If you don’t have a deadline from a publisher or agent, give yourself a deadline. At an Orange County RWA meeting, Author Leanne Banks shared how she keeps on track. “I have a deadline and it’s like your mirror that says ‘objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear.’ Deadlines are always looming.”

Giving myself deadlines is working for me. I have my primary deadline, when I want the manuscript finished, but I’ve made smaller deadlines as well:

1. Ten thousand words finished by the end of March    (X)

2. First draft done by my 50th birthday                           (X)

3. First round of rewrites must be done by…oh hey, that deadline is coming up in three weeks, I better go write!

What’s your deadline?

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Life gets in the way—always has, always will—which doesn’t bode well for writing a novel. Here are four ways to elbow life out of the way so that you can write.

  1. Make writing easier. The perfect spot in the corner of a quiet room won’t always be available, so get used writing in various locations. Unplug the laptop and write outside, at a coffee shop, in the front seat of your car, on the bus (or subway) and even in bed. Once you lessen your dependency on a single spot, you’ll recognize writing opportunities are all around you. If you’re chained to a desktop computer, break those chains with an old-fashioned notebook and pen. Try out word processing apps for smart phones. It’s not ideal, but that’s the point. You shouldn’t rely on idealized situations to write.
  2. Laugh at life. The small stuff has a way of snowballing into big stuff, and the big stuff robs you of inspiration and concentration. The next time something goes wrong, rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being reserved for the worst case scenario. If it’s less than 5, look for the humor in the situation and laugh before you worry your way from a 2 to a 10. Can’t find the humor? Share your frustrations with a friend who’s a notorious optimist or comedienne, and adopt his/her mentality.
  3. Feed the muse. Life sucks the spark out of you, but you can put it back. Try listening to music with words that feed your genre. Take a walk outside and pay attention to nature. People watch at your local mall or coffee shop. Indulge in some mindless television or see a movie.
  4. Put writing first. You have laundry, house cleaning, phone calls, emails, surfing the net, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc. Little tasks get in the way five minutes at a time. Put writing first. Make concrete goals (words or pages) that must be met before you can tackle something non-writing related.

Can you add more? Share the way you put writing first.

Okay, let me up the ante. It’s gotten just plain insane.

I took last week off from blogging, and I really missed you guys. Did you miss me? Or maybe you were crazy busy with end-of-summer things and didn’t have a chance to notice. I understand and my feelings won’t be hurt.

It was a week of packing boxes and putting them in storage, preparing our home for an open house and preparing our home to hold two additional residents (my son, Gerrod, and his girlfriend, Ashley) temporarily while our house is hopefully being sold. Additionally, we were trying to keep cool…I know most of you won’t feel sorry for me if I complain that we broke 80 degrees this week, but it’s hot to us here! I wrote down the time for my doctor appointment wrong (thought it was at 12:30 on Friday but it wasn’t until 1:45). This was actually good news as it was air-conditioned in the waiting room and I had my manuscript with me. I spread myself out in two chairs, quietly and happily editing while I waited.

I had to keep up with the laundry and cleaning (no letting things slide when you could get a call at any moment that your home will be shown), tried to keep up with cooking (but didn’t succeed…lots of meals out this week), and again squeezed in writing between packing, laundry, cleaning and excited phone calls with my son and his girlfriend as they plan their trip home to California. A week and a half and they should be here the day after my son’s birthday!

I was surprised at how much editing I got done between things. Calls to look at our home are great opportunities to write. I grab the bag that I’m keeping my manuscript in, put a leash on Knight, our sweet lab/chow who just can’t stop shedding in this heat, and sneak out to a park or one of my favorite fast food restaurants with an outdoor patio for Knight. (I have told you guys that I’m the Queen of Run-on Sentences, haven’t I?)

I’m trying to finish revisions by September 20 and I know I can do it. No really, I can! Did I mention that Ashley has a degree in creative writing, and I plan on asking her for help with editing while they are here? Besides, all of my other creative distractions are locked up in storage—no sewing or scrapbooking projects beckoning, just vacuuming, dusting, laundry and keeping things picked up and writing, writing, writing.

Today after making sure the house is ready for realtors to show I’ll be off to do some errands, then hoping to add a thousand (or more) words to my manuscript while editing. Did I mention that my husband is interviewing for jobs with the city right now and that my youngest son’s college classes begin today?

So school starting, hoping my husband will have an official city job soon, waiting for Gerrod and Ashley to get here, hoping we’ll sell our home and be moving into a new one soon, writing my book and so much more going on that I haven’t even told you yet. All kinds of crazy, but good crazy.

Be patient with me while I get through the next few weeks. I’ll try not to cause a flood from crying when I see my son (haven’t seen him in two and a half years). You’ll hear me screaming across the country if our house sells, when my husband gets his new job and if I sell my book, so you’ll know before I tell you here that things are happening.

Hope you all are enjoying your last weeks of summer, sneaking in some writing, maybe reading and making things happen in your life! Please share…I love knowing I’m not the only one with a crazy life.

For some reason my brain is refusing to cooperate today, so let me skip the usual Friday post and simply thank our blog readers. Your subscriptions and comments keep us company on the often lonely road to publication.

We owe some serious congratulations to a handful of blog readers/commenters who signed contracts and received contest kudos. If this is you, drop me an email so I’m sure to have the details correct.

Have a great weekend, everyone! And if you’re in Irene’s path, stay safe.

Elley

Several months ago, I took Angela James’s Before Your Hit Send workshop. I gained valuable information about the writing and editing processes but initially struggled to apply everything I’d learned. This explains why I just recently downloaded Natural Reader and took Ms. James’s advice to read my manuscript out loud.

Oh, I read a few lines when I had the chance, which meant no kids lurking and listening, but I was easily distracted and it seemed to take soooo long. Eventually, I lost focus, got tired of hearing my voice and returned to editing in silence.

Now that I’m more than halfway through a manuscript that is being read to me by Natural Reader, I’m sold on the process. I use earphones to listen, blocking out the noise in the house and saving my kids from an embarrassing word or two. As the reader reads, I note places where the rhythm is off or where a word sounds funny. I also hear typos. When I notice something that needs changed, I pause the reader, make the edits in the manuscript and then continue on.

It’s really that easy.

Do you read your manuscript out loud as part of your editing process? Have you ever tried a program that reads the manuscript for you?

I’ve heard that the best reading experiences come when readers see themselves as the main characters. With so many characters (especially in romances) being written as idealized humans (attractive, wealthy, professionally successful, etc.), how does a reader relate? One way to build connection with readers (and soften some of the idealized characteristics) is to give your main characters relatable flaws. Does your heroine bite her nails? Does she lack organization, shoving random piles of junk into already overcrowded closets? Is she always late? Make your own list, and use a flaw or two to infuse a little realism and likeability into Miss Perfect (or Mr. Perfect). –Elley

Random This and That

August 23, 2011

Tari’s taking the week off, which means you have me for five days straight, which means I have to come up with blog topics for five days straight, which means I’m a little worried. Sometimes I think I repeat myself or sound like I’m lecturing. Maybe that’s because it’s the end of summer vacation and repeating myself and lecturing is all I’m doing around this house full of kids—only three of them, but they fill every room with their nonsense.

I’m inspired to do something similar, so this is a blog post filled with nonsense. I hope you enjoy:

  1. I joined Tumblr. After clicking enough links on Twitter and being directed to other people’s Tumblr pages, I opened one of my own. I like the way it looks. Photos and quotes, two of my favorite things, are displayed with style. And apparently I could blog there too. Check it out if you’re curious.
  2. After a long wait, I received an “R” for manuscript I felt pretty confident in. When the initial disappointment passed, I realized I wasn’t surprised it was rejected. Funny thing: non-fiction editing and fiction editing isn’t all that different when it comes to acquisitions. As an experienced editor, I made a quick mental list of all the reasons the manuscript would be a risky purchase, and then promptly kicked myself for not making a similar list before I submitted. (I was thinking like a writer in love with her manuscript, butterflies and all.) With my editor’s cap in place, I gave myself a revise and resubmit—not to the same publisher of course. Yesterday, I traded the editor’s cap for the writer’s cap, and I spent the day on revisions. I’m pleased with the results and I’m hoping this schizophrenic relationship between editor and writer can last.
  3. Talk about random…I want to lose some weight, which is a loaded statement for a recovered bulimic. Let me rephrase. I want to get fit. I want muscles. I want a hard body. I want to crave the burn and endorphins released during a workout. Yet, here I sit, craving triple chocolate cookies instead.
  4. A new idea for a story arrived in my head last evening. Of course, baseball is part of the backdrop. What is with me? Write what you know and all that jazz, but it’s getting frustrating. Can I make a career writing nothing but baseball-related romance? (Fortunately, my relationship with baseball is very intimate, so I know hero-caliber men aren’t always players. But still…how much baseball-centric reading can one woman—other than me—take?) I wish Harlequin would just contract me to write an entire series called Desire on the Diamond, so I could channel all this seasonal energy into one positive place.
  5. I’m thinking about attending the COFW conference end of September. It’s not terribly far from where I am—drivable—but I’d be going alone. I wish I could convince someone to meet me there. (Hint. Hint. I’m talking to you, Nicole, but I know it’s quite a distance for you.)
  6. We’re still looking to feature romance writers on Wednesdays—published is okay now too. So if you have an interest or a new release, email me.

That’s all for now. What’s up with you? Keep me company this long, lonely week. Post a comment or two.

Let’s talk for a minute about gratitude.

Being thankful doesn’t always come easy to a writer, especially in the early days. After all, how are you thankful for repeat rejections, days of weak words that reduce your WIP to crap and month after month of no paycheck, no accolades and no self-worth?

I don’t know how I’m thankful in the face of those nasty things, but I am. I’m a writer. I’m living my dream. And while I’m not quite there yet, I’m privileged to wake up every morning and do something else to push me closer.

Recently, sobering events have taken place around me. (Actually, sobering events were always there. I seem to be more aware of them now.) Of course, topping the list would be my 28-year-old cousin’s suicide. Then, I read a news piece about a mother and her two little girls who were killed when flash flood waters engulfed their mini-van while they headed home after having lunch with Daddy. Most recently, Desire author Sandra Hyatt died while attending an RWA conference in New Zealand. She was a young, vibrant wife and mother.

Sobering.

I complain…a lot. Some people would be surprised to hear that, but I do. I complain in my head. I can’t write because the kids are too loud. I can’t write because I’m tired. I can’t write because there’s so much to do around the house. I can’t write fiction because I have non-fiction work.

The list is endless.

While I’m usually able to push through the excuses and write something, there’s this hollowness when I’m finished with the words. I’ve been writing for weeks (since the suicide really) without a rush, without an underlying buzz and excitement about what I’m doing. I’m just going through the motions, and in the process I’m disrespecting each one of those people who are no longer with us.

I can only imagine what my cousin could do if he were given back a strong, healthy body that wasn’t marred by surgeries and concussions. I can only imagine what the mother of those two little girls would be doing with another sunny day. I can only imagine what Sandra would be writing and planning if she had more time.

Well, I have a strong, healthy body. I have another sunny day. I have more time.

I’m done complaining.

The road is long, but I’m on it. And I’m blessed.

Writing toward publication is a long, lonely process with moments that seem downright abusive. But we do it anyway. We sit in the same chair for hours. We ignore our loved ones in order to squeeze out those last few words. We put our innermost thoughts and talents on the line, leaving them susceptible to ridicule and rejection. And we do it all so that someday someone somewhere might say we are worthy of the elusive prize…Publication.

After all the hours and rejections, is Publication (yes, with a capital P) enough compensation? Hopefully, but just in case it’s not, I’m padding my prize cart. After careful consideration, these are the writer rewards I have to look forward to when my first manuscript sells:

1. I’m going to pop the cork on a bottle of Joseph Phelps Insignia 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and I’m going to share a toast with my husband. We’ll finish off the bottle while we cuddle on the porch swing. If it’s too cold for the porch, we’ll share the bottle while we snuggle on the couch in front of the fireplace.

2. I’m getting a tattoo. I’ve always wanted one. I came close during my tenure with Disney. I picked Tinkerbelle as the character to be tattooed on my ankle. But then, fairy fanaticism hit the earth, and everywhere I turned Tinkerbelle was winking at me from somebody’s shoulder blade. I wanted the tattoo to signify my contributions to a creative wonderland. I wanted to look at the tattoo and know it meant I was part of the magic—not part of a stupid trend. When I sell, I’m treating myself to one simple word written in white on the inside of my wrist: dream. That sums this journey up perfectly.

3. I’m buying custom illustrated calling cards from Rifle Paper Co. I’ve admired these things for months now, and I can’t wait until the inscription under the watercolor caricature reads: Elley Arden, Romance Novelist.

I have bigger rewards for bigger achievements too. The biggest? When I achieve bestseller status, I’m converting my charming, brick one-car garage into a writer’s cottage, and I’m buying two pug puppies, Emerson and Hemmingway.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

How about you? Do you have rewards for various writing accomplishments?

“I write the way I like to read,” said Author Charlene Sands at an OCC RWA workshop this spring. In other words, if there’s too much description in a book you’re reading do you skip ahead to get to the action? If so then your reader probably will too, so write that way. Limit the description…write the way you read.