Writing Groups

After ConCarolinas, I attended the 4th annual Roaring Writers writing retreat. We rent a house, hire an “author guest of honor,” and spend the week in Clarion-style critiques and writing. I am so blessed to be part of this group- I always return home exhausted but energized to keep pushing forward with my work.

Every writer is different, but if you find yourself in a difficult spot with your writing, then consider cultivating relationships to start your own writing group.

Some things to consider-

Not everyone has to write the same genre, but everyone needs to understand genre conventions. Also, if memoir is boring to you, then don’t join a group dedicated to memoir. You need to enjoy the voice of the other writers, even if you don’t always read that type of book.

Try to find several positive things about the piece to balance out the negative. Everyone has fragile egos when it comes to creative output, and a sensitive approach helps everyone in attendance.

Not everyone needs to be at the same place in their career, but it helps.

Everyone needs to work equally hard. If you do not read the contributions from your fellow writers, then don’t expect them to read yours.

Hope this helps-

Until next time,

Lillian

 

Today I work on social media

I attended ConCarolinas over the June 2 weekend. One of the things I like to do after a convention is update all my social media accounts with the new people I meet. If you want to be included in that list, simply PM me on Facebook or Twitter. After that, I am off to the writing cave.

Untll next time!

Lillian

Options for organizing your writing

Gentle reader, I wanted to take a moment today to talk about the value of organization. Not like a shadowy group to bring justice to all in the universe, but the organization you bring to your work in progress. I have an annoying habit of rewriting the same scene in three different apps on two different devices because I am sure that I had not completed that work yet. Now you may not have the organizational challenges that I face, so forgive me my transgressions as I share my process-  what I have tried, what has been successful and where I failed spectacularly.

I like to write in several places, and don’t like taking my personal laptop to work, cause, you know, I am paranoid about that. So I like to work on my laptop at home and have the flexibility to type out a few paragraphs during lunch at work, or while waiting at the doctors office, etc. This intimately affects workflow, and is reflected in my commentary below. If you only write on one device, then your issues about platforms to support your writing are different than mine.

How I started out

When I first decided to write a novel, I opened a Word document and started typing. No problem, until you are on the fourth version of  chapter five, fifty pages into a document, four different chapters labeled “chapter three” and the third version of editing the entire manuscript across two devices. I did not use an outline. I do now. This predates cloud-syncing, so I would email myself the new version of whichever part of the document I worked on that day, and title the email “this is the new version.” which is not a great way to sift through your work, or figure out where you are in the process. Soon, I had no idea where I was in my workflow, or what scenes happened in which chapters. Totally lost, I despaired.

I then started to use Pages, cause it was different than Word, and if I had one folder labeled WIP, then I had 3. I liked the improved synching it supported across my devices at the time compared to Word.

The least efficient workflow ever

Pages at its heart is really no different than Word- great to write a shorter document, but hard to organize a larger work. I ended up having a different document for each chapter, printed everything out after the rough draft was completed, then wrote the chapters out on index cards, rearranged them how I wanted, then had to go back in the master file, scrap it, rearrange all the chapters like I wanted in a new master file of the entire document, and then start editing. Woe to me if at this point I wanted to rearrange things again. If you are a dedicated outliner, then you probably have not experienced these issues and think I am a crazy person. But for my pantsers out there, I guarantee there are heads nodding yes, me too as they read this post.

Solutions

I started asking around about other writers’ process, and let me tell you, they are a twitchy group with proprietary information! A few people shared “I do everything in Word”or “I don’t really have a process” but did not share how they organized their project from typed chapters to rough draft to edited manuscript.

Janet Walden-West shared her process with me- its called a spiral notebook for her rough draft, so when she types it into the computer, that is her edited and final order to her document, then she makes changes from there.

Ken Schrader shared that he used Scrivener, and kindly showed me a sample binder for one of his completed stories.

Now, for those of you who do not know about Scrivener, I invite you to look on YouTube at the thousands of videos on how to use it. I was properly scared as well, until started writing.

For me, this has worked the best of any app, format, or system that I have developed for keeping my writing organized. I can move things around, as I am not a linear writer, and I can keep all the character sketches, locations, and research items in the same place for easy reference as I create. There are sidebars where I can keep notes, like “someone needs to fight in this scene.” If you are an outliner, you can keep an outline in your binder. Research? Yep, there is a place for that as well, with capabilities to import photos, webpages, documents all into one folder within your work in progress.

If you are a dedicated outliner, then don’t spend the money on Scrivener, and keep plugging away at Word or Pages or Googledocs because you may not need that level of overlay to keep you on track.

Scrivener also offers synching across devices, but IMO it is glitchy and not as seamless as Word, Pages, or Googledocs. This is the one weakness Scrivener has over the other formats, and may be a big one depending on how many devices you use to create your story. I use Dropbox as a bridge, but I export the document to Dropbox instead of synching the Scrivener file as I have had nothing but glitches with that pathway. YMMV.

I hope this helps writers faced with the same issues of organization. Next time, editing your work!

Until next time-

Lillian

What do you read while writing?

Gentle readers, I am working on not one, not two, but three separate projects at this time! While this is an amazing feat of organization and creativity, at times I need a palate cleanser.

Here is what I am reading right now…

Radiance, by Catherynne Valente. It’s Gilded Age Hollywood meets Greek tragedy meets space travel and the theory of relativity. A creative delight.

The Gentleman, by Forrest Leo. A dramatic VIctorian poet discovers he is broke, marries for money and then sells his wife to the Devil, thus realizing he needs to rescue her. Hilarity ensues.  Its roots are as a play in London, which is evident by the strong dialogue and fast pace.

Both are fascinatingly creative which always keeps my creative side humming and juiced.

Please share what you are reading in the comments!

Until next time,

Lillian

Researching historical facts

Gentle reader, if you have read my novel Prodigal Spell, you know I write historical fantasy. This post is directed mostly to fledgling writers out there, and it is a warning. Ignore historical accuracy at your own peril. Research is necessary, but is its own cruel challenge.

My novel is set in 1790s London and the Caribbean. It would be ludicrous to NOT have slavery present- my heroine is a landowner. I researched the slave trade, transport routes, auction sites, the whole sordid mess because I wanted as much historical accuracy as my fantasy novel could support. My London scenes were researched as thouroughly- I actually cut two scenes set in the British Museum because I could not verify if the  real- world exhibits I included in my fictional world were on display at the time. Unable to crystallize those facts, the scenes were removed in the final edits.

Readers who digest historical works want accuracy. If I pick up a Cold War spy novel, it better have actual adversaries in the world-building. If there is a Colonial work about witch trials in the American colonies, I subconsciously look for a reference to the Salem Witch trials. It matters, and how you incorporate it into your stories is where to be clever.

Here is where historical accuracy can become a whirlpool to the center of the Earth; an author can spend so much time researching, agonizing over the tiniest details, that the writing lays discarded. I heard that siren call myself and lost a good three months of productivity. I am a slow writer, so three months of lost words is like three novels worth of time for others:)f

Too little facts, and the book floats in its own sphere, not quite here and not grounded. The other end of the spectrum is just as faulty- too much real-world and the book is a history book disguised as a work of fiction. Few authors can pull this off well.

My process is thusly- first, I research the general time period and “all the things I think I know” and keep these web clippings in one place. I use OneNote and Evernote for this, but as I move to Scrivener, it may make sense to have this in the WIP binder. Next, I outline the work. My outlines are not as robust as some and I add as I write, but it is a good way to know where my thoughts land. Lastly, I keep a running list of things I ponder as I outline or write, and research JUST THOSE THINGS as I am writing. Too much free-form reading while creating and I am lost. Once my rough draft is complete, I let it marinate for several days before starting the editing process. As I edit, again I track down details and incorporate them into the story, so that I feel comfortable by the end of the first edits that I have the historical details correctly reflected in the work. None of this is foolproof, and every time I have a beta reader for my work there is always a detail that needs fleshing out, but they are few. This process works for me to balance the writing and researching- your mileage may vary.

Don’t let the idea of researching a topic deter you from writing a novel. Have a plan, make a plan, and stick to it. That is the best writing advice for any stage of writing. 

I hope this helps any newbies out there!

A Bientôt, 

Lillian

A girl walks into a bookstore

I had the opportunity to travel for a week in March, and as always, new books to read are as important as packing sunscreen. I have a firm conviction that reading a book on the beach should really be reading a book on a beach, and I rely on e-readers only as a last resort.
So off I go to the local bookstore, a list of novels in hand (thank you, Janet Walden-West and Laura Taylor) and scour the shelves to find the recommended reads.
NONE OF THEM WERE IN STOCK.
Now, I am willing to grant that perhaps some were older and a long-shot at finding in the bookstore, but of the ELEVEN books on my list I found ZERO.
So I head to the friendly customer service counter – you know where this is headed- and NOPE. None in the backroom. None expected in the next shipment later that week. None at the other branch in town.
I head off to my friendly neighborhood independent bookstore- and again, no luck. At least the bookstore had several other books that looked interesting, and scored a sale from me.
When the publishing industry wrings its hands and wonders why sales are down, why the rise of Amazon and independent authors… DON’T MAKE IT SO HARD TO FIND A DECENT BOOK TO READ. My local box bookstore I swear has the SAME books on its major displays as the previous 3 months. An author I particularly like, Olen Steinhauer, a New York Times Bestselling thriller author with a newish book out had NO books on the shelves to purchase. I guess he can’t compete with the celebrity biographies stealing all the shelf space.
Please, if you want me to read more books, then publish more variety. I can get more offerings in one tiny search on Amazon that in spending 2 hours searching in vain.
A bientot,
Lillian

Keeping it real

Gentle reader, March is the cruelest month. For some, it is the rush of their Spring break. For others, it is the crashing tsunami of academic work barreling towards the exam shoreline. For me, it is the clawing terror that YET AGAIN I have allowed THREE MONTHS of writing time to slip away beneath my fingers in the post-Holiday season apocalyptic landscape. Creativity never flourishes for me in the taffy sweet clutch of opposing forces pulling me in a variety of directions.

This year, I am trying something new. In years past, I waited until I magically had free time to write my little stories. This never led to productive word counts, and the words I did write were crap. This spring, I want to desperately try to stick to a modest writing schedule that allows some time for creativity, but not at the expense of everything else. you cannot wait for your Muse to appear, and you cannot wait for time to free itself for your writing.

To that end, I encourage every writer to plot out their time, and schedule writing like any other appointment. If sticking to a strict schedule is not your thing, then promise yourself protected writing time each week. Whatever scheme works for you, decide on a plan and stick to it.

A bientot-

Lillian