Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How To Stay (or get) Motivated

This week’s topic actually goes along real well with my previous post for the Blog Chain. Staying motivated is actually something I struggle with. Writing is hard work. I enjoy it. But when Real Life rears it’s sometimes ugly head (and it always does), finding the time, energy, and motivation to write isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

So, here are a few things I do to help get me “in the mood.”

1. Find something to make me laugh.
When I am in a bad/sad/stressed mood, the last thing I want to do is write. I’m not sure why that is. I have a great time going over the stories in my head. But getting those stories from my head onto my computer sometimes takes more effort than I want to put in just then. But if I can lighten my mood, laugh a little, I start to relax, and suddenly writing seems like less of another “to do” item and more of a fun activity. Things like this…
make me laugh and help me take myself a little less seriously. A good British comedy or standup routine is always good for a few laughs as well.

2. Take a short break and fix what is bugging me.
If I am not motivated to write, chances are, there is something else bothering me. Maybe I need to fold some laundry and I just can’t settle in to write because I can see the 15 loads of clean clothes from the corner of my eye. Maybe I promised my kids I’d have cookies waiting for them when they got home from school, or maybe I forgot to make my bed, or any one of a hundred other things. Now, I’ll admit I’m a little more…anal than some people :D However, if I just go take care of whatever it is that is making me feel guilty for writing, then I can sit and write and enjoy myself instead of fixating on other things.

3. Get inspired.
So many things inspire me that this one is actually a good way for me to get motivated. A few of my favorite inspirations are:
- Music. Some songs just really hit me hard and make me want to write. For one of the stories I am working on, I pretty much have James Blunt’s “Same Mistake” on repeat. A few other bands that always inspire me are Apocalyptica, Coldplay, Everlast, Rob Dougan, Evanescence….those haunting melodies are just great inspiration for the drama needed for some good fiction.
- Art. My walls are plastered with art. My husband teases me about it because there is not one blank wall in our house. I also troll the internet…photobucket.com is a great place for inspiration. I collect gorgeous nature shots and other pictures like this…


I see some of these places and want to write a scene that takes place there. Can't you just see your long lost love sitting on that bench beneath the gorgeous red tree, or see a royal fairy court peeking from beneath those incredible pink trees, or feel something stalking you through the eerie red haze of the last picture? Or I’ll see a picture like this…



and I want to write a scene where my characters feel the way the people in the picture look like they feel.
- Movies. Certain movies just really hit home and tweak emotions that are hard to contain. My current favorite is P.S. I Love You. I’ve watched it I don’t know how many times, because it makes me laugh and cry and drool (Gerard Butler…ummm gorgeous!). It makes me want to write something that will make people feel the way I feel when I watch it.

4. Read.
I read. A lot. And I mean A LOT. If you are going to be a good writer, I think it’s a necessary part of the process to read. I call it research. It gets me an eye roll from my non-reader husband, but it really is research. Most of the time I get lost in the story, but now, as a writer, I can never really shut off the edit mode. Sometimes I’ll come across a passage or a really good (or bad) dialogue sequence and think, “wow, I love how she did this,” or “ooo, I never would have worded this like this, it just doesn’t work.” Reading other’s work makes it easier to spot both the good and the bad things in my own work.
And, like the movies and the music, sometimes I’ll read a book that just inspires me to write, inspires me to create something that will invoke the emotions that I felt while reading.

5. Last, but not least, I go to my patient and saintly friends.
They put up with a lot from me. A have a few very good friends who get a copy of just about every email, passage, chapter, query letter, and synopsis I have ever written. They deal with my insecurities about everything I do. They love me enough to tell me when I suck and are genuinely ecstatic for me when I succeed. They encourage me to write when I’m in a slump and they support me when I need to slow down a bit.
They make the whole process easier. In fact, just recently, a good friend of mine suggested doing a weekly write-a-thon. I think there were ten of us that showed up (online). We set a timer and wrote for fifteen minutes and then got to chat for fifteen minutes. Not only did I get a ton done that night, I had a blast doing it. It’s like having a buddy to go to the gym with. It’s easier to do if you’ve got someone there to do it with. If you don’t have any writing friends yet, I highly suggest finding some, because this is a tough business and it is more wonderful than I can express to have people to go to who understand what I’m going through.

These are just a few things that I do get myself motivated and in the writing mood. Everyone is going to be different, so these things may not work as well for you as they do for me. All you really need is the right mindset, a little inspiration, and the support of a few good people, and the motivation takes care of itself.

As February is the month of luuuuv, the How To posts for next month will focus on how to write four different forms of poetry. First up is my favorite form, heroic couplets. So come back next Tuesday to find out how to write your special valentine a heroic couplet poem!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Blog Chain - Swimmin' in a Pool of Writing Funk Gunk

Time again for the Blog Chain, and this round the topic was chosen by my fabulous Elana. Carolyn tackled the funk before me, and Sandra will be up next.

Elana wants to know:

When you're in a pool of writing funk, how do you get out?

This question is horribly timely as I am currently trying to hose off the gunk of the funk as we speak. Now, first of all, I need to point out that it is not my writing that gets me funky. Oh sure, when the rejections pour in, it dampens my mood a bit. And mostly because I get those “good” rejections; the ones that say “you are a great writer and this is a great story, it’s just not quite right for us right now.” It’s harder to be that close and not quite make it. My favorite was when one of my dream agents told me “it’s not you, it’s me.” Had me rolling on the ground. I hope one of these days I have a project she loves, because she is just too awesome.

Anyhow, my writing funks tend to happen as a side effect to what is going on in my Real Life. Writer’s block never lasts for long. Like Carolyn, I just work on something else, or go do a load of dishes. I always get GREAT ideas when I’m doing dishes. But if I’ve been cooped in the house with the kids for months on end with no break, or if I’m stressed over anything else going on in my life, or just not feeling well…..my Real Life funk spills over into writing territory and becomes (dunh dunh duuuunh) WRITING FUNK.

How do I get out of if, you ask? I take a writing break. I read…a LOT. I will usually pick one of my favorite series and will read all the way through. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, or Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake or Merry Gentry series. I am currently trying to pull out of the funk by enjoying the Anita Blake series. As there are currently 16 books in this series, my breaks do tend to last a while, even if I can power through a book a day. I am working on keeping my breaks to a few days, but most of the time, they will last several weeks.

I also load up on romantic and British comedies. Two of my favorite British comedies are the shows Vicar of Dibley and Absolutely Fabulous. I love watching movies like Fools Gold and The Holiday and Pure Luck. When I get in a funk, I want to laugh. Here are a couple clips of my favorite funnies for you (if I figure out how to post the video, I'll change it from the links) :) …

Absolutely Fabulous
Vicar of Dibley

And of course, as Heather also mentioned, my wonderful friends are great at pulling me out when I’m about to go under. I start sending out hoards of desperate emails and IM’s. And when things are really bad, I tend to shut down a bit, stay away from everything and everyone, and that is when the hoards of emails and IM’s start coming my way. I don’t know how I ever got through the day without my writing family. They are a true God-send.

And of course, my daily funny fix, like Carolyn, comes from the lolcats, dogs, fails, lolcelebs and graphs….here are a few of my favorites….

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How To Find The Time To Write

I have lost track of how many people have asked me how I find the time to write. The answer is easy….I just do. It’s a struggle. It’s not easy. There are some things I have to sacrifice. But it is doable. So today I want to give you a few tips on How To Find The Time To Write.

1. Carry a notebook and pen, a recorder, laptop, etc.
One thing I noticed about myself is that even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. Story ideas, conversations between characters, ideas for scenes…these are always running through my head. I tend to get epiphanies when I’m in the shower or doing the dishes. I may not have time in the middle of a load of dishes to rush to my computer and write a scene the moment it occurs to me, but if take a second to jot down a few notes, then I have something to work on when I can sit down at my computer. This both saves me the frustration of trying to remember something I really wanted to include in my book and saves me precious minutes of think time when I am in front of my screen.

2. Get chores and errands done in a timely manner.
This is something I struggle with, but if I can get my household chores and errands completed early in the day, then whatever spare moments present themselves can be used to write. I can concentrate on my story instead of feeling guilty that I should be doing dishes or laundry instead.

3. Treat it like a job.
Author Rosellen Brown spelled it out perfectly. She said:

It’s a job. It’s not a hobby. You don’t write the way you build a model airplane. You have to sit down and work, to schedule you time and stick to it. Even it it’s just for an hour or so each day, you have to get a babysitter and find the time. If you’re going to make writing succeed you have to approach it as a job.

Just like a “real” job, writing is not always fun. It’s work. It’s HARD work. Editing, critiquing, rewriting, researching, replotting…this stuff all takes time and can sometimes get downright tedious. This is why treating writing like a job can really be helpful. You don’t always like your job, but you still have to do it. Approach your writing like you’d approach your job. Just Do It! Agatha Christie said:

Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.

It is not always important WHAT you write – that is what editing is for. What is important is that you sit down and DO IT. Butt to chair, fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper). When you least feel like writing is when you need to do it the most.

In an effort to do this, I do two things.

• Make a writing schedule.
My children are in preschool from 8:30 to 11:00 on Mondays and Wednesdays, and my son is gone those hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My daughter entertains herself well for and hour or so if my son isn’t there to fight with, so those four days are my writing days. I will squeeze in writing any other time I can, but I schedule my set writing hours while my kids are out of the house or asleep. Fridays through Sundays I try to write for an hour after everyone has gone to bed.

• Set goals.
In addition to having my scheduled writing time, I set a word count goal for each day. My goal is to write 1000 words a day. Sometimes I am on a roll and can get that done in half an hour, and sometimes I will write for two hours and only get 500 words out. Sometimes I meet my goal, sometimes not, and sometimes I exceed it. I can almost always get 1000 words written in about an hour – which means an hour and 1000 words a day, five to seven days a week, and I’ve got a finished novel (first draft) in three months. Regardless, it gives me something to shoot for. You can set your goal higher or lower, depending on the time you have available, but give yourself some sort of objective to aim for.

4. Prioritize your activities

We all have spare moments in the day. What we do with those moments is what is important. If you truly want to find the time to write, you have to be willing to sacrifice. I have a lot of television shows that I love. I love to read. I play the piano and cross-stitch. I have children that want to play with their mommy (although I would like to note that time with my children is NOT something I sacrifice in order to write).

This is where having a writing schedule really helps. My writing time is scheduled in the mornings. That means when my kids come home, I can play with them, do some chores, spend some time in the afternoons reading a good book (if I am lucky enough to have the time), and watch my favorite shows in the evening. And I can spend my time doing this because I know I have already met my writing goal for the day.

If you work full time, you can try and squeeze in some writing time on your lunch break, or wake up a little early or go to bed a little later in order to get your writing time in. It IS possible to find moments to write, no matter what your schedule is….but sometimes it requires a bit of sacrifice.

During the summer, my kids are not in school, so I tend to tape whatever shows I want to watch and write in the evenings after they’ve gone to bed. Or I’ll write in the afternoons instead of reading or playing piano, or choosing some other activity. And very often (because Real Life has a funny way of intervening and throwing all my well-made plans out the window) I sacrifice sleep in order to write. Last year when I was finishing my novel, Treasured Lies, I was waking up at 4:30 in the morning and going to bed at midnight because the only time I could sit down and write, uninterrupted, was when my family was asleep. That is not something I could keep up indefinitely, but in a pinch, I am willing to sacrifice a little sleep in order to write.

Now, let’s face it, Real Life is going to get in the way sometimes. It’s going to throw your carefully crafted schedule right out the window, probably on a daily basis. But it shouldn’t matter. If you want to write, write. Find the time. Eat dinner a little faster and use the three minutes you saved scarfing your meal to write a few lines. Carry a recorder around and dictate your book while you vacuum. Scribble on Kleenexes while you wait at the doctor’s with your sick child (just be careful not to use said Kleenex for said sick child’s nose). The time is there…you just have to find it and use it.

Author Kenneth Atchity said:

Every human being has exactly the same amount of time, and yet consider the output of Robert Louis Stevenson, John Peabody Harrington, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury,William Goldman, Neil Simon, Joyce Caorl Oates, Agatha Christie and John Gardner. How did they accomplish what they have? They weren’t deflected from their priorities by activities of lesser importance. The work continues, even though everything else may have to give. They know that their greatest resource is themselves. Wasting time is wasting themselves. When people ask them, “Where do you find the time?” they wonder, “Where do you lose it?”

Come back next week for tips on How To Stay Motivated.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How To Write A Hook Line Or Logline

This week, we are going to discuss how to create a hook line for a novel. It is important to remember that every story is different. Some will need a little more information, and others can get the point across in three words or less. Well…maybe a few more than three words, but you get my drift.

First of all, what is a hook line?

A hook line is exactly what it sounds like – a line that will hook someone into wanting to read your book. It is basically the same thing as a logline, which is a one line summary of a screenplay or script. Since we are creating these for a novel instead of a script, we’ll call them hook lines. They can run two or three lines, but no more than that.

Why do you need one?

Your hook line, like a logline, takes a story full of complex plotlines and high-concept ideas and breaks it down into a simple sentence that can be quickly and easily conveyed to a wide range of people. Your hook line is your first pitch in getting someone interested in your book. It can be used as the first line in your query letter, to help hook the agent into reading the rest of the letter and requesting information. And it is especially useful for those pitch sessions at conferences or lunches. When a prospective agent or editor asks you what your book is about, your hook line is your answer. Because it is a simple line or two, it is also handy for those family dinner parties when Grandma asks what your book is about.

How do you create a hook line?

This is actually easier than it sounds. You do not need to condense your entire book into one sentence. But you do need to give enough information that the agent/editor/curious acquaintance you are addressing gets the gist of your book and is interested enough to want more.

Elements of a Hook Line
  • Characters – Who is the main character? What does that main character want? What is his/her main goal?
  • Conflict – Who is the villain of the story? Or what is the main obstacle to the main character obtaining their goal?
  • Distinction – What makes your book different then all the rest? What is the unique element of your story that makes it stand out? Is your book a romance between a young man and woman? What makes them different?
  • Setting – for a novel, adding a little about the setting, time period, and possibly genre (if it’s not obvious) is a good idea. For example, the hook line for my book, which is an historical romantic suspense, could begin “A young woman in Victorian England…”.
  • Action – Your hook line needs to have action, excitement. For example, which hook line catches your interest more?
  1. A woman has an affair and runs off with her new beau.
  2. A neglected wife and mother has a torrid affair with an ex-con and kidnaps her children as she flees across the country with her lover.

The difference is the inclusion in the second example of action and description words. The woman becomes a “neglected wife and mother.” She has a “torrid” affair. The beau is an “ex-con,” implying a world of danger and crime. She doesn’t just run off, she “flees,” kidnapping her children in the process.


Here are a few examples of loglines from well known movies. (Yes, I know we are creating hook lines for a book, but the concept is the same, and examples of loglines are easier to find). :D

  • When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane and corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. (Gladiator)
  • In a future where criminals are arrested before the crime occurs, a cop struggles on the lam to prove his innocence for a murder he has not yet committed. (Minority Report)
  • A 17th Century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow joins forces with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England's daughter and reclaim his ship. (Pirates of the Caribbean)
  • A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love, must outwit her abusive fiancĂ©, and find a way to survive aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea. (Titanic)
  • A comedic portrayal of a young and broke Shakespeare who falls in love with a woman, inspiring him to write "Romeo and Juliet. (Shakespeare in Love)
  • An archeologist is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

For your own hook line, you need to decide which elements best convey what your story is about. It is interesting to see how adding different elements affects a hook line. For example, take a look at these two movie loglines.

  1. After a twister transports a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home. (logline by Brian A. Klems, found at http://blog.writersdigest.com/qq/What+Is+A+Logline.aspx)
  2. Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again. (Log Line attributed to Richard Polito of the Marin Independent Journal, who writes humorously sarcastic briefs for the paper's daily TV listings)
Both of these loglines are for the film Wizard of Oz, but they each give the film a distinctly different tone. Personally I like the second one best :D but the first probably gives a better idea of what the film is about.

It might take a little while to get your hook line perfected, but if you stick to the main elements of your story (the main character, the villain or conflict, what is unique about your story, and spice it up with a little action), your hook line should almost write itself. Just to show you that ANYONE can do this, (because if I can do it, anyone can), the hook line for my book is below.

A young woman in Victorian England is swept into an illicit affair with a reformed thief and must find a legendary necklace to ransom her life and the lives of those she loves from a corrupt lord.

Can you spot the elements?
  • Characters – a young woman and her love interest who is a reformed thief.
  • Conflict – a corrupt lord (the villain) is threatening her life and the lives of those she loves unless she can find a legendary necklace.
  • Distinction – my story is not just a romance, but has a big dose of suspense and mystery thrown in. The love interest is not a typical man but an ex-thief, and while the romance comes in with the affair, it is an “illicit” affair (implying something out of the ordinary, something forbidden).
  • Setting – Victorian England. And the description of the story gives obvious clues to the genre – Victorian England = historical; illicit affair = romance; a treasure hunt/mystery and lives threatened = suspense….Genre = historical romantic suspense.
  • Action – instead of saying my story is about a girl and guy who fall in love and search for a necklace, I describe the love story as an “illicit affair;” the necklace is “legendary,” the lord is “corrupt,” the love interest is “a reformed thief.” All these little elements help make the hook line more exciting, more interesting. And that is what will help hook the interest of potential agents, publishers, and readers.
Now you try :D And be sure to come back next Tuesday when we will discuss How To Find The Time To Write.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Blog Chain - Where I've Been, Where I Am, Where I'm Going

Once again time for our blog chain, and this topic was chosen by our wonderful Abi, who chose a perfect question to get our chain rolling in the New Year. The fabulous Carolyn posted before me over at Archetype Writing, and the always awesome Sandra will end this chain with her post at Dual Citizenship in SpecFic and Mundania.

Abi would like us to share:

# What writing related things have you done in the past?

# What WIPs are you working on now?

# Do you have anything brewing for the future?

# Are you setting any writing goals or resolutions for 2009?

• What writing related things have you done in the past?

I’ve always jotted stories down…I won an award in fifth grade (I think) for a story I wrote. I got to go to the local college and present it. And I once had a teacher accuse me of plagiarizing a story I wrote because she thought it was so good. My mom had to convince her that I really had written it. Then I stopped writing (aside from school projects) until my senior year in high school. I wrote maybe two chapters of a story; my sister loved it, so did I…I just never finished it. Didn’t write again until my early 20s when I wrote mostly poetry (really bad poetry I should add).

I was very good at papers and essays…stuff for school. But didn’t venture into fiction again until my mid-20s. I sat down one day and started cranking out a novel. It was put on hold for 2 years after my daughter was born. Then I noticed one day that Chicken Soup for the Soul was taking submissions. So I wrote a little something, sent it in, and they published it in two of their books. So I decided to try it again. They rejected my second story, but published the third one. And I thought that if the editors of something so major liked what I wrote, maybe I really wasn’t too bad at it. So I sat down again and finished my novel.

• What WIPs are you working on now?

Right now I am working on a contemporary women’s fiction (for lack of a better term) tentatively entitled SAME MISTAKE, that has been bugging me for years. I figured I might as well go ahead and write it down, since I've been writing it in my head for the last 10 years. I also have a romance WIP that I think I may convert into a YA historical. And of course, I still have some revisions to do to TREASURED LIES, including possibly converting that to a YA as well. And I would really like to finish (or at least make some progress on) a non fiction book that I started a few years ago. I also started ghostwriting a book for my brother and uncle that kind of fizzled when they got busy, so hopefully we’ll get back into that.

• Do you have anything brewing for the future?

Always lots and lots of stuff brewing. I have a huge file full of story ideas. Well, maybe not FULL. But I definitely have ideas for 3 or 4 historicals, one sci fi and one contemporary romance. And I’d like to get back into writing more poetry. It’s not my strong point, but I enjoy doing it.

• Are you setting any writing goals or resolutions for 2009?

Like most of the rest of us, I don’t have a specific goal. My resolution for the year was to just use my time more wisely (see my Resolution Post). My only real goal for writing is just to sit down and ACTUALLY WRITE. Butt to chair, fingers to keyboard, ideas to reality. Well, I do have one specific goal aside from the time wasting thing….to finish one new novel this year. Two would be great (and doable), but I’m not going to get ahead of myself :D

I would also like to post more on my blog, and to make those posts a little more substantial. To help that goal along, I have instituted my How To Tuesdays, where I will post on a writing related How To topic (see How To Do a Little Research below).

But other than that, no firm goals. I can’t control the agent thing or the publishing thing, or even how many words I can get on a page (my kids, husband, cat, and other Real Life moments tend to dictate that). But I do have a goal to try a little harder to use a few more of my spare moments for writing.

Be sure to head to Sandra’s blog to see what writing projects she will be working on this year!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Resolution Time - Again :)

Well, it's January 1st....again. So, time for the big ol' resolution list....maybe this year I'll actually accomplish some of the things on there :D

So, I present for your viewing pleasure - Michelle's Resolution List 2009

This year I resolve....

To spend more time with my children doing this:

And less doing this:

I will use my exercise equipment less for this (and this is actually my own stuff):

And more for this:

Which, if all goes well, will help me look more like this:

And less like this:

When I am on the computer, I will spend more time doing this (but happier, of course):

And less doing this:

Or this:

I will keep my house looking more like this:

And less like this:

And I will spend less time in front of this:

And this:

And more time in front of this:

And this:

And this:

I don't just want to focus more on my family, friends, and writing. I always try to focus on them. I just want to do it better. I don't need more hours in the day; there are more than enough for what I need and want to do (most of the time) :) I just need to use my hours more wisely. Budget my time and stick to my goals. I can write and spend time with my husband and children and keep my house clean...as long as I get organized and scheduled and try my hardest not to get sidetracked. I can be a better mother and wife and daughter and granddaughter and sister and friend and writer and all around person if I just take the time to do what I need to do and stop wasting the precious minutes I have been given.

So that is my New Year's Resolution. To stop wasting my time. To make my minutes count. To lie in bed at the end of the day and not worry about what I haven't done, but be proud of what I have accomplished.

I wish everyone a very healthy, happy, and productive 2009!