Why I Belong

Belonging has always been hard for me. I’m not a team player. In high school, when phys-ed was a team sport like softball, I asked to run the track instead. Yes, I was happier running laps alone for 50 minutes than playing with a group. My best sport was, unsurprisingly, track and field. Sprints. I was on the relay teams only because I had to be (but I didn’t like it).

I don’t do group aerobics because I don’t do groups.

I’ve never put the words “enjoy working with internal teams” on a resume because, honestly, I’m happier knowing if something is screwed up it’s my fault and no one else’s.

I am a planner, and I’ve found that people generally don’t like being planned. My kids and husband occasionally put up with it or pretend to, but still, think they should have some say in said plan.  Although they are happy that when attending “spontaneous” events, all required condiments, chairs, fire starting materials, and other needful things are there when needed. (We need not discuss the hours of pre-spontaneous effort this requires because it’s not germane to this blog - Corinne O’Flynn may relate to this.)

But when I get together with RMFW-ish people, it’s like sinking into that really squishy, comfortable chair that everyone keeps trying to throw away. I know I belong in RMFW. I know RMFW members accept me. I know I’m really one of them. I don’t have to plan where anyone’s writing is going, except mine – and that’s subject to sudden “U” turns if I decide I want to.

I also know that if I need writing advice, have a question, don’t know where to look or who to ask, someone at RMFW will help me. Someone will know someone, or has done something, or been where I am and got through it. Or they just see me looking like I’m lost or uncertain, and they ask me what I need.

That's me, third one down on the right, kinda behind all those other guys or, um, gals?

I’m a dedicated introvert, like most writers. But when I’m immersed in this group, I see all of us managing to step just a bit out of our usual space and allow ourselves to belong, to befriend, and to be writers. (No, I’m not going to launch into another To Be or Not To Be thing, although it was tempting.)

So that’s why I belong. That, and I always wanted to be part of a seahorse herd, at least ever since I heard Susan Spann’s great speech. For those of you who are members, I’m so glad you belong, too. And for those of you who aren’t yet, think about it. And to everyone, Write On!

The Tales of Benson the Bard

To write: perchance to edit: ay, there's the rub; for in editing to death, what epiphanies may come…

Okay, so I’m not the Bard. What I am, is sitting in a hotel room editing the night before I give a workshop on research.

Maybe what I should be doing is reviewing critique roundtable submissions for Gold? Or typing up my notes from the Writer’s Police Academy? Or sleeping, after a whirlwind 10 days driving to Wisconsin and back? What are my priorities?

In the end, edits won. At least until I started this blog. I was going to write about how amazing and informative a conference like the Writer’s Police Academy can be – but Chris Goff beat me to it.

Instead, I decided to share some of my writing practices and pet peeves. Now, I don’t claim these are “best practices”, and probably not even really good ones, but they’re mine.

  • I write best under pressure, even if it’s made up pressure because if I have all the time in the world I can find something else to do in a heartbeat
  • I like to write when I’m alone, but always turn on a movie I’ve seen at least three times for background noise
  • I write in a recliner or on a bed with my laptop, never in a proper chair at a desk
  • I can write eight hours in a stretch if I’m in the zone, which generally results in ordering pizza for dinner to prevent divorce
  • I can tell when I’m not in the zone because I’ll have started the laundry, done the dishes, and wandered outside to pull weeds
  • I like to have junk food handy when writing - Dark Chocolate Kisses being my favs, and a gin and tonic is a close second, but not until at least….um, 5 o’clock?
  • When it’s cold I have a pair of plush Tigger slippers I wear when I’m writing, and my granddaughter is convinced I have tigers living under my bed in the summer
  • I hate texting because my kids don’t want to read more than 3 words from me and think punctuation is a waste of time

Ok, so some of this doesn’t have anything to do with writing, but it kept me from having to edit for a while (bad Bard, bad, bad!)

What are your writing-related practices? What puts you in your writer’s groove (or takes you out)?

I Won!

I did it! I’m the best.

Problem is, I won the Writing Procrastination Award, hands down. I’ve managed to find about four hundred different reasons not to write – at least not what I was supposed to.

Some of my excuses are good ones – I submitted to the RMFW Anthology, I submitted to Gold, and I judged Gold. However, this is over about a three month period, and I can guarantee all three of those added together did not come close to that much time.

My other excuses included:

  • Obsessively watching every Harry Potter movie that I found on cable, some more than once
  • Rereading books I love, but…REreading
  • Having a yard sale (OK, so that took, like, DAYS to get ready for)
  • Ironing (yes, I still do that – but only when I’m avoiding writing)
  • Looking at recipes on the Internet, and in my cook books, and anywhere else I could find them (and not making them)
  • Reorganizing my cupboards in the kitchen (bonus – I found all the years-long expired ingredients that might have been fatal if used)
  • Buying, but not planting, a bunch of flowers and vegetables (Why not planted? Because I forgot I need to fix my irrigation system set up before they all died)

So now you have an idea about how scattered I’ve been this summer. It’s mid-July, and I promised myself I would have my WIP submitted to agents by end of August. I think I’m going to need to come up with some kind of horrible penalty if I don’t, like having my husband tear out the bathtub and replace it with a shower if I don’t (that would be a fate nearly worse than death to me!). Or I should get back in a critique group so I HAVE to get something written (cheaper, and probably more productive).

Are any of you having trouble focusing on writing this summer? What are your solutions?

I hope to see you all at Gold, if not sooner, and I won’t hold it against you if you ask me if I got my manuscript submitted. In the meantime, I solemnly swear to Write On!

How the Heck do you come up with your ideas?

Image from writerstoauthors.com

Have you ever been asked that? Bet you have. Bet we all have. The answers to the question are as varied as the ways we DO come up with our ideas.

My book An Unsinkable Love came from an open call from a small publisher. A friend in a critique group was editing for them and she posted the call for a story that included the Titanic in the storyline (it was for the 100th Anniversary of the sinking). I had never considered writing a book about the Titanic - that’s been done, right? But I didn’t have anything else I was really passionate about right then so I thought,  What the hell? Four months later I found myself sitting in my car in a dark parking lot where my beta reader passed over the manuscript to me from her car. I’m lucky we weren’t turned in for a probable drug deal. I submitted it at ten o’clock the next night, beating the deadline by two whole hours (I wouldn’t recommend waiting until the last minute – it’s hard on your blood pressure). I got the contract and that story is history (pun intended).

The point I’m trying to make is that your story idea can come from inside your head (I’m trying frantically to get all those stories out because the racket they’re making in there is unbearable at times!). They can come from something you see. From something, you read in the newspaper. From a TV show that mentions something that catches your interest – basically, anywhere, if you let them.

For me, I immediately write those tidbits down. If I don’t, I forget them and the Great American Novel might have just been lost (eh, maybe). I keep a “potential story” file on my computer – most entries are just a single sentence or two, or a scan of an article cut from the paper or a magazine to remind me what I need to research.

My current series is about Classic Car restoration, so I subscribe to the Barrett-Jackson and Mecum auction sites. They have color photos and details on cars to give me lots of info to work with. When I travel I make notes of interesting things I see, like the absolutely ginormous ammunition depot on the way back from Las Vegas that had more than a hundred huge underground bunkers and other interesting-looking structures. I drive through a cemetery to get to work and often walk there on breaks or lunch; I keep a notebook with me and write down names and dates from stones that have interesting artwork or sayings on them, especially those that are from the 1800’s.

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you keep a list of ones you want to write about someday? What’s the oddest tidbit you’re holding on to?

If you think you have writer’s block, or just need something to work on while you’re waiting to get that six figure contract, pull your list out and WRITE ON!

Invest in your Writing Career

If you didn’t attend the 2017 Annual Education Event last month in Golden, take a moment to kick yourself. Really.

The event was nearly sold out, and if not for a last minute storm that came through it would have been a tight fit to get everyone in, and for good reason. With a morning panel of published author, editor and agent, a small publisher speaking at lunch, and a panel of self-publishing experts in the afternoon, the full range of publishing options was well represented. We had lively Q&A sessions, specific information on what works and doesn’t straight from the editor and agent, and step-by-step instructions and timelines on self-publishing. It’s rare to have this many experts all in one place and those of us who braved the weather were well rewarded.

I often hear writers say they don’t go to workshops or conferences, or join groups like RMFW because they “can’t afford it.” I say if you want to be a published author, either traditionally or self, you can’t afford not to. Often new writers finish a story and think that because they got to “the end” it’s ready to go, only to be heartbroken when they can’t get an agent or publisher interested, or their 150,000 word tome sits on the Amazon shelf and doesn’t sell a single copy.

Attending education events can prevent heartache, and heartburn, by getting you to the place where you’re ready to submit or self-publish. It allows you to network with other writers, hook up with critique groups, and hear how other authors have overcome problems with their books. Big events like Colorado Gold have dozens of workshops that let you focus on areas you might be weak in, or you don’t know about.

Going it alone, trying to save a few bucks, will cost you in the long run. Cut back on a latte or two each month, watch network movies instead of paying for on-demand, have a yard sale and dedicate the profits to paying for a conference, or find some other non-critical habit you can cut back on and SPEND THE MONEY ON YOUR WRITING CAREER, if you actually want a career. RMFW costs $45 annually, and anyone who has attended a workshop that I moderated has heard me say it’s the best $45 you’ll ever spend. Most of our workshops are free. Conference has scholarships, volunteer opportunities, and low cost on-line classes. Genre-specific groups like Sisters in Crime or RWA offer the same things.

I know many writers, including me, don’t have unlimited funds to pay for attending events and classes, travel, software, cover art, etc. But as the adage says, fail to plan and you plan to fail. Set a budget of money you can allocate. Just $10 a month gets you a RMFW membership and you still have more than half of it left over for an on-line class or two. If you can manage $50 per bi-monthly payroll, you’ll have more than enough to attend a major conference each year, plus membership fees for a couple groups. We all have stuff we don’t need – put it on Craig’s List and stash the proceeds in your writing fund. You don’t have to shortchange your family or let bills go unpaid to support your writing habit, you just have to make a plan and stick to it.

It’s time to think about Colorado Gold in September. You still have time to register, but from what I’ve heard they will probably sell out. If you can’t swing Gold, at least get your plan in place going forward. Get the education you need to produce the best possible book you can, and WRITE ON!

 

How Busy is Too Busy?

For writers, and most other people, this is an individual question. How many things you work into your schedule, and how much time you choose to spend not writing, is predicated by your life and will never be like anyone else’s.

If you’re like Corrine O’Flynn, the coordinator for the Colorado Gold Conference, you must be working in your sleep in order to put together that massive, amazing event, take care of kids in all kinds of activities, work, keep up with social media, write…I’m tired just thinking about it.

For me, I hit that wall a lot earlier. The RMFW Annual Event with Traditional, Indie, and Self Publishing tracks, is coming up on the 29th (like, right now!) and I’ve been working a lot on it over the last couple of months. My day job has been very busy for the past year, even though everyone keeps saying it will slow down. My husband has been gone more than home lately for his job, leaving me to manage some of the things that are out of my comfort zone. I’m writing this at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday, because I woke up at 2:00 and realized how many things are not done that need to be.

Did you notice that I didn’t mention anything about writing in that last paragraph? I did, and that’s the problem. It’s been all work and no write and it’s making Terri a very grumpy girl. I’m looking at the weather and know that it’s time to get the garden ready, massacre the already-prolific weeds, and generally get the yard in shape before it gets out of control, so I find myself looking at this tunnel of yuck when I want to be looking at my WIP.

After I submit this blog, I plan to drag out my calendar and start scheduling myself – you know, that thing where you put stuff on your calendar today so you can move or delete it tomorrow when you realize life got in the way again. But at least I’m going to try, because Colorado Gold is coming up and I want to submit for the contest, I just found out I’ll be presenting again this year, and I really, really want to have at least one story submitted to the Anthology. Not to mention I need to enter all the edits I made on the hard copy of my most recent Bad Carma manuscript.

If any of you have found the magic bullet (not you Corrine – you must have cheated and got a clone or two made of you!) that allows you to keep on task for your writing, and get everything else you need to get done, please shoot me with it. I’m sure there are lots of you out there who are like me. What do you do to help keep on track?

Hope to see you all in Golden on the 29th, but no matter where you are, Write On!

Is your writing moving along like you hoped for in 2017?

I don’t know about you, but one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to get my writing life better organized which included writing more often, mucking out my office-cum-storage room, getting a business plan done, and deciding if I was going to go ahead and self-publish the first three completed historical romances in the series I had been working on before I started the Bad Carma mystery series.

So, how am I doing? Well. Umm. You see, it’s like this….

Guess it’s not hard to tell that I haven’t kept that resolution very well. HOWEVER, I do have NovelRama  on my calendar, I am attending Pub-Con  the end of April to find out more about both traditional and self-publishing, and I am almost finished with my WIP, which I have an agent interested in from an earlier version (requested at 2016 Gold - so needless to say, I want to go to Gold in September as well). I also submitted a workshop proposal to Gold as part of my platform building and professional development plan (you, too, can submit through the end of March!), and plan to enter the Colorado Gold writing contest again this year.

I haven’t started on my much-needed business plan even though as a coach at a Business Incubator it’s a major part of my job to help small business owners put their plans together. And I am a small business. I charge money for my writing and I intend to continue to make money from my novel(s). So as a small business owner I need to know my target market(s), my budget (revenue, expense, and cash flows), timelines for completion of work, if I intend to continue to write/sell/publish articles and short stories and to whom, and the different lines of business (books/series) that I intend to complete during the plan’s life. And since a business plan is a living document I also need to make myself go back to it on a regular basis to see how I’m doing and what modifications I might need to make.

We’re a quarter of the way through the year. Are you on track with your plans? Do you HAVE a plan? Remember, Fail to Plan/Plan to Fail.

My recommendation: Get your s**t together and Write On!

Do you have any other recommendations to kick the 2017 writing year into gear?

What is it worth to you to be published?

Is it worth a Saturday and about $75? Is it worth having great food, sitting amidst lots of excited (and exciting) writers, and listening to interesting, informative, amazing presentations?

If it’s not, then you should stop reading now. And maybe think about how badly you really want to be published. Because on April 29, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers will be holding the Annual Education Event in Golden, at the Table Mountain Inn. The website has more info, but here’s why Pub-Con (catchy, right?) is such a fantastic opportunity:

We start with breakfast. Always a good sign.

The morning session has an Editor whose publishing house was just purchased by Simon and Schuster, the Owner/Agent of a multi-agent literary agency, and a multi-traditionally published author. This panel will give you tons of information, stuff you REALLY need to know, about getting traditionally published. The before, the during, and the after. The dos and the don’ts. The whys and the why nots.

Then we have lunch. Another good sign. And even better, we have an Editor-in-Chief of a small Denver-based publishing house to talk about the different publishing options out there and how you can determine what might be best for you.

 The afternoon session will include a multi-self-published author, a best-selling author who started a publishing house and works with self-publishers, and a graphic designer who specializes in book cover design. They will give you as much information as you’ll be able to absorb on the process of self-publishing. They’ll help dispel notions of how hard, or easy, it is and you’ll have the advantage of knowing the mistakes they made and shortcuts they found, to save you from yourself. And we all need that, right?

So, is it worth $75 give or take? Can you give up 8 hours of your precious time? Only you can decide, but if you want that WIP to see the light of day, this might be the best time and money you can spend to make that happen.

I hope to see you there. Here’s the link to the page on RMFW site: http://rmfw.org/pubcon/ . Seating is limited and I do expect to sell out with this kind of presentation lineup.

In the meantime, Write On! and get your WIP done. You’ll want to take lots of notes at Pub-Con so you can get that puppy published!

 

To everything there is a reason. A time to write, a time to…not

I just got back from a retreat with a group of great writers in a creepy old hotel. There were times when I would have sworn I was the only one there, despite there being at least twelve other people in a twelve-room hotel. It was that quiet, because I couldn’t hear all the other keyboards clicking from where I was.

Why do you care? Okay, you might not, but you should. Because what I’m going to tell you is important. At least it is to me. Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean…yeah, maybe I have been listening to Sirius too much.

Four and a half days just writing. 35,000 words on the page for my newest Bad Carma book. Three meals a day in the companionship of great writers. Reading to/listening with - a bunch of fabulous writers. That’s what I got to enjoy at the retreat.

Not everyone can take four days off, even with a Monday holiday. It doesn’t have to be four days. But for me, it can’t be fifteen spare minutes. I know the butt in chair thing says you should write every spare moment every day. But I can’t. I’m a binge writer. I need to stay focused and when I do, I can write like crazy (35,000 words!). I have to be able to re-read my last couple of chapters, decide or know where I’m going from there and have no interruptions while I blast may way through the story.

If you’re like me, the guilt of not using all those tiny fifteen minute moments to write keeps worming itself way into your subconscious, and they shouldn’t. We don’t all write alike. Find the way that works best for you. For me, it’s at least four hours of clear time. No laundry, no cleaning, no food prep, no weeds calling my name. I can’t write when someone keeps asking me questions (sorry, dear, but I need you to shut the heck up!).

I know other people can pick up and write in short time frames. I read about them all the time. But I need to write like I need to write, and so do you. It’s important that you decide what that way is so you aren’t making excuses for not writing. If you need long blocks of time, how can you get them? Do you enjoy writing in coffee shops? Go there on a weekend. Do you need quiet? Can you reserve a space at the library? Do you have a friend with a nice sunroom they’d let you borrow when they’re out of town?

I have a friend with a VRBO house (she rents it out by the day, like AirBnB, only the whole house). I hope to talk a few writer friends into renting the 5 bedroom house for some long weekends to write. No chores. No husband. Hopefully no phones. But lots of comfy space with peace and quiet, snacks, writers to talk with during meals. And words on the paper. Lots and lots of words. Oh, and by the way, I didn’t get the most words – that was Cindi Myers. So it’s not just me. There are more of us out there than you hear about.

So find your method. If it’s fifteen minutes waiting to pick your kids up, great. If it’s twelve hours straight on a Saturday sitting in a corner of a quiet coffee shop or senior center, peachy. Just make the effort. Make those words happen. Seriously, just Write On!

 

Knowing What You Don’t Know (or Not Knowing What You Do Know)

Putting together the Western Slope workshops has allowed me to meet a lot of new writers. Just this last weekend we had two dozen writers attend, and nearly all of them were new faces. It’s amazing to know how many writers are around me when before I joined RMFW I thought I was the lone stranger in these parts.

I’ve been writing for almost 4 decades (I started in the womb, of course). My first manuscript was partially hand-written, partially typed, some “wheelwriter” (part typewriter/part computer), and eventually I had to type the whole thing into my first PC. It took me nearly 25 years to write “the end.” By that time I’d raised two kids, worked at several different jobs, bought a business, and gone through a lot of LIFE.

When I finished that manuscript I was so excited! I immediately printed it out, typed up my letter to the publisher, boxed it up (yeah, that was before the days of e-mail, you young whipper-snappers!) and sent it to Avon because they published Kathleen Woodiwiss and my book was really similar to her style of writing. (I can hear you laughing – that’s not very polite!).

It didn’t take long to get my first rejection letter. But about that time I also stumbled on RWA (Romance Writers of America) and joined them even though the annual rate was pretty steep for someone in my financial condition. I started getting their magazine, which I devoured. After the first paragraph of the first article I was already cringing from the realization that I had no idea what I was doing writing a book.

Yes, I could write a story. I had interesting characters. I had excitement. And, of course, romance. But I also had POV issues all over the place (mainly because I’d never hear of point of view and when I got contest notes back that said I had POV problems I still had no idea what they were talking about). It wasn’t until one poor judge took pity on me and highlighted the different POVs that I actually figured out what they were talking about (again, this is before I could Google the answer - you younger writers have no idea how lucky you are!).

Over the years I joined RMFW, entered contests, joined a critique group, went to conferences and workshops, read books on writing, followed blogs – whatever I could find that would teach me to know what I didn’t know. And learned a ton about writing. I’ve set that original manuscript aside, although I think some day it WILL see the light of day. I wrote a book that a small publisher picked up and went through four rounds of edits, learning more about what I didn’t know. I’ve written several more manuscripts and have seen my contest scores increase, but never been #1 with a bullet.

Now I understand that there are a lot of things about writing that I don’t know, and a lot of things about writing that I do know. Most of all I know I’ll keep learning more as I go along. My manuscripts are better. I believe I’ll publish again. I know I’ll make more mistakes. I just sent a query letter to an agent that had me waking up in the middle of the night and saying, out loud, “Did I really write that sentence like I think I did, and if so, WHY!!!!!” (by the way, yes I did, and it resulted in the by-then-expected rejection).

So learn. Listen. Read. Attend. Critique. AND WRITE ON! See you at Gold or one of the workshops or at the bookstore or library.

And Merry Christmas/Happy New Year!