Monday, April 28, 2014


As I mentioned last week, I’ve had some fantastic critiquers going through my most recent draft of The King’s Councilor.  My favorite part about having someone else looking over my work is that they always notice something that I gloss over.

Ironically, there’s been one specific theme that I’ve noticed over the past few weeks.

Why does Cassie focus on her breathing so much?

Hmmmm. Good question.  I honestly don’t know.

I had one person ask if this was like yoga, where she focused on her breathing to become centered.  Maybe.  But I think it has more to do with me.  First off, breathing’s a pretty natural thing that should come to all of us.  When babies are born, they’re actually rated on how well they breathe (among other things).

As a nurse, I focus on breathing a lot too.  In fact, when someone’s in distress we’re told to remember our ABC’s.  Airway, breathing, cardio.  Even before we check the pulse, heart, we have to check the patient’s breathing.  It’s that important.  Whenever I’m assessing, I watch the patients as they breathe.  Is it labored?  Do they suddenly stop for several seconds?  When they breathe, do they sound like they’re underwater?

I even do it to my husband at night when he’s asleep.  He snores, and there are nights, when I stop to listen and count his breaths, making sure he doesn’t have sleep apnea.

So for me, it’s natural for someone to pay that close of attention to their own breathing along with everyone else’s.  Except she’s not a nurse, and she has no medical training.  Would she pay attention to it?

How about the rest of you?  Do you ever find yourselves creeping into your characters?  Strange idiosyncrasies that maybe shouldn’t be in there?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Another One Bites the Dust

Today’s the 25th of April, and a few hours ago, I just finished my Camp NaNoWriMo goal.  Actually, I exceeded it.  For the month of April, I wanted to revise my Blue WIP, which is now tentatively titled, The King’s Councilor.

The final word count is a little over 65,000 words, which is almost 6,000 more than the previous draft.  And there were quite a few changes – again.  However, this is one of the most painless revisions I’ve ever had to do.

Revising is one of the things I enjoy the most.  There’s always excitement when starting out, writing the first draft, getting the words on the page, but there’s something different when it comes to revising.  It’s almost like the chance to go back, live the story again and fix it.  How many times would I love to be able to do that in my own life?  It’s the chance to delve even deeper into my characters, to explore roads that I hadn’t seen on the first journey.

Plus, being a homebody like myself, it’s always nice to be somewhere familiar.

When I say painless, I mean this is the fastest I have ever revised a draft. 

A previously edited draft

With my first WIP, way back, I began working on a major revision.  It included changing the POV from 1st to 3rd person (personal preference) and fixing an ending that just never quite felt right to me.  It took almost 5 months of grueling rewriting, fixing and of course, lots and lots of colored pens.

As I’ve continued writing and revising, I’ve noticed a definite increase in my productivity.  First drafts read like 2nd or 3rd drafts of previous works.  I can focus more on the big picture before going into a revision, which decreases the work that I’d have to do later.  Even this WIP, which was a disaster of a first draft (due to my attempt at pantsing), this is only the third draft, and it already feels ready to go out to critiquers.  And the novel I wrote in November will probably need even less revision.

So what’s up?  Have I actually improved without realizing it?  Have I picked up the habits I wished I had when I first started?  OF course, this is all biased opinion, but I feel like I have.  I’m learning what to avoid, so I don’t even put it in the first draft.  That means I don’t have to take it out in later drafts.  I’m learning to add details when I first started out, rather than throwing them in as I revise.  It’s all a matter of practice and hard work.  Really, really hard work.

So while I have critiquers tear up this draft (I love you all!) it’s time to move to the next novel.  Or maybe even start a new one.  The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What I Wish I Knew When I Started – Part 2

I just want to start by saying thank you for everyone who commented with advice that they would give new writers!  I learned a lot from all of you.  For those of you who missed that post, the link is right here.

I keep thinking about where I was when I first started this journey, and all of the things that I had to learn.  Here’s a continuation of the list that I started last week.

4. Your writing isn’t as perfect as you think.

This was incredibly hard for me to learn.  The first time I got a critique, (and when I say critique, I mean an honest critique) I cried.  It made me realize that all that work and effort I’d put into it wasn’t enough.  There was still so much that was missing, so many mistakes I didn’t know I’d made.  It took me quite a while to finally accept the advice and criticism that was given.  Once I finally did that, my writing improved exponentially.

And along those lines…

5. Get someone else to read your writing. 

And by that, I don’t mean just your mom or sisters.  (Though I love that they’re willing to do that.  I love you guys!)  My family is great at reading and giving advice, feedback, but having other writers reading your work gives a completely different perspective.  Find people who know what you’re going through and who are working toward the same goals, people who know how hard it is to put words together on a page.  Finding a good network is one of the best things you can do for your writing.

6. Don’t give up.

Writing is a painful hobby.  A lot of people don’t really realize that until they start.  It’s a process that takes a lot more work than it appears.  Creating something that’s so personal and then having it torn apart again and again can really damage the ego.  (Not saying that’s always a bad thing.)  But it can also be depressing, especially once you start focusing on all the negative.  Don’t give up.  Keep trying.  At some point, you’re going to read something you’ve written and think, “Wow, this isn’t half bad.”  Just work toward that moment.

The learning never stops.  And I’m sure that in another year or so, I’ll have even more advice for past me.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Small Details

Years ago, I took a tour of Salamanca.  It’s a city in Spain that’s known for the knowledge and education.  There’s old architecture and fascinating legends associated with it.  There are three notable ‘secrets’ hidden details of the buildings.  Amongst everything else, the intricate details and carving in the buildings, there’s three things that just don’t quite match.

That is a frog, an astronaut and a gargoyle eating ice cream. I found two of the three while there.

Here’s a picture that I took.  Can you see the frog?

How about now?

Most people probably wouldn’t even notice them if they weren’t told to look for them.  But having it hidden there really makes the experience even better.  It helps the tourists really stop to enjoy the artwork, to pay attention to the small details that it took to create the masterpieces that spent years to create.

I’d like to think that while writing, I add those details that are so subtle that it might be missed by the average reader, but could still help increase the beauty of the art.  It’s a matter of finding the balance between too much and not enough.  It’s putting in the details that matter while making sure they blend into the story.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

So Little Time

Ever wished you had more hours in the day?  I know I always do.  Though I’d probably just use them to get more sleep. 

Recently, I’ve been finding myself trying to balance even more as I take on extra projects.  I’ve been doing a lot more critiquing, a lot more reading, and I’ve been participating in Camp NaNoWriMo.  Between those, researching and querying agents, the extra overtime at work and the housework that somehow doesn’t always get done, I know why I feel as though there’s a lot on my plate.

Ever feel like your time's getting eaten by a giant caterpillar? 

Despite that, I’m loving this.  I feel like I’m finally getting my stride, forming the habits that I need to continue.  Writing does have a way of consuming just about everything.  Driving to work, I think about my characters.  There are days when they don’t stop chattering in my head.  When I can’t sleep at night (a common side effect of working night shift) I stay up late and do critiquing.  During my lunch break, I pull out a book and read. 

Even this morning, I cleaned the front rooms of my house, so at least I’m not completely slacking on that department.

The secret is finding the time.  Those fifteen minutes that could have been wasted on something else.  The moments of insomnia where I could be tossing and turning in bed.  The lunch break where I could be watching random shows on the TV.  It’s a matter of knowing what to use my time on.  What do I want to focus on?

Plus, setting clear goals helps immensely.  That’s why I love the Camp NaNoWriMo.  I can keep track of my progress throughout the month.  In fact, I’m 4,000 short of completing my goal of 50,000 words revised of the Blue WIP. 

I’ve heard that there’s a way to do the same thing in Scrivener, but I don’t want to set a goal as to how many words need to be in a specific scene or chapter.  Does anyone know how to just set a goal for a specific time and add to it?

We’ve all got the same amount of time.  What matters is how we use it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What I Wish I Knew When I Started

Recently, I’ve been thinking back.  Maybe I’m just in a nostalgic mood, but I’ve been wondering about the me from ten years ago.  What would she think of me now?  And what would I tell her, if I had the chance?

There’s been so many paths that I’ve taken that I never imagined existed when I was a teenager. 

To answer the first question, I think fifteen year old me would be amazed by who I was today.  I’ve overcome so many fears, experienced so many new things, taken so many risks.

And that would be my biggest advice to the younger version of me.  Don’t be afraid to take those risks.  Don’t be afraid of pain.  Because without that, I would never be who I am today.  Those growing moments are the moments that I cherish more than the easy times.

In the writing sense, there are so many things I wish I could tell myself.  Things I wish that I’d known when I first started writing.

Me from many years ago

1.       First drafts.

 It’s the one area where you can take words and just put them together on paper.  There’s always the chance to improve, the revise, to rewrite.  But without that first draft, there’s nothing to build on.  Get the words on the page.  Get the story out.  The first draft is one of the greatest things that a writer can create because once it’s finished, it’s written.

2.       Writing is harder than it looks.

 Can I count the number of novels that I’ve never finished?  No.  Having an idea is just the first step.  The most exciting step, admittedly, but the steam runs out first.  It takes determination, perseverance and just a little bit of crazy.  But there’s nothing like actually finishing a draft.  Knowing that you were able to focus for just long enough to create something.

3.       Practice, Practice, Practice. 

One improves writing by writing.  Practicing putting sentences together, putting thoughts one after another on a page.  You can’t just learn that by reading a book or taking a class.  It’s a matter of doing it yourself and putting what you learn to use.  It’s like anything else you want to learn.  If you want to play the piano, practice.  If you want to be able to place a folley, practice.  Never stop practicing.

This will be continued next week!  What kind of advice would you tell your writer self from ten years ago?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Listen To Your Writing

One of the things that I love about online communities is that there’s the idea of sharing ideas.  I learn so much from so many people, and they’ve all helped me improve my writing.  I love hearing how other people write, and I get many ideas from them.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I just learned of a feature in Microsoft Word that I’d never heard about!  It’s not one of the normal options, so I don’t know that I ever would have found it otherwise.  In one of the writing groups I’m in, someone suggested using the ‘speak’ option to ‘listen’ to your writing.  Just highlight a certain section, push play and voila! 

It’s not perfect by any means, but I was amazed by how different it was to hear my writing.  I could hear words that were extraneous.  Words that never attracted my attention before suddenly felt out of place in the entire sentence.  Pieces of polished work suddenly weren’t quite as polished as I thought.

I already love using it.  I’ve been going through several different passages to determine what needs to be fixed. 

Have any of you tried software like this before?  

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Second Eye

Have I told you how much I love critiques?  I love all kinds, the ones that tear you to shreds, and the ones that make you feel like you’re doing everything right.  The first is obviously the most helpful when you’re trying to revise, but the second actually makes me feel like it’s worth revising.

I just got a critique of my first chapter of Cassie’s story, tentatively titled The King’s Councilor.  There were several comments in it that set my mind spinning.  In a good way.  I was filled with questions like:

How can I fix this?

What needs to be changed?

And most importantly:

What If?

Critiques give me a second eye.  Someone new, who doesn’t know the material or the characters, has the chance to experience it for the first time.  They have the chance to let me know what works.  What doesn’t work.  And what just leaves them confused. 

One of the critiques mentioned a section that just didn’t work.  I had too many unnamed characters described in exactly the same way.  I had the same problem at the end of the book, but I’d figured out a way around it.  As I reread the scene, I realized that I’d already come up with the solution.  I just hadn’t realized it before.

Armed with some good critiques, I can revise.  I can fix, and then I can send it back out for more critiques.  Beta partners are invaluable for a writer, and I appreciate everyone who’s helped me on this journey, and I love to help others out as well.  There’s always something new to learn when critiquing and receiving critiques.

So in commemoration of my 100th post on my blog (on Monday), I’m offering to critique the first chapter of the first three people to comment!  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lucky Agent Contest

Have you all heard about the "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest?

A special thanks to Jennifer Eaton for letting me know about it.  This is a contest through Writer's Digest, and there's no entry fee.  Today's the last day, so be sure to check it out!  It's a great opportunity for anyone who writes YA.  Any genre is welcome.

Plus, the prizes are awesome.  You can get a critique of the first 10 pages (double spaced) and a year's subscription to WritersMarket. All you need is your first 150-200 words and a one sentence logline.

What are you waiting for?

Check out the contest details here: Lucky Agent Contest

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pet Peeves

When I was in 9th grade, I took a speech class, and I really didn’t enjoy it.  It wasn’t that the teacher was bad, it’s just that I have really bad stage fright, and being graded on speaking in front of people was one of my biggest nightmares.  One of the topics we had to speak about was our biggest pet peeve.

As the wise, mature, 9th grader that I was, I had no idea if I even had a pet peeve, let alone one that was a higher priority than the others.  I ended up giving my speech on being called short, and even that was a stretch.  I was short, and so I could understand why someone might call me that.

Recently, I’ve had a shorter fuse than normal.  Little things that didn’t bother me now drive me crazy.  I know that there’s a lot going on recently, so it doesn’t really surprise me.  What does surprise me is that I’m starting to notice little things that have become pet peeves over the past few years.  Maybe it’s because I’m living in the adult world and interacting with more people.  Or maybe it’s because of what I’m dealing with.  Whatever it is, I now understand what people mean by pet peeve.

It’s that thing that makes your skin crawl and your stomach clench.  It’s that thing that you just want to grab the person and shout “what were you thinking?”

Or maybe that’s just me.

Here’s a few of my recent pet peeves:

1.       Drivers on the highway who drive under the limit but stay in the left lane.  If people are passing you on the right, then you are in the wrong lane!  If you’re not passing someone, then get out of the left lane.  There is no reason for you to stay in the left lane when you’re the only car on the highway.

2.       People who go back on their word.  Sure, there’s the odd moment when you forget something.  But if you schedule something, especially if it’s something dealing with your business, then don’t forget!  I work night shift.  If you say you’re going to be coming at 11am to fix an appliance, then understand that I’m staying up WAY past my bedtime so you can come.  Please don’t show up at 1:30 that afternoon.  And definitely don’t just not show up at all.

As a nurse, here’s my biggest one. 

3.       People who don’t take care of themselves.  You’ve only got one body.  Take care of it.  Treating it like a rental isn’t going to benefit you in the long run.  If your doctor tells you to reduce sugar or to exercise or if the dentist tells you to brush your teeth, then they probably have a reason to do so.  And if you don’t take care of yourself, if you ignore everything the doctor says, then accept the consequences, don’t blame someone else.

I’m not just writing this to vent.  As I’m dealing with my own little pet peeves, I’ve been working on my Blue WIP, and I’m noticing some of the same things in my main character.  I hadn’t realized it before, but she hates people who pretend they’re someone else.  It was already in there, but now that I understand how pet peeves can get under a person’s skin, it is much easier to write. 

And, if I do say so myself, much more fun to write.  I like creating characters who lose control every once in a while.

How about the rest of you?  Any pet peeves you want to share?  Need to vent?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Easy Isn’t Always Better

Let’s face it.  We’re creatures of habit.  Humans have a way of gravitating toward what feels most natural: what they know.

I’m that way.  Easier is… well… easy. 

But easy doesn’t mean it’s always the best option.  I’ve learned that the hard way.  And on multiple occasions.  The times of my life that I remember the most, the moments that changed me for good have been the times that were hard. 

Here's my story.

 I grew up in Colorado.  I wasn’t really an adventurer.  I preferred to stay home with a good book rather than go out and do something new.  My plan for my life was to get a nursing degree at a university near home, with my cousin as a roommate.  From there, I planned on living my life without any excitement and without any difficulties.

I would have been perfectly content with a life like that.  No fuss, no injuries.  But who’d want to read about that?

As a senior in high school, I received a pamphlet for Saint Louis University’s Madrid Campus.   It had an opportunity to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing from both the United States and Spain.  The thought both intrigued and terrified me.  I won’t go into the details, but after a year of debating, dealing with the fear of the unknown, I moved to Spain.

In the two years I lived in Madrid, I experienced things that I’d never dreamed of.  I learned a new language, I traveled to Germany, I met a handsome Bolivian and brought him back to the US where we got married.  I even learned how to dance.  Each experience is one that I treasure, and the person that I became is who I am today. 

Castle Manzanares El Real

Symbol of Madrid


As a writer, I search for those moments that take my characters out of their comfort levels.  I want them to struggle, to learn, and to grow.  Because ultimately, that’s the story that I would want to read. 

How about you?  Have there been moments when you stepped out of your comfort zone and experienced something new?