Throwing Stones: I made my #NaNoWriMo Cover

Imagined book cover for work in progress by Maria L. Berg

#NaNoWriMo2016 Book Cover

THROWING STONES: Tshepo Mwendi blames fire fighters for the loss of his parents and his home. His grief, turned anger, fuels his singular mission: to make fire fighters suffer as he has by showing the world they are inept (thus taking away their funding leading to their non-existence). To achieve his goal he throws stones to stop them from putting out fires. While throwing stones at a fire outside of the city, he is joined by other stone throwers and discovers a new family among refugees and other disenfranchised of The Eternal Family. There he finally finds love, but he cannot find peace. His sharp mind and tongue along with his warped view of justice and obsessive mission make it easy for him to manipulate their leader. Though he loses his father figure and mentor, he convinces members of The Eternal Family to join him and leads his army back to the city to fight. An underhanded developer learns about Tshepo’s activities and plots to use him, along with an arsonist for hire, to be rid of some problem properties, and their tenants.

 

Wanna be my writing buddy? You can find me at nanowrimo.org/participants/marialberg

or on Twitter @authormariaberg

and if you wanted to be the first to see the book cover, you should LIKE my facebook author page

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Be Outrageous! Guest Post from Author Diana Rose Wilson

picture of cover of Blood Feathers by Diana Rose Wilson

Today’s guest post is from author Diana Rose Wilson. The book release party for Blood Feathers (Forbidden Secrets), her new book in the Forbidden Secrets series is September 28th from 6pm-7pm PST. Join the festivities on facebook or at spiritbeast.org.

 

I began writing believing that authors flexed their fingers and the stories flowed fully formed from their brains into their novels. From: ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.’ To: ‘I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.’ –Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)Nabokov: Novels 1955-1962: Lolita / Pnin / Pale Fire (Library of America).

In 3rd grade, after reading Watership Down / Richard Adams, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I mucked through my masterpiece and my story came out in one start-to-finish jumble of awesome. No one explained with compassion that it should have sucked as a first draft and a first try. I tossed out hundreds of pages and started a completely new story. Results did not vary.

Years later I started again but my process was much different. Here is the important part to remember: a story doesn’t need to be delivered fully formed from A to Z.

When you begin, you don’t need to know every breath and every move your character will make.

The key is to keep things moving, and here are some ideas that I hope will work for you.

Start

Start where you want. Anywhere you want. Start with the description of his eyes and then go from there. Throw yourself into the middle or the end but just go. The important thing is starting.

This goes for every day you write. If you sit and stare at the screen and don’t know what to do, pick up a conversation between some random characters. Characters in your story or those from the last book you read or movie you watched or even a conversation you overheard. Once you get going, your muse will guide you around to what is important.

Eventually you will have some bones and you can weave your scenes around and those can be strung together.

Respect the Muse

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk ‘Your Elusive Creative Genius’ changed my thought process about writing and creating.

Part of my return to writing started when I watched that video and put a persona behind my muse. Besides, it’s fun having a character for my creative process. He needs a whole blog post of his own, so here I only encourage you to think about the concept. Embrace that muse.

Be Ugly

Watch Bob Ross. His canvas begins as globs of color and only slowly transforms into beauty. Go ahead and be ugly!

I live in wine country, and during crush season it stinks. Literally. Someday it will be lovely wine but it begins as fruits, stems, seeds and skin all fermenting in tanks. It is allowed to smell nasty and you should allow your first draft to be too.

Accept it is okay to be really gnarly old vines. Just throw it in there.

Don’t know what color Mister Perfect will wear? Just type blue, highlight that sucker and move on. Mister Perfect might not be who you think he is when you get to the end. He might need a leather jacket instead of a suit. Don’t stress the small stuff.

This goes for spelling and grammar. Just throw it all in there. Stems, seeds, skins and all.

Be Extraordinary

Have you ever sat down to write the scene you’ve been brooding over for weeks and suddenly the mind yanks the wheel away from the muse? You know the thoughts: ‘could/would that really happen?

Since we’re talking about first draft, it doesn’t matter during this part of the process.

For example; the hero is trapped behind a booth in the donut shop with the entire police force there ready for a shootout. Hero must get away to move the plot forward.

How? Mind: should/could/would/can he really do <whatever your mind comes up with>?

It is a great question to ask and for the finished product you will need to make sure your story is believable, but not today. Besides, when your Hero is a vampire/superhero/alien/ex-marine-fireman/super-sexy-smart-and-also-rich-babe, we left reality a few miles back.

Write your character out of that scene.

Have Hero leap over the seat and throat-chop the douchebag ex-partner. Then throw the DEA agent into the DA who just walked in. Toss in an eye poke or two before Hero takes a bullet. Sliding out the door on both knees, Hero flips double birds as she vanishes into a blast of sunlight.

Phew!

Through!

We’re through! *victory lap*.

Crazy? Meh. Sure. But hero sipping coffee for ten pages while you’re pulling out your hair unable to push forward is worse.

Right?

Now you can write the next scene, or write another way for Hero to get out. (Maybe she gets caught. Maybe her lady comes and save her butt. Maybe her new partner flies the helicopter in and zooms her out of there.)

Play around with it and have fun while you get the ideas out of your brain and onto the page.

Be Extreme

You probably don’t read books because the hero is a normal person who goes to an average job and does average things.

It’s okay to write things that are over the top. Chip it out later if it doesn’t fit. If you’re stuck, don’t let reality hold you back. Let the hero be so smart she could shame Sherlock Holmes and beautiful and rich and she only works her dead end job because she enjoys talking to people at the call center.

None of this is set in stone. Even the best crafted, based in reality character isn’t necessarily going to survive the creation process unchanged. Your good guys may become bad guys, and your bad girl might become your hero. Allow some over the top characters and then when you edit, pull out those wild stems.

Same goes for scenes. Write situations as dangerous and unbelievable as you can imagine. If it doesn’t fit into the story, just tuck it aside or turn down the volume.

Be Flexible

You might have your plot scripted from start to finish, but allow yourself to write a scene differently to test the waters. Try that side door and discover it leads to a back alley where a character can overhear an important secret. Maybe it will be useful, otherwise tuck it away.

If a scene fizzles, explore it at a different angle. Maybe you don’t have to kill that two-faced friend. Or maybe that cow has to go! You can find out a lot about a character when you put them in unexpected situations. Even if the scene is clipped, you have more information about how to detail your character.

Be Uncomfortable

Put Hero into a situation that really sucks. She has to go into the boss’s office and explain why she was using company time/money for her personal research project. Have hero get hit by that car and be physically/emotionally changed. Force the hero to face a fear to save someone important to your plot, but maybe not important to them.

Put yourself in the hot seat too. Try writing something outside your comfort zone. Drop your characters into a genre you’ve never tested. Maybe the serious story that has you stuck would loosen up in a different setting. You never have to show any of this, it’s just practice.

Don’t Fuss

You finished that story/novel/novella! Now, leave it alone. Set a time limit of a week or a few months and do not look! No poking or overthinking about it. Continue to write but move onto something different. Create some blog posts or try another genre.

Do not uncork that baby until it has some cellar time.

Then, if you sample it and it tastes like vinegar, review what went wrong. The part about writing that you don’t get in wine making is that if you don’t like it you don’t need to start over from scratch. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments. Or, snip the pieces you like and put them into a new story.

Regardless of what happens with that story you will learn what no amount of coaching can teach you; the technique that works for YOU.

Try/GET Scivener

(https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php)

I don’t have any affiliations to this company/product and this is only my own opinion but this software is a great tool. It is easy to use. It allows you to break your story into acts and scenes and scenes within scenes. You can easily shuffle whole acts/scenes like they are index cards. There is also easily accessible pages to keep your characters/places and research.

It also allows you to strain out the scenes that didn’t work and keep them away from the real product.

 

I hope this was helpful. Just keep in mind, everything you write is practice so even if no one sees it but you, it’s not a waste of time.

 

bio pic of Diana Rose WilsonDiana Rose Wilson grew up under the shadow of the Mayacamas Mountains, raised by outlaws and bikers. She has been involved in the lifestyle since 1989 including working at a high end adult boutique specializing in fetish, BDSM and LGBT merchandise. Her debut book is Wicked Masquerade, first in the Forbidden Secrets series. She has also been published in Finesse, a publication for the Thomas Keller Restaurant group.

Currently Diana lives in wine country with her husband where she enjoys good wine, better food, loud Harleys, 3-day eventing and the delights of deviant erotica. She is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Redwood Writers, Snoopy Writers and CFTW Writer’s Block.

Great News for Writers and Anyone Who Wants to Write!

No longer CohesiveSometimes things just go right. And when that happens, I get excited and want to share.

I got struck by the spring cleaning bug and in my sorting and tossing, I found a copy of Writer’s Digest that was part of the swag from an author meet I went to last year. Inside was an interesting article on planning your own writing retreat. I liked Steve Holt’s ideas, especially his daily schedule that broke up writing around meditation and exercise.

Believing that I can convince myself that I live in an ideal setting for a writing retreat, I started my retreat this morning and what did I see when I checked my email? Future Learn’s free eight-week fiction course started today. The timing couldn’t be better (except for the fact that I was so excited, I’ve already started week two).

The trouble I’m having in my writing has nothing to do with writer’s block. It is more about bringing new ideas to my table. I know what I want to accomplish with my novel, but an interesting story isn’t enough. Now, I have to make every page interesting, every sentence interesting, every word exactly what I want. And a lot of me wants to run. But I can’t. I have a deadline.

So, why would I take on a fiction class during my retreat? Because within just a few hours, I was inspired to write some interesting paragraphs I wouldn’t have written otherwise. The exercises were harder than I expected them to be. I over-thought them, but that was the thought I needed to write a section of a short story I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. And I invented three unique character sketches.

What does this have to do with finishing my novel? Each thing I wrote today helped me stretch my imagination and improve my observational skills. You can always build on a strong foundation, so I want everyone to give themselves the gift of free education. The course is self-paced and you don’t have to do it as an eight week course though I personally am going to try to make it last so I can keep the inspiration going over my Spring Retreat.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

 

A Happy Discovery – Free Indirect Discourse: I Was Already Using It, But Now I Know When and How to Use It Correctly

Write Like the Masters by William CaneI first saw the term Free Indirect Discourse while reading the chapter on Flannery O’Connor in Write Like The Masters by William Cane. Cane describes Free Indirect Discourse (FID) as “A popular technique with good writers, FID involves narrating a scene in language that contains some elements from the lexicon of one of the characters (Cane sites Rimmon-Kenan 1983).” He also writes “A helpful way to think of it is to conceptualize FID as narration tinged or colored with the voice of one of the characters.”

I didn’t completely understand the concept until I read this passage from Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away:

The room was lined with automobile tires and had a concrete and rubber smell. Meeks took the machine in two parts and held one part to his head while he circled with his finger on the other part. Then he sat waiting, swinging his foot, while the horn buzzed in his ear. After a minute an acid smile began to eat at the corners of his mouth and he said, drawing in his breath, “Heythere, Sugar, hyer you?” and Tarwater, from where he stood in the door, heard an actual woman’s voice, like one coming from beyond the grave, say, “Why Sugar, is that reely you?” and Meeks said it was him in the same old flesh and made an appointment with her in ten minutes.

Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away

This passage describes a telephone from the perspective of a character who has never seen one before. A more distant third person narrator may have said, “Meeks stopped at a gas station to use the phone. Tarwater had never seen anyone act so strangely, talking into a box like that.” O’Connor draws the reader into the mind of the young man experiencing the machine through observing its use.

Free Indirect Discourse is a type of third person point of view (POV) that allows a minimal psychological distance between the reader and the character. In other words it lets the reader inside the character’s head. There are two other forms of discourse in third person POV: direct discourse and indirect discourse. Direct discourse (or quoted speech or direct speech) is the same as dialogue, something stated out-loud by the character and written in quotation marks. Indirect discourse (reported speech) tells the reader what a character said or thought without quotation marks and using a reporting verb like she said or he thought.

Examples:

Direct Discourse

“It’s a lot more than that,” Jerry said. “If it works out, you could get everything you need and make some money too.”

“I’m intrigued. It sounds too good to be true,” Rick said.

Indirect Discourse

Jerry told him it was a lot more than that. If it worked out, he could get everything he needed and make some money too. Rick told Jerry he was intrigued, but it sounded to good to be true.

Free Indirect Discourse

Jerry’s proposition was intriguing. Could he get everything he needed and make some money too? It sounded too good to be true.

As a writing exercise, I recommend creating examples like those above, first, starting with dialogue and trying to change it to the other two forms of discourse and then, starting with FID and trying to turn it into the other two kinds of discourse. I found it to be trickier than I expected.

For me, discovering FID cleared up the question: do I put my characters’ thoughts in italics or in quotes? I now believe the answer is neither as long as I am using free indirect discourse correctly.

If you would like more information about free indirect discourse, I found these posts interesting and informative:

http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2013/09/free-indirect-style-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html

http://jeffchapmanwriter.blogspot.com/2010/06/free-indirect-discourse.html

http://blog.karenwoodward.org/2014/04/free-indirect-discourse-how-to-create-a-window-into-character-soul.html

Once I understood free indirect discourse, I went on the hunt for it in my work in progress. My novel is a psychological thriller told from the perspective of each of its three main characters, so, it turns out, my novel is full of FID.

Here’s a jog through B’s mind:

She wasn’t afraid of snakes. They fascinated her from a young age. She loved to draw their beautiful colors and patterns. She remembered spending hours in the snake habitat at the zoo watching their tongues flicking in and out as she imagined seeing the world through tasting her environment. Talk about an oral fixation.  She attempted to emulate the way pieces of their bodies expanded and contracted to propel them forward by wriggling on her carpet, that old shag carpet that shed fuzz right up her nose and made her sneeze.  Mom helped her create a really cool Medusa costume in sixth grade by sticking wires through a ton of rubber snakes and hooking them into a cheap wig.

And here’s a moment in R’s:

“Of course, silly. I’m a regular.” She smiled and scrunched up half her face. She probably thought she was winking.

That sounded like the brush off. She wasn’t going to give him a number and tell him to call her, so he wasn’t going to ask. She would let him find her here in this dive, if she wasn’t hooking a bigger fish on the line. Fine. He had mastered that game long ago.

Were you able to identify the different kinds of discourse? Do you feel like you got inside the character’s heads? Did they feel like two very different views of the world? I hope so. Have you found places in your own writing where you used FID, or places where you could improve your writing by using FID? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

I hope you also find the discovery of free indirect discourse fun and exciting (for some reason knowing the style had a name was very exciting for me). Happy Writing.

Exploring: Book treasure at the local thrift store

Stephen King Pop-up bookI often stop by the local Goodwill to peruse the books. I recently found a hardback of Eco’s Foucalt’s Pendulum in excellent condition and a Complete works of Poe. This week, I found an extra special treasure: A Stephen King Pop-up book! For those of you that haven’t read the story (originally published in 1999), The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is about a girl who gets lost in the woods. Because she is a big Red Sox fan and her favorite player is Tom Gordon, she pictures Tom Gordon guiding her through her ordeal. Following the baseball theme, the story is broken into innings. The pop-up features are very creative.

Pop-up carinterior page three panelThis will be the perfect gift for the biggest Stephen King fan in my family. I had no idea Stephen King had a pop-up book. What a great treasure. The copy even has a signature on the back.

DSC05853Anyone have any idea who’s signature that is? I couldn’t find anything on the internet. A treasure and a mystery.

Exploring the thrift store can be great for special gifts. I found three nice books to check off my shopping list.

Happy Hunting!

Revision: Adding Videos to Your Blog

You can see why I put this under the revision topic, I’m revising my post of Gator McBumpypants’ first movie. Why didn’t I think of this yesterday? So, how did I do it? It was much easier than I thought.

When I clicked on Add Media above my draft’s text box, like I usually do to add pictures, I looked around and in the column on the left I clicked on Insert from URL. In a new tab, I went to the Youtube page for Gator’s video and copied the URL. When I pasted it into the box, TADA!, the video is now playable on my blog. So fun.

Now that Gator McBumpypants and his friend Herman have a youtube page, they wanted to find some fun videos to share. First they subscribed to other children’s books about alligators. Hear are a couple fun book videos:

I tried to change the video sizes so they were about half as big in this post, but assigning height and width in the html didn’t work (I turned off mobile in theme settings as per instructions) Any one know how to change the video size?

This morning I had an idea for other content to add to Gator and Herman’s YouTube page: Alligator crafts! First I thought of origami, but to Herman’s happy surprise, the Pterodactyl origami video was WAY cooler.

The best video for alligator crafts (Gator forgives the artist for saying he drew a crocodile) so far was this one:

One thing I have yet to figure out is how to get the videos I’m following to come up in the right hand column of my video. Does anyone have any advice? I’ve made a favorite videos playlist, I’ve picked out kids book channels to follow, but none of these things are showing up when I play my video. If you’d like to see Gator McBumpypants and friends favorite videos playlist, it is a tab on their YouTube channel here. I’ll keep working on this and update when I figure it out.

While I was searching for fun Pterodactyl kids books, I happened upon this great video and learned something I think I don’t want to know– Pterodactyls Aren’t Dinosaurs!

Of course, I had to immediately do some research and if you wanna listen to Science then hears a link

However, if you wanna keep believin’ hears some info here

I’m not facing facts yet, and I’m not ready to share this with Gator and Herman, so sadly the great video did not get in their favorites, yet.

Another thought on revision– Learn from my mistake. Make sure to pay attention to current events before launching your marketing campaign. Planning my big push the same week as the Ferguson decision, could have been avoided if I was paying attention to current events. I had no idea this could be a factor, but it is what people are talking about and paying attention to (as they should). The story of a cute bumpy stuffed alligator is a bit out of place in that discussion, except for the theme of not being afraid of people different from you. Perhaps that could be part of the discussion with children. That said, when planning a marketing campaign, give yourself enough time to see what else is  happening during your time frame that could eclipse your efforts (again, as it should in my case).

Anyone have other video suggestions for Gator and Herman to add to their YouTube Favorites?

Revision: Exploring my characters’ motivations

A nice sunset

A nice sunset

And after a few revisions in Windows Photo Gallery

Sunset with revisions

I love playing with simple photo editing software. All of those fabulous colors were in my photo just waiting for me to draw them out–slough off a bit of brightness, delete a bit of shadow, redefine the contrast and saturate the hues. Now, to apply the same principal (drawing out the good stuff) to my manuscript.

This morning I approached my task in a new way. My goal is to make the motivations of my characters clear to my readers. I had planned to read through my manuscript and note my characters’ motivations for each major action in the margins (and I am still planning on doing that), but as I wrote my morning pages, I started exploring some of the hermit’s major motivations: Abandonment, Rejection, Betrayal, Judgement. Then I explored events in her childhood that would have led to these feelings. I quickly filled my morning pages with ideas. One of the ideas for betrayal seemed to be a better motivation for my other main character.

Looking at the origin stories of my characters’ motivations, I saw a common theme–Perception. Specifically, how incorrect perceptions both internal and external can negatively affect one’s life. At first it felt like a revelation to define this underlying theme, but really, it is no surprise. I got my M.S. in perception, be it the biopsychology (behavioral neuroscience) of visual perception and memory, but I am obviously (though somewhat subconsciously) writing what I know.

Now, I’m daydreaming about quoting my own journal articles and bringing in quotes about the physical aspects of perception and anxiety. It could be a fun tie-in for chapter titles. I’ll see where it takes me.

Today, I’m excited to be making some progress toward taming the beast named First Novel.

Anyone have revision tips? Every idea is welcome and appreciated.

Agent Query Progress

A small break in the clouds.

A small break in the clouds

For once, I felt I was making some progress in my search to find agents to query. Then, the moment I was sure I had found someone and would get my first query letter out today, to my complete horror, her blog said she wasn’t accepting queries at this time. I clicked back to her agency page and there it was under her picture in red letters, not accepting queries. I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had noticed that before I started researching her further. At least I hadn’t read a bunch of books she represented before finding out she wasn’t accepting queries, this time.

Today, unlike most days of my frustrating agent search, I have found someone who looks interesting. She’s interested in writer/illustrators for middle grade fiction, which excites me. A while back, I read that editors liked to use their own illustrator, so a writer was better off not sending illustrations with the story. However, after reading that this agent wants illustrations, I’m going to get to work on the drawings to go with my story, at least a couple, and send them in with my query. I’ve been wanting to draw my monsters anyway, and I’ll need them if traditional publishing routes don’t work out, so this day just got a whole lot more fun!

Anyone have any tips on making the agent search easier?

Busy Writer’s Life Update: Gator McBumpypants 2 and searching for an agent

Herman becomes a dragon at Hogwarts

Herman becomes a dragon at Hogwarts

I can’t seem to stick to my goal of a weekly blog, but I’ll keep trying. However, while I’ve been neglecting this blog, my writing life has been very busy indeed.

First, I’ve finished the text and taken the pictures for the second book in my Gator McBumpypants series. I’m pretty sure I’ll stick with the title Gator McBumpypants in Herman Learns to Fly. I had the idea for this second book as I was working on the first. The reactions from my readers the moment they finished the first book (e.g. “Herman needs to learn to fly”, “When does Herman learn to fly”, etc.) prompted me to not waste any time before writing the sequel. I hope to have the second book available for the holidays. I plan to finish my guide for self publishing children’s books while I go through the process a second time. That way I’ll be sure I don’t leave anything out. Look for it in late November/early December. If any of you have specific questions about self publishing children’s books  you would like me to answer, please ask in the comment section, so I’m sure to put it in my free guide for you.

Secondly, I’ve been working on my query letter for my Middle Grade Fiction story. A well rounded writing life should at least attempt traditional publishing routes, right?  The rough draft is finished and edited. The summary and hook for the query were positively reviewed by a group of writers. The hard parts over right? Ohhhh, NO. I spend countless hours each week trying to figure out which agent/s I want to query.Many books I read say to read everything I can in my genre, find a book similar to my work that I like and find out who the author’s agent is. Every time I finally find something similar, find out who the agent is, research the agent on agent query or their website –the agent isn’t accepting new clients. So frustrating!

I’ve decided to do the opposite of the original advise: find an agent that sounds promising and accepts new clients, then read the books they represent. This last week I found a little help in my search, a great blog called Middle Grade Ninja. Middle Grade Ninja has mini interviews (7 questions) with a list of authors and a list of agents. I’ve been going down the list of agents, cross checking them on agent query and then looking for any other interviews on the web. Then, if they still look promising (so far I’ve found two), I’ll download the books they represent from the library, saving so much time and money. I usually don’t like reading ebooks on my laptop. I don’t have a kindle or other specific ebook device, so I’m not sure if I would feel differently, but I’ve only read all the way through about 5 books on my laptop. I don’t like the glow behind the words; I tend to read what I can in about 10-20 minutes and then not go back.  However, for this project I love ebooks. I can find out in the first 10-20 minutes if the work is like mine, if I like it, if it was well edited, etc. Imagine having to request each book at the library and wait for the few you could find to become available and the cost of purchasing the ones you couldn’t get from the library. I have to admit, the downloadable ebook is the true friend of the author attempting to find an agent through a query letter.

Thirdly, I’ve been focusing on reading. My whole life I’ve been a voracious reader. I often come back from the library with ten to twenty books at a time. However, for the last few years, the majority of the books I read to the end were How To books. I would pick up plenty of novels, but not get past the first few chapters. Finishing a few of the novels I read  in the last year was like listening to a dentist’s drill through my eyes and letting it echo through my brain. Hopefully, that’s all over. I finally joined goodreads (to set up my author page for Gator McBumpypants) and after reading an article about the new recommendation algorithm, I spent some time rating many of the books I’ve read. At first I didn’t think the recommendations were very accurate, but after a while I started finding book descriptions that sounded very interesting. Every book I chose to read from the recommendations, so far, has been great! I’m very excited. I used to think I was an intellectually eclectic reader, but I’m finding out that, though my interests are vast, they are also semi-specific. It’s nice to not have to wade through ALL the muck to find what makes me happy. I’ve posed this challenge to my critique group: to find a the closest book to your work. I’m looking for something like my novel, but I still haven’t found anything close. I’m hoping goodreads will be a catalyst to finding some similar work through my preferences and friends. Meanwhile search engines and libraries will continue to be my stabbing grounds.

Have you found the novel you will compare your work to, or use after the fact as a learning tool? I’d love to hear how you found it.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! What will you be this year?

Getting Words on the Page – Three Tools to Increase Productivity

How fun is this

The Plot-o-Matic and Dialog warm-up in Morning Pages

It’s almost time for me to print out the rough draft of my novel, to read through the whole thing with fresh eyes, as if I just brought it home from the bookstore. But first, I have a few more goals to accomplish: I WILL finish reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (I was born at exactly midnight and I enjoyed many of his other books, so I thought it would be a fun read when I bought it at the airport about five years ago. It seems no matter how much I read, I’m only half-way through.) and I WILL finish the draft of my mid-grade fiction story and make a mock-up of my picture book. I’m pretty close on all of these goals so I’ve given myself (and now you can hold me to it) until the end of the July 4th weekend to finish (these goals) before the big first-draft read.

In the meantime, I thought I would share some writing tools that helped me get all my words to the page:

  1. Morning Pages – as recommended by Julia Cameron author of many inspirational books including the Complete Artists Way where I first discovered morning pages.
  2. The Plot-o-Matic – a rendition of PLOTTOMATIC! introduced by John Dufresne in his intelligent and useful book on writing, Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months.
  3. Dialogue Warm-up – a way that I get my writing going when my plan for the day escapes me. When I run out of things to say, I let my characters start up a conversation and watch where it goes.

Writing every day has not been easy for me, but I’m pretty close now. Throughout my journey to (almost) writing every day, I read everything in my local library on writing and everything recommended to me, plus a lot more. Only a few things really stuck with me and, through some development, still work for me.

Everyone has different amounts of time they can commit to their writing and most have to SQUEEZE it into their hectic lives (and family tithes). Making time for your passion makes you better for all the other people in your life, so that is why I want to emphasize . . .

  1. Morning Pages – Get up twenty minutes early if you have to. It will be totally worth it. Find three lined 8.5 X 11 sheets of paper. I use a thick college ruled notebook (I’m addicted to kukumusu designs, but they’re expensive and my super-favorite is already out of print, so I buy a bunch at a time). Start writing. Do not get dressed. Maybe make a pot of tea or coffee, but then – Start writing. Do not get up and do the things you remind yourself to do while you’re writing. Do not lift pen from paper. Write everything that comes to mind even if it is “I can’t think of anything” then “I’m spacing off”, etc. Keep writing until you fill all three pages. No excuses. No I have to’s.

Staying at the page for all three pages is much more difficult than I ever expected. I’ve worked with morning pages for years and looking back at my filled journals, there was very little written, but paragraphs of things done and things to do, with either woeful disappointments in not accomplishing these lists, or motivational speeches to myself of how I would accomplish these lists. After a while, however, I noticed if I did my morning pages those thoughts wouldn’t nag at me when I took a walk, or when I tried to meditate. I had more room for creative thought. More recently, I’ve started spending only the first page on those should do’s and the other two pages on character development and story ideas. These days most of my writing for the day is retyping my Morning Pages. I took a long time to get here, but if you have a story burning inside you, but can’t find time to write, set that alarm twenty minutes earlier than normal and give Morning Pages a try.

What about those days when even your morning pages won’t get you where you want to go? You feel dry of ideas, you want someone to just hand you a character, a conflict, or your character’s next step. Try the . . .

    1. Plot-o-Matic – I loved reading Dufresne’s book, Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months and I will bring it up more when I work through my rewrite. A plot-o-matic is easy to make. I made a Word document with large print, bold type, centered in 3” X 2” rectangles. I printed the subjects – Dufresne used occupations and I added character descriptions like “Conspiracy Junky” and “Disco Dancer”- on green cardstock, the needs or wants of those subjects on yellow cardstock, and an action the character took on blue cardstock. I cut out the different colored “cards” and turned them upside down so I couldn’t see what my options were and chose one of each. If you take a look at the picture at the top of this post you’ll see I drew “A conspiracy junky wants to rescue kittens, so he listens at the wall as the neighbors argue” Fun right? Why rescue kittens? What conspiracy could the neighbors be part of? Are they the neighbors’ kittens? This tool can be great for story ideas, but you can also customize it to help you decide what your characters will do next. Limit the subject pile to only include your characters and choose wants and actions until you feel inspired. Remember to write at least five minutes for every combination you choose. Exploring what you don’t think will happen can be even more exciting than what you thought you were looking for.

If you don’t want to make a plot-o-matic, there are similar products you can buy:
The Storymatic Classic – 540 Unique Cards
Rememory – Share Memories and Make New Ones
Story Slam – Hundreds of cards with more than 600 unique story concepts, for endless storytelling fun.
The Amazing Story Generator: Creates Thousands of Writing Prompts

And finally, my personal trick that gets my mental juices flowing when I’m not quite sure what to write about . . .

  1. Dialogue warm-up – Discovering dialogue as a way to get my juices flowing was a major step to finishing the draft of my novel. The way it works for me is: I’ll imagine I’m speaking from one of my character’s point of view. Who does she want to talk to today? Who might she run into in the scene I’m thinking about? Who do I picture when I write, “Oh, wow, didn’t expect to see you here.” I let their conversation flow. While I write, I picture their motivations, what they are saying and not saying, who they might talk about. Where are they as they converse? Are they in public? Does another person join them? By the time I have finished writing a short conversation, I often have my next scene in my head, even if I never use the conversation in a finished piece, somehow my characters tell me what I need to know. Try it. Let the conversation flow. It’s fun. Big Tip: Don’t worry about dialog punctuation, or he said she said while you’re getting it out in these dialogue warm-ups. Only pay attention to starting a new paragraph for each new person speaking and adding physical descriptions of vocal or body language nuances that seem important. Be in the moment. You can put in all the other stuff when the conversation is over.

I hope at least one of these tools that work for me helps you find what works for you. The only way to know what works, and doesn’t work, is to physically put pen to paper in ways you haven’t tried yet. The job is only a little bit thinkin’ about it and a whole lot of writing it down.

I would love to hear some of the things you’ve discovered to keep pen to page. Please share your tips in the comments.