I was surprised after my editor read my latest manuscript when she said, You should teach a class on how to write first chapters.

I scoffed and replied back that there was no method to my madness, but it got me thinking… I’ve never changed the first chapter of any of my books. From the time I drafted the first chapter through all my own edits and my editors’ developmental edits. That would be nine that have gone through professional editing, so maybe I’m doing *something* kind of right. Also, I regularly judge unpublished contests in both historical and contemporary categories which honestly helps my writing as much as the contestants. I read my own work with a more critical eye.

It’s no surprise the biggest issue with first chapters is managing backstory. Two big problems I see:

  1. The “Coming Into Town” beginning. This can be in a car or carriage and usually involves the hero or heroine ruminating on what is bringing them back to their hometown or why they’re moving into a new town. It’s usually a big fat stinky info dump. Doesn’t matter if the heroine is describing the scenery in-between introspection about her family drama or getting fired from her job. Unless something active happens, like she gets pulled over by the cops or gets beset by a highwayman or rammed in the bumper by the hero, just skip it. Sorry, but it’s boring.
  2. The “As You Know” conversation. For a new author (or even experienced one) this can be a deceptive backstory dump. I typically see this conversation taking place between a main and secondary character. For example, maybe it’s the heroine giving the lowdown to her best friend. Except, it’s really a sneaky way of imparting backstory to the reader. If you can add in the phrase “As you know” before dialogue, you have a problem.

As you know  “I had to come home because my grandmother is sick.”

“Your brother should be helping,” her best friend said.

As you know  “He is a wastrel and at the clubs until all hours, the scapegrace!”

If the two characters are close, then it’s a conversation they would have already had. Plus, it’s usually mostly telling with no showing. Better to start with the brother coming in drunk and the sister confronting him in the wee hours. That would impart the needed knowledge plus the ability to weave in a gamut of emotions from frustration to love.

The best piece of advice I read about backstory came from a Margie Lawson class (I think she got it from someone else, though). Write all the tidbits of backstory for your characters on a piece of glass. Then, shatter that glass. Pick up only the most important facts. Facts that the reader *must know.* Sliver them in throughout the first third of the book. Discard the rest.

I also want to touch on prologues. I’ll admit, I love the damn things, but the overall consensus is to avoid them. My way around this? CALL THEM CHAPTER 1! All three of my Cottonbloom books start with an incident between my hero and heroine that took place many years in the past. That scene was needed to frame their present. But, make sure it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t use a prologue as a means to impart backstory. It must reveal something vitally important about your hero or heroine or their relationship with each other (not necessarily romantic.) If you can lose the prologue and still understand the story, then…lose the prologue.

I would posit that the advice “Start your book with action!” should really be “Start your book with the inciting incident!” The inciting incident is what upsets the balance of your characters’ lives and sets the story in motion. This “incident/action” doesn’t have to be a fight or a car crash, it can be something much more subtle.

For example, the book I’m working on now is Book 4 in the Cottonbloom series (and incidentally has no prologue, because it didn’t *need* one.) In Chapter 1, the heroine wants to surprise her fiancé with work on his classic Camaro and is dropping it off at a restoration garage. Except, she finds her best friend’s panties under the seat. The hero is the mechanic witnessing this incident.

Another piece of often heard advice is that your hero and heroine should meet in Chapter 1. I do agree you should get them on the page as soon as possible, but sometimes the inciting incident only involves the hero (for example) and it snowballs to include the heroine. I have at least two books where the hero and heroine don’t meet until Chapter 2 or very late in Chapter 1. On the other hand, the hero meeting the heroine can be the inciting incident. This is often the case for a romance. For example, maybe the highwayman who stops our heroine’s carriage *is* the hero.

What about you? Agree or disagree? Do you have any advice for beginnings?


What’s in a name?

I have many weaknesses in my writing. Some I’ve identified and am working on, and some I’ve not yet discovered. But, that’s true for all us! No matter how long we’ve been writing there’s something else to learn. Which is awesome, and also why I’m afraid to go back and read any of my books. I’d probably nit-pick them to death with what I’ve learned since.

One of my weakness is picking names. Not that I pick *bad* names per se, but I tend to get hyper-focused on one or two letters in the alphabet. For example, my character list for Slow and Steady Rush:

Darcy (heroine)

Robbie Dalton (hero-often called Dalt)

Reed (cousin and hero of Book 2)

Dave (football player)

Rick aka Rick the Dick (policeman)

Dylan (football player)

Ada (grandmother, not technically a ‘D’, but strong ‘D’ sound)

I realized my issue when I was editing a scene with Robbie and Reed. What stinks is when you become attached to names, or the names have already imprinted onto your character. There was no way I was changing my hero or heroine, but I caved and changed Reed to Logan. I had already written his book, so this was heart-wrenching. I had to keep Rick the Dick (for obvious reasons, amiright?), so I changed Dave to Tyler and Dylan to Jamal.

Another of my weakness is keeping (or not keeping) a series bible. This has bitten me on the butt more than a few times, yet I feel like I’m too busy to go back and reconstruct a detailed one. So while I recognize this as a weakness, I still didn’t do one at the start of my new series. But I was introduced to a copy-editor trick that helps me avoid name repetition and also helps me keep track of main character highlights, like hair and eye color and any distinguishing characteristics or titles. It’s the Cliff Notes version of a series bible.

Pardon my handwriting and lack-of-OCD straight lines…this could be set up in Excel, no doubt, but I like keeping it next to me while I’m starting a book so I can jot things down or scratch things out. To me that’s easier than the screen. Plus, I use a spiral bound notebook for each manuscript to long-hand scenes and jot down ideas, so this works for me. I’ve found it super simple, and extremely useful…

You can divvy up grid2your quadrants however you like, and if you do it on the computer, you could expand into as many as you want. But, the point is to write every name (first, last, nicknames) and proper nouns on the grid. From a glance you can tell where you have too many names of the same letter.



It also helps narrow the search for new names. In my case, I’d probably go to the ‘H’s or ‘P’s in my big book of baby names for a first name and the ‘A’s or ‘Y’s in my telephone directory for last names. (Don’t throw those antiquated books away… They are very handy for surnames!)

I hope this helps some writer out there avoid my missteps. I would be very interested in how you guys keep track of names or other shortcuts you use to keep track of your series…


The Happy Little Trees of Writing a Scene

When you sit down to write a new story, do the words flow out in perfect order from chapter 1 to The End? Maybe that’s the way it happens for some people, but I’m not one of them.

The longer I’ve been in this crazy business of writing books, the more I realize that everyone has a different way of tackling a manuscript. Beyond the division among writers of plotters and pantsers, there are fast drafters, 1k/1Hr people, those who chart characters in a multitude of ways, those who use software systems to track the plot, linear and nonlinear writers, those who gather in cafes and at retreats to bang out words, and those who prefer to work alone…the list goes on. There is no right or wrong, there is only what works for you.

I find it interesting to learn what other writers do, not because I’m going to change what I do, but because there might be some element in their plan of attack that changes the way I see my own process. I recently broke the rule that I’ve heard over and over from countless authors—I went back and started reading through the document before I got the last few scenes written. But guess what, I needed to go back. Personally, I’m a nonlinear plotter, meaning that I storyboard the entire book, then draft out of order. So I got down to the last 8 scenes that were scattered through the story and became stuck. I had to go back to the beginning to find my place. It wasn’t wrong in the way that everyone claims, for me, it was necessary.

My point is this: there is no wrong in writing. I thought today I would tell you a little bit about how I write each scene within a story. I hope you take away something helpful, but at the end of the day just keep writing—that’s the important part.

When I look at each scene in a book, I see every one as

a painting on canvas.

Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Bob Ross painting on TV, but it just makes sense to me. I noticed when watching these instructional TV shows about painting that they never start at the left or the top and just paint the thing. A painting isn’t like a piece of paper feeding out of the printer, instead it’s steadily built upon and constructed in layers. To me, scenes in a story are the same. Therefore I write my scenes in 4 steps or passes through the document.

4 Steps to writing a scene as learned from a lack of cable TV when I was a kid.

Step 1: The blue sky background- Framework. When I begin a new scene I start with the setting, where the characters are in the beginning and where they go, who is there, etc. This blocking of the basic concept is like the pale blue sky that the artist always starts with on the canvas. Everything is added from there.

Step 2: The happy little trees that make up the horizon- Dialogue. Once I know who is present and where they are, I write out the dialogue between the characters. This is the bulk of the scene, just like the forest and stream are the bulk of the painting.

Step 3: The white movement of the water in the stream- Action. Every scene needs a little action. Usually this is accomplished through action tags for the dialogue I placed in the story in the last step. But when I’m writing action scenes or sex scenes, I make notes of all action in red font as it happens and then go back and lace in the actual action as it will appear in the story. This keeps awkward sequences from happening like the heroine feeling up the hero’s rippling muscles when he never took off his shirt. This method helps me keep my sanity the most when writing action-heavy scenes. Separating all of these layers out, allows me to focus on the details when there’s a lot going on.

Step 4: The light and shadow- Deep POV. Maybe it’s my background in art, but to me light and shadow are what make something feel real. In books, this is the character’s interpretation of the scene at hand. We’re seeing the scene through that character’s eyes and everything is colored by their perception of events. I always add this step last since it finishes everything and makes it feel like a finished product.

After these 4 steps, when I move on to the next scene, I’ve already cleaned each scene as I go. So this makes me a plotter, nonlinear writer, a writer who dislikes weeks of edits, and a painter…well, maybe not. I think I’ll stick with painting with words for now.

How do you write your scenes? However you do it, keep going!


I Read It For The Articles

From the moment I walked into my very first RWA chapter meeting some four odd years ago, I was hooked. I met amazing people who thought it was perfectly normal to talk about crazy writer eyes and drink mimosas while discussing marketing and beat sheets. Ladies who wanted to talk plot bunnies and gentlemen who were prepared to compare lists of dream agents at a moment’s notice.

stepbrothers-did-we-just-become-best-friendsSimply put, I’d found my tribe. The folks who understand me and accept me, and who I understand in a way I don’t think I can entirely explain.

These people are the reason I get up on the second Saturday of every month and trek all the way across town to go to meetings. They’re the reason I make every effort possible to get to as many conferences as I can. Not workshops. Not networking. But people. Friends.

But the funny thing is that no matter why I go, I go. I attend at least half a dozen workshops per year at my local chapter meetings, and that many again in a single weekend at a conference. And in spite of myself I keep learning things.

When it came time to plot my latest book, what did I do? I found the handouts from four different plotting workshops I’d been to. Crafting a synopsis? I referred to my notes from the synopsis clinic my chapter-mate put on. Trying to get excited about writing yet another love scene? I even have a handout for that. Self-publishing, copyright law, writer software, editing. You name it, I’ve probably seen someone speak about it.

The business and craft of being a writer are complicated, nuanced things, and the simple fact is that at any stage in a person’s career, there are still new things to learn. We have to keep growing and evolving and finding ways to keep our practice as writers fresh.

I may not have thought I was going to all those meetings and conferences for the workshops. But damn if I haven’t accidentally learned a lot from them all the same.


If I can do it…

you can do it gif








So, I’m fresh from the Georgia Romance Writers Moonlight and Magnolias Conference for a much needed weekend of bonding with my fellow authors. Attending conferences always renews my enthusiasm for my work and recharges my creativity. Then, like always, life gets in the way again and tries to shove my writing to the backseat, somewhere under the preschool papers and the towel I keep there in case the dog pukes on a road trip.

This year, though, I had the opportunity to attend a craft workshop led by Candace Havens: Fast Draft/Revision Hell. This was an amazing experience! In Fast Draft, she explains a process that will lead to–you guessed it–extremely fast drafting! How fast? Pretty much fast enough to get a bare-bones, messed up first draft of a novel done within a two week period. Now, I’m not going to be spreading her trade secrets around, but I will tell you this: a big part of her method is about accountability, and moving forward. Sounds like obvious, common sense, but somehow, it all clicked like it never would have in a million years had I not heard it in the way she presented it.

I’ll admit, I’m not really fast drafting as she prescribes it. I have a manuscript to finish, and with about 30% left to go, I was sputtering on fumes. So, as soon as I got home, I decided to apply her techniques to my situation, and as of Day 3, I’ve accomplished so much, that I’ll be finished within about three more days worth of similar output. It’s not quite the true fast-drafting output, but it’s easily double the word count of what I’d previously considered a “full” writing day.

I’m not a fast writer. I fiddle and fuss, I re-read and edit as I go. That’s against the rules in Fast Draft! I still deliberate over what I put on the page, but I keep moving forward. You mean moving forward results in more productivity? I know!! Imagine! Ooh! Ooh! Guess what else!! I quit wasting so much damn time! Instead of starting the day with email and internet nonsense, I wait until after writing time. I leave my phone downstairs. In my writing time, I just write. And damn, if it isn’t working!

Accountability is also a big motivator, so I’m checking in daily with fellow fast-drafting Bad Girlz for a daily review of our respective ass-kicking and name-taking. I don’t know exactly how something so simple works so well, but it’s totally clicked and I’m feeling the magic. If any of you feel like you need that little extra kick in the pants to really get motivated and get some results, I highly recommend this workshop!

Oh, also, Candace says it’s very important to reward yourself after making a goal. So here’s a GIF of the bassist from the Clash taking his shirt off….. You’re welcome.






Happy writing!





Just Come Back Here

Oh, man. A month blog topic dedicated to stuff we screw up. This is like a playground for writers. We, as a whole, are pretty good at picking apart what we suck at, I think. Things we fumble time and time again. There are countless things–not trusting myself to tell the story; not being able to write an elevator pitch to save my life; never being able to write a short and concise synopsis (which is actually pretty hilarious considering I’m a very concise writer in my drafts). While I definitely do all those things, what I do without fail is fall to crutch words. Those pesky words I can’t let go of. They’ve been with me since my first manuscript, and if manuscript #9 is any indication, they’ll be with me for a long time to come. My favorites? Just and back. (FYI: I deleted an instance of just that didn’t need to be in this paragraph…I can’t run, and I can’t escape.)

Wordle_-_CreateWhen I Wordle my novel pre-edits, those two are nearly as large as the characters’ names on my word cloud. But like with most crutch words, they generally aren’t needed. Or at least they aren’t needed nearly as often as I would lead you do believe in my first draft.

I’ve managed to train my brain to automatically delete any unnecessary thats–while reading and writing–but I can’t quite get there with these others. Maybe it’s because when I draft, I tend to do so pretty quickly, where I don’t really think about the words I’m writing. I just (<—see??? I’ll never give it up!) write them. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown comfortable with certain ways to say certain things, and that’s how they come out on the page–as my crutch. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad I have Wordle (as well as an editing checklist I work off of) and copy-editors to delete these pesky things pre-publication, because they can weigh down the sentences and keep your MS from being punchy.

A few other crutch words to be on the lookout for are: really, very, totally, so, that, and then, just, well, good/great, quite, little…and probably a dozen others I’m not thinking of.

How about you? What are your crutch words? And do you have a special process or checklist you work from to eliminate them?


So Screwed Up

This round of blog posts centers on what we always screw up as writers. I’m supposed to pick one thing I consistently fumble. One thing.Chris Evans shirtless laughing

After a lot of whittling down, and deleting the draft of a post of other stuff I screw up (but not as much I screw this up), I have chosen the one thing I screw up the most: Not believing in my ability to put a story into written words or finish it.

I think I’ve written about five novel-length stories at this point. Two of which are published, two more will be at some point. Yet, without fail, I get to a point in every story when I’m convinced I won’t be able to do this whole writing thing. Usually it’s points, plural.

When I get past the meet cute and the first internal debates or conflict arise, I doubt my ability to convey legitimate reasons the hero and heroine shouldn’t be ‘happily ever after’ right then. When I get to the saggy middle, and page after page feels like, “he said, she said, blah, blah, blah,” I doubt my plot and its pace. When the shite hits the fan in the BBM, I doubt my skill of showing the emotion. Multiple times throughout each story, I’m fairly certain it’s a complete and total POS and I need give up writing and climb the corporate ladder instead.

writing is hard

But then, I reach the end. I reach the end of my very rough first draft and I have about 2/3rds of a story and a good map. I reach the end of my second draft, and I have a cohesive manuscript. I reach the end of my third draft and then the critiqued draft, and I feel pretty damn good about my story and myself.

The takeaway here is, you CAN do it. It’s normal to doubt you’re ability to finish. I know authors who are writing book fifty-something and they still freak out somewhere around the mid-point of each book and swear they suck and will never be able to tell a story again. OH HAPPY DAY! Our neurosis is normal! But we have to power through the doubts and b.s. and keep writing. Even when it feels icky, even when your story jumped the tracks three chapters ago and you have no clue why the characters are discussing spoon bread, keep at it. Write or re-write, drop back and punt the plot, go for a walk and realize spoon bread is not that important. But whatever you do, DO NOT stop and NEVER give up. Quit worrying about screwing up and “tell the damn story.” (TM EMichels)


Writing Your Way

I was fairly new to writing when I made a serious mistake. I wish someone had warned me of the long fall and ravine of doubt that mistake would cause. If possible, I’d like to save new writers from this. So today, fine people, I’m telling you:

Don’t let anyone – ANYONE – tell you how you have to write.

Now, I’m not talking about all of the elements required in a story (conflict, motivation, arcs, etc.). Those are all things you need for effective story-telling. I’m talking about the actual process of putting words onto screen or paper. The act of writing.

I’ve been to workshops that suggested tips on the process. Operative words here are suggested and tips. All to help a fellow writer out. These workshops are awesome. But I’ve also been to those that insist if you don’t use a particular method, then you’re wrong. I’ve even heard, if you don’t write a certain way, then you aren’t (and I quote), a real writer.

bday cake

Today, I know enough to roll my eyes and ignore their editorial, but back then I bought it.

For me, it was planning and plotting a story. I tried to become this detailed plotter, with a ten page long plot outline and notebook full of charts, graphs, forms and character descriptions. I’m not exaggerating. And if that’s your jam and it works for you, by all means, GET IT. It did not work for me. I ended up with a notebook full of what felt like homework and no desire to write.

Some people love software programs and gadgets, others love note cards, and it works for them. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay! There are writers out there who will say you need to have a dedicated writing space and iPod full of ambient sounds in order to write well. Guess what? If you don’t have that option, and have to write sitting on the end of the sofa with Amazing World of Gumball as your background noise, then you get used to it. Some writers hit 5,000 words a day, 6 days a week. Others write less than 1,00 words, maybe 3 days a week. Both ways will get you to The End. We all write under different circumstances, with different processes and rituals. Don’t ever feel like you have to do it someone else’s way.

I suggest you go to the workshops, listen to the ideas, and cherry pick the methods that speak to you. Try them out. Occasionally, you’ll find something that opens your writing up in tremendous ways. But if what the workshop suggests makes you want to beat the wall with your keyboard, you don’t have to do it.

nope octopus

There is no ONE way. In fact, I don’t know any two writers who write the same way.

Even my fellow plotsing buddy and I differ greatly. We both start with fairly basic plots (I did realize I need to plot a little more, just not notebook length plotting), but then I Vin Diesel the hell out of my first draft. Fast. Furious. Heavy on the forward momentum and UNF, touching on the deeper themes and heavier emotions, that I’ll go back and expand upon later. My friend is a more intentional drafter, requiring a lighter second pass on her manuscript that may take a few days.

My second pass takes about three weeks.

This would drive some writers bonkers. Their way works for them, this way works for me. The ways to write are as diverse as the world around us, and diversity is awesome! So while it may take time, only you can decide the best way for you to write.


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