My Writing Process

1) & 2)  What am I working on and how do I write what I write?

I currently have two works in progress (WIP).  I have been working on an outline and character questionnaires for a story and am still working on that.  However, that doesn’t seem to quench my need to be creative.  I guess I am just too used to writing “by the seat of my pants” (pantser), which is how I have written stories ever since I started writing way back when I was in junior high school, (what many places now call “middle school”).  I do not want to give up on the one that I am working on with an outline and character questionnaires, though, because I want to see what really does work better for me — “pantsing” or “planning”, or maybe I’ll be able to find something in between.  Any suggestions for something in between?

You may be wondering, “doesn’t pantsing require extra editing”?  All I can say is “not for me”.  You see, the way that I write, I simply sit down and begin writing and let the characters introduce themselves to me, and I let the characters tell the story.  I just type.  The next time I sit down to write, (which should be everyday, but, sadly, is not), I reread all that I have typed; and, yes, I do this each and every time I sit down to work on the story I am pantsing.  Isn’t that time consuming, you may ask.  Yes, it is.  However, it serves three wonderful purposes to me.  It refreshes my mind about the story, I change things and make edits on what I’ve written each and every time I sit down and reread, and it gets ideas flowing and awakens the characters, and they continue telling me the story.  That way, if I write a scene that I feel is lame or that doesn’t fit or advance the story, I can get rid of it the next day.  I just wrote such a scene last night, and the more I thought about it after walking away from my writing, the more I decided it does nothing to advance the plot.  Therefore, when I sit down to write again, be it today or tomorrow, I will get rid of that scene.  So, yes, I also spend time thinking about my stories and characters while I am not writing, which also helps my writing process for the next time I sit down to write.

3)  How does my book differ from others in its genre?

The only answer I have for this, is that it is written by me, in my voice, with characters I created in their own circumstances.  I hope that their circumstances and the plot is something fresh and new to the genre.  I hope that my characters are characters that you come to care about quickly and that you come to love and will not want to say goodbye to at the end of the story.  I hope there is an underlying Christian theme/message that will inspire you and touch your heart.

4)  Why do I write what I write?

Because I have to.  I have a need to get these stories on paper (or computer) because they will not let me rest if I do not.  I also write the kinds of stories that I love to read, and I may be writing more than one genre eventually because I have a story idea burning inside me that was born of helping my son with one of his writing assignments for his homeschool writers’ club.  It introduced me to a new genre that I never tried writing before and didn’t think I’d want to write, but I had so much fun helping him, that I just might give it a shot when I finish the two WsIP I am currently spending my time on.

5)  How does my writing process work?

I described my writing process near the top of this post, and when I did, I alluded to the answer to this question.  I haven’t reached a definite decision which writing process works best for me yet, but I do still enjoy writing as a pantser much more than as a planner.  However, because I haven’t yet had a story published, I can’t really say that my writing process definitely works, but I do believe that whatever writing process I (or you) are most comfortable with will be the one that will work in the end because if I am (or you are) using a process that I am (or you are) comfortable with, I believe I (or you) will be more productive and produce good, if not great, work.

What is your writing process?  Is it working well for you?  Leave a comment and let me and my readers know.

Having Fun Experimenting

I am still working on the story that I am still outlining.  I am also working on some nonfiction short pieces to submit to some magazines.  I have also simply been “pantsing” a story just to be consistently writing something.

For a while I struggled in trying to decide on what genre I would write.  Then a wonderful writer advised me to write what my passion is and to feel free to try several genres.  It has also been suggested to me that I could write more than one genre, as many other writers do.

So, what I have found is that every story I write seems to have some romance in it.  I have decided that is my passion; clean romance, of course.  I have also found that there is a need for good fiction for boys ages 10 – 12, as well as for Young adults.  Therefore, the story I am outlining is geared for young adult girls.  The story I am simply “pantsing” is for adult women, although I’m not sure what will become of it.

However, this week I was helping my ten-year-old son with a story he was assigned to write for the Writers’ club that he and seventeen-year-old brother participate in.  They were assigned to write an Historical Fiction story, and I have to say that helping him with an Historical Fiction story began some wheels to turning in my brain, and I now have ideas for three Historical Fiction stories — one for adult women; one for girls ages, 10 – 12; and one for boys, ages 10 – 12!  I’m so excited, but I really need to get writing!  With all of these ideas, I’ll be writing for a couple of years without having to worry about finding some ideas.

I never would have thought that I would enjoy writing Historical Fiction.  I never liked history when I was in school, though I enjoy it much more now that I am homeschooling my own children.  I never thought I’d want to do a lot of research before writing something either, but all that research entails is reading (which I love to do) and taking some notes for what I want to write.  I’m looking forward to trying this new genre.

How about you?  What genre do you have a passion for?  Do you write more than one genre or for more than one age group?  Leave a comment and let me know about it.

Character Questionnaires

As I mentioned before, I am not participating in NaNoWriMo this year.  However, I am working on a story.  Well, actually I am working on the pre-writing of a story.  I have learned the value of an outline and the “Character Questionnaire”.  Since characters are what attract your readers and keep them reading, along with a good plot line, it is important to create rich, memorable characters, and the best way to do that is by knowing your characters inside and out.  That is the purpose of a “Character Questionnaire”.

A Character Questionnaire asks questions about your character(s).  I intend to fill out a Character Questionnaire for each of my protagonist, my antagonist, and a few other characters that I feel I need to know well because they will be doing quite a bit of interacting with the protagonist.

You can find lots of character questionnaires online, simply by googling “Character Questionnaire”.  There is even a NaNoWriMo character questionnaire at http://blog.nanowrimo.org/post/61118193819/nano-prep-the-official-nanowrimo-character.  There are 46 questions on this character questionnaire.

The character questionnaire that I am using comes from an E-book that I got free from K.M. Weiland at http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/?s=crafting+unforgettable+characters.  It’s very in-depth and it’s really helping me to flesh out my character, to the point where she is becoming real to me, so I know I’ll be able to write her well.  Not only do I have to know what she looks like physically, I have to know what her idiosyncrasies are, what cheers her up or annoys her, what are her hopes and dreams, does she have a secret, where and when was she born, and so much more.  (I used “her” and “she” because the character I am working on is a female.

I am enjoying creating my character with the help of a character questionnaire.

How about you?  Do you use a Character Questionnaire to help you create your characters?

Are You and Outliner or a “Pantser”?

Are you an outliner or a “pantser”?  What is a “pantser”, you may be wondering?  Well, a “pantser” is someone who writes “by the seat of your pants”.  In other words, they sit down and just start the story with very little planning or without developing any kind of written road map to follow.  Which one are you?

I’ve always been a “pantser” myself.  Everything I have written over the years has been done by the seat of my pants.  And, guess where all of those stories are — in a box — most of which are unfinished and all are unpublished.  Being my toughest critic, I didn’t think any of the finished ones were worthy of submission for publication, and the ones that are unfinished, are unfinished because I lost my way and the plot line faltered.  As a very creative person, I do not want to do anything that would stifle my creativity, as that is so important in writing.  Therefore, I refused to do an outline.  I felt it was too businesslike, too structured and too formal and, therefore, it would kill my creativity and the story would fail a-gain.

Then I read Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland, available at Amazon.com both in paperback and Kindle.  I have the Kindle edition and I devoured that book, while taking copious notes.  It was a wonderful tool to help with my writing as it showed me that outlining doesn’t have to be the formal Roman numerals and lower case letters that we learned in high school. You can think outside of the box and create outlines that encourage your creativity!

K.M. Weiland suggested, for visual learners (which I am one), to use colored note cards pinned to a bulletin board instead of putting your outline on your computer, or you may want to use the extensive sketching and planning method. She suggests that we never be afraid to experiment. She discussed “Different Types of Outlines”: The standard “list” outline, Mind maps, Pictorial outlines, the map, and the Perfect Review.

The other great thing about this book is that she does a brief interview of different authors at the end of each chapter, asking them about their outlining process and what they consider the greatest benefit and the biggest pitfall of outlining. She also asks them about “pantsing.

I learned the true value of the tool of outlining and how truly helpful it is to writing a good story with a tight plotline. Through this book, I also learned the importance of spending a lot of time on the planning of your story and the value of lots of pre-writing for your story — things like Character Questionaires for main characters, the importance of knowing your main character(s)’ back story, brainstorming, free writing, etc.

I highly recommend this book, and I can say that, after reading this book, I highly recommend outlining. I am currently working on my outline and character questionaires and I haven’t hit writer’s block or a dead end yet. I believe using some, not necessarily all, of the things K.M. Weiland writes about in this book, will end or, at least seriously decrease, bouts of writer’s block.

Give an outline a try!

Making Connections

As I stated in my last post, I did attend the Susquehanna Writer’s Workshop last Saturday.  What a great experience!  But, before I share all about it, let me tell you how I got there:

I joined Lancaster Christian Writers’ Group a little over a year ago and love attending their monthly meetings.  Almost every month they have a guest speaker who teaches on some aspect of writing, publishing or marketing, and then we have time for critique groups.  Critique groups are so helpful because we can share something we have written or are working on and get feedback from a group of writers.  We get constructive criticism as well as praise for the strong points.  If we don’t have anything to share, we can still participate in the critique group to offer our input on someone else’s writing.  I have learned so much just by being a part of these critique groups.

In the spring, Lancaster Christian Writers’,  (LCW), held their annual 1-day Super Saturday event, a Writers’ Conference.  It was the first writers’ conference I ever attended, and I loved it!  I did several posts on it afterward, so I won’t go into all that now.  That is where I met author, Marsha Hubler, who did a workshop at the conference.  I enjoyed the conference so much that when I was home, I booted up the computer and immediately looked up all of the people, authors mostly, I had met at the conference and connected with them on facebook and twitter and I bookmarked their blogs so I could continue to follow them. I found out about Susquehanna Writers’ Workshop through a link on Marsha Hubler’s blog and I immediately signed up.

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I had a beautiful, relaxing two-hour drive to get to the Susquehanna Writers’ Workshop, and when I arrived, I was surprised at how small the group was.  I was also surprised to see that all the attendees were women.  I checked in at the registration table and then perused the display table where there were writing resource books for sale at low prices, books by the workshop speakers and some of the writers in attendance, and some free information pamphlets and fliers with possible places to publish or some possible devotionals to submit to.  There were also a couple of books on the free part of the table and I grabbed up “Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul”.

Finally, I approached a table to look for a vacant seat.  I sat down with some very nice, friendly ladies.  After some announcements, we divided into the fiction workshop and the  nonfiction workshop.  Again, I was surprised, as most of the attendees were there for the nonfiction workshop.  I attended the fiction workshop.  There were only five or six of us and Marsha Hubler was our speaker.  The size of the group made things very comfortable and was very conducive to participation.  We had some great discussion and received some wonderful tips from Marsha.

When we first sat down, the lady to my left looked at me and said, “You look very familiar.”  She then asked a couple of questions which led us to the discovery that she had been the children’s pastor at a church we had attended many years ago.  She is now a reading specialist and a writer.  She has two books published already and is working on her third in a series of four.  It was delightful to reconnect with her.  She gave me here business card and I immediately connected to her facebook and twitter accounts and bookmarked her blog.

I also met a sweet lady who was originally from South Carolina and has written quite a bit, but hasn’t had anything published.  She was very interesting and pleasant, and I could kick myself for not asking if she had an email address that we could exchange email addresses to continue to keep in touch and encourage one another.  I don’t remember her last name either, so I can’t even check to see if she has a blog, but I don’t think she does.  I also don’t think she’s on facebook or twitter.  Ugh!

I also met a quiet, young lady who has a great interest in writing, but is also a homeschool mom of three young children.  I can so relate to her, though I didn’t have a lot of time to chat with her.  However, I did find her on twitter, and I found her blog.  Yippee!

Finally, I met an outgoing, wonderfully creative lady who has a fantastic idea for a book she is working on.  I truly hope she continues to press on, because I can’t wait to read her finished book.  She is a bit overwhelmed with the social media thing, which I told her I could understand.  It’s difficult enough to find the time to sit down and work on your actual writing amid the hustle and bustle of real life, but to then also have to have a social media presence is very time consuming.  I gave her some suggestions that I have learned during the past year in hopes of helping and encouraging her.

In case you’re wondering, the tips are:  set a timer for a designated amount of time when you sit down to do social media and when the timer goes off, shut off the social media.  This will help to keep you from having too much time swallowed by social media, which can so easily happen. Another idea, which is what I have decided seems to work best for me, is to simply designate one day a week for social media, and that leaves me five other days to work on my actual writing.  Of course, none of these plans are foolproof nor will they work all of the time because we live real life with its responsibilities, demands and unexpected events.  Also, it is very important to write everyday, as that is how we get better and better at what we do.  I recently read somewhere, and I think it was something Jeff Goins wrote, that you need to write something every day — just take 20 minutes and set a goal of about 200 words, but even if you don’t reach the 200 words, at least write for 20 minutes and just write anything.  If you feel stuck on the story you’re working on, you can just write about your day.  Just write about anything for 20 minutes and before you know it, it will be much easier to write everyday than it will be not to.  (I know I didn’t say that the same way as I read it, but that was the idea).

In closing, I would like to introduce you to one of the ladies I met at Susquehanna Writers’ Conference.  Her name is Kathie Mitchell.  If you have a couple of minutes, hop on over to her blog and read her post from October 8th to find out more about the book she is working on.  You’ll find her at:  http://countrygrandmother.wordpress.com/

Life’s Curveballs

Before I write about what’s currently going on in my writing life, I just want to share one of life’s curveballs.  Sometimes I think I will never succeed in my writing because other life priorities keep eating my time.  I know what you’re thinking because I’ve heard it before — “make time for your writing; make your writing a priority.”  I know that’s important, but for me there are other things that are even more important, or I should say people who are more important — my husband, my children, my parents and in-laws — all of the people I love, and I am currently at that place in life where I am needed by my children and my parents and in-laws. 

Recently, my mother needed open-heart surgery and in the beginning, we were on a roller coaster ride as she would have a good day followed by a day with a setback, then another good day followed by a worse setback.  For three days I didn’t do much except cry and pray to ask God to heal my mother and not take her from me yet.  Going through all of that, I couldn’t have written anything if I had really wanted to.  My emotions and my brain were totally overwhelmed with Mom’s well-being.

I praise the Lord now that she is doing much better, though she is still in the hospital.  She is no longer in I.C.U. and she continues to grow stronger and healthier each day, but she still has a long way to go, and she tires very easily, and she still gets discouraged.  So I need to be there for her to encourage her, to pray for her, to be ready to care for her when she comes home, which I look forward to doing.

Therefore, if I continue to be missing from this site frequently, I hope you will understand.  One thing that will make it easier is the fact that I now have a laptop of my very own, so I will be able to take it with me almost anywhere I go so that I can try to squeeze some writing in during short breaks in the days.

I’m still studying by reading as much as I can and attending any writers’ conferences, workshops and my local writers’ group as much as possible.  I have my local writers’ group next Saturday and I’m looking into attending a one-day writers’ workshop in September and I will be attending one in October.  I am also studying the Christian Writer’s Guide for  2014 to see where I might be able to submit some writing.  I have been told, recently, that it’s a good idea to do some things like magazine articles, devotionals and short stories to submit to different publications to help generate a steady income, as writing books takes much more time until finished product and possible publication and pay.

Our last writers’ group taught us that we may want to consider publishing our own book because it’s very practical and affordable in today’s world with E-books and online publishing opportunities.  It is best to have an agent if you are publishing for a royalty publishing house.  The best way to get an agent is to meet them at a conference and pitch your book to them.  It is very difficult to find and get an agent, and could take you the rest of your life, so don’t wait to write until you find an agent.

Do You Know About Pinterest?

I have had a Pinterest account for some time and I have basically used it for homeschool resources and recipes, but last night I discovered a fantastic idea for using Pinterest.  I found a Pinterest account by an author whose blog I recently began following:  K. M. Weiland, and she had boards on her Pinterest page where she had photos for the following ideas:  setting, character and costumes, as well as a board for writing tips, advice and quotes.  She even had boards with photos that she used for ideas for one of her novels.

I am now COMPLETELY hooked on Pinterest!  It is too much fun and can be used to inspire my creativity and give me ideas for my writing.    I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in writing check it out, but be warned, it will be easy to spend hours playing on Pinterest.  I was on for about three hours last night.

Did You Know that Your Characters are Important in Determining Setting?

At the last Writers’ Group meeting, the author who writes under the names of “Shelly Bates” and “Shelley Adina” taught: People interact with their settings.  Therefore knowing your characters helps to determine their “world”/setting.   You should ask yourself: “What do I need to support my character’s growth?”  The culture of your location impacts sports, social life, what defines “in” and “out”.   You need to know about your character’s home because home reveals something about him/her as well as a lack in him/her and his/her society.  Otherwise, there’s no reason to leave. You need to determine your “Adventure World”:  Where does the story happen?   Setting can reflect internal qualities of the character.  Setting can reflect change in the character.  Setting can foreshadow change. Setting can create the challenge to change the character. Setting and interactions with it are filtered through the lenses of the character’s senses and knowledge. Your character influences your readers’ perception.  Details are filtered through the character’s senses and experiences.  This gives your readers the same sensations and experiences.  Add details as the character notices them. “The fantastic becomes normal when your character takes it for granted.” Use setting to highlight conflict, secondary characters, dialog.  Setting is one way to establish mood.  You can use weather, objects, light or shadows or darkness, and space. One great idea she mentioned, especially if you want to use a real place or simply model a made up place after a real place, it can be very helpful to have a photo of the place to refer to as you write.

What I Need to Work On

Saturday, I attended my Writers’ Group.  We had another author as a guest speaker.  She writes Amish fiction as well as something called “Steam Punk” fiction.  I had never heard of Steam Punk fiction before but she even came dressed in Steam Punk apparel because upon leaving our Writers’ Group, she had a book signing for her Steam Punk fiction at a nearby historical railroad.

Her Amish fiction books are written under the name of Adina Senft and her Steam Punk books are written under the name of Shelley Adina.  She talked about several of her books and I was quite intrigued by the ones labeled as “Steam Punk” fiction.  I was disappointed that she didn’t have any books to sign and sell to our group due to time constraints, and probably because she needed what she brought for the book signing event.  Therefore, I will have to look for her books online.

She spoke to us about “World Building Through Your Character’s Eyes” (setting).  It was a wonderful workshop, though she went through it quite quickly because she normally takes three hours to teach it, and, for us, she had to squeeze it into one hour and forty minutes.  She had notes on an overhead, so I scribbled furiously in my notebook to be sure to catch the most important points, and, thankfully, she handed out a sheet with some of the more important points on it.  I have come to truly enjoy and value attending this writer’s group.  

I am learning so much, which brings me to the reason for the title of this post.  I stepped out of my comfort zone and shared two scenes of a story I am working on with a critique group, and they were very kind.  One lady blessed me by telling me all of the things she felt were very strong in my writing.  Those who told me my weakness, said, “point of view”.  I have been told this once before but this time it baffled me because I thought I was doing well with the point of view in this story.  In the past, with the story that I had been told had a confusing point of view, the person explaining it pointed it out to me and it was perfectly clear what I had done wrong.  I have been very careful not to do that with this story, and the thing they pointed out as the point of view issue seems strange to me because I am only sharing my main character’s thoughts and feelings.  The example they pointed to had a sentence or two of my main character’s thoughts before my secondary main character told her one of the stories of his life, and all she did was listen.

Do any of you have problems with point of view and how do you resolve it?  I will be researching point of view now to see if I can understand it better.  If you have any tips or advice on point of view, please leave a comment.  I would greatly appreciate it.

Are Writing Exercises Helpful?

I used to think that using writing prompts or exercises was like plagiarizing or cheating because you begin with someone else’s idea and just build on it.  But I have recently found that many writers use writing practice as warm-up or as a help to get ideas for a story flowing.  Recently, I have begun to read:

In this book, Josip Novakovich offers many writing exercises and he suggests that you connect them, to take your best shots and connect them in a collage or use them as seeds for fiction.  The exercises vary from very narrow to very broad and they build upon each other.  He explains that these exercises can be used to develop a story, to grow a story or to support a story in progress.  I am finding this book quite interesting and helpful.

Another great source for writing exercises is The Write Practice website.  Not only does this site offer writing practice prompts and ideas, but it also offers a wealth of writing advice.  You can also simply google “writing practice” or “writing prompts”, and their are other books that offer writing practice and prompts as well.

As I am still kind of stuck in a bit of a writing slump, trying to decide what genre to write and building a good story idea, I am finding the writing practices helpful because between them and this blog, at least I am writing.  I may post some of my writing practices here if I feel they are worth sharing.