Writing Wednesday: Death by Deadline

January Jones, inspiration for my Blurb to Book heroine, Cordelia

January Jones, inspiration for my Blurb to Book heroine, Cordelia

It’s been a busy month of April for me. I found out halfway through that I had made stage 2 of the Blurb to Book contest and needed to come up with 3 chpaters and a synopsis by May 1st. Cue excitement and basking in the awesomeness that is me. *basking* Then I pulled out my calendar. I had about three weeks to accomplish this feat. Three weeks was plenty of time! I’d written the rough draft of a novel in a month! I could so do this!

Here’s the thing: as great as NaNoWriMo and other programs like it (like Seekerville’s Speedbo in March and Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July) can be, these are goals, not deadlines. We can treat them as deadlines, but they aren’t hard and fast. Neither are my personal deadlines. If I don’t make one, I’m inclined to give myself a break. I will take days off to rest and let the story “flow.” I’m artsy that way, y’all. I can’t rush my brillance (hence why Altered before the Altar was 4 years in the making).

Now I have a deadline from an actual editing team that wants to see my well-written, well plotted, make-them-hungry-for-more proposal. This Friday. As in the day after tomorrow… and everything that has breath inside of me has hit the panic button.

I used to be one of those writers who didn’t sweat a deadline. I was the last minute maverick of all things awesome in 24hrs or less. I pulled greatness out of some sweaty, past their best by date places searching for inspiration in the 23rd hour. I’ve hit print on papers with less than five minutes before class and gotten more than one plus (+) behind my “A” for the effort. But this deadline just might kill me.

I could blame it on being older and knowing that it’s important to have time to revise, etc., but I think it has more to do with the perceived stakes. I’ve never doubted before that I was a great writer; I’ve been told that my entire life. Now I’m not as sure as I was before. I question every word on every page. My perfectionist streak has struck with a vengence. I need every comma to be perfect. This is my LAST chance, you guys!

Except…it’s not. In fact, since I made it to this stage, I’m guaranteed personalized feedback from my dream editors at Harlequin, feedback that could lead to a sale even if I don’t make the next round. I thought that whole “publishing contract by 30” ship had sailed and I was over it, but it turns out that since I’m thirty until February 24th of next year, my brain has picked up on the fact I could still be contracted in that time and is PARALYZED by ALL THE FEARS.

Somewhere in the last few days, I’d stop having fun with my writing. I’d made it into a chore that I’d be graded on. I was making my characters do what I thought might interest the editors even though they were screaming at me they weren’t those kinds of people. Then they stopped talking to me at all. I had to decide that in addition to turning in the requested materials by a deadline, I wanted to turn in something that represented me–my unique voice and characters, give them more of that stuff that sparked their interest in stage one and make it even better.

So…I cut scenes. WHOLE SCENES. DAYS BEFORE A DEADLINE. I slashed anything that didn’t feel write. I gave myself permission to write crap, but crap that at least sounded like me, crap I could make not so crappy. I threw out the rules to write and then picked them up to edit. And by George, I think I’m going to make the deadline knowing I gave them MY best.

What about you? Do deadlines motivation you or paralyze you? How do you ensure that you meet deadlines?

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Hello from social media fast land! I’ve been off of social media for about a week now and have been feeling free and much clearer. I’ve had this post scheduled for weeks now and couldn’t wait to get it out for you guys. I’ve been seeing many others writing on this and wanted to jump in for some time. I hope you enjoy reading about my process. I will tag some people to continue the blog tour when I am back on social media at the end of this week. 

 

1. What am I working on now? I am working on two inspirational romance stories that I am putting into contests to receive feedback on before submitting. The first, Pleasure’s Payne, I have been working on the idea for off and on for nearly ten years. I finally started seriously writing it during So You Think You Can Write last year. After some advice on twitter and other social media from the Love Inspired line editors, I decided to revise the beginning. I love this story. A young woman who recently lost her father is trying to overcome her grief and retain the presidency of her father’s company in the face of opposition from the executive board and the underhanded tactics of her father’s second in command. The hero is a disgraced doctor trying to start fresh in a new town. Through mistaken deliveries and divine intervention, these two wounded souls meet and begin to heal each other.
The second story, #LoveThyEnemy, is the story of a man attempting to move on from a tragic past who runs into a woman he greatly wronged. He sees the meeting as divine intervention, a way for him to atone for some of his past misdeeds; she sees it as the death kneel of her dreams for a new start in a new town free of her past. She wants nothing from him but to be left alone and to finally be rid of her attraction to him, but he’s determined to earn her forgiveness and keep a lid on his attraction to her.
2. How does my writing differ from others of its genre? I would have to say that my writing has greatly benefitted from my life experiences, which no other book in my genre has. For example, I drew on my experiences dealing with my stepfather’s passing to shape the heroine’s grief in Pleasure’s Payne. I drew on a failure of mine that cost me my academic career to frame the hero’s journey in that story. In #LoveThyEnemy, the tragic past the hero and heroine share is centered around an incident that I have personally experienced and draws on that experience and the experiences of close family.
My inspirational stories tend to deal a lot with redemption, forgiveness, and trust. I like to turn stubborn hearts and minds, to give them faith, hope, and love. For my non-inspirational stories, I tend to deal a lot with identity, w ho someone really is, what they are hiding of themselves, and how who they are and what they do affects those they love. None of these concepts are new, but I try to present them in a new light. I love to take a trope and find new twists to add to them. I hope my voice is fresh and adds a new spin on things.
3. Why do I write what I do? A lot of my writing comes from things I’m trying to work through in my own life. I love that finding ways to get my characters to their happily ever after shows me possibilities and ways to move forward in my own life. I write what I like to read. I love love. I like how love can inspire us to grow and change and make painful decisions that need to be made, all for someone else. I love how love is daring and accepts the possibility that the other person may not return their affections. I am endlessly fascinated with people, and how two wounded, frightened, doubting creatures can find something that can transform them. I believe the Bible is the greatest love story ever told, and I like to create stories that show a tiny bit of what love does for us on a smaller scale amongst ourselves, with a little help from God.
4. How does your writing process work? Gah! Do I have to answer this question? I don’t really have a process. I’ve already talked about my non-process for revisions here. An image, line of dialogue or a concept usually gets stuck in my head. I take this very ordinary thing and play the “what if” game with it until I have something I can turn into a full story. I come up with some characters and play around with them in my head until I have a basic plot. I write a basic outline that has the status quo, what changes, a few plot points that I feel have to be included, and possible fixes to plot points that might be an issue. I will also identify possible first lines, climax and a possible resolution, but these change from time to time. Then I begin putting words on the page.
As for my writing routine, I try to get up at 5am each morning (some mornings more successfully than others), spend a few minutes reading the most recent words to get the flow, consult my outline, and get writing. I print out my morning’s words and proofread them at lunch or after work. I may input the corrections to the document that night or the next morning before continuing with new words. I’ve been off my routine recently, writing whenever I can in between revisions as I am preparing pages for contest entries, but I’m hoping to be back on track again soon.
I’ll select someone to continue the blog tour and update this entry tomorrow morning. If you would like to participate and haven’t been asked yet, let me know.
XOXO,
Erica

Writing From Experience…

I had an idea on my way to the Central Florida Romance Writers meeting on Saturday, February 2nd for a story in the Always series, and I wanted to try and share a bit of the process of how I come up with ideas. The only problem with this is that I came up with this idea a bit differently than usual. Luckily the past week also yielded a  completely new idea, so I can give you two different ways I come up with them. On my way to the CFRW meeting, I realized that over a year has passed since my car accident. That accident was one of the most terrifying incidents of my life and effects the way I drive to this day. Traffic was semi-heavy and there was some rain on the road, not at all the conditions when I had my accident. As I began to reflect on my accident and the surrounding events and remember other bad accidents involving family members and drunk drivers that didn’t end as well (yes, the other driver was drunk at the time), I began shifting my experience around and around in my brain, playing a game of “What if?” with  the accidents. What if I hadn’t survived that accident? What if it was a family member of mine that received those frustrating notices of continuance, dragging out the trial of the drunk driver that had killed their loved one? Drunk driving convictions are far too lenient, even in cases of vehicular manslaughter; what if the person responsible for the accident was released and my family member saw them somewhere? What if they asked for forgiveness? As Christians, my family would have to forgive them; but how?

I had the framework for the concept of the story before this trip: a young woman who holds a man responsible for her sister’s death and runs into him. He sees it as divine intervention, as an opportunity to make amends and to ask her forgiveness. But as I was on my way to the meeting, it finally entered my head to use my personal experience, split among a few characters, to convey it this way. I know that car accidents have been used in movies and books frequently, but by using details of my own accident, I can make it both more realistic and more unique.

The brand new idea started out when I was reading about one of my favorite romantic tropes: the marriage of convenience. I love this trope, but it’s been done to death by far better writers than me. I thought about writing one of my own, but I knew if I did, I would have to come up with a fresh take on the idea somehow. So as I sat doing sums at work, I let my mind wonder across all the reasons that a person could be looking to get into a marriage of convenience that I’d ever read about, and my main male character began listing them to my heroine as reasons he thought she was proposing a marriage of convenience to him. My heroine refuted every reason he came up with, exclaiming that he read too many romance novels. “Actually, I watch too many soap operas and Lifetime movies with my mother,” he retorted, nonplussed, and continued to name reasons until she spilled why she wanted a marriage of convenience, illiciting an argument from him that she wasn’t going to be happy with the results if she went forward with her plans. I wrote out the scene and put it away to mull over where I could go with the story. Once I knew what my heroine was after, a slightly different take on the trope began to come together for me. Even though I have never extended anyone a marriage of convenience, my heroine’s motivation for offering one to the hero, and the  reason he tries to refute her notions, are both my own sentiments, sentiments I have been wrestling with for some time.

Those are two examples of how I come up with stories. How do you come up with your ideas?

In other writing related news: I joined RWA and the local affiliate chapter, Central Florida Romance Writers, this weekend! I’ve sent in two reviews over at Harlequin Junkie, and I’ll post links when the are up. I’ve also extended one of the three scenes that I identified as needing extensions for Delivering Justice. I am still plugging away and trying to make the manuscript sing. I should know this week if I was selected as an entry into the Blind Speed Dating agents round, and if not, I’ll be submitting DJ around on my birthday. There’s a lot to do either way.

Off to a busy day at the office, but I’m looking forward to sharing more reviews here, as well as more about my writing and writing related news.

XOXO,

Erica

The Bad Beginnings Blues

Pictograms of Olympic sports - Tug of war. Thi...

This is what I've been doing all weekend... Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been engaged in a tug of war with my brain. There’s an idea lurking in there that I have one end of, while the other end is tucked into one of those little squiggly lines on my brains surface. I try to pull it out, but my brain is not letting it go. It won’t allow me to fully realize this idea I have in my head, an idea I know will be epic, if I can just get it out

Let’s back up to the beginning of this tale. I accepted a challenge from Cordelia to write more often and actually finish some projects this year. I was excited at the prospect of having someone to bounce ideas off of, to proofread my work, to tell me whether or not a piece needed to be reworked for the eightieth time, to tell me when something is crap and should be flushed down the toilet. I even had a solid story to start with.

I didn’t think the story needed much tweaking, only, the story I was telling didn’t seem finished. The thing’s I wanted to tell didn’t fit the story I had, though, because of the focus. After mulling this over a bit, I came up with an amazing idea. One that would fix my little dilemma, but create a slew of others.

The story I’m referring to is Candy Apples. Candy Apples is one woman’s struggle with a specific kind of addiction. She is in a support group with other individuals, two of which she interacts with regularly. The problem was, as I reader, I wanted to know more about these other women. The glimpses of them I saw in this story were so compelling, I had to know their stories. But this wasn’t their stories. Through several days of thinking and plotting, I came to the conclusion each woman needed her own story. They were strong enough to stand on their own. If the stories unfolded in such a way, I could even share certain events in Candy Apples from their perspective.

Then my mind ventured on and came up with a frame work for the other stories, which led to the realization other stories, and a little research, were needed. All of this was falling together and working out seemlessly. I ended up starting to examine one of these women’s stories, where I wanted to start, where it fit in my framework, what symbols and motifs would be important, etc. Finally, I was ready to start writing.

Only nothing came out.

This never happens to me.

I usually have spectacular first lines of my stories that start right in the thick of things and really set the tone for the story. This is especially true of Candy Apples. In the creative writing class I was in when I wrote it, one thing everyone agreed on was how awesome that opening line was. But somewhere along the way, I’ve seemed to have lost my first line mojo. I blame it on planning.

I’ve talked about what part of a story I get first here. It’s usually one of two things–a character or an opening line. Rarely is it a plot or a scenario. I’ve also talked about planning ahead versus going with the flow. I usually go with the flow and plan where necessary. This time, I had a strong character, already established in another story. This time, I’ve plotted out many of the important plot points and I know where I want to end the story. This time, I can’t think of an opening line to save my life.

The opening line has to grab the reader’s attention. It has to be interesting and intriguing, yet subtle and alluring. It has to invite you to read more without giving the game away. It has to seduce. In short, it has to work. This is especially true in a short story, as you only have so much time to establish a scenario and characters before you have to get things rolling.

I’m at a crisis point, a major stumbling block, very early in this story. Could it be I’ve lost my first line mojo for good? Does anyone have any tried and true techniques for crafting opening lines? Do you know of any good articles I can read on the subject? How can I wrest this opening line from the slimy recesses of my brain-squiggles?

Pick Up The Pace!

Freytag's Pyramid, which illustrates dramatic ...

Freytag's Pyramid the "arc" of a story. Image via Wikipedia

One of the hardest things for me as a writer is pacing my stories. Have you ever been reading a great story and getting really involved with the plot when all of a sudden, the author slows the momentum down with a bunch of description? Sometimes, you just skip over to more dialogue or action suffer through it. I find sometimes that it’s information that I need, I just wish it wasn’t there, slowing down the action.

That’s not the aspect of pacing that I have a problem with in my own writing (or at least it’s not the aspect I’m talking about today 😉 ). I’m talking about the pace of the story in general–keeping the plot moving along and not letting the story drag in parts (OK, well I am talking about the situation I just mentioned–only, while that interruption is necessary, if ill placed, what I’m referring to is not.).

I find that the longer a piece is, the harder it is to keep the story moving along at a good pace. Either it comes across too rushed, or it is too lackadaisical and has the consistency of molasses. I want to have a fluid story, but not Niagara Falls for hundreds of pages.

How do you change the pace in your work? Is it all about the verb tense to you? Is it the placement of descriptive passages as opposed to action and dialogue? Do you work through rising action, climax and falling action by chapter to keep each chapter moving? What techniques do you use to set the correct pace for a piece?

For me, I try to keep the longer descriptions before the major action, usually at the beginning of a chapter. I will describe a room the main character is in, for example, before another character enters and begins talking. I use the beginning of a chapter to set the scene (as quickly and concisely as the piece allows) before jumping back into the fray. However, this doesn’t always work, and I’m curious to see how other writers handle this issue.

The Chicken or the Egg?

A-Character

Image via Wikipedia

What part of a story do you “get” first? What do you choose to develop first? Is it a character, the plot, a setting? How do you begin getting creative?

If you’re like me, there’s no set answer to this question. My first novel attempt, with the working title Colorblind (no, this is not my NaNoWriMo novel), did not begin in my head with any characters or a plot, but with a house. I described the house, then in popped a character. Why was she going to the house? What’s so important about this house?

For my NaNoWriMo Novel, the idea came first. What if someone lied about their lives for years and were about to be found out? Would they just give up and admit it? Once I had my MC, I knew that she might fold and not do it. But then in came her best friend, and I knew I had something to work with.

What comes first, the name or the noun? Do you have in mind a specific type of character or place, then name it, or do you name it first and build around things associated with the name? Again, with me this is far from a concrete process. Sometimes I hear a name and build a character around it; sometimes I develop a character and find a name to suit. Neither way seems to work better or worse for me.

It all depends on the story. There are some stories that I’ve written that I wouldn’t have written had I known at the beginning what they would be about; I have to be eased into the weighty topics. Sometimes, I get ideas and I think to myself, I don’t have the talent/skill set/time to do justice to this. But then I’ll have a character or setting and start writing, and the same idea will work its way in. Now the idea can be worked with a bit. Now maybe I can do it.

Tell me about your writing process. Where do you begin? What do you find works best when developing a story? Do you have a different process for novels than you do for short stories? What about poetry?