RMFW and me . . . and you.

RMFW's Colorado Gold conference is in a few weeks, and, of course, I'm going.

In fact, this year I am an "Honored Guiding Member" which means I've been in RMFW for a **mumbledy mumble** years. Okay, we'll just leave it at decades.

And, yes, RMFW has given me some awesome awards (I've been Writer of the Year twice and received the Jasmine service award). And, yes, I've been a member of a few . . . several . . . many committees and boards.

But that's not what's important to me. What's important is that Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers taught me how to write.

That is the simple truth. My critique group taught me how to write.

And my critique group continues to help me with my writing. They are my closest friends.

So that's the basis of my relationship with RMFW. It gave me friends and it taught me to write, and when a volunteer organization does that, a person feels like they have to give back, so I did and I have.

The basic unit for me of RMFW is my critique group.

After the critique group are the larger classes, the get-togethers. When I joined there were monthly in-person business meetings followed by seminars or presentations. I attended most of those, soaking up technique and different points of view and processes of writing...and information on publishing. Now, I attend the presentations when a topic applies to my work (private detectives), or when I'm asked to help out (earlier this year).

So, basic unit the critique group, next level up is the monthly presentations and gatherings, then come semi-annual Writer of the Year revelation and panels and the winter holiday party. I rarely miss those.

Another level is the Colorado Gold Writing Contest, more often than not, I judge contest entries, though I have had busy years with deadlines that I haven't been able to be a judge. I swung back into that stream this year and am pleased to see a couple of the entries I judged have made the finals, as well as one by a critique buddy.

Yes, I'm pleased to help beginning writers, and I enjoy reading good work that is completely different than my genre and world view (I write fantasy and fantasy romance).

Finally, there is the one and only Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' annual Colorado Gold conference. I can't recall the last time I missed one. In fact, I don't think I have missed one in . . . decades. This year I changed the dates of a family trip because I wouldn't miss the Colorado Gold – and I gave up my dibs on the family Bronco tickets to the Broncos-Panthers game because it is the Thursday before conference which is the meet-and-greet with our out of town guests (for volunteers).

Yes, I try to present a workshop myself at the conference, mostly on self-motivation or on characters. This year, as an Honored Guiding Member, my topic is on writing series (on Sunday, one of the last sessions). I'm in the midst of two series now, and have written another two.

But most of all at the conference I enjoy meeting with other writers, no matter what genre or level of writing they're at. If brainstorming is needed, that's fine. Or character motivation or development. Or finding your own writing process.

There's nothing like talking to other writers and knowing that their eyes won't glaze over in two minutes.

So, at whatever level you are in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, WELCOME! I hope you find a home here like I have.

And may all your writing dreams come true.
Robin

Having. Written. Writing is work.

Writing is work, and usually demands a good amount of self-discipline just to get your butt in the chair and put down words whether you feel like it or not.

Yes, I go through funks. One of the reasons I give seminars on how to get through my panic and work through funks is because I experience them. Like a week ago. I’d been making a reasonable daily wordcount (about which I am obsessive), then outside real life worries mixed with the knowledge I’d have to trash the first chapter of my new manuscript spiraled me down into a funk.

So I asked myself, “What would make you very happy now?” Travel? An air conditioned house, or even an office? A cupcake? (I live too close to a cupcake shop) Comfort food? (I know where all those places that serve what I like best are, too).

However, myself said, “Having written.” That would have made me feel better about my day.

Unfortunately I don’t have any magical writing pens or spells that would transfer ideas from my head onto the computer, wonderfully written and nicely formatted.

It doesn’t work that way. There is no “having written,” unless you actually sit down and do the work.

WRITE!

Like many in PAL and IPAL I am a professional writer. Furthermore, I am single, without any other income. I don’t write, I don’t get paid. It’s a risky business. So I really can’t afford funks or the panic or the self-hate that immobilizes me. I can’t wait upon a muse to waft into my window and fill me with enthusiasm. I can’t wait upon inspiration.

Writing is work. I first discovered this within my first year of seriously writing. After the Colorado Gold conference, I’d joined a critique group, but my technique was so poor that I needed a writing buddy (also a new writer) to meet with and look at my pages before I took them to critique. I’d written a new scene and met with my buddy one Saturday morning at the hideous hour of seven a.m. across town. I knew the scene was good.

She said so, too. But then she said the fatal words, “This is a great scene but it doesn’t belong in the book.” It was extraneous to the story. In fact, it was backstory.

So I sat there, staring down at curdling eggs, at too-early-a-time-of-day-for-me-to-even-be-awake-on-Saturday, looking at pages that had taken me hours to write and polish. That was when I knew writing wasn’t just fun, it was work.

Most of the time, it remains work. Oh, like everyone, I have those days of giddy inspiration, those bursts of fabulous words that flow faster than I can type, but, really, a lot of the time it is plinking one word down at a time. I don’t consider myself a literary writer, one who strings together beautiful phrases. I consider myself a workmanlike writer of good technique who can fashion interesting characters and tell good stories.

I also got my start in publishing when self-publishing wasn’t much of an option, and after I wrote my million words, put in my ten thousand hours to become proficient. Most of the time I can take myself into my office and write, even if I have a little depression or fear. Most of the time I like the process of writing, too, though the story might dribble out word by word.

But I ALWAYS love “having written.” Even if I don’t think the words are great, or am dubious about whether the scene will remain in the manuscript, or if I took a wrong turn. I wrote. I did my job.

May all your writing dreams come true.

Rereading and Rereaders

First, a note, reading is my primary entertainment, I don't have cable television (I have two network channels, that's it) and I don't download and watch films.

I reread my library (not my own work) all the time. I always thought everyone did, but I was having a talk with a writer friend and found out she never rereads a book.

This got me thinking.

I know that my fans DO reread my books, and my series, and I asked them why on Facebook. I got 128 main comments and comments on the comments...

And they reread for the same reasons I do.

1) Sometimes I read a book fast, just zoom through it, and I go back and re-read to savor, pick up details I miss. This is particularly true if there's a mystery or suspense plot and I missed a clue.

2) The book is part of a series and I reread one or more previous books to recall what's going on in that particular world at that particular time.

3) I know a book explores a particular emotion/topic/character that I want to think more about and I reread for that.

4) I know I'll see something new in the plot or the characters, in the STORY when I reread.

5) I am deep in deadline or my mind is tired and I don't want to plunge into the intellectual stimulation of a new world or story question but want some entertainment.

6) And, as far as I'm concerned, the best: Comfort. I like the world, I like the characters, I like the story and I want to settle in and visit them again. There are good lines I want to savor, there are laughs I want to recall and laugh with again. Or I want to be on that spaceflight and look out the portal at the stars, or journey with the drovers in nineteenth century England, or see, once more, how love unfolds between these two very disparate people.

One that doesn't apply to me:

My favorite authors don't write fast enough and I read fast and I'd rather reread a good story than try new authors.

One that applies to writers more than rereaders:

I want to see how that writer pulled a certain technique off. One of my favorite books is Northern Lights by Nora Roberts. I think it is a fabulous example of how to have a deeply depressed hero in the beginning and keep the reader not-depressed, interested, and reading.

So, as a writer, there are several ways to consider readers who do and don't reread.

First, from the point of view of voracious readers who don't reread. They will try and will buy a lot of books, probably zoom through backlists if they find something they like. Yay!

Rereaders will be loyal fans, they'll wait and anticipate your next book. They'll know what you're talking about when you reference the Hawthorn-Holly Feud, the intelligent Turquoise House, when the flying horses (volarans) deserted the Marshall's Castle, the size of Brownies... etc. If you're on social media, you can interact with your readers, and build more of a following. Since they reread your books, they're interested in your characters and stories.

I'll talk about how readers and fans can help you out (non-promotional-wise) in some other blog, but now I think I'll head back to that werewolf challenge scene I particularly liked....

 

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Play and Explore

Last month, when I finally overcame my fears and reached a big goal, I felt giddy the next day . . . I tried to write, but instead I pretty much explored the net . . . I saw an interesting article and followed a link, then another and another. The next thing I knew I'd crossed the world – from underwater treasure hunting in the South Seas, to listening to a piece of music composed to play for a thousand years – with no notes repeating.

I looked at skeletons and read ghost stories, admired castles and art deco townhouses. I searched for a tearoom that looked "just right" inside for one of my settings (still haven't found one). I explored islands with volcanoes, outer space and a fly's eye.

Obviously, my mind needed to rest, and the inner child who I think of as my most creative self, needed to play.

Pretty pictures (pre-Raphaelites), kitties and puppies and foxes (well, I write about telepathic animal companions too). How some dogs have problems with stairs. How scary animals look without fur.

How people danced through the ages, set to "Uptown Funk." Historical film heroes, set to "Sharp Dressed Man."

I absorbed all these – ideas and visualizations and places and items that will lie in my subconscious and might, someday, spark an idea when melded with another idea that I might write a line or two about.

That didn't matter. What mattered was getting a sense of exploring STUFF that I never knew about, some scientific theories that I will never understand (yes, particles or waves...). And maybe I won't use this or that or t'other, but it took my mind down pathways I don't often go (English gardens, Zen tearooms, castle ramparts, meteorite craters, birds sitting on telephone lines as notes of music).

Yes, it made me giddy, but it was also extremely fun, and reminded me of an important truth, which is, let yourself go sometimes – DO explore the internet for hours see the wonder that is our world and human imagination and ideas.

Or get away from that computer and take a trip to the mountains and look at a meadow, hike a trail, find a waterfall. Explore a ghost town or a mesa or a cliff dwelling or a graveyard. (I've been in a lot of graveyards these last few years, ask me about my favorites). Experience something different than is in your usual route. Step outside your bounds.

Or take a look at the town around you and places you wouldn't ever go (like, for me, a hockey game), or roller derby, or ballet (yes, ballet, men, you know those male dancers are strong and sexy, don't you?). When was the last time you were in the Art Museum? How about at Buffalo Bill's grave? Ruby Hill? Canoeing down the Platte? At a stand up comedy show?

What about meditation at a Buddhist center? Or drumming? Or Universal dance? Or attending a Society for Creative Anachronism heavy fighting practice (being a spectator is free).

On and on and on and on. Be open to wonder. Connect with new people.

The Panic

Do you get panicked about your writing or your writing career? Do you think you're the only one?

Most of us feel the panic from newbies to old veterans of the publishing business.

The panic particularly hits me and my friends when we're behind deadline, of course. Or at the end of a contract where the books haven't done particularly well and you know that series (or your career with the house) will be dropped.

Or if you're in the self-publishing business, when you lay out a large sum for advertising and wonder if you'll get any kind of return. Or on the release of your first piece of work. Or crafting your next story. Or behind on YOUR deadlines.

And, yeah, this includes me. I'm only slightly behind my schedule for Ghost Maker (due April 30), but I'm nervous. I'm also working on releasing my first self-published novella, and that seems like a climb up Long's Peak, complete with mis-steps, long drops and fatal falls. Recently a situation came up with Berkley that had me so scared and angry that I had disturbing dreams.

Now, I've given workshops on overcoming the panic, and at the Colorado Gold Conference. I HAVE the tools to work through it. Many tools.

But I delay in putting them to use because I'm locked into trying to pretend I can write like normal.

Yesterday, I finally got out of the house and took my travel computer elsewhere to work. And, yes, I got my daily wordcount done, a good amount of research stuck in my head, and a cup of good French onion soup. It helped.

Like I said, I have tools. So here are some of them for you, in no particular order:

If you don't know where the panic is coming from you might want to journal (handwritten!) Or freewrite until it spills out. Freewriting is pencil/pen to the page and write. Don't think, write, no going back, erasing, fixing spelling, nothing. Mind and emotion dump. If you're using standard 8 x 11 paper, a new freewriting person should get to the point about 1.5 pages in.

Or write down all your fears about the current work: the hero is wimpy, the heroine is unsympathetic, the writing is trite and full of cliches. Drain all that negativity out of yourself. Then destroy that paper. Rip it up (do not burn it on your desk full of papers).

Or, while we're on this topic, write out all the things you love about this story. Why you wanted to write it. (And YOU are ALWAYS the only one who can write this particular story). Reaffirm that it's an important-to-you piece of work.

Look at your office, is it too neat (ha, ha) or messy (bingo!). Remedy that.

Take a shower and linger. Or a bath, even, I've had friends say that submerging the whole body (yes, the HEAD that has the BRAIN) under water.

Exercise, get out and get walking and thinking.

Go further, get out of the house to write. Go to a coffee shop or other place where you know others will be working on computers, minimize distractions. Or, if you're writing about a local place (for me, Manitou Springs) and feeling flush, go spend a night there with your computer and write, write, write.

Can't face the blank white screen? Change the color of your document if you can on your PC, or if you use Scrivener, or pull out a piece of paper and start writing by hand.

Subliminals and sound waves. These work for me (or I've convinced myself they work for me). Apps and "music" that come over earphones at a certain frequency to change your brainwaves – some I have are labeled "Morning Espresso," "Concentration," "Creative Thinking," "Lateral Thinking."

Just Write. Put your butt in a chair, set a timer for a certain amount of time (I prefer a half hour) and write. Jot down phrases that come to you about the scene that you can work with, a bit of dialogue.

So those are ten techniques to take you out of your mind/emotion panic and act, but, really, if you know that going and sitting in a salt light cave will help, do that.

We can all do this. And if the panic seems to bad, call a friend, we've pretty much all been there. When I talk to my friends and we expose our panic, we always end the call or the chat session with, "YOU CAN DO IT!"

Yes, you can.

May all your writing dreams come true.

Of Software and Hardware, a personal story

Up until about two months ago, I was the last writer I knew still using the Word Perfect word processing program. I was also about three versions behind and Corel (the creator of Word Perfect) no longer supported my version. If I wanted the newest version, I'd have to pay hundreds of dollars for it. I'd also gotten a persistent glitch in the program that popped up a useless button every time I logged on (okay, I eventually fixed that). These factors made be decide to quit.

For years I'd heard how wonderful Scrivener was, and my friends thought it would fit my writing style (out of order pantser). I'd bought it at a discount (significantly under $100) after "winning" NaNoWriMo one year, since the makers of Scrivener sponsor that event.

I'd downloaded it and updated it and tried the tutorial a couple of times, but hadn't gotten the hang of it. One day a friend emailed me a free offer for a very expensive tutorial "Learning Scrivener Fast." Since I'd just been forced to realize I would not be having a novel out in my main series in 2016, I'd determined to write and put out two novellas. A novella sounded perfect for learning Scrivener.

So I applied and got the free training program and went step-by-step through it. Scrivener was originally written for Mac systems only, but had put out a PC version. I watched the videos on how to do this and that if you had a PC instead of a Mac.

I loved it, LOVED, Scrivener. It made my writing so much easier, moving around scenes, outlining, jotting down notes, keeping a place for research, just letting me write! And I wrote that novella (which turned out too long as usual), in record time.

But I became dissatisfied. The Scrivener program on the Mac had more bells and whistles, particularly with regard to setting deadlines (vital for me). I wanted it.

And the epublisher I'd been expecting to put out the novella was closing its doors, which meant I needed to self-publish. Again, I'd heard for years about Vellum, an expensive but very easy and very beautiful formatting program. Again, only for the Mac.

I also got tired of the "Get Windows 10 NOW!" icon living in my taskbar, the idea that I'd have to rent, yearly, Microsoft Word (which my publishers insist on using for revisions and copy edits). I could only see money drain out of my pocket.

So I took the holiday money I'd received and shopped around on ebay as I do and got a good deal on an excellent shape, not too old, Macbook Air.

How exciting. I bought accessories, two cases, two keyboard skins. This would be my new dedicated writing machine, lightweight and easy to travel with, take with me while I did housesitting, research trips, family trips, writing retreats and even if I went to a local coffee shop.

I got it and spent an extremely long day and a half re-setting passwords and users (which I completely screwed up), reinstalling the operating system, then downloading and installing the new OS.

The first piece of software I bought was Scrivener for the Mac. Over two days I worked through the seminar again, reached the end of it, and felt puzzled. Somehow I'd missed the instructions for customizing the Format bar (you know, where cut/copy/paste/undo live), and the keyboard.

I'd done both of these things in Scrivener for Windows. I had to customize the F8 function key because for over two decades I'd used this key in Word Perfect for underline/italics. I write fantasy with Familiar Animal companions, major sidekick characters. These sidekick characters speak telepathically (like my ghosts in the ghost series) in italics! I have pages of italics in my books.

I went back through the training program, found the customization module for the Mac. It said nothing about the format bar. Or the keyboard.

Shock hit me, zipped through my nerves until I trembled in my chair. This wasn't right. Scrivener Mac was supposed to be the one with all the good stuff, Scrivener Windows was supposed to be the lesser (and, with regard to deadline targets and some other options, it is).

Not one of my many friends with Scrivener for Mac and Macs told me about these differences beforehand, not one mention, no one even seemed to know about them.

Luckily I was in an online chat with a person who works for Apple and one who supplied IT for Macs for years. And with other people who were using Scrivener for Mac (all writers).

We figured out how to set the F8 key for italics through the system. I was out of luck with regard to customizing the Format toolbar.

Oh, and, yes, the Macbook Air has a small screen, but Scrivener has a lot of options to zoom up the text. At least on Scrivener Windows. It has significantly less options of doing that (increments of 25% instead of 5%) on Scrivener for Mac.

I had already realized that I had no clue of the document structure of the machine. I'd have to use the "Finder" to locate my files because I couldn't see a nice tree structure like on my windows.

Then came the worst. I began typing on my new, beautiful Macbook Air with the backlit keys (I had to put away the keyboard skin because it interfered with my typing). I found the F8 key to be too tiny to use. I reached for Backspace-Delete, which I also use a lot, and it wasn't there. Also, there seemed to be a problem with my trackpad. It didn't turn off when a mouse was plugged in like my regular laptop and the previous (tiny memory and cheap) travel computer. I found no way in the system to turn off the trackpad when a mouse was present.

By this time I'd put four and a half long days into the machine and the training program and my fingers hit keys that were too small or not there, my thumbs brushed over the trackpad and my cursor jumped to strange and unpleasant places. I got gibberish.

Despite the settings, when I opened Scrivener for Mac, it opened my current document and a "set up a new project window" every time. I didn't/don't know how to change that since I believe it is set correctly (and I tried several times with different settings). I think I'll have to uninstall (and lose all my personalization) and reinstall the program.

And on the Macbook, I wasn't/am not sure where my "home" files were/are.

I am a personalization queen. Different colored windows, menu bars, cursors – my main cursor is a fountain pen –, icons for folders on my PC, huge theme personalization. With Mac I am stuck on a blue theme (they say it is blue, I think it is just a different shade of the other option, gray).

So I packed up the Mac and put it in the closet. I'd always thought I'd be a Mac girl, and here I'd made the plunge, and it simply didn't work for me.

Eventually I will probably get a larger Mac with a full-sized keyboard. I will train myself not to use the backspace delete key (or key map another key on the keyboard for that). It will still lack the personalization I like, but I will not feel a hostage to Microsoft for software and operating systems.

But for now, I'm a PC girl.

Writing Space

It's January and goal-making time, and most of us have determined what we want to accomplish this year with regard to our writing. It might also be time to take a look at our office or writing work space to see that it's set up right.

By that, I mean that it is right for you. I know what I need for my office, and some things might apply to all of us, but make sure you have your space set up the way you prefer and need it. Anything that keeps you from writing should be corrected.

First, consider lighting. It's also winter. I suffer on gray days, so I've put full-spectrum light bulbs in both my desk lamp and the overhead fixture. My office faces south so I usually get sunlight during some of the day, too, which keeps me working. That said, the sunlight can hit shiny materials that set up a glare when I look beyond my monitor, so my blinds are angled to minimize this. Lighting can also be a subconscious cue. When the overhead lights are on, I'm usually looking for something, or checking out my bookcases. When the desk lamp is on, it's time to write, and my brain (and fingers) know this.

Currently I have a full office set up, including separate keyboard, large monitor, computer stand and a u-shaped desk with bookcases on two sides. Computers being so small and portable now, also consider where you'd like to work and what peripherals will help you most. You may prefer a notebook on a table in a sunroom rather than an actual office.

But do think about those peripherals. My separate keyboard has a numeric keypad which I find useful and is more ergonomic than a laptop keyboard, and with larger keys. It also on a pole that can be raised, lowered and angled. That works for me. Are you happy with your keyboard?

My monitor is a full 22 inches and excellent to compare documents side to side, particularly during the copy edit and galley stage. Or for two versions of a document. I do have a tiny 11 inch travel computer and have found comparing documents on that difficult. Are you happy with your monitor?

I have my most used research books in hard copy and within reach, since if I look on the internet for a quick answer I can be distracted. I also have an engagement calendar where I write down my progress at my elbow. At a glance I can see how much I've written during the week and if I've made my daily goals. These help me.

What are you sitting in? I recently met with a friend who has a reclining chair with a tray that I lusted after, one that cradles her bad back. I tend to use a covered exercise ball. And make sure you have the room to stop and stretch in between (I hope) bouts of inspiration.

Consider the tidiness of your office. Do you look in and cringe at how sterile the place is? Or shudder at the stacks of stuff on your desk that you think you should take care of before you write? You are the best judge of the ambiance of clutter you like, but make sure it isn't keeping you away from your workspace. And, I admit, that's why I wanted to write this article. I do have a stack of papers – okay, two stacks – that are bothering me right now. Time to clean them up and get going on meeting my deadlines.

May you create your perfect space for writing and find pleasure in your craft every day.

Robin

The Company of Other Writers

This time of year, the schedule is full of holiday parties. One I don't miss is the RMFW party (and, yes, it has taken place this year). I also try to make my critique group critique-and-party, and that was yesterday. January in critique will be having me taking in the beautiful-art self-care cards that I hand out everywhere (retreats, all my seminars), before we talk about our yearly goals.

For me, these are important gatherings of my tribe.

Now, I am a full time writer, and I am in the company of other writers every day online. But I still cherish the in-person get-togethers and the conversation.

First, because my online writing-sprint group is mostly fantasy writers and we talk about that genre: multi-book story arcs and world-building and suchlike. I like talking about romance, and mystery, and thrillers and how those genres have specific demands that readers expect their authors to fulfill. How they differ – the emphasis of the story, the pacing. I get a broader appreciation for how others in my craft handle their projects.

Second, I am a long-time volunteer with RMFW and I like to talk with old buddies and make new ones.

But I also remember when I was a writer who had little to do with others, who belonged to RMFW but didn't attend the parties. I'd go to some of the seminars and sit in the corner and take notes. I'd be at conference. But the less structured social occasions I'd usually skip.

Until the first RMFW holiday party I was coerced into attending mumbledy-mumble years ago. It was a revelation. The standard questions that people asked then still works. "What do you write?" and "Tell me about your current manuscript." I'd listen and smile at the intensity of my fellow writers and feel like I belonged.

I kept coming. I could talk about problems and get a second, or third, take. Research talk would swirl around like the smoke of inspiration, just waiting for me to use it – or tuck it away to perhaps use some other time. Or, since I do write fantasy, figure out I could twist it and put it in an other-worldly story.

No one thought I was weird if I wanted to talk about herbs or poisons or how long rigor mortis lasts (yes, I often have suspense in my stories, too). Or, of late, how to make a knife out of a person's femur.

Then there's the networking. Priceless. Who's your editor? What's s/he buying? Get self-publishing tips...I've moved over to Scrivener finally after sticking with Word Perfect, it's better on a Mac. Should I get a Mac?

Here in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, we share. You need only ask.

If there's a seminar topic coming up – go. You'll meet people interested in the same thing you are, as well as learn something. If there's a social occasion, go.

Make it a priority to spend time with other writers, in person. So you can see the passion they have about writing, how they gesture, give them an outlet of a person who listens and whose eyes don't glaze over when they talk about character arc. Someone who cares about writing.

Let yourself go and follow your own passion, talk about motivation or dialogue or the research you've been doing.

We'll all be better for the company.

So, as they say in my books: Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again. May next year be your best writing year EVER.

Robin

Naming Your Characters

I'm sure every writer has stories about this. For some, naming characters aren't important, for others, it's vital. I'm in the latter category.

I write fantasy and fantasy romance and have wended my way (so far) through four series, two are finished, two are continuing.

In the "Heart" series (the "Heart" books because they all have "Heart" in the title – and, yes, I'll talk about the joys of that some other time), I have a rigid naming system. Those books are fantasy romance set on a planet colonized by psychic Earth people who formed a Celtic society. Most of them are based on plant names, either common names or scientific. The favorite Familiar animal companion, Zanth, is short for Zanthoxyl, for instance. I will throw in the occasional Gaelic and Welsh names for things other than people (and have real fun with geographical place names), but I stick close to my rules, and some of my readers would be horrified if I diverged from that.

In my other current series, the Ghost Seer series, I am writing about contemporary Denver and ghosts of the Old West. My heroine is Clare – spelled Clare instead of Claire deliberately. She's a rational accountant and does see clearly. But she inherits a fortune and a psychic gift for seeing ghosts and helping them pass on. So she sees clearly in that way, too. As for my hero, Zach, well, I wanted a name sounding close to "Jack" for the set up of the first meeting of the hero and heroine. And I like the name, it was time to have a Zach hero. As for his surname – Slade – it's the same as the gunslinger ghost in my first book, deliberately.

So I spend time, perhaps too much time, thinking about my character names, and there are considerations you, as a writer, should take into account.

For instance, I once had a hero named Race, then realized that a previous hero would have a large secondary role, Raz. Race and Raz. No.

Because no matter how interesting it is for you to have, say, identical twins with close names (Rica and Rona), you do NOT want to confuse your reader. The minute you have the reader thinking, wait, is that the medical doctor or the physical therapist? you've pulled your reader from the story. And when you pull the reader away from your story, it's easier for them to close the book.

About Race, as I recall, Race was the second or third name I'd tried for this guy. He's an adventurer and I wanted something that sounded "slick" and easy to the ear, and felt the ace sound did this (the standard advice for a romance hero is a short name with a hard consonant – like Zach). Race became Jace, and I was finally happy with the name, it fit the character.

I'm sure we've all run across the character who insists on a name, and that can be tough if it doesn't match reader expectations (like Wendell for a romance hero). The only advice I can give you on this is to put the story away (if you can) for a while until you detach from the character. That might work.

As for me, I wanted a heroine named Brandy, and was nixed by my editor on that one (this was the Summoning series), and after long thought she became Marian. But I think she'd have been a little more daring if she'd had the name Brandy.

So names do matter. To you, your readers, and, yes, they can hint at attributes of your characters.

May all your writing dreams come true,

Robin

The Artist’s Way, Still Relevant After All These Years

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is the best path I have found for learning to create more freely. Essentially, how to unblock your creativity and keep it clear. There are highly effective tools that will help you recover your creativity from a variety of blocks including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions and other inhibiting forces. Replacing such negative blocks with artistic confidence and productivity.

I've followed The Artist's Way about 3-4 times over my writing career, both before and after I sold. I've also done about the same number of workshops on the material.

The Artist's Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron
The first time I worked through The Artist's Way, a "Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self," as the book called itself, about one week in a month over a period of approximately three years. This is a twelve week course. So, I didn't think I'd been that diligent. Then I hauled out my book.

It's lower right corners are ratty, some pages have suspicious brown (tea/chocolate) and red (papercut blood/spaghetti) stains. The thing is highlighted in pink, orange, yellow, green and purple (I don't know where my blue was). There are Robin-made tabs for such pages as: Basic Principals, Rules Of The Road, Creative Affirmation, An Artist's Prayer, and my personal favorite, Dealing With Criticism. Scribbled notes and the occasional terrible drawing (requested by chapter "tasks"), sprawl all over the pages with asterisks and arrows and brackets.

I looked at the book, and just the state it was in showed that I had worked through the course and it had made a difference. Most importantly, at the beginning of the course, I was writing books I enjoyed and thought I could market. In the end, I had found my true voice and was writing books of my heart.

Elements of The Artist's Way: Morning Pages
I hated the idea of morning pages, writing three full 8 ½ x 11 pages every day, freewriting, scribbling words, any words, across the paper and keeping the pen moving. IN THE MORNING. Three pages, because Cameron believes that whatever is really on your mind won't dribble out until after 1 ½ and it takes another 1 ½ to deal with it. True for me, in the beginning, later I got so I spilled my guts from line one. Nobody reads your morning pages, not even you, until week 9.

I don't do any scheduled task (except feed cats, which is simple self-defense) in the morning. So, they became evening pages or lunch pages for me the first time around. When I became a full time writer, they became true Morning Pages. And they worked. They cleaned out my brain of all my petty (or huge) concerns of the day so I could write. They cut down on my whining to friends. They observed the seasons. True, sometimes in my pages I filled up three lines with: "Love, love, love...." But that's not so bad either, is it?

Since I dreaded doing the pages so much, as I went along, I marked the other reasons Cameron gave for consistent daily pages (paraphrases and direct quotes):

  1. Morning pages help us stop taking our negative Censor (Inner Critic) as the voice of reason and learn to hear it for the blocking device that it is.
  2.  Morning pages get us to the other side of our fear, negativity, moods.
  3.  Other writing seems to suddenly be far more free and expansive and easier.
  4. Processes extreme emotions and leads to clarity (sometimes painful).
  5. We identify ourselves. We learn what we want and ultimately become willing to make the changes needed to get it.
  6. Points the way to reality: this is how you're feeling; what do you make of that?
  7. Loosens our hold on fixed opinions and short-sighted views. We see that our moods, views, and insights are transitory. We acquire a sense of movement, a current of change in our lives.
  8. We treat ourselves more gently. Feeling less desperate, we are less harsh with ourselves and with others.
  9. Morning pages end dry spells, doing the pages means we have not collapsed to the floor of our despair and refused to move on. We have doubted, yes, but we have moved on.
  10. Morning pages are meditation, a practice that brings us to our creativity and our Creator.

Artist's Date: The artist's date can be summed up in one word: Play. Or two: Pamper Yourself. Your artist is a creative child, so spend an hour once a week to fulfill it: roll down a hill, take a train ride, dance, swing, color in a book or arrange stickers, doodle. And do it BY YOURSELF.

I must admit, this was the portion of the course that I followed the least. When I started the Artist's Way I lived by myself and was used to pleasing myself. The date became more important when I had a roommate, but I rarely formalized it. On the other hand, now that I think about it, I currently have this daily journal...and developed a passion for stickers...and I've bought 4 sets of those new metallic ink pens (the ink is archive quality, but one set was a gift for my 5 year old niece)....

Tasks: Chapter exercises. These are what hooked me. One in the first chapter blew my mind open. I wrote one of the creative affirmations: "I am allowed to nurture my artist," 10 times. Sure enough, my Censor popped up while doing this: "You have so many other things to do. Your house isn't clean, your bills aren't paid. You aren't a responsible person." I listened and analyzed. Where did this come from? And found out that Censor sounded like my parents (particularly my father) and the basic idea that the critic was getting across to me, and which I truly believed, was: "You can't do what you want to do; you must do what we want you to do." With a corollary: "What you want to do is foolish and stupid and a waste of time and will never amount to anything. What others want you to do is always more important." Wow! Hooked. Try it for yourself.

Warning: Week 4, Reading Deprivation: No READING, no TV, movies, radio. This is horrible, but it works, too. It was several years ago (the week Jon Benet Ramsey was killed, and I never caught up), and was one of the most intensely creative times of my life. I was also more observant of the people and little dramas around me. The pressure to tell myself stories forced me to write and write and write. I still remember how incredible it felt -- like a dam breaking open and all this writing pouring out of me in a rush. Very heady.

Still, I only lasted 5 days, and congratulated myself that I made it that long. I got desperate. on the evening bus, I found myself looking over the shoulder of my seatmate who was reading an article called "The Guide to Effective Deworming." (This is a true story.) She must have been a vet student or something, and heroine material (I was supposed to be observant on the bus, Chapter 4 said so). Youngish -- mid-twenties -- red-brown hair, but not as dark as chestnut; creamy complexion with a sprinkling of freckles; small, straight nose. Very nice. Much more interesting than the pictures of horses with strange tubelike objects in their mouths. Ok, so I maybe glanced at the article. I didn't read it. I just looked at the pictures. After all, anyone would be interested in -- ah -- forget it. Anyway, my seatmate finished reading that particularly fascinating article and flipped onto the next. Did I mention that these were photocopied sheets, not a real magazine, and the print and photos were slightly fuzzy?

The next article. From "In the Barn." "Mounting Blocks." Temptation. Really. I was writing historical romance. I've even written about mounting blocks. I need to research them. Words jumped out at me: "old tree stump, overturned bucket," "new portable mounting blocks for easy transportation". There were pictures, too, but not as interesting as horses. My heroine wasn't riveted by the article. She scanned it and went to the next. "Metabolic Disease, Test Treatments." No pictures. I sighed with relief. I was saved.

I wanted to talk about keeping compliments, making an image of your Censor, doing a collage, or listing secret passions, but this article is now overlong. But it was fascinating to read some of the quotes in The Artist's Way, and look at the highlighted wisdom and my own words. Maybe it's time to start up again....