Lessons Learned in 2019

Thank you 2019 Hello 2020

2019 was a challenging year in many aspects, but the lessons learned make everything a gift. Top lessons learned in 2019:

  • Insecurity, lack of confidence, anger, resentment, and impatience are by-products of fear. Fear robs us of any kind of peace and contentment.
  • Others’ behaviors and criticisms can only affect us if we let them. Others’ opinions of us, or about what we do, are unimportant and fleeting.
  • What we don’t like in others is often what we don’t like in ourselves.
  • Each of us is enough, just as we are. We don’t need a good “review” or validation from anyone else to prove that. There is no need to compare or compete with anyone else. We are who we are. And each of us is enough.
  • Not to take a single second for granted. Each moment is a gift and wishing for the next one robs us from what is right now.
  • No matter how busy life gets, there is always time for what is important to us. It’s all about prioritizing.
  • Spending quality time with family & friends is one of the most healing, energizing, and healthy ways to spend your time, emotionally, physically, and mentally.
  • Perseverance builds strength & character. Walking through the tough times, instead of running from them, yields worthwhile results.
  • The biggest lessons and greatest peace come from the hardest trials.
  • Taking a time-out is healthy and okay.
  • Completing what needs to be done, even though we don’t want to, making the best of it anyway, is fulfilling and rewarding.
  • It is possible to balance family, a day job, a writing career, and live a Christian life. All it takes is mindfulness of how time is spent.
  • We can either focus on the problem or the blessings. Choose blessings.
  • Perseverance and mindfulness are beneficial in all areas of life.
  • Focusing on self too much creates dissatisfaction and discomfort.
  • Silence truly is golden. Talking too much in a conversation or thinking about your response when listening to someone else, robs both people. It’s okay not to talk unless you have something valuable to add. Talking just to “fill a gap” is usually harmful.
  • Fear doesn’t change the process or the outcome. It does, however, hurt productivity and the way we perform.
  • Gossip is toxic to the person being talked about, to the person doing the talking, and person talked to.
  • Pressing “pause” to fully nurture relationships that are important is one of the greatest blessings.
  • Not taking things personally makes life a whole lot more enjoyable!
  • We can’t change anyone else’s behaviors nor should we try. Others’ behaviors are not about you and me, and that realization is freeing!

Have you learned anything in 2019 that you will bring with you into 2020? Please share.

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ―C. S. Lewis

 

The Three E’s

Education, Education, and Education.
Oh, yeah, and education.
I love learning! And I recently had the perfect opportunity at the Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference. The theme? The Muse Cruise. It doesn’t get much better than that. 🙂

Below is the new director at the podium while the retiring director takes it easy on the lounge chair.

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Below is a photo of the keynote speaker, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Cynthia Swanson, who gave an incredibly motivating speech about successful writers at every age. Gives the older writers (ahem…like myself) hope that it’s never too late and to just keep on keepin’ on. Cynthia’s book, The Bookseller, is soon to be a motion picture starring Julia Roberts.

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Below is the bio of another fabulous presenter, Jordan Rosenfeld. Her bio speaks for itself. I attended Jordan’s class on How to Plot Your Novel Scene by Scene. Fantastic!

 

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Below is thriller author LS Hawker. I attended two of her classes, Social Media Marketing: Bookbub Ads, Facebook Ads, & Book Trailers, and also Writing a Thriller that Readers Can’t Put Down. All amazing information! She really knows her stuff and isn’t afraid to share!IMG_1071

Below is Steven Dunn, again whose bio speaks for itself. He taught a class on How to Get Sentences to Feel Like What They Describe. He used passages from his own work and let me tell you, they were powerful!

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Below is Jovan Mays, another keynote speaker. Jovan’s passion for poetry and family was contagious and touching. He had every person’s full attention and respect. Such an incredible man!

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I also attended two classes by the amazing Angie Hodapp, who I’ve mentioned in prior posts. I literally cannot get enough of her presentations. I can listen to the same one several times and still learn something new.

I always come away from conferences feeling so inspired and motivated. Last weekend I managed to get my WIP (work in progress), Abby’s Retribution, book two in the Whispering Pines duology, off to my beta readers. With that off my plate for the time being, I’m knee deep in reviewing the audio files for Shear Murder, book four in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, which my narrator sent to me a couple of weeks ago.

With another Camp NaNo coming in July, at which time I’ll be revising Shear Fear, book five in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, I’ve got my work cut out for me and a whole lot of tools in my belt with which to do it, thanks to conferences and writing classes.

Have you been to any writing conferences? What was your biggest take away?

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do. -Pele

Camp NaNo Success!

 Camp NaNo was a success in so many ways!
  • I got a huge sense of accomplishment by completing my hourly goal.
  • Enjoyed “campfire talk” with my cabinmates.
  • Met some new amazingly kind, fun, fellow writers.
  • Established a solid writing practice.
  • Discovered that no matter how busy I am (April was one of my busiest months ever), I can always find time to write–even if it’s only 15 minutes to check in with my project.
If any of you want to join the virtual camping experience in July, all you have to do is go to the Camp NaNoWriMo site, set up your project, and let me know so I can send you an invite to our cabin.

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.  ― Virginia Woolf

 

This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be. ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (This book, BTW, is one of the greatest writing books ever written.)

 

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Book in a Day

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Last week was perhaps one of the busiest weeks I’ve had in a long time, in large part due to Crime Victims’ Rights week (more on that next week), causing me to fall a bit behind on my Camp NaNo hourly goal. Nothing I can’t make up, though. And Saturday’s all-day event made it worth it.

Book in a Day, put on by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, was an all-day event in beautiful Golden, CO. Although, to tell the truth, I didn’t get to see beautiful Golden because I was in a conference room all day with nary a window.

But, again, it was worth it.

The event began with Stuart Horwitz, founder of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors, and Anita Mumm, teaching a class based on Stuart’s latest book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts. Given how informational and motivational the class was, I would strongly recommend the book.

Following that was lunch with fellow creatives. And there’s nothing that gets a room more fully charged with inspiration than writers brainstorming, sharing information, and networking–with FOOD! 🙂

Tummies and brains fed, we moved into simultaneous afternoon sessions, one on Indie Publishing and one on the path to Traditional Publishing. While I’m an indie author with seven published books, I attended the latter. I really enjoy being an independent author and it was my choice to do so (in fact, I didn’t even consider traditional publishing for a very long time), but with a new series brewing in my head, I’m considering shopping around for an agent. Considering. I’m still undecided. The class was taught by Angie Hodapp of Nelson Literary Agency. Now, let me say that I’ve attended several of Angie’s classes and have never been disappointed. The woman is a genius and knows how to deliver a message. In fact, when I attend the Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference in May, you can bet I’ll be attending her classes there as well.

The last session? Marketing. I tend to shudder when I say that word. Simply because if there’s one weakness I have in the writing life, it’s marketing.  The session, however, was a treat! Successful, talented, and kind-hearted indie authors (Bernadette Marie, Lisa Manifold, Corinne O’Flynn, Nathan Lowell) and, again, the wonderful Angie Hodapp, shared in an entertaining, informative, attention-keeping manner the ins and outs of what has and has not worked for them. Social Media appears to be the most agreed upon success.

To make it easy to find them, I’ve included the links to their websites. It’s well worth your time to check them out.

 

And now…I’m back off to Camp to begin week three of revising book two, Abby’s Retribution, in my Whispering Pines series. The lanterns are lit, the bonfires are burning, and the campfire conversation is flowing. I think it’s time to break out the s’mores!

 

Writing Lessons

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This past weekend I attended a writing workshop hosted by Sisters in Crime, presented by Nancy Pickard. Nancy is one of the founding members and former president of the International level of Sisters in Crime, an organization that supports women mystery writers. She’s also a past board member of Mystery Writers of America. Impressive, right? But you haven’t heard anything yet.

She has numerous awards under her writers belt, among them the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Barry, and Shamus awards for her short stories–WOW! And there’s more! She’s been nominated four times for the Edgar Allan Poe award, she’s received a Lifetime Achievement award from Malice Domestic, and she’s been a Mary Higgins Clark award finalist.

Who better to learn from? And did she have a lot of fantastic advice!

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In addition to learning how to better be a strong female writer in an industry that leans toward men, I want to share some tips she provided that have served her well in her career.

There are five elements every chapter needs to have–Conflict, Action, Surprise, Turn, Senses.

Conflict: Old reality vs new reality. In the beginning of the story, something happens that changes what was to what is or will be. A template for a mystery novel contains the protagonist living a normal life that something intrudes upon. The protagonist hesitates to move forward but something else happens that propels them forward into their new reality. It will serve you well to include conflict in your first paragraph.

Action:  Action propels each scene into the next one, so make sure it’s present in each scene/chapter.

Surprise:  Try insert a surprise in each chapter, no matter how subtle it may be. The best people to surprise are the protagonist or the reader.

Turn:  Recognize what your character is feeling as they walk into a scene, even if it’s neutral. Make that emotion turn into something else during that scene. The emotional tone should change in your protagonist within each scene so s/he isn’t simply ambling from one scene into the next and out again.

Senses:  This is my favorite and in Nancy’s words, the most important. All five senses–taste, touch, sight, smell, hearing–should be incorporated into your writing. She suggested looking at each scene, and if there’s not a few references to the senses, add them. I wondered how to do this so it was natural and didn’t sound forced and was surprised and how many places I could add some of the senses in the few scenes I reviewed. And it added so much more to my story. If you’re having a difficult time, stop where you are, close your eyes and focus on one of the senses at a time. What do you hear? See? Taste? Smell? Feel? Our group was pretty creative with this exercise!

Special Mentions:

  • Write the letters C.A.S.T.S. on a notecard as well as a separate notecard with each of the five senses. Keep it by your side as you’re writing as a reminder to incorporate all of these elements in each of your scenes.
  • Always check the first sentence. If possible have it contain conflict or one of the five senses.
  • Pay special attention to the first sentence, first paragraph, first scene, first chapter. Take out all the words that weaken your writing–very, that, just, so, etc. Replace weak verbs with strong ones.
  • Backstory and the current one should each be their own story, with a beginning, middle, and an end. Don’t add backstory without a purpose.
  • Take care not to spend too much time setting up a scene. This one kind of speaks for itself.
  • Go deep into research, experiencing all that you can. Ride that train, shoot that gun, visit that museum, really taste that specific food…

And, as always, what can’t be taught but is so strongly felt, is that camaraderie, that support, that creative energy, those things that can only come from being in a room full of writers.

And now, it’s back off to camp. Camp NaNoWriMo, that is. To work on my project, revising book four in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, Shear Murder, by using C.A.S.T. and the five senses. Onward!

Off to Camp

If you have a dream of writing, that’s wishful thinking. If you have a commitment to writing, that’s the way to make your dreams come true.
Nancy Pickard

 

 

 

Writers and Writing

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Is there anything more intoxicating than being in a room full of motivated writers? If there is, I can’t think of what it would be.

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend a writing workshop in Denver, Writing Commercial Fiction, by Jeffery Deaver, hosted by Rocky Mountain Chapter Mystery Writers of America, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This was my second time I was blessed to learn from him, the first being at the Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference. What a talented, generous, wonderful man!

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The five hours were packed with useful information, no fluff, no time wasted.

He started with general rules of writing fiction which included:

Define your goal as a writer, remember your mission, writing fiction is a business, adopt the mint-flavored business model (as an author it’s our job to give the reader a pleasant experience, mint vs liver-flavored toothpaste), the subject of your story and what it should be about, plan your book or story ahead of time (he’s a huge advocate of outlining and research and completely convinced me to put more time into each), and know your craft (from style, prose, grammar, punctuation, syntax, the publishing market, and technology). He touched on being aware of your shortcomings, the importance of rewriting, continuing your education via classes and conferences, that rejection is a speed bump and not a brick wall (something we can all benefit from to remember) and take your time in all aspects of writing. Hurrying the process will only result in a lesser quality piece of written work.

From there he spent time on the four elements of a story:

Plot – Continually introduce conflicts. Every scene needs to raise questions. Aim for the WOW! factor. He suggested holding off on answering those questions as long as possible. Unresolved anticipation is good, but never leave a conflict, clue, or subplot unanswered. Every question needs to be answered at the end of the book and every clue resolved. He talked about adding subplots, humor, and even a few fun facts. He explained the importance of using plot reversals and how to energize the middle of the book. I was surprised (pleasantly so since I’ve always struggled with the 3-act structure) that he doesn’t believe in the 3-act structure but rather a linear structure with a series of ups and downs. He talked about the need for surprise endings, that your twists need to have consequences, and the necessity of creating risks for your characters by incorporating physical threats, death, or a loss of something, whether it be love, friendship, a career, or any other loss that’s significant to a character. He touched on using the Goldilocks principle when incorporating research–not to little, not too much, but make sure it helps the story and furthers the reader’s understanding.

Characters – It’s good to have a protagonist with flaws but s/he needs to be likeable, don’t create passive characters, observe people constantly to make your characters better, give them quirks and tics, the best way to reveal a character (telling the reader directly, describe the appearance, thoughts, and feelings, using dialogue, through the character’s actions, and through others reactions). And we can’t leave out that even the villain needs to be a little likable. Shoot for compelling characters instead of interesting.

Setting – The setting is essentially another character but less important than plot and character. The plot should be developed first, then populated with characters, then setting comes into play. He stressed the importance of doing your research on settings. Boots-on-the-ground research is best, but if that isn’t possible, use the Internet.

Dialogue – Don’t over explain during dialogue, write as if someone is talking (use contractions and break the rules of grammar), match the characters with their dialogue, and when using a dialogue attribution “said” and “asked” are best.

This is only a brief explanation of topics covered. Each section was chock full of information, suggestions, examples, and personal stories. And when I asked if I could record his presentation, he was kind enough to allow it. That’s generosity, folks! His passion for his profession is hugely contagious. (How’s that for the ole ly adverb?)

Numerous members of my Sisters in Crime-Colorado writing group attended as well. (I’m third from the right with the cut-out shoulder shirt). To say it was beneficial to us as writers is an understatement. If he’s ever presenting at a conference/workshop in your area, I highly recommend any and all writers to attend. You won’t be sorry. It will be a mint-flavored experience!

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And now it’s back to Camp NaNo where I have a manuscript vying for my attention.

Write on. Have a beautiful week!

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
― Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Writer’s Doubt

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Banish writer’s doubt? Or not?

In a recent guest blog post I was asked what my least favorite part of the writing process is. My answer was “getting my manuscript back from the editor.”

I learned I’m far from alone in that aspect. I also learned that even famous authors feel that way.

There are numerous blog posts and chapters in writing books dedicated to writer’s doubt and what all those red marks from an editor do our writer’s self esteem. It pretty much demolishes it for a spell. It knocks a writer on his/her fanny. The important thing is that we get back up. Immediately.

I recently got a manuscript back from an editor with a publishing company. It had a lot of red and requested changes. My initial reaction was…

what

But after I took the time to process the disappointment, I was able to focus on the positive and move forward. The positive comments the editor made held far more weight, kicking self-doubt to the curb. Well, mostly. 🙂

“I couldn’t put the partial down. I rarely say that so sit back, take a breath, and smile.”

“You have a nice, easy writing style and things flow quite nicely. Your gift for dialogue is great. It’s easy and natural like the people are sitting in my living room bantering or fighting back and forth.”

“The thing to keep in mind is that the mechanics of writing can always be fixed, but not everyone can do what you’ve done, come up with such a unique story and make it work.”

After making the suggested changes, I’ll be looking at a contract. (Yay!)

Since writer’s doubt is so prevalent among fragile writer’s egos, I’ve collected the following quotes that help me, and I hope will help you, too.


Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
Barbara Kingsolver

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.                     Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

I feel self-doubt whether I’m doing something hard or easy. Sigourney Weaver

I think self-doubt, as grim as it can be, makes me a better writer. Stasis and hubris would probably be the death knell for my career. Kristan Higgins

I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.
Erica Jong

The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen. 
Colette, Earthly Paradise

Writing was a defeat, it was a humiliation, it was coming face-to-face with yourself and seeing you weren’t good enough.
Karl Ove Knausgård, Min kamp 5

The best writers I’ve read possess oodles of self-doubt, yet claw their way up with each work and remain humble. Boastful ones, not so much.
Don Roff

Bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt.  Charles Bukowski


After reading the quotes by Kristan Higgins and Don Roff, self-doubt isn’t all bad. As long as it doesn’t cripple you from creating, from moving forward, and from truly living.

Write on.