Monday, October 8, 2018

5 Important ingredients to a writer's office

I've had my new office for about a month and a half. But my point about writers and offices doesn't start there.

My first office was a folding table about 2 1/2 ft. by 18 in., an old TV stand with a shelf and my daughter's dingy purple desk chair.

I would move the assemblage to the front of my living room near the window in spring and summer and to the back of the living room a few feet from the gas stove in fall and winter.

It had two positive qualities: portability and the shelf in the TV stand. I used this arrangement for four years along with a lengthy extension cord. I did not complain.

In August, we visited a consignment furniture store.

We've bought our china cabinet, two bedside tables and a dining room table at this store in the past. Walking through the shop is one of our favorite monthly activities.

I was walking one way, my husband the other when I heard him call my name. He waved me over.

Along one display wall stood a set of wall cabinets, solid wood, cherry finish, near new condition: five bottoms with doors and drawers, two uppers with shelves, one each with cubbies (aka wine bottle slots); let's call them cubbies.

"This would make a great office for you."

I'd given the pieces only a vague glance. Now I looked closer. He gave me my space, backing up and leaving me to my imagination.

It took me about two minutes to realize I was not leaving the store without them.

Then behind me, my name was whispered, a sense of urgency in the quiet word.

I turned. Instant, total, "I must have this!" sprang into my mind. If I had to choose -- this piece was it.

Mounted on the wall across from those amazing cabinets was a miracle.

I had been telling my husband how much I wished I had a white board or a magnetic board or even a pin board to plan my novels on.

Eight feet of combined planning board spread open before me. On the inside of the doors, right and left, were fabric covered pin boards. Dead center: a magnetic white board. Above, a pull down screen. Below a tray for markers, eraser, pens and pins.

I wasn't leaving without it. I would sacrifice the cabinets to have this somewhere in the house. I didn't care where. There's a huge blank wall in our downstairs bathroom.

Time to look at prices. All pieces were on their last week of sale -- lowest price each was going to go.

It took two trips, but we got all ten pieces home.

My new office in the living room has three walls. One has six cabinets, three uppers, three lowers. The second wall has three lowers and the planning miracle. Third wall has three boxed kitchen floor-to-ceiling cabinets to give me privacy (temporary). My desk is a 4x2 folding table and is backed by a bookshelf facing the other way.

So what are the five essential ingredients to a writer's office after 1 1/2 months:
  1. a flat surface sufficient to hold one laptop computer, an upright organizer, bottle of water, notepad, ipad and a cup with pens and other oddments. 
  2. the back side of a bookcase for sticky note to-do-list
  3. a planning board (with multiple planning modes)
  4. cubbies
  5. a writer
Please note: there was no mention of portability or a shelf.

Extras:  supplies for said planner board, books and various electronics neatly organized in drawers, cabinets and shelves.

My final advice. Find yourself a consignment shop. There is bound to be some fool willing to sell a miracle planning board.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Recursive layering as I write ~ my 3 steps

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
When I write, it is the voice of the character that comes first. I hear the dialogue, and it generates setting, conflict and motivation for me. So when I write, dialogue is first. Sure, there will be tags and description that comes with it, but it is minimalistic. 

After a run of dialogue, I will head back over the scene and start layering characterization, reaction and action. I return again to consider setting. And then again, I return to add sensory details, behaviorisms and determine what backstory contributed to how the scene went, how it will affect future plot issues and did any subconscious writing take place that dug into the story deeper (which is always a hallelujah moment). Sometimes a character will say something or do something, and I’ll just sit there and think, whoa, that explains a lot or that is going to be a bugger to get over.

For example, in At Any Given Time (Students of Jump, a standalone CES novel), Samantha worries about how she'll react to the sight of blood, hers or someone else’s. She knows it makes her nauseous and dizzy, a complication that worries her. This is not a major issue for a time traveler under normal conditions, and she has lots of time jumping experience. But this time with an injured search and retrieval jumper, it turns out to be a real issue she has to manage through. That’s not the main conflict, but it sure added dimension to an already bad situation for Sam. The fact that she is fully aware of her problem with blood and is self-reflective and determined to get the situation rectified provides humor and stress to the story that the little aspect of character helped to create.

I suppose it sounds rather clinical to say I tuck in more details later, but it is not like that at all. The initial run of dialogue flows out as if I’m eavesdropping from behind something and can’t see or hear anything but what they are saying. It sets the stage for the whole scene. The layering is another me standing there in the room, cave, whatever the setting is and looking around, smelling, touching things, asking the character questions and really just being a peeping Tom for my reader (and me, too).

Every writer has their own process. This is mine most of the time. Some writers edit like mad as they go and other writers don't go back over their work until the complete draft is done. And there are numerous variations in between. If you're a writer, what do you do? If not, have you thought about how writers build their stories? 


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Pre-order: The Dragon Question

What if he's forgotten the question, but she still has to find the answer to save him?

I'm excited to announce that the first book in the Solstice Dragon World is ready for pre-order. This story has features of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale but is not firmly written around that framework.

The book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords.


Just take a look. It might be the book you've been waiting for.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Why when my treadmill dies, I'm buying another one

My treadmill: an oldie but a goodie
It has been interesting how my writing process has changed over time. I’ve always approached every writing project with an idea of how the story was going to end. Sometimes I have an outline but usually not. Looking back, I can see some constants: a title tends to come to me first followed by the main characters. Over the last two years, I have found that the book cover is my most inspiring starting point. It follows on the heels of the other two constants. The cover acts as a focal point I can return to as I progress through the story.

Book 1, Standing Stone Series
My second series, Standing Stone, had its covers before I even started writing. The same has occurred with my third series of books (Solstice Dragon World) that I’m working on now. Each Standing Stone cover provides a key character and the stone that is the crux of the story. In the case of SDW novels, it is the main character and the location where key events take place. Each of these covers help ground my writing and are designed to give my reader a sense of the story. I feel with the covers done, I am certain the novel has a developed core. 

I have a contemporary story with about 18,000 words, no cover yet. It’s been sitting for three years. I know the characters, the title and the end point moment. I think I need that cover. I have a space opera: 30K words. No cover. I don't want to admit how long its been sitting. It really needs a cover.

Knowing the ending is very important to me. I don’t need to know the details, just a key moment that will test the main character and bring them out the other side of a conflict, and even that is mutable. It becomes my north star. I may tack numerous directions on my way to it, but having that fixed point in the back of my mind keeps the story rolling. I can ask myself, “How does this relate to that? How does this decision ultimately lead the character there?” I find the answers on the treadmill.

Writing itself has changed for me as well. The treadmill has become a source of inspiration and direction. While striding along, I can focus on one question, one scene, one direction that needs development. Nothing else will interfere. My husband isn’t going to show up to talk to me. He respects exercise too much. My time on the treadmill is set, so there’s no getting off which can sometimes create an urgency in me to write as soon as my time is up. 

Since I exercise every morning before I head to my job, that urgency has is flaws, but that impetus to write with a fully-developed idea gives my writing direction and flow even if I have to wait to write until that evening or after a mound of grading. It is an appointment I feel I must keep because I know being on the treadmill will result in a better first draft. It is also my best opportunity to go over a scene numerous times and realize what I missed or how I can incorporate more character or plot development. Of course, there is the added positive of keeping me in shape since writing means I’m sitting in a chair often for hours at a time.

I talked about change in my writing, and I have mainly covered what I do now. So what was my approach in the past? 

The past:

  • An idea would come to me. I’d sit down and write. Then stop where my idea ended.
  • I’d lay down on the couch and think about a question, such as "How is he going to deal with his daughter’s unwillingness to talk to him?" Fifty percent of the time, this resulted in an unplanned nap.
  • I would have a title and a vague notion of how the character was dealing with a situation or causing a situation 
  •  I'd sit at the computer and hope more words were going to come soon
  • I would develop when I redrafted, slide in side stories and look for inconsistencies
  • Writing a novel was a yearlong process
  • No cover
  • A working title (very much subject to change)
  • Ill-defined characters, setting and plot that took a lot more work to develop and clean up
  • One novel at a time
  • One book a year and a full-time job

VS the present

  • An idea comes to me. I get on the treadmill and walk (fast and on an incline: don’t want you thinking this is a walk in the park :) ) and hash out the idea, Socratic method.
  • I write through the developed scenes (after that visit to the treadmill)
  • Title, character with backstory and fully-fleshed appearance and behaviors. Distinct main conflict and side conflicts. 
  •  I’m at the computer to write, not sit
  • Development occurs in process, daily, a much more recursive process that results in a better first draft
  • Redrafting occurs daily and is more about layering in deeper description, searching out inconsistencies, clarifying, and copy editing in an ongoing approach (more about this in another post)
  • Writing a first draft of a novel takes a month and a half, average word count 90K (summer time writing – six months during the active school year)
  • A cover (changes subtly over time, but the main concept is set)
  • A title (still may change but rarely) 
  • Well-defined characters with greater depth, setting is full of sensory details, the plot is organized and part of a greater series
  • Three novels in development and linked together by plot, setting or characters
  • 3+ books a year and a full-time job

I’m pleased with the changes and enjoying how it makes my writing better and though nothing makes writing a novel easier, this process does make for better flow and direction to my writing, which, after all is said and done, is what makes writing an enjoyable activity. This is why my husband will say, “I know you want to write today and you enjoy that, but can we do something fun together?" I can walk away from the computer not feeling like I’m losing my “special time with my story” to my “special time with my husband.”

That's why my treadmill isn't going anywhere. It takes my writing where I want it to go. So what fosters your creative side? Tell me in the comment box below, and it doesn't have to be about writing.

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