Cheers to Critique Partners!

Moscow MulesJust as gamblers need to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, critique partners need to know when to be stubborn as a mule and when to mix a Moscow Mule.

My critique partner and I try to meet every week. Originally, it was strictly to critique. But as time went on, we began critiquing more by email and our weekly meetings morphed into “writing sessions.” Sometimes we brainstorm new ideas. Sometimes we discuss plot problems, characters’ issues or conflict solutions. Sometimes we just write. We can run ideas past each other in real time instead of texting or calling. And she’s faster than Google when I can’t think of a word I want.

The basic purpose of our meetings is to make sure we’ve got our minimum weekly goals done by our deadline. If one of us is behind, the other cracks the whip. If my laptop keys are tapping more slowly than normal, she’ll tell me to stop doing online book research and write. If her side of the room is unusually quiet, I’ll tell her to close that ebook she’s trying to finish reading and work on her own damn book.

But sometimes a writing session has nothing to do with writing.

Last week we met at my house, as we always do (she has small kids). I’d picked up dinner (we alternate). We ate, had a drink, and chatted (our normal start to the evening). I had a new chapter I needed to write; she had some revisions she was contemplating. But as we continued to visit instead of opening our laptops, I asked if she wanted another drink. (OK, that’s a lie, she just grabbed the vodka from the freezer and mixed us fresh ones.)

She’d had a particularly frustrating week, and my brain was fried from plotting and outlining. We finally admitted to each other that we didn’t really want to write. Instead, we spent the entire evening talking and laughing until we cried. We refilled our wells. (We refilled our copper mugs, too, but the wells are kind of the point here.)

A critique partner needs to know when to kick your butt into gear. But she also needs to know when to kick back, raise her glass, and laugh with you.

Cheers!

 

Under Pressure

pressureThe tune from the Queen/David Bowie song “Under Pressure” has been running through my head a lot lately. Not that I’m under any particular outside pressure. And maybe that’s the problem.

Considering I have a reputation for being just a wee bit OCD about preparing well in advance for absolutely everything, it seems strange that I’ve always worked best under pressure. In college, I wrote my best papers the night before they were due. I did best on exams that I crammed for at the last minute. I always began studying right away, but then tapered off, letting it hang over my head until I had to get it done.

The pressure of a deadline can be intense, but nothing compared to the self-induced pressure of knowing I’m not working on something I should be. It’s a mixture of two parts potential failure, one part guilt. And yet, the procrastination continues.

It doesn’t take my psychology degree to figure out why I procrastinate. I strive for perfection and feel like a failure when I don’t achieve it, knowing full well that nothing I do will ever be perfect. I struggle with every word I type, tinkering to make them perfect instead of spewing forth and fixing later. And all the while, my lack of progress weighs heavily on me.

At this point, my only deadlines are self-imposed ones. But seeing as my future goals will require me to meet the deadlines of others, I better get in the habit now. I think it’s time I have a Come to Jesus meeting with myself, and make sure I understand that failure to meet any deadline, even my own, is completely unacceptable.

But in the meantime, it’s pressure, pushing down on me…

 

Eyes to the Front!

smileLast week someone asked me, “Do you ever think about ‘what if’? Ever wonder what would have happened if ‘such and such’ had been different?”

My answer was a resounding “No! Everything that’s happened to me throughout my life has created the person I am today. Every decision I’ve made (however questionable), every decision someone else made that impacted me, led me to where I am now. Second-guessing any of it in hindsight won’t change a thing. And if I could go back and change something, I wouldn’t.”

Later that same day I happened to read an article in the paper that quoted “There’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror.” Dude! It was like the universe was backing me up or something.

Good memories of past times and places are wonderful, but sometimes we confuse time and place when we’re looking back. When I first moved from Colorado to Texas, all I wanted was to move “back home” as soon as possible. The memories of my happy life in Denver were frozen in my mind. But as I returned for visits over the next several years, I realized Denver had changed. If I moved back, or even if I’d never left, my life would never be the same as it had been.

I’d been wasting away my life by keeping both eyes on the rearview mirror, looking at a distorted view of something that no longer existed. Once I understood that, I focused my energy on regaining the joy I’d temporarily lost. By nature, I’m a fairly happy, smiley person, and it was surprisingly easy to get back into accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. (Earworm alert!)

We have the power to decide to be cheerful or miserable. So why choose miserable? Our time on this earth is too short to waste on the “what if’s” or “if only’s” in our rearview mirrors. So, eyes to the front, and smile!

 

Share, and Lighten, the Load

Share loadWhat do you get out of RWA?

That’s not a rhetorical question. What do you, personally, get out of RWA?

I have to assume something, otherwise you wouldn’t belong to your local chapter, wouldn’t come to the monthly meetings.

It could be you’re coming for the speakers, to learn and improve your craft.

Maybe you’re looking for critique partners, to take your writing to the next level.

Possibly, you’re networking. Building up that base of potential readers, reviewers, blurb-givers.

And for some of you, belonging to the organization could be just for the social aspect. And that’s fine.

Hopefully, each person who belongs to a local chapter is getting from it what they’re looking for. But what if the monthly meetings stopped happening? What if the chapter disappeared? Would you even care?

If the answer is yes, then it’s time to start thinking about helping your chapter survive, let alone thrive. Increasingly, in chapters across the country, both local and online, members aren’t stepping up to volunteer for board or committee positions. More and more of the work is falling on the shoulders of a few members who agree, over and over, for years and years, to serve.

Last year at this time I wrote a similar article which included the advantages to being on the board, and there are many. This year, I’m hitting a bit further below the belt. Because the problem persists from year to year.

If you think you have more important things to do than contribute, does that mean the people who are on the board don’t? We all have families, jobs, or other responsibilities that limit our time. We’re all striving to become successful writers. And we all want our local RWA chapter to continue to help us on that journey.

But it can’t if it’s not there.

This fall, when volunteers for the board are asked for, think about that. Think about what relatively small contribution you could make to assure that the organization, from which you’re receiving so much, continues.

Give back. The load is easier if we share it.

 

Replenishing the Well

well“Drink from the well, replenish the well.”

That’s a quote from The Walking Dead, Season 7, Episode 2. Yes, I’ve been binge-watching. And it’s a good thing, because I had absolutely no idea what to write about this month. I’d paused the episode a few minutes in, knowing I really needed to come up with a topic and get this thing written. As I sipped my coffee and stared blankly at the TV screen, searching my brain for random thoughts on writing, the episode name came into focus. “The Well.” Hot diggity damn!

As writers, we know our wells aren’t bottomless. We draw and draw from them while we’re writing. But then we need to replenish them, from whatever sources work the best for each of us.

I recently finished a book and am starting a new one. I’m in the brainstorming stage, which I love the most. But I was spinning my wheels on a few plot points, so I decided to take a little break and see if I could add to my creative reserves a bit.

I’ve been reading. A lot. I’m a slow reader, which irritates me because I’m afraid I have more books in my to-be-read piles than I have time left on this earth. (Not expecting to go anytime soon…I just have really big TBR piles.) But at the same time, reading slowly allows me to appreciate the turn of a phrase, a character’s development, the way other authors accomplish their craft. I learn from every book I read, whether they’re good or bad examples.

I’ve been doing research for the new book. This series takes place in a small town in Texas, and although I live in Texas, I don’t live there. So I go online to research ranches and hunting and a million other things. (I love research almost as much as brainstorming.) When I find pictures of where my story takes place, I download them, get lost in them, and they generate ideas. And often while researching something in particular, I run across other information I didn’t even know I needed or wanted. Into the well.

I’ve been spending time with writer friends. One in particular, whom I love to brainstorm with, happens to know someone who owns a hunting ranch in Texas that she visits frequently (to visit, not hunt). What are the odds? A random phone conversation with her about lunch plans turned into a wealth of information about the ranch property, which in turn started my brain to spark. And the best part— she has this amazing knack for waking up with ideas for her friends’ books. They may not be the route I’m planning to go, but each one fills the well a little bit more.

I’ve been watching TV. I’d severely rationed my boob tube usage while tweaking my last book, so I started catching up on a few shows. Like The Walking Dead. Granted, the dead bodies in my books don’t get up again. But understanding the TV characters’ motivation for what they do creates backstory “aha” moments that I drop into the well.

And sometimes I even get a blog idea from an episode title.

How do you replenish your well?

 

Techno Whiz Kid

CloudHow many times have we heard it? Backup your work. Make copies. Save it to the cloud. And we all do, right? I keep a Passport drive plugged into my computer that my security software backs up to every night. But having a completed book sitting on my hard drive made me think about going one step further.

I decided it was time to invest in actual cloud backup software. I started by doing what I always do. I Googled. I researched. I compared. Then I decided. I paid. I downloaded. Look at me. Sending my shit up to the cloud, where it will be safe and secure. I’ll never have to worry again.

This is a good backup software. Rated at the very top. Lots of bells and whistles and the ability to customize and all sorts of good stuff. I skimmed the instructions as best I could until my eyes glazed over. I set the schedule, marked the files to backup, and smiled that smug little smile I sometimes get when I accomplish something I didn’t know I could do. I am woman. Hear me roar.

This new software has a sync capability, like Dropbox. With the backup software on my laptop too (yes, I got the one with unlimited computers capability, even though I don’t have unlimited computers) I can take the latest, greatest, backed-up version of my book with me and work on it anywhere.

Side note: I write in Scrivener. My critique partner and I email each other scenes and chapters in Word. Sometimes, being my anal-retentive OCD self, I have a tendency to over-save copies of things. Just the weekend before doing the Great Back-up Software Purchase, I’d wasted a half day combining edited versions of chapters because I’d accidentally been working in the wrong one. So I spent the second half of that day doing the Great Copy Clean-up, deleting all the extra, unnecessary versions. Kicking a-r ocd’s butt to the curb. Booyah!

So, back to the sync capability. I dragged my Scrivener file, the one with the completely finished and almost completely edited book, from Dropbox to Sync. I opened it. And more than half of the book was gone. Holy crap! (Okay, that’s not what I said. But you get the picture.) Being the technological whiz kid that I am, I closed it again really quickly. You know, five second rule? And I dragged it back to Dropbox. Who doesn’t believe in do-overs? Still only half my book.

I ran to my laptop and opened Dropbox, because…techno whiz kid. (Yes, I do understand the concept of Dropbox. But a girl can dream, can’t she?) Still only half the book. I tried “recent versions” in Scrivener. No luck. I tried the Passport drive backup. Although good for a total restore, that thing’s a bitch when it comes to trying to find one single version of one single document. Still staving off tears, I called my critique partner. Luckily (for me, not so much her at the time) she’d had a similar issue last year. She helped me find my current Scrivener backup on my hard drive and restore it. Whew!

Once my blood pressure returned to normal, I Googled a bit more. Seems Scrivener doesn’t play well with some syncing software. That’s okay, it works in Dropbox. But just to be on the safe side, I’m reverting back to a semi-hoarder with my files.

Notes to self: Read all the instructions. Don’t over-delete. Wipe that smug smile off your face. After all, you’re no techno whiz kid.

 

Writing Kegels (and Wear Your Tighty Writies)

blog2Ever since I started learning the craft of writing, I’ve heard “write tight.” I thought I understood what it meant and I thought I did what it said. I’ve sold several short stories, so I’m used to writing, well, short. But I recently became aware that I still have a tendency to use more words than necessary.

My characters don’t just sit or stand. They sit down. And then they stand back up. They don’t just turn. They turn around, then turn back around. Anyone dizzy yet?

And don’t think that I forgot all the words that are really so unnecessary. Grammar/spellcheck does not always know best. If the sentence reads well without a word, cut it.

There are all those teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy redundant words that pound in the point we’re trying to make. For that matter, we don’t need to try to make a point by pounding it in. We simply pound in the point, or make the point.

Use contractions when possible. When my characters are talking in my head, they are often emphasizing words that, once on the page, read better as contractions.

Sometimes we need to tighten up bigger writing issues than words. Our sentences can be repetitive. We’re saying the same thing in multiple ways. We’re beating a dead horse. We’re still pounding in that damn point.

I’m currently more aware of currently because a writer friend is currently using it too much. It’s rarely necessary.

I catch a lot of these in my writing now that I’m aware of them. But it helps to keep a list, so when editing, I don’t miss any.

So, do those Kegels when you’re writing. And when you’re editing, wear those tighty writies.