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What to Do When You’ve Got Too Many Writing Projects

April 30, 2015

toomanyprojectsThe other day I was struck by a really great idea for a novel…

And part of me did a happy dance. I love it when inspiration strikes!

And the other part went: WHAT? ANOTHER ONE?!

Another creative project to add to my pile?

Right now, this is what I’m working on, creatively, in my ‘spare time’:

And now I want to add:

  • a ‘comedic dystopian’ novel (does that genre even exist? No matter.)

I was so enamoured of this new writing idea that I wrote 600 words on it in a flash. I promised myself I would ‘make time’ to work on my main writing project, which is Regency mystery novel #2.

But I didn’t.

I ran out of writing time.

Because that’s how it works in our current universe. I can’t bend time or double time up. There is only so much time available.

That means I must prioritize.

Which is difficult to do.

Especially if my main writing project feels like it has hit a ‘plot hole’ and is at that point where the going is a little bit rough and…wow, look at that shiny, new idea! I’m going to chase after it! Woof! Woof!

It can be hard to keep focused.

On the other hand, I really like my new idea and the characters within are clamouring to be heard…the writing is more or less writing itself, ready to pour onto the page…it would be criminal to stuff that particular genie back in the bottle…wouldn’t it?

So this is the compromise I came up with:

  • non negotiable: I work on my main project, Regency mystery novel #2, daily
  • if there is time left over, I can play in my creative sandbox
  • go back to carrying around my writer’s notebook. (When the clamouring starts, pour it in there, as soon as there is a moment to be had).

In years past, I used to lock myself in the washroom. (Always a good strategy. No matter where you are, one is surely available. And no one bugs you in there.)

I’ve also written in my car.

I’ve also written on my phone and emailed myself.

I realize now that I have to go back to redefining ‘writing time’, which has come to mean ‘scheduled quiet time at the computer’ but really needs to become more flexible and intermittent. Perhaps I should call them: writing flashes. 

It’s not ideal. But it’s the only way I can think of right now to balance things out, and water my entire, creative garden so that all my projects get a little bit of love.

Also, I must remember: I’d rather have too many ideas than too little. (Because creative droughts suck!)

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Sound Familiar? A Moment In The Life Of A Writer

April 26, 2015

writing mindSo here’s a moment in the life of this writer:

-in the morning, clumsily write on my iPhone while kids are at swimming (I forgot to bring a notebook and pen)

-while driving back from the pool, re-write a scene in my head for my second Regency mystery novel (it’s not working out right! why isn’t it working out right!) *problem remains unsolved*

-meanwhile, intermittently through the day, worry that my writing skill is mediocre at best, that I must be fooling myself to think anyone would willingly want to read my drivel, and thus I should stop wasting my time, maybe I should take a pottery class and express myself creatively that way…

-in reaction to the negatives, affirm the positive: ‘its the journey not the destination’ and who cares about success? *remember what Andy Warhol said* JUST MAKE ART!

-ignore inner critic (‘YOU’RE MEDIOCRE!’) and JUST MAKE ART by continuing to research social reform movements as it pertains to early nineteenth century England, because it relates to my current novel…

-then read over the best bits of my work because, hey, it may not be the greatest novel ever written (the one they adapt into a movie and then Jennifer Lawrence wins an Oscar because she starred in it)…but it’s my novel and it’s not bad, even good in spots, and as an experienced reader/writer, I feel I have some credibility to judge…

But does judging matter? Or does it get in the way of the creative process? Look at how it distracted me today from my essential purpose! The inner fretting: is it good? is it bad? is it worthy? will they make it into a movie?

Never mind all that: JUST MAKE ART!

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The Curse of Writing Historical Fiction

April 17, 2015

historical vs fictionSo I write historical fiction, which sometimes feels like a curse I placed upon myself. Like my fortune cookie said:

You will be bogged down by meticulous research and will never, ever know what it was really like to wear pattens. So there!

PS. These are pattens: 

Early 19th Century Pattens from Boston's Museum of Fine Art.

Early 19th Century Pattens from Boston’s Museum of Fine Art.

Pattens were used in Regency times to protect your shoes from mud, etc. Apparently everyone wore them because, well, the streets were made of dirt and full of horses. So you used pattens to elevate yourself above the muck.

Its just one of those little details that most people could care less about but since I happen to enamoured of this particular time in history, I think they are the COOLEST thing ever.

I almost want to recreate my own pair out of old wire clothes hangers.

Ok, I won’t.

My point is that there is a battle inherent within the genre of historical fiction: Historical vs. Fiction.

Every time I sit down to write, I have to decide: who will win? History or fiction?

Does my character don her pattens, as would be historically accurate? If so, do i describe the sound they make? Is it a metallic, ringing noise as she hits a cobble stone? Or is it more of a thud as they sink into soft dirt?

Do I spend hours researching this?

Do I make it up?

Or do I, in a fit of frustration, say FORGET THE #$%# PATTENS! Thus, losing a vital snippet of historical detail. (But, really, would modern readers care about them anyway?)

Does my novel need to come with a glossary of terms?

Is it going to be that kind of history novel?

How stringent am I going to be?

If i am too historical, my novel runs the risk of becoming a Ph.d history thesis. Or it may sound ‘too old-fashioned’.

If I am too fictional, my novel runs the risk of become ‘too modern’ and anachronistic.

It is a constant negotiation. I need to always find a middle ground that works for me.

Not too historically rigid. Not too fictionally soft.

JUST RIGHT.

This is not easy. And sometimes I wish I had set my novel in my current location, in current times, when I could just look around my living room to describe a fictional reality.

But, alas, I must instead peer at pictures like this and extrapolate what it would have been like to wear it…

From Ackermann's Repository 1813

From Ackermann’s Repository 1813

Oh, the burden!

PS For more glorious Regency fashion from Ackermann’s Repository, check out this site!

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Never Give Up as a Writer

April 17, 2015

never give upSometimes I sit down at the computer and think:

THERE IS NO WAY I AM GOING TO BE PRODUCTIVE TODAY.

I’m too tired, too unfocused, too preoccupied.

I am not feeling it. Not feeling the writer love.

I’m just sitting there with a sneer.

Even though I know about writing’s transformative power, having experienced it many times, I’m certain that this–this time, I’m sure–it will NOT happen.

Do you hear that Writing Gods? It’s not going to happen! *sneer*

Then guess what?

It happens.

My crotchety mind-set starts to soften. Slowly, I relax into the story again. It wins me over. It wines and dines me.

Time blurs: a montage of me studious and intent at the key board. Clickity-clack.

Next thing I know, I’ve written 1000 words and my story has entered this new, fresh, sphere of existence. My main character is giving a speech, for gods sake! A speech I just wrote for her! How the heck did that happen?

This is why, my fellow writers, you must never, ever talk yourself into giving up.

Sit down and see what happens. Give yourself time to see what happens.

You never know what might happen!

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Dealing with Self-Doubt as a Writer

March 10, 2015

the reminderI don’t think I’ve gone a week as a writer without self doubt creeping in along the edges, somewhere.

I’d think:

  • no one will ever want to read this
  • why am I writing? why am I doing this? what is the point?
  • Why don’t I just take up knitting as means of expressing my creativity? At least I can get a scarf out of it!
  • etc. etc.

Cue: angst

Cue: lots of self examination

Luckily, the time I spend in these self-doubt moments has gotten shorter and shorter.

Maybe its because I feel my age these days. Or because I am a busier person.

I simply do not have the time or the patience for writerly hand wringing.

My writing time is short, and if I’m lucky enough to be ‘in the flow’, I do not need to sabotage myself by suddenly wondering IF NO ONE WILL EVER READ WHAT I’M WRITING because it’s JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

That happened to me just the other day. I was happily working on a scene for my second Regency mystery when I was suddenly struck by the thought that maybe I was just a hamster in a wheel, spinning around and around with words no one would ever read…

Would anyone really care that Lady Melbourne and my character’s aunt, the Great Dowager of Haughton, are sworn enemies?

Oh, I know. Given that it’s the digital age, I could slap my work up on a self created website and the law of averages would decree that someone, somewhere would probably come across it at some point, even if all they did was click on the link by accident. Ergo, it would be read!

But that is not the kind of reader I am aiming for. I’m hoping for a reader who is invested in my story. Intrigued and invested.

I worry very much about what they think–and so I should.

As a writer you CANNOT disregard your reader. They are an invisible presence on your shoulder, nudging, and guiding. They are half-myself, too, because I write what I want to read and part of the EXCITEMENT of being a writer is discovering what would EXCITE me as a reader.

Oh my god, let’s make Lord Byron a jerk when we first meet him! As a reader, I would LOVE that!

(Honestly, I would).

But the reader on your shoulder should never take the drivers seat. Don’t even let them be a back seat driver.

Consider them the in-car GPS. Sometimes you follow their directions to your destination…and sometimes you don’t!

The problem with giving your inner reader too much leeway: their needs are too diverse. The ‘reader’ is part of an audience and an audience is made up of individuals, who each have their own preferences and tastes. You can’t please all of them. It’s impossible and as soon as I start trying (this plot isn’t tense enough, my characters aren’t funny enough, there isn’t enough romance…) that’s when the self doubt creeps in…

Cue: angst

Cue: no more writing

So here’s what I try to do:

  • notice when self doubt is happening
  • notice what it is saying
  • note the concerns and plan to revisit them another time to see if they are legitimate (like when the rough draft is done)
  • recommit to the writing craft
  • just keep writing

I will even say it to myself out loud (and repeat after me):  JUST KEEP WRITING!

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Why Reading is Good For Writing

February 27, 2015

writersrreadersI couldn’t imagine being a writer without being a reader.

Reading makes me a better writer. I know it does. Here’s why:

1. I learn by example.

I see plotting, characterizing, description, dialogue. I see it over and over and over again, every time I read a book, until the essence of each settles into my bones.

2. I see when it’s done properly…and I see when it isn’t!

I will never forget tossing a mystery across the room in frustration…because they never solved the mystery by the end of the book. BLASPHEMY! What kind of self proclaimed mystery novel doesn’t solve the mystery?

(Note to self: never, ever do that. Your reader will hate you.)

I have also rolled my eyes at corny dialogue, skimmed over too much description, and flipped past pages of dithering that didn’t seem essential to the plot.

I see what doesn’t work.

On the other hand…

  • I have cried my eyes out because a character I loved got hurt.
  • I’ve stayed up too late to read ‘one more chapter’.
  • I’ve had to turn the lights on because a book scared me too much (King’s The Shining, of course).
  • I have bought books for people…because ‘you just have to read this’.

When done right, a book can have impact.

I take these experiences to heart as a writer.

I see what works.

And so the goal, within the parameters of my own writing ability, is to aim my arrow at a similar target.

3. I take #1 and #2 and apply it to my genre. 

People sometimes think that because I write about the Regency period that must be my favourite genre. They think I own the I ‘heart’ Mr. Darcy tote bag, and The Jane Austen Cookbook (wait, I actually do have that).

See?

See?

Listen, I enjoy Jane Austen as much as the next person, and will happily argue which is the best book (Persuasion, hands down) and which is the best movie adaptation (Persuasion, 1995). But I am not a Janeite.

I am also not a Georgette Heyer fan (I think her books are boring. I know. BLASPHEMY for a Regency writer…but I do!)

Truth be told, Regency is not my preferred genre. I don’t get all ‘grabby hands’ just because someone’s wearing an Empire-waisted gown on the cover.

Frankly, I’m not that interested in Mr. Darcy, Vampyre or the innumerable Regency romances.

However, if it is a mystery…I am all over it.

I love mysteries and I read mysteries all the time. It is my go-to feel good book. Even the serious ones, like those by Donna Leon.

I’ll read mysteries starring supernatural beings (like those by  Juliette Blackwell).

Mysteries set in modern day India (like the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall).

Mysteries set in 1830’s Istanbul (Jason Goodwin’s Yashim series) or Ancient Rome (Lindsey Davis’ brilliant Falco series) or England in 1940 (Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope series).

And, of course, mysteries set in the Regency period (Kate Ross’ Julian Kestrel Mysteries).

It’s no coincidence that I am writing a mystery series myself.

I read what I write and I write what I read.  Or perhaps, I should say: I read what I love and I write what I love to read. 

I assume most writers feel the same? Don’t you agree that writing & reading are BFFs?

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Writer’s Daze: Do You Have The Symptoms?

January 21, 2015

writer's daze comicIt’s a wonderful thing when I’m writing and in the groove.

It can be hard to let that go.

But sometimes I have to let it go.

Most writers have more in their lives than just writing. Sometimes you have to STOP even when you’re smoking hot and the words are flowing fast and the ideas are popping in your head like popcorn. Pop! Pop! Pop!

Sometimes you have to STOP WRITING, even if you don’t want to.

You’ve got to go to work, pick up the kids, run a necessary errand, cook food.

(My ‘Time Bending’ and ‘Idea Projection’ super powers have yet to show up and solve this conundrum).

But–alas! Writing won’t let you go that easily!

Its hooks are in you. It remains cocooned in your brain, causing a wooly sensation through out the mind. A sensation that I like to call:

WRITER’S DAZE!

Symptoms include:

  • an unfocused gaze
  • mumbling to oneself
  • a propensity to lose things
  • a propensity to think you’re losing things only to find you’ve been holding it in your hand all along
  • a tendency to not hear what has been said to you
  • a tendency to interrupt what someone is saying to ask an off topic, writing related question
  • a tendency to interrupt your current task to hunt for a piece of paper because ‘you just gotta write this down’…’it will just take a minute’…
  • the above last for twenty-five minutes

Writers, do you suffer from this condition?!

I do. It’s happened to me many times. It happened to me today, in fact.

I’ve had to forcibly SNAP MYSELF OUT OF IT.

Julie, you are not in the nineteenth century anymore. You are in the grocery store, mindlessly wandering around with a list in hand, mumbling to yourself about Lord Byron’s letters to Lady Melbourne and what kind of hat your main character should wear. 

Julie, you need to return to reality and GET A GRIP!

The best antidote to Writer’s Daze is to completely ground yourself in your present moment. This is especially necessary if you are performing some important task, like driving a car or operating heavy machinery.

Reassure yourself the writing will be there. You can let it go. It will return to you and you to it.

The writing will always be there!