Posted in conferences, inciting incident, writing advice

What’s inside the box?

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgI hereby declare—since hereby declaring is a popular thing now—that I am all conferenced out.

This temporary condition will certainly  pass, but for the moment, I am unpacked, the suitcase is in the closet, and I have no immediate travel plans.  Give me a week and I’ll be screaming about cabin fever, but for the moment, it feels good to tuck in and enjoy some home time.

But staying home has hazards of its own. Like the rest of the world, every time I walk through the rooms of my house, I think about decluttering. There are still boxes in the basement we have never opened since our move from Pennsylvania 20+ years ago. Part of my fear in opening those boxes is that I will be delighted with whatever forgotten items have been waiting there, and I’ll be adding more instead of embracing less.

Life is full of chancy moments like this, when you don’t know what’s ahead: something you’ll never use, or something you’ll never forget.

A workshop is like an unopened box, I realized this weekend at the Pennwriters Conference.  You have no idea how deeply you’ll connect to the writer presenting or if their shared wisdom will hit you in the right place at the right time. One such moment, when a line is just what  you need to hear today, is a gem.

I came away with three gems from last weekend. The following quotes flew across the room and stuck to me like spaghetti on a wall:

“Plot the conflict.” – Susan Meier

“When the book opens, the villain already has a game plan.” – Gayle Lynds

“The inciting incident is the only scene in your story that can be totally random.” – Hilary Hauck

Wise words, yes? Susan’s advice means to stay on track in planning the action that drives the story. Gayle’s words are a reminder that the villain is always present. Hilary’s quote is an a-ha that the writer is allowed only one freebie from the universe.

Three gems in a single weekend means Pennwriters was a wonderful box to open.

Now, please excuse me. There’s a Mother’s Day hammock in the back yard I need to break in, and I have three takeaways to ponder while I do that. Those boxes in the basement have waited 20  years. Another day won’t hurt them.

Posted in writing advice, writing exercises, writing inspiration

40 Days of 3 Questions – Day 25

Welcome to 40 Days of 3 Questions!

For the next few weeks, meet here every morning with a notebook or document to answer three questions about writing, about your status quo as a writer, or about the writing life. You can answer briefly and go about your day, or you can use this as a warm up exercise before your regular writing schedule. Whatever works for you, works for me.

Day 25 Questions:

  1. If you could go back in time and give advice to your newbie writer self, what would that advice be?
  2. How did you learn it?
  3. If you could give advice to a new author today, what would it be?

You may post answers in comments or keep your thoughts private–your choice!

And here is today’s pretty picture:

Finished is better than perfect
Good advice, no?
Posted in writing advice, writing exercises

Mardi Gras Monday

I grew up in the land of parades. The weeks before Lent meant dressing up in homemade costumes, piling into our station wagon, meeting cousins on the roadside, and fighting for throws from floats decorated with scenes from mythology or the Wild West. Now I live in a place where Mardi Gras is a relatively foreign concept, but I wear beads in purple, green, and gold to honor my heritage. I am wearing them now, as a matter of fact.

When I was a kid, Lent meant giving up something: potato chips, chocolate, coffee. (What? I began drinking coffee when I was five years old. First day of kindergarten = first cup of cafe au lait.) As I grew older, I grew out of that Lenten tradition of sacrifice, but it’s in my blood to do something in the weeks between Mardi Gras and Easter, as winter moves into spring.

A project that reflects renewal works better for me, particularly since giving up coffee is no longer on the table. A few years ago, I did 40 straight days of book reviews. Last year, I did 40 days of submitting my work. The book reviews were meant to promote writing by women authors. The submissions were meant to promote my writing.

This year, my winter-into-spring blog project is for you, the working writer. For the next 40 days, early in the morning, I will post 3 writing questions. Each day’s questions will examine some specific aspect of writing or the writing life. The questions may be very specific or quite broad.

Grab a notebook or open a document, and each morning spend a little time thinking about these questions and how they apply to you. You can answer as briefly or in as much length as you wish. There are no grades, no feedback, no judgment. You can post your answers as a comment or keep it as private your teenage diary. Consider it a free mini-course in examining where  you stand as a writer, or in your writing, for the next 40 days.

I’ll also post some pretty pictures, to combat the end of winter doldrums.

Mindful tree

The questions begin on Wednesday. For tomorrow, Happy Mardi Gras!

Posted in deadlines, writing advice

Lessons from My Father

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgI could write for a hundred years, fill up every blank journal on my bookcase, and never run out of material about my family. And, probably, so could many of you.

The last few days, I have been sifting through memories of my father, who passed away suddenly last week. As I process his loss, I am also considering his legacy. I won’t get overly personal, but I want to share three lessons that guide me in business, and in life in general.

My father was not a writer, but like many writers I know, he had a day job in the oil industry that paid the bills, plus a second job in the family cattle business that was his true calling. He was hard-working and responsible in both, and when I took the leap into professional editing, his work and personal ethics gave me guidance.

Lesson #1 – Be professional.

Daddy loved his cows. He fed his Heifers, checked on them daily, and kept them healthy. He planted new grass in a fenced off field and waited until Christmas Day to let them feed on it, as a holiday present. He stayed up all night when a cow was calving. When he lost a herd in a flood during a hurricane, he was devastated. If our house got too noisy, he’d go off for some peace and quiet with his cattle. When he was sad or worried, he went to his pasture because “sometimes a man just needs to talk to a cow.”

But raising livestock was not a game, and when the time came, he loaded the cows into a trailer and off they went to the slaughterhouse. It wasn’t personal, it was business.

How is this a lesson for me? When I review a manuscript, I must put aside my personal feelings and remember that this writer—maybe a friend, maybe a stranger–is paying for  honesty and help, not sweet compliments or hand-holding. The author-editor relationship is a business arrangement between two professionals, and the only way it works is to keep it that way.

Lesson #2 –  Be a good boss.

Daddy’s first job was at a small town movie house called the Joy Theater. He was 12. When he was older, he was lied about his age and got a job as a roustabout on an oil rig. He worked in the oil industry for decades, finally as a workover supervisor. At his funeral, so many men introduced themselves as former oilmen, and I remember at least half a dozen said Daddy was the best boss they’d ever had. “He was tough but he was fair,” one man told me, with tears in his eyes. When your passing makes a former roustabout cry, you know you left a strong impression.

I am my own boss, so managing time and juggling jobs falls to me. If I can’t find balance in my home life and my professional life, both will suffer, and I’ll be a bad boss to myself. Sometimes it’s tough to say no to someone who asks for a too-fast turnover, but I have to be fair—to the work and to myself—so that the job is done well.

Lesson #3 – Make your deadlines.

Daddy was impressed when I started my own business, but I’m not sure he ever quite knew what it was—exactly—that I did. “You read books and people pay you?” he asked once, somewhat incredulously, and I answered, “Something like that.” He might not have understood the ins and outs of professional editing, but he got the gist: people sent me projects, I did them, and the people paid me. Every phone call, he wanted to know if I had jobs lined up. He was most happy when I told him I had projects queued for 6 or 9 or 12 months ahead.

One thing about my job never baffled him. When I reported that I’d stayed up late or missed an outing because I had a deadline, he didn’t say, “Poor you.” My father was early to every appointment and he always got work done on time. He never let his cows go hungry because he fiddled around instead of feeding them. He didn’t force a crew into overtime because the project  plan was sloppy. Being late was not an option for him, and it can’t be an option for me. When work is due, I get it there–on time.

I could tell you many other things about my father, but those are personal. Bits and pieces of him have always appeared in my stories, and that won’t change or be lost. He may be gone, but his legacy runs through me and my siblings, our cousins, and many friends. I hope you’ll find these lessons good guidance along your own path, whatever it may be.

From him to me, and now from me to you:

  1. Be professional.
  2. Be a good boss.
  3. Make your deadlines.

And, as lagniappe, a picture from his cattle pasture, because sometimes a person just needs to look at a cow.

cow

Posted in craft article, critiques, writers groups, writing advice

4 Tough Questions for Your Critique Group

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgCritique groups are great. I have participated in several, of different sizes and styles, and each one taught me to be a better writer. Reading works in progress allowed me to see how stories grew and, from those lessons, I became a more astute reader. Continue reading “4 Tough Questions for Your Critique Group”

Posted in Read & Critique, writing advice

What’s not to like about not?

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgI gave a brief, impromptu lecture this past weekend on avoiding the “nots” when discussing your writing. This took place at a Read & Critique. For those who may not be familiar, a Read & Critique is an on-the-spot evaluation of the opening of a novel or nonfiction work. The critiquers—three of us this time—do a blind read of a half page synopsis and 2-page opening of a work. The writers in the session listen while the critiquers offer their gut responses to these openings. Continue reading “What’s not to like about not?”

Posted in Sprinting, writing advice, writing goals, Writing Hour

Guest post at The Insecure Writer’s Support Group

RamonaGravitarToday I have the pleasure of guest blogging for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. This IWSG’s purpose is to encourage writers to discuss their fears and triumphs, challenges and accomplishments. It’s run by working writers and the group welcomes new and experienced writers:

“Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!”

My post is called The Sprint Method of Writing. It offers advice on how to establish a daily writing routine as well as how to use a journal to help with daily writing tasks.