Balancing Life and Writing (or how not to do it)

balance

Work/life balance. It’s the goal we strive toward – the Stanley cup at the end of a season – yet sometimes, it seems more of an urban myth. Has anyone ever achieved the fabled work/life balance? How do you obtain something so challenging when you add a time consuming activity like writing into the mix? Good question. Let me know when you have the answer!

In all seriousness, this is a topic I struggle with at the best of times. How to juggle a busy job with kids, house chores, animals, friends, a husband, reading, and down time (not in order of importance of course!) and then adding writing on top of it all? For me personally, it’s a matter of compromise. I focus on the area of my life that demands attention most, but generally that means another aspect ends up suffering – then I focus on the area that suffered and the cycle goes on… and on. Is it perfect? Hell no. But then again, what in life truly is? It’s an ever evolving process, and one I’m constantly tweaking.

over and over

If I were to use one word to describe my writing process, I’d probably use the word “sporadic”. Over the past few years, I noticed my writing settled into a basic pattern. During the fall and winter I write like heck (because it’s cold, miserable, and hurts to breathe outside), and come summer time I start revising, since work at the clinic amps up and the kids demand more of my time with outdoor activities (since it’s not dark at 5pm anymore!) which makes the process of drafting harder for me. I work best when on a deadline. No excuses, just get down and get ‘er done. (Which is why I’m forever grateful to PitchWars and Nanowrimo, my revising and drafting incentives)

So do I have it all figured out? Not yet. Maybe someday. For now, I’ll just keep hacking away to find little moments where I can work on my passion in the hopes that one day I can share it with the world. Until then, I’ll be curled up in a cozy corner of my couch on cold, wintry days typing away to my heart’s content – or revising in a swath of sunlight with a cool iced tea on sweltering summer days (and always surrounded by my unruly but loving brood).

booklet

 

The Balancing Game

 

Everything in life is part of a daily balancing game. But for non-published authors we have an extra piece that we love and cherish that we need to dedicate ourselves, in order to keep going. Not to mention at least for me I’m a mother of three homeschooling teens (which I will have to admit has made life easier), a wife, library volunteer, home owner of a house up for sale, friend, CP/beta reader, and owned by two dogs and we’ll stop there.

Image result for balance gif

Every day I carve out time for my three loves writing, the husband and my kids no matter what’s on my plate. Whether I’m waking at three in the morning or staying up until three in the morning I find the time for writing.

While, making sure to spend time with my husband so we never forget why we fell in love and started down this road of life together in the first place.

Every afternoon I make sure to follow up on the kid’s virtual classes and school work, and be an overall nosey, huggie mom.Image result for mom helping with homework gif

Luckily for me when it comes to meals, my husband was a chef and cooking rarely lands in my lap which is just another moment I steal to write, whether it be a scene or an outline or even a blog post. My family has become a driving force and cheerleaders, always finding distractions for themselves so I have more time to write.Related image

My friends are super pushy about writing. Heck, some have been known to bribe me with wine to write or submit my writing.

In this game of life writing is where I find myself, this piece of the balancing game may not pay, —yet. But it is my only job and I will work till I get paid.

No matter what if writing is what you love find the time even if it’s on your smart phone during breaks at work or the commute home—or waiting to pick up your kids in the car loop. Continue to find the balance that works for you and your life. The game belongs to you, you don’t belong to the game.

Related image

 

My Pitch Wars Journey So Far

First, I want to give a big thank you to the amazing Pitch Wars team and all the amazing mentors for giving their time and resources to help the writing community.

Pitch Wars for me is an opportunity to learn from those who know much more than me. To help elevate myself, my craft and my book.

I enter back in 2015 and I didn’t make the cut but holy heck did I learn a boat load. Like that my grammar was killing me and that my word count was holding me back. I had a word count of two book and though the word count wasn’t unheard of in my genre it was for a debut author. I also learned that writing is, not a solitary craft, it was a community activity. Let me tell you, my mind was blown.Image result for mind blown gif

After, setting my manuscript to the side for over a year I wasn’t even sure I wanted to continue with the book. But after what I describe as my summer of change, (which was the longest summer of my life, flowing deep into Autumn) I walked into the winter of 2016 ready to get back to a part of me I missed. In December I pulled my manuscript out and made some major cuts. One cut in particular hurt, but I pushed on and got rid of unnecessary words. Wow, the word’s “that” and “yeah” needed to take a hike.

Image result for typing gif

By the time January rolled around I got a second, third and fourth set of eyes on it and with the contest in mind I went back to revising and line edits.

Ready for more eyes again I found some beta readers and two amazing CP’s that are strong where I can be weak. And with the kind of luck I’ve never had before, I had the eyes of a mentor and previous mentee on my query and first chapter.

With all that said I’m spending the weekend before submissions listening to my manuscript once again on a text to speech app while I read along on my laptop to catch anything I can.

Image result for girl with headphones gif

I will enter my submission in a couple days along with everyone else. But the day before I do so I will take a moment to center myself align my chakras wash my hair, go buy coffee reserves, chocolate with coconut truffle and cheese laced foods. Image result for girl eating snacks gif

But once it’s in it’s all out of my hands and up to the fabulous minds of the mentors. I have made plans for during and after: During, my daughter and I will be filming a video to a New Kids songs, because not only am I still a Blockhead but so is she. I will also be working on a different manuscript which has no intentions of waiting in line behind all the other book ideas. I will find comfort in my community of writers and my incredible husband.

After the mentors picks, if I get in I hope to be making those plans with my amazing mentor. But if I don’t get in my plan is to continue working with my CP’s and to hopefully be able to afford a freelance editor. Then I’m off to query agents.

Ultimately there is nothing I won’t do to see this book published. No task too long, too short, too big that I won’t tackle. I will run through fire I will work my fingers to the bone, if that’s what it takes but this book will be published. There’s no work too hard, no words too harsh. I will never give up.

To Katherine and Raquel thank you for your critiques, your support and your friendships.

To all the other mentee hopefuls I wish you all much success in Pitch Wars and beyond.

Image result for thank you gif

 

My Writing Struggles and Strengths

Over the ten or so years I’ve been writing, I’ve learnt a lot about what comes naturally to me as a writer and what doesn’t. I tend to be able to create multi-dimensional characters, have hooky type plots and I’m also not completely useless at grammar. Writing, however, is very much a learnt art so there is a lot more than didn’t come naturally that I had to learn through critique partners, blog posts, freelance editors and my time as a literary intern. Hopefully some of what I learnt will be of benefit to you too!

hard-work

  1. My characters tend to be a little too emotional! I think a little of this comes from the fact that I’m a very, very emotional person. It takes a while to learn that the way you view a scene (or more specifically, the way you view your character viewing a scene) is not universal. If there isn’t enough context to why your character is reacting the way they are, then it will often come off as melodramatic. Also, your background will make you subjectively take in something much differently than someone else might. Often, the only way to realize that a scene just isn’t coming off as intended is through having someone else read over your work. There are too many scenes to count that I’ve had to tone down on character reactions. giphy
  2. I’m not good with setting! When I’m right in the thick of writing, I just don’t like slowing down for setting cues. Once I realized this, I made an effort to go back during revisions and see where additional sensory setting cues needed to be added. Again, this is where someone else reading over your work can really help you realize where your setting just isn’t strong enough. (You will see this suggestion a lot so, yes, go get some beta readers and CPs!)
  3. I leave the plot hanging! It took me a lot longer than it should have to realize that every plot line had to be an arc, and every plot arc had to be connected and resolved. Even though it ended up costing me A LOT the best thing I did to learn about my weaknesses in this area was using an amazing freelance editor for one of my novels. (I’ll write a post about this later). Now I make a pointed effort to keep track of all my different plot lines and how each one is progressing through the story. This sometimes means rewriting a lot during the editing stage, but it’s always worth it.

The great thing about writing is that the more hard work you put in the more you get out. So the bottom line: you can do this (that’s what I tell myself, anyway). You can learn and you can definitely improve. So go do that!

 

Weaknesses and Strengths

This week’s theme reminds me of those job self-assessment reviews and the dreaded questions: What are your strengths? Weaknesses?

office

Honestly, I’d rather walk through a bed of flaming hot lava than answer questions where I know I’ll be hanging myself out to dry with my answers. Not only do I not like admitting my weaknesses, I hate doing it in front of a stranger. Talk about the ultimate second guessing situation!

With writing, it’s a bit different. I think when we admit there are areas we need to work on, we get it as fellow writers. Writing is a process and the more we hone our craft, the better it becomes – but it doesn’t come without a learning curve. I’ve had my fair share of going through the different stages of learning: show vs. tell, character depth, world building, and voice. There’s so much to accomplish, yet we’re told not to do so many other different things: Don’t info dump! Don’t use passive voice! Don’t use too many exclamation marks! (LOL)

rules

As a baby writer having these terms thrown at me without any context was overwhelming. What was show don’t tell? And what the hell was voice? (All good topics for another day!) As I learnt each of these terms for myself (and not just by reading about them from a blog, but actually knowing what they meant and how to achieve them myself) there were true light bulb moments of discovery.

I’d like to say I’ve come a long way since then, but I still struggle. World building and showing emotion versus telling are my new Achilles heel. One of the biggest problems for me is describing a physical emotional response. We’re told as writers to vary words and avoid repetition, but I realized fairly quickly when reflecting on my own personal experiences that I have a pretty boring repertoire of reaction. In tense situations I clench my jaw. When I’m anxious, I tense my jaw. When I relax . . . you guessed it: I un-tense my jaw. (Otherwise known as relaxing, but that would defeat the word usage ;)) The best resource I’ve found to help me in this particular area is Angela Ackerman’s “The Emotion Thesaurus”. It helps stimulate my imagination on alternative options than the clenched jaw and sweaty palms (repetitions of which I am still guilty!) while giving a deeper sense of point of view than when I would just describe a character as “mad” or “upset”.

 

smilies-funny-emoticon-faces-160760

 

For world building, I find that I have to go back and add details as I revise. In my head, I have a clear image of how the world should be, but I find it doesn’t always translate to the page until about the third revision and at least two beta/critique partner reads. I find the feedback from CPs invaluable, and better than any revision software or tool out there. Nothing beats a good intuitive reader who can tell you where you failed in your representation of your vision – so that you can build on what’s missing until that vision is complete.

dog

As far as strengths – I don’t know if there really is one that stands out for me, but I do know what I enjoy writing the most and comes easiest: action scenes. In my first manuscript, I had a fairly detailed plot line which didn’t include many action scenes. After all, I thought that was more my husband’s jam than mine. It wasn’t until I started pantsing my second novel that I realized how easy action and fight scenes came to me. In fact, I think my second novel is made up of 90% action and fight scenes because I loved writing them a little too much. Maybe it was all the action and war movies I watched with my brothers when growing up — or perhaps I was a street-smart scrapper in another life — but the flow of movement and the rush of emotion and tension that action scenes allow is exhilarating.

fight

So if you’re a writer and you’re going through a writing slump – you’re not alone. Without the slumps we would never learn and never improve. I think it’s what defines us as writers – that in spite of the hardship and the constant self-doubt we continue on until we find our groove — and then we repeat the process, over and over again.

damon2

Until next time 😀

 

 

My Writing Process

It didn’t take me long to figure out that when it came to writing I was definitely more of a panster than a planner. What does that mean exactly? I don’t plan out my novels in advance. There are costs to writing a story that way, such as having a lot of rewriting to do. However, in the past, even when I’ve tried to plot in advance, I’ve usually had to end up ditching my planned sequence anyway as my novel took on a life of it’s own. This doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t do any preparation in advance. So what is my writing process? (You’re probably wondering about that, since that is the blog title). Well, let me tell you!

tenor

My stories always start with the characters. Usually they pop into my head quite well formed and then it’s time to take the characters and dig just a little bit deeper. Often I’ll do this by opening a blank word document, title it the name of the character, and just slap out as many details as I can, including their birthday, their family, their goals.

Once I’ve done this with all the main characters, I’ll write a very brief outline of the plot. This often means playing around with a query letter. Even though the final query will be months (or years) away, I do find writing a rough draft of a query allows me to really focus on the main plot of the novel.

I find the biggest thing I’ve learnt over the years—something I was too stubborn to acknowledge in the beginning—is how crucial editing is. It doesn’t matter if you plan or not, you need to edit. It’s natural after putting in hours and hours of work to want to write ‘the end’ and have a perfect novel. But that just doesn’t happen. I can’t remember who said this, but for me it’s definitely true: writing is in the rewriting. Editing isn’t just changing a word around and cutting a sentence, it’s tearing your novel and characters apart to make sure their motives make sense, the plot lines have arcs and the novel is cohesive and enjoyable to read. As a panster, this is the most important part of my writing process. Even though I often dread the rewrite, I always find I’m so much prouder of my work afterwards.

giphy.gif

The Writing Process – Pantser, Plotter… or Plantser?

planter

I’ve realized at the heart of my writing, I’m a planster. If you’ve never heard this term before, you’ll probably think I’ve either lost my mind or perhaps fallen victim to a mildly amusing autocorrect malfunction. Neither of these options are the case (though my husband might debate the former) but rather it’s a new word I’ve seen bouncing around on Twitter. In layman’s terms, I’m a mix between a panster (fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants without previous plotting) and a plotter (where everything is detailed and plotted before writing).

Originally, when I first started writing, I firmly believed I was a plotter. I planned and made lists of everything. How could I not be a plotter? The plot of a story was so important – it wasn’t something I could leave to the variables and whims of my mind. Right?

squirrel

Wrong. I plotted my first book and every time I tried to force the plot or subplot in one direction, my characters and story would take me in an entirely different direction. Revisions were a nightmare, because it would happen again… and again. I felt I had all these little strings in my hand leading to themes and plot lines, but instead of having a firm grasp of where everything was they kept slipping from my grip (and getting horribly knotted in the process!).

The next book I wrote, I decided to let the reins loose a little. I had a basic plot: where I wanted to start and end, with a rough theme and plot running throughout. And then I just went for it. This time, I found my subconscious played a large part in the process – I was able to weave themes and subplots while still having a firm grasp of all those unwieldy strings.

pexels-photo-276347

Then there was the rush that came with writing scenes I had no idea would happen until I started typing. It was better than reading a book or watching a good TV show: the characters and their actions came from me – my mind. I had ultimate control. When the characters and world would take over and lead me in a direction I didn’t want the story to go, I could go back a scene or two and rein them in. The freedom this gave me was liberating. I could let my creations breathe and live.

evil plot

When I’m in the groove, everything is perfect. Birds sing in my head like they do in Disney movies, and it feels like I’ve reached the end of the rainbow and found my pot of gold: inspiration. It isn’t always like that though – there are times when I’ve carved out time to write, but every word is a struggle. At the time I’m sure that every word I write is garbage – but funnily enough, when I go back to revise, it’s often the words that are hardest to come by that shine the brightest. In other words (lol), I don’t have to edit the crap out of them.

So in summary, I’m a reformed plotter turned plantser who enjoys the comfort of a well cushioned couch and a delicious cup of tea while I turn my mind loose on the empty page. It’s my getaway from a hectic life — a place where I form worlds so my mind can play. Who said escapism wasn’t healthy?

giphy-downsized

The Writing Process & How Mine Changed

I stalk the Pitch War hashtag trying to learn new things. And late last month they posted a graphic with questions for everyday in July. I was super excited to jump in. I decide to do as many in advance as possible, but when I got to Day 5; Plotter, Pantser or Plantser. I thought maybe there was something I was missing, so I did what I do best: research. I started with the dictionary on my phone and then the one on my shelf—nothing. So I did what all sensible writers do I googled it. And there it was blog, after blog. I learned I’m a plasnter, which makes me feel like I’m planting a garden.

When I first started writing I tried really hard to be a plotter, to the point where I couldn’t get anything written. I was desperately trying to outline an entire book before writing even one scene. I just couldn’t get past it, and in turn I would lose the idea. Then one day I read an interview with a YA author and she explained that she started the book with a scene from the middle of the book.
And I thought… Why didn’t I think of that? I mean really?

Later that day I started writing my current manuscript, more specifically, the second chapter. But when I got half way through the book I realized that I needed to know more about this world of fairies and Elves and Dragons, where it was taking my main character. Why my main character was there? The reasons had changed while I was writing.
I ran to the one person who understands my thinking process better than anyone, my husband. We bounced idea’s back and forth until I had a firm grasp on what my main character needed. I put on blinders and went back to plotting, but this time I started an outline without a problem.

I wrote down all the events, already in the manuscript on index cards placing them on the floor. I knew my ending, and some of scenes to get my protagonist there. I wrote them on the cards and put them in place. Then I taped the index cards to my office wall, making it easier to move the cards around or to move one down to make room for a needed connection between scenes. From time to time I turn cards around to add details about conversations, actions or scenery.

When I finally figured out the beginning I wrote it on a card and put it in place, or at least so I thought, I figured it out. I’ve rewritten the first chapter several times since.

The experience taught me a lot. I now write the original scene that sparks a new book idea before I lose the creative juices altogether. If the story won’t be put in line to wait its turn in the deep dark corner of my usb, then I outline the story around the original idea, writing any scenes that come to me.

However, I still write my scenes in the order they come to me and rarely is that in chronological order.

My Writing Story

When I was young I didn’t know right away I wanted to be a writer, (I know, not what you usually hear!) but I loved being creative. I was a kid passionate about the arts: singing, dancing and drawing. When I was really young, my dream was to be an actress or singer. But my parents didn’t think it was a good idea…for them, the arts were an impractical kind of path. What I realized, though, was there was one kind of art they couldn’t limit, that I didn’t need their approval for: writing. And suddenly that moved to the forefront.

tumblr_m9010sXDqf1qdhag9o1_500

That was my start with writing, but one more thing changed the way I’d view writing forever. This, I’m sure, will sound quite familiar: I read Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone and fell in love. And then I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and fell in love again and soon I was bordering on obsession with Harry Potter and his world. To say my viewpoint on writing transformed would be an understatement. I was so invested in J.K. Rowling’s characters, it was as if they were walking right beside me. I’d never realized someone could create something so intricate and wonderful with just their imagination and a sheet of paper. I wanted to do that. More than anything I wanted to create a world so vivid it wouldn’t leave; develop characters so real they’d walk beside my reader for life. And so at around fourteen year’s old, writing became more than a hobby. It became a goal—a dream. It not only allowed me to escape from the bullying I was experiencing at the time, but it was also my never-ending challenge: I would become a great writer. I’d learn and practise and write until I had something I’d be proud to share with the world.

tumblr_nsbcghsaSO1ur1bwio1_500.gif

Well that passion hasn’t faded. I’ve had ups and downs and too many moments of doubt to count, but that passion for words always keeps me coming back. My current WIP A Wolf Named Lucas got stuck in my head when I went down to the drive-in safari Omega Park with my little sister and mom. It was a sunny, cool day: perfect for all the animals to be out. Near the end of the trip we stopped to see the Arctic wolves, enclosed behind a long wire fence. And that’s when I saw him (or her, I’m not actually sure).

I’d never seen this wolf before or since although I’ve been to the park many times. Off to the side of the main Arctic wolf habitat was the most beautiful white wolf with opaque blue eyes. I didn’t realize at first why he’d been set apart. Then we threw a carrot in to feed him (if you’ve gone there you know you’re not supposed to do that, so I’m sorry!) and the wolf padded down the mountain, stumbled a bit and sniffed through the grass until he found the carrot before moving gracefully and carefully back up the hill.

He was blind.

I cried. My grandmother’s blind. She has been ever since my mom was young and in that wolf I saw the same strength, the same perseverance and gracefulness that I see in her. I forced my mom and sister to stay watching the wolf for at least half and hour and even when we went home the image wouldn’t leave me. And somewhere on the drive back a story formed in my head of a strong young lady working at Omega, forming a bond with that lone blind wolf as she dealt with her own struggles. Working alongside her was an impatient, hardworking boy who didn’t quite understand her at first, but fell in love with her anyway.

I won’t get into much more because I love that story so much and I hope one day people will get it in their hands and be able to read the story and be touched by the impact that wolf left on me. A wolf who will forever be remembered in my novel as Lucas. I’m glad I got to witness that strength. He was a beautiful creature. And he inspired a story that’s taken firm hold of my heart.

tumblr_maelnwzVVT1r2j1w6.gif

Why I Write

Sounds like I’m trying to emulate George Orwell, right? The question is one many writers ask themselves, and are asked in turn. Why do we write? For fame, fortune, and prestige? Ha! Keep on dreaming (which is what we do anyhow…).

giphy-downsized-large

Personally, the reason I write is because it’s in me. I have to write. There’s no gun pointed at my head, no deadline I have to meet – but it’s still something I have to do. L.M. Montgomery in her “Emily” books described the feeling as the “itch to write”. That description resonates with me.

When I was in grade school (around nine years old) I first discovered how easy it was to write a fictional story. Words flowed and I fell into another world, lost between my own pages. Of course, all of the stories back then were junk – but they were mine and I loved the process. Some of my stories ended up in the school newsletter, which made me exceedingly proud.

Then one day, around Halloween, I wrote a story and really let my imagination run wild. There were many thunderstorms, ghosts, murders – and as all good Halloween stories should end (or so I thought) everyone died at the end.

giphy-downsized

Now I think back on it, and I realize why my teacher pulled me out of class and had a concerned “Is everything okay at home?” talk with me. At the time though, it crushed me. Killed my desire to write or to let my imagination go wild, because it was wrong and it would get me into trouble. (I was a toe the line kinda kid) So I stopped writing.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a post about why I write unless I picked it back up again at some point. Around twelve I started writing again. I’d run out of my favorite books to read, so I wrote my own. They were a very thinly veiled mix of the Adventure Series by Enid Blyton crossed with a bit of the Trixie Belden mystery stories. Of course, they were crap too, but this time I wrote “books”, lovingly handwritten and then painstakingly typewritten.

In my teens, I discovered a few books that changed my life: I fell into the trap of R.L. Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and then even deeper into “Kidnapped”. I read British, Russian, French, and American classics voraciously. My writing branched out from fan fiction to literary. I’d start a first chapter and then leave it. Creating the world was enough to satisfy the “itch”, but I had no staying power to finish it. I had no real interest in the stories I was trying to tell.

pirate

Dead men tell no tales

Life became busy and again I stopped writing. This time I stopped reading – and not just for a little while, but for years. When I finally picked up a book again, I didn’t want something super heavy, so I picked up “The Hunger Games” (ironic, eh?)… and read it in a night. From there, my love of YA took off – as did the passion for futuristic, dystopian-era type novels. Something about the “what if” scenario appealed to me on a deep level and caught my interest in a way that nothing had before. On a snowy day into work an idea came to me, and from there my first true novel came to be.

So for me, I write because I have an itch that needs to be scratched – an anxious, ticklish pressure in my chest that’s only relieved by creating worlds I’ll never experience and scenarios I’ll never have to deal with (or want to, really). I write for my own sanity (and those around me). Anything else is just gravy.

sloth itch

Scratching that itch