~ By Tanya Agler
Note: Tanya's companion post, Writing During a Family Crisis, can be found here.
Okay, we’ve all been there. We’re about to start writing and bam! The robocall of congratulations comes as you’ve won a free cruise to Nebraska if you turn over our checking account number now. A knock on the office door precedes your youngest running in with blood gashing out of his forehead and an ER trip is in your immediate future. A pop-up notification alerts you a prince in Nigeria wants to give you a million dollars because you’re a wonderful person. Okay, I’m exaggerating on purpose, but think about it. When you sit down to write, how often do you check your e-mail or your Facebook feed for just a second or tell yourself it will be one game of Solitaire? Even right now, thank you for reading this blog, but were you about to open your manuscript? If so, this might be the article you’ve been waiting for. If, on the other hand, you are rewarding yourself by reading one of your favorite website blogs after a productive day of writing, please come write with me and let your discipline rub off on me!
To Do Lists. Why are they the rage this year? Because they work. One caveat. Make a to-do list on a sheet of paper or in a day planner or in a notebook. Crossing items off with a pen or pencil often helps you feel like you’ve accomplished something. How specific your to-do list is up to you. (My wonderful husband has fun whenever he finds my to-do list. He often writes in watch Doc Martin with WH). If you like crossing off lots of activities, go ahead and include items like brushing your teeth and getting dressed. Often crossing off the little things gives a sense of accomplishment. If, however, you only want to itemize your writing goals to stay on task, do that. These are only suggestions on maximizing your writing productivity. Find what works best for you. When you see positive results, stick with that method.
Priorities. Say you’ve used a to-do list for a week and have discovered you can only get two out of three writing activities done each day. Now you know what you are capable of, and you have the power to decide whether to classify those activities in terms of importance or work a little at a time on all three. One caveat. First and foremost, when you are prioritizing your writing tasks, make sure that number one is writing or editing your work in progress.
Turn off notifications. When you are actually in the chair with your hands on the keyboard, eliminate as many distractions as possible. If you can turn off notifications, do that. You don’t even need an app. Just click on system preferences, click on turn off notifications when you start writing and turn them on again when you’re done for the day. Caveat. I have kids in school, and the nurse calls when there’s a head injury. So I can’t turn off my phone when they’re in school. Do what you can to minimize distractions while taking your personal circumstances into account.
Timers or Sprints. I love my timers. I write for twenty or twenty-five minutes, then I read a book about writing for ten or get up and walk around. If I’m really into a scene, I’ll keep going when the timer goes off, but I’ve discovered I can write for longer periods as a result. Some writers swear by word sprints. If those help you, find friends on FB or go to Twitter and look for a group of writers who will sprint with you.
Spreadsheets. Okay, some of you are now running for the hills. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be a notebook where you write the date and your word count. I use an Excel spreadsheet. Why? So I can see at a glance the numbers adding up and know I’m writing daily.
Rewards. Yes, I know some of you read the word bribes. I prefer to call them a reward. There are scenes that will be harder to write than others. On these days, I load a little bag with M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. Every five hundred words or so, I reward myself with a Hershey Kiss. I try not to make this an everyday occurrence but, in a pinch, the small treat helps me keep going.
So those are some tips that might make your BICHOK time more productive.
*If you have any tips you want to share, please leave a comment.
This write-at-home mom lives in Georgia with her husband, four kids, one Basset Hound (Vera) and one rabbit (Gandalf). She writes a mixture of inspirational category and sweet contemporary Southern front porch romances. In 2016, she placed first in the Great Expectations Contest (Contemporary Category) and the Catherine Contest (Contemporary Short) as well as finaled in the Maggies and TARA Contests.
When she’s not writing, chauffeuring her children or folding laundry, Tanya loves classic movies (preferably black and white or anything with Cary Grant) or enjoying a cup of tea alongside a good book.
Our chapter president Casey Clipper has agreed to tell us a bit about writing Irish Alpha Heroes.
How's that for good luck?
So it back and enjoy.
If you also create heroes based on aspects of your own cultural background, please share in the comments.
Contemporary Romance: What was it about growing up in an Irish family that you wanted to translate into fiction?
Casey Clipper: It wasn’t necessarily the growing up in an Irish family but more watching the men, like my father and grandfather and uncle (I have a few, but the one who reminds me of my dad the most), that made me fashion the heroes in my stories after them, in a sense.
Watching the way the men in the family treated their wives, gave me first-hand knowledge of the whole alpha personality, who loves and adores the woman in his life. They treated their wives in an extremely respectful manner, acknowledging their wives ran the household and being perfectly fine with that, with zero macho ego thing, holding them in such high regard in their lives.
Yet, they were also the “men of the house”, taking care of their families and spouses. From the outside and looking back on the interaction and daily routines, it’s quite fascinating. (I unfortunately have to speak in past tense because my grandparents and my mother are no longer with us.)
CR: Do you have any favorite family stories or anecdotes?
CC: Well, my grandmother was probably the most superstitious woman I’ve ever known and managed to pass that down? I don’t spill salt, walk under a ladder, and definitely change directions if a black cat crosses my path. And do not bring an outside broom inside. That was a heated battle in my house a couple years ago between myself and my husband.
There is also the memory of Sundays at my grandparents’ home. After church, the entire family—aunts, uncles, grandchildren—would go to my grandparents for dinner and then after the three oldest granddaughters (yes, I’m in the top 3) did the dishes, the aunts and uncles and my grandfather played cards with nickels, dimes, and quarters.
CR: Are your heroes based on actual people from your life?
CC: Not one of my heroes are based off anyone in my life. They’re really based off an ideal man (though with his own issues) in my mind at the time of writing a novel.
Of course, they’re all alphas and all love their women and are all supportive of their heroine and naturally have to go through their arcs, but I can honestly say that not one character is written with someone specific in mind.
CR: Do you have a process for researching Irish culture?
CC: Names. I research names and their meanings. Even last names. For instance, Murphy (which is used in The Love Series) in 2014 was the most number one surname in Ireland. O’s in front of a name mean “grandson of” or “decedent of” while Mac’s in front of names mean “son of”. Ryan (used in Unexpected Love) means little king. Neil, which I use for a last name in my The Men of Law series, means passionate.
CR: Are there any stereotypes / myths about Irish culture that bother you?
CC: That the Irish are drinkers. Yes, you’ll always have those in any culture that are stereotypical, but for the most part, we aren’t going to the pub every night and downing Guinness or whiskey and getting into brawls.
CR: Why do you think St. Patrick’s Day has become so universal?
CC: I think because it’s a time where you can go to the pub or to a neighbor's (which is where I’ll be), decked out in your green, listen to Irish music, maybe have some Jamison or Baileys or a Guinness, eat some corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes and relax in the company of friends and family.
In an atmosphere that is just plain fun. I think the American version of St. Patrick’s Day has become more about celebrating good times with everyone, even strangers at the pub. And I think we all need that in our lives right now more than ever. Right?
CR: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
CC: Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! We’re all Irish today!
* Thank you so much, Casey! *
Learn more about Casey at http://caseyclipper.com.
Overall, writing is a rather solitary endeavor. Many people, who’ve never finished a book, believe it’s the easiest thing in the world to let the words flow onto the computer screen or onto a sheet of paper. In reality, many writers have day jobs, families, and responsibilities.
Many wake up early to write or stay up late. Some use their lunch breaks or the time after their children go to bed. Day by day, they see their word count add up until lo and behold, they have a first draft and finally a revised and edited book.
But sometimes real life intervenes in a way none of us can prepare for.
Sometimes a loved one gets sick. Worst of all, sometimes our loved ones pass away.
When those crises hit home, how do writers sit down and write when it seems as though everything they knew is falling apart around them?
Believe me, it’s better to think about how you’d keep writing in a crisis when trouble isn’t swirling around you. In the four years since I’ve been seriously pursuing writing as a career, my father has died and my teenage daughter has been diagnosed with a rare disease, VHL, which has required numerous scans, tests, eye laser procedures and outpatient surgeries.
Life happens as you’re trying your best to capture emotion on the page and write a story someone will want to read. So, here’s my advice on what to consider before the crisis hits and you wonder how on earth you are ever going to find time to write or even find that inner writing spark again.
Know why you write. This seems like a basic question. Why do you want to write? Why are you the best person to write the story burning in your head? It’s important to ask yourself why you write because when life hits the fan, you need to know why, out of everything you could be doing with your time, writing means so much to you.
Know your writing style. I’m not talking about your writing voice, although it is important to know that. I’m talking about whether you’re the type of “have laptop, will travel” writer or “a dedicated time and space” writer. Depending on how you work best, you know then how to adjust in those times of crisis. I’ve written in hospital rooms, doctor waiting rooms, and school parking lots, but I also know people who have to write at home and would have awakened two hours early to write at their desks. When you know how you write, you can adjust your schedule to accommodate your writing, if it’s a short term adjustment.
Know your writing priorities. Preplanning, writing or editing (and more revision) all are integral parts of writing. A long time ago, they might have been the only job a writer had. Today, not so much. A writer wears different hats. A writer may have a critique partner or beta readers, should have a website, is usually active on social media or found on a blog hop, and even more. Some writers assign priorities to all the different parts of their writing responsibilities. On days when I’m on the go, I might not have time to write the black moment, but I might have time to set up tweets (one caveat-if you write social media posts ahead of time and bad news breaks, pull the tweets or FB posts) or critique a couple of pages or beta read a chapter. The great thing is when I do get a bigger chunk of time, I can write.
Know when to take a break. All of this sounds great until you’re in the ICU with a family member or best friend or when you get the call from the doctor that you have to start chemo. Sometimes you have to give yourself the freedom to call your agent or postpone your indie release because the crisis is too big. It’s okay to say I can’t write because I have to figure out how my family gets through a car wreck, or I have to undergo cancer treatment, or I have to say goodbye. But when you know why you write, you’ll know when it’s time to open that laptop screen again or sit down at your desk, and the story will pour out of you.
So that’s my advice. Sit down and figure this out when life is good. Then, when life happens, you’ll know why you write and you’ll know when it’s time to get all the emotion you went through into a story that readers will love.
This write-at-home mom lives in Georgia with her husband, four kids, one Basset Hound (Vera) and one rabbit (Gandalf). She writes a mixture of inspirational category and sweet contemporary Southern front porch romances. In 2016, she placed first in the Great Expectations Contest (Contemporary Category) and the Catherine Contest (Contemporary Short) as well as finalled in the Maggies and TARA Contests.
When she’s not writing, chauffeuring her children or folding laundry, Tanya loves classic movies (preferably black and white or anything with Cary Grant) or enjoying a cup of tea alongside a good book.
~ By Liza Keogh
My writing regimen is getting stronger. Fifteen months ago, I formally ended one career and began to write fiction. I had a yearlong arc of transition ahead of me, and the planets seemed well-aligned to support a multitude of big changes in my life.
My body is suffering. My hip joints are achy, the herniated disc in my lower back is very testy, and my core strength is a thing of the past. Photographs attesting to what once was survive, otherwise, I might have a hard time proving how strong and limber I used to be.
Any of that sound familiar? I knew, going in, that many daily hours in the seated position was deleterious to one's health. Heck, I'd been working with people for over ten years to improve their posture and muscle tone, even to set up at-home yoga and meditation practices to keep them tuned up between classes or private sessions.
And here I was, ignoring my own advice. Perhaps I was thinking I would be immune to the effects of having my butt in a chair for up to eight hours a day. Perhaps I thought the sugary treats my brain was suddenly craving were part and parcel of 'becoming a writer'.
Here's what I know: We humans are meant to move (not just be moved). We benefit even more from moving our bodies in different directions. Getting out into Nature regularly is good for our brains, our bodies, and likely our well of inspiration. Adequate water intake is essential, as are good eating habits.
If writing is our thing, and we have word counts and deadlines to meet, along with every other obligation in our lives, how do we keep the vehicle transporting us through this lifetime in good working condition?
Start somewhere. Now. Today, I put on exercise clothes as soon as I woke up, tied on my sneakers, and made myself a cup of rooibos chai tea with hazelnut milk. I am going to walk on my treadmill for 30 minutes before I start writing, and I am recommitting to an anti-inflammatory eating plan. That plan seems to work well for me: it helps ease the aches in my joints, melts off excess pounds, and sharpens my brain. To experience those benefits, however, I have to be rigorous and patient and remember that day three will be horrible.
Vary your vectors. That's a phrase that reminds us to vary our exercise routine. Our fascial system runs throughout our body on up and down, side to side, diagonal, spiral and intersecting pathways. It needs water to stay healthy, 'juicy', and it needs movements to keep from getting sticky. Before I walk on my treadmill I'll do a 10-15 minute functional movement warm-up (see below for a link to my favorite). I've tried running, even once hired a coach to teach me the mechanics of running, and I failed miserably. So, I stick with what I know instead of setting unattainable goals.
Make a plan. After I write, and before I get on my exercise mat later in the day, I'll record a fifteen- to twenty-minute Pilates routine. I have notes and pencil figure drawings from a series of private sessions I signed up for last summer. That was months ago, I know, but I had this idea for a story and... you know how it goes.
- Used exercise equipment is out there. My well-loved treadmill cost $100.
- Get thee to a class. Go with a friend. Pay attention to the instructor, and pay attention to what your body is telling you as you move, and afterward. Get to know your body as well as you know your favorite characters.
- Get thee to an on-line class. Youtube is a great, free resource. Start with Ed Paget's F.A.S.T. class, and explore the rest of the offerings at Intrinsi, Osteopathic Clinic and Natural Movement Center (Please note: I have no connection with them whatsoever, other than admiring their approach to human movement, and the clarity of instruction. I did a lot of research over the years for clients, and the Intrinsi site is consistently good. Check out the videos on the pelvic floor, too.)
- Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, become more aware of your posture.
I'd love to know how others keep themselves healthy, or what got them back into caring for their health.
Liza Keogh has extensive experience leading yoga retreats, often in conjunction with writing coaches and therapists. She founded and ran a successful yoga center in Massachusetts and for over ten years brought yoga to venues that included public parks, corporations and low-income health centres.
Most days, she can be found in her writing cabin, working towards her next Life Goal: becoming a published author. You can find her blogging at https://lizakeoghblog.wordpress.com, and on twitter @lazy_liza_k.
~ By Rebecca Grace Allen
Let’s be brutally honest here: 2016 totally stunk. As a writer and, well, a human, I struggled on every level. My creativity shuddered to a halt. I hit a massive writers block. My relationships suffered. I gained ten pounds. There were times when I wondered why I was doing this whole writing thing in the first place. Then I remembered, it’s because there are stories bubbling up inside me that I have to tell. Stories that I hope will be timeless, ones that will live on beyond me. And sometimes, to write that kind of timeless tale, I need a little inspiration.
Sometimes I find that inspiration in Shakespeare.
I saw my first live Shakespeare performance when I was 14, in a black box theater in Manhattan. I immediately fell in love—with the language, the costumes, the drama, and how the themes of betrayal, corruption, deception and love still rang true today. In high school English class, I adored reading Hamlet while everyone else rolled their eyes at the iambic pentameter. I became an English major in college, and rushed to enroll in a Shakespeare course, dutifully carrying my 2057 page, coffee-stained Riverside Shakespeare around campus. (I also went to a school where a lot of student-run events took place in a building named Falstaff’s. Eat, drink and be merry, anyone?)
These days, I don’t crack open that old Riverside (which, yes, I still have) all that often, but I do watch movie versions. And I’m still amazed at the timelessness of the stories, the classic romance and angst, and how we continue to make his work relevant by creating modern adaptations of it. So I thought I’d share some of my favorite modern-ish adaptations:
West Side Story (1961)
It’s not modern, but it’s the best variation on Romeo and Juliet in my opinion. (Don’t get me started on the Baz Lurhamn version *shudders*.) The idea of putting those star-crossed lovers from rival families into warring gangs and setting it all to music was just brilliant. As an aside, I once performed in an adaptation called South Shore Story, where the North Shore conservative Jews of Long Island were foes of the South Shore Reformed ones. “I feel frummy, oh so frummy...”
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
This one isn’t a modern take at all, but rather what I consider a perfect portrayal of exactly what The Bard intended. The performances are perfect—I heart Kenneth Branagh’s “Love meeeee! Why?” Plus it’s got Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington and Robert Sean Leonard.
Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)
I’ve always loved this comedy of errors, and the idea of characters falling in love with the wrong characters only to finally end up with the right ones. That’s what romance is made of, right? And with Kevin Kline as Bottom and Stanley Tucci as Puck, how can you go wrong?
Modern setting, techno music, classic language, and Ethan Hawke. Did I mention Ethan Hawke? Oh, and yeah, Ethan Hawke.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
This modern version of the Taming of the Shrew will always be one of my favorites. Classic 90’s. Classic Shakespeare. And Classic *sigh* Heath Ledger.via GIPHY
Now in 2017, I think of myself, and all the rest of us writers, contributing to the collective cannon of literature. It’s a tough time in the world out there, and I know now, more than ever, we creative types have to keep creating. After all, it wasn’t easy in Shakespeare’s time—bear-bating and no indoor plumbing!—and he kept writing. We can keep writing, too.
Rebecca Grace Allen writes sweet, sexy and soul searching romance, emphasis on the sexy! A caffeine addict, gym rat, wife, and fur-mommy, she lives in upstate New York with her husband, two parakeets, and cat with a very unusual foot fetish. Her newest release, TAMING SUGAR, is a modern day, BDSM, Taming of the Shrew, and releases on January 19, 2017.
It’s the last Sunday of the month, which means that it’s time for one of our chapter PAN members (PAN stands for Published Authors Network, a professional designation within RWA open to members who reach a certain level of sales) to visit the blog to share some of their wisdom and expertise.This month, Mary E. Thompson is here to inspire us with some thoughts on why we write. Which for those of you who are striving to write 50,000 words this month, may feel like an extremely timely question. Take it away, Mary!
~ By Mary E. Thompson
Eight months ago a friend of mine released her first book. Leading up to the release, she did a countdown to release day on social media, shared it with everyone she knew, and was crazy excited. Three months later, sales were dismal. Recognition wasn’t there. She was discouraged.
Another friend took on a second job because her writing income wasn’t what she hoped for.
Yet another friend waited months to hear back from a submission only to get rejected.
None are new stories. Most authors start out the same way. No one knows who you are. No one is interested in your books. You pour yourself into a book and get a horrible review that rips the book, and your heart, to shreds.
So why do we do it? Why do we keep writing, keep pushing through in a career that may never be much more than a hobby? Why don’t we walk away and do something with more stability? A higher chance of success?
I think there are two reasons we keep going. Maybe only one of them drives you. Maybe it’s both. I’m guessing it’s both.
You know, without a doubt, that you have a book inside you that is going to make it all worthwhile.
We all want that elusive mega-success that seems to come so easily to some. We all want our book to be the next breakout story. The one that has movie producers and readers knocking down our door. We want the bestseller list and the raving fans that make every book bigger than our wildest dreams.
And we’re creative people. We have some crazy dreams.
If you don’t have faith in your own storytelling abilities, you’re going to give up. You know you’re good. You keep writing and learning and writing some more. Your books get better. Writing gets easier. You gain more recognition. You know it’s all going to pay off.
You have faith.
You truly have no choice. You’ve tried something else. Maybe you had a different career before. Or you have a second one now. Maybe writing was something you’ve always wanted to do.
No matter what, you’ve thought about walking away. Giving it all up and doing something else.
But you just can’t.
There are stories inside you. Stories that are demanding you tell them. Stories that you have to get out. It doesn’t matter if you have a million fans or one, you have to tell your stories.
How could we not do it?
Readers flock to romance. Everyone wants love. Romance novels make us believe anything can happen when love gets involved. Your best friend’s cute older brother will want you. The hot guy from your favorite coffee shop asks you out. Your sexy boss is pining for you. Anything is possible.
Is it any wonder we simply can’t stop writing our stories? Helping people fall in love? Pushing them to their limits only to shove them a little further to help them find that one person we all want to find? We can’t stop writing any more than our fans can stop reading. And that is a beautiful love story!
Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. She’s been indie published from the beginning. Her 26th release comes out November 29. She spends her days hoping she’s raising her daughter and son to be good people and her nights snuggling with her own romance novel worthy husband. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more.
~ By Brenda Margriet
Note: On Wednesday, we posted an alternate view of National Novel Writing Month.
I am currently not writing. It doesn't feel good, but I am trying not to beat myself up about it. So with NaNoWriMo going full swing and many of my online writer friends posting amazing word counts I just want to say:
Shut up already!
Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. But for those of us (and I know you're out there!) who aren't doing NaNoWriMo for whatever reason, here's some encouragement on getting through the month and beyond.
Live your life
Yes, in order to be a better writer, to finish a book, to make a sale, you have to write. But you also have to read books you love, discover new authors. You have to watch the world go by, study people in a coffee shop, spend time enjoying your surroundings.
All these things colour your words, and can often get ignored while under the pressure of hitting a deadline or daily word count. Use this down time to experience life, to store up feelings and sensations and observations so that the next time you are writing in a white heat, you have them to draw on.
Keep writing – even when you can't
I may not be working on my next romance, but I am still writing. I'm doing this blog post, as well as blogging weekly on my own site. I'm lucky enough that my day job also involves creative writing to a certain extent, so I am working there. I am networking with other writers on Facebook through Messenger, which is also writing.
It's not, you say?
Well, think of it as a writing dialogue exercise. Study the patterns of the people you are messaging with. How does what they write "sound" different than what you write? How can you use that once you are again putting words on paper?
This too shall pass
Unless you're dealing with a true crisis of faith in your writing, remind yourself of all the times this has happened before. 'Fess up – you know it has. My first book took more than ten years to finish. I certainly wasn't writing every day during that time, and yet I GOT IT DONE!
Since publishing that book in October 2012, I have completed five more manuscripts and published two (soon to be three) of them. When I consider the ten-plus years MOUNTAIN FIRE took to complete, that's a furious pace for me.
During that time, I've also taken on a fairly stressful management level day job, helped three children grow to adulthood, and been generally busy. Maybe the last few weeks has simply been my brain telling me it needs a break.
Remember who you are and where you came from
I think part of the worry and frustration for me, personally, is I feel like I am wasting precious moments of writing time. I usually work on my novels for about 1.5 hours a day, maybe slightly more on weekends. With such a limited amount of time to write, any day I don't use that time makes me feel like I am falling deeper into writing "debt."
Yet even when I am writing full steam ahead, my daily quota is only 500 words. It's a total I find reasonably easy to achieve even on a bad day, and if I don't it is also reasonably easy to catch up. Would I love to have a higher number? Sure! Would it do any good? Probably not. I have to stop comparing myself to those writers who have published 30, 40, even 50 books since the self-publishing craze caught on. They are who they are – I am who I am. I am not a risk taker.
I need the stability of a regular paycheck. Maybe someday that will be from writing. But until it is, I need to accept my limitations and work within them.
How do you deal with not writing? Do you have a daily quota? If you do, do you find yourself wishing you could do more, no matter what it is? How are you planning to survive NaNoWriMo?
Brenda Margriet writes contemporary romances with heroes you'd meet at the grocery store. And by that she means real-life men – sexy, smart and looking for the love of their life. Her heroines are bold, savvy and determined to accept nothing less than the man they deserve.
A voracious reader since she was old enough to hold a book, Brenda's idea of the perfect holiday involves a comfortable chair near the water (ocean, lake or pool will do), a glass of wine, and a full-loaded e-reader.
She lives in Northern British Columbia with her husband (as well as various funny and furry pets) and has three adult children. Find out more about Brenda on her website www.brendamargriet.com