New writing exercise

I’ve been taking a break from longer works to explore a new medium for me: ABC books.  I’ve been playing with different ones and find the process rather fun and challenging.  I can often crank one out in an evening or two, so I feel like I’m being productive.

I do wish I could write macros.  I’d write one to generate the entire alphabet in “A is for” format.  As it is, I’ve just been opening my last manuscript and deleting all the words for each letter.  Doesn’t take THAT long, but it is a smidge annoying.

I’m not just listing random words or even words within a theme.  I do pick a theme, but I try to use them to tell a story, imagining what an illustrator might do with these clues.  It’s a nice exercise in brevity and simplicity.

For a writer, I’m not that good at coming up with specific words.  I’m horrible at Scrabble, Boggle, Quiddler, any word game.  I spend a lot of time at these sites:

With Word Hippo I use the “What is another word for” function a lot, since I know what MEANING I want, but can’t always think of a synonym beginning with the appropriate letter.  

Phrontistery I love for the wonderful obscure words, AND that it lists the definitions right there.  So many sites I ran across would give you a list of words by letter, but no definitions!  Downside is the words here are rather obscure, but why not stretch kids’ (and parents’!) vocabulary?

No idea if these will go anywhere, publication-wise, but at least I’m having fun!

In other news, I FINALLY emptied the last box in my office!  Hope to resume my recap of the great office redesign soon.




Change of Pace

At the beginning of the month I found out that I didn’t even place an honorable mention in the writing contest.  That was, I will admit, a blow.  I was so sure that I was going to at least make it to the finals.  That really shook my confidence.  After moping for a little while I decided that I needed to break myself out of my comfort zone.  I’ve become too dependent on applying to work-for-hire projects that I felt like I was forgetting how to write my own stories.  I decided to shake things up and declare March my own PiBoWriMo (Picture Book Writing Month).  A friend suggested that since March contains “Pi Day” that I should call this PiPiBoWriMo.  That appealed to my engineering side, so it was thus named.  My personal challenge was to a) complete, roughtly, a picture book each week and b) come up with a picture book idea each day during the month of March.

I’ve never been a picture book writer.  When they’ve been required for classes I’ve always found them INCREDIBLY difficult to write.  They’re so hard to write and write WELL that I’ve always found MG and YA better suited for the stories I wanted to tell.  But I wasn’t moving anywhere on the YA I’m currently working on, so I wanted to change things up.  I gave myself permission to be absolutely HORRIBLE.  And boy, did I need it.

My first week’s attempt was horrible.  Awful.  Disastrous.  I think.  My crit group hasn’t had a chance to look at it, but I find it rather silly and stupid.  Perhaps with editing it might be improved, but the point was to keep going with the picture books and don’t look back.  I’m glad I didn’t give up after that first horrid attempt because I’m quite pleased with the book I’m writing now (and hope to finish by the end of today).  It’s a very different book from the first, and one I don’t think I could have written before being a Mom.  The first one, yes, I totally could have written pre-Mom days.  This new one, though, is obviously influenced by reading so many picture books to the Wyrmling.  The reading aloud has made all the difference, I think.  That’s something I don’t often “get.”  Not just because I didn’t use to read aloud, but also because I speed read and don’t “hear” words in my head as I read.  I’m really liking this one and might end up submitting it to a magazine when finished.  

So.  The point of this post.  If you have a big setback, especially on something that you felt very confident about, try to shake yourself out of your comfort zone.  It’s worth it.  Always.  


The Great Office Redesign: Molding

I will admit, I’m overly fond of gingerbread.  Not just the yummy cookies or cake-like bread, but detail, detail, detail.  I’d been drooling over the molding below for YEARS (ever since my husband started work on our library; whose development I think I’ll blog if I ever finish the office saga!) and with my office, I had an excuse to buy it!

If you hadn’t guessed by now, my favorite color is purple.  So I used a purple wood stain for the molding.  Here is a picture of the molding before and after: 



And here’s a nice close-up:


I never stained wood in my life until my husband re-did our dining room.  There’s something very soothing about it: you spread the stain on thick with a foam brush, then take a rag and wipe all the excess off.  I believe I did two coats of these and was glad I did, as the second coat really made the carving pop.

Once the stain was dry, my husband took over and nailed it to the window:



I’d like to take a moment to interject how LONG this project took.  The pictures of the stained wood are from August 13, 2012.  The pictures of the molding on the window was October 27, 2012.  Office perfection does not happen overnight!

Now, if you look closely, you’ll see that there’s a second, plainer strip of molding around the window.  That is because, when we put up the rose molding, we realized that it did not entirely cover the gap between the window and the wall (the old molding was wider).  My brilliant husband had the idea to add a second, narrow strip of molding.  It was a happy accident, as I think it looks a lot nicer with it! Alas, I don’t have a before picture, but here’s a picture of the doors:



I love it!  The only problem is, I like LOOKING at the window molding so much I haven’t had the heart to put up any curtains, and it’s a year and a half later!




After a long absence, we now resume our recap of redesigning an office/writing space.  Last entry I did about this covered removing wallpaper.  What comes after stripping walls?  Why, covering them back up, of course!  In this case, covering them up with purple paint.



And, in the case of the closet, pink!



I felt like I was inside a Pepto-Bismal bottle when I was painting this.

Immediately after painting the walls, I began covering up my lovely purple paint job with cabinets.




Because the office is so small, I’m having a horrible time getting a picture that really captures the cabinets.  I love them.  They’re a simple white laminate from IKEA that was very easy to install.  They have adjustable shelves, which is a MUST for any shelving system I use.  And because they’re so plain, I’m finding it very easy to tape pictures to them, so any wall space I sacrificed, I gained back with usable cabinet doors for decorating.  I’m a bit of a fantasy picture junkie, so they’re getting covered quickly.  I’ll post pictures of those later, since I’m trying to keep my picture posting chronological, even if the posts move back and forth through time.  As you can tell by the dates on the photos, those are all from WAY back.  Right now, my office is 90% completed (just need to have my husband make a window box for plants and for me to paint the doors) and I’m still moving in.  I emptied the LAST BOX (ok, I didn’t find a home for everything, as the mess on the floors and countertops attests, but the boxes that lined the hall and our sitting room WERE OUT AND EMPTIED!  And then the VERY next day I came back from my in-law’s house (we’re getting ready to sell their house and are clearing things out) with three big boxes of fabric and other craft materials.  Oops.   


Please secure your own mask before helping others

As you can probably deduce by the length of time since my last post, I’m a smidge overwhelmed at the moment.  I have resumed writing (yay!) and also joined a second critique group.  I’ve been with an in-person critique group for years (we’ve gone through a couple evolutions, but some of the core people are still there) and really enjoy our every-other-week meetings.  Sometimes we meet at a house (usually mine), sometimes we Skype.  But it’s face time with fellow writers, reading stories that I want to help nurture and grow so they can be sent out into the world and make loads of money for my friends and I get a note in the acknowledgments.

A couple months ago, a former professor of mine said she was starting an online critique group.  I leapt at the chance to join this; she runs a wonderful class and I was really looking forward to getting feedback from her and the other people she invited to join.  However, I soon found what I’d long suspected: online critique groups are not for me.  I like being able to talk about the stories; trying to compress everything into “Track Changes” on Word and a couple paragraphs just wasn’t working for me.  I managed to keep up with the critiques, then got very overwhelmed with things in September with various life events.  I kept having to put off and put off writing the critiques and the longer I did so the more they weighed on my mind.  I couldn’t write because I felt guilty not responding to people who’d offered me such wonderful feedback with wonderful feedback of my own.  I spent two hours today holed up in my office working on critiques and still have two more to go.  I came to the conclusion that, even if feedback is reciprocal, I can’t take on too many critiques.  

So with a heavy heart I emailed the online critique group and explained that I was unable to continue with group, at least at the present time.  I do hope to rejoin at some point in the future; we have a LOT going on in our lives now, plus I am staring at the contest deadline.  But if the purpose of a critique group is to help with your writing, what good is it if you get so overwhelmed with other people’s manuscripts that you neglect or, far worse, are unable to write your own?   I’ll finish up these last two,  because they weigh on me so much I find myself incapable of working on my own things, and then return to my own work and my ONE critique group.  Two is just too many.

Changing Channels

I’d been slowing down on one project (the one with a deadline), finding it harder to produce more words each day.  I’d only been working on it for the past ten days, since I’d had limited writing time.  Tonight I had a little more time, so I decided to hop between it and another story.  Eureka!  Things started flowing more easily.  I really should have at least two projects in rotation.

I don’t know why it took me so long to try this technique.  I’m never content with one thing when it comes to entertaining my brain.  I always read at least three books at a time.  I prefer listening to music on my own because I’ll start listening to one song, then decide to skip to the next.  I should have known that the output of my brain would function better on multiple channels, since that’s how I prefer my input.

Writing Work-Out (cue theme from “Rocky”)

Writing is a lot like exercise.  Who am I kidding, it’s EXACTLY like exercise (except I’m FAR more likely to write than work out).  During the month of July I’ve written every day, with July 4 being my only day off.  That is the most regular I’ve written since before I gave birth, almost 3 years ago.  Over the past couple months, I’d started writing again, but it was irregular and the words weren’t always coming.  Lately, though, three things happened. 

First, I found a project with a deadline.  Deadlines are ALWAYS good for me.  That’s why I love work-for-hire projects so much and why I ended up with three degrees in writing: I blossom under a deadline.  Self-imposed doesn’t work, but give me something that someone ELSE gave me (someone in the writing world; alas, my husband or friends or family won’t work!), and I will meet it. 

Second, I found not just one, not two, but THREE projects to work on!  Only one has a deadline, so that’s getting my full attention, but for a few days, I was actually working on three books at once.  That wasn’t nearly as confusing as it could be, especially since all of them were very different.  I actually found it refreshing: if I got stuck on one, I’d just flip to another one, write a bit on that, and then switch to yet another once I got stuck, and then keep bouncing around.  I doubt that would be a good process for me all the time, but for a few days it was fun.

Third, I committed myself to writing EVERY day.  100 word minimum.  Hard on some days, but I seem to be able to count on getting a bit of writing time every evening, either after hubby gets home and can watch the Wyrmling, or just after Wyrmling goes to sleep.  Many people swear by writing first thing in the morning, but that does NOT work for me.  Never has.  I’m finding that the more I write every day, the easier the words come.  I’ve set a 100 word min, but, as you can see by my writing spreadsheet below, I exceed that almost every day by more than double.  I scheduled out the deadline project to write 100 words every day so I’d be finished by Oct 1 (which would give me time to revise), but, as you can see by the numbers, I’m currently at 2,347 words and min goal by this date was 800.  Whoohoo! 

Not sure how long I’ll be able to keep this up, but it’s working for now!



Date Beginning Word Count Ending Word Count Words for Day Goal Worked On
07/02/13 0 810 810 100 Notes, Chapter 1
07/03/13 810 1038 228 200 Chapter 1
07/04/13 1038 1038 0 300  
07/05/13 1038 1272 234 400 Chapter 1
07/06/13 1272 1480 208 500 Chapter 1
07/07/13 1480 1613 133 600 Chapter 1
07/08/13 1613 1819 206 700 Chapter 2
07/09/13 1819 2347 528 800 Chapter 2

Inspiration in Work-for-Hire

Since 2006, about 75% or more of my writing time and energy has been spent on work-for-hire projects in a shared world.  While I do regret that I don’t have as much of my “own” stuff built up to give my agent (I really don’t have anything other than what she has polished enough to send out, so I’m scrambling these days, working on both a sequel and tossing around a new story idea I’ve been considering for a while), I don’t regret taking on work for hire at all.  Writing these projects is interesting, because, rather than just sitting myself down at a computer and starting to write a story and researching things as they come up (in my current WIP, I’ve had to make notes about researching the layout of lands surrounding abbeys, what root vegetables grew in medieval England, and whether or not church services were conducted in languages other than Latin for the common folk), I instead start with something that someone else has written.  Sometimes it’s a detailed book summary from which I need to write sample chapters.  Other times it’s looking through maps, timelines, and, best of all, books. 

I often describe my first book, Bronze Dragon Codex, as being able to write fanfic and be paid for it.  I’ve never quite seen the point of fanfic, why write something that you didn’t own rights to and get published?  But when the opportunity to write a book for childhood favorite series came up, it was SO much fun to look through my old books and atlases and read the new books and invent a story in that world.

I have that chance again, perhaps.  I’m still deciding if I want to do something I found out about recently.  I don’t know if I should take time out from my “own” work to chase after something that, in the end, won’t be mine.  But as I print out information and dig old books out of my library, I feel that thrill again, the same thrill I had when I first began researching for Bronze Dragon Codex.  Time will tell if the thrill stays enough for me to write something for this possible new project.

Work in Progress Wednesday

Going up early, since I don’t think I’ll have a chance to upload tomorrow.  I’ll resume the saga of the office redesign next week, hopefully, but for now, I just wanted to share what I did today.

I have a whole Pinterest board for my office/craft room ideas. I was very intrigued by the photos of filing cabinets transformed by modge-podge and paper or fabric.  Only problem: I didn’t have fabric that I wanted to use on file cabinets, and my plan of using scrapbook paper failed when I realized a standard size sheet of scrapbook paper isn’t big enough to cover an entire file cabinet drawer.

I then thought of contact paper.  It would be fairly inexpensive and MUCH easier to work with.  I went looking on Amazon and ran across this.  Oooo!  I had a solid floral pattern in mind, but the idea of the black filing cabinet showing through intrigued me.  Today I tried it and was completely blown away by the results:


I LOVE IT!  Can’t wait to do the others!  I’m now wishing I’d thought of this idea BEFORE I bought black filing cabinets, because I’d love to see something like this in my office.  Oh well, I’m quite happy with how things turned out!

Why I love the internet

I had some time to actually *GASP* WRITE today, so I’m working on the sequel to “Thread,” tentatively titled “Ashes.”  I’m just trying to get back into writing semi-regularly (every day would be awesome, but that’s doubtful), so I was thrilled that I was able to produce over 600 words.  I often keep a spreadsheet with my writing progress: if I’m working towards a deadline, I REALLY need one to help me keep on track, and if I’m just pantzing along, it helps show me how I’ve progressed and makes me feel better.  Plus, doing word counts and entering in the spreadsheet when I have a break in my thought process is probably better than checking Facebook (which I do anyway).

I often think I should turn the internet off, but today I looked up or made a note to look up the following things related to just 600 words I wrote:

1) Do turnips grow in England?

2) How did people wash clothes in the middle ages?

3) Treatment of burns in the middle ages

4) Doctors & midwives in the middle ages

5) Abbeys: are there lands around them that are farmed?  Villages?  Would the villagers work in the fields for the church or for a lord? 

Sigh.  WHY do I write historical fantasy?  Let’s take a metric-ton of research (no matter how much you read and watch in various time periods, when it comes time to write day-to-day life, you HAVE to look things up) and combine it with creating rules of magic.  Sure!  Easy!  Um.  No.