Friday, October 29, 2010

Positive Peer Pressure

You've embarked on a journey toward a goal. One you believe in and want to achieve. You tell someone about your dream. That person laughs, asks if you are crazy, rains on your parade and tell you it is unattainable.

Now, if you are a 70 year old and you've just told your wife you're thinking about becoming a circus high wire act despite the fact that you have no coordination then you might deserve the above scenario.

Yes, dreams should be realistically attainable.

If your dream is realistically attainable, and someone in your life says you shouldn't try to attain this dream, then you need reevaluate your relationship with that person.

Tip for the Day: Surround yourself with positive, supportive people as you pursue your dream. 

I wrote about my own journey from solitary writer to writer with a wealth of support here. I've heard the negative comments. One close relative said "you'll never get published" when I told her I was writing a book. Do I share my dreams with her now? No way because I believe I will get that call. But it's more than my own faith in my dream. I want the people in my life to be excited for me because I'm doing something I love. It feeds my soul in ways that I never expected. The end result? Publication? That's just part of the dream. I am living my dream. I am a writer. I write. I am happy because I am writing.

Here's the thing: people who are negative about your dreams and your goals aren't happy so they don't want you to be happy either.

Trust me. I've learned this lesson and it has served me well. I repeat: when someone is mean or nasty to you and rains on your parade it is because that person doesn't want you to be happy and fulfilled.

I am writing because it brings me joy. Sure there are days that I want to drop kick my laptop to the ends of the earth. I get frustrated. I feel the sting of rejection and throw personal pity parties (for a finite amount of time), but I keep on writing because that is when my positive community of support comes into play. These are the people who remind me about how much fun it is to do what I do. They encourage me. They lift my spirits. They make me laugh. They drink wine and eat dark chocolate with me while they tell me YOU WILL SUCCEED.

Surround yourself with positive peers who celebrate your dream and encourage you to keep working hard to attain the prize you seek. These are the people who must be in your world as you pursue your dreams. They are the people who want you to be happy and fulfilled. They are the people who want you to have joy in your life.

And when you reach your dream? They will be first in line to celebrate your victory!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hands On Research Versus the Google Bar

I recently had a writing judge tell me that my story was not plausible because it was illegal to sell the products my heroine was selling in Alabama. The products? Sex toys. Yup. You've got it. It's illegal to sell them in Alabama. The judge very kindly pointed out to me that it was easy enough to research this by Googling the state and finding the laws (which she apparently had time to do because the judge definitely checked it to tell me so). Wow? Really? It's illegal to sell sex toys in Alabama? There goes my story!

Oh tragedy. The entire book must be trashed. However, I know something that the judge didn't know: I live in Alabama. There is a sex shop next to my favorite hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant, and you can bet your sweet petunia there aren't just negligees in that store. There are "medical devices."

No big deal. She (I assume my judge was a 'she') did help me with her comment because even though I knew about the ways around the little blue law in Alabama, I had failed to include what I knew in my head on the pages I had sent. So I quickly added a line about "medical devices" and how sex toys can be purchased online on the Internet into the manuscript. And Voila! Problem solved. I was actually quite grateful to her for taking the time to google my story and check my facts (as a judge myself I am rather lax because I just read for quality of story and writing--I don't have time to google the entries' story elements for research clarification).

In another section she also pointed out that my scene set in the shooting range was way off base because of her personal experience. There was no way my two guys could possibly have a conversation. However, based on my personal experience and research, I knew that a conversation was more than possible in an indoor shooting range. I could easily disregard that well-meaning comment because I had researched this myself in person.

So what is better? Personal experience as you research your stories, the google bar, or the library? I think a combination of all three are necessary. Frankly, I can't personally research every aspect of my stories if they are set in areas where I don't live. And I do believe that anything, from cake-making to shooting a gun, can be researched online or in a library.

But it is so much more exciting to learn about things first hand. I really enjoyed going to the cake decorator's house a few years ago to learn about cake decorating. I used that information and several of her colloquialisms in my book, THE TYCOON'S SWEET TEMPTATION. It made the experience more real, impacted the quality of my story and my writing. It even gave me a fun name for my heroine's show. I tweaked my research lady's name for her company and came up with a cute name for the show. That was cool. I wouldn't have done that if I hadn't experienced cake decorating first hand.

I also enjoyed going to the radio station and watching the radio hosts work. I learned a lot had changed in the industry since I had left radio to become a mother. I immediately incorporated the information into my current manuscript, FORBIDDEN FANTASY. The knowledge strengthened my writing and my confidence in my story.

I'm discovering a new story right now. It's an old one that I've hacked into and decided to give a brand new plot. I've got a bad boy rock star, a wonderful feisty social worker (or a parole officer LOL) and it's set in North Carolina (cause apparently Canadian settings don't sell???). I've already got reams of information about their houses from the Internet, the music industry in general as well as tons of stuff about dancing (not sharing more than this till my story is written).

Now all I need is for a rock star to let me watch him work while I take notes. Any suggestions? I can think of quite a few I'd like to follow around for a day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Deck My Time with Feats of Folly

Last weekend my darling husband and I began the arduous process of cleaning our deck and veranda. There went our Saturday. Sunday we stained the deck with a natural coating of protective gunk. Thursday I spent four hours finishing up the inside of the veranda and adding a second coat to the outer part of the deck.

I thought I was finished. But no. Darling husband had to cut four boards and needed my help with stabilizing them. Fun. Not. Then I had to hold them in place while he screwed them into place. Then I was free. Well, not really. Then I had to catch up on my writing, my grocery shopping and general life happenings. So much for Saturday.

Today I am officially finished staining the deck with my husband. Note to self: never ever ever buy a house with a wood deck or veranda ever ever again.

I am not Suzie Handygirl. I don't like doing these tasks. However, as it is with all the tasks I undertake, I did learn a few valuable things and can apply them to my writing.

1. Working together forges bonds. I can put my hero/heroine together while they work on a project. In the case of my fictional characters, they will probably end up having accidental touches that send shivers and trembles up and down their spines. Then they'll probably splatter a little paint on each other and he'll look at her and say you missed a spot after she wipes her face. And then, well... you figure it out.

In reality, Darling Husband and I cursed the dang deck, the time spent doing it, and the fact that we'd rather be sipping drinks on top of the Washington Hotel overlooking the White House than spend a sunny day cleaning wood. The best part about the whole thing was telling Darling Husband that his brilliant plan to spray the stain through a crappy little sprayer wasn't going to work and having him decide he couldn't possibly be wrong. Of course, he was. We have the splatters on the deck to prove it.

2. Sometimes you have to remove old stuff to make room for new, better stuff. In the case of writing fiction, this means I have to cut old words, words that are destroying the shape of my story and replace them with better words that support my story. Now the new words may not be perfect, but they are better and with each new cut I have the opportunity to improve my writing.

In reality, we bought four new boards for the deck. Two of the boards weren't perfect. We had to use them anyway because we weren't going to go out and buy two more boards. We are cheap. So we cut what we could, were grateful we could hide what wasn't perfect, and slapped the dang things into place. Heck, anything we did was an improvement over what the builder had put in. At least these boards would warp in the proper direction.

Hmmm.... I think that could work for my writing. I can replace really bad crap with a higher quality crap and it is still an improvement.

3. Working alone is a dangerous idea. In the case of my fiction, my hero or heroine could get injured while on the project. The hero/heroine will arrive to save the day just in the nick of time. Then the hero/heroine will lovingly tend to the other's wounds and then another tender, tingly moment will happen and voila! I have another love scene. Woohoo.

In reality, I just stepped into the paint tray, splattered the dang sh*& everywhere, got it on my butt, on my shoes, cursed in three languages, might have cursed my Darling Husband for not being there (ask the neighbors--I'm sure they heard me across the state line), and did all this while quickly slapping the pool of paint onto my brush and putting it on the door dealybob before it dried into a nasty blob. Again. I am cheap. I don't waste stuff. When Darling Husband got home, I was in the shower cause I smelled like two day old sweat and mold and there is no way anyone was coming within ten feet of me. I had to get that stain off my butt.

4. In the end, if you don't look too closely, the final product looks really nice and everyone is happy. Okay, in the case of my fiction, the hero and heroine get married, have a party, celebrate the new life they are beginning after working hard to be together despite all the obstacles. They ride off into the sunset or fly to some nice tropical island for a honeymoon.

In reality I just drink copious amounts of wine and declare that I am not doing this again until 2012. I will not be moved from this position of thought. There's no tropical island in my future, but I might have a Seabreeze or three to celebrate the end of an arduous project.

Darling Husband wisely sits beside me and agrees.

Friday, October 22, 2010

You've Got to Play to Work

Last week I posted about finding your dream and going for it with no excuses. My first tip to pursuing one's dreams and goals was to make time to do it. There is no such thing as no time to do anything unless you are working three jobs and raising a family. There just isn't. If you have a half an hour, you've got time to work toward your goal.

Establishing a minimum time requirement per day is crucial toward reaching your goal. Even if all you do is research what it will take to accomplish reaching your goal, then it is still productive use of your time. As a writer, that half an hour might be about researching some facet of my novel. But if you're dreaming about becoming a doctor, it might be about researching what areas of medicine are best suited to your personality. Each step, even a baby step, is still a step forward.

If you've been reading my blog this week, you'll know I haven't been working as much as I've been playing. In fact, I didn't even meet one of my big goals for the week because I preferred playing to sitting down and reading through my two requested partial manuscripts. I always like to do a read-aloud before I do my final tweak and send my babies out into the world.

Bad me! But not really. Why? Because I did  manage to meet my minimum goals every day this week. I also exceeded them more days than not. My minimum goal this week was to write 100 words a day about my new book which I am exploring, follow up on blog comments, write three blogs for the following week and schedule them, and continue working on my social media knowledge via Kristen Lamb's book, WE ARE NOT ALONE and my online courses. Yes, despite my deliberate hooky from serious work, I managed to accomplish quite a lot.

I could have accomplished more if I had hunkered down and forced myself to stop playing and work. But I know something important: my brain needs a break and this season is the one season I feel fully rejuvenated if I take the time to play. Every year in the autumn I slow down a bit to let my brain relax and enjoy the beautiful season. I need to.

Usually I've been working super hard and this year was no exception. I was working on my full manuscript's revision until September 29. On September 30, I immediately went to the Georgia Writers of America Moonlight and Magnolia's Conference and immersed myself in all things professional via pitching my manuscript, learning about writing from Michael Hauge, Allison Brennan and Kelly Stone, and celebrating my writing friends' victories at the MAGGIE Awards Ceremony.

There wasn't much time to breathe between that trip and our fall break with the family. I knew it would be pointless to undertake a large project so I stuck to my mini goals and gave myself some space.

This is my second tip: Understand your rhythm as you undertake pursuing your goal.

If you don't understand how you work and when it is best for you to work, then you will burn out. Everyone has a different rhythm. I tend to operate well on long jags of intense work with time out for good behavior breaks. I need my social time, my sun time and my time to relax if I am going to get the big tasks done. I've also learned that as a writer, I must touch or do something with my current work in progress everyday or I'll lose my connection with my story. Now that doesn't mean I write through major holidays like Christmas or New Years Eve, but I do write a bit every day through almost all the days of the year.

The trick is I know when to notch back my efforts and I don't beat myself up for not attaining major goals. I can make up for the loss during high work days. Giving myself permission to chill helps me to work harder when I am on full schedule. This can be true of students as well. I used to look at my schedules and I could see where my days were filled and not so filled. I made sure I cut back a bit, let myself play and regroup, during those slower days.

It's important to know when you're strongest creatively. Is it mornings? Nights? Afternoons? I tend to be super awake and creative in the mornings, lull in the afternoons, and then pick up a bit again in the 4PM-6PM time slot. Afternoon lulls are when I usually play more during my "off time" but if I am in full work zone, I usually use afternoons to catch up on the business and boring parts of my job as a writer.

Years ago I read a great book by Dr. Robert Arnot called THE BIOLOGY OF SUCCESS. I still have it in my bookshelf and refer to it regularly. Understand how you operate and you will optimize your chances of succeeding in your chosen profession.

Do you know your rhythm? Do you know your strengths? How do you relax? Do you have flex time built into your schedule?

If you are working toward a goal, writing or non-writing, share it with me. Share your challenges and your solutions with me. I'd love to hear about them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sweet Home Alabama in Autumn Glory

After we returned from our trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, I was inspired to decorate my house for Halloween and Thanksgiving. The days are getting shorter, the nights are indigo dark, and I need my burst of fall colors to liven my spirit.  I even put together a little neighborhood treat for two houses called YOU'VE BEEN BOOED. Essentially you get two cheap candy holders and fill them with doodads and Halloween candy then place a poem with the holder instructing the recipient of the gifts to do the same to two other households. Here's the fun part: you have to do it in secret and not get caught. My darling daughter and I have "Booed" a lot of people under cover of night. It's quite fun!

Here are my Sweet Home Alabama Autumn Home Decorating Pictures:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Autumn Adventures in Gatlinburg

I've been playing hooky from hard work to enjoy the beautiful weather and gorgeous blue skies during my favorite season. I adore autumn. I always have enjoyed this transitional season because no matter where I have lived, it always seems to spark little darts of happiness in my heart. There's something magical about this transitional time that wakes me up and makes me want to create.

I have another reason to love this season: my darling daughter is a late September baby. I can remember hours and hours of time pushing her up and down the hills of our subdivision while she nibbled on Cheerios. Now that she is a teenager, we are taking advantage of the fall break from school and traveling together.

I love the gorgeous colors, the crisp weather and the seasonal decorations we found in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Although the trees weren't in peak color, we had a great time exploring the little European style village nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Here are some pictures of our adventure in Gatlinburg to show you why I'm writing less and playing more.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Get Your Groove On-Motivation Comes from Within

I'm an unpublished writer. There's no pay, no glory other than the occasional contest final or win, and there's no one beating down the door to read my novels (except for my critique partners). But I write. I get sit down in front of a computer screen and type away for hours with no end in sight. I write my stories, submit them to contests, query them to agents and editors, win or lose contests, get rejected. But I persist. I persist despite life happening all around me. I know other writers who persist as well despite the odds.

We are an exceptional breed.

Kelly Stone said that there are research studies performed on writers: we're motivated high achievers according to the researchers. I say we're delusional, masochistic, optimistic dreamers. And I believe we're not the only subset of people, the ones who write and FINISH books, who persist despite the odds.

This blog isn't just for writers. It is for anyone who wants to accomplish something and has to do so in a vacuum. Or a mini vacuum. You can be a student, an artist, a decorator, a mother (last of the unsung heroes in my opinion), a cancer patient fighting to live and go on--the list goes on.

What makes you move? What wakes you up in the morning and gets you to do what it is you have to do despite the odds?

I'd like to know. Meanwhile, I'd like to share what is working for me as a writer because I think it can apply to any profession, any pursuit of excellence, and any situation that requires focus and stamina.

Once a week, I plan to share how I motivate myself. Why? Because I grew up in a household where I wasn't encouraged to succeed. If anything, I was encouraged to fail (but that's a women's fiction story that I really think would bore most readers--who hasn't got some dysfunction in their lives, right?). But I managed to put myself through modeling school, get my GED/High school equivalency certificate, study for the SATs on my own and score over 1100 back in the day, go to college and graduate with a 4.0 and at the top of the Dean's List.

No one did this for me. No one cheered for me. Years later a mom of a friend said to me, "You really did accomplish a lot and you should be very proud." I appreciate her words so much because up until then I had really just had the attitude that the job had to be done so I did it.

Apparently I am an exception to the rule.

I want to make YOU an exception to the rule.

If you're a writer, a painter, a mother, a student, a (fill in the blank), then it's time to embrace your dream and go for it.

Here's the first tip: make time to perform your duty/seek out your golden grail.

In other words, don't just talk about doing this wonderful thing you are about to do. I can't tell you how many people I have met who say to me they are also "going to write a book" when they learn I am an unpublished writer. I can't tell you how many of them want me to write their love story of pain and loss and victory or just loss. But they're just talking. They're not doing.

You can't do what you want to do if you are only talking about doing it.

You must sit down and do it.

How? You say you don't have huge chunks of time to do this thing you want to do? I strike down this opposition. You have a half an hour? You have time.

You'd be amazed how much you can accomplish in just half an hour.

Try it. Schedule half an hour a day at least five days a week to perform your thing that you want to do. Or to prepare to do that thing that you want to do. Half an hour. That's thirty minutes away from Facebook, surfing the Internet (which is how you found this blog), or emailing videos to friends.

You want to go to medical school but haven't applied? Apply!! You want to paint a picture, but don't know how? Call a craft store and find out if they have classes. You want to learn to cook like the amazing Julia Child? Take a class, buy the book, start cooking. You want to write (I know you are out there reading this), close down the web server and turn on your word processor. Don't have a story? An idea? Start writing. You'd be amazed at how quickly the universe opens up for you and sends you a story.

There are no excuses allowed in my world. If I can write through a father-in-law dying of cancer, a husband having hip replacement surgery, health problems and more, then you can do what it is you have to do. When my husband had his hip replacement, I didn't even force myself to write a half an hour. I told myself to write "every day." Yes, there were days that I only wrote a sentence or a paragraph, but there were also days where I wrote pages and pages.

I wrote. I finished the book.

What do you want to do? Do you have half an hour to do it? Do you have more than half an hour? Go for it. What is the worst thing that can happen? You fail? You flop? Your writing never gets published? So what? At least you can say you gave it an effort. You're success is truly in the effort given to the project. All the rest of it? The As, the certificates, the money, the fame (yeah, let's dream about it), the careers--they're byproducts of our efforts.

My daughter's middle school principal told her eighth grade graduating class that their group was the first group he'd seen come through his doors in over seven years that had so much potential. They did. He wasn't just saying these words year after year. All the teachers, the counselors and the parents knew this group was special. Something was in the water that year. This group was by far one of the most empathetic, giving and supportive wave of students they had walking through the doors. I have my theories about why. They were in the 2nd grade during 9/11 in the DC area. They were in the 3rd grade during the sniper attacks and had to rely on adults to protect them. They had no recess for 6 weeks, they had to practice shelter in place in case of biological warfare attacks. They had to trust their teachers and each other and other parents. They developed a level of empathy in young people I have yet to witness again.

They developed some strong empathy and bonds. And they are a unique group. I know I will many of them become stellar adults in this crazy world we live in today.

But here is what else this principal said. He said "potential without perseverence and persistence is pointless." Now is the time when you must ask yourself what you are willing to do to get the job done. Develop your potential. Grow. Learn. Apply. Do. You cannot just be a lump of clay. You must become the vessel that hold the water that nourishes the thirsty.

Work for it. Develop your talents. Strive to win.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Silence of the Man

A real hero speaks less and acts more. True. But in our stories, our heroes have to talk a bit more than our dudes in real life. And that adds a layer of complication to writing if one is a female. Let's face it, I'm not a boy. I don't think like a boy or a man. I don't speak in one word sentences (okay, my darling husband would love it if that were true!). Yet, my heroes must say more than, "Honey, where's my last pair of clean underwear?" Or better yet, "Huh? Grunt? Pass the beer nuts. Cowboys are playing. Pass the beer."

My dudes have to be sensitive and strong. Alpha and beta rolled into one amazing, finely chiseled man who is ultra cool and looks great in jeans, tuxes, nothing at all.

As Austin Powers would say, "Yeah baby."

But this is fiction so I get to play a bit with my heroes. I can layer a bit of internal dialogue into their interactions with my heroines. So even if they aren't talking to my heroines, the reader knows that the guy really does like, want, care, have an "oh man, I am in love and now I am freaked" feeling for my heroine.

Hard to finesse. Hard to write. I usually have to run my "guy speak" through a male filter (which ironically is a female writer who knows how to write "guy speak"). I also like to sit around and listen to the dudes in the real world talk. Where can I hear what they have to say? Well, hang around a bunch of retired military men and you'll get some good intel on "guy speak." Or spend an hour at any male dominated event like a football game, a hockey game.

Go to a bar. Don't go alone. But go and sit and listen. I once spent an hour every Monday at the local Holiday Inn Express bar writing and listening. The bartenders knew me and left me alone. I was relatively safe cause the local regulars knew I was married and had shown up there with my darling husband on occasion. Why? Well, it was close to my darling daughter's dance studio. I'd rather sit in a bar filled with business travelers and grizzled construction workers than at a dance studio with a bunch of moms discussing their daughters' varying dance talents.

But that's just me. Plus, I got to drink a glass of wine. All good. And all in the name of "research."

Where do you go to understand "guy speak?" Books? Bars? Games? Did you have lots of brothers? A great father image? Are your real life heroes alpha or beta or a combo of both? And how do you limit the guy's talk without limiting the romance sizzle?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Blogger Oz

I've just finished taking an amazing social media class with Kristen Lamb via Candace Havens website. I've learned a thing or two about branding myself (ouch, that could hurt) and social networking because of this class. And, ouch again, I have decided to retool my blog space to reflect the lessons.

Super ouch again because I am also going to *gulp* learn more about social media and branding myself via a book I ordered. Kristen Lamb's book WE ARE NOT ALONE: The Writer's Guide to Social Media is recommended by editors and agents to newly contracted authors.

I'm  not contracted yet. But I had better learn how to use social media to sell my books and my name if I want to make it in this business. The writing world is huge, the business is changing every day, and I need to get savvy about utilizing this FREE network.

I have dabbled in it before, but never pushed too hard because social media can suck up a lot of time. Facebook is not for playing farmer games or finding treasure. Well, in a way it is. I'm farming for future readers and digging for future treasure in sales when the day after my book hits shelves finally arrives.

Yes, dear readers, the MILLS & BOON contest definitely brought the concept of self-promotion home to me. If I want to sell books, sell novels, sell my stories I have to be bold, fearless and courageous about marketing.

I'm not in Kansas anymore. And Oz is a bit frightening. There are a lot of wild characters and new lands to explore. There are wild colors, terms I don't understand, witches and wizards of writing promotion to conquer. Oh, I am nervous. But I am not going to crawl back into the back corner of the house I just flew in to get here and hide from the experience. I'm going to embrace it.

During his workshop at the Georgia Romance Writers of America Moonlight and Magnolias Conference, Michael Hauge asked each writer to examine her/himself in terms of this question: I'll do anything to be a published writer except ??? because THAT'S NOT ME.

Well, I can fill in that blank. Before that workshop, I could say, I'LL DO ANYTHING TO BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR EXCEPT SELF-PROMOTE BECAUSE THAT'S NOT ME. It's not. Not totally. After all, that's called "drawing attention to oneself" and I have my own reasons for not wanting to do that to myself. Sure, those who know me will say I am outgoing and gregarious. But if you really spend time with me and get to know me, you'll notice that what I am actually doing is getting people to TALK ABOUT THEMSELVES. I'm PROMOTING OTHER PEOPLE to draw attention away from myself.

Good self-preservation trick, eh?


Now all this eye-opening self-awareness at a deeper level than I had ever examined of myself before isn't going to stop me from continuing to motivate and encourage the people I love and admire to achieve their goals as writers, mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, husbands, students.... ah the list goes on. It's an amazing feeling to see the people around me grow and become who they have the potential to be in this great glorious life. I'm just adding one more person to the list. Me.

Don't worry if you see your blogs falling off the sidebar and little nuances of change in the blog. All will be redone and done well (hiring the darling teen to help me out with this!). I'm tweaking my blog and reworking the layout while following my own Yellow Brick Road to publication.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ober Gatlinburg, Mountains & Where Do I Eat Lunch?

I'm in Tennessee with my darling teen. We've slept in because we're catching up on the hours we've lost while caring for the Dowager Feline Clancy. Her sister feline, Mischief, is guarding Clancy while we are on our mini trip to Tennessee. And we have a wonderful neighbor and sister cat lover taking extra care of our feline.

Ah, sleep. A glorious thing I have missed.

But we can't spend our entire day locked in the Hilton. Much as I love the free Internet and the stolen writing time, I am here to see some sights and find the penultimate (I just wanted to use that word) place for a late lunch/early dinner. 

After we spruce up, we're driving up to the Smoky Mountains. We'll battle other color seeking tourists, stop in Gatlinburg for lunch and more sight seeing, then head back to Knoxville to meet the man who made all this exploring possible. 

So computer OFF. Shower now. Pictures later! 

And if someone wants to look up the word penultimate for me and post the definition, even better. Once again I confess: I write by committee. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rest Stops, Breaks and Detours

Last weekend I was in Atlanta for the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference hosted by the GRWA. After a whirlwind of learning, driving, laughing, dancing, and plotting I am ready to write my next book. But before I begin writing in earnest, I am giving myself a well-deserved rest stop.

Why? My brain needs some serious R&R. I love to write. I love the business of writing (okay, I confess I am not a fan of query letters and synopsis writing but I do love networking and pitching). I love planning to write. I love talking about writing.

But I also love playing.

Sure I have work to do. I have two contest entries to prepare for the Golden Heart Contest run by the Romance Writers of America. I have two requests to pull together for two different manuscripts. I have queries to send and plotting to ponder. I have a book I am itchy to write.

But I have to play.

Why? I guess I naturally fall into this rhythm because, well, it is FALL. Autumn is my all time favorite season. There are less bugs, the weather is perfect, and the colors are gorgeous. In Northern VA, I'd slow down a bit in September. School always started right after Labor Day, and I'd use that time to catch up with my friends, go visit wineries and ease my way into a new project. But now I live in Alabama and school starts in the middle of August, September isn't that autumnal, and I'm gearing up for conferences and workshops.

My new favorite month to slow down in the south is October. The weather is perfect. The skies are blue, the air is crisp but not too cool, and the trees are beginning to transform into gold, orange and red. Our school district has an annual fall break that begins today (unfortunately we lost our full five days but I digress). So travel is always on the horizon during this time. This year we're traveling to Knoxville, Tennessee to see our friends and celebrate a very good friend's wedding to a great guy.

So there is a natural stop in the writing schedule. Not a complete stop, but a mini break. I am still writing every day, but I've lowered my requirements. I've registered for the Golden Heart, followed up on administration for my online workshop coordination duties (stay tuned for the next class announcement), talked to my CPs, taken down all my visual aids for the last manuscript, planned my submission strategy, read through plotting information, transcribed notes from my Michael Hauge workshop (so I can actually read my scribbles in the future), and I have written a minimum of 100 words a day (usually more) as I brainstorm my next story.

I've also had lunch with a friend, played with my scrapbooking materials to make my own little "tip" jar for meeting my daily goals (got this idea from the Kelly Stone workshop--pay myself a quarter for every goal reached). I needed to play with paper. Really really needed to do something creative that had a specific end result. I love my little tip jar so much that I want to make one for all my writing friends. I've wandered over to a neighbor's house just to chat. I've planned some other social events for later in the month (one trip I'm planning is to go to a cool winery about an hour and half north of here near Nashville, Tennessee--I'll take pictures). I've been giving myself permission to slow down, relax a bit, and enjoy this month to the fullest.

November will be here soon enough. And then it'll get darker, colder, and yuckier. If it weren't for Christmas, I'd be toast during the winter. Winter is NOT my favorite season. Snow, ice, sleet, dipping temperatures, dark days, cloudy days and barren landscapes are not for me.

But give me the autumn months. The fresh weather, the golden colors, the hint of excitement in the air, the new foods and decorations, and the gathering of resources as we prepare for that long, cold period of hibernation.

Squirrels gather nuts, bears prepare to sleep away the upcoming months and carb load, and me? Well, I soak in as much sun as I can, clear out the cobwebs and junk, and load up on fun while I begin threading the pieces of my story together. When the first cold days of winter set in, I'll have my quilt pieces ready to work and my heart full of sunshine so I can pour my stored energy into my story. I'll be back in high gear come November 1.

For some writers, November is the NaMo month. For others it is the last push before they send out their Golden Heart entries, and for others it is merely a continuation of what they have already been doing. For me? Last year I was a Golden Heart entry writer till the nth hour. Two years ago? Same thing. This year? No. I have my entries ready to roll out the door by October 31. Then I have a month of great learning and writing planned. One where I plan to build on the lessons I learned from Michael Hauge.

This winter I'll be focused on getting another book out the door. Another story written. Kayla and Drake's story has called to me. I have gutted an old book and begun laying down the groundwork for a better story. A different story. This isn't even a revision. This is a new start. I'm excited about the future for my characters. I'm curious about where they will lead me. They've been patient. They've waited for me to work out the kinks in the fourth manuscript, but now I am ready to meet them and hear their story so I can write it for them.

How do you gear up for the winter? Do you have a favorite season? And how do you give yourself a break?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday Whimsical Weirdness

I used to write poetry. Angsty poetry that reflected my angst years. I stopped writing poetry when life got happy. Good thing cause I'd rather write books about two lost souls finding each other and discovering home.

I used to scrapbook a lot. Like I have an entire album dedicated to Disneyworld. Not kidding. Now? I use scrapbooking supplies to make cutesy jars for the quarters I am going to reward myself with whenever I achieve my writing goals for the day.

I used to be uber school volunteer. I helped other people's children learn. I went on field trips. I organized teacher gifts. I helped the drama department. Now I put all my volunteering into my writing organization and any drama I have goes into the plots I write.

I used to go to church all the time. I was "church lady" and I had the wardrobe for it as well. I lead bible studies, sang in choir, helped with children's worship, prayed at the altar for others, was part of a prayer ministry. Now I avoid the twice weekly grind and rejoice in God's miracles wherever I see them. In beautiful sunsets, in flowers, in birds flying, in butterflies, in windy hugs, in sunshine warming my face.  I'm still a member of a prayer circle. Praying is like writing to me. It's like breathing air that sustains my soul.

Perhaps I am still a poet as I write my words. Perhaps I am scrapbooking pieces of people's lives into my stories. Perhaps I am teaching other people that life is full of possibilities. Perhaps I am
Today the sun is shining. The skies are blue. Birds are singing outside my office window. Later I'll go outside and walk. I'll let the gifts given me sustain me. I'll pray. I'll plot. I'll feel a spirit of joy invade my soul because I am doing exactly what God intended for me to do.

I am living a life of purpose. Of love. Of hope. And I'm praying that my stories with all their sassy, sexy, fun, serious people will resonate with my readers. Readers who may be searching for hope, for love, and for a life filled with purpose.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mission Confirmed: Write My Own Story My Way

This weekend I attended the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference hosted by the Georgia Romance Writers of America. My writing friend and I managed to survive our trip of four plus hours with little incident (uh, well there was that weird pick up line by an unwashed person in McDonalds and a strange toothless person who quite liked my buddy and a wild animal chaser running across the freeway, but I am happy to report no lives were lost during the incident.... but I digress--come on a road trip with us one day and have fun).

But here's the deal: all these adventures are worth the end result for me. First, I bond with a fabulous writing friend as we discuss our writing, life, and the universe. Then I get to hang out with amazing authors, writers and workshop leaders. And I get to celebrate the MAGGIES.

So first up, I attended the workshops. Allison Brennan doesn't plot and I LOVE her for that!! But what I really love is this wisdom: write YOUR story YOUR WAY. Michael Hauge's workshop was about plot and structure and the hero's journey and I learned so much my head ached by the end of the day. But here's what I really learned beyond my ah ha moment about the ying and yang of the conflict of false ego running from true essence as revealed by relationship with another who sees one for who she/he is inside: I learned to BELIEVE I DESERVE TO WIN.

My epiphany. My story. My end result. Someone else might have another one. But this was mine. I own it.

Finally, goal setting with Kelly Stone. Hmmm. I always set goals, so what could I learn? But I learned I had limited my goal setting. I set them by the year and break them down. Now? Oh, wow. I set them by 20 years, by 10 years, by 5 years. I want to see what it will taste like. It will be good. It will change. It will be fluid. But it will be good. Why? Because it is MY STORY TOLD MY WAY IN MY TIME AND I AM STOKED.

Okay, so I am on a conference high. And on a little *ah, I got a first place in the Emerald City Opener Contest and a second place in the same contest* high. Yeah, and I might have had a bit of chocolate. Oh, some champagne. Oh. Yeah. Some dancing occurred, too. All good.

But at the end of the day, here is what is really wonderful. I have a fortune cookie fortune in my jewelry box that I have kept for quite a while. It says: YOUR ABILITY TO FIND THE SILLY IN THE SERIOUS WILL TAKE YOU FAR.

This is my VOICE! Seriously. I mean it. A cookie fortune has pegged my voice in a nutshell. Or perhaps  in a cookie shell? Whatever. This is me. This is my voice. This is my story.

I have the ability to find the silly in the serious, and it will take me far.

Oh, and if you want the lucky numbers? I can be bribed with dark chocolate and champagne.