Hard to believe we're at the tail end of another year. 2015 flew. And crawled. In some ways it was an awful year but it also had a few amazing highlights. But I don't want to dwell on 2015. I'll bid adieu to the bad, be thankful for the good, and look forward to the new.
Over the last few years I've gotten into the habit of identifying a word that will define my coming year. A couple of years were semi-successful. When I was thinking about what I wanted 2016 to look like, there was only one word that came to mind - Refocus.
Refocus on writing.
For the last three years, I've been the founding president of the Women's Fiction Writers Association. I've loved every minute of that experience but I have to admit, there were plenty of times when I put WFWA ahead of my own writing. Not the best move, I know. Today is my last day as president of WFWA.
I have mixed feelings. But one thing I'm sure of, the extra time will be well spent.
I've done what I set out to do with WFWA and now I'm ready to move forward. My debut will be released in 2017 but there will be lots of work with my publisher this coming year to get it ready. I have another women's fiction to write. And a middle grade book that's poking to get out.
Refocus on my family.
When I look around my house, I know where my focus wasn't. Oy! Nuff said on that.
Time is going too fast. I see the changes in all of us and I hate the days when I feel like I don't have time for my family. That's not how I want to be, it's not who I want to be.
Refocus on me.
Somewhere in the mix of priorities, I allowed myself to fall off the list. I let everyone else's needs take priority. That's about to change.
So thank you 2015 for the lessons you taught me, the good you brought me. Now off you go ... 2016 and I have big plans ahead of us.
Remember when I said 2013 was going to be about simplifying? Yeah, not so much.
The Women’s Fiction Writers Association is moving forward and with a bit of luck (and toes crossed) we’ll be ready to launch officially within the next month or so. I’ve been querying my latest manuscript The Day The Merry-Go-Round Stopped and started a new manuscript.
AND … today launched a group blog with critique partners Kerry Lonsdale and Vicky Gresham.
While the blog is by writers, we won’t be giving writerly advice. Our idea was to create a blog for our readers, friends, and followers. Each month we’ll share bits and pieces of our overly-caffeinated minds. We’ll be blogging every Tuesday with the fourth Tuesday reserved for guests.
So pour a mug and come chat with us at Musings From the Mug.
Last month I so brilliantly declared that the word for 2013 was Simplify. Ha!
Being a founding member of a new writers association is anything but simple. But it is exciting.
The Women's Fiction Writers Association is humming along and pretty soon will be ready to accept members. I have the privilege of spearheading the formation with an amazing group of women's fiction writers.
Our vision was to create an inclusive community dedicated to women's fiction. Whether the stories are contemporary or historical; literary or commercial; include a dash of romance, a heap of romance or none at all; the stories all have one common thread—-they are about a woman’s emotional journey. Aspiring, debut or published (traditional, indie or self) women's fiction authors will all find helpful resources and a caring community.
While there is no official website yet, you can visit the Writers In the Storm blog and read more about the new association and also Amy Sue Nathan's blog where she chats about the formation of the group.
If you are a women’s fiction writer and want to join the conversation as well as receive up-to-date information about the association’s progress, there is a Yahoo loop that already has over 175 members. Contact Laura Drake, one of our Founding Team Members, if you are interested in joining the loop. Or drop me a comment below.
I start every year making goals for the year ahead. So on December 31 I pulled out a new notebook and made my Goals for 2013 (somehow the word goal doesn't sound as scary as resolution). Goals made, I walked off to fix another coffee, feeling smug and ready to tackle the new year.
Until I opened the notebook and looked at my list again.
Can we say ridiculous? Some are "easy" like starting and finishing a novel and catching up on Downton Abbey (okay, starting and catching up). Some "doable" like getting back into an exercise routine and writing the middle grade story rattling around in my brain. And some "insane" like reducing the amount of coffee I drink and eliminating the clutter in my house.
What was I thinking? Not so much about the reducing coffee intake - obviously I wasn't thinking there. But about the number of things I thought I should take on.
Then I read a fabulous blog post where each of the contributors picked one word that would define their year [you can read it here]. Hmmm … interesting (can you hear the gears squeaking in my brain?).
What would my word be?
Only one came to mind … Simplify.
For me, "simplify" means focusing on what really matters and I can easily narrow that down to two things: my family and my writing. When I went back to look at the goals I'd originally written, almost all were in line with those two priorities. But when I compared my goals for the year with my weekly to-do lists, they weren't compatible. That, I'm happy to say, is changing.
So cheers to 2013 and the changes it will bring!
In whatever order …
1) There really may actually be such a thing as too much caffeine.
2) How to peel a pomegranate without leaving the entire kitchen - and myself - covered in red splotches.
3) It doesn't matter how many things I still need to do after picking up my son from school, the most important thing is listening to him talk about his day.
4) Sometimes unplugging from email and social media is the best thing you can do.
5) It's good to be serious but don't take yourself too seriously.
6) It's okay to be scared of something. It's not okay to hide from it.
7) I can get through a day without a to-do list (two days is pushing it though).
8) You can try to hide in the bathroom but they'll still find you and talk at you (or meow) through the door.
9) I thought I'd like writing because it's a solitary career for the most part. But I love writing because of the friends I've made.
10) Patience doesn't come with maturity.
11) The 'I can't do this" spiral of self-doubt? I have the power to stop it.
12) I don't have to feel guilty about taking the time to curl up and read.
A few days ago I received feedback on my manuscript from a couple of beta readers and one comment surprised me. Apparently, I have an “it’s complicated” problem. My first reaction was “whhuuuutttt?” Especially since that’s a phrase I really, really don’t like.
So why would I have my character say it?
Granted, the characters in my books are not me. Some have similar traits—Maia in The Day The Merry-Go-Round Stopped, for example, also has long crazy curls, loves carousels and talks to her dead grandmother (before anyone calls the guys with the white jackets, my grandmother does not talk back)—but they are not telling my story, just a story that my overactive brain came up with. That still doesn’t explain, though, why I would choose to use a phrase that makes me grind my teeth when I hear it.
Then yesterday the answer talked my ear off the entire way home from school. My seven year old was explaining some game they were playing during recess. The more he talked, the less sense it made. And apparently my face made that perfectly clear. He huffed and said, “It’s complicated, mom.”
Well poop. Apparently the answer to Maia’s love for that phrase wasn’t as complicated to figure out as I’d thought it would be. Getting Maia to stop saying it is proving much easier than getting the seven year old to stop though.
Do you have any favorite—or not so favorite but overly used—phrases? And do you know where they came from?
Sometimes things happen that make you look around at what you have and appreciate in a different way. I won't get sappy, I'll just fast forward to the part where I pull my head out of the headaches of everyday and give thanks for everything that's right instead.
Which brings me to the "returning" part. The other day I read a blog post by a literary agent who has been raising money for victims of Hurricane Sandy. His idea to donate money based on a weight loss goal motivated me to stop whining and do something positive. So here it is, between now and my birthday at the end of March, I'm going to lose weight - my goal is 15 pounds. And for every pound I lose I'm going to donate $5 to Alzheimer's research.
My grandmother had Alzheimer's and the book I just finished writing was inspired by her (you can read more about The Day the Merry-Go-Round Stopped here). Writing it was a daily dose of therapy for me. I hope this book grabs the heart of an agent and an editor and that some day I can share it with everyone else.
November may be Thanksgiving but it's also National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. Click here to learn more about Alzheimer's.
The talented, generous and patient Laura Drake (lauradrakebooks.com) tagged me in the ongoing game of The Next Big Thing in which authors get to talk about their favorite thing - their work! Thank you for the honor, Laura!!
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
What is your working title of your book?
The Day the Merry-Go-Round Stopped
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I've always had a soft spot for carousels and love stories that hinge around a secret that can either bring the characters together or blow their world to shreds.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Rebecca Gayheart as Maia, Simon Baker as Vale, and Ryan Reynolds as Michael. Kristin Scott Thomas as Maia's mom and Dustin Hoffman as Hank (the old carver).
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The Day The Merry-Go-Round Stopped is the story of a carousel restorer who discovers the answers to her unhappiness with the help of a 1930s carousel horse and its carver, an old gentleman suffering from Alzheimer’s and a broken heart for the one person she can’t get over either—her grandmother.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Hopefully (fingers and toes crossed) represented by an agency.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first draft took about six months.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I think the style of this book would appeal to fans of Cecilia Ahern and Kristin Hannah.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My grandmother, although I wouldn't say she really inspired me to write the book as much as inspired me while I was writing the book.
And now the fun part - the fabulously talented authors that I tagged. Look for their interviews on their websites next week.
Kerry Lonsdale, women's fiction writer and critique partner extraordinaire.
Kimberley Troutte, trusted reader and advice giver, and talented writer of paranormal and romantic suspense, and kick-patooty middle-grade.
Lorrie Thomson, women's fiction writer and fabulously fun twitter and WF Chapter mate.
Roxanne Ravenel, writer of smart, sexy, multicultural women’s fiction.
Shannon Kennedy, writing as Josie Malone, writer of mainstream western romances with a kick.
You'd think that at forty (cough) something, I'd have been around the block enough times to listen up when my gut says "caution, caution." Most of the time I'm pretty good about listening. But just like that annoying GPS voice that needs to be turned off even if it means you'll take a wrong turn, sometimes that inner voice gets muted as well. And yes, you might take a wrong turn there as well.
And this week, I came to the cul-de-sac of two wrong turns.
It started with a rejection email from an agent. She'd loved the first part of the manuscript but didn't love the way it unfolded. She was kind enough to elaborate on why. And all I could do was mutter "I should have listened to my gut." The dimmer on that light bulb was turned up a couple of notches after a discussion with one of my critique partners. When I told her about the feedback and my thoughts about it, she responded with "All good points. And yes, next time listen to your gut."
See, I read and edited and read and edited so many times that my eyes were glazing over and I couldn't image making one more change. Except that deep down something still felt off. I muted that voice and followed the path with the blinking "just do it." Head-slap moment followed by a solid "told you so" talking to. And wouldn't you know, the next time I sat down to write on the work-in-progress, the anxiety that had all but paralyzed forward momentum was gone. The words flowed better than they have in a while.
The other wrong turn came with way more anxiety--yeah, I know, what can be more stressful than putting your "baby" out there for agents to accept or reject? Easy, putting your Baby in a situation where he's unhappy. Beep, beep … backing up the truck a few thoughts. When we were deciding on summer camps the then 6 year old was adamant that he wanted to try a new camp. That little caution voice said "trial" couple of weeks only. I muted that voice and followed the path with the blinking "just do it."
Fast forward a few months and the now 7 year old will not go to camp. The child who couldn't wait to go, always loved camp will not go. Stomach ache, tired, ankle hurts, you name it he's used it. And this morning, on the third day of "the stomach ache," the little voice came back--this time with an evil cackle and a stomach ache for me--and said "you should have listened to your gut." So after much anxiety and beating down the "I told you so" know-it-all, I signed him up for the tried-and-loved camp. On the way out of that cul-de-sac, wouldn't you know the stomach ache (mine) was gone (his miraculously disappeared when he heard "you can stay home"). I turned up the radio and sang as loud as I could (until the child turned down the music and suggested we listen to something less embarrassing).
So, next time I'm headed somewhere I'll pay more attention to that voice that says "caution, caution." 'Cause let's face it, it's much more fun to tell someone else "I told you so" than have to tell it to yourself.
_I've always been a planner--every morning starts with a to-do list (yup, even weekends) and I'm forever thinking down-the-road (it's Wednesday but I'm thinking how to organize the weekend, January fine but we need to nail down summer plans). In the corporate world I had to be a planner--every project was outlined to the tiniest detail. In my personal life I was born to be a planner (thanks, Dad) until I married the anti-planner but that's another story.
Then I had a baby. I started working from home. I started writing. And I kept planning.
For my freelance work, the project management flowed like clockwork. I even managed to keep my days pretty scheduled.
I tackled my writing with that same plan-it-out attitude. After all, the first lesson in writing class was about the importance of outlining your novel. Very important to outline. All writers outline. Okay, that's easy, I outlined annual reports and magazine articles. I can outline! I had a fabulously detailed outline. And I was hopelessly stuck. How could the story not flow when it was all planned out? I tweaked my outline. I banged my head on the desk.
Then I went to a writer's conference and almost fell out of my chair. A writer I've always admired, sat at that long table, looked out at the audience and said "I'm a pantster." The other authors at that table nodded. Guess what--they were pantsters too.
What? These published greats didn't outline their novels? Whoa!
So I tried it. I put that beautifully detailed outline in the drawer. I ignored the twitch in my eye and started writing. And holy guacamole, the words poured out.
I finished that first novel and jumped into number two. With an outline. And stared at the empty word document on the screen. The outline sat on my desk taunting me. I did what any self-respecting planner does. I reworked the outline. And banged my head on the desk some more.
So I tried an experiment--no lists, no organizing, just free-flow. It worked. Well, sort of. The words latched onto the page easily. But the plants started shriveling and the child asked if I was ever going to do laundry again. But the day I spent a small fortune at the grocery and came home without the one thing I really needed--coffee--was the day this experiment skidded to a whimpering stop.
Okay, so maybe I'm not a total pantster. Most mornings now still start with a list again.
When it comes to writing, I let my characters have more say in their stories. I still plan out the story but I don't try to force my characters down a strictly outlined path. I can't totally ignore my Konig genes, though, so I still start with a rough outline. But I'm learning to embrace my pantster side and stop twitching when things don't go as I planned them.
What about you--do you pull on your pants and see where they take you or do you pull on slacks and plot out every step you'll take?