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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Time Management For Left And Right Brained People

It's hard to believe that we're to the end of January.  This will mark my last day as hostess of the blog, my month is up and tomorrow Diane Gaston takes over, and I know she'll be great!

I kicked off this month with a quiz on whether you are left brained or right brained thinker.  To view that post (and take the quiz) go here.  So, since I started this month off with a quiz, I thought I'd end it with one, too.  How Stressed Are You - Check it out:

Your Stress Level is: 47%

You are somewhat prone to stress, especially when life gets hard.
When things are good, you resist stressing over little problems.
But when things are difficult, you tend to freak out and find it hard to calm down.
How Stressed Are You?

For me, the number one reason why I'm stressed is because I'm not managing my time well.  I procrastinate.  

Battling Procrastination For Left Brained People: 
  • This all goes back to the goal setting you did at the beginning of this month.  Prioritize your "To Do" List.
  • Make an analysis of how much time you're wasting.  Sometimes seeing this in black and white can really get  you jump started.
  • Determine why you're procrastinating.  This may be more difficult for you, but there is an underlying reason why you're putting something off.  Maybe it's unpleasant, or maybe you don't think you have the skills to do it - once you know the reason, you're half way to wrestling that problem to the ground.

Battling Procrastination For Right Brained People:
  • You have to determine why you're putting something off.  This might be easier for you than for your left-brained friend, but if the answer isn't coming right to you, use a journal. Write first thing in the morning, or right before you go to bed - often the answer lies right there.
  •  You are easily distracted, I know, I suffer from it, too.  So, just remind yourself, you don't have to play that second round of farm hustle or solitaire on your computer before you open your WIP.  You can write 3 paragraphs before you get a cup of coffee.  Your e-mail can wait.
For both - ask a friend to check up on you - that's what critique partners are for.  Invest in a timer, and don't stop writing until it sounds.  And don't be afraid to set it for only five minutes.  Five minutes of true writing might be a lot more than you're giving yourself now.

Make A Schedule

LB - Get a planner, dayrunner, etc. and plan out your day, week and even your month.

RB - Okay, shhh - we don't want the left brainers to hear this.  You and I both know there is no way to manage time.  Time is just...time.  Breaking up time into seconds, days, weeks, months...pretty left brained if you ask me.  Instead of thinking in blocks of time, when you sit down, think in what you want to have accomplished at the end.

Now because we live in a somewhat structured world, you have to get a planner, too.  BUT write with gel pens and decorate the cover.  Also, keep your schedule flexible - it won't seem as much like a schedule to you then.  

Both - Use the calendar feature on your computer.  I have a mac, and my left brained husband has been telling me for years to use the feature.  Now he's set it up so that it gives me reminders almost every day.  My Thursday reminder is to backup the hard drive.  I don't know what it is, but getting a little pop up screen or an e-mail notice (like what yahoo does) isn't nearly as difficult for me as keeping that scheduler going.

Ask Yourself The Tough Questions

LB - Ask yourself, is what I'm doing now going to help me complete my goal?  Are the things that I'm doing to fill my time really important.  If not - cut them out!

RB - Remember the "Not-To-Do" list from the goal setting post?  You can do less.  Really, you can.  

Slow Down

This is something that both the left brain and right brain people need to keep in mind.  Our society has gotten so fast, BUT we don't always have to hurry all the time.  (Although a lot of my hurrying is caused by my poor time management skills).  One of my good friends Rhonda said this song and video reminded her of me.  See if it reminds you of you  

LB - Schedule downtime. 
RB - Plan your time around your body.  When does your body say it's time to eat?  If it's 11:15 - then eat lunch then.  Not noon if your job allows.

Do It Now
I read this once in a time management magazine article, but it suggested that for one day you use those little adhesive dots and put them on any piece of paper that you handle.  You do this every time.  At the end of the day, see how many times you handle a piece of paper, mail whatever.  I had one piece of paper that could literally have 7 dots on it.  That's ridiculous.

When something comes to mind, comes into your hand - do whatever it takes to take care of it RIGHT then. 

Good luck with your goals, your time-management and your writing!  

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

**Most of these time mgt/stress/goal setting skills came when I was teaching freshmen and read the book Becoming A Master Student (1997) by Dave Ellis.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Our Favorite Quotes

Today, the Noodlers are sharing some of their favorite motivational quotes.  The ones we have tacked onto our computer or glance at when we're gearing up to write.

Author of Bound To Love Her, Esri Rose likes:

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. ~James Michener

Stitched into a needlepoint pillow given to Diane Gaston by Regency author Mary Blayney, when faced with rejection after rejection before selling, the author of The Vanishing Viscountess, shares:

Never never never give up ~ Winston Churchill

Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills, and author of the upcoming A Firefighter In The Family enjoys:

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. ~ Henry Ford

The Rules of Gentility author, Janet Mullany, shares:

Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money. ~ Moliere

Just do it. ~ Nike

Maureen Hardegree, author in the anthology At Home In Mossy Creek, has stenciled on her wall:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. ~Henry David Thoreau

Theresa Ragan has two quotes she likes:

Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results. ~ Anon

What we think, we become. ~ Buddha

MJ Fredrick, author of the upcoming book, Where There's Smoke enjoys:

I write because I want more than one life. ~ Anne Tyler

Four Little Blessing author Merillee Whren gives us this wonderful quote from Erma Bombeck:

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.'"

And I'll (Jill Monroe author of Primal Instincts) will finish this message off with one of my favorite quotes for when I get stuck or blocked:

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. ~ Albert Einstein

Hope you enjoyed those.  Share a favorite of yours in the comment section!


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jump-start Your Writing: How Workshops Can Motivate

I recently took my car in to have the oil changed and have the 25,000-mile check. Having regular service on your car can make it run better and last longer. It can also help prevent future problems. Now maybe you're wondering why I'm talking about servicing automobiles on a blog that is supposed to be about writing.

Sometimes a writer needs maintenance, too. How can a writer maintain the ability to get started on a new project? We've had a lot of good advice so far this month about getting started, and one way can be through workshops or conferences. How many of you have gone to a workshop or conference and come away ready to write? The workshop has put your motivation in high gear. That's what I want to talk about today.

Workshops of all sorts are available on line or in person. Conferences can have a variety of workshops on different subjects, or you may prefer a one-day workshop that covers one topic in depth. Either way the opportunity to gain information about writing and to interact with other writers can boost your desire to dig in and get started on the story that's been burning in your head. Not only do workshops motivate, they can also give you the tools you need to make that motivation work for you.

Whether it is a conference that lasts several days and has multiple workshops or a one-day workshop that exhausts one subject, you may feel overwhelmed with the information. Just this past weekend, I attended a Donald Maass workshop. I came away with pages and pages of notes and some actual passages that I plugged into my current proposal as soon as I got home. But immediately after the workshop, a writer friend who had attended the workshop with me asked me what was the most important thing I had learned. As I hesitated to come up with an answer, she mentioned that she always went into a workshop or conference with the goal of taking away one thing that would help her writing. That way she didn't feel overloaded with information. I thought that was a good way to approach workshops. Make it your goal to come away with one piece of advice that will make your writing rise to a new level.

Just as cars need maintenance, so do writers. Do your writing life a favor and rejuvenate it by attending a conference or workshop.

Below I've listed the dates, locations, and Web sites for more information on some upcoming opportunities to give your writing a jump start.

One-day Writers' Workshop with Bob Mayer
February 9, 2008
Hilton Atlanta Northeast, Atlanta, Georgia

Written in the Stars 2008
Clarion Hotel, Shreveport, LA
March 1, 2008

Empowering Characters' Emotions
Comfort Inn & Suites Airport, Syracuse, NY
March 28-29, 2008

Southern Lights
Jacksonville Marriott, Jacksonville, FL
March 28-29, 2008

Dreamin' in Dallas
Southfork Hotel, Plano, TX
April 4-5, 2008

Let Your Imagination Take Flight
Crowne Plaza, Natick, MA
April 11-12, 2008

Silken Sands
Hampton Inn Beach Resort, Pensacola Beach, FL
April 11-13, 2008

Chicago North Spring Fling
Hyatt, Deerfield, IL
April 25-26, 2008

Romance--Bridging the World
RWA's 28th Annual National Conference
San Francisco, CA
July 30-August 2, 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008

Procrastination, the Great Motivator

I woke up very early this morning conscious of that odd peach-colored glow in the sky that tells of snow on the ground. Snow is not all that common here, so it still brings both delight and frustration.

We are prepared for storms. Even heavy ones. All the cars have snow tires. Grandson is properly trained in driving on ice and snow even though he grew up in Southern Arizona. There's extra wood and lanterns in the garage, and a cook stove. Even some bottled water, although we're not likely to ever need that, even though we're in earthquake country.

We sound like we're an organized family. Unfortunately, the reason we're so prepared has much more to do with the nasty wind storms in December when it was predicted we would lose power, possibly for several days. The wind was already blowing when we hastened to buy wood and extra flashlights. But that storm turned out to be very light here, compared to the devastation it wreaked not so far away. And all that stuff we have at the ready is left over from the storm that didn't really happen. Back then I laughed at my husband who complained he'd done all that running around for nothing. Today he's saying if anything happens we're prepared.

And the reason I'm just now writing this blog is that I was up very late late night trying to finish some tasks that are long overdue. And admittedly, I knew what I planned to say, but after all, what fun would it be to write an article about procrastination ahead of time?

Today is like yesterday. I have a list of tasks that absolutely must be done today. Every one of them is something I had hoped to get done sooner, but didn't. Somehow, even if I have to work late into the night, they will all get done. Except for the ones that maybe can wait till tomorrow.

We writers talk about being deadline-motivated. Procrastination is often the same thing. We know there's something about that pressure that can force performance on the brain cells when otherwise they keep telling us they only want to do Sudoku, scrub toilets or play in the snow. Unfortunately the other part of procrastination is that, being so easy to do, more stuff gets put off than gets done, because we all have too much to do anyway. So pretty soon we have such a mountain of things to do that we know we can't climb it. And the danger is, by then it will look so overwhelming, we won't even try.

I seem to work best that way, though. I think it comes from years and years of having to work that way when I was a social worker. There were some things that could be scheduled, but our job was all about crisis. No matter how we prepared, crisis could constantly throw kinks in our schedules. There were many times when our unit was down two or three workers and a hiring freeze, and we had no choice but to take on the extra load. We quickly got to the place where we did what had to be done and everything else got put off till tomorrow, which for some magical reason was supposed to be better. Then when better finally arrived, someone else would quit, or that stat would issue a proclamation that court reports were now to be fourteen pages long instead of eight, and this change would result in better protection of children. There never was any catching up, and case loads just kept getting bigger until they were ten times the size of the recommended case load. That was when I decided it was my turn to quit. But the habits lingered.

The truth is, sometimes that's the only way things can get done. I've been burning this double-ended candle for the last year, and if I really give myself proper credit I have to admit I have accomplished a lot. Not everything I wanted to get done, true, but I suspect my To Do list was always too long. Every day there is always a stack of things that get shifted to the next day. Some of them, it's too late, but usually those are the things least needed. But I almost always make my major deadlines. Some things even get done early, but that's usually because they're more fun, or occasionally because I just want them out of my way.

The downside of this is guilt-motivation. Heart beats wildly with the fear of failing a deadline. Self-esteem suffers under the burden of blaming. And usually this guilt tells me I goofed off all day and didn't live up to any of my obligations. Very uncomfortable. In reality, I did do some goofing off. But not all day. I used to call that taking breaks. Part of the procrastination syndrome seems to be keeping the load of guilt built up high enough to be just plain mean to oneself. To do this, one must actively negate accomplishments while pointing out everything that didn't get done.

I have decided that since I am deadline-motivated, and this works for me most of the time, then it must be good. I need to recognize it for how it works, but take out the bad parts.

So I have learned to divide my to-do list in two columns. The left side is the deadline list. Today's Must Do's. The right side is a list of things coming up that need to get done, but not necessarily today. While I'm working on those Must Do's, I try to pick up a few from the Coming Up list, and surprisingly I actually do get some of those done too. I can allow myself to be deadline-motivated about the things that must be done, but not brow-beat myself about the others that don't have the same urgency. And I can go back over my list at the end of the day and see me major accomplishment actually did get accomplished.

Right now it's hard to be positive about this approach because there's no way I have enough hours to get done even what must be done. Other writers will appreciate this dilemma because they go through it too. The things I had to put off till I had more time have gotten tangled with the things my editor had to put off till she had more time. So now, instead of the time I had allotted for edits last fall (which got filled because I got tangled into coordinating contests and other such things) I'm doing edits on two manuscripts while coordinating contests and preparing promotion for a release coming VERY soon. I should have used my time more wisely last fall.

But if I just take the time to view the situation realistically, I can see this is just the way it was going to be, no matter how well I handled things last fall. Some things, like edits, simply can't be done ahead of time. You don't get them until you get them. And in reality, I do use my time pretty well. It's just that all minutes are last minutes.

So maybe I should just dump it all and go play in the snow. It looks lovely. Fortunately for my procrastination planning, though, I'm not all that fond of being cold. Snow is for looking at and for reminding me how happy I am to be inside slaving away at the last minute. I'm a writer. That's the way things go with writers. Fear of missing deadlines heats up the brain cells better than any other writing method.

Pathetic, isn't it?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse Blog:

This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse Blog:

Monday, January 28th, Delle Jacobs “Procrastination the Great Motivator”

Tuesday, January 29th, Merrillee Whren "Jumpstart Your Writing: How Workshops Can Motivate"

Wednesday, January 30th, Noodlers Share Their Favorite Inspirational Quotes

Thursday, January 31st, Jill Monroe “Time Management Skills for Left/Right Brainers”

Friday, February 1st, February New Releases from Noodlers and Q&A. Ask Anything About Getting Started that You’d Like Answered.

Join us throughout February for blogs focusing on character development!

Friday, January 25, 2008

New Noodler Books Hitting The Shelves!

February is the month for romance, so it's only fitting we have some Noodler releases.

Out February 1st is Merrillee Whren's Four Little Blessings and my own book, Primal Instincts. But that's not all! On February 5th, Colleen Gleason's book, The Bleeding Dusk: The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, will be in stores!
Four Little Blessings by Merrillee Whren

The four little noisemakers who'd moved next door to Wade Dalton came with a bonus: their beautiful aunt. Raising the children herself due to some tough circumstances, Cassie Rankin impressed Wade with her selflessness and her beauty. But she was also at least a dozen years his junior--she was too young for him, wasn't she? Besides, Wade came with a secret that would only make life harder for Cassie and the children he'd come to adore, which meant keeping his distance. Something those four little blessings weren't about to let him do!

Primal Instincts by Jill Monroe

4.5 stars/Top Pick from Romantic Times!
"Sizzling-hot sex, compelling characters, humor and a dual plot make Primal Instincts (4.5), by Jill Monroe, a book you can't put down.

Who are they to argue with biology?

Subject A, photojournalist Ian Cole, is sent to ghostwrite a book on sex in various cultures. Instead of finding a white-haired professor, he is greeted by Subject B, anthropologist Ava Simms, wearing only a teeny loincloth and body paint….


Sexual energy between subjects increases exponentially. Note the male's quickened breathing and barely restrained urge to do lusty and inappropriate things.

The female, in turn, decides to demonstrate her extensive knowledge of seduction, play and ritual…claiming it's "research." The results? Neither Subject A nor B want the study to end….

The Bleeding Dusk: The Gardella Vampire Chronicles by Colleen Gleason

4.5 stars/Top Pick from Romantic Times!
"The sophistication and intelligence of [Gleason's] story-telling is evident on each page of the Gardella Vampire Chronicles."-- Romantic Times

The undead of Rome are racing to unravel an ancient mystery – and only one woman can stop them...

As Rome prepares for its Carnivale, the new leader of the city's vampire hunters – Lady Victoria Gardella Grantworth de Lacy – must prove herself as never before. For, to gain access to the secrets of a legendary alchemist, Rome's vampires have allied themselves with creatures as evil and bloodthirsty as they are.

Reluctantly, Victoria must turn to the enigmatic Sebastian Vioget for help, just as Maximilian Pesaro arrives to assist his fellow slayers – no matter what the sacrifice. Desire puts her at the mercy of Sebastian, while loyalty binds her to Max, but can she trust either man? Especially when a seductive vampire begins luring her into the shadows...

Tell us what you plan to read this weekend!

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Start Writing: One word, one sentence, one book!

Whether you research before, in the middle, or after you write your book, whether you’re a plotter or a pantster, whether you work full-time or part-time, have two kids or five, no matter what your situation, you can’t write a book unless you grab a pen and paper and/or sit down in front of your computer and write.

This may sound silly, but for me, that’s the hardest part of writing a book: sitting down and writing. On some days I can think of a million things I’d rather do than sit at my computer. Suddenly, washing clothes and scrubbing dishes doesn’t sound so bad. But what I’ve learned over the years is that if I want to achieve my goals and dreams, I need to sit in that chair and write whenever possible. I’ve also learned that I have the most difficult time getting to the computer when I’m stuck…in other words, when the words aren’t flowing or the scene I’m writing isn’t working for me.

Sometimes I need to coax myself to the computer by giving myself permission to write just one word and then one sentence. Usually one sentence is enough to get me to finish a paragraph. After that, if I can turn off the internal editor and let the words flow, I can usually finish my five-page goal for the day within a few hours. Thinking about writing in manageable chunks can take the pressure off. Try it sometime. If you only have a thirty minute lunch break or twenty minutes before a child’s soccer game, give yourself permission to write one sentence. Who cares if it’s a bad sentence, because maybe that sentence will turn into a paragraph, or better yet, an entire page! It’s amazing what can be accomplished in fifteen minutes if you give yourself permission to write without that internal editor screaming in your ear. Next time you find yourself avoiding “the chair” tell yourself that you only have to write one sentence and see what happens.

Some writers don’t need any help at all getting to the computer. If that’s you then I’m jealous! And don’t get me wrong…I LOVE to write. It’s my passion, writing makes me feel whole, and yet sometimes I still struggle with getting started. Some writers set a timer to get going, some writers bribe themselves with chocolate or shopping sprees, some writers go straight from bed to the computer and don’t move until their pages are done for the day.

What do you do to get yourself to the computer? Do you have a daily ritual, or do you write at different times and different places each day? Are some days more difficult than others, or is it just me?


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Using Your Resources Wisely To Get Started

Okay, I had a Girl Scout meeting yesterday, and the Using Resources Wisely is part of the GS Law (Girl Guides for my friends outside the US). Today I'll be talking about the resources for getting your story started, but at the end of the blog entry...a little something about using all those resources wisely. By the way, I'll give away a book from my backlist - details at the bottom of the post.

I was asked the other day how I began a new story. Since the first time my fingers hit the keyboard to now (some 10 books later) my stories have always started in my head as a scene with dialogue. From there, I write the first chapter or so, then move onto a loose synopsis.

I do not fill out character sheets, do hero and heroine interviews or do long plot diagrams timelines and such. Does this sometimes get me in trouble - yes. But I find out who my characters are as I write, and so I keep a word doc at all times next to my wip at all times where I jot down notes such as - Ian's eyes are brown. Ava never spent any time in the US...that kind of stuff.

Do I think the character sheets/interviews/plot diagrams are important? Yes. When I first began writing, I used absolutely every one of those kinds of things that I could find. I'd buy them, go to RWA meetings and get them as handouts and attend workshops. As someone who could very easily be a professional student...these things were like gold to me. I don't use them now...but for the most part, I think that is because I took what worked for me, made it my own and internalized it.

That is your challenge now. Find out what works for you and make it your own (you don't have to internalize it - that's my right brain thinking telling me I don't NOT to use all those worksheets and things to keep me saner). If you missed the right-brain/left-brain discussion - you can click here.

So, there are a lot of resources out there. I'm going to list some of the ones I found invaluable, and please join me by listing your resources in the comment section - I'd love to see what everyone uses!

It's been mentioned before, but I think this book is so very, very good, I can't NOT mention it again - Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Deb Dixon. Hang around a bunch of romance writers long enough, and you'll hear GMC mentioned a dozen times. I find it in contest judging sheets and I've even found myself wondering what a person's GMC was when they go off and do something completely bizarre!

Two more books that I think really complete a writer's how-to bookshelf are both written by Jack Bickham. Scene and Sequel and 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes: (And How To Avoid Them). Honestly, if you could make a check-list of the 38 and review your manuscript next to each one - that's half the battle right there.

To get your ideas generated try The Writer's Brainstorming Kit by Pam McCutcheon and Michael Waite. Pam also has a lot of free writing tips on her website which you can access here.

The last book I'd like to recommend is on characterization and specifically - archetypes. The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines 16 Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders has all you'll ever need on the subject.

Okay, so on to worksheets. For plotting, the first system I used was by romance author Carolyn Green (some call her the Plot Doctor). There's also Discovering Story Magic by two romance authors Laura Baker and Robin Perini - they give a great workshop you can usually catch at conferences. Another intensive workshop you might want to look into is Break Into Fiction with Mary Buckham and our own Noodler Dianna Love Snell (there are a lot of great, free articles on that website, too!).

Speaking of free - there are tons of free resources out there. A quick google search is all you need, but some favorites of mine are Leigh Michaels' Characterization Worksheets, which you can find here. Leigh also has extensive worksheets on plotting.

Many, many authors have articles on their websites. (Often they're asked to write articles for their local chapter newsletters.) Look up a favorite author's website and see what they have. Two favorites of mine are Virginia Kantra and Stephanie Bond. Plus, if you're already a member of Romance Writers of America you have at the click of a mouse a whole host of articles in the Member Only section. Check out the Pro Career Booklets and Keys to Success.

Okay, so now I'm back to using your resources wisely. There is too much help. There is too much information. There is no magic bullet out there. There is not one tip, one piece of advice one anything that will automatically get you published. Sometimes we spend all our time (and when I say we I mean a great big I as in Jill) looking for the next great bit of information that will suddenly make writing easy.

There won't be. Easier, but not easy. Okay, when they have the device that takes the ideas directly out of my head and puts them on paper in an understandable fashion - then it will be easy. But until then...use your resources wisely.

Don't let your resource gathering take time away from your actual writing.

1. Think about your own weaknesses as a writer. Is it plotting? Is it characterization? Match the resources out there with what you'd like to focus on.

2. Determine how much money you want to spend on books. If your budget is tighter, ask for these books as gifts, or look at Stephanie Bond's list of quick 49 cent downloads - her articles on Self-Editing are particularly fantastic!

3. Don't use not having a particular book/worksheet/tip as a crutch for not writing. Not writing is the surest way of not selling.

4. Find out what works best for you, and do it. Don't feel you have to use someone else's system to a t or even at all. My way of writing probably only works best for me. Also, be aware that as your skills and experiences change, so will your writing. You may want a characterization worksheet for Book # 5 and never used one before and might not again.

Okay, so share a favorite resource. Or just say how you work on getting started. I'll be giving away a book from my backlist chosen from the commenters (drawing at 8am CST Thursday morning - look for the winner in the comment section).  

You can also read all about Ian's brown eyes in Primal Instincts, which should be hitting the shelves in just a few days as a February 2008 release!

Primal Instincts has received a 4 1/2 star Top Pick from Romantic Times - I couldn't be more excited! "Sizzling-hot sex, compelling characters, humor and a dual plot make Primal Instincts (4.5), by Jill Monroe, a book you can't put down."

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Where Ideas Come From

Yes, I'm riffing off Esri's post from last week...I had way too much to add for a comment!

On Friday I was reading a story to my class about a schoolhouse that traveled from town to town along the railroad back in the old days. The teacher lived on the train and would stay in a town, usually filled with miners or lumberjacks, for six weeks before moving onto the next town.

By the time I’d gotten to the second page of a three page story, the teacher was a woman who wanted adventure and this was the only way she could get it. The women of the towns looked down on her for her vagabond life. The men of the towns looked upon her with interest, especially this widowed lumberjack…

And I don’t even write historicals.

So reading is one way I get ideas.

Watching TV and movies is another. Usually reality shows, something on the Discovery Channel or National Geographic, will spark something for me. A few years ago I saw a special about a cruise to Antarctica and I’ve been dying to do something with that ever since. But my WIP is kind of Gilmore Girls meets Virgin River.

The news helps, too. The 2000 Colorado fires inspired Hot Shot, my April 2008 release from Samhain.

I know one of my buddies didn’t like the way a movie was written, so her book is the way SHE thought that movie should be written. My vampire story is a modern day Moulin Rouge (with a happier ending).

My critique partners get these amazing ideas for connected books. That’s where my ghost hunter book came from (well, that and a dream.) The series fell apart, but I still have my ghost hunter book. Now we’re working on books for The Wild Rose Press’s Wayback Rodeo series. I’ve never written a cowboy book in my life, but this is fun. We’re even thinking of going to the San Antonio Rodeo for further inspiration.

What if is another source for me. My first book, Where There’s Smoke, due out in March from The Wild Rose Press, is a what-if story. Okay, it’s kind of a fun story. I’m a teacher, right, and the firefighter band Backdraft came to play at our school for a Just Say No rally. The guitar player was really cute, all the teachers were crushing, and I realized I knew him. Well, not KNEW him, but my uncle and his dad are best friends. My cousin Jennifer used to tell me stories about him all the time. So my what-if story was, what if Jennifer and Oscar the Incredibly Handsome Firefighter had grown up together as the children of best friends, and finally turned to one another and say, heyyyy…

Conversations can be inspiring. Two years ago, my grade level was eating lunch and one of the teachers was telling about one of her cop husband’s cases, about a ten year old whose mother had used him for a drug mule, he’d never been to school, never been socialized, and then his mother was killed. I had to wonder what kind of man he’d become. I had to hope he’d find his way to be a good man. So I made him the foster child of a Ranger, and he wanted to make this man proud so he grew up and became a Ranger too, fighting a drug war in Central America. That’s the Emily finalist, Breaking Daylight.

My biggest source of inspiration is dreams. Just last week I had this dream about Alex Karev from Grey’s Anatomy. All I remember is this one line, but it is a great line and would be terrific motivation.

Earlier in the month I had another neat dream about a woman being threatened because she was the daughter of someone important. I know, it’s been done, but when I wrote the dream down, it hung together. Someday I’ll have time to write it. It would make a great Silhouette Romantic Suspense.

Sometimes the dreams don’t hold together when I write them down, but I keep snippets. My first book was a dream about divorced cops who were kidnapped and had to be rescued by their kids. I kept the divorced cops part. My 2007 Golden Heart finalist was a dream about archaeologists in South America taken hostage by a gang of rebels. I thought it was a good idea, my dh didn’t think my heroine would survive, so I made it about divorced archaeologists in Central America, and left off the rebels.

What do I do with all these ideas? I clearly don’t have time to write them all. I have notebooks and I have idea folders. My potential SRS about the daughter of someone important already has its own Jack Sparrow notebook. (Just so you know - that's a level of commitment that I plan to write this story!)

The dreams I write down in another spiral.

I even have an email folder for story ideas I’ve gotten reading email.

I have an idea document on my desktop. I just checked – it’s not as full as I thought – only about 5 ideas, and one of them is this paranormal…

Now if I could only write FASTER and revise BETTER!

Where do your ideas come from?

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Monday, January 21, 2008

In search of the perfect title

By Trish Milburn

Throughout my years of writing, I’ve heard many authors say not to worry about a book’s title. You can call it Joe’s Book as you’re writing the manuscript because the title will most likely be changed by the publisher anyway. That’s true, but I still typically need a title I feel fits the book before I start writing pages, at least before I’m very far into the manuscript. The story seems to flow from the title almost as if it, in itself, is a theme the story revolves around.

Let’s take a look at an example. My first book release, this September’s A Firefighter in the Family from Harlequin American, wasn’t born with that title. It’s one that my Harlequin editor and her boss brainstormed to give the book the American feel looked for by readers of that line. The book started out as Fanning the Flames, and part of me will always think of it as such. I’m a fan of titles with double meanings, and Fanning the Flames pointed toward not only the hero and heroine’s backgrounds as firefighters but also the romance that’s rekindled when they meet up again after a few years of separation. I always had that phrase, “fanning the flames,” in the back of my mind as I wrote that book. It helped to ask myself, “Does this scene fan the flames of the story, either the romance or the mystery, in any way?”

Sometimes I can actually visualize how a title would look on a book cover, and that proves inspiring as I write the manuscript. That was the case with the very simple, one-word title of Coven, my as-yet-unsold YA book that won the Golden Heart in 2007. The entire story, about a young witch, revolved around that word. That word has power, just like my heroine. It evokes the mood that matches the story. It’s one of the titles I’ve placed on my manuscripts that I’m very attached to. If I sell Coven, I really, really hope I get to keep that title. I have fantasies of seeing it on a beautiful hardcover novel like Stephenie Meyer’s one-word-title hits Twilight and Eclipse.

Occasionally, I even come up with titles for which I don’t even have a story yet. I have one title sitting in my ideas folder that’s been there for several years. I have just a tiny idea about a story that could go with it, but it’s a historical romance. I’ve only written one historical, my first manuscript, and have focused on contemporary novels ever since. But if I ever decide to write historicals again, that’s one I’ll explore.

I’ve come to the conclusion that even if my titles are changed by the publishers after I’ve sold them, having a good, evocative title as I’m writing the story helps me through the writing process. It’s another tool for taking a story from idea to finished manuscript. I don’t think plunking “Randi’s firefighter story” on the top of each page would have worked anywhere near as well as Fanning the Flames as I was writing it. It doesn’t possess any heart or mood or theme.

What about you? Do you search for the perfect title before beginning a new manuscript? Do they come to you as you’re writing? Or do you subscribe to the view that the effort of searching for a perfect title that will only likely be changed is valuable time wasted? What is the favorite title you’ve attached to one of your books?

And speaking of titles, my manuscript, OUT OF SIGHT (another of my favorites), is one of four remaining finalists in the American Title contest sponsored by Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine and Dorchester Publishing. Voting in Round 4 starts today, and I would appreciate any and all votes. You can read the latest round’s entries and vote at beginning late this morning.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Topics for January 21st--25th

Here's what the noodlers have on the schedule for this week. We love hearing from our readers!

Monday, January 21st: Trish Milburn w/a Tricia Mills "In Search of the Perfect Title"

Tuesday, January 22nd: Mary Fechter w/a MJ Frederick "Where Ideas Come From"

Wednesday, January 23rd: Jill Monroe "Using Additional Resources to Get You Started"

Thursday, January 24th: Theresa Ragan "Start Writing--One Word, One Page, One Scene"

Friday, January 25th: Q&A, Readers ask questions. Noodlers answer.

Have a great writing week!

Friday, January 18, 2008

It's Another Q&A Day

It's Friday - that means it's another Question and Answer Day here at the Wet Noodle Posse! We have one question in the hopper, but feel free to ask questions in the comment section for our Noodlers to answer. We can also discuss what you're planning to read this weekend.

Also, Golden Heart and Rita entries should be in the hands of judges - good luck to all our participants!

Here's our first question: Are you Noodlers very organized in your writing? Do you know everything that's going to happen in your book before you write it or just go by inspiration alone?

There are also two great Noodler books out this month:

The Vanishing Viscountess
by Diane Gaston and A Perfect Stranger by Terry McLaughlin

You can read more about both these great books by clicking here.

Visit Diane at her website - Diane

Terry's at her website by visiting - Terry McLaughlin.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Going from Idea to Story When an Editor Sets Parameters

From time to time, people complain that guidelines stifle creativity. I don’t buy it. Most commercial fiction, whether authors admit it or not, requires some adherence to publishing house standards and basic rules of grammar. I have found that if you look at parameters as a jumping off point, you can be as creative as someone starting with her brain alone and a blank screen. Here’s how I go from idea to story when my BelleBooks editor provides parameters, and she usually does. If she didn’t, it’d be a whole lot harder weaving the different stories into one of the collective novels in the Mossy Creek series.

1. Print or jot down the guidelines you need to follow. Refer back to those guidelines periodically to ensure you haven’t veered. If your story is supposed to be 25 pages long, turn in a story that’s 25 pages long. If the story is supposed to encompass a long weekend, don’t start your story five months prior to that weekend. If the story is supposed to be a romance, make it a romance.

2. If you have any questions about whether an idea you have fits the parameters, ask. Better to ask than to work through several ideas that get nixed in the end. You’ll save yourself and your editor time and, in the long run, sanity.

3. Who is your intended audience? What are their expectations? For the Mossy Creek series, readers like funny or heart-warming stories, or a combination of the two. Many readers want to live in the quirky town BelleBooks founders created. They don’t want townspeople they’ve come to know to act out-of-character unless there’s some good motivation for it. They want to recognize themselves or their friends and family members in the stories. So the story must have a small town feel. New characters have to be likeable.

4. If you need to use certain characters who have already been developed by another writer, get permission, then peel those characters’ onion layers. For example, when I was asked to develop a Christmas story, I started with what I knew about Christmas that could work--a mother’s perspective. I scanned through the Mossy Creek bible looking for a mom. But she needed to be a mom that readers were somewhat familiar with so they’d be interested in reading the story. I thought the perfect character would be Patty Campbell, and I had to ask Deb Dixon, who created her, if I could use Patty, her husband Mac, and her newly adopted son Clay. She said yes, thank goodness. I then proceeded to figure out what I already knew about Patty. How could I add to her, yet preserve what Deb had done? I focused on how I thought the character would feel. As a mom, I try to make Christmas special for my daughter. How much more important would it be to have the “perfect” Christmas for the mother of a little boy who’d just been adopted and who probably hadn’t ever received much from his biological father, who’d neglected and abandoned him? Patty could be the type of mom who wants the Norman Rockwell holiday.

5. List different conflict possibilities based on the parameters set and the characters you’d like to use. With “A Very Mossy Christmas,” I knew the setting and the main character I wanted to use. So what could cause havoc to a woman who wants the perfect Christmas for her newly adopted son? How about a little snow in the North Georgia mountains where Mossy Creek nestles, something rare these days, yet plausible. How about enough snow that the UPS truck with the special gift that’s been on back order can’t get through? How about enough snow that her lovable yet irritating aunt, who stops in on her way to her perfect daughter’s house, has to stay longer than planned? Another example of setting coming into play with potential conflict ideas, worked for me with “Resolutionary War” in A Day in Mossy Creek. The setting is one day in January, cold and sunny, and Mossy Creek’s police officers are getting tons of calls. What do people do in January? Make Resolutions. So how can making resolutions cause conflict? What if the small town gossip columnist prints everyone’s resolutions in the paper and then outs those who haven’t stuck to them? What if one character in particular is worried about failing and being outed in her resolution to lose weight and lower her cholesterol? You can see how this works.

6. Pare your ideas down to what you think are the best two or three.

7. Develop a story with a beginning, middle and end for two or three ideas. Take this story idea and boil it down into a paragraph. Write and rewrite this paragraph until it shines. If a snappy title hits you, include that with the paragraph you send back to the editor for the okay.

I also use similar methods in developing ideas totally from scratch. Once I have the characters and setting figured out, I brainstorm potential conflicts (which are much bigger in a novel), pare those ideas down, and develop the beginning, middle, and end of my story. The only real difference is that after I get the paragraph polished, I expand it into a longer synopsis.

How about you? Do you find sticking to specific guidelines hinders your creativity?


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Getting Book Ideas or, The Barbecue Revolt – Esri Rose

I have never been asked where I get my story ideas. I have had people say, “You’re a writer? I had this idea about a bear cub who bonds to a Cabbage Patch doll. You should write about that.”

Yeah, thanks.

The trick isn’t coming up with ideas per se, it’s coming up with ideas that fit within your genre, have enough conflict to carry a whole book, and fall in the ideal spectrum between something fabulously unique but not so unique that it will baffle your publisher’s marketing department.

If you’re really on the ball, it should also feature some quirky product, animal, place or cause that will get you featured in an online newsletter with ten thousand rabid fans.

The best way I’ve found to get raw material is through conversations with friends and family. Once you hear a new anecdote, news item or last night’s wacko dream, you start to riff on what ifs. The result is usually something that’s at least a little unique, because these conversations involve speculation and pushing the envelope.

Ideally, friends bring the following idea-generators to your attention: current events (which you don’t have time to read because you are writing), horrible events (which you avoid listening to because you are a sensitive artist), or workplace events (because they have real lives and you don’t). Extra-special friends will also share weird events that they heard about because they belong to specialized clubs or organizations. Those friends are gold. Not only do they know about fascinating subcultures, but they often have access to the aforementioned rabid-fan lists.

Let’s look at a conversation I had with my husband recently. We had just seen a portable fire-pit at Target, and I wondered if it was legal in our city, since it had a screen over the top. Most open-fire devices are outlawed here, including BBQ grills for renters. You can only own a grill if you’re a homeowner.

“That would start a revolution in this country,” I said. “We let politicians get away with a lot, but if they took away our grills, people would take to the streets.”

Joe agreed. “Angry men in aprons, brandishing oversized forks and skewers."

“That’d be a good political-parody book,” I mused. “The Barbecue Revolt.”

That’s a decent book idea. It’s unusual, has plenty of scope for conflict, and you could pitch it to barbecue-lover newletters—maybe even get a product-placement deal. Unfortunately, I don’t write political or social satire. Carl Hiaasen, if you’re reading this, take that idea with my blessing—just don’t forget to put my name and website in your acknowledgements. Thanks, man. We’ll have lunch.

What I currently write is elf-based romantic suspense. Let’s see how we can change this idea from political satire to something I could potentially write and sell.

Breaking the idea into its components, what do we have? First, there’s barbecue, a pastime with a history of humor and also gender division. Then there’s out-of-control fire, a natural disaster that lends itself to people with painful pasts, as well as legal problems and mysterious deaths. There’s the notion of outlawing something, which affects local politics and struggling businesses that will be hurt by the legislation. There’s revolution over an unpalatable law, and the safety of the group versus the rights of the individual.

The trick is to play with the idea. Don’t feel like you have to map to the original concept or use all the pieces.

Idea for a Paranormal Romantic-Suspense

Leeta is the only elf in four centuries to have fire-kindling powers. Unfortunately, she can’t control them. When she starts a wildfire that destroys two human houses, the fleeing owners see Leeta’s unharmed figure walking through the flames. Incidents like this put elves at risk of exposure, so Mikelor, the elves’ best tracker, is put in charge of capturing Leeta. His job? To bring her back for the ritual that will erase her gift and leave her a husk of herself. But when Mikelor meets Leeta, he begins to question his orders. Is the possibly increased safety of the group worth the sacrifice of this one elven female? When Mikelor himself is taken captive by humans, Leeta and her uncertain gift are all that can save him. Will Leeta risk herself to help the nemesis she has come to love?

Possible promotional tie-ins: You could have Leeta befriend a pet or wild animal that escaped the blaze. Put a fire pet-rescue decal in every press kit, or send a press kit/book to animal-rescue orgs like the IFAW. Hell, give ‘em some money.

You can see that it bears almost no resemblance to the original concept, but who cares? It’s an idea! Okay, I covered my genre. Let’s see how you do with your version of this idea (or give an example from scratch). And don’t worry if your tie-ins are the same or similar. Rabid-fan groups are always eager for reading material that resonates with them. There’s room for all of us.

(Word of warning: The above idea, while solid, is not so unique that I hesitated to share it. Don’t go public with a truly outstanding concept. Not that people will purposely poach it, but a published writer might think your idea is one of her own two years down the line, not remembering that she read something similar in cyberspace. Your great concept could hit the shelves in her book before you even get an agent. Ask about my embarrassing songwriting moment and I’ll share in the comments.)

Esri Rose’s first elfy book,
Bound to Love Her,
is available for pre-order

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...*

First lines are difficult and fun. Just like the rest of writing.

First lines are important. They should seduce your reader, make it impossible for her to stop reading and draw her into the paragraph, page, chapter, and ultimately the book. Most of the advice I've ever seen on first lines is that they should pack a wallop with dialogue or action. Sure...with reservations. Have the boulder roll down the hillside toward the happy family picnic, the car blow up, the groom walk out of the church leaving the bride at the altar--if it's going to be that sort of book. Quite honestly the idea of a book going on in that sort of high dramatic vein makes me want to go and lie down with a nice cup of tea and fan myself.

We're talking about seduction, remember. The word seduction derives from the Latin word to lead. So I thought I'd pick out a few successful first lines and try and figure out what makes them work.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. (Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier). Read it aloud and feel the rhythm: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It's iambic pentameters, which you might interpret as a heartbeat, or the tug and pull of the sea. du Maurier doesn't have to explain where or what Manderley is--she's established it as a place of dreams, mystery, regret. And the mysteries of the heart and of the sea drive the book. Absolutely perfect.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)Now this is a really kickass first sentence for any book, any time. It doesn't start with something like "Oh, Mr. Rochester! Why didn't you tell me about your mad wife in the attic?" Compare it, for example, to the beginning of David Copperfield, Dickens's most biographical novel:

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.

Dickens lays all his cards on the table: Here I am, this is what the book is about, and this is the sort of ironic voice you can expect to encounter. Oh, and never forget that you're reading a book and a work of fiction.

But Charlotte Bronte isn't nearly as helpful. We don't know who the characters are, where we are, or the setting. We have to figure that out. All we know is that someone can't do something, and if you think about it, that's what Jane Eyre is about--a woman whose formidable sense of will defines her, who will fight for what society will not allow her to do: Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart!

Here's the opening of my 2007 release The Rules of Gentility:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman of fortune and passable good looks amuses herself in London with fashion, philanthropic works, and flirtation, until a suitable gentleman makes an offer. I consider the pursuit of the bonnets and a husband fairly alike--I do not want to acquire an item that will wear out, or bore me after a brief acquaintance, and we must suit each other very well.

First off, it's a Jane Austen rip off. Pride and Prejudice begins, It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Now I thought I was being tremendously witty in paraphrasing Austen, but if I'd realized the whole mess of Austen-inspired books that would come out around the same time would do exactly the same thing, I think I would have chosen a different opening. I chose it, not because I was writing an Austen knock-off whoops, tribute, but because I wanted the reader to be immediately aware of where we were and the sort of rules that govern this particular society. I wanted my heroine Philomena to come across as a mix of hard-headedness and silliness, and to alert the reader that what they were seeing was what they were getting--no aspirations to an unlikely career or deep dark secrets.

My last, or possibly only, piece of wisdom is this: Don't worry too much about the first line when you start. Your first effort will be a placeholder. When you know a little more what your book is about you'll come up with an opener that will tease, seduce, entrance your reader.

Would anyone like to share their first line? Or a first line from a book you love?

*Dickens again. A Tale of Two Cities


Monday, January 14, 2008


By Norah Wilson

I’m currently mired about 300 pages deep my WIP and stretching for the end, so when I hear people talking about starting new stories, my first reaction is jealousy. Then I come to my senses! Unlike many of my speedy writing friends, it takes me at least a year to finish a story. So when I’m finally ready to embark on a new story, I feel a certain pressure to be sure I’m committing to the right one. This is compounded by the fact, unlike every other writer I’ve ever known, I don’t have multiple story ideas coming out the wazoo. Consequently, I tend to want to go with the first decent one that comes to me. I’ve had to learn the hard way to “test” that idea before saying “I do” to it. If you’re teetering on the verge of a new story, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:

  • Is your story idea compelling to YOU? I know we’re supposed to look to the market, but you’re the one who has to spend the next year or six months or whatever with it. Does it get you in the gut? If it does, chances are it will move someone else, too, and that’s what readers want to be left with – the sense that they’ve had a meaningful emotional experience.

  • Is it strong enough to sustain a full-length novel? Or does it start to collapse when you begin to try to string together enough plot points to form the sketchiest outline? Is there enough genuine conflict to keep it going? (Robert McKee says, “Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.”)

  • Does your story have high personal stakes for your protagonist(s)? McKee puts it like this: “What is the risk? What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not get what he wants? More specifically, what’s the worst thing that will happen to the protagonist if he does not achieve his desire? If this question cannot be answered in a compelling way, the story is misconceived at its core. For example, if the answer is: ‘Should the protagonist fail, life would go back to normal,’ this story is not worth telling.”

  • Does it have high public stakes (affecting the wider world beyond your H&h)? This might be optional for many romances, but according to Donald Maas, it’s key to writing a “breakout” novel. I always look for a way to incorporate public stakes, if I can.

  • Lastly, ask yourself, does the story fit a known market? Does it have a hot premise? A commercial hook (or two or three)? If you can put a few checkmarks in the marketability column at the outset, so much the better. When you get bogged down in the middle, it will help keep up your flagging confidence if you’re able to remind yourself that your story does have something going for it. But don’t torture yourself unduly over this. I personally think it’s more important to write something you’re passionate about than to write something you think you should write simply because it seems marketable.

That’s pretty much my checklist. I find it helpful to do GMC (Goal, Motivation and Conflict) charts for the hero, the heroine and the villain. [If you’re not familiar with GMC, check out Debra Dixon’s book on the subject. I recommend it highly.] Basically, it involves sketching out their goals (what do they want?), motivation (why do they want it?) and conflict (why can’t they have it?). This exercise will help you evaluate your idea, and it also lays the groundwork you’ll need when you’re ready to plot that sucker.

So, what are YOUR benchmarks for evaluating an idea? I’d love to hear them. Maybe I can add them to my toolkit!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse Blog

Monday, January 14th: Norah Wilson "Testing Your Story Idea"

Tuesday, January 15th: Janet Mullaney "Opening Lines"

Wednesday, January 16th: Esri Rose "Generating Story Ideas"

Thursday, January 17th: Maureen Hardegree "How to Go from Idea to Story When an Editor Provides Parameters"

Friday, January 18th: Q&A (Noodlers answer your questions about writing)

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Friday, January 11, 2008

It's Q&A Day

It's Q&A day here at the Wet Noodle Posse.  Feel free to post your questions in the comment section and we'll get this discussion started.  

We can also talk about how you're doing with your writing goals and we can even talk about books we plan to read over the weekend.  Bonus if it's a Noodler book!

This whole month we're talking about getting your writing jump started.  There were a few questions about why we have research as one of our later topics especially since research can be a fundamental with any new project.  I reread Diane Gaston's earlier post about research, and was struck by one of her comments.  "...we often can use the need to do research... to keep us from moving forward."

I do EXACTLY that.  I'll be moving along at a fast-paced clip in my writing and then stop to do research.  Meanwhile, I've lost the thread in my mind or even the writing groove.  I have several books in my mind, the story is there, but the research isn't done, but I don't start them because I don't have all the necessary facts in my brain or in my notes.  But really, this is counter-productive in the whole writing process.

Once I had the chance to hear New York Times' bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton speak on her own writing style.  She said when she hits a point in her manuscript that she needs to stop and do some research, she'll put in big bold letters and in a large font - INSERT RESEARCH MATERIAL HERE - then go about getting her manuscript written, adding what she needs later.  I thought it was great advice.  Many of us have children, jobs, volunteer work, life so our writing time is precious.  Research can often be fit into 10 minute gaps in my time.  BUT, I have difficulty being creative in 10 minute gaps in my time.

Hope this has been a good week for you.  


Thursday, January 10, 2008

What to Research Before You Write the Book

We’ll be doing a whole month on research, but I wanted to touch base on this subject, because we often can use the need to do research, especially historical research, to keep us from moving forward. Either we detour into spending all our time reading research material or we are so daunted by what we need to know, we sit and tear our hair out.

Guess what? You don't need to know everything. All you need is:

1. General Knowledge.

If you are writing a historical, read a general history of the era in which you are setting the book, just to make certain you understand enough about the era to make your story credible. You don’t want your Regency characters to hop on trains, for instance, or to take secret photographs in dingy gaming hells (that notorious book really made it to print!).

Writers of contemporaries have an easier time, because we all have general knowledge of our current era, but if you are writing a contemporary, you should read a little on whatever particular “world” you are using for your story. For example, if you are setting your book in a dairy farm, you ought to know a little about what a dairy farm is like. Not detailed knowledge, but enough to know if your story will work there. Or if you are writing about lawyers, you need to know a little about law firms.

For the Regency, a great overview of the era is Our Tempestuous Day by Carolly Erickson, but you can also look in history books, on Wikipedia, or, my favorite,

2. Knowledge of the events of your time period.

One of the first things to research is what happened around the time you want to set the book. As a historical writer, one of the first things I do is check a historical timeline. Here’s a fairly detailed one: but there are many others out there. Just do a Google search.

You want to check a timeline to take into account any historical events that would impact on your story. For example, in the book I just finished, I had to take into account that Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, died during the time my story was set. That was a big historical event.

The Contemporary writer also needs to keep in mind important historical events. For example, if you set your story in New Orleans, you can’t completely ignore the hurricane and its aftermath. If you set your story in Boston, you have to be aware of the Big Dig.

3. A working knowledge of whatever your story is about.

When you are beginning to write a book, you really just need to know enough to know if your story will work, just enough to start. In The Vanishing Viscountess, all I needed to start was a general idea of the British legal system (very general-just enough to know if my story would work. Later I had to research in more detail), where a ship crossing the Irish Sea would embark and land, and if they ever had shipwrecks there.

That’s it!

For the rest, research as you go along. Find out the details when you need them. The information will be fresher that way and you won’t have spent time researching something you thought you needed, but didn't.

You can also use these guidelines when you are stuck in the middle of the book on some needs-to-be-researched fact. Don't get bogged down in it. Only spend time finding it if the rest of your book might be affected by it. If you know it won't, then just mark the spot, push on, and come back in a later draft to find that certain detail.

The important thing is to not let anything keep you from starting--and finishing--the book.

More on Research in May....

What sorts of research problems keep you from pushing forward?
What strategies do you have to keep the need to research from stopping your progress?


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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Start small to win BIG

By RITA Award winner Dianna Love Snell

January brings on the inevitable Goal Setting for the year. To most writers this means getting started on a book or pushing to finish one that just won’t get moving. The key to being productive is setting a realistic goal with a plan on how to achieve that target.

What is a realistic goal?

Simple. It is an objective or target you have control over reaching. For career-minded writers, a realistic goal should have only one purpose – to propel you toward publishing or continuing to publish. The first thing you have to understand about a goal is it’s extremely personal. Create one you can own…pick an objective that is suited just for YOU.

Customize each writing goal to fit your life. I do nothing in a typical way. It’s not that I try to do things differently, but more that I can’t be productive working with someone else’s game plan. For that reason, my suggestions may sound unorthodox, but I hate watching writers, particularly new ones, struggle to do “everything right” and not make progress. In fact, I feel many new writers try so hard to follow a plan created by someone else they eventually burn out. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, maybe it’s time you took a step back to do something your own way and set a goal that moves YOUR writing forward.

So what are the parameters of a goal that will move your writing forward? First, mapping out a plan that fits your personality and lifestyle, starting with how far out you feel good about setting a target. In my case, I can’t envision a five or ten year goal. I have no idea what I’ll be doing next year much less ten years from now. In fact, a one year goal is pretty much the outer limits of my attention span and the most productive way for me to work. I’ve built several successful businesses without five or ten year goals, because everything I do moves me toward my personal objective. The simplest way to determine what goal fits your personality and lifestyle is to start with a short term objective and work up to longer time frames. If you’re going to be a professional writer, you probably will need at least a weekly goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start with a daily plan first.

The next step of a productive goal is to make sure it is realistic in your personal universe. I have writing friends who write a certain number of hours a day, because their children are in school from morning to afternoon. I don’t have children and have never had anything close to a normal schedule in my entire adult life because of my erratic business work schedule – which happens to suit me just fine. Expecting me to sit down daily and produce X pages is unrealistic. On the other hand, I can set a goal of X pages in a week and be extremely productive. I happen to be a very disciplined writer who can produce a lot of pages in one sitting. I’ve never had a problem with “butt in the chair,” but instead need to set a clock every two hours to get up and stretch. But if I had to sit down at a specific time each day to write – that would bog me down.

Once you’ve selected a realistic goal, you need a plan to accomplish that goal. Notice I just said that having to write a set time every day would bog "me" down, not you. If you work better with structure, then set aside the hours you’ll write each day or on a given day and go to your writing area just as if you were making an appointment. If your schedule lacks routine, like mine, you still have to think of your writing time as an appointment and stick to it. I highly recommend a specific setting you always write in at home or the office so that every time you settle into that spot your mind automatically thinks “it’s time to write.” Good habits play a big role in reaching goals and bad ones or the lack of good habits donates to undermining your efforts.

Change is not easy or everyone could do this. I may decide to get up earlier each day, stay up later each night, pass on a dinner invitation with friends, give up television if I want to spend the weekend with my husband or wait for the weekend to write if my husband is traveling. I will have to sacrifice something. If your goal is something really worth reaching then you have to be willing to make some sacrifices. Many of you set goals for things you want in your life ever day…and reach them. You decided to have a child – that requires personal sacrifice of time as a minimum. You decide you want a new luxury car – that might require not taking a vacation this year. You decide you want to finish your book before national so you can pitch it – that requires you starting now to make time in your week to write, which will likely mean sacrificing something else you want to do to find that time.

Once you begin to accomplish your daily goals for two weeks then start on a weekly goal. Once you’ve reached four weekly goals then think about what you want to accomplish each month for a quarter of the year. By the time you’ve executed a month of daily and weekly goals, you’ll have a pretty good idea if your three-month goal is realistic.

TIP – when making these goals, particularly anything beyond one week, have a contingency plan for “what if?” What if you have to travel unexpectedly for a family crisis or new job requirements? What if you’re sick for a week? What if you just hit the wall and need to give yourself a day off? What if you have to deal with a broken water pipe flooding your house or you have a weather crisis? I hope none of those things happen, but unfortunately at some point we all have to deal with the unexpected. When you make long term goals, build in time for the unexpected. Worst case, if nothing unexpected comes up you’ll reach your goal early.

Let’s revisit the part about “realistic” goals. The definition – in my book – of a realistic goal is one you have control over. You have control over writing your pages, submitting to contests and/or publishers, pitching your story, attending workshops and meeting other writers who will influence your writing career. You do not have control over an editor or agent requesting your material, the results of a contest or submission, an editor buying your book or an agent signing you. I cringe when I hear someone say “My goal is to be sold by X date.” In my opinion, not hitting that goal does more damage to a new writer than any benefit of having set it.

A goal should be something you look forward to because you know you are capable of reaching it. Set a realistic goal, reach it and reward yourself - which is motivation, a topic for another time.

Question for all of you – what is YOUR personal daily, weekly, monthly or annual goal and how do you plan to reach it? What do you consider a realistic goal for yourself? We learn from each other so please share.

RITA Award-winner Dianna Love Snell writes both contemporary and paranormal romantic suspense. Her next book – PHANTOM IN THE NIGHT – is a romantic suspense collaboration with NYT best seller Sherrilyn Kenyon being released June 2008.

Please visit and for more on Dianna and writing.

[This is an abridged edition of an article first published in the GCCRWA Newsletter]