Are there any songs that have taught you about craft and story-telling? Leave a comment and let us know!Susan Meier is the author of over 60 books for Harlequin and Silhouette, Entangled Indulgence, Red Hot Bliss and Bliss and one of Guideposts’ Grace Chapel Inn series books, THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. In 2013 she lived one of her career-long dreams. Her book, THE TYCOON’S SECRET DAUGHER was a finalist for RWA’s highest honor, the Rita. The same year NANNY FOR THE MILLIONAIRE’S TWINS was a National Reader’s Choice finalist and won the Book Buyer’s Best Award.Susan is married with three children and is one of eleven children, which is why love and family are always part of her stories.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done.”Guess I'll be saying no to that particular book idea, then, so I can say yes to the contemporary romances I really want to write. Yes, to the books that are close to my heart. And yes, to more chocolate, sleep and exercise. Celery sticks ... meh ... Milou Koenings is an award-winning USA Today bestselling author who writes romance because, like chocolate, stories with happy endings bring joy to the world and so make it a better place. She's lived all over the world, working as a freelance travel and technology writer, but loves to stay home with her family more than anything. You can join her newsletter at www.miloukoenings.com Milou's a proud member of Sweet Romance Reads, where she blogs monthly every 21st of the month, and you can also get to know her better here:
[Note: This blog is based on detailed comments I sent to Nancy Herkness in October 2013, as she prepared an article on various writing challenges. Several sentences of my material appeared in that article, in the February 2014 issue (Vol. 34, Number 2) of Romance Writers Report (RWR).]
I used to look askance at the sprints – large and small – which I saw people chatting about. My initial reaction was: Writing is a solitary endeavor, so just do it by yourself and keep it to yourself. But after I accepted an invitation from a colleague for a small group sprint one evening in late May 2013, I was hooked. In that hour, I had produced nearly 1600 words on a story which I otherwise would not have gotten back to in who-knows-when.
Chatting about that experience (and perhaps several afterwards), I kind of stumbled into a separate group (previously begun by one of my Clean Reads colleagues) which she calls the Write-A-Thon. In that space, she – and, now, many others of us who’ve gotten involved – post our progress on certain projects, our daily word production (if notable), and (of course) our word counts from various sprints, including the main weekly one (to be explained below).
For a look at my earlier thoughts about sprinting, please take at look at my blog from August 2013:
Sprints as a Writing Challenge
The Write-A-Thon group/thread had been going on for quite some time, I believe, before I paid any attention to it – for the reasons I indicated above. But I was so jazzed by my experience in that very first small group sprint that I was yakking about it on the CR group and after several weeks. Around Aug. 1, I believe, our weekly sprinting adventure had been invited to migrate to the Write-A-Thon group/thread as a convenient venue.
We don’t have an official name, but I briefly called it the “Yee-Haw CR Weekly Sprint”. [No particular reason]. Most participants, however, think of it as the Write-A-Thon Sprint… though the Write-A-Thon group/thread often has other smaller sprints throughout the week.
Ours has taken the form of one hour – typically late evenings (Eastern time) – one night per week. We currently “assemble” at the Write-A-Thon group/thread in the few minutes prior to start time, type furiously for 60 minutes, and then begin posting our word counts at that site. At the end, one of us tallies the cumulative word counts for all participants and we often have over 10k words produced during that hour.
How I Arrived (and Why I Needed Help)
Over time, I had allowed myself to be basically frozen once I had a manuscript contracted and in edits. Of course, the edit process timetable was unpredictable (to me), so I might sit (mostly) idle – i.e., not starting anything new – for several weeks in a stretch, just waiting for the edits to return for my next part of the process. I couldn’t force myself to work on something different because I thought my brain had to be zeroed in on the particular story in the edit pipeline. Therefore, I lost weeks and months of potentially productive work time… just waiting.
After following that odd pattern for roughly 18 months – through the publication of three full-length novels and one short novella – I finally accepted that challenge of CR colleague and friend, Opal Campbell, to sprint with her and one or two others.
Then I was hooked: excited by my measurable progress on a different story, and truly stoked to learn that I could pick up a tale in mid-stride and actually produce — not only volume, but quality.
One unpredictable bonus: each story I’ve sprinted on has developed some surprising and creative plot twists. I attribute this to the “flow” people describe when they’re sprinting without their inner editor being as engaged.
Difficulties / Coordination
Though the Write-A-Thon group/thread was begun by one particular author, this weekly sprint (which now uses that venue) is coordinated by the winner of the previous week’s competition. Our saying is: winner gets bragging rights for a week and the responsibility for setting (and announcing / promoting) the sprint for next week.
The biggest challenge is selecting a date and time which will be convenient for the maximum number of participants. E.G., some of our participating colleagues are in places like Great Britain or Australia which are MANY hours ahead or behind a time we set in the U.S. Even inside America, we have a three hour spread between Eastern and Pacific time.
We’ve sprinted on several different days, but seem to favor Tuesdays and Thursdays the most. Though most of our sprints (so far) have started at 10 p.m. or 9 p.m. ET, we’ve also experimented with morning or mid-day sprints, some of which draw sizeable crowds.
We have lots of flexibility, especially for those overseas: they’re allowed to sprint at a time workable for them and post their count. Then, when the rest of us sprint together, we aim for their mark.
I had no particular goals when I began. In my 134 weekly sprints so far, my highest count has been 1823 words for the 60 minutes involved; lowest has been 815 words. Occasionally, I’ve missed a significant chunk of the sprint hour… but not enough to fret over. My approximate average for all 134 sprints so far has been approximately 1100 words per hour — a total of 147,400 words so far in 134 hours of writing!
My on-going goal is to add 1500 new words to whichever manuscript I’m sprinting on that hour and hope that I come in with the second highest total. [That’s an inside joke, since the one with highest word count has to set and announce/promote the next week’s sprint].
Since May 2013, I have been busy revising, submitting, editing, correcting, proofing, and promoting other novels I’d previously written. Remember at the beginning of this article my whine about how I FORMERLY lost all those weeks and months between the various rounds of editing? Well, here is how I’ve done SINCE I began weekly sprinting in May 2013:
* started, finished, contracted, edited, and had published… two novels (G&MM and SOC8) and two novellas, (1SF and P2MM).
* started, finished, revised, and have either submitted or have ready to submit… three more novels (DOE, NEBA, and SM) and one novella (NEP).
* went thru the edits (for books previously submitted and contracted) on three novels which were released during this period (CUMC, HWR, and S7MI)
* started numerous other stories (to many to list and related the word counts).
Summary: But I think you get my point: While (previously) I felt sort of stymied by the indeterminate lulls in the editing phases --- since I’ve been sprinting for 134 weeks, I’ve been decidedly productive!What do you think? Have sprints helped you? Leave a comment and let us know. Besides 8 novels and 4 novellas (with three different royalty publishers), I’ve published non-fiction monographs, articles, book reviews, and over 120 poems; my writing has won nearly 40 awards, including several in national contests. As a newspaper photo-journalist, I published about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. I worked nearly 30 years in the field of librarianship. I’m a decorated USAF veteran (including a remote tour of duty in the Arctic). I’m the married parent of two and grandparent of six.
All the write-ins organised during the month helped me to get my novel written. Writing is usually such a solitary activity, and sharing the experience with others who are attempting the same thing at the same time provides much needed encouragement. I particularly enjoyed our day on a boat in the port of Jaffa, five of us typing away as the boat gently bobbed on the waves. By chance, my characters were looking out at the same Mediterranean Sea, but further north, on a similar sunny day. In short, my fourth NaNoWriMo was by far the best I've experienced.
We met in cozy coffee shops, Israel's most legendary literary cafe, and a rustic high tech work hub. But the most amazing space of all was a boat docked in one of the most ancient ports on earth - Jaffa. I'd already finished my draft. Being on the boat in great company, surrounded by history and gently rocked by waves I closed my eyes and typed three pages inspired by a mystical Jewish concept of the Bible, using the concept of the horizon to create a modern commentary for my story. It was a truly creative highlight of the entire month.
Point is, if you feel you’re in a rut and are suffering from writer’s block, do something completely out of the ordinary. I continued the scenes I wrote that day and made it to the 50K word finish line the next morning. I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity! Has a change of scenery ever helped you with your writing? Tell us about it in the comments! Happy Writing! :-) Melina writes contemporary romance with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She loves to travel, especially to her family’s village in Crete, and turn her adventures into research for her novels. In July of 2012, she moved to Jerusalem with her adorable but sneaky cocker spaniel. Visit her at http://melinakantor.com. She has been an avid NaNoWriMo participant since 2007, and this year was one of the municipal liaisons for the Jerusalem region.
There was a moment during NaNoWriMo that stands out for me. I was sitting on the aft deck of the boat in the Jaffa Port, from where real and fictional characters have arrived and left: Napoleon, Ramses, Neptune, Jonah. I was typing away, lost in the creation of the daily 1667 words, when I looked up at the water, the light, the light on the water - and I thought wow! I got here. This is all I have ever wanted. I am writing a book. Bonus: I am writing a book on a boat. Although there was water flowing beneath me, I know support and encouragement of our group that gave me the ground to make this commitment to myself and my gift. Sigh. Bliss.
~ Our Wonderful Host, Margot