Grammar, Thy Name is, Well, Grammar

I have been informed, multiple times, that my use of the comma can be quite horrifying. I readily admit that my grammar education is sadly lacking and I’m not sure how to go about fixing that. I never diagrammed sentences. I never learned an adjective prepositional phrase from a subordinate conjunction. And yet I have an English degree and my Super Secret Day Job involves copious amounts of wordsmithing. My use of the comma tends to be a by-the-seat-of-my-pants thing, with commas thrown in to slow my headlong progress.

In an effort to fix this lack in my education, I’ve been slogging through the following:

And slog really is the word for it. Is there anything more boring in the world than a discussion of punctuation and grammar? Okay, statistics. And watching grass grow.

But I press on. I’m hoping to find an on-line course with music, juggling, and rhymes to help me remember the rules.

Books for Inspiration

Still trying to get the creative motor revved up. Still failing. My new plan is to re-read inspirational writing books. Not “inspirational” as in faith-based, because that’s not how I roll in this shire, but “inspirational” as in “yes, THAT’s what I’m talking about! I must get back to work and write like THIS!”

Below are a couple of books that I find help me to no end. Keep in mind that these are just my preferences. If others work for you, let me know

Evanovich is one of my favorite authors. She’s fun to read and it’s interesting to get inside her writing process. I’ve got a lot of flags in this book and I would be a happy girl indeed if I had even a smidgen of her success. It also doesn’t hurt that Stephanie Plum is quoted with great frequency.

Ah, Chris Baty. One of the brains behind National Novel Writing Month. This book was written with that crazy endeavor in mind and I still read it on an annual basis, just to be reminded about how fun writing SHOULD be. Another heavily flagged book.

The Master of all that he surveys, Stephen King not only writes great books, he’s written a great book about writing. This is also a great memoir, without all the writing stuff. But it’s the writing stuff I want.

Because, well, her books have it all – Characterization, plot, description, suspense. I keep re-reading, hoping something will rub off in my writing.

What to Do, What to Do…

Okay, I’ve had my time off. And it was GOOD. But now I need to get back to work. And as I review my projects, I can’t decide what to work on. So many projects, so little progress/positive feedback/energy.

In a perfect world, I would have just sent my perfect manuscript off to my perfect agent/editor. You know, the one who gave me a January 31st deadline, which I’ve beaten by a month. My agent/editor has a publisher lined up and my book will be out by the end of year. After a week off, preferably on a warm beach, I’d get back to work, starting the next book in the series with the knowledge that the publisher and the public would welcome it with open arms.

Alas, it’s just not so. My story is half done and there are issues with plot and character. Editing has bogged down in minutiae, and feedback is brutally harsh.

So, do I continue to whip this horse, trying to get it to the finish line, or do I switch horses in the middle of the stream?

I’m sorely tempted to start researching ANOTHER book. Yeah, THAT’s what I need – another unfinished book in a box.

Or I could work on the next most completed book, something with real horses to whip.

Then there’s the story with huge gaps to fill. Yes, there’s a lot of EDITING to be done, but there’s a lot of WRITING to be done, first.

Then there’s that NANO project that I stuck in a drawer at the end of the month, and NEVER LOOKED AT AGAIN. I’m sure it’s brilliant, in places. But also know that the ending collapsed.

And then there’s the novel started and not yet finished which might make a better novella or even a short story.

Which brings me to the idea of writing a short story right now. Quick turnaround, satisfying result, and an all-around ego boost.

I may not know what to do, yet, but I know my options. And at least I don’t seem to have a problem with writer’s block.

Guilt-Free Break

With the holidays upon us, and the skiing epic, I’ve set aside most of my writing. And my reading.

And you know, I don’t feel guilty about it. I did the same thing accidentally back in the summer and felt a little angsty the whole time. This time, I’ve given myself permission to embrace non-writing endeavors and enjoy the season.

I’ll be back in the new year, refreshed and full of stories. Or gripes, because, well, that’s the way I roll in the Shire.

A New Critique Group

There’s a new critique group in town and it doesn’t involve me driving over the river and through the woods to get to it. It’s just a short hop to a local coffee shop and let me tell you, these are my people. Affiliated with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, they’re writing the same sort of stuff that I am – chapter books/middle grade/YA. They’re readers, they’re writers, they’re creative.

Sadly, they find the same things wrong with my story that the Lone Mountain Writers do. <sigh>

Just goes to show that children’s writing is no different than writing for adults – character is everything and a story is a story is a story.

Mary Stewart’s Books

Mary Stewart died last year at the age of 94. She has long been a favorite of mine, so in her honor, I decided to revisit all of her romantic suspenses.

Over the course of the last year or so, I’ve re-read all of Mary Stewart’s books, in order of publication, but not including the Merlin stuff or her kids books. I even found one I hadn’t read before.  Needless to say, I’m still a fan.

Lady Mary (she never called herself that, but she could have and should have) had an amazing ability to evoke a location. Sights, sounds, smells, she brought it all in. I found myself going to Google Earth and hunting down her locations, though many of them are fictional. But it was so fun to zoom in on a Scottish coastline or try to find that Bavarian castle. Fictional though these places are, Lady Mary made them seem so REAL.

Her characters, too, are wonderfully developed. With a few swift brush strokes, I learned what I needed to know about a character to draw me into a story and then as I read on, layers were added with a sure touch.

Seriously, it’s like watching a master painter at work.

I get much of my love of reading and writing from Mary Stewart. I love her stories and want to write like her. It may not be fashionable to write the kind of books she did and publishers may not want to sell them, but I don’t care. There’s a lushness of setting and character in her work that sweeps me away into a wonderful tale. And isn’t this is all we ask for in a story?

• Madam, Will You Talk? (1954)
• Wildfire at Midnight (1956)
• Thunder on the Right (1957)
• Nine Coaches Waiting (1958)
• My Brother Michael (1959)
• The Ivy Tree (1961)
• The Moon-Spinners (1962)
• This Rough Magic (1964)
• Airs Above the Ground (1965)
• The Gabriel Hounds (1967)
• The Wind Off the Small Isles (1968)
• Touch Not the Cat (1976)
• Thornyhold (1988)
• Stormy Petrel (1991)
• Rose Cottage (1997)

Mary Stewart – 1916-2014

Writing, Editing, and Hemingway

I follow this blog and this post resonated with me.

Quoting Mr. Ben-Ami:

In a 1935 article in Esquire, Hemingway wrote:

“The best way is to read it all every day from the start, correcting as you go along, then go on from where you stopped the day before.  When it gets so long that you can’t do this every day read back two or three chapters each day; then each weak read it all from the start.  That’s how you make it all of one piece.”

Excellent advice because, hello?  Hemingway?  Not that I am doing what the author suggests, yet.  But I want to.  It makes sense to me, now.

Up to this point, I’ve been from the NaNoWriMo School of Writing — don’t plan, throw it on the page, and then edit the hell out of it for the next few years.  Yeah, not working for me so much.  I’m running out of years!

However, since I do have Shitty First Drafts under my belt, I’d like to follow Mr. Hemingway and Mr. Ben-Ami’s suggestion and just PRETEND I’m writing a first draft, while re-writing those stories.

Couldn’t hurt to try.

Where I like to Write

Under TreeThe beauty of writing is that if you have paper and pencil, you can pretty much do it anywhere. And I have. I’ve written on buses, on airplane drink trays, in a tent, and under a tree with my notepad balanced on my knee. I have schlepped a laptop to coffee shops, libraries, and travel trailers. And around my home, I’ve written in just about any place you can imagine – on the couch in front of the fire, the futon in my office, dining room table, my bed, and, of course, my desk. I’ve created a standing desk and I’ve scribbled while pedaling my stationary bike. I’ve even sat outside in the shade of the waving trumpet vine and tapped away.

And you know what? They’re all good. None are better than others. They’re all just diving platforms from which my creative self leaps into the highways and byways of my imagination. Very often, it’s not even the location that will stir the juices – a pad of paper and a pen will do it.

Some places, of course, are more conducive to certain kinds of writing. I spent hours in my bed last weekend with a lap desk and my current work in progress, wrestling with plot issues and planning my novel in more detail. A few hours in a protective cocoon and I can get an amazing amount accomplished, while banging out a first draft at my desk is the only way to go.

Multi-tasking always makes me feel virtuous, but I must admit, the quality of work isn’t that great. But since I know that the bus ride will be distracting, I plan my writing accordingly. I don’t try to write the big fight scene while bouncing down the road, but notes about what I want to accomplish are easy to do.

In the end, it’s all about finding that inspiration and drive to do the work, be it editing, writing, or simply daydreaming. I find there’s something soul-filling about watching the flickering flames in my fireplace, while the view of the mountains from my dining room inspires me to attempt great things.

Where do you like to write?

Taking Time Off

Sometimes you just have to step away from the Project. The project that’s getting your ego thrashed by your critique group. The project that, rather than edifying and entertaining, seems to be sucking all the fun and interest out of a certain era in history. The project that you’ve been working on for way too long. Yes, that project.

And so I’ve been taking a break from writing. Sort of a summer vacation. But don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the pictures.

I’ve tried to blame my lack of enthusiasm on a winter scene that I was finding hard to write in the heat of summer. I blame the Regional Transportation Commission for traffic jams that keep me from my critique group.

But the truth of the matter is, I just don’t wanna. I don’t wanna work on this project right now, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t WANNA!

And you know, that’s okay. I kind of wish I’d embraced the okay earlier in the process, or the lack thereof. I wish that over the last few weeks I had taken scheduled writing time off my calendar and put something else in there. Instead, I’ve felt guilt. Guilt for sitting down at the computer and rather than writing or editing, I went on Facebook. I created a Twitter account. I aimlessly cruised the internet, searching for something, I know not what. Fulfillment? Knowledge? The floor plan for Anmer Hall or Apartment 1A of Kensington Palace?

And what did I find? Glazed eyes, hunched shoulders, and a bigger butt. I’m not happy with the way I spent my summer.

But Fall is upon us and the creative juices are starting to move again. I finished (and submitted!) a short short story. I’ve researched a new project. And I’m starting to dip my toes back into the Project.

Ah, the process…

A Clean House is Not Conducive to Creativity

On the front of the binder that contains our banking records, it says “Dull Women Have Clean Houses.”

As a motto to live by, it kind of rocks my world. If the house isn’t clean, it must mean something more interesting is happening, be it writing or floating on a lake.

Currently though, my house is pretty darn clean, and it’s pretty darn annoying.

We are under quarantine for 30 days or so because of the ringworm, a fungal skin condition that’s crawling around on our new kittens. We humans are itch-free, but the beasties are afflicted with bumps and lesions.

VacuumTo combat spores, I’ve been madly cleaning. The house was vacuumed to within an inch of its life. Floors were mopped, bedding washed, and oh my yes there was dusting. And three days later I did it again. And in another three days, I’ll do it again. And so on and so forth.

This in addition to dropping pills down kitten gullets.

Yeah, living the dream over here.

In the meantime, I’m way behind in my editing. I’m way behind in my blog posts, too.

My house is clean, but this dull I could live without.