Nancy: The Days That Make Writing Worthwhile

Why do writers write? It’s a question non-writers often ask us, a topic we sometimes approach with fellow scribes over a drinks at the bar during conferences, and one we sometimes ask ourselves – accompanied by gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair – when we’re having a dark night of the soul. (Writers suspect we have more dark nights of the soul than non-writers; non-writers suspect writers are just being dramatic when having what normal people call bad days.)

Bad things sometimes happen during those dark nights of the soul. Creativity runs dry. The writing stalls. Imposter syndrome sets in. Or maybe it’s always there, and this is just its chance to step out of the shadows and taunt us. The story dies on the vine. We question ‘why write’, as well as ‘why not quit’. Yeah, drama.

But it’s always darkest before the dawn, the sun also rises, there’s got to be a morning after, etc., etc., insert favorite cliche here. (That’s another writerly thing. Don’t worry, it’s just a placeholder we’ll fix in the rewrite.) When the words start flowing and the story gains new life after a few days or weeks or months of tough slogging, it’s nothing less than euphoric. There’s nothing like a day of story breakthroughs to make a writer say ‘I can’t quit you’ to writing all over again.

I had one of these wonderful days recently, but it only came after weeks and weeks of false starts and what felt like hour after hour of wasted time. Continue reading

Kay: Kill Your Darlings

This word cloud was built from the text of this post.

Last week my critique group talked about “empty” words—the words we don’t need and don’t notice we use too often. My go-to favorite unnecessary word is “just,” a word I discovered that I’d used 368 times in a 127-page (so far) manuscript. By the time I finished searching and replacing it with a blank space, I’d cut 250 words from my text. Other favorite empty words we found: really, actually, and well.

The problem with finding empty and overused words is that unless you know your favorites and keep a diligent eye out for them, you don’t really (see what I mean?) notice them as you type. They’re in there before you realize it, and they’re invisible to you when you reread your work.

A fun way to discover what words you’re using a lot is to build a word cloud, which shows you at a glance which words you’re using most in your text. Scrivener has a built-in feature for this purpose, but if you’re not a Scrivener user, there are other ways to do it.

Several free programs will build word clouds for you. Continue reading

Nancy: Back to Basics: Conflict Lock, With Extras

conflict-lockSometimes basic is best. Getting back to basics. Basic black. Basic humanity.

And so it is with writing. Every now and then, often in one of the revision stages of a story, it’s time to get back to the basics – the point, the goal, and the conflict of a story. That means it’s time to reach into the writer’s basic toolbox and pull out some old favorites to identify festering plot holes, shore up weak conflicts, and fix leaky sinks. Okay, maybe not that last one.

This lesson presented itself to me when I recently found my Harrow’s Finest Five book 1 revision slowly circling the drain (what is it with me and sinks today?). I was dissatisfied with the story stakes. As I read the manuscript, they didn’t seem to be escalating, further complicating heroine Emme’s life, and leading her to an inevitable clash with consequences of her own making.

An author has options at such times. Crying. Chocolate. Booze. Cyring into chocolate and booze. But I’ve heard it can actually be more empowering to use TOOLS. Powerful, writerly tools. In this case, I opted for the tools and pulled the conflict box out of my toolbox to see why my revision had gotten stuck and my story felt flat. Continue reading

Nancy: Lessons From the Dreaded Day Job

Why, you might ask, have I taped a scene to my wall? To keep my brain guessing.

Why, you might ask, have I taped a scene to my wall? To keep my brain guessing.

Once upon a time, a very nice girl found herself working in a really stressful industry. Okay, you caught me: I’m talking about me. I haven’t qualified as a ‘girl’ for decades. And very nice…well, that depends upon the day and the situation. But I did work in a really stressful industry (US government proposal management, in case you’re desperately curious). Over the years, I developed some mad skills that I brought to bear on high-pressure, deadline-driven, writing-intensive problems.

A few months ago, I left that industry and promptly forgot (or more likely purged) much hard-earned wisdom about writing and revision. And while I’d always believed honing my fiction writing and storytelling skills only improved my performance on those (non-fiction) projects, I didn’t think much about what lessons from my day job could teach me about writing fiction.

For what feels like eons but has only been several weeks, Continue reading

Kay: The Art of Love

Al and Roey Stickles dancing at the trailer park: Sarasota, Florida 1946. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida - https://www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/7157828142/

Al and Roey Stickles dancing at the trailer park: Sarasota, Florida 1946. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida.  www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/7157828142/

I’ve started writing a scene that I think will be pivotal in my book. It’s a scene in which my hero and heroine have sex, but the sex will propel them into a new stage of their relationship. My critique partners have emphasized that it’s important that I show why my heroine has been unwilling to move forward quickly with the romance—she won’t move in with the hero—even though she must make a decision soon about whether to return to her old job across the country. If she goes, the relationship dies.

So to write this sex scene with as much sensitivity and weight as it needs, I wrote a scene that sets it up—my heroine tells the hero about her mother, and in so doing, reveals her feelings about family, home, and security. I wrote this scene from the hero’s POV, because I wanted readers to see his reactions to her story, and I wanted him to ask the questions I thought readers would be likely to ask if they’d been in the room with her. I spent some serious time on the scene, and it’s not bad. I’d give it maybe a B-.

Continue reading

Nancy: A Diamond in the Rough: Opening Scene

rough_diamondThis past week, I’ve been struggling with a side project, which is actually yet another revision of an old project, the Women’s Fiction manuscript I wrote during our McDaniel classes. The book is complete. It’s been through beta readers and revisions. It even made the rounds to a few agents and was roundly rejected. There was a lot of positive feedback in those rejections, but some negative comments as well. And the kicker was that story aspects some readers saw as positives and even loved, others saw as negatives.

Over the months of those rejections, I slowly (and painfully) made peace with the possibility that this book just wasn’t going to connect with publishing gatekeepers. Maybe someday I’d self-publish it, maybe not, but either way, other projects and deadlines and career choices called.

While I was finally ready to pack that old story into a drawer, my brain had other plans. I’d be happily immersed in 1870’s London with my new cast of characters when the three modern women from a rural Virginia town would take over my mind’s limited bandwidth. I’d be catching up with writing friends and discussing current projects, and my conversation would drift back to that old manuscript and we’d ponder what its fatal flaw might be.

The final straw came when I dreamed about the book. I spend a lot of time thinking and daydreaming about my characters and plot lines. I also tend to have vivid dreams. But rarely do these two things intertwine. I almost never dream about my writing projects. This story was different. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t quit it.

To end the constant interruptions, I decided to carve out a few hours of each day’s writing time to reread that old story in an attempt to figure out where it went wrong and whether I could rescue it. What better place to start than at the beginning? Continue reading

Justine: What My First Drafts Look Like

unhappy skierI’ve been playing around with a contemporary story (inspired by a ski trip to Utah over the holidays) tentatively called The Lesson. I don’t have much to it yet…just two chapters, one of which I hammered out while on the plane flying home. I thought it’d be fun to throw it out there for the world to see, and also to get your comments (critical or otherwise — I can take the heat, so long as you’re polite).

I’m also putting it out in the internet-ether to demonstrate what first drafts can look like…sorta clunky, not-much-making-sense kind of things. There are a few good lines, but as my CPs have pointed out, there’s plenty of stuff that needs work, a few things that are confusing, and some useless stuff.

However, as Nora Roberts once said, Continue reading