creativity, personal journeys, writing updates

Songstresses, Storytellers, and A Sunday Summary

photo from stock.xchng

Recently, while sitting in a coffee house (of all places), I heard this beautiful, sweet, simple song called “When You’ve Got Trouble.” I loved it immediately, so much that I Googled the lyrics to find out who the artist was. It turned out to be Liz Longley, and I bought Liz’s album “Hot Loose Wire.”

But another song from that album inspired this post: A song called “Unraveling,” about Liz’s experience losing her grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease. The lyrics left tears streaming down my face, but they also made me think about art, all art, and why we create the works we create.

If asked to describe what makes a good work of art—whether song, story, or sculpture—I’d say that good art breaks your heart and then puts it back together, leaving you altered—the same person, but changed, transported, and slightly better than before. In transporting you to some place—a landscape, a story, an image, an emotion, a memory—a work of art reveals some part of the human experience that lives inside of you. As far from navel-gazing as it could be, art connects us to the human experience.

My favorite thing about “Unraveling” and other tunes like it is that, as Liz described it, she wrote this song for herself, about her own experience. But that song ended up touching a lot of people, and she’s not the first artist to say something along these lines. I believe these works touch so many people because they speak to a common pain. Dar Williams’ song “After All” talks about experiencing depression and coming out on the other side a better, stronger person. Her discussion of writing that song echoes Liz’s words about hers.

The human experience has different flavors, but it comes down to love, to family, to memory, to home, to loss, whether those things bring up feelings of pain, grief, joy, or happiness. In every work I create, I hope I give someone out there that experience—of being transported, of being broken or lost, of being made whole.

How would you define art? Does music ever inspire your work? What’s the last song that made you cry?

Below you’ll find this week’s Sunday summary and mash-up of awesomeness, but first, here’s a taste of Liz’s music and that lovely, painful song called “Unraveling”:

Sunday Summary:

After seriously considering plunging into NaNoWriMo next month, I’m leaning toward no. My health still isn’t where it needs to be, and I don’t want to push my body–and my sleep-deprived brain–too hard. Since 2012 is my year of seeking balance, NaNo is going to have to wait.

I went back to “Pierce My Heart” this week, filling in some of Lithe’s backstory. Yes, I realize now that this story really is a novel–hard to believe it started out as a little novelette for Valentine’s Day. But the fact that there are several different plot threads at play–a whodunit suspense, a love story, two complicated character backstories, and a sociopolitical angle–means that to be done well, this one needs to be fleshed out. I’m also working on an outline for my novella “Oak-Bound.”

What are you working on this week?

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness:

mash-ups, writing updates

Sunday Summary: Novella Writing and This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness

I had a long but very scenic (translation: fall-foliage-filled) drive to Fredericksburg, Va., for the Virginia Romance Writers annual critique day. I received some great feedback on a couple projects from my fellow writers and got a sneak peek into their current WIPs. 🙂 This week I also started an outline for one of my novellas (Oak-Bound), thanks in part to advice on “crushing creative ADD” over at Mythic Scribes (see this week’s mash-up) and wrote another scene in my newest WIP.

Thanks to the enthusiasm of my fellow Virginia romance writers, I’m seriously considering plunging into this year’s round of NaNoWriMo. I haven’t written as much as I’ve wanted to this year, and I’d really like to dash off a draft of a novella before year’s end. Since this is the first year in a while that I haven’t been teaching in the fall semester, I’d like to try finishing one of my two novella projects. I also discovered this fantastic post by James Scott Bell about the novella structure. Previously, I’ve had trouble finding much beyond word counts and vague notions about what a novella should be, but Bell’s post really lays out the specifics. Anyone else out there a novella writer? What’s your favorite aspect of writing novella-length works? The most challenging?

Is anyone else planning on participating in NaNoWriMo?

Finally, This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness:

Author Elizabeth Marx, in a guest post at Melissa’s Eclectic Bookshelf, reveals her writing space and offers a dose of inspiration.
Autumn is the witching season, so be sure to check out the “Witches and Witchcraft” Reading Challenge and “There Are Witches in the Air” October giveaway and post series over at Melissa’s Eclectic Bookshelf.
From traditionally published to indie author, Orna Ross discusses the author’s role in her work’s creative direction at The Creative Penn blog.
Get your muse to focus using these 10 Easy Steps to Crush Creative ADD, over at Mythic Scribes.
Brynna Curry’s interview with author Rosanna Leo covers everything from writer’s block to hometowns.
Check out Belinda Pollard’s  tutorial on how to create videos for your author blog.
I got teary-eyed reading this post on Female Heroines and Real Compassion by Regan Black.

mash-ups, the seasons, writing updates

Sunday Summary: Pumpkins, Hayrides, and this Week’s Mash-up of Awesomeness

Today we had the first truly chilly day of the autumn season, and I’m breaking out the Halloween decorations. Yesterday, hubby and I enjoyed the fall foliage by taking a drive out to a local farm, where we picked out pumpkins, filled a basket full of gourds, and went on a hayride. It was a great way to spend an afternoon. Here’s a peek:

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I also recently started a new story. Tired of spinning my wheels on my current works in progress, I decided to try something fresh and new to get the creative juices flowing again. This story is not only set during the fall season but, more importantly, it’s set here in Virginia, the state I’ve called home for more than six years. It also pays homage to the Appalachian Mountains, which are as much a part of me as my stories are. Growing up in Pennsylvania, these mountains have inspired not only my stories, but also my drive to lead a sustainable lifestyle close to nature. They taught me about both nature’s fragility and its strength. I hope that through this story (spoiler: it features werewolves!) I can share some of the beauty that has inspired me.

Besides the world outside my door, the blogosphere is also full of awesomeness this week. Here are a few posts I really enjoyed.

This Week’s Mash-up of Awesomeness:

What about you? How has your week been? Any excitement, writing or otherwise?

ROW80, writing updates

A snow-covered ROW80 check-in

I’m writing to you from Southwest Virginia, where I’m currently trapped in a snow globe–I mean, uh, snowstorm. And not really trapped, since the weather has been so mild and thus, the ground is fairly warm. So, from the sort-of winter wonderland, here’s my check-in for the week.

Spent most of the week writing and combing through Chapter 2 and part of Chapter 3 of Made of Shadows. My initial rewrite of the “meet cute” for Zoe and Blake posed some problems (i.e., messed up the following parts of the plot, which were actually working just fine). Thanks to some stewing today, I’ve located the problem. Then I’m off!

I’ve been reading some of the 43 Light Street books by Rebecca York. I saw her speak at a Virginia Romance Writers meeting last year and learned a lot from her talk. Her books are really addictive and her plots are very character driven, so I’ve been reading some of her work (currently, Guarding Grace) to study how she allows the suspense element of the plot to drive the story forward, while providing plenty of space for romance. This approach actually helped me find the flaw in my meet-cute scene because I realized that’s not how a given character would react to a particular development.

My ROW80 goals:

  • I revised Chapter 2 and part of Chapter 3. I revised Chapter 2 a few times and am proud to have worked the kinks out before I move forward.
  • I’m spending more time on Twitter, taking breaks in the morning at work and before I write in the afternoon, but I haven’t carved out a space for Facebook check-ins yet.
  • Read a lot of awesome blogs this week, but always on the run, so I haven’t started doing regular “mash-ups of awesomeness” yet.
  • Need to work on bio critiques for my Team WANA1011 peeps and immerse myself in a few manuscripts I need to critique as well.

I am still looking for a place of balance, where day job, writing, social media, household management, relationships, social life, exercise/nutrition can all coexist. Looking at that list, LOL, it doesn’t look good. By year’s end, I plan to have not one but two manuscripts ready for query. I will get there. Whether I’ll find a sense of calm within the chaos…well, that remains to be seen. 🙂

Since tomorrow is President’s Day, I’m hoping to spend the day at home, doing a few random things for day job and plunging into Made of Shadows. We’ll see if my boss forces me to clean the snow off my car tomorrow.

How are your writing goals going?

ROW80, writing updates

Looking Forward in 2012 and New ROW80 Goals

“I have desired, like every artist, to create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant, and significant things of this marred and clumsy world.” –W.B. Yeats

In light of some of the developments in so far in 2012, I’ve decided to revise my goals for the first round of ROW80. After writing my first set, I realized that I had a lot of goals that I hadn’t actually written down. And, since I’ll be attending the Virginia Romance Writers’ For the Love of Writing Conference in May, I also need to set Pierce My Heart aside for a while so I have enough time to polish up Made of Shadows for the conference.

Halfway through February, I’m not sure how I’m doing on my New Year’s resolution. My resolution isn’t so much a personal challenge as it is a necessary lifestyle change. I realize I’ve been letting go of the some elements of life that are core to who I am: my artistic, creative side and my spiritual side. My stories come from a deep well within, and it’s hard to hear them when I listen to the voices that insist I’m better off using my creative energies in other ways. I like public relations writing, but I need to write stories.

Storytelling is a lot like gardening. You plant seeds, nurture them throughout the year, and have faith that your hard work will produce a bountiful harvest. That harvest won’t just provide sustenance for the winter. It will also provide seeds for next spring. I’ve yet to find another line of work that provides me with that fulfillment.

There’s a post-it stuck to my refrigerator bearing this quote from Buddha:

“Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, give yourself to it.”

Whatever our art, whether it’s cooking, gardening, programming, nursing, writing, or painting, each of us has a dharma, a path in life that fits us best. We become the best possible versions of ourselves when we find and live our dharma. What have you, with all of your heart, given yourself to? What bold steps have you taken in life to achieve your dreams?

The worst thing we can do is to do things in life because we think they are what others expect of us or because we want to prove something. I realized late last year that I’d spent too much time trying to prove something to myself. I’d moved away from what really mattered. 2012 is all about giving myself to my life’s work: my stories.

My goal for 2012 is to complete query-ready drafts of my two WIPs, Made of Shadows and Pierce My Heart. I’d also like to draft another story as well, but if by December, I’m querying those two pieces, I’ll be satisfied with that. I’d also like to continue building my author platform.

In light of those developments and revelations, here are my new ROW80 goals:

1.)    Revise three chapters of Made of Shadows per week, so this manuscript is ready to go for the writing conference in May.

2.)    Blog at least twice per week. (I might up this to three times per week later in the year.)

3.)    Stop by Twitter once or twice per day, excluding Sundays.

4.)    Check in on Facebook once a day, except Sundays.

5.)    Read three blog posts per day, except Sundays.

6.)    Complete two bio critiques per week for my fellow Team WANA1011 members.

Well, here it goes. How are everyone else’s writing goals coming along?

ROW80, writing updates

Wednesday ROW80 check-in

A short post today. I’ve written 1,302 words so far this week. I’m not blogging in-depth tonight because I’m recovering from a migraine. Hopefully I’ll have a more fun and exciting post for everyone on Friday!

How are your writing goals coming along this week?

And, so I don’t leave anyone empty-handed, a quote:

“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” –Richard Wright

ROW80, writing updates

Sunday ROW80 and This Week in Review

Friday, I blogged about how nebulous Pierce My Heart, my latest WIP, has been feeling. I can see the potential in this story. I know what it can be, and I know it will get there. So the reason I was stuck felt beyond elusive. And I received some good advice about getting my creativity mojo back.

I started out Saturday with a character Q&A. I didn’t exactly learn anything earth-shattering about the character in question, but I realized that there was a strong theme in this story—one of self-discovery and acceptance—that I’d been overlooking.

The floodgates opened. Saturday’s writing session turned out to be more along the lines of my usual ones. And it brought this week’s writing total way past the goal of 3K. In fact, my word-count this week is more in line with the 4-7K I usually write.

A few of you directed me to some great resources that I want to mention here. First, Matthew Wright, whose most recent blog post about Tolkien provides some insights into contrasting the quiet, pedestrian aspects of life with the more extraordinary, larger-than-life moments. And second, Holly Lisle’s “One-pass Manuscript Revision.” Holly deftly deconstructs the notion that we need to revise our manuscripts 20 times before they’re ready. She writes:

“Doing a seventeenth revision on a project does not make a writer an artist or move him above the writer hoi polloi any more than dressing entirely in black or wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches or big, black drover coats. These are all affectations, and smack of dilettantism. Real writers, and real artists, finish books and move on to the next project.”

And my weekly word-count, in summary:

  • Monday: 958
  • Tuesday: 0
  • Wednesday: 615
  • Thursday: 851
  • Friday: 0
  • Saturday: 2,055
  • Sunday: 0

That’s a total of 4,479 words, well above my goal of 3,000. And I blogged Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, meeting my second goal.

How are your goals going? Are you gaining momentum for 2012?

Finally, here’s a quote to kick off a new week:

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

ROW80, writing updates

Wednesday ROW80 Update and Some Blog Fun

Last week I was very honored when  Alicia Street gave me the “Versatile Blogger Award.” Thanks, Alicia!

The award has several stipulations. One: I have to tell you seven random facts about myself (see below). Two: I have to post the lovely logo on my site, which isn’t a problem because I love pretty, shiny things. And three: I get to pass it on to other bloggers.

I am pleased to bestow the Versatile Blogger Award upon these people. Perhaps some of you have already received it, but I wanted to name you anyway:

David N. Walker

Kendall Grey

Coleen Patrick

And now, as per the rules, here are seven random fun facts about me:

1.)    My husband and I were together for 10 years before we tied the knot. (Hey, fools rush in.)

2.)    My favorite book is Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Hilarious. Delightful. Perfect.

3.)    The only thing that bugs me more than people who don’t use their turn signals (I’m not a mind-reader!) is people who wear pajamas in public. If you’re well enough to go to the grocery store, you’re well enough to wear actual pants.

4.)    I hate peaches. Don’t know why. Just do.

5.)    I love roses, especially coral roses.

6.)    I am NOT a morning person.

7.)    I am not weird. I am delightfully quirky. 🙂

My ROW80 check-in:

  • Monday I wrote 958 words. Today I wrote 615, bringing the total to 1,573. I tried the old trick of opening a blank Word doc and seeing where the muses take me. It worked out nicely tonight.
  • Working on my goal of blogging Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.
ROW80, writing updates

ROW80 Goals and the ‘Latte Effect’ of Writing

Like many of my writerly friends, I’m a very goal-driven person. Think about our job: We write books in the hopes that someone will publish them, read them, benefit from them. That can’t be done without a strong sense of direction. So we set goals, tangible manifestations of our dreams.

I keep those goals near me wherever I am. The whiteboard in my home office lists my writing goals for the year. The sticky notes program on my computer desktop reminds me every time I turn on my laptop. The row of post-its on the bottom of my work computer helps keep me on track when I’m on several different deadlines at once. I believe in taking methodical approaches to big goals. One step at a time.

Don’t believe me? Consider the “latte effect.” In the world of personal finance, the latte effect is used as proof that many of us can, in fact, afford to save up for a rainy day. If you buy a latte a day, five days a week, at $5 a cuppa, that’s $1,300 in one year. Save that money instead, and you’re off to a good start with your savings. In 10 years, you’ve saved $13,000—not too shabby. (I feel obliged to add a disclaimer. I am not Suze Orman and am in no way qualified to give financial advice.)

But imagine if we sat down and said, “I need to save $13,000.” That figure is overwhelming. Maybe 10 years (120 months) is overwhelming. If we think of it instead as $5/day, $25/week, it becomes tangible. Most of us will never hold $13,000 in cash. But $5 or $25 is far more accessible.

Whether we’re saving for a rainy day or writing toward a finished novel, we can use the same approach. The latte effect shows how a little bit of effort each day can add up to a decent chunk of savings over the long haul. What if we wrote 500 words a day or for 30 minutes daily? Over the course of a year, if we write six days a week at 500 words, that’s 156,000 words. Suddenly, writing a novel doesn’t seem so daunting.

I was drawn toward A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) because it’s the “writing challenge that knows you have a life.” I can’t do NaNoWriMo because I’ve taught every fall for the past few years. And the last few weeks of the semester, the beginning of the holiday season, and the writing community’s version of the Insanity Workout don’t mix well. I still managed to write an estimated 125,000 words last year—and that’s not counting back-story, deleted scenes, etc. Little steps, big goals. So I’m hopping into ROW80 because it’s exactly my kind of challenge: set your own goals, and stick with them. It’s not a one-size-fits-all deal.

So here are my ROW80 goals. Feel free to hold me to ‘em. 😉

1.)  Write 3,000 words per week on Pierce My Heart. The story, which started off as a longer short story, is now a full-fledged novella. We’ll see where it goes from there.

2.)  Blog three times per week. Expect to see me on Wednesdays and Sundays for ROW80 check-in, as well as on Fridays.

3.)  Revise the Pierce My Heart synopsis. Don’t expect that one until closer to March, as I revise and expand the story.

So, now it’s your turn. What are your goals for 2012? How are you approaching them?

revising, Uncategorized, writing updates

A New Critique Service for Writers:

So I just received word that YA writer and my crit partner Kathleen Foucart has unveiled her new website and her critique service is now open for business. Kathleen and I met in graduate school and have been critiquing each other’s work ever since. She is a talented writer and an amazing person, someone who’s well-read and who has the patience to follow a manuscript from the seed of an idea to a fully grown and well-polished story.

In celebration of the launch of her new website, Kathleen is offering a chance to win one of two free first-chapter critiques (contest open now through Oct. 6). So make sure to pop over, find out more about the contest, and say hi. Read more here.

In other writing news, when I’m not grading papers or writing/editing for the magazine, I’m making my way through revising Pierce My Heart. Grading papers reminds me of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Those mops keep appearing and appearing and appearing. This semester, papers seem to do the same thing. Thank goodness for pastries and coffee; they’ve seen me through plenty of cram sessions as a writer, a student, and a teacher!

I’m pondering jumping into the next round of A Round of Words in 80 Days. Kristen Lamb is offering a “Blog to Build Your Brand” workshop in October and November, and I’ll be doing that is well. It’s going to be a busy rest of the year, but hopefully 2012 sees me querying manuscripts. I’ll be querying Pierce My Heart, at minimum.

Side Note: The Autumn Reads Amazon gift-card contest is open through Oct. 8, if you’re interested.

And now…

This Week’s Dash of Awesomesauce: Cool posts from around the Web