Critique Writers

For years I have dabbled about with fellow writers. I spent years in college among fellow fiction-writer hopefuls. I’ve been to a few writer’s workshops and I have had my share partaking in a writer’s group or two. 

When I was in one of my writer’s group I stumbled onto a woman who seemed to edit the critiques line by line. After a few chapters of trying to do the same in return I just became overwhelmed and felt it sucked entirely too many hours of my time. When I sat around a table of fellow writers the critiques were a bit of a hit or miss and only occasionally helpful. Maybe it was the fact that 99% of the writer’s in the group at the time were all science fiction writers and I was probably as lost among them as they were in the middle of my manuscripts. In the end, it simply wasn’t a good fit. 

Then I spent several NANO months in April and July in what they called “cabins” among fellow writers. For two of the sessions I suggested being partnered with people my own age. This last time I thought maybe I should go with people who write in my same genre (historical fiction) and found it to be a more enjoyable experience.

At the end of July a few of us had bonded and we shared our Facebook and Twitter pages and I stumbled onto one of my fellow cabin mates Facebook page. A post she had prompted me to private message her and ask her a question. That led to a back and forth discussion and a spark about critiquing each other’s manuscripts. 

An idea was hatched. 

We instantly hit it off via emails and attaching chapter after chapter. Her critiques are always spot on. The exact parts I struggled with editing she nails as a part that needs tweaking or adjusting. She makes suggestions that I never would have thought of and yet make perfect sense to meld my story better. She makes me want to keep plugging along with this manuscript that is almost as part of me as one of my fingers. Sometimes it feels like I will never have this thing completely edited and rewritten – and yet I see light at the end of the very long tunnel at last. And I have my writing partner to thank. 

She has been blunt where I have struggled and patient as I stumbled about like a third grader trying to form readable sentences. She has lifted me up to the point that when I am finished reading her emails I am instantly motivated to tackle that chapter I just can’t seem to get right…or a POV problem I simply can’t rewrite another minute more.  

She lives in the south and I am in the pacific northwest and I have never spoken to her nor seen her in real life and yet as I am editing and rewriting I swear I can hear her voice in my head telling me to keep my POV in one person. 

I feel incredibly lucky and thankful to have found this gem of a fellow writer friend who is willing to tackle my 150k+ manuscript one chapter at a time and offer an honest and uplifting critique to the point that it gives me the one thing writer’s always seem to struggle with, at least I do: and that’s HOPE. She gives me so much hope I want to jump up and down every time I get an email critique back from her.

That Pesky Elf

My kids were already too old by the time this whole Elf on a Shelf phenomenon began. I’m not gonna lie: I’m glad this kooky trend came to be when my kids were already in at least middle school. 

My newsfeed on Facebook is inundated with the antics of this little stuffed Elf who apparently does everything else BUT sit on a shelf.

Maybe I don’t get it. What is the point of the elf again? Is he there to keep watch of the young kids and report back to Santa whether they’ve been good or bad? And the one rule is you can’t touch the elf?

For starters, the elves I’ve seen have been mighty naughty themselves. Who is reporting back to Santa on THEIR awful behavior? Leaving peppermint poop in the toilet and getting into the flour and making a fucking mess? I wonder if there is some hair-pulling-talking-back ten year-old out there who is lying in bed one night thinking, “Wait a minute….”

And why can’t kids touch the elf? Oh no, there is nothing frightening about THAT.

Is it just me or does this seem like a future psychiatrist’s dream in about twenty years? (You see doctor, my parents had this elf visit from the North Pole…)Hello little children, welcome to CrazyTown where stuffed Elves get into trouble and then sit in judgment night after night watching YOU!

I can’t even imagine keeping up with this silly elf for the entire month of December. Oh dear gawd, someone hold me. I had a hell of a time remembering to play Tooth Fairy once in a while. If I had to do this every single night I would have either a) strangled the stupid dim-witted elf a few days into December; b) failed terribly causing me to come up with some excuse why the silly elf is still knee deep in toilet papering the house or spelling out words with mini-marshmallows to find more chaos to create (or the always handy ‘the elf/tooth fairy doesn’t work on the weekends’ which was my go to); c) thrown the elf against a wall until the stuffing came out of his arse. (Mother of the Year, that’s me.)

Why do parents (moms) put themselves through MORE craziness during the holidays and the month of December? Isn’t shopping, cooking, baking, crafting, school plays, holiday photos, sending Christmas cards (after you’ve taken the perfect, everyone matches photo), entertaining relatives, wrapping, decorating the house, going to holiday parties, and visiting Santa at the mall – ENOUGH to do?

National Novel Writing Month Is Now Over…

My novel ended up being 56,244 words, much less than I had originally hoped for, but I succeeded at meeting the required 50,000 words with about two days to spare. My goal for these writing month marathons is always to finish the complete first draft of my novels in addition to the word count goal.

The novel I worked on in November, “Before I go” turned out to be 41 chapters (I took one out towards the end that seemed to be a pointless chapter once I got to it) and was inspired by a photo I spotted on Facebook that looked like a family member that died many years ago…coupled with a handful of old family folklore stories I have heard repeated many, many times.

This novel, not unlike my other first drafts, is in line with being just as awful. I saw some glimmers of hope peppered throughout but I am now ready to bench the manuscript for a little while and pick back up where I left off with my queries and (older) novel rewrites.

This is also the first December that I am still plugging forward. Normally I am exhausted (you can’t see me but I am putting the back of my hand up to my forehead and am ready to faint) after writing a complete first draft during November plus being knee deep in the holiday season – my writing has always taken a backseat during December. The problem with that, I have discovered over the years, is that by the time I get myself into full swing come January it is the end of February. So I’ve lost a good three months “recovering” from the oh-so-difficult writing of a first draft. Oh, the horrors. Poor me.

I have decided this year I don’t have the luxury of not writing for several months (not to mention how cold and out of shape it makes me) and while the first couple of days of December is hopefully not an indication of what is to come…especially with the goals I have set for an exciting and hopefully VERY productive 2015.

Here is my opening line from “Before I Go”:

The casket was sealed without embalming the man that died suddenly on his anniversary.

And there are 56,230 words left that are equally horrible…(for now.)

Paying it Forward

Maybe not a new trend but I seem to hear about it more and more lately. You stand in line for coffee and find out the dark haired lady in front of you paid for your coffee. So, you in turn pay for the nineteen year-old behind you who is waiting patiently while staring intently at his phone. And then he pays for the man in the suit behind him…and so on and so on and so on.

Until one person says, “um, thank you very much” and takes his/her free double mocha latte and walks out with their free cup of coffee, smiling all the way to work or school.

Meanwhile, everyone is staring at the person as if he/she walked in with a pro-Hitler t-shirt.

Okay, so let me first say this has never happened to me in line for coffee, probably because I am seldom in line for coffee, and to be honest I have never been the first to start the ball rolling.

But I seem to have a bit of a problem with this whole Paying it Forward thing.

Wait. Hear me out before you slam your laptop shut.

You find out your coffee or hamburger or pizza was paid for and then you are somewhat guilted into doing the same for the people behind you. But to what benefit is it, really, that you were given a free coffeeburgerpizza and then you still pay for the person behind you? Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first) but I don’t see the graciousness here at all. The only person who really benefits from that free coffeeburgerpizza is the last person who walks out amidst stares and glares and most likely achieves the complete opposite since the person will most likely not feel happy and smiley but instead feel like the biggest piece of shit. And certainly this was not the intention of the first person who started the ball rolling in the first place…

I’m not saying let’s all be self-centered assholes (there are plenty of those already) but I think it would be better to truly, un-lazily, pay it forward. Okay, so let’s say you were in line for coffee and the woman in front of you paid for it. Thank you very, very much. You smile all day. You are still happy and feeling the spirit of paying it forward when you go to the dry cleaners and decide to pay for the people behind you. Or when you are in line for your pizza dinner and you buy a pie for the family behind you. Or if you must continue down this unhealthy fast food eating (hey, it’s your life) why not buy the car behind you a bag of burgers?

That seems a better way to pay it forward.

Making Time to Write

I have to make time because this is what I do. Or at least what I tell my husband I do all day. But let’s just say the laundry doesn’t fold themselves.

Right now I am knee deep in National Novel Writing Month (NANO) – writing about three thousand words a day, on average (I did have one stellar day when I wrote six chapters and over 7k words before breakfast). So far, I’m just over 40k words with less than 10k to go before November 30th. I’m confident I’ll succeed at the NANO challenge – the first draft, on the other hand, is a special sauce kind of awful. But that’s okay too. I am actually beginning to love rewriting because then I get to see rainbows and an occasional unicorn flying overhead instead of choppy, awkward dialogue and cheesy narrative so common with a first draft.

But my novel for NANO isn’t the only thing I’m working on. I have two rewrites/edits happening on two novels, one contemporary and one historical. I have my weekly goal of sending out at least five queries so that means there are articles to write as well when I get a green light. Then I have a handful of other projects. Like, a children’s book. And a cookbook. And a couple of non-fiction books (but to be fair, I am just gathering research and information and shoving it all in the file folders until I have enough information to actually form a substantial book). I have many books in line to be rewritten/edited. I have short little pieces with pesky little deadlines that require my time. And of course there is all the research and reading that piles up fast.

A friend asked me, “Why do you have so much on your plate? Wouldn’t it better to just work on one thing?”

I think the answer to that is, “Because I’m crazy and definitely!” it would definitely be easier if I had only one thing on my plate. But here’s the thing. I thrive on the variety of projects. I look forward to touching different projects each week or day or month. I tried, believe me, to do the one project at a time technique and I struggled. After awhile I stopped working on the project altogether because it began to bore me. I just need the variety. It’s all about the spice of life, folks.

But I’m not gonna lie. There are plenty of distractions in my day. Like when my son calls me to tell me he left his ID at home and he won’t be able to get to his off campus class without it. Or when I walk by the laundry room and the laundry shoot door is so full it won’t close. Then there is morning television, or as I call it, The Kiss Of Death. Luckily, I TiVo whatever I want to watch but occasionally I’ll flip on the news to catch the weather or something and then I’m stuck listening to clever gift ideas for your friends for Christmas and a hundred ways to cook a turkey. And before I realize it, I’ve sat engrossed for forty minutes. I also have a crazy Beagle who occasionally needs to go out so much I think she is hooking up with a cute Golden Retriever near the fence and sharing a stolen bag of treats.

Sometimes I’m surprised at how much I can get done in a day despite the distractions.

Here’s what works for me.

I have a list of all my ongoing projects with detailed steps of what needs to be done before it is ready to be sent to an agent or publisher. Some projects have thirteen or more steps – anything from writing an outline, conducting interviews, editing, researching, and filing. I just break down every little step so the chance of getting overwhelmed by the enormity of a project is reduced.

Then, all projects get what I like to call a “soft deadline”. I don’t know about you but deadlines, even soft ones, seem to work for motivating me and keeping me on track and slightly less scattered. I need to see that there is something pressing. The only projects I don’t use a deadline for would be my article work. I query and if I get the green light, then I add an actual deadline (no longer soft) to my calendar.

By now all projects have a home. A nice, comfortable, warm place to put their heads at night. Be it a file folder, color coded, or a three-ring binder – or both. Sometimes I keep first drafts and my outline notes in a file folder and the research in the three-ring binder. All the projects deserve to have a home to live in – and it makes for a neater desk, easier organizing, better filing, and an overall feeling of joy and peace and goodwill towards all.

It’s important to know how many hours in a day you have to work. I’d love to say I have somewhere close to ten. I’d love to even have eight but that isn’t always the case. So, I fit in the projects in the time frame I have during the day – and use a timer when I feel pressured to finish a lot in a short amount of time. There is something about a timer that helps me stay focused.

Then, I set about working on those projects that have deadlines within this calendar year and the next. I use a weekly goal plan that I fill out every Sunday night and it helps to keep me reined in and not flopping all over my office opening one file folder after another and lost in the land of color-coded labels. It can happen, believe me.

Some days I just sit here. I am distracted by social media and finding a bread pudding recipe to use up a huge panettone I have sitting in my pantry. Sometimes I have errands to run or the car needs to go in for an oil change. Sometimes the only thoughts coming out of my head are a hodge-podge of words that form absolutely zero sentences. I get scattered more days than I prefer to admit, thankyouverymuch.

But I cannot imagine doing anything else. I miss being in the vortex of words when I’m not writing. I love being creative. I love the business part of writing too. I love it all.

18 Million Dollars

I read a post on Facebook today that asked people, “What would you do if someone handed you a check for 18 million dollars?”

The responses were ALL the same.

Give.”

“Faint, then donate.”

“Contribute to non-profits…”

“Help those that don’t have anything.”

“I would give my church 10%.”

“Tithe and live a life of charity.”

Okay, this is why I will not suddenly be handed a check for 18 million dollars without some kind of work attached to it.

It is also the reason I will not be one of those people who finds a suitcase in the bathroom with thirty thousand dollars inside and turn the suitcase in so the owner could be found.

Because, turning a suitcase I found with thirty thousand dollars inside would be hard to hand over…

So shoot me. I’m a terrible person.

But if I was given 18 million dollars the first thing I would probably do: pay off my mortgage and my kid’s student loan debt. Maybe get a second car to replace our current second car that actually has a heater that works. I would probably travel a bit too – see the world. Maybe I would hire a gardener and a housekeeper who would actually clean inside my oven and my five hundred windows. Hire a trainer that will come to my house every morning and force me to workout. Yes, yes I would donate money to charity too. I’m not totally a heartless, selfish person after all.

My point is that I find it funny that everyone on social media…with everyone watching and reading the comments and if they type it on Facebook then surely god will see they are good and honest folk…would hate to look bad and god forbid, selfish. If I went on there and posted about paying off my mortgage, traveling the world, and hiring a trainer I would be taken out to the nearest oak and slapped with a verbal whip so common on Facebook. But I bet there isn’t one person hiding sitting behind their laptops counting the thousands of ways they would spend that much money, if handed to them out of the blue, right down to a new big house, weekends in Paris, and a new Coach handbag for every season. Vainglory at its best.

To the people who claim all they would do with their money would be to give and donate to charities: I call bullshit.

There is a First Time for Everything

I thought it might be interesting to share with you the first chapter of the first book I ever wrote. It was a young adult book that takes place in the White House about the daughter of a president – a girl named Summer. The title: “Be Careful What You Wish For.”

I wrote this book for a class assignment way back in 1992 (and the dot-matrix printing is still attached, accordion style).

I am not editing it at all (although it pains me not to) and I’m typing it from the actual document. I realized something today…besides the one-dimensional detail and grammar issues…I don’t think I have read through this manuscript since I turned it in over twenty years ago.

Here goes. Chapter one:

             Summer knew that in five days her life would change forever.
            “Carrot and beet juice? For breakfast?” Summer’s mother said with disgust knowing that her only daughter hated both carrots and beets.
            “Yes mom,” Summer said as she sat down in the lavish dining room of their new home. It was going to take Summer a long time to get used to living in such an old and historical house.
            The maid walked slowly into the kitchen to retrieve the requested juice brining the concoction to Summer in a cut-crystal goblet.
            “Isn’t dad going to have breakfast with us anymore?” Summer asked as she got up from the table pushing her straight auburn hair away from her eyes.
            “Probably not. He’s already in the oval office.”
            That afternoon Summer and Ben returned home from school in a white stretch Cadillac limousine followed by two secret service men, Tony Harrison and Peter Montgomery.
            Summer sat down at her white wicker desk in her newly decorated purple room which overlooks the rose garden and pulled out her new book on angels. The book was a gift from Summer’s best friend Amanda on the day before Summer left California for Washington, DC a few months ago.
            “This just has to work.” Summer thought to herself as she flipped through the book until she landed on chapter thirteen, “how to summon your very own angel.”
            Summer is certain that an angel can help her get good grades like her older brother, Ben. She wants her parents to be proud of her like they are proud of Ben.
            “Yuk! Only four more mornings of drinking carrot and beet juice by 8am. That night, at exactly midnight, Summer needs to stand in the light of the moon for five minutes for five evenings.
            Summer stared at her bulletin board which contained tacked pictures of Amanda and her at the carnival last summer, a picture of them in Amanda’s backyard in the swimming pool, a postcard of a beautiful angel and a signed autograph of Michael Bolton that her father just recently got for her when he sang in the White House.
            At 11:50pm Summer got out of bed and walked out of her bedroom, quietly shutting the door behind her. Under her foot a floor board creaked and Summer stopped and stood still for a few seconds. She couldn’t risk anyone waking up and wondering what she was doing at this hour.
            She walked slowly to her brother’s bedroom down the hall passing portraits of past presidents, McKenna, Washington, and Adams.
            Summer turned the knob of her brother’s bedroom and walked into the large bedroom with the adjacent balcony.
            She passed his queen sized bed with a dark blue bedspread thrown on the floor and a chair that had a stack of folded clothes on it.
            The French doors linking his room to the balcony were slightly ajar. Ben liked to be cold, Summer thought. She passed his pine dresser and a glass-top executive desk they had shipped from California and tripped over a trigonometry book lying on the tan carpet.
            Ben rolled over with his face facing Summer as she stood still waiting for him to settle back to sleep before proceeding through the French doors. Once outside, she glanced at her watch which showed both hands straight up. Midnight.
           After five minutes she went back to her bedroom to wait. 

I have an apparent liking to the adverb ‘slowly’ (sorry, Stephen King) because I use it a lot, still do, and have to change it all the time (I mean, really, how often can people do things ‘slowly’?). Also, I realize there is no president by the name of McKenna. I believe, if I remember correctly, I wanted to use McKinley but my instructor advised me against it stating that the family of President McKinley may not appreciate nor like me using him in my story. And since the story takes place in the fictional White House in present times you can only guess where the story goes…