Wednesday, December 28, 2016

From Noisy Activity to Quiet Anticipation: A Handbook for Writers

I love this time of year. The holidays are always filled with noisy activity but the days following Christmas are full of quiet anticipation.

It is a time of rethinking my life, reorganizing my space, and reviewing my goals. It is a time many people resolve to make changes with a “this year will be different” attitude.

I had a friend whose husband always told people she lost 200 pounds. Everyone hearing this was shocked. “Really?” They looked at her in amazement, trying to picture this beautiful woman wearing a size mammoth petite.

Her husband would smile. “Yep, she’s lost ten pounds every year for the last twenty years. She makes a resolution every January to lose ten pounds by summer and she does it!”

New Year’s Resolutions can be tricky like that. We often find ourselves making the same promises every year. I hear it from people who read my blog. I hear it from people at conferences and workshops.

“This is the year. This is the year I’m going to publish.”

Some do. Most do not. Why? The same reason some people lose weight and others don’t. The same reason some people keep the weight off while others gain it back.

Some people talk about change. Noisy Activity.
Some people plan the work and work the plan. Quiet Anticipation

Successful people have a plan.
I started my writing career with a business plan. I didn’t know what I would write or publish. I only knew I would do it. I prayed about it, researched business plans for various corporations and entrepreneurs, and set out to draft a plan suitable for a writer embarking on a new career.

I made the decision to become a published author in February 2012. I drafted the business plan in March 2012. By the end of summer, I had an article published in Home Health Aide Digest, a story accepted by Chicken Soup for the Soul, two articles accepted by the Lookout Magazine, and a contract for my first novel, Breathing on Her Own.

I have since presented the components of the plan to fellow authors via workshops and speaking engagements. I’ve blogged about it both on my blog and as a guest on other blogs such as the one hosted by Southern Writers Magazine.

A couple of years ago, a writer friend challenged me to publish a guide for other writers to develop their own business plan. I wasn’t ready. I had just lost my husband.

Now a new year is upon us and I find myself saying, “This is the year. This is the year I publish the handbook on creating a business plan for writers.”

Now…[insert drumroll here]…in January, the first handbook in a three part Writing to Publish series will be released on Amazon. The first book available is titled Designing a Business Plan for Your Writing. The handbook will be available as an ebook. You can download it on your Kindle or use the free downloadable app from Amazon to read it on your computer. I’m pretty excited about this.

When I first drafted my business plan there was not much out there to guide writers. I’ve since seen a few books addressing the topic and a few where the topic is given its own chapter.

My education and research background takes this handbook in a different direction. I actually walk readers through activities and challenges to construct a plan that is meaningful to them. While the handbook offers examples of structure, it is in no way formulaic.

The second handbook in the series is a primer for marketing. In it I share the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I worry a new writer will think they have to do it all immediately. My hope is to provide information in one place so the new writer can begin thinking about marketing themselves as a writer even before they publish, will know how to prepare to interview with agents and publishers, and will be aware of the initial steps to assure success for their publications.  The title of the second book in the Writing to Publish series is Marketing You and Your Writing 101.

The third book in the series, Writing with E’s, explores five habits needed to move from a wannabe writer to a published author. Writing with E’s is designed to help you bump up your writing efforts. The aim is to deepen your understanding of the tools you need to have in your writing toolbox beyond a computer, a dictionary, and an idea.

The plan is for these three handbooks to release in January and February. Tune in next week. I’ll have more information for you about the first book including the table of contents and a brief description of each chapter. I’ll also be offering a giveaway to readers.

Until then, enjoy the lull. Relax in the quiet anticipation of the new year ahead. And, while you’re at it…share this post with your friends. You don’t know who is out there with the secret wish to author a book.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Christmas Trees: Buy Two, Get Three

I’ve made it a practice to share a Christmas memory each year. I know it is a busy time of year. I don’t know how many people will actually read this, but for those of you here with me now, I hope you will find a blessing in my story. 

When our girls were young we spent much of our Christmas holiday traveling the interstate between Ohio and Florida. If you’ve spent much time in Florida you’ll find most people who live there are from somewhere else. We call them “transplants.”

Tom and I were transplanted the other direction. We moved from Florida to Ohio. Every year we loaded our daughters, gifts, and a bagful of snacks and drove sixteen hours to spend Christmas with our family. No regrets. We did, however, try to have a few traditions apart from viewing the decorated houses on the route through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia.

Tom and I grew up with fresh cut Christmas trees. This proved to be one tradition we found difficult to continue when we moved to Ohio even though we tried. We would decorate the tree the day after Thanksgiving, wrap gifts, entertain our friends, then load everything in the van the minute school was out in December and drive away for a week or more. When we returned we had unpacking to do, a pile of presents to put away from loving grandparents, laundry facing us, and school and work routines back on the clock.

We also had a dry and prickly Christmas tree to be undecorated and cleared out of the house. It was a mess. I lobbied for an artificial tree.

“We could decorate it and leave it up forever if we wanted,” I said.
Tom couldn’t wrap his head around an artificial tree.

As our children grew, we split our Christmas break between Florida and various ski resorts in winter wonderlands such as Colorado and Vermont. And we found a solution to the sticky, dry, messy cut trees.

We bought a live tree. This one had its roots balled in burlap. With care, we were able to enjoy the tree throughout the Christmas season and it was still going strong in January. Tom followed the guidelines provided by the nursery for the tree’s care after Christmas. We eventually planted the tree in our yard. It was about three feet tall but beautiful. “It’ll grow,” Tom told the girls.

That was tree one.

The next year we decided to do the same thing. We decorated the second live tree for the inside and put lights on the one outside. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Tree two was planted and the next summer we had two beautiful trees growing in our yard. Trees filled with memories and birds.

This was our first live tree and yielded a
"cut tree" a few years later.
Live trees can be expensive, so the third year we decided to go back to our cut tree plan. The following Christmas some neighborhood boys tried to take the top out of one of our trees. They were not successful and Tom talked to them about respecting other people’s property. He took his saw and removed the broken top of our sweet little evergreen. That year, we decorated the topper as our tree. It was only a couple of feet tall, but we all decided it was the most beautiful tree we could have imagined. After all, it grew in our yard, right?

Two trees planted. Three trees trimmed.

We moved from that house a year later and decided to purchase a life-like artificial tree. It was a big move…not to the house but away from our traditional Christmas trees.

Our Two "Little" Christmas Trees
We’ve lived in this home for over twenty years now. Recently, I drove over to our former house. I stood outside and marveled at our little Christmas trees still growing in the yard. The new owner was interested in the story behind the trees and with his permission I had my picture taken in front of one of them. Our little three-foot Christmas tree now towers above the second story of the house. It is the one whose top was plucked from it. The second tree is as large. They stand there, tall and magnificent and a reminder to me of Christmas past.

I pray you have a wonderful Christmas filled with love, laughter, family, and traditions of your own. But most of all, I pray this season you will seek a closer relationship with Jesus. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Three Strategies to Finish Your Novel

Are you busy? Inundated with shopping, gift wrapping, cookie baking, and parties? Planning dinner around holiday concerts at school and caroling with your church family? Not to worry. It happens. Every year it happens.

If you are a writer, it is easy to allow your writing time to be snatched away with a whispered promise of “tomorrow.” Tomorrow quickly turns into “next week” and next week becomes “after the holidays.”

If you participated in the month long writing event in November you already know there is more work to do on your novel. Today’s blog is aimed at giving you three next-step-strategies to keep your writing moving in the right direction during this busy holiday season. Trust me, if you do even one of these, your January will look much brighter.

Strategy One: We’ll start with the easiest one first. Write out three specific tasks you need in order to move forward in crafting your novel then choose one to complete before the new year. Here are my three:

ü Physically draw a map of the area where the story takes place. I need this because I discovered I have a few problems with some of the logistics in my story. I need this map to help me make sense of what happens when.
ü Research Americanized German surnames. I have a family in my novel whose roots are German. I put a placeholder name in as I drafted the story. Now I see that their German heritage is important to the story so I want to find a name for them. Stopping to do this when I was in the midst of writing would have slowed me down. Now I can take a few minutes to do the research and choose an appropriate surname fo the family.
ü Create a list of farm chores for my main character to do. Repair a fence, replace the screen on the door, fix a tractor. You get the idea. I need activities my character can do while he’s talking or daydreaming or planning his next move.

I don’t need to write all of these elements into my manuscript right now but keeping the story at the forefront of my mind, will keep my momentum going, even through the holidays.

Strategy Two: Grab your 2017 calendar and make appointments with yourself during the first two weeks of January. These appointments are specific times to read, write, edit, and/or revise. These tasks will get you back into your story.  Block at least two appointments with yourself each of those first two weeks in January. KEEP THE APPOINTMENT!

Here is an example from my calendar: For my first appointment, January 3rd, I’m going to use the search and replace feature on Word to put the new surname I chose for the family of German heritage.

Put some thought into this. You want to use your time wisely. You also need to plan blocks of time so you’ll be able to read passages and make edits as needed or various revisions. This is where I know I’ll be using the map of the area I created.

Strategy Three:  This one is a little tricky and requires more time. Trust me though it’s worth it. It requires you to think about your final project. A full-length novel will range from 80,000 to 100,000 words or so. A short novel will be somewhere around 40,000 to 75,000 words or so. A novella is shorter. Different publishers have differing ideas concerning the numbers. These are ballpark figures to guide you.

If you wrote 50,000 words in November and you intend to craft a full-length novel, you are roughly half way to completion. If you intended a short novel you may be ready to begin the final revision process.

The third strategy to keep the momentum going is to use a writing template to measure your progress. There are several plot templates out there. Some suggest, for example, that the first act takes place in the first twenty percent (20%) of your story, the second act develops over the next sixty percent (60%), climaxing at about the seventy-five percent (75%) mark and then finishing out act three in the remaining twenty to twenty-five percent (20%-25%) of the book. Certain events need to take place in each act. For example, the problem should make itself apparent in Act 1. You can learn more about these markers of what happens when. If you are not familiar with plot and structure guidelines, I suggest you read some of the how-to books or articles on the subject. Find what makes sense to you. There are several excellent posts on and on Take your projected final word count, apply the math and then go into your manuscript to that section to see if your story is developing as it should.

Enjoying the company
of James Scott Bell.
I use James Scott Bell’s book Super Structure as a template. I’ve written about this book and the signposts in earlier blog posts. In essence, I use the template as an overlay. Let’s use one of the signposts as an example. Bell asserts that almost exactly smack dab in the middle of every good book or movie, the main character, either literally or figuratively looks in the mirror and comes face-to-face with his or her inner self.

I am drafting a 90,000 word book so I can look at the manuscript I’ve created, go to the section around 45,000 words and see if I have a mirror moment. If I do—great. If not, I need to find it or create it and see what revisions I need to bring that moment closer to the middle.

My visual for this is akin to a physical overlay where my manuscript is laying out on the table and I somehow magically roll out a plastic template with all the signposts on it. I picture myself looking through the plastic film and literally see how my structure measures up. Of course that is impossible, but it is how I see this tool in my mind.

I look forward to hearing from you. What strategy calls your name? Do you have another tool you employ to keep your writing moving forward even when you’re busy?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"What I Did On My Fall Vacation" or Getting Down To The Business Of Writing

The month of November was interesting. For this blog, I asked five relatively new writers to post about their writing journey. A big “thank you” to Joshua Curran, Robin Mason, Nancy Hallo, Laura Wood, and Deana Rogers.

So, if I wasn’t writing a blog post every Wednesday, what did I do with all that time? I’m here to report this side of the blog was equally interesting and productive. Hmm…this post is starting to feel like a “what I did on my November vacation” report.

The first Wednesday of the month I generally address the business of writing. Today I’m giving you a peek at how my writing business shakes out. I usually take on one major project to complete each month, but with the holidays just around the corner and a new year approaching, I hunkered down and put my fingers on the keyboard two to three hours a day in November. I map out my workload three months at a time so this was intentional. Here are the results of following my plan.

The Writing to Publish Series
I have been working on a series of handbooks for writers for a couple of years now. Since starting A Novel Creation, I’ve been asked by new writers how to get started in writing. I always start with, “You need a plan.” I’ve talked on the subject of building a business plan for your writing and I’ve blogged about it on both my blog and as a guest on others.

The first week of November I finished the manuscript for book one the series called Writing to Publish. [Working Title] The title of the first handbook in the series is Creating a Business Plan for Your Writing Career. It is designed to help writers develop a workable path to be successful with their writing. I sent the manuscript to Michele Matthews, a professional editor. In less than a week she completed her editing magic and returned the work to me. Creating a Business Plan for Your Writing Career is scheduled for release the first week in January 2017.

That first week in November, I also completed the second draft of book two for the Writing to Publish series. Book 2, titled Marketing You and Your Writing 101 guides writers as they enter the writing world and the marketing they need to consider early in the writing process. The draft is now with a beta reader who also happens to be a marketing guru. Once revisions have been made to that document, I’ll be sending it off to Michele for editing. The plan is for Marketing You and Your Writing 101 to be released the third week in January. Side Note: As I worked through this handbook, I also drafted a marketing plan for the Writing to Publish series.

During the month I completed the revised book three which I initially completed in October. I put that one away for a few weeks to mull it over. Soon, I’ll be looking for beta readers for the final book in the Writing to Publish series. This one is titled Writing with E’s. This handbook explores five habits successful writers must incorporate in their daily routines to meet their writing goals.

My granddaughter drew this picture of me.
I told you the work was intense!
WIP: My Latest Novel
During November I turned a 4,000 word synopsis into 50,208 words on my newest novel. That is an average of 1674 words per day for November. Note the word average. I did not write every day on my romantic suspense project. Some days I struggled to complete a sentence. Other days, I was on a roll and hammered out 5000 words before lunch.

Blogging 2017
There is a saying, “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” With that in mind, November proved to be the best time to outline A Novel Creation’s blog posts for January through March. This may sound easy, but each outlined post requires research, contacting guest writers, and putting enough down on paper to remember what I had in mind when it comes time to write.

Although I am dedicated to writing, this month was a bit more intense in that I have several works in the mill. I feel accomplished. I enjoyed the work. At the same time, I think I’ll go back to the practice of focusing on one main project each month.

What do your writing days look like? How do you organize your time? I would love to hear from you.

And don’t forget, when you make that New Year’s resolution to write a book in 2017, I’m here for you! Be on the watch for the Writing to Publish series in January. I’ll let you know when it’s available.