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Happy Friday, everyone! How are you doing this week? Anything planned for the weekend?

I’m slowly getting back into a regular writing and blogging routine–and I’ve really missed it. My day job kept my life pretty stressful and chaotic for a while, but I also know it was an utter lack of motivation at the end of the day that contributed. I HAD time, I just chose to be lazy with it, because I was so mentally and emotionally drained from everything else going on. Things are a bit less hectic now, but I know if I want to use the precious free time I have wisely, I’m going to have to make myself do it. My life is not going to go back to the way it was before, at least not for the foreseeable future.

Is it any wonder we escape into fantasy worlds?

Last night I attended the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, which honor works that explore themes of racism and diversity. I went with a friend (the woman who is the subject of the top blog post on that page) and it was such a great experience! It was really interesting listening to the award winners talk about their books and read passages from them. I met Shane McCrae and got an autographed copy of his book of poem and prose In the Language of My Captor. I’m eager to start reading it!

On my personal writing front, I’m awaiting edits on my current in-production book (with tentative, possibly-to-change release in November) and writing the sequel to it. I’m going to do something with my upcoming book that I haven’t done before and see how it turns out–and of course, I’ll make sure I share the experience on here so you guys can learn more. I’m going to use a PR service to promote it. I struggle with self-promotion beyond the obvious outlets (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) and I want to find out if it’s worth the money to hire someone else to promote it. If not, well–lesson learned. However, I feel like I can reach a wider audience (and of course, spend a lot less personal time doing so) than I can by myself. I’ll be sure to blog about the results after. Have any of you used a PR service to promote a book?

Everyone have a great weekend!

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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Finding Your Way By the Stars, or With a Map?

First, I want to apologize for missing the hop last month–life and work have been stressful and chaotic. I’m hoping to get back on a regular blogging (and writing) schedule at long last, now that work isn’t so rough. We all go through tough times as writers, don’t we? Times that try us and tear us away from our creativity. I think the important thing is to not give up and hope for the best. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, anyway!

Today, I’m going to talk about outlining, or, in my case ‘loose outlining.’ You’ve probably heard the terms “plotter” and “pantser” in reference to writers. If not, a “plotter” is the type of writer who works out the story before writing it–whether it be in notes, an outline, or by creating a structure for the story in some other way before actually getting down to business. A “pantser” is a writer who just dives in and makes up the story as they go along, aka they’re writing by the seat of their pants. Both camps tend to have their own way of doing things and often view the other as some kind of aliens. I know I did for a long time! 😀

Here’s the thing: for most of my writing life, I was a pantser. It was just how my brain worked. I would come up with ideas, and have some kind of vague direction I was going, but I just got in the water and swam, and let the current take me where it would. This probably wasn’t a good idea when I FIRST started writing, as you can tell a lot of my early stuff suffers badly from ‘wandering writer’ syndrome. But over time I perfected it and got better and better at just following the story–and making it follow me, which was more important. You wouldn’t catch me writing no outline, no sir! I liked my freedom! I liked my open, creative flow. Down with plotting!

Then…something happened, and I can’t even tell you when or how. I started writing down notes, and then before you knew it, I started plotting out the whole story beforehand. Something I swore I’d never do. I always thought working like that would stifle my creativity, but instead it gave me a framework to play on, and most importantly, it helped me keep the story on the right path as I navigated from beginning to end. I knew what I was aiming toward and that actually HELPED my creativity. When I knew what was coming, I could plant the seeds of it way beforehand, which made the story richer.

Now, I’m definitely not a super-ridgid, detailed outliner type. My ‘outlines’ tend to be one to one and a half pages of general plotting from the start to finish. There’s still a lot of gaps and places to fill stuff in. I don’t and probably can’t plot out detailed scenes ahead of time, but I can make a summary of the story, kind of like a synopsis, and that gives me something to work with. Still, for this old pantser, that’s quite a leap into different territory!

Do you think you can teach an old writer new tricks? Have you ever changed something about your writing style? And are you plotter or panster? Could you be the opposite?

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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Life Isn’t Easy

This month for the blog hop, I thought I’d tackle something I’m going through at the moment: real life getting in the way of writing. Unless you’re a professional writer (meaning you make most or all of your income through writing) you’ve probably had the “day job” block your creative flow. Most writers, I think, have dealt with the trials of life bludgeoning them in their writing kneecaps: a job, kids, family issues, illness, tragedies, stress, and all those other nasty curveballs life likes to throw at us to knock us off our feet. By the time we get a moment to write we’re too physically and/or mentally exhausted to make the words come. What we’re slogging through not only makes us tired, it makes our brains sluggish as well.

My job has been difficult for the past month or so and it’s draining my resources. The good news is this will end eventually, but not until sometime in June. Until then, my focus will continue to be off, I’ll continue to resent that I don’t have enough time/mental capacity to write, and I’ll continue to be bitter, feeding into this awful angry, non-creative cycle I’m stuck in right now. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s not.

I’ve decided to try to come up with a game plan to make this, if at least not better, then more tolerable–and maybe, if you’re stuck in the mud too as real life continues to dump more dirt on your head, you can use it as a shovel. I’ve come up with a few ideas that might help me wedge writing in around all the chaos:

  • Schedule time. I’m not a scheduler, so this is hard for me. I tend to write when I write, and I don’t really like to make a rigid structure out of it. If you do, you’re already ahead of me on this one! If I know I’m going to have a stretch of downtime where I don’t have to focus on anything else, I can pencil my writing in there. Will I want to write when I get to that time? I might not, but they say the best way out of a rut is to do things anyway, even if you grumble and groan, and eventually they get easier. Just like exercise–it hurts at first and you feel resistance, but eventually your muscles get stronger and the workout easier.
  • Break the writing down into smaller chunks. This is also hard for me, because when I write I tend to write a lot, but I don’t have the time or energy for that right now. If I promise myself I’ll do smaller portions, eventually those will all add up to something big, even if it’s not as fast as I’m used to. And that’s okay! I need to give myself reasonable assignments and goals during this tough time. I can write only 1,000 words or edit one chapter and still feel accomplished.
  • Be consistent. This is a hard thing to maintain when life is a whirlwind, but consistency also makes the wind feel less like it’s trying to knock you over. When I tell myself “I’m going to do X and Y on these days, and I’m not going to waver from that,” it helps things feel a little more stable. Hopefully, this will also give me small things to look forward to. Routine is comforting, especially when the rest of your life is out of whack.
  • Stick to one project. If you’re like me, I always have several writing projects going on at once. That’s just how I am. If you don’t do the same thing this bullet point won’t help you and I envy your dedication! I definitely like to juggle several balls at once, but right now that’s making me not do ANYTHING because it all feels so complicated and overwhelming on top the other difficulties in my life. During this time I’m going to try to focus on one thing only and get it done, bit by bit. At least then I won’t just lay around crying about how I’m not getting anything done.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. This is the most important task for me, and one I really, really need to take to heart. Is the world going to end if I don’t get another book written by the end of summer? Of course not. Is everyone I know going to hate me and refuse to ever speak to me again if I don’t stick with my writing right now? Why on earth would they! Are the writing police gonna show up at my house and arrest me if I don’t get some writing done every day? The writing police don’t even exist! Or do they…

I’m trying to be easier on myself right now, as well as trying to get my brain to shut up about how I’m being lazy and not taking care of my muses. Wish me luck!

How do you deal with life when it gets in the way of your writing? Any tips or tricks?

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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Inside, Not Outside

If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve probably heard the phrase “show, don’t tell” about a thousand times. This generally means instead of telling us that a character did something, you should show them completing the action. It provides more impact and makes for better reading. There’s different ways to “show,” however, that you might not have thought about before. One of the best things I ever learned from an editor is how to avoid filtering. Learning this lesson literally changed how I write.

What is filtering? Filtering is telling how a character feels, thinks, reacts, and perceives the world instead of showing it. Say you have a character named Joe. Filtering is telling us that “Joe thought,” “Joe wondered,” “Joe saw,” and “Joe heard.” If Joe is your POV character, we need to get deeper into his perspective. You should show us what’s going on in Joe’s head instead of explaining it. Here are some examples:

  • Instead of “Joe saw a dog on the street.”
  • Try “As Joe walked down the street, a brown and white dog loped past him.”

You don’t need to explain to us that Joe saw the dog. The fact that the dog is being described lets us know that Joe saw it–after all, we’re in his head.

  • Instead of “Joe heard music playing.”
  • Try “A soft melody came from the other room. Joe smiled. It was a familiar tune.”

Especially when it comes to things that involve the senses, it’s better to describe the thing that activates the sense rather than just saying the sense was activated. This puts us more in the moment, experiencing it along with the character.

This works with more abstract things like thinking and knowing as well.

  • Instead of “Joe knew something bad was about to happen.”
  • Try “A cold chill rushed down Joe’s spine. His skin prickled. Something wasn’t right here.”

We feel what Joe is feeling when the author describes what’s happening to him, instead of just telling us he senses that something is wrong. We all know what it’s like to be afraid, sick, happy, jealous, glad, and a million other emotions…and the storytelling is much stronger when the author evokes these emotions in the reader rather than telling us about them. It also helps us connect more with the character, not just because the character seems more real, but because how the character reacts tells us a lot about their personality.

A good way to eliminate this sort of filtering is to do a sweep of your manuscript and search for sensory words like felt, heard, saw, tasted, and smelled. Also look for words like knew, thought, and sensed. Of course, not every single use of these sorts of words will be wrong. No writing rule is without exceptions. There may be times where it’s very much appropriate to use filtering. But as a general rule, eliminating filtering makes a story more immediate and provoking. It’s very much a way of showing instead of telling.

Getting rid of filtering was one of the best things I ever learned to do. It made my writing a lot tighter and more like a “story.” What’s a good rule you learned that changed your writing?

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Where do you write? Do you have a “writing desk,” and if so, what does it look like?

I always enjoy cool articles like this, that show off the work spaces and writing desks of famous authors. I like to see where the magic happens, but also, I like seeing that they’re often just like me–they want comfort, they can be just as disorganized and cluttered as I am, and above all, the most important trait of creativity isn’t where you write, but the fact you show up to get it done at all.

Then of course, there’s Danielle Steel’s desk, and don’t we all hope to achieve this level of self-satisfaction in our careers someday?

The space where a writer writes varies by the writer (say that ten times fast). Some writers want a lot of space to spread out–room for their notes, research, coffee, and a place for the cat to sit, of course. Other writers don’t need a lot of space, as they keep the experience of writing minimal. Some writers want a window to look out of and let the air in, while others find scenery too distracting. Some want a nice cozy corner and some want a big, airy room. Some writers need silence so they can concentrate, with no one around, and some writers thrive on background noise and company while they write.

Of course, other things limit a writer’s space. Some of us don’t have the room in our house to carve out a space just for writing, and we don’t have the money to move to a bigger place, or buy a fancy (or even plain) desk. Some of us have physical limitations that don’t let us sit on certain kinds of furniture for too long, or hunch over a keyboard for extended periods of time. Some writers struggle to find the space and time in the normal world, let alone have a singular, holy space where it all gets done regularly.

As for myself, I have a confession–only during one period in my life did I have a dedicated space to write. When I was younger, and first married, there was a nook in our bedroom (I think it was meant to be a vanity) where I set up my writing space. It was nice, and cute, but rather small. However, there was space for my word processor and it had a drawer and it made me happy. Other than that (we only lived there about a year) I’ve always just wrote wherever the computer happens to be. Especially later on, when I got a laptop, that could be anywhere.

Nowadays, I simply sit on the couch in the living room and put my laptop on my lap (I have a lap desk for it) and write. I have a nice view out the balcony doors. I keep my needed items like notebooks and my planner on the second level of my three-tier coffee table. Sometimes when I’m really lazy, I just prop myself up in bed and write there. However, this arrangement works for me because of my lifestyle. I have no small children, and I’m divorced. My adult son and I are roommates and we work opposite shifts, so the apartment is quiet and nothing distracts me no matter where I am. Except, of course, when my cat decides I’ve been paying way too much attention to the keyboard and my fingers would be put to better use petting her. I’ve always been a “write anywhere” sort of writer, though. I actually put more focus on the writing software and computer I use (I like ease and simplicity, and I’m a bit of a tech head) than where I use it.

I could, I suppose, set up a desk in my bedroom, and I’ve given it fleeting thoughts, but why bother when the couch is so comfy?

Where do you write? If you have a picture of your writing space to share in the comments, please do! I always like to see where writers get it done.