A day in the life

I’ve had my rear end planted firmly in my chair this past week, facing my computer. My fingers have been busy, my mind more so.

Yes, I’ve been writing. More than I have all summer. There are two incentives: one, yard work has slowed down and two, I have novels to finish.

I’d planned on revising a story I started a couple of years ago. My beta readers liked it, but I wasn’t satisfied. Nor could I get even a nibble from publishers. I decided I needed to twist the basic plot. I think it’s stronger, more believable, but I need some feedback before I publish. (For many reasons, I decided to self-publish this one.)

Second, I sent out a query for another book and got the response that if I made the last chapters stronger the editor was willing to take another look. This is a reversal of my first submissions where I was told the throw out the first chapters and start in the middle of the story (which was where it really began). So I’ve been working on that, too.

And,  my friends/fans have asked for a sequel to “Riverbend.” I have an idea in the back of my head, but that means writing two books, not one, to make the sequel(s) work. It looks like a busy winter.

And, it’s more than writing. If I self-publish, I need to create my own cover. I’ve been going through sites like Flickr Commons, Dreamstime, Free Range Stock, etc., to find a picture that matched the idea in my head. I found the perfect one, but it was copyrighted, and there was no contact information so I could ask the artist for permission, or to pay, to use it. Sigh. I will keep looking or I may have to find a commercial cover artist to do it, which is expensive. However, I’m told the cover makes the book, even though we are warned not to judge a book by its cover. The world is filled with conflicting advice.

Oh, and a title. That’s another hurdle, trying to think of a few words that instantly let the reader know what the book is about. I’ve been playing with that, too. Sometimes titles come instantly, ready to go, and sometimes, as with this book, it’s elusive and needs to be teased into being.

And so it goes. As any writer will tell you, it’s more than putting words on paper. I won’t even get into the submission process, editing, and promotion.

And meanwhile, I will need to rake leaves pretty soon. That’s all right, I do my best thinking while working on a physical task. There must be a relationship between muscle and brain. Exercise one and you stimulate the other.

So, right now I’m getting ready to attend a workshop on writing the short story. I don’t write short stories often, but I’m sure I”ll learn more about writing in general.

And that, my friends, is the writing life. Filled with ups and downs, rejections and offers of a contract, decisions, details, and all the other mundane activities that in no way decrease the joy of seeing your story come to life.

 

 

 

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Family secrets

Secrets and lies. Every family has them. Events are omitted purposefully from the family history, questionable relatives are white-washed, stories are half-told or not at all.

This makes for great reading. We want to know why and who and how. We cheer the plucky heroine as she unravels the mysteries of the past to explain the present.

I’ve been playing with writing our family history. I say playing because, like the tablecloth I’ve been cross-stitching for 50 years or more, I pick it up and put it down again, leaving it for months at a time. I could tell the story with no trouble. It’s what I put in and what I leave out that makes me give up and go to something else.

There are amusing anecdotes that come easily. But how do I write the sometimes horrendous events that also make our family who we are? Does posterity really want to know? Do they need to know? Or should some secrets stay buried until they are pushed so deep that no one remembers?

It’s easier when you are writing about fictitious characters. They can be as angelic or evil as our imaginations can paint them. Their stories hurt no one except other fictitious characters. And as the author of their imaginary lives, we can heal them with our words.

But in real life, the truth can hurt. It changes how we feel about not just our forebears, but about ourselves. If they are not who we thought they were, then we are not who we thought we were.

So I write a few pages and then come to a stopping point when I realize I don’t really want to include some things. I wrestle with the necessity for telling the whole truth or not telling the story at all. I hope some day I will be brave enough to include the ugly as well as the noble.

It’s much easier to write fiction.

 

 

An island never cries

I didn’t expect the response I received after posting last week, both here and on Facebook. My goal was to say that we can turn our emotions, even such raw ones as grief, to  make our writing more authentic.

I didn’t intend to imply that my grief was somehow more deep or valid than anyone else’s. The truth is, at some point we are all going to hit that wall head-on and stagger into a new and confusing reality. And it hurts. There is no “more than” or “less than.” It just hurts.

We will lose those we love. There is no way to sugar coat this fact or turn it  into a euphemism. We will eventually lose our parents. We will lose siblings. Of the three of us, my brother, the youngest, was the first to go. My sister and I couldn’t understand it. We still can’t.

We will lose dear friends and people we admire but don’t know in spite of feeling a close connection to them.

Each loss is another blow, another chipping away at a heart already wounded.

How can you avoid this pain? It isn’t easy, but you can close yourself off. You can be like the subject of Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “I Am a Rock” and tell yourself a rock feels no pain … and an island never cries.Related image

You can distance yourself and avoid intimacy. You can turn your heart to stone.

But is it worth it in the end?

Wouldn’t you rather have had your parents, your spouse, your friend, in spite of the loss? Isn’t the memory of their love dearer than an island’s isolation?

Life hurts, my friends. If it doesn’t, you aren’t living.

But life also holds great joy and grace.

Hold on to that instead of your grief. Grief will diminish (although it never goes away), but joy and grace only increase if you let them.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 

 

The necessary break

This past week, I was at the beach … St. Simons Island, to be exact. Shopping, eating sea food, walking on the beach, floating in the pool, exploring historic sites, and enjoying the company of my oldest son and daughter-on-law. Also the three granddogs.

And not even thinking of writing.

Bruno loves the beach. So many new friends to meet, so many birds to chase, and lovely water to wade in.

I didn’t check my sales, do any  searches for publishers or agents, or even plan out my next book.

Nope, I relaxed. Read a little, talked, walked the dogs.

And I didn’t feel even a little bit guilty.

We all need to take a break once in awhile. I’m pretty sure even those writers who stay at their desks for 8-10 hours a day, seven days a week, take a break.

Otherwise we would stagnate. We can live in our imaginations only so long before we need to refuel, and we do that by re-entering the real world.

We see things that spark our creativity, see people who could be characters in our book (and  maybe we don’t  jot the details down, but that hairdo, or tattoo, or outfit may just find itself in a description), and overhear conversations that pique our curiosity.

And don’t forget the wonderful sounds and scents we encounter. The tang of salt air, the fragrance of roses, the gentle roll of the surf … all add grist to our mill.

I am home now, ready to get to work. I’m energized when only a week ago I was busy finding excuses not to move my project forward.

If you find yourself bogged down and can’t find the time for a week or even a few days away from your WIP, you can take a mini-break by going for a walk, seeing a movie, or calling a friend and meeting her (or him) for  a glass of tea and conversation. A few hours away from your desk (or wherever you write best) won’t detract from your work.

It might even make it better.

 

 

The journey to “the end”

Our writers’ club instituted a new challenge about a year ago. We make goal for the next month and throw in 25 cents each. Winner of the draw, if he or she accomplished their goal, takes the pot.

No one has won in the last six months. Maybe our goals are too lofty. I’ve had to confess I missed my goal (but I don’t confess by how much) the last few times.

Image result for goals, the end

In May, I wrote that my goal was to finish the edits on my WIP.  I was fairly confident I would be able to do this. I’m pleased to announce I did.

I will be even more pleased to announce it when we meet this afternoon.

It seems that when I begin a a story I procrastinate. I can find more excuses to do something else — anything else –than sit down and write. It’s achingly slow. I delete more words than I write. I moan and groan and decide this story was a mistake and I will never finish.

But somehow, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter, it grinds its way to the end.

Then I start the second draft process. The bare bones of the story take on a new life. I add conflict, flesh out the characters’ backstory, add a few twists just for the fun of it.

I’m not creating the story any more. I’m just hanging on for the ride. Instead of forcing myself to sit down at my desk, I am looking forward to it. Phone calls are no longer a welcome interruption, but a distraction. I love how my characters lead me down new paths of discovery.

I know this is the opposite of what I hear from other writers. For them, it is the first draft that comes easily, and the re-writing that becomes the chore.

The trick is not to become so engrossed in re-writing that I spend the next 10 years rearranging paragraphs and adding and subtracting plots and characters. I have to know when I’m done.

So when I’m asked if I reached my goal, I can say yes. But the truth is, the goal was never the point.

It was the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best-laid plans…

I decided that while the weather was a little cooler I would paint the front deck and ramp.  I should have realized that if it took four

My son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons busy painting the deck and ramp. I had the trim on the house painted last year, so now I’m painting the deck to match.

people a full day to paint it, it might take me a little longer. So I painted for three days and then today I ran out of paint. So I’m taking a break and writing this.

You may think painting has nothing to do with writing, which is what this blog is about unless I digress (as I did last week), but it really does.

 

Painting, mowing the yard, ironing clothes … that’s when I do my writing because that’s when my mind is free to imagine.

I promised a few weeks ago I would let you know how my Amazon advertising campaign went. The truth is, it never started. I signed up for their marketing plan in which they put an ad for your book on other sites so that when people are searching for something they see your ad and think, “Hmm, maybe I’ll click on this.” Then they go to your page, fall in love with your book description, and buy it. The idea is that you pay so much for each click.

 

I am not out a dime. No one clicked. Not even me when I saw the ad for “Riverbend” while searching for summer sandals.

Maybe it was the cover. Maybe it didn’t appeal, or get anyone’s attention. Maybe people looking for shoes don’t get sidetracked and think, “Oh look! a book!”

 

 

Who knows why it didn’t work?

I did submit the book for a review in InD’tale magazine and a review was recently published in Uncaged magazine. Reviews help but it does take a long time to get them.

So as far as marketing, I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. Sometimes something works and sometimes it doesn’t.

As I said, I”m not looking to spend a heap of money because I don’t have heaps of money lying around. So I have to do the free stuff, like annoy all my friends with posts on Facebook and Twitter.

And the second best thing, which is write another book. Each time I put a book out there, I think this is the one that will get noticed and then people will look at my others books and then I will be a NYT’s Best Seller and…

Pop! See that daydream vanish in mid air?

 

Seriously, I do have a small coterie of fans and they are already asking when the next book will be ready. So maybe I should be content to be a big (well, middling-sized) frog in a very little pool.

It’s not a bad place to be.

 

 

The rocky road

No, I’m not talking about ice cream, although I love ice cream as well as anybody I know.  Since this is a blog about writing, you’ve probably guessed I’m talking about the rocky road to publication.

I’ve been fortunate to find a publisher who believed in my work, and disappointed when, due to financial difficulties,  that publisher went out of business. I found another, but they only do e-books. Correction, they will do a print version when your sales reach X number of dollars. Alas, mine have not attained that pinnacle.

So I decided to self-publish my latest book, Riverbend,  in both print and Kindle. I say Kindle and not e-book because I am trying another experiment, and that is listing the e-book version on KDP Select. Some authors say it has worked well for them, and others maybe not so much. We’ll see how that works out and I promise I’ll get back to you with the results.

Like you, I attend workshops and conferences and try to figure out what gives a writer the most exposure, or should I say return on investment? Do  you cajole, threaten and blackmail friends and relations to post reviews so you will be eligible to submit to the giant among e-book promoters, Book Bub? And then pay hundreds of dollars for an ad IF you are accepted?

Do you find sites that post banner ads for a sum of money and pray that someone sees them?  Or do you pursue book reviewers and hope their influence will increase your sales?

I’ve tried all of these (well not, Book Bub because no matter what I do, I can’t get to that magic number of reviews.) I’ve spent money and time, only to be disappointed. People say they like the book, the reviews that are posted are good to excellent, but sales are dismal.

This time I’m trying a new feature introduced by Amazon. For a fee (of course) they will place strategic ads on their pages advertising your book. You can pay as much or as little as you want, and run your campaign for one day or to  infinity. I thought I’d get on board because isn’t it in Amazon’s best interest to sell books?

I’ll let  you know how that works out, also.

Meanwhile, keeping my fingers crossed and working on my next book.

 

 

 

 

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