Writing With Spirit

By Liz, doing everything under the sun to call in the muse!

You may have noticed that I can be a little bit “woo woo.” Luckily I have Jessie to commiserate with when everyone else thinks I’m a little too crazy! But my woo woo-ness has served me well over the years, and even more so lately as I take on more writing projects and at the same time, think through what I want my future as a writer to be.

So many of us creative people have, at one time or another, experienced blocks to our creativity. These blocks could range from not knowing where to go next with a current project to being unable to start writing or creating at all, possibly because of something you learned as a child about creativity being shameful or unrealistic to pursue as your life’s work. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls these blocks “creative injuries.”

I experienced those creative injuries myself along the way, including an ingrained belief that writing was not something I could do for a living. I spent years writing only peripherally, and when I did finally take jobs that centered on writing, I wasn’t paid well (you hear me, fellow journalists??). Eventually, through a lot of work – and applying Cameron’s practices – I found my way to the page and, well, here I am.

But I was still missing something. Even though I was successfully writing two series, I was still struggling – with process, with procrastination, with plots. With taking myself seriously enough to expect more for myself and my writing life.

Until I remembered that writing is my soul work. Which meant that everything I need to be successful – and peaceful – is within me, and I simply had to tune into it. Once I started applying my “soul practice” to my writing life, everything started to change. I stopped procrastinating, started turning out more words daily, “found” more time where there used to feel like none was available, got more inspiration. As a result, my two looming deadlines aren’t causing me stress. I’m approaching my writing time with joy, and I’m confident everything will get done. When I think back to where I was a year ago – stressed to the max, racing to meet a seemingly impossible deadline amidst a spate of personal crises, getting barely any sleep – it’s almost like I can’t even remember who that person was anymore.

So here’s my five-step process for how I did that:

  1. Ask. Ask that place inside you – whether you call it the universe, your muse, God, your soul, it doesn’t matter – for help. Set your intention for creativity and inspiration. It can be as simple as, I need guidance today. Help me find the right words and put them on the page. And be confident you’ll be heard!
  2. Meditate. I know, going completely still and breathing used to seem impossible for me too. Especially with crazy writer brain, where other people are always talking. But I’m telling you – it works. Five minutes a day can totally change your writing life. You can use a guided meditation, music, or nothing at all. You can walk in nature and try to still your thoughts. I started using guided meditations by Kris Carr and Gabby Bernstein, and one of the key things I learned from them is that thoughts are always going to interrupt you – you just need to bring your attention back to your breath and your intention. There’s also a fabulous app called Insight Timer that offers both guided meditations and music to meditate by, whatever your preference. But really, you need to remember to just breathe.
  3. Journal. This is my other non-negotiable practice. Journaling daily can help you get out of your own way. By releasing some of those thoughts that won’t leave you alone, you clear the space for your inspiration to show up. I still use Cameron’s practice – three pages a day, and it can be complete crap. Doesn’t matter. Just get the clutter out of your head.
  4. Use affirmations. Yes, the way you talk to yourself really does matter. If you’re always saying, I can’t do this, I can’t meet this deadline, I have no imagination, my characters have nothing to say, I have nothing to say, I’m going to have to go work at the grocery store because my contracts will be cancelled any minute…Well, you get the idea. It’s much better to plant positive seeds, even if they feel like complete and utter BS at the time. The more you say them, the more they’ll stick. I created this affirmation for myself:

    Say your affirmation daily. Feel it.
  5. Have fun and be thankful. How lucky are we to be creative people? And we’re all creative. It doesn’t matter if you write or not. However you express your creativity, be grateful for it. And most of all, enjoy it. Often we as writers put too much pressure on our work. We need to get back to the joy. And really, what else is there?

Writing Solo? By Daryl Wood Gerber

Hi all! Liz here, excited to welcome back our good friend Daryl Wood Gerber, who has some fun giveaways today! Take it away, Daryl!

By Daryl Wood Gerber

Writing can be a very lonely venture. You have no one to talk to except yourself  (which some consider a little bit crazy)

Or your characters (which a vast majority considers bordering on nuts)  

Sparky1Or you might have a faithful companion. I have Sparky. He is the joy of my life. He loves coming into my office and simply “being there” to support me. He sits calmly on his pillow and rouses occasionally for a pet. He gazes at me soulfully whenever I introduce him on a live chat on Facebook. He stares at me scornfully if I ask to take yet another picture to post on Facebook.  LOL

If I need to lie on the floor to gather my thoughts (I think well with my eyes closed – it is not a nap!), Sparky “allows” me to pet him. That stroking motion really helps clear my head. Sparky3

If I need to pace the floor to come up with an idea, he follows me. Oy! I have to be extremely careful not to make a sudden turn. He’s so quiet, he could be my shadow. I have tripped at least a dozen times because of him. I’m really glad I never hit my head on a counter top. (Ooh, idea for a murder method.)

But I digress…

If I need to take a long walk to think, Sparky is always up for it. “Snap on that leash, Mom. Let’s go!” He doesn’t even mind if I bring along my cell phone and tape conversations that I want to insert in the book. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m talking to him. Isn’t life all about him?

S2If I need to take a break and read someone else’s book, this is possibly his happiest moment of the day. We settle on the patio and he gets a treat and we listen to the sounds of nature, while I drink in the talent of another author.

Writing solo? Nope. Not I. I’ve got a writing partner. And the best thing is he thinks all my ideas are great.  (Hmm, must reconsider this last point.  It’s not good to have someone who thinks “all” your ideas are great. An author needs a constructive critic.)

Note to self: Get Sparky reading lessons and teach him to speak his mind.

Do you have a two- or four-footed pet that fills your days with love?

Daryl is offering a choice of any one of her books to one commenter.  Winner announced Friday! 

Daryl’s latest book, A DEADLY ÉCLAIR, the first in the French Bistro Mysteries, debuts November 7.

Here’s a sneak peek: 

Mimi Rousseau is throwing the bistro’s first wedding—the nuptials of a famous talk show host. She is sure things will go awry when the bride’s father shows up drunk to the out-of-towners’ dinner. By the end of the evening, things look sweet again…until the next morning, when her benefactor is found dead at the bistro with an éclair stuffed in his mouth. All fingers point at Mimi, whose loan is forgiven if he dies. It’s up to her to éclair—er, clear—her name before the killer turns up the heat.

DeadlyEclair


BIO:
Agatha Award-winning Daryl Wood Gerber writes the brand new French Bistro Mysteries as well as the nationally bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries.  As Avery Aames, she pens the popular Cheese Shop Mysteries. A DEADLY ÊCLAIR, the first French Bistro Mystery, comes out November 2017. Daryl also writes stand-alone suspense: DAY OF SECRETS and GIRL ON THE RUN. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to cook, and she has a frisky Goldendoodle named Sparky who keeps her in line!

http://www.darylwoodgerber.com
http://youtube.com/woodgerb1
http://www.mysteryloverskitchen.com
http://facebook.com/darylwoodgerber
http://twitter.com/darylwoodgerber
http://instagram.com/darylwoodgerber
http://pinterest.com/darylwoodgerber
NEWSLETTER: http://darylwoodgerber.com/contact.php#mailing-list

 

The End or Is It?

NEWSFLASH: CozyNookBks is the randomly selected winner of Linda Lovely’s book! Check your email – she’ll be contacting you. And congrats!

By Sherry where summer temperatures have returned even after Barb warned me if I put socks on last weekend it was the end of summer.

I see posts on Facebook all the time where an author happily announces that they just typed “The End” for their latest book. I have a confession. I’ve never typed it myself. I’ve obviously finished books, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to type those two little words.

Maybe I’m superstitious about it for some reason. I remember hearing author John Dufresne say at readings he won’t tell people what page he’s reading from because he might change the wording to make a sentence better as he goes along. And I always wonder when in the process other authors are typing “The End”. After the first draft? The sixth? The twelfth? Right before they turn it into the publisher?

I know my first draft isn’t the last one so it doesn’t feel like the end. It might be because even after I send it off to my editor at Kensington I know I’m going to get the copy edits which gives me another chance to polish the manuscript. And boy is there a lot to polish every time I get them back even though I feel like I’ve turned in a clean manuscript.

Even after the copy edits there’s that one final chance when the page proof comes. At this point the book has been type set and along with the page proof comes a warning to change only what is absolutely necessary. And that if you make too many changes you may have to pay for it. Gulp. At this point I’m pretty much making sure the punctuation is correct and words are spelled correctly. I might clean a bit here or there, but I always worry that I’ll do too much.

Maybe I don’t type “The End “because I don’t want it to be over or I think there’s more I could have done. Trust me, the minute I sent in the copy edits for I Know What You Bid Last Summer on Tuesday, I wished I had them back to read through them one more time.

I think in the end (pun intended) that typing “The End” is to final for me. Instead of a satisfying triumph it’s more about questioning if I did enough. Maybe it’s that insecurity that so many writers carry around with them that someone is going to point and yell “fraud”. Or maybe it’s like telling someone I love goodbye when I don’t want to. It could be part of the whole letting the story go out into the world where it will be judged, loved, hated, remarked on, or ignored.

I imagine typing “The End” sometimes. I’d do it with a bit of a flourish like when you finish playing something stirring on the piano and lift your hands from the keys. It would be in a great font. And then I’d delete it because I’m superstitious.

Readers: Do you type “The End”? When do you type it? And if you aren’t a writer do you ever have a hard time knowing when a project is finished?

Why I’m a Standalone Writer — Guest Lori Rader-Day

I am happy to welcome back Lori Rader-Day. We met at Left Coast Crime in 2014 when we were both debut authors. Our first books weren’t even out yet. Lori’s third book, The Day I Diedreleased on April 11th!

Lori:

[Movie trailer voice] IN A WORLD where the mystery genre is built upon series characters, Lori Rader-Day is a serial author of—standalones.

Hi, I’m Lori, and I write… standalones.

[Everyone chines in.] Hi, Lori.

[A voice from the back of the room] You’re safe here, Lori.

Am I? Am I really? I’m looking around and everyone else—wow, this is hard. Everyone else has a series. Some of them have two or three series. It’s easy to feel as though I’m not doing something right, you know? Like I am not a real mystery author, because I haven’t written a series yet.

Face it. Mystery readers love series. They are always going on about Miss Fisher and Vera and Dexter and Sookie and Longmire. I get it. There’s something great about knowing that the thing you like and have read or, since series books are sometimes turned into television, watched—there’s more! There’s more of this thing I really enjoyed! It’s all good news!

Publishers also love series titles. You know why? Because the marketing does its dang self when it comes to series books. Launch once, write into infinity, and your happy readers from the first book are likely to keep picking up later titles, as long as you let them know they are available. If new readers discover you later into the series, that’s also good news for your backlist sales. Again: all good news.

Wow, you guys are really turning me around on this—

[Voice from the back of the room] Stay strong, Lori.

[Deep breath] OK, right. There’s a reason I write standalones, even so. And the reason is—me. I like standalones. I like to read them. I like knowing that the book I’m picking up is the whole story, that I’m not missing three books prior to this one and hence a lot of backstory. I’m a little OCD on this. If I find a series book that I want to read, I can’t just pick up that new book. I have to go back into the backlist and find the first book. Why? Because I want the origin story. How did this character become an amateur sleuth? Why did they become a bounty hunter instead of a lingerie salesperson (Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum) or a private investigator instead of a lady of leisure (Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver)? I’m not going to skip THAT story of all stories they have to tell. That’s the best one!

So there’s my own reading practices to blame. I will take a good standalone over anything, any day of the week. A fully realized story and character, where everything is left on the page and nothing “saved” for a future book is my kind of book.

Though I do like series books. When I find a character who has the potential to carry an ongoing story of growth and change, of course I’ll read that—

[Voice from the second row] She’s wavering. Do something.

But the real reason that I write standalones has nothing to do with my reading habits and everything to do with my own attention span.

When I was writing my first two published novels, I was working a day job. A demanding one. To get my writing done, I had to use my lunch hour almost every day of the week. I was turning down lunch invitations with real friends to go spend time with these fake friends I was making up. I had to make myself want to be at the blank page, or I wouldn’t show up there. There were just so many other things to do. Life easily gets in the way.

So I had to keep things interesting in what I was writing—giving myself fun assignments like two first-person narrators or a really fun character with bad behavior—but I also had to keep myself engaged with the next thing. As in, when I finish THIS manuscript, I get to write something completely different. I get to write The Brand New Shiny Idea!

The Brand New Shiny Idea cannot be a second book with the same character, you see. That’s not Brand New or Shiny enough.

I guess you can say I use the next book, the next standalone by definition, as the carrot at the end of the stick of writing my current project.

[Mumble from somewhere in row four] Heavy-handed metaphor alert.

There are just so many story ideas out there to be written, and the ones that occur to me have me hopping from one character to another, from one setting to another. For now. Someday I hope one of the characters I write gives me another idea—and then another one—for what she wants to do. I will welcome that turn of events. But until then…

[Murmurs from among the group.]

[Voice from the back] You can do it!

I am a standalone writer. Thank you for your support.

Readers: Do you read standalones? Have you thought about writing one?

Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died, The Black Hour, and Little Pretty Things, is the recipient of the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Lori’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing at StoryStudio Chicago and is the president of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.

I’ll do it later…

By Liz, pondering life instead of working on book six.

I’m sure you’ve seen the meme on Facebook depicting the long timeline meant to capture a creative project. Basically, the beginning of the timeline is where the work begins. Then most of the rest of the timeline is colored in red with the words “F*** off” underneath. Then a small spot of yellow labeled “Panic.” Finally, a tiny patch of green labeled “All the work while crying,” until we reach the deadline.

Folks, this is often me. I kick myself for it every time, and swear I’ll never do it again. Sometimes I have what I think is a good reason to put off a big project, like my latest book (the day job, personal drama, moving, sick pets, fill-in-the-blank). Other times, my only good reason is that I’ve been watching too many Gilmore Girls reruns. Either way, good reason or bad, I’m stressing myself out for no reason.

dont-let-your-want-for-perfection-become-procrastination

I’ve always been this way. I remember the time in high school that I put off studying for my geometry final until 9 p.m. the night before – then asked my dad (a math teacher) to help me study.

“Sure,” he said. “What chapter?”

I looked at him with a puzzled frown. “Well, all of them,” I said, as if it were a perfectly reasonable request. He almost passed out.

Another time I waited until the day before a big paper was due to write it. And by write it, I mean sit at the computer and bang out the first and last draft. It was going well – until the computer had some malfunction (these were the VERY early Apple days) and the document disappeared. After a minor heart attack I figured out how to restore it, but it was stressful. Still, I finished the paper, turned it in and got an “A.” At least in this area, I’m fortunate that I’m good enough at it that I can operate this way. But it’s still not optimal for mental health.

As a reporter, I got used to writing under the gun. After all, most of the time stories came in at the eleventh hour and you had to run out, get the interviews, then run back, write, and file—usually within an hour or two. And usually with a scanner blaring next to your ear and an editor breathing down your neck. I know there’s a big difference between a 15- or 17-inch story and a 70,000 word story, but the goal is the same: To write something that informs/entertains/keeps the readers’ interest. And write it in the timeframe you’ve agreed to, whether that’s two hours or nine months.

So why do I continue this bad habit? I’m really not sure. I used to beat myself up about it, until I saw this quote by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way:

“Procrastination is not laziness. It is fear. Call it by its right name, and forgive yourself.”

If I really stop and think about it, she’s right. It’s fear of not being good enough, not doing it right, not living up to reader’s expectations, not being able to figure out the plot, you name it. In this case, it could also be fear of the end of a contract, without knowing if it will be continued. If I finish the book, will I have to say goodbye to my friends in Frog Ledge?

But part of this job—this life—is uncertainty, and learning how to live with it. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. So with that in mind, I’m going to stop putting off that next scene, and get back to writing.

Readers, what chore/hobby/job do you procrastinate?

Tuning In

Jessie: In book jail on the coast of Maine.

WHISPERSHIRESI have a confession. After having written five books I still don’t know where the stories come from. I don’t really mean the little snippets and nuggets of ideas that you tuck away and think “Oh, wouldn’t that be interesting to use in a book someday”. I mean the whole complex thing of starting with almost nothing and ending up with a whole world complete with complex people, vibrant settings and intriguing conflicts.

I wish I could say it had something to do with me but I am not really sure that it does. As I work I find myself wondering if my role is that of a conduit through which an existing story flows. I often have a sneaking suspicion that rather than making my books up I somehow happened to tune into a sort of radio frequency and I simply hear them and then write them down.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I’ve been doing time in book jail, putting the finishing touches on my second Change of Fortune mystery. The main character, Ruby Proulx, is clairaudient. She has the benefit of a voice she hears from time to that gives her advice. Throughout the course of the first book in the series, Whispers Beyond the Veil, with effort, she manages to hear the voice more clearly and to tap into it at will rather than by chance.

I find myself hoping that life will imitate art and that my own ability to tune in will improve as much as Ruby’s. Is it possible to get a clearer signal? Is there some way to make the rest of life quieter so the story is more easily heard? Is that all wishful thinking?

In the end it probably doesn’t matter where the stories come from as long as they manage to get told. As long as the voices come out through the fingertips and onto the page, and readers enjoy the results, it really makes no difference if I thought of it all, or none of it at all. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Readers, do you have any suggestions for quieting the outside world? Writers, where do you think the stories come from?

 

Myth-Busting, Part III – Personal Editing

WW Editing

Congratulations to Terri Crossley! You are the winner of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries. Please contact Sherry at SherryHarrisauthor.com! Random.org was used for the drawing.

This month, we’ve busting myths and rules about writing and the writing process. We’ve talked about character bibles and word count goals, and today we’re talking personal editing habits.

Many writers and teachers alike follow the mantra of, “Get the whole first draft down before you edit a word.” It works for a lot of people, especially those who dread the slog of a first draft. But some people say they need to look at what they’ve already done and make it better before they can move forward. So who’s right? Wickeds, what do you think?

Sherry: I do a combination of both. I think I’ve shared the odd way I write before — the beginning, the end, and then back to the middle. Because of this I do some editing along the way. But avoid writing and rewriting the same scene over and over. I think that is a form of procrastination or fear of failure.

Jessie: I am of the “get the draft done, then go back” school of thought. I don’t change anything already written before the draft is done. For example, if I decide to combine two characters into one, I go forward as if that has always been the case from the moment I make the decision. I wait until a revision draft to begin to patch things up. I tend to write quickly during those early drafts and I really don’t want anything slowing down my flow.

Barb: I am also of the “never look back” school, partially because I don’t know what needs to be fixed until I’ve gotten to the end, read the whole first draft, and made some decisions. I could waste a lot of time going back and fixing stuff–and then end up cutting the whole scene for one reason or another. Sometimes I KNOW I’m creating continuity issues, but I soldier on.

Julie: I write the entire draft. But, I use inline edits in Scrivener, and also use brackets and write myself notes like this [fix this later] [find out what you called her in the second chapter] [add more clock stuff here] [is this true or did you make it up?]. I’ve learned to trust my plotting, and keep on going.

Edith: I also like to crank out the sh**ty first draft, as Anne Lamott said. I try not to stop for research while I’m writing, instead typing [CHECK THIS] or a variation on one of Julie’s notes. One of my first editing passes is to search for left square bracket and then go check for answers to those questions. That said, every morning when I start writing I reread what I wrote the day before. I do some minor editing, fleshing out, tweaking. It gets me back into the story and reminds me of what’s coming up next.

Blue_socks,_knitting_in_progress

Photo by Lisa Risager (blue socks for a feminist) via Wikimedia Commons

I think it’s interesting that this approach we all pretty much share would not work in some other art forms – like knitting, for example! Can you imagine knitting the rough draft for a sock and then polishing it? Although it might work for a painting. I wouldn’t know, not having talents in that direction, but I can imagine an artist might lay down the rough idea for a picture and then fine tune it.

Liz: I always intend to write the first  draft through, but when I get stuck I find that if I go back and do some editing, I end up making changes that get me unstuck. I don’t love that it works that way because I always feel like I’m never going to get the entire book done, but it seems to work – even when I’m churning out the last chapter after the rest of the book has been revised a few times!

Readers: What do you crank out and then refine, and what kinds of projects do you have to make your best on the first try? Writers – anybody out there write just one draft, ready to submit?