Plowing through Writing

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I’ve been — not exactly plowing through writing as much as shoveling through it with a teaspoon. Adding words to the too-short Kringle on Fire has been a task, but I am finally almost at the 50k point. The Kringle books run short, mostly because they have light plots and I am an economical writer. And because I can write them short as I self-publish. But shorter than 45k and they’re a novella, and I don’t want to write novellas. So I’m at the editing stage now, hoping to add 300 words to the mix.

The books that I have in my writing pile have been slow as well. I need to do some soul-searching about what I need as a writer. I don’t think it’s time to give up writing yet, but it’s time to understand why my drive to write has tanked.

One possibility is that writing is no longer a new and shiny thing. I’ve published, I’ve held a book of mine in my hands, I’ve commandeered time for writing retreats. The immediate reward is not as bright and awesome as it was. Another is that I haven’t reached as many people as I thought I would. I had a fantasy that I would have a small but devoted readership, and that hasn’t happened. A third possibility is that I have doubts about how good a writer I am because of item #2. My husband assures me I’m a talented writer, and I think I should take that to heart. Finally, I take more time promoting myself than writing. It’s necessary unless you get a lucky break, but it’s not what writers want to do.

So there are some things I have to contend with if I want to keep writing. It’s going to require more soul-searching than this. In the meantime, I write, even if I feel like I’m shoveling through a snowdrift with a teaspoon.

Almost Finished (with the first draft)

I can’t believe it! I should be finished with the first draft of Kringle on Fire today! I thought I’d never get here!

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I’ve been suffering through the worst case of writer’s block since I started writing. It started with me trying to write a steamier romance, Walk Through Green Fire, and then stalling out in the first chapters because I was getting antsy about writing sex scenes. It continued through Avatar of the Maker, which stalled out because I couldn’t figure out whether the female main character was pregnant (yes, she is, I finally decided.) Then I failed NaNo for Kringle on Fire because of my dad’s dying.

I’ll be done with Kringle on Fire today — sort of. There’s going to be a lot of editing. There’s not enough description, there’s refinement of language that needs to happen, there’s seeing if everyone is in character (but that’s one of my strong points), there’s making sure continuing characters and places from the previous book are correct. I’m thinking another month of editing ahead of me.

I have plenty of time. This book will go live in October as part of the Kringle Chronicles series. Look for it on my Kindle bookshelf,

Hurray! The Writer’s Block is Gone!

I have been struggling with writer’s block so badly that I have to push myself to write 1000 words a day, which is about half of what I write when I’m not struggling.

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But these past three days I have been writing! Up to 2000 words a day with the words flowing through my fingertips and two, maybe three, chapters gone through. Hallelujah, I might even complete this book!

The book I’m working on is the next Kringle Chronicles book, Kringle on Fire. The characters are a single mom and a firefighter, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t go the way most of those books go. I try not to write stereotyped, overly built firefighters and damsels in distress. Just like I like to include sardonic old ladies, gamers, a group of somewhat clueless frat boys, a sympathetic Karen, and the Kringle Society.

I better get back to writing.

Dreams to Goals

I’ve said in an earlier post that I make goals, not resolutions. The reason I gave was that resolutions are not actionable (I didn’t put it exactly this way, but that’s it in a nutshell.) A resolution is “I’m going to do this one vague thing”, and without a plan and the ability to revise it, it’s just a wish. A goal is the path to success.

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On the other hand, my idea of making plans instead of resolutions isn’t very aspirational. It focuses on the prosaic mind, the part of existence that Gets It Done. How does that prosaic mind know what to get done? Through manipulating dreams into goals. “I would love it if…” becomes “I will do this” and a goal is born. From “How do I make this happen?” the goal becomes the basis for a plan.

I might as well admit I have dreams. I’m superstitious about admitting them, because I’ve been ridiculed over them as a child. But without the dreams, my goals become repetitive, maintenance-based, and dull. So here are my dreams for the year:

  • I dream of being traditionally published.
  • I dream of having enough readership of my works that my name is recognized.
  • I dream of having enough readership to make it worthwhile to have a booth at Gatewaycon.
  • I dream of getting royalty payments from Amazon.

Lightning hasn’t struck me; I guess it’s okay to admit my dreams.

Taking the first dream as an example, let’s turn it into a goal:

I dream of getting traditionally published > I will submit a query to agents.

(Agents are gatekeepers to the traditional publishing process. Queries are the bundles of materials writers submit for their consideration. That bundle includes a cover letter, excerpts of the work in question, and a synopsis).

I will submit a query to agents > I develop a plan to do so; carry out the plan.

This is how the dream becomes a plan.

The one thing is that the execution of the plan doesn’t always mean success. This could be because of internal factors inside myself that need correction, problems with the plan that need fixing, or external factors that can be controlled for. And, sometimes, external factors beyond my control. The more outside factors beyond one’s control, the more likely the dream will stay at the dream stage. For example, if I dream of winning the lottery, there’s not much I can do to actually win it beyond buying one or more tickets.

New Year’s Day, I will set up goals based on these dreams and develop them into plans as I go through the year. It’s more fun dreaming them, but not as fruitful. Wish me luck.

Writing What You Don’t Know

A common piece of advice given to writers is “write what you know”, which is why there are so many books about writers. (This suggests to me that we need to get more variety in writers, because I’d like to read something with some detail about wait staff or electricians, but that’s off topic.)

handful of potatoes
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To grow, however, a writer has to write about what they don’t know. This requires research, not just assuming that you do know. For example, Nora Roberts wrote a novel where, in the prologue, a character in Ireland is cultivating potatoes a long time before potatoes arrived in the Old World, being a New World vegetable. It’s natural to assume “Ireland = Potatoes”, but Ireland didn’t have potatoes till 1589. As much as I like Nora Roberts, here’s a historian’s take on what she gets wrong in one book.

Another example was a Jayne Ann Krentz novel (forget the name) whose male protagonist owned a winery. In this case, she got the details right, but the details were so sparse that the book didn’t have to have a winemaker protagonist at all. In this book, he strolled through the winery, and there was a little detail about a room with big barrels. I, as an amateur winemaker, expected at least a bit about him checking in with his chemist and taking a sample from a barrel to check out the taste. I expected my winery owner to be involved with the winery somewhat, for the sake of romance.

The takeaway is that your reader is going to know the details if you don’t. And the inaccuracy is going to take them out of the story.

Back when I was young, I wanted to write a story based on a long dream I had while sick with a kidney infection. My problem was that it took place “in the desert” and doing the level of research I would need just to show the characters’ interaction with the desert (wherever that was) would have been immense. I didn’t have time for immense research because I was trying to finish up a PhD. So I wrote a couple character sketches and segments of scenes and put it away.

Years later, the Internet made it possible for me to do the level of research I needed to finish the book. I chose the Owyhee desert (alternate future with demise of the US makes it no longer Bureau of Land Management land) and studied the flora and fauna as well as what food animals and crops would do well there for small landholders. I could not have researched that, nor could I have researched experimental underground habitats and water recollection. The book is named Whose Hearts are Mountains, and I’m going to publish it someday.

My advice for writing what you don’t know:

  • Look up basic facts, making sure that your sources are reliable. For the sake of writing, Wikipedia is usually concise enough, and its footnotes carry more information that will be helpful.
  • Provide enough detail that your readers are satisfied. This can vary, depending on who your readers are. But assume they want at least some accurate setting and background to feel engaged with your story. In romance, setting and background are one of the ways novels distinguish themselves with their time-honored plots and tropes. In fantasy, believable setting and background help you build a consistent world.
  • Ask yourself “what are my readers going to poke holes through?” Reinforce those areas with more real information.

Right now, I’m struggling to research the logistics of small town fire departments, fighting fires, and combustion in general. Luckily I live in a small town with a volunteer fire department, but I’m having trouble coordinating with the fire chief. I’ve been reading a lot online, especially things about fire trucks, firefighting gear, uniforms, and mutual aid. I have a couple small details I still need to find out. And this is just background to make sure the firefighting feels right. But I don’t want to write the book that people say “That’s not how it works” about. So it’s time to research.

Dear Santa (from a writer)

Dear Santa,

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I’m too old to believe in you, yet I persist because of Pascal’s wager (“But what if Santa really exists? I have nothing to lose”.)

I’ve been good — within reason. I admit overindulging in coffee and sweets, often at the same time, and sometimes I get cranky. But my cats think I’m a good person, and I think my husband does. I hope that counts for something.

I have a list. It will make sense to you if I first explain: I am a writer, and to say I’m unknown is perhaps an understatement of exponential proportions. My Christmas list will reflect this. So there will be no choo-choo trains or dollies on this list.

Enough. Here is my Christmas list:

  • The secret to getting followers on social media (for someone who wants to do it themselves)
  • A readership for my novels, particularly Gaia’s Hands (which is nearer to my heart than the Kringle books, to be honest.)
  • Inspiration to write on the three partially-written books I have on this computer
  • The courage to publish another book (the one that Gaia’s Hands is the prequel for)
  • Lots of good coffee

It might be a lot to ask, but I figure I have to be honest about my situation to someone.

Love, Lauren

The Things I Love and the Things I Do Well

Sorry I haven’t written the past couple of days, but I was setting up for Missouri Hope, our big disaster training exercise. Then I was doing moulage for Missouri Hope, which means making up 185 volunteers in two-hour stretches (with two other moulage artists). Then I was recovering from Missouri Hope. It’s the most intense weekend of my year.

So, it’s Tuesday, and I have a spare few minutes to write my blog in-between grading and an online meeting that shouldn’t go too long. I have time to think. Today, I’m thinking of the things I love and the things I do well, which are not necessarily the same things.

I enjoy doing moulage, and I do it well. I know I do it well because I get a lot of compliments and attention for it. Doing moulage gives me a boost. I get high from the attention.

Trigger warning: Below is a simulation of a crushed hand:

















Back to writing:

I enjoy writing, too. I’d like to believe I do it well, but I get little feedback from publishing my writing. Few people have read my three Kringle novels, my fantasy romance novel, or my Vella serial. I’m not sure this has to do as much with my writing as the whole struggle to get the word out about my writing. I’m not good at putting myself out there because I feel insecure about my writing in a way I do not about my moulage. A vicious cycle, apparently — no praise means insecurity; insecurity means I don’t push myself forward; not pushing myself forward means no readers; no readers means no praise.

I need to find a way out of the vicious cycle, because I want to have the relationship I have with my moulage with my writing, something that I both enjoy and which feeds my need for recognition (which is a small thing, actually). I’m willing to entertain ideas …

Progress on the Work in Progress

I have been working on preparing the Christmas romance novel Kringle on Fire with Richard, and we are way ahead of our goals. We are adopting a variation of the method I use to plot a book:

  1. Use a Scrivener template (Romancing the Beat or other variants on the Save the Cat method). I do this because I want to make sure the story develops as expected by the reader.
  2. Write character sheets for each character with appreciable dialogue (Scrivener has these).
  3. Use the writing template in 1) to lay out descriptions of action at each plot point.
  4. Write the book using these plot points as guideposts.

This is the writing method known as plantsing — neither as structured as planning, nor as free-form as pantsing (aka flying by the seat of your pants). We’re planning a bit more than usual because I want to make sure that Richard has enough input into the book to justify co-authorship. (In other words, I want to work his butt off.)

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The goal: a decent plan by November 1st so that I have a foundation to write this book. And an enjoyable November listening to Christmas music and writing.

A Development I Couldn’t Have Predicted

Well, here’s a development I couldn’t have predicted — my husband is coauthoring my latest Kringle romance.

It’s an annual tradition (i.e. something I’ve done more than twice) for me to use NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to write a novel in the Kringle Chronicles, a set of light, quirky Christmas romances with the Spirit of Christmas in the forefront. You can read about this year’s in my latest posts.

Yesterday, my husband was presenting ideas for the coming novel, and I told him that if he wasn’t careful, I was going to have to give him a writing credit. He said “Ok.” After twenty minutes of interrogation, I discovered he wasn’t joking, that he wanted to co-author a romance novel with me.

If I don’t seem like the typical romance novel writer, he seems even less so. A bookish-looking guy, greying at the temples, stocky, librarian. But he wants second billing on this romance novel I’m writing.

He spent a little while this morning blocking out the first five chapters — not so much an outline as chapter synopses — and helping refine characters. He didn’t do too badly. I think this is going to work.

I’m plotting!

I’m doing more plotting on November’s Kringle book (now tentatively called Kringle on Fire) than I have done on any book up till now. This is evidence that it hasn’t truly grabbed me yet, so it concerns me. The process is usually easier than this, with my characters and plots developing organically during discussions with my husband.

There are benefits to plotting a book, especially if one uses a framework like Save the Cat! or Romancing the Beat. You can find information on these online. One can also find derivatives of Save the Cat! and Romancing the Beat as Scrivener templates. The templates have significant advantages for writers and readers. Writers use someone else’s research to develop the story in a way that makes sense and the structure takes away a big concern when editing. Future readers can find the peaks and troughs of the plot where they expect.

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Because I want to write this book for NaNoWriMo this November, and be part of a worldwide group of writers, I’m going to have to write however I can. That, in this case, means plotting.