Archive | January, 2012

And Then One Day…

My girl loves stories. Not just before bed, but any time of day, all day. As we march up the stairs for breakfast each morning she usually says “momma, will you tell me a story?”

I usually respond that I need coffee first, but she will eye me like a hawk, and as soon as I’ve got that mug in hand she will repeat the request (and repeat, and repeat), until I start spinning the morning’s yarn.

Lately, my stories have all been about carrot and sandwich. They have had some great adventures. They hitch-hiked across country to visit our friend Jacqui in Virgina, they opened a dry cleaning shop, and fought pirates for treasure on Carrot’s private island (that he bought with his riches earned through dry cleaning).

It’s a fun ritual, even if sometimes I don’t feel up for it first thing in the morning, but the thing I love the most is what I’ve learned about my girl’s sense of story. When I’m setting up the story sometimes I get to rambling. I’ll tell what carrot is wearing, or what trouble sandwich is having with his wife, or whatever, and when it’s gone on too long my girl will say in a loud voice “and then one day…”


I know she’s just bored and wants me to get on with it, but really, she is illustrating one of the core principals of story telling. You open on a world with a status quo, and then one day something upsets that status quo and viola – you’ve got a story.

Even kids get this, and yet, I feel like a lot of writers struggle with it. I’ve heard young writers talking about telling a “true” story where nothing contrived happens, or worse yet, where nothing at all happens because that’s life, man.

Bah, I say. If that’s life, then my four year old is living it better than you.


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Is it Really Only Wednesday?

Both my kids seem to have some sort of stomach thing going on. I’ve been thrown up on so many times that I might stop showering afterwards and just wait til the end of the day when I can wash it all off at once (okay, not really). I’ve changed sheets 3 times in the last 8 hours, and the washing machine can’t keep up. The whole hose stinks of stomach acid. I’m exhausted, cranky, and slow. So this is parenthood.

I kept my girl home from school and am waiting for the doctors office to open so I can call and ask when I should worry. Hopefully this will all pass quickly. She’s watching Ice Age while I try to get a little work done, and frankly, I think she’s loving being sick. I remember loving it when I was a kid – stay home with mom, eat lots of yummy soup, watch movies – what’s not to like? Being (or acting) sick always seemed like a small price to pay.

Anyhow, assuming I can find any time, I’m plugging away at the novel today. I’m trying to look at it scene for scene. What I’m finding is that as I wrote it, I put scenes in some places that aren’t really scenes. That is to say, nothing happens. Still, as I look at the overall structure, I think my instincts were right, there needs to be SOMETHING in the places I put those scenes. Now I just need to figure out ways to bring in conflict and or revelation so that the scenes aren’t just place holders, but actually serve to move the story along.

I’ve been dying to re-read Winter’s Bone, but I can’t find my copy. I hate that. I remember the structure of that book being really satisfying. No long flashbacks or rumination, and yet you get the sense that you really know the main character. I want to look again at how he did that.

Anyhow, I’m rambling. Check back Friday when I have (hopefully) gotten some sleep and can present my thoughts in a more organized fashion.

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Good Communication

As a writer, my job is to communicate. Specifically, I’m paid to use words to express ideas precisely, so that a client’s target audience understands what it is that the client does/offers/sells. That’s it. Sounds easy enough right? But if it really were that easy, “writer” wouldn’t be a job description.

Some of the toughest communication I do is with my own clients, trying to figure out exactly what they want and or need. With some clients it’s very straight forward, while with others there is an extensive whittling process. The tricky thing about us writers is that we tend to be a sensitive, artistic lot. Sometimes it can be hard to take feedback. Even the simplest suggestion (“maybe more adjectives”) can feel like a dagger striking our very core. 

One thing I’ve learned in my years as a writer is that  I have to be thick skinned when it comes to feedback. This serves me well in both my fiction and my business writing, but honestly, it’s a lot easier to practice what I preach when I’m writing for someone else.

As a writer for hire, I’ve gotten damn good at taking feedback. If a client isn’t thrilled with what I’ve put together, I’ll start over from scratch and not even think twice. I rewrote an entire article this morning because the editor I was writing it for was on a tight deadline and wanted to focus on a different angle. Done. Then I had a conversation with a client who wants a project rewritten with a certain style. No problem.

Is my ego a little bruised that I didn’t get it all perfect the first time? Yes. But I think the reason I continue to build my client base is that I’m not a diva about it. I’m not always going to hit it out of the park on my first try, but I am always going to listen to a client who wants changes and do my best to make the copy perfect through the revision process. As writers we are communicators first and foremost. If we can’t communicate with our clients, we’re pretty much doomed from the start, and if we can’t put our egos aside for two minutes it’s hard to hear anything from anyone.

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Getting Back Into Fiction

It’s a little painful.

I described it to Daniel last night like this: it’s as if I was training for a marathon (writing the novel). Then I switched to sprints (the Nor Cal book, written in 200 word segments). Now I’m ready to run that marathon, and I set out to run each morning and I’m tired so quickly.

Yesterday was a little better. I actually managed to write a whole scene, but it took me all day. And many, many times throughout the day I thought “I’ll just go do (laundry, facebook, anything but this),” but caught myself trying to avoid the task at hand and forced myself to work a little longer.

This was a good week to jump back in, as the freelance work was light (just that short magazine assignment), but Monday I have a meeting with a client that will hopefully bring on a new wave of work. So I’ll just try to enjoy today, lounging (battling) with the fiction.

The good news is that I’m actually not too far from the end of this draft. All the basic parts are in the right place, I think. I still need to develop some of my subplots, but all in all I feel like it’s coming along.

Here’s hoping.

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All Weeks Should Be Like Last Week

It was a great week. If you follow my Facebook page you were privy to the final count down as I wrote the last pages of my Northern California book. I finished up the first draft on Wednesday night and celebrated with my guy over a dinner of take out burritos and champagne. Ahhhh, victory.

As I was toasting, an email arrived asking me to write a piece for Yes! Magazine. It’s just a few hundred word assignment, but it’s on a topic I’m passionate about (organic farmers battling Monsanto), and I was just really psyched to have and editor contact me about writing a (paid) piece.

Then Thursday night I met with my writing group. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – they’re awesome. There were two big take aways that night. One was the idea of Admin Mondays. One of my group members more or less devotes Mondays to taking care of crap that builds up (like scheduling appointments or following up on that credit card fraud thing, or blah blah blah). That way when those things come at you during your writing week you can just put them aside until Monday. Love it.

The other inspiration was a member of our group who is working on her first novel (as most of us are). Her new years resolution is to write every day, even if it’s just a little. Her book is really coming along, and talking with her just reminded me that it’s so important to keep moving on big projects. So Friday I pulled out my own novel and read it front to back. It’s at about 190 pages now, but I haven’t touched it since August.

Even though reading it was encouraging (it’s not half bad), I’m finding it so hard to get back into it writing it. Like so many times before I’m reminded how writing is like exercise and if you don’t do it for a long time, it’s really hard to get back to it. But it’s not like I haven’t been writing. I just haven’t been writing on that project.

It was an awesome week, and I’m way ahead of my new years goal of finishing the Nor Cal book by the end of January!

Now if I could just get back into the novel…

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Today is the Day

I just put a bottle of champagne in the fridge for tonight.

With any luck I will finish the last four pages of my Northern California book today!

I’m so excited to actually, finally, finish something!

Can’t blog. Gotta go write like the wind.

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Final Countdown

My apologies to anyone who is getting tired of hearing about the Northern California book, but I’m so close to finishing I can almost taste it. Tastes like cookies.

I have twelve pages to go. If it were any other kind of writing I could bust out 12 (first draft) pages in an afternoon (if properly motivated). But this is such research intensive stuff that it’s really slow going. What’s more, as I get near the end, the topics are harder and harder. I’m being forced to tackle the pages I knew would be difficult to write.

Twelve pages. I think I’ll shoot for four a day starting now. Don’t care how late I have to stay up. I can finish this baby by Wednesday night. (I’m ignoring rewrites for the time being. I deal with those later.)

So excuse me, I need to get back to work now.

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Best Books of 2011?

I read a lot. I believe it’s part of a writer’s job, so much so that I consider sitting around reading a legitimate day of work (when I don’t have actual deadlines pending).

At the end of 2011 I was swamped in a lot of ways and looking for some good, light reading fare, so I picked up “Fun and Games.” It’s a mystery/thriller/hollywood story, and it was just what I was looking for. But then I went and bought book 2 in the series and frankly, it sucks. I tore through the Hunger Games trilogy, mostly because all the cool kids are doing it, and I actually thought they were great. Again, not historically brilliant prose, but a damn good story.

So then I was stumped. On a recommendation from a semi-nerdy friend I picked up “How to survive in a science fiction universe.” I totally respect it for the ingenuity and creativity, but when I was half way through and couldn’t tell what it was really about, I gave up. Same with “Let the great world spin,” which I’ve been told I should give another shot, because it’s amazing. I loved the writing, but the story just didn’t grab me.

Right now I’m reading “The Wedding Gift,” which also frankly sucks, but it was $1 on my kindle. You get what you pay for I guess.

Anyhow, I could go on, but if you want to know what I’ve been reading you can just scroll down and check out the little book shelf in the right hand column there. I generally keep it well updated.

What I really want now is advice on what to read next. I got 2 Amazon gift cards for Christmas (big thanks to my favorite client and my wonderful in-laws), and they are burning a hole in my pocket. I’m done with the delicious junk for the time being. Instead I’m looking for something really engrossing. Something stunning. Something that will make me sit up way too late tonight reading because I simply cannot put it down.

I trolled a few Best Of lists from 2011 and here are my top contenders.

The Sense of An Ending

June Bug

Salvage the Bones

The Auslander

A Visit From the Goon Squad (I want to hope that this is Princess Bride reference…?)

The Tiger’s Wife

The Marriage Plot

I’m thinking about just working my way down the list, but I’d love to hear from anyone out there who has actually read one or more of them.

Or what was your favorite book of 2011, and why will I love it? Seduce me.

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Goals for 2012

It’s that time of year again. The joggers are out in force. Liquor sales drop. And us writer types set goals for all the wonderful prose we will produce in the coming months.

So here are mine.

I’m going to finish my Northern California book by the end of January. This is not a terribly nobel goal, as it was supposed to be end of December, but hey, life requires flexibility sometimes.

I will finish the current draft of my novel.

I will get new business cards, and here’s the biggie –

I will double my writing income from 2011.

This last one is the most daunting. It’s going to take some serious networking to expand my client base, but I’m also hoping to do more feature writing in 2012, which will help a lot too. We’ll see. What I know for sure is that I’m on the right path.  I love writing, and I feel really lucky to get to pursue it.

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