Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Writing Workshop

Jennifer attended a writing workshop...

I went to my first writing workshop in a long time. It was a master class, taught by a respected romance writer and the topic was using verbs to plot your story. 

Now, I’ve gotten into a rut with my writing. Yeah, I write daily. And yeah, I’m publishing books steadily now. But I’m having a harder and harder time getting what I want on the page. The techniques that used to work for me don’t and I’m beginning to see the necessity of plotting, which is terrifying for a pantser.

So I decided that taking a class offered by my local writer’s group was a good idea. No matter how talented you are, you can always stand to learn, polish, become better. The fee was reasonable, I’d heard great things about the instructor—like, really great things—and it was a weekend where I was completely free.

I went.

The morning session was instruction and exercises. The afternoon was taking what we learned in the morning and applying it to our own story. It was suggested that we bring an idea for a story or an early-stage manuscript to work on. Since I’ve just started a new manuscript, the timing was perfect. 

Basically, the idea of the workshop was to come up with strong, specific verbs to describe our character. Verbs lead to action. Action makes a compelling story. So, for example, if my hero is hiding from his past, his overarching verb would be hide. Every scene he is in would be either described with a synonym for hide or it’s opposite—a synonym for reveal—as his arc progresses. Once you know the action for each scene, it’s easy to flesh out the rest of it—description, motive, backstory, etc.

And in theory, it is. Unfortunately for me, in practice, it was difficult. I kept shying away from verbs and using adjectives or nouns. It’s not that I don’t know what a verb is, but this was a totally new concept for me and I’ve always been more attracted to the why than the what or the how. Plus, it’s plotting and I can’t do that. So while I could totally see what he wanted me to do, there was a huge disconnect in my brain when it came to actually doing it.

Ultimately, I don’t think this method is going to work for me. It might be helpful for me to come up with stronger verbs when I’m writing, because word choice is essential, but no matter how many times I tried it, it didn’t feel natural. Even the workshop leader said if it doesn’t feel natural, don’t do it, which I appreciated. Every writer is different and writing isn’t something that everyone can do the exact same way.

But it was another tool to add to my toolbox, and it was good to make a conscious effort to get out of my rut. Education is always beneficial, and reminding myself that I’m never too old to learn can only help me.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Blog Tours?

Paula’s thoughts on her week’s blog tour.
At the end of last year, I paid a ‘blog tour organiser’ to set up a tour for me. It seemed like a good way to promote my re-published Irish novels in the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. I had detailed instructions from the organiser about what she wanted, and I duly forwarded to her five different blogs and also excerpts which illustrated the blog topic, together with bio, links, covers, and other photos. She then sent me the list of blogs where my posts would appear.
All well and good – or so I thought. To begin with all seemed to go well – my first blog appeared last Monday, I advertised it in various places, and received quite a lot of comments (including those from HWH members – thank you, all!)
Tuesday’s blog appeared – and again I advertised it, but this time in some different FB groups, so as not to promote to the same people. After several hours, I realised there was a small problem – no comments appeared. Neither the usual one I write thanking the blog host, nor any others, although I know for certain that there should have been at least two other comments, and there may have been more. Yes, the message popped up that comments would be posted ‘after approval’ but it would seem this blog host didn’t bother to ‘approve’ any comments (as evidenced by other posts on the site, which also had no comments).
Wednesday – I waited all day for my blog to appear on the third site. It didn’t – until later on Thursday! This meant that I needed to advertise two blogs on the same day – not an ideal situation. Hardly surprising, therefore, that no comments have been made on either of these blogs. Oh, and neither of these blog hosts used the photos of Ireland which I had carefully selected to accompany my blog, either.
Friday – well, we’ll wait and see. The blog post is there, and I’ve advertised it in various groups…

My conclusions at the end of this week:
1. Five consecutive days of blogging is counter-productive. Yes, people visited my first one, but after that, nothing. Were my blogs too boring to comment on? I hope not, because I worked hard on creating completely different topics for each day.
2. In this case, the blog tour organiser formed the contact with the hosts, and I had no contact with them at all (and in fact only one of them actually responded to my thanks to her). The others simply posted what the organiser sent them.
3. Last but not least: effect on sales? As far as I can see at the moment, not a single sale!

So what would I do in future?
1. I would set up my own blog tour, with requests to friends with blogs. This way, a more personal contact is made, and also the blogs will probably follow a different format, rather than all being presented in the same way.
2. I would space out my blogs. Five in one week is too much. People don’t have the time to visit the same person’s blogs every day. One a week (or two, at the most) is enough.

Having said all that, I am seriously beginning to question the value of blogging. Personally, I think it has had its day. It’s nearly ten years since we first set up this blog, and although it is good to ‘chat among ourselves’, how many other comments do we get? Nowhere near as many as we did in the early days. And, if we’re being really honest, how many other blogs do we visit and leave a comment? I know I used to visit (and comment on) a lot more than I do now.

Apologies if this sounds very negative, but this week has been a real disappointment for me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

I'm An Author!

Jennifer finally believes in her career...

I have decided that I must be a real author.

I know, this sounds crazy, so let me explain. I’ve been writing professionally for twelve years. I have a long way to go to before I can completely support myself doing this, but I make money off of my books, people buy them and even enjoy them. It’s something I love doing.

But no matter how many books I publish, how many readers tell me they like what I write, I’m filled with doubt. I think that’s normal—at least I hope it is.

In order to achieve my goals, I set to-do lists. They include things from my real life as well as my author life, and I know the importance of sticking to the list to make sure I’m productive. Without an office and a boss making sure I hit my targets, it’s too easy to get distracted. So I do my best to stay on task.

Until Friday. This past Friday, we were hit with a Nor’easter that knocked out our power. Without power, our basement flooded. Temperatures in the house went down to 46 degrees. We moved into my parents’ house a town away, but went back and forth, trying to protect our things, deal with the insurance company, get our stuff, etc. During that time, the things I needed to get done for my upcoming book launch didn’t happen. The writing and editing I intended to do didn’t happen either. And I stressed.

Now, some would say that’s a natural reaction to what was going on, and I agree. Of course the situation was stressful. Even though we were all safe, had a warm place to be, and didn’t lose anything that can’t be easily replaced, it’s stressful. I’m not saying I shouldn’t have felt it. But this was the first time I stressed over my writing career.

Which means, in a very roundabout way, that I’m a real author. Because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have even thought about it. So while I definitely need to work on ways to manage my stress, the good thing I’m taking away from this is I’ve got enough of a career to worry about. Yay!

By the way, my upcoming book that I’m now woefully behind on marketing  is available for preorder here.

Monday, February 26, 2018

My Kind of Vacation

Ana muses about her recent mini-vacation.

Two weeks ago, my hubby drove to a farming conference in Tennessee, a major expedition from winter in northern Minnesota. I stayed home and tended the cows, six water-pipes-will-burst-if-they-go-out heaters, and two spoiled house cats. I was on vacation.

Don't misunderstand. I love the man. I enjoy cooking his breakfast and don't mind bunching his socks. But not having to share the television remote was sheer bliss.

I turned the channel to Hallmark and indulged in their Valentine's Day movie marathon. Romance stories about professional women clashing with fairly good looking ex-boyfriends and sparring with really good looking career-focused men.

One was set in a California winery. Another in a Montana ski resort town. A third in a bed and breakfast in Vermont. An in-debt-with-time-running-out Wyoming ranch. Sumptuous locations.

All the secondary characters were there. The best friend confidant who tells her what she doesn't want to hear: that the hero who pisses her off is her perfect partner. The supportive and long-suffering parents. The long-distance boss who doesn't care how much she wants to come back to the city. Complete the assignment or look for another job. The crabby/nosy neighbor who finds fault at every turn.

Immersed in a romance atmosphere, free of distractions, I worked on my WIP, book 2 of the Prairie Hearts series. If I'd gone someplace sunny and warm, I probably wouldn't have written a word.

I'll take holed up alone any day, but don't tell my hubby. He's still apologizing for leaving me with all the chores.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Power of a Writer

Debra thinks about what amazing power writers hold.

This weekend I hosted a children's book discussion at our Historical Society based on the book Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. As the kids and I were chatting about the book, we turned to the author notes at the back of the edition I had. A quote from Ms. MacLachlan stood out as she responded to the question of 'What is the best thing about being a writer?'

"For me the most rewarding thing about writing is making things come out the way I want them to; making sense of the things that were in my life when I was a child as well as the things that I care about now that I am an adult. As a writer I have the power to set things down and make them right, that same power that I don't always have in life."

Her response really struck a chord with me. The power writers have at their fingertips is really amazing. We have infinitely more control over the lives of our fictional characters than we do over our own. Even over simple things like the weather: if my story calls for a sunny day at the beach...wa la...the sun pours down, heating the grains of sand and sparking over the water. If the angst and turmoil and tension of a scene needs to be back lit by a thunderstorm...boom!...thunder shakes the earth and lightning forks through the sky lighting it with a brilliant flash.

We control our characters' emotions and reactions. We give them backgrounds and backstory. And especially in romance, we give them a happily ever after. Guaranteeing that after all of the angst and turmoil and bad things that have happened in the past, they are going to be happy. Everything is going to work out in the best way possible. Not to sound blasphemous, but it's a little like playing God.

You have only to turn on the news. Or look on Facebook. Or open an on-line search engine and read the heart-breaking headlines there each and every day to know this doesn't happen in real life.

But not only do we have the power to control our characters and stories, we also have the power to make our readers feel good after a crap day...or a crap week...or a crap year. To let them immerse themselves in a story with a good ending. To know for certain, that no matter what the characters are going through and how long it takes them to get there or what bad needs to be overcome, it will all be overcome. To lose themselves in fiction for a while to take the edge off of reality.

It's a daunting responsibility to think that as much joy as we get out of our writing (most days, right?!) how much more joy we can bring to those who read our stories. Not to mention in a world that more and more often feels like it's falling apart, being able to control anything is truly a miracle.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Writing a Synopsis

Paula agonises over her synopsis!  

I read somewhere that the synopsis is probably ‘the most despised document you might be asked to prepare’ – and, having spent hours trying to write the synopsis of my recently completed novel, I agree with that!

My previous publisher only required a basic ‘blurb’ when I submitted a novel to her, so I was well out of practice in writing a synopsis.

Of course, I knew the basic advice about synopses – characters, core conflict, how the characters deal with it, how the conflict is resolved and how the characters have changed as a result.

All well and good, but what happens if you have several sub-plots which add to and/or further complicate the core conflict? Or which hinder or contribute to the resolution of the conflict?

I think this novel had more sub-plots than I’ve ever used before. Sometimes they form separate strands (for a while, at least!),but then they become interwoven and often somewhat tangled!

I started by writing a basic plot summary. Maybe that is similar to what I might have written beforehand if I was a ‘plotter’ – but, being a ‘pantser’, this was the first time I had done it. It was, inevitably, far too detailed, with too many names and too much irrelevant information. 

But, having done that, I could then see (a) what had to be deleted, (b) what could be condensed and (c) what needed to be taken out of the ‘linear’ outline of the story and combined, so that the synopsis didn’t jump from one thing to another.

So, after tearing my hair out a few times, I finally managed to compose a synopsis, which I hope reflects the most important parts of my story, as well as the emotional journey of the two main characters.

I’d be interested to know how you approach synopsis writing!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Editing, Editing & More Editing

Jennifer gives an update...

I’ve been buried in my editing cave for the past several weeks, and I’m just now coming up for air. What have I been working on? Glad you asked! J

For the past few years, I’ve been working on a new series that I hope to start pitching in the near future. So I was editing books one and two to try to get them into shape. I’m hoping I was successful. I still have book 3 to revise—and it needs some serious revisions—and book four to write. This is a series I work on in my spare time (ha!), so it’s taken a while to get up and running.

I finally received my galleys for Five Minutes to Love from my editor, so I spent a week scouring the manuscript for misspelled words, additional or missing words (like a double “is,” for example), spacing issues or punctuation mistakes. My eyes are buggy, but I think I caught everything. Next step is to make sure they corrected all the errors and then I will have a release date. In the meantime, Addicted to Love, the first book in this series, is on sale this month for 99 cents. So it's a great time to pick it up!

I’ve also been re-editing my first book, A Heart of Little Faith. The publisher who had it is getting out of the business this summer, so I took my rights back and will try my hand at self-publishing that title (and maybe one other). I’m curious to see how it compares to other means of publishing, and I like the idea of being a hybrid author. So I sent the manuscript out to an editor, she has come back with fantastic changes, and I’m slowly going through them, making the book stronger. Next step will be copyedits.

And that, my friends, is what I’ve been up to lately. Hoping to have some news soon!

Oh, and happy birthday to Debra! J