Writing Process

writingprocessSMALLBack in college, I had an English professor who talked about her “process” all the time. She talked about slaving over a piece day and night until worried friends finally took the type-written pages from her sweaty hands and turned them in for her because she never felt like her writing was good enough. Of course, once it was submitted, it was accepted and praised. The message my eighteen-year-old self took from hearing a semester’s worth of this kind of talk was that a writer’s process was necessarily difficult and even painful. I didn’t take any more English classes during my undergraduate career.

For years I thought all writers had the same process and I thought it was more difficult that a career in medicine.

Now, many years later, I realize each writer has their own process, and it’s up to each writer to figure out what process suits them best. Over time, I have come to see when and how I write best. Not just whether or not I’m a “seat-of-the-pants” writer or a “plotter,” although that’s good to know. (I’m more of a “seat-of-the-pants” writer, although I have been known to outline. Every writer has a different process and what works for one writer doesn’t work for every writer.

Here are some aspects of “process” my English teacher never mentioned:

Environment: What kind of environment do you like to write in? I write best at my desk in my home office, but if I have an idea and a few minutes, I can write almost anywhere. I like cafés unless there is a very loud conversation going on right next to me. Many conversations are much better than just one as they all become background noise. I also need to be physically comfortable—not too cold, especially. If a café is so cold I don’t want to take my coat off, I get my coffee to go. Driving home takes some time, but sitting in a cold café focusing on how uncomfortable I am takes a lot more time—and energy—that I could have used on writing.

Timeframe: Do you have to plan out your writing or can you just dive in any time? I write my best when I’ve given myself a chance to think about my topic over a few days (or a few weeks.) Then I take the pressure off by telling myself “I’ll just write about this for 15 minutes and see what happens.” If I carve out a big block of time to write on “this,” (whatever “this” is,) I will stall until I’ve wasted the precious time and have nothing to show for it. Even if I know I have two hours to write, I’ll tell myself I’m only going to spend 15 minutes on “this.” It’s my version of Anne Lamott’s “*&%$ First Drafts.”

Time of Day: What time of day or night works best for you? I know I do my best writing early in the day, but I now often write in the evenings, too. I just don’t rewrite and polish at night because my brain isn’t at its sharpest then. If I have thoughts or ideas waiting to be written, I can spew them out onto the page in the evening and rewrite in the morning.

Rewriting: How do you approach the rewriting process? Once I have something down, I can go back in and rewrite and add to the piece without feeling the pressure. My fascination with words, from grammar to style to creativity, kicks in and I can keep going. I always enjoy returning to a piece because I’m usually surprised at how much I like and want to keep. Even if I don’t like what I’ve written, I can usually see what’s wrong after a break from the piece. I recently came back to a blog post that wasn’t coming together and immediately saw that it had two major ideas in it and needed to be broken into two different blog posts.

Managing Distractions: How do you do it? At last fall’s New England Crime Bake (a mystery writer’s conference), a best-selling author I admire said her latest book would have been published a year earlier if it wasn’t for Facebook. Since that comment, I’ve been much more careful about eliminating distractions. I sit at my desk and use the Post-it Note method. If I think of something that needs doing while I’m writing, I just put it on a Post-It note (or, if I’m at a cafe, I put it on my phone under Reminders.) Once “buy toilet paper,” or “pick up salad greens” is out of my head and on a note somewhere, I can get back to writing.

Knowing how and when I work best has helped me arrange my day better to increase my output as a writer. It also gives me permission to put my laptop away and move on when, say, a loud conversation starts at the table next to me in the café.

Do you know what your ideal writing process is?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. I just discovered Bookbub and immediately downloaded six books to my Kindle app. Is this yet another distraction I’m going to have to manage?!

Putting It Together

killing timeI’ve written about this before–the difference between being an author and being published is vast. By published, I mean being engaged in the business part of writing. While it is, and remains, a thrill to hold a book I wrote in my hand, the business is fraught. Publishing trends, consolidation of publishing companies, e-books, making a living. I firmly believe that remaining grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given is the best path forward. However, I need some help navigating that path.

Help comes from many places, including Jane Friedman. She teaches, blogs, speaks at conferences, and offers a variety of services. Her blog posts are terrific. A recent post was called “4 Lessons for Authors on the Current State of Publishing“. It is definitely worth reading the entire post, but today I want to focus on one piece of advice she offered.

“An author’s online presence is more critical than ever to long-term marketing strategy.” She has a good deal of advice in this area, but supported one of the decisions I made early on. I don’t separate my online lives. J.A. Hennrikus short story writer and Julianne Holmes author of the Clock Shop Mysteries–you may take different roads to get there, but you will end up in the same place.

I am on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I have a url for J.A. Hennrikus and one for Julianne Holmes, but they both end up the same place. I blog here and at Wicked Cozy Authors, and both places I use both names. Am I doing this all perfectly, or even well? I don’t know. What I do know is that I am trying, and in this publishing climate, trying counts for something.

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J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Just Killing Time, the first in the series, has been nominated for a Best First Agatha award.

The art of writing about pain

 

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I have been absent from this blog for a while. My mom transitioned into a short-term hospice facility and I’ve been dividing my time between New Hampshire and Connecticut. I’m a little stretched thin these days.

I’m telling you this not for sympathy, (but I will take any and all support) but rather I’m letting you know that as writers, when you are going through a particularly painful time – that’s when you should be picking up your pens and writing. Some pretty honest and gut wrenching stuff will come out.

Everyone handles adversity and grief in their own way. For me, it’s writing about it.

Writers all know that writing is and always will be the best therapy. When I write, all of those jumbled thoughts of insanity in my head become clear. I can pull them out and create some semblance of sense. When I write I start to breathe.

I have not had the time to sit down much at my computer (when I’m in New Hampshire  I teach and when I’m in Connecticut I’m with my mother) but I have been taking notes. At the end, I want to (need to) share with others what an incredible journey this has been. I want to explain what happens in hospice (I’ll tell you right now, I was a hospice virgin and didn’t have a clue.) I want people to know that although as a young woman I fought my mother and told her “I’m never going to be like you!” at the end, what I’m actually discovering is that I am indeed my mother’s daughter.

I want to let people know what a privilege it is to spend time with those who have limited time.

My mom is in a room with up to 3 other women who are all in different stages of their journeys. We all talk, we laugh – I bring bagels and coffee. And we mourn when yet another one leaves.

At the end there are no defenses left. You are stripped down to your essence and from that place empowerment, integrity and clarity emerges. And from that experience also can come powerful words.

It’s not time for me to fully write about this (I have been writing a little on my blog), but when it is, I’ll take out my notebook and will try my best to put into words what this incredible experience has meant and what lessons I have learned as I travel alongside my mother while she in on her final journey.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Grammar-ease: Proved vs Proven

Today is for those times when you’re not quite sure if you want to use ‘proved’ or ‘proven.’

ProvedBoth prove and proveare formed from the verb prove. Here are the usage variations:

  • Present tense: prove
  • Simple past tense: proved
  • Past participle: proved
  • Irregular past participle: proven

Correct usage examples:

  • He has proven his case.
  • He proved his case.
  • She proved he was wrong.
  • She proved she can beat the competition.
  • She has proven she can beat the competition.
  • The competition proved they weren’t quite a challenge after all.
  • That band has proven to be a crowd favorite.
  • That band proved to be a crowd favorite.
  • The attendees proved their love for the acoustic group.
  • My parents have proven they can’t be trusted to remember to lock the door.
  • My parents proved they can’t be trusted to remember to lock the door.

As you can see, either variation can be used. However, (there’s always, a ‘but’, right?) two well-used style guides – AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style, recommend avoiding “proven” as a verb, but it’s one of those cases where the line is becoming blurry and both variations are becoming mainstream.

(Using proven as an adjective preceding a noun is acceptable all around. For example, a proven theory; proven right; proven innocent; proven track record; and so on.)

If either can work and you just can’t decide, read it out loud and select the variation that sounds best  — unless there is a specific style guide to follow, then, as always, follow the client’s wishes and follow the style guide!

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links Apr 10

dark blossomHappy Sunday, fellow writers.

I hope today finds you with a little extra time on your hands for reading and writing. The past few weekends have been a bit more jam packed than I like. Though I’m very grateful to have work in the queue, being busy has left me longing for a day with no To Do List and no agenda. Unstructured time has been hard to come by, and I miss it. Though I pride myself on good project and time management skills, these days my faithful Google calendar looks less like an orderly system and more like a crazy quilt. There are far too many instances of items overlapping and hour-long tasks being shoe-horned into thirty-minute slots. (If only I could learn to write faster …)

Still, even the busiest day holds pockets of quiet and small pleasures. Despite the pack of deadlines and duties nipping at my heels, I have managed a steal a few moments here and there to read. I’ve also been enjoying thrice daily walks with a couple of elderly dogs whose slow pace forces me to throttle my own engines down.

The dogs are clients of my daughter’s dog-walking business, but since many of the walks for this assignment take place during school hours I’m filling in. It was frustrating, at first, to have to accommodate the dogs’ step-stop-snif-step-stop approach to “walking,” but once I surrendered to their snail-like style I found that it was actually very relaxing. The forced almost-stillness drew me out of my own racing thoughts to a space where I could hear the birds singing and the river flowing, where I noticed the early blooms along the path and in my neighbors’ gardens, where I felt the tinge of soft warmth hidden in the chilly breeze and smelled the earthy scent of spring flexing her muscles. I even had the pleasure of watching two crows have a very enthusiastic bath in the shallows along the riverbank.

I wish you a space and leisure this Sunday. I wish you a few hours of time unencumbered by obligations or chores. And I hope you have the good sense to use that time to do whatever most nurtures your writer’s soul, be that writing, planning, reading, or daydreaming.

_jamie sig


 

 What I’m Reading:

Since I’ve only managed to sneak in short reading sessions this week, I haven’t had time to finish either of the books I’m reading, but I do have a short read to share:

Pigeon LadyA friend’s Facebook post led me to the Boston Globe piece, Cambridge fixture Dorothy Steele’s life of warmth by Eric Moskowitz. I was immediately taken in by the story which seemed part fairytale, part urban myth, and – sadly – part tragedy. As the media inundate us with often biased coverage of world events and national politics, I took refuge in this story about an individual whom most would consider a “nobody.” Everyone has a story, and every story matters. I’m so glad that the Globe chose to run this piece and that Moskowitz did such a wonderful job capturing a tiny slice of this woman’s life.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

Sundry Links:

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In my online wanderings this week, I came across the work of artist and photographer, Jane Long.  While her entire portfolio is lovely, I was particularly taken with a series of photographs that she created by digitally manipulating the images of Romanian war photographer, Costica Ascinte. In her collection, Dancing with Costica, she reimagines the people in Ascinte’s stark photographs in surreal and magical worlds.

jane long 2I have always been inspired by the visual arts. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. I love looking at a photograph, painting, or sketch and trying to create a character or build a world around the image I see. The picture may be an expansive and deeply detailed one that is full of obvious possibilities, or it may be just a small fragment that only hints at a shadow of a story. Either way, the exercise is one I never tire of.

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Finally, a quote for the week:

pin cs lewis anything

Happy reading. Happy writing. Here’s to finding pockets of comfort and inspiration in even your busiest days. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Weekend Edition – The Magic of Small, Basic Tasks

Keep things simple.

Keep things simple.

When things get a little crazy (and when aren’t they a little crazy?), small, humble tasks create pockets of sanity in my day. I expect my gravitating toward these menial chores in moments of crisis is a bit like the British tendency to make tea even when (sometimes especially when) everything seems to be falling apart. There is comfort in the simple and the mundane, in purely functional activities that are what they are. These manual labors provide a sense of grounded rationality that is often otherwise hard to find.

Take for instance, mending. For months now, a small pile of clothes has been sitting high on a laundry room shelf, patiently waiting for me to repair ripped seams and broken fastenings. The job was not all that complicated, but I just never seemed to get around to it. And then new damage to my daughter’s favorite pair of yoga pants elevated the issue to crisis level.

It took me a while to locate the plastic zipper bag containing my random collection of mini sewing kits and half-used spools of thread. And then it took me a while longer to search out a separately stored set of needles (with larger eyes) that I could actually thread. Finally, with my needle successfully threaded and knotted, I began the simple but careful process of adding one stitch after another, slowly closing the tear in the first item.

I am no seamstress. My work would never stand up to the scrutiny of even the most generous inspection. My stitch work was uneven, causing the seam to pucker and twist, but it held. To ensure its strength, I went back over the seam a second time. Tying off the end knot and snipping the thread, I felt a sense of satisfaction in a job if not well done, at least sufficiently done.

Though mending is obviously not something I do on a regular basis, there was a comforting familiarity in the rhythm of the task, perhaps some latent muscle memory carried over from generations gone by. I feel a similar sense of domestic heritage when I sweep the kitchen floor, toss scraps out for the crows, water the houseplants, or prepare a meal.

These tasks, and many others like them, have remained mostly unchanged over the centuries. As complicated as our culture, politics, and commerce have become, some things do stay the same. Our lives have been changed in innumerable ways by modern appliances, digital media, and mobile devices, but a broom is still a broom.

··• )o( •··

I feel similarly about my writing. Sometimes, things start to feel a little crazy. Sometimes, the weight of everything that needs to be done, wants to be done, should have been done yesterday gets to be overwhelming. My heart races at the prospect of missing assignment deadlines. My head aches trying to come up with the just-right headline or angle on a piece of copy. My mind ties itself in knots as I endlessly mull over story ideas, project inspiration, and the many different paths that lie ahead in my writer’s journey – all the choices and chances to get it wrong.

And then there are the voices of doubt and derision that clamor for my attention and vie to inflict the deepest wounds. Even as I tap away on the keyboard, these small but insistent voices hiss in my ear that the words I’ve chosen are the wrong words, or – worse – that I have nothing to say. They snipe at me from the dark corners of my consciousness. They derail my thoughts and make me question my ability.

All of these voices and worries crowd in around me until I fear I might be smothered. I am, at the very least, handicapped by the oppressive feelings, sometimes to the point of a creative paralysis that leaves me staring dumbly at a blank screen.

In these moments of utter confusion and creeping despair, the only thing that rescues me from my own head is stepping away from everything and setting to work on a simple task. Sometimes, that simple task is a domestic one – folding the laundry, running the vacuum, or perhaps just picking up and setting things to rights. These menial tasks serve as a distraction that helps me clear my head. I surrender to the motions of the work and often find that my thoughts are suddenly jostled loose and I’m able to get back to work, sometimes leaving the chore half done.

Other times, what I need is a simple writing task – something that doesn’t require heavy lifting either intellectually or creatively. I might step away from my desk and curl up on the couch with my journal. I might grab pen and notebook and do a little low-key brainstorming about either the problem at hand or some totally unrelated quandary. Or, I might find some partially administrative task that needs doing like formatting a document or reorganizing some files.

The comfort and calm come from returning to the basics. When faced with a writing challenge that is monumental in scope, complexity, or difficulty, it helps to step back and remember that even the most daunting writing task is nothing more than the compilation of many smaller, and much simpler tasks. Choose a word. Write a sentence. Start by articulating the idea you’re trying to convey in the simplest of terms and then worry about how to make the prose sing.

Stuck on how to move a story forward? Forget about the story. Instead, describe what you see in front of you. Don’t worry about characterization or narrative arc or metaphor. Just find the simplest words you can to paint a picture of what’s right there in front of your eyes.

When all else fails, put aside all expectations of meaning and just write a word – any word. Feel the way the tip of your pen glides over the paper. Watch the ink spill out and leave its mark. Lose yourself in the movement of the line and the shape of the letters. Let everything get quiet inside – so quiet that you can hear the scratching of your pen like a whisper of wind through your mind.

··• )o( •··

Simple tasks hold magic. They have the ability to untangle our thoughts. They can set us free from our doubts, giving us a chance to feel a small bit of accomplishment. The simple task grounds us, body and mind. Even as a child, I took comfort in acting out the simple daily chores of settlers and pioneers. The fantasy stories I read became fodder for creative play about a more rustic existence – the young heroine living in her cottage in the dark forest, spending her days drawing water from the well and stoking the fire on the hearth.

Our lives are anything but simple these days, but we can still retreat to our safe havens of sanity by setting the complicated world aside and taking up a straightforward and useful task. We can mend a hem, fix a loose board, or sweep the cobwebs from the corners. As writers, we can give ourselves permission to return to the basics, to go back to our roots and the simple building blocks of language and story.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Photo Credit: trophygeek via Compfight cc

Friday Fun – A Few Book Promotion Tips

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: We recently asked you what questions you’d like answered in our Friday Fun post. Today, we’re answering the following reader question:

FriFunQuestion5

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Hi, Maria. Congrats on finishing your first book! That’s very exciting. As Lisa and I mentioned in our responses to your original comment, this is a Big Question that requires more space than a Friday Fun post. The mechanics and dynamics of book promotion are complex and vary greatly depending on the type of book, audience, etc.

What I can offer as a starting point is a series  of posts I wrote on the writer platform:

I hope this is helpful. Good luck!

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: My advice is to do more than simply tell people your book is available for sale. Enter into conversations (or start your own) that relate to the subject matter  of (or in some way to) your book. Let people get to know you and your thoughts around the topic(s) and then it will become natural to offer the book.

You can also have a link in your email signature line – have the title of your book hyperlinked to your Amazon page (or wherever you want people to go to to purchase). On your Facebook page, you can have “Author of name-of-your-book” as part of your profile that appears on the left side of your personal page. Also include details about it on your “About” page on Facebook. In other words, have the information visible at every turn, but avoid saying “buy my book.”

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Hey Maria, congratulations on publishing your first book! Go, you! Unfortunately, I’m not a published book author, so I don’t have a lot to add. I will say that I plan to be a published book author in the not-too-distant future, and I started my life coaching blog, Healing Choices, hoping eventually it would become a part of my author’s platform. That’s still the plan.:) I’m also planning to follow Lisa and Jamie’s advice.:):)

On book tour with my first novel in 2010. Photo courtesy of Phillis Groner

On book tour with my first novel in 2010. Photo courtesy of Phillis Groner

Deborah Lee Luskin: Congratulations on writing and publishing your first book. I hope it was a joyful process, and that you’re pleased with it. Now the hard work begins: Marketing. There’s lots of good information out there about marketing (and also a lot of people who will do it for you for a price). No one can market your book as you can, and unless you have high-volume sales or other money to invest, no one else can market it for you, either.

Part of the agreement with the original publisher of my novel, Into the Wilderness, was that I’d be responsible for the marketing. It was a Mount Everest of a learning curve, and for most of a year, it’s what I did: reviews in any newspaper, magazine, or blog that would run one (often at the cost of a hard-copy of the book, plus postage), over fifty author events (bookstores, libraries, historical societies, book groups, wherever I was invited). I drove 10,000 miles in one summer; even in a Prius, the gas and time added up.

I invested in a website with web-extras: the backstory to writing the novel (including a video of me), a playlist for the music the characters listen to, links to reviews and praise from readers.

In return? I sold a lot of hard copies, and the book won a national award before I ended my relationship with the publisher and the book went out of print. Since I’d retained the electronic rights, I was able to bring out an electronic copy, which is still for sale and still sells a few copies a month.

I no longer market the book, but I do still mention it whenever it’s appropriate. (Here, for instance.) There’s still a page for it on my website. Best of all, I still hear from new readers who write to me and tell me how much they enjoyed reading it. That’s the best.

Good luck!