How My Writing’s Going These Days

Before I get to today’s topic, just a reminder that BookFunnel’s free ebook giveaway is still available till July 4th, which you can find HERE. My first two Casey Holland mysteries, The Opposite of Dark and Deadly Accusations are part of the roster of over 60 novels.

Now, as writers know, editing is a long-term process that can be frustrating, perplexing, satisfying, and rewarding. But it’s never fast, as least not for me. I’ve read countless blogs, how-to articles, and a few books on the process. The information is sometimes conflicting and doesn’t always work for me, but a huge part of the process is finding what does work.

When I’m editing my mysteries or fantasy novel, original ideas often evolve into something quite different than I originally imagined. Getting the words written is one thing, but telling a story that makes sense and doesn’t confuse readers or leave out crucial bits and nuances is challenging.

It comes down to, does the story work? The question often takes me three or four rewrites to answer. At that point I’m starting to really understand the story’s purpose, theme, and through lines. With this understanding, connections start to zing around my brain, often while away from the computer. This is the part where connections and clues come need to be inserted at specific points in the text.

So, even after four drafts, the focus isn’t on grammar, sentence structure, or spelling, and a final proofread still seems far away. I do make changes as I’m working on the bigger stuff. If it sounds arduous, it is sometimes, but I honestly enjoy the process of making each page more succinct and vivid for readers.

Last week I completed the sixth draft of my urban fantasy, which took about a year, averaging a couple of hours a day. As I’ve mentioned on previous blogs, afternoons are usually slotted for other writing tasks and projects. My goal was to pare the book down from 125,000 words. By the end of draft #6 it was 120,000 words, but I’d also added some key elements, thanks to insightful comments from my critique group. With the seventh draft, I’ll still be looking to shorten it, and hopefully, there’ll be more taking out than adding in.

I’ve been working on the seventh draft for about ten days now and it’s going faster than the previous drafts. Of course, I could be deluding myself. Still, I plan to make a major push over the coming weeks, given that I’ll soon become a part-time babysitter for my granddaughter. That’ll be a whole new challenge in itself, but a joyful one.

Exploring Pantser and Plotting Approaches to Fiction

Anyone looking for how-to tips on novel writing is bound to come across the old debate about whether to outline a book before typing a single word or to just sit down and write. I’ve experimented with both and have found that what works best for me is somewhere between those options.

When I wrote my first mystery, I didn’t create an outline. I simply faced the blank page and wrote down whatever came to mind. This is the pantser method, although I didn’t know the term way back then. Many times I had to go back and fill in the plot holes and logistical issues.

For the second book, I decided to spend more time plotting the novel first by creating a chapter-by-chapter outline. It became important to know who was killed and why before I started writing. Now, this sometimes changed once I got into my second and third rewrites while sorting out the story’s development. It’s also why I believe that flexibility with outlines is important.

Ten books later, I still outline with those key questions in mind, but primarily just for the first third of the book. For the middle section, or second act, I jot down key elements and plot twists that I want to happen. By the last third, there’s almost no outlining as the story is set up to reach a logical conclusion, hopefully one with a twist.

When I began my writing my urban fantasy, I decided to try the pantser version again. Despite the pitfalls, it just felt important to free myself and let the ideas and connections unfold without direction from an outline. Before I started writing, I did a lot of thinking though, and did have four main characters in mind and a good idea of what the book’s theme would be. On this sixth, intense draft I’m going through now, I’m still working on nuance issues and connections that I wish I’d thought of in earlier drafts. Would outlining have helped with that? I don’t know.

After reading every draft, I make notes along the way, which probably sounds familiar to you authors out there. The further into the edits I get, the more I need to check my notes, which is what happened this week. To ramp up the excitement, I introduced another element, which forced me to go back five chapters and rewrite the scene, which created a domino effect for most of the remaining chapters. Despite going back, I’m still moving forward with my improvements, so that’s a good thing. I just wish I’d been a little faster at picking up on the nuances and connections. Thank goodness I’m not writing to deadline or I’d be really hooped.

When I was writing essays and articles twenty years ago, outlining key points was essential, as was giving careful thought to the message I wanted to convey. If I return to nonfiction, outlining will be essential. Should I get around to writing a second fantasy, there will definitely be more outlining but who knows how much?

There are a number of online quizzes to help you determine if you’re a pantser or a plotter, but really the best way to decide is to try both. So, I’m curious about my author friends out there, which method do you use, or have you got a completely different method?

More Free Writing Workshops and an Editing Booster

Last week’s newsletter promotion has resulted in 155 downloads of my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, so far, which is great. The downside is that there aren’t nearly as many new subscribers. In other words, people check the subscribe box, download the book, then immediately unsubscribe. But free things rule this year, right? If you had a chance to check out free mystery and suspense novels, you can find the link HERE. Clearly, you don’t have to stay subscribed!

Now for another freebie. ProWritingAid is offering four days of workshops on crime fiction from April 19-23. Presenters include Karin Slaughter, Ian Rankin, and Lisa Gardner among authors. If you’re interested in attending, check out the link HERE. You’ll see a registration button on the page.

The beauty about registering is that if the timing doesn’t work for you, you can view them later for up to a seven-day period. I learned a lot from the fantasy workshops I took in February. Although I’ve been writing mysteries a while, there’s always something to learn.

During the fantasy week workshops, ProWritingAid organizers offered a significant discount on their editing program. I signed up for a year because I was hoping to find a way to speed up my editing process. I’ve been trying it on my mystery novella and so far find I’m finding it quite helpful. It’s designed to assist with copyediting needs and does everything from pointing out overused and repetitive words, to grammar glitches, punctuation errors, passive sentences, overlong sentences, and so forth. The program also gives me a summary report that lets me know how strong some areas of my writing are and where I could use some tweaking. The link to the editing program is HERE, but if you hunt around, maybe you can try it for free.

They also offer a ProWritingAid university program, which I haven’t signed up for, but I won’t rule it out in the future.

The Gritty Part of Editing

I’ve reached the halfway point of editing draft #6 of my urban fantasy. My critique group’s been immensely helpful, as of others. Fellow blogger, Jacqui Murray for instance, recently wrote about getting rid of lazy words like ‘there’ and ‘was’ in her manuscript, which reminded me to tackle this as well.

Using the ‘Find’ icon in Word, I was stunned to discover that was appeared 383 times in 165 pages. From page one, I looked for ways to replace the word or rejig a passive sentence into something stronger. In doing so, I inadvertently cut more words from the manuscript. A huge bonus!

Ridding your manuscript of lazy words is a tedious and time-consuming exercise. It’s the gritty part of editing, but it’s also necessary and in many ways quite satisfying. Draft #6 has been about continuity, cutting, and fleshing out characters’ motives. So far, the process has made the manuscript twenty pages shorter, and I’m hoping to cut much more by the time it’s ready for beta readers and my editor.

Not every writer loves editing but I enjoy it, even though it seems to take forever. I often compare it to a block of marble, slowly chipping away the unnecessary bits to create something meaningful, where everything is exactly where it should be and the work is always worth the effort.

While editing, I usually have either a coffee, glass of water, or tea by my side. In talking with other authors over the years, having a beverage close at hand is practically a must. For me, stopping to sip something not only lets me think about those words on the page, but gives my eyes a quick break from the computer screen.

My family knows I’m a tea lover, so I received the perfect Christmas gift this year. Packets of tea in the shape of books. How cool is that? Part of me doesn’t want to open it and spoil the look, but hey, I still have a lot of editing ahead.

A New Year Dawns

Pexels photo by Olya Kobruseva

Well, we’ve just about made it through 2020 and that’s a good thing, but we must not forget those who didn’t. I know some of you lost friends and family members this year, and words can’t adequately express my sadness for the many lives lost. Articles, blogs, books, and documentaries have and will be written about this year. These days, I choose to reflect on what I’ve learned and to think about new goals for 2021.

As far as writing goes, I intend to follow through with some of the goals I mentioned earlier this month. After researching the pros and cons, I’ve finally been persuaded that building an email list is a good marketing strategy. Now, I just need to decide which server best suits my needs.

As you might have noticed, I’ve been working on branding and came up with a logo, with my daughter’s help, and finally updated my blog sidebar. I’ve also given my website a new look. There’s always something to do isn’t there? With restrictions still in place in our area, I’ve had plenty of time to work on these tasks after a morning of editing.

About this time last year, I set a goal of sorting through bins of the kids’ old schoolwork and recycling as much as I could. I finally tackled the project this week, which has actually been fun. I’ve been their reading class journal entries from grades three and four. In one, my daughter wrote that she wanted to be a writer. I remember that. In university, she chose an accounting career because she’s incredibly bright and well aware that a writing income doesn’t pay off mortgages unless you’re one of those rare souls. She’s always had an artistic bent and drew beautiful pictures in her elementary school days. Since she’s been on maternity leave she’s started drawing again. In our family, one of the most interesting outcomes of COVID is that my son has also taken up drawing. My husband’s enjoyed this hobby on and off for years but he also developed a passion for photography this year. It’s amazing to see them nurture their artistic side.

2020 definitely had some awesome moments for me, like retiring from the day job and the birth of my granddaughter, but I’ll always look back on it with mixed emotions. Meanwhile, I’ll greet 2021 with the same optimism I usually have when a new year starts. I wish you all a happy, creative, and prosperous 2021!

Those Crazy Creative Phases

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted a blog, but honestly this retired grandma has been on an ambitious streak. I’ve stepped up my commitment to various writing-related tasks, as well as my new critique group and volunteer work. I’ve also attended some interesting Zoom workshops lately.

I don’t know about you but my life seems to revolve around internal cycles where I have a lot of energy and ambition to get things done for a few weeks—or even months—and then it diminishes. It doesn’t necessarily involve weather and seasons, although they might contribute.

During the low energy, unambitious phase, writing projects aren’t quite as important. I’ll have little interest in monitoring book sales or networking on social media. I still edit my book every day, but not for as long a period. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the low energy phase always passes, so I don’t fret about it anymore. It’s perfectly okay to make more time for rest and reading, a lesson that has taken a long time to learn.

I’ve been in an ambitious phase since about the end of August, which means, I’ve finished a fair number of tasks, in and out of the house. Due to the terrible fires in the U.S., I did retreat indoors for several days when Vancouver’s air quality plummeted. My throat became dry, eyes stung, and I started coughing after only a couple minutes outside. My heart goes out to everyone south of the border who are suffering so much through this calamity.

The air improved enough over the weekend to go back outside and continue yardwork, but the rain has now returned big time and I don’t know when I’ll get back to the garden. Meanwhile, the photos below show some of the clearing I’ve been doing in the backyard, plus our first sunflower! We’ve also harvested a couple dozen of tomatoes.

Our first sunflower! We started late this year.
Slowly clearing the weeds. The yard was completely overgrown at one point!

Of course, there have been visits with our lovely little Ellie, who is pure joy and light. She’s adopting a wide range of expressions and sounds and is absolutely delightful.

I don’t know how long my ambitious phase will last—I never do, but that’s okay. I’ll role with it and see what happens. How about you? Does your creative life involve ambitious, or other types of cycles?

Planning the Rest of the Year

My biggest 2020 events have now passed…The publication of my 6th Casey Holland mystery, retirement from the day job, and the birth of my first grandchild. As far as I know, nothing major’s coming along over the next four and a half months, which means this is a good time to start making plans for the rest of the year and into 2021.

The problem with this idea is that our COVID world is only a few months old and not likely to disappear soon. Uncertainties are everywhere and planning is trickier than usual. Under normal circumstances, my fall craft fairs would be booked and paid for by now. These days, such events are up in the air. One of the fairs is planning to host their event online and it will be interesting to see how that goes. One was cancelled and I’m still waiting to hear on another.

As far as my casual job goes, which is to facilitate Port Moody Recreation’s creative writing workshops, the rec center is still trying to figure out how to make it work. Registration normally starts in July, so I and my three co-facilitators usually know what our schedules will be by now but we don’t.

So, I’m going to focus on what I can arrange, which mainly involves more writing and promotion work. As mentioned in last week’s blog, I have idea for a new series that requires a great deal of thought and note making before I write the first word. And there are always household projects waiting for attention.

At some point, the cold rainy weather will set in and the yardwork will stop and I’ll switch to indoor sorting. I have bins filled with the kids’ old schoolwork that needs to be sorted and some of it recycled. I’ve also started collecting new recipes which will be fun to try.

On some levels, I’m also preparing for a COVID relapse in case things go south in our area. In late May, we bought a freezer for the first time in my life. It’s not huge but should I or the people I live with get sick, we want to be able to feed ourselves or provide food and meals for family members, should they became ill. I’ve also stocked up on hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, which are plentiful in the stores these days.

I’m thinking about starting Christmas shopping early. My mother used to have her shopping done by the end of August and wrapped by the end of September, but that was before the dementia took hold. I used to think she was nuts to do everything so early, but retirement and COVID is changing my perspective.

I’d prefer not to shop online, so maybe I’ll start while the weather’s good and everyone else is outside. Needless to say, there’s lots to plan for. Who knows what the next four and half months will bring, but I’m going to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

What are you all doing to plan for the fall, personally or professionally? Do you find it difficult to make plans right now, or are you looking ahead as well? Meanwhile, here’s the latest baby Ellie photo. I’m blown away by the changes in just a few days.

Baby Ellie, 8 days old.

Six Positives To Self-Isolating

This week is our first full week of self-isolation. My place of employment sent everyone home last Wednesday, my son’s company sent him home on Friday, and my husband voluntarily started working from home on Monday.

Right now, each of us starts our day at our usual time, but rather than head out the door, we go to our separate work areas. I and my husband have basement offices and my son has his computers set up in his room (he works for a cyber security company). So far, I’ve seen more positives than negatives to our new lifestyle, and here’s why:

  1. My husband is saving 2-2/12 hours per day of commuting, my son is saving 90 minutes, and I’m saving 40 minutes, which is good for the environment, our stress levels, and our wallets, even though gas is significantly cheaper these days.
  1. read-652384_960_720[1]Instead of reading from my iPad, I’m reading more paperbacks bought from my local new and used bookstore, who need and appreciate the support.
  1. I’m able to take care of more writing tasks and am eating better on my work break.
  1. I’ve found great new exercise workouts on Utube.Flowers for Mimo
  1. My husband and I are doing more yard work together, for the first time. He usually takes care of the garden and yard, while I’m out running errands, meeting my writers’ group, or going to the gym.
  1. I’m checking in with friends and colleagues more often on social media, making sure everyone’s okay.

And then there’s the silence. I live near a major thoroughfare and generally only notice the quiet at special times, like Christmas morning, during a snowfall, or when I can’t sleep at 3:00 a.m. It’s like this every day now, and I’m hearing far fewer police, fire, and ambulance sirens. It’s almost as if the world has grown calmer, although I’m well aware that there’s plenty of angst happening out there.

I also know that self-isolation is perhaps easier for me than others because I’m an introvert and a writer. On some levels, self-isolation has always been part of life. But I do understand how difficult it can be. When I was a stay-at home mom with young kids, without a car and living on a hilly street, and my husband was putting in ten hour days at work accompanied by a 3-hour commute, I desperately wanted to go out and do something, or run a much-needed errand. Transit was terrible back then and on chilly, rainy days it just wasn’t feasible.

Still, there are things I also miss right now, like chatting with my friend while working out and visiting my daughter (who’s in her 22nd week of pregnancy), and hosting families dinners. I miss all the book launches and other writing events that have been cancelled.

But we’ll get through this and will re-emerge, and be more appreciative of what we have than what we’ve lost. There’s plenty to look forward to in 2020, and every day is one step closer to getting back on track with a new awareness and valuable lessons learned from this experience.

The Post-Publication Hangover

Publishing a full-length book is a momentous project that often takes years to complete. So when publication date finally arrives, it’s certainly cause for celebration, not to mention some relief. For me, acknowledging release day might involve a dinner out, a book launch, a library reading, or perhaps just a special glass of wine at the end of the day.

The Blade Man, front coverAfter a book’s release, I always feel somewhat discombobulated (I love that word). I have trouble sleeping, feel a bit anxious, lethargic, and can’t fully concentrate on anything for long. I start second-guessing myself as to whether the book should have been published. It’s the kind of niggling that I suspect most creative people suffer.

This has been happening a lot these past two weeks, so I’m not jumping into marketing and promotion tasks with great gusto at the moment. There’s a long list of things that need to be done…approaching libraries, bloggers, and reviewers, for starters. I haven’t had the incentive to do any of those things, which tells me two things. One is that it’s time let my mind and body relax. The other is that old post-publication habits might not work anymore.

1431975253_60f22e0295_n[1]So, I’m now engaging in a little TLC. I read an article a couple days back about self care (you can find it HERE) and there were good tips on inexpensive ways to look after ourselves, and don’t we all need more of that in what’s proving to be a rather stressful 2020?

Until recently, I drank four cups of coffee every morning, which pretty much took all morning. After lunch, it was caffeinated tea right until supper time. It’s no surprise that I recently began to feel like I was carrying a large, hot rock in my gut. I’ve now cut back significantly on caffeine and it’s helped a lot.

I’m also managing to keep to a regular gym routine this month, combining resistance and cardio workouts with core strengthening. Some of the other tips mentioned in the article include meditation, reducing social media time, eating more vegetables, and so forth. I’ve been doing most of the above except meditation, but I keep forgetting about the importance of deep breathing.

The author also offers another great tip called checking in with yourself. For me this means putting writing, publishing, and promotion into perspective. Although writing is hugely important in my life, this type of work doesn’t deal with actual life and death matters. I’m not a surgeon, or a search-and-rescue patrol person, or a soldier, or a cop. I’m an author who isn’t perfect, but who keeps striving to do a little better with every single sentence. And I’m trying real hard not to be a perfectionist but, oh boy, it’s a battle.

The Blade Man is available at:

Amazon: mybook.to/TheBladeMan

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-blade-man

Apple books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1495092401

UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LDre1

Well, It Was Almost a Balanced Week

It’s always a struggle for writers to juggle family life and day jobs with their creative lives. In fact, most of us don’t spend nearly as much writing/editing time as we’d like for numerous reasons, although this past week I came close.

I’m one of those weird folks who actually likes Mondays because that’s when I’m at my most energetic. Mondays means that I can get a fair bit of writing and editing done before and after the day job. On a really good day, I’ll then put in a half hour on the treadmill while catching up on reading. Yeah, I’ve been a multi-tasker for years.

By Wednesday afternoon, my energy level seriously fades. Thursday’s often a struggle to write, and Friday’s almost a complete write-off when it comes to stamina and concentration. Usually I can squeeze a little more writing time in on the weekends, but this past weekend was different.

Shower prep-2A few weeks ago, I volunteered our house for my daughter’s bridal shower. Given that this is summer, I figured we’d have a dozen guests at most. My task was to clean the house and provide platters for the food that the bridesmaids were bringing. I spent most of Saturday and early Sunday, cleaning the two bathrooms, tidying, dusting, etc. while my hubby and son swept the patio, cleaned the outdoor table, moved the BBQs out of the way and arranged furniture.

Bridal shower, group photoOnce the bridesmaids arrived, I watched in awe as they brewed jugs of different flavored teas, laid out food, decorated, and arranged flowers with an efficiency that had me in awe. As you’ll see from the photo, my twelve guest estimate pretty much doubled in size. (I’m in the blue dress in the front row, my daughter to the left, and my sister on the right.)

The shower was great fun and the bridesmaids were just as efficient with the cleanup and take-down as they were in setting things up. By the time every had left by 4:30, though, I was exhausted. My plans to do a little more editing that evening fizzled away.

Still, a good week of editing, followed by awesome family time, could be considered a balanced week. The only problem was that none of us felt rested by Monday morning. That’s okay, I have major rest and relaxation planned for this upcoming long weekend.

CakeBy the way, the delicious lemon cake in the photo was hand made by one of the bridesmaids. She brought fresh flowers to decorate the cake with! She also made a cheesecake with blueberry sauce, and earl grey cookies, which were amazing. As her wedding gift, she’s making the wedding cake, along with cupcakes. Now that I’m totally in wedding mode, I can’t wait for the big event in September.