Did I Really Write That?

Once upon a time, I decided to finally keep the promise I’d made to myself many times in my life: I’d write a novel. The year was 1999. At that time, most of the books I read were written by Stephen King or Maeve Binchy, so I guess it’s logical that I set out to write a character-driven paranormal story. I started writing in September and finished in the spring of 2000.

Somewhere during those months, I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America) not because I was writing a romance, but because they were the only writing group I could find in my area. After that I did start calling it a paranormal romance and even entered the first three chapters in a national contest. The judges’ comments were unanimous: This is not a romance!

Okay then. I revised it to straight horror … or paranormal … or whatever you call a novel about reincarnation and an evil spirit.

And now, fourteen years later, I’m revising that novel again. In the intervening years, I pulled up that file and played at revision, but never got very far before real life called me away. So, when I pulled it up again this year, the beginning chapters seemed in pretty good shape. I even blogged at the beginning of this month that I’d looked through it and found the writing quality not as bad as I’d feared.

I just didn’t look far enough or read closely enough.

About halfway through, I hit the chapters that hadn’t been touched since 2000. Oh my, was I in love with dialogue tags back then. I used them for about sixty percent of the lines … in a conversation between only two people! And some of those tags were “telling” ones: “he growled” or “he huffed” or “she begged.” But even when I used plain old said, often I tacked on an adverb: “he said angrily” or “she said brightly” instead of making the dialogue and action do the work.

But the worst error, the one that really made me cringe, is in a love scene. No, I didn’t use silly euphemisms for body parts, though I did make the mistake of having the main character, a construction worker, use unlikely flowery language. But most egregious is the messy point of view. Though I’ve used three viewpoints in this novel, those are confined to one per scene or chapter (third person limited.) But in this love scene, the POV ping pongs from his to hers throughout (omniscient.)

Fortunately, I’d found only an occasional POV slip in all the previous chapters. But this scene … wow! Now, I have to decide from which character’s viewpoint the scene is best told and get to editing. The most rewarding thing about this revision is catching these mistakes. I’ve learned a lot about the craft in fourteen years … and I’m still learning.

When you look back at your older work, whatever that is, do you see progress—or were you great from the beginning?



Mélange à trois … encore!

Good things come in threes, right? Well, today I’m sharing three little good things in this short post because I’ve started about five other posts since I published the last one and abandoned them all for one reason or another. By the way, if you misread the title* of this post you’re going to be disappointed. ;-)

*The encore appears in the title because I used this silly bit of titillation once before.


troisScrivener Update:  Recently, I blogged about my first week’s experience with using Scrivener to write and organize all the files associated with a novel. I still love it. I now have projects set up for three novels. It makes me laugh to remember that I didn’t care for the program the first time I tried it. And I expect I’ll be even more pleased with it after I learn all the ins and outs.

Download the free trial, for Mac or Windows, and try it for 30 days!


Book Covers:  My books are printed by Createspace and, at the time they were published, a glossy cover was my only choice. Now, Createspace offers matte finish as an option. Since, in my opinion, glossy covers are more appropriate for non-fiction or children’s books, I switched to matte and ordered copies for myself. They arrived this past Saturday, and I’m very pleased. For the first time the colors are accurate.

I was never happy with the printed cover of The Brevity of Roses because it had a yellow tint, edging the pink letters of the title toward salmon. Apparently, that was caused by the glossy film overlay because the title appears in a true pink with the matte finish.


Alpha, beta, critique:  Actually, the correct order is critique, alpha, beta, but it sounds better in A-B-C order. I’m talking about stages of feedback on your writing. One of the reasons I joined Women’s Fiction Writers Association was to find critique partners who write what I write. My first attempt didn’t work out. Of course, since the novel I was working on at that time is now waiting in line and the one I’m currently working on is not women’s fiction, I guess that failed attempt doesn’t matter.

So, again, I’m working without in-progress critique, which means the first person who reads “Forever” will be my alpha reader. I think I have one lined up—she’s a very busy lady, so her availability probably depends on when I have an alpha-ready draft completed. After the alpha edit, I’ll call for betas. But first, I’m writing, writing, writing.

Question of the day: Do you seek A-B-C feedback on your work?


Can you have too much time to write?

Many of you serious writers work a day job and/or have small children or others in your care or are active in social, political, or religious organizations. You’ve learned to make excellent use of the few hours a week you have for practicing your craft. No doubt you’re prone to daydreaming, but even when you’re fully engaged in the present, your subconscious Muse is at work, preparing for your next writing stint. Ideally, when that time comes, you block out the world around you and productively enter your writing zone.

wink_clockI, on the other hand, have very few constraints on my writing time. For the most part, I’m free to do what I wish with my time. And what I wish to do is write. I have little interest in any other pursuit. So, I write. Most days I spend several hours in a fictional world. That’s 24/7. That’s good and bad.

Partly, I feel I’m making up for lost time. After all, I was not one of those amazing writers who produce work despite day job, care-giving, and other obligations. I didn’t pursue writing seriously until I was already fifty-eight years old! I’d written only some stories and poems and finished one novel before then. Maybe I’ve earned these long writing hours—like accrued vacation days or something.

And maybe I have little time left in this incarnation—or in this somewhat sanely functioning mind. Right now, I have three novels in the works and I confess that’s made me wonder if this is my last gasp, so to speak. Yes, that’s morbid. What can I say? I’m a fiction writer; imagination is my game.


Back to the title of this post. When, like me, you have few interests outside of writing and little self-discipline, maybe having an abundance of free time is not such a great thing. In the first place, it’s not like I’m cranking out a mountain of work. I write on the computer. My computer has internet access. I’m easily distracted—Words With Friends, Candy Crush, Facebook links, anyone? (And before you suggest I disconnect the Internet, see the part about lack of self-discipline.)

Secondly, the problem with living inside my head so much is that I talk less. Sometimes, I forget to speak at all. Frequently, my husband lets me know that if I answered his question, I did so only in my mind.

On the occasions I’m in a room with several people conversing and a comment comes to mind, often I stop to analyze it: editing the word choices, considering the implications (how stupid I’ll sound) if I say it, wondering whether anyone will get my sense of humor … and by then the conversation has moved on and I’ve said nothing at all. (Obviously, this is why I fail at social media like Twitter and Facebook and Google+.)

So if you bemoan the lack of writing time, take heart. Know that making good use of the time you have is preferable to being an obsessed, undisciplined, self-indulgent mute like me.

Not that I want to give up any of my “writing” time … not when it could result in scintillating blog posts like this! ;-)


A Time for Looking Back

I’m big on memories. Sometimes I wonder if that’s a product of my age, but then at our family gatherings of three generations, sooner or later, the reminiscing begins. Memory is our personal history book, skewed of course, but still. I’ve spent some time looking back this week.

lookbackNot too long ago, I mentioned that I was re-watching the X-Files series. Last week, I watched an episode about reincarnation. It stirred up a longing to work on my family history again, but subconsciously it stirred up more.

Two days later, just as I woke from a nap, I thought of the first novel I wrote. I finished the first draft fourteen years ago. I revised it, even modified the genre, but I never finished polishing it. Then, after we moved back to California and my life entered a new era, I set it aside.

I didn’t think about that novel much during the next eight years. Then I wrote another novel. And after that one was published, I thought about revising my first novel. I made a half-hearted attempt to convert it to women’s fiction. But ideas for other novels distracted me.

But last week that X-Files episode reminded me that I’d written a dark novel about two reincarnated lovers who find each other again. I opened the file of Forever (working title) and scrolled through, stopping to read several passages.

As I told a friend, the newbie errors made me laugh and some purple prose embarrassed me, but mostly the quality of the writing pleasantly surprised me. So even though I vowed to lighten up this year, I’m now entertaining this dark tale. If I’m happy writing, the result will be the same.

Sometimes looking back leads you forward.



Sometimes You Already Have the Answer

I wrote some strong, honest words this week. I had a burst of writing on one of my WIPs—it’s the one you see in the sidebar, temporarily titled FISH. I started off writing it at a good pace (for me), but that came to a stop last November at about 14,000 words.

bluechairsI hung up my writer’s hat for the month of December. In January, I went back to work and wrote steadily, but stopped again at 26,000 words because I came to a bridge scene and couldn’t decide how to cross it.

Since I try to write something every day, I switched to working on my other WIP (working title TEA.) After I’d gotten 10,000 words into that one, I distracted myself with trying out Scrivener by setting it up to work on TEA.  As you know from my last post, that was a good experience.

But I wasn’t writing.

I set up all my folders and text files, and even found celebrity photos to attach to my character cards for TEA. Then I decided to set up another Scrivener project for FISH. And, of course, I had to find photos to represent my FISH characters too. And I researched 1970s home interiors, bathing suit styles, and marijuana laws because FISH is set in 1974.

But I wasn’t writing.

I wasn’t “blocked” from working on TEA. I just felt strongly that I needed to return to writing FISH, partly because I’ve lived with it longer, I’m comfortable with it, and partly because it’s another women’s fiction novel, while TEA is more an experiment. But I still hadn’t worked out that particular scene.

I felt guilty about not writing. So I tried to read because that usually sparks my writing (which is why it usually takes me forever to get through a book), but I couldn’t concentrate on reading. I went to sleep every night trying to figure out how best to move into the next section of FISH.

Now we all know a writer writes … right? So I decided that until I figured out the solution to that sticky scene, what I needed to do was open that project’s Scenes-to-Write folder and work on a scene I’d written the bare bones of previously. That was a success, and it led to reworking a few too-short scenes, raising my word count by a couple thousand.

Then I opened and read another skeleton scene—just dialogue with a few “stage directions”—started months ago. I expanded the dialogue and turned those directions into narrative. Four hundred words grew to thirteen hundred and counting. And then it hit me: if I changed the setting, this scene would be the perfect bridge!

I’m continually amazed at the Muse—and by that I mean a writer’s mind. In the background or in this case, in advance, it’s always working. Sometimes the answer we’re looking for is already there. We just need to get out of our own way to find it. BICHOK*


*For those who don’t know, this stands for Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

Can a Scatterbrained Writer Get Organized with Scrivener?

In a recent post I mentioned Scrivener, which is a word-processing and project management tool. The Scrivener site calls it a “complete writing studio.” I tried the Windows version when it was in beta testing, but trying to learn how to use new software while in the middle of writing a novel slowed me down. And though I loved the organization part, I felt the word-processing part was lacking.

Guess what I’ve been doing this past week? Yep, I downloaded the current free trial version of Scrivener for Windows, and I’ve been setting up Projects for my two WIPs. I still love the Corkboard and Binder and all the other organizing bits, but in the current version I’m also happy with the word-processor function. And I hear Scrivener easily converts your work to digital files now too!

Click the photo to view in detail.

No more do I have to open ten Word documents and switch back and forth between them. In Scrivener I can still create as many files as I need for each Project, including character sketches, style sheets, editing notes, unfinished scenes or ones I haven’t decided where to fit in yet, and all those web links and bits of info culled during research. But the difference is it’s all in one place and easily accessed from one screen!

I’ve enjoyed adding photos of celebrity stand-ins to my character sheets and index cards, and now I can just click the Corkboard view whenever I need to get newly inspired. I’m also adding photos for the locations where my story takes place and any other photos that I’ve gathered during research.

Some quick and easy editing features are the ability to take a “snapshot” of a scene before you edit it. Those versions are listed on the right-hand side of the screen, accessed with one click, and can be viewed in split screen mode to review changes or copy and paste from, if you decide you like the original better. And if a scene needs to be moved, just drag it into proper order in the Binder.

Please click on my graphic above to view it larger. This is a view of the Project for my WIP with the working title Fish (this is incomplete and first draft state—so cut me some slack.) As you can see, I’ve divided my chapters into scenes to work on individually, but if I want to view the chapter as a whole, I only need click on the “Scrivenings” button at the top and voilà!

If I find I’m distracted by all the goodies on either side of the Editor, which is what Scrivener terms the larger middle section, I can switch to full screen mode to hide everything, but the “paper” I’m typing on—and by everything I mean: both sidebars, menus, status and taskbars. (In full screen mode, a pop-up taskbar appears when you move the pointer to the bottom of the screen.)

And I can change the colors or icons for key chapters or scenes—including the color of the Editor background, so if I get the urge to write a sweet first kiss scene in purple font on a pink background I can do that. One application of the color settings is to see at a glance the structure of your novel. For instance, in this WIP, I’m using two colors to denote which scenes are in which character’s viewpoint. I also use a third color for front matter pages and a fourth for back matter pages.

I could go on and on—there’s the multi-purpose split screen mode, templates (if you want them), compiling for print or export (yes, you can convert to Word documents) and much more, but this post is a whopper already. And besides, others can tell you about it better than a newbie can.

Users who love Scrivener are vocal about it. There are numerous videos, articles, and blog posts showing how to use various functions of the program. One such user is Lucinda Whitney who wrote a terrific article, complete with screen shots, titled “What I Love About Scrivener.” She also maintains a Scrivener Pinterest page with links to many other helpful articles.

I learn something new about Scrivener each day I use it, but I quickly learned all I need to know to get organized and start making better use of my writing time. By the way, there’s a Mac version with even more features than the current Windows version. So why not check out the free trial? At least watch the introductory video to see whether Scrivener might be useful for you.

So YES, to answer the question in the post title, I believe this scatterbrained writer can get organized with Scrivener. My trial period will run out in less than three weeks—it runs for 30 full days, no matter how many times you use it during those days—and this time I’ll be paying to register it. Finally, my brain feels uncluttered, which relaxes me and that’s always good for getting the words to flow.