June 8, 2022 - Almost Finished

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle is nearly done. I’m in that rush to the end where all the pieces start to come together in preparation for the climactic scene. For the first time, I actually know what all of the scenes that remain will be. Well, except for the courtroom scene. That’s still kind of hazy.

But the clues are in place, the puzzling out of how they fit together is in progress, and the resolution of all the open loops I started in this book is in sight. Which means today was a really good writing day.

There’s only one problem. It’s also the stage where I don’t want to finish the book.

Have you ever read a book that you couldn’t put down? You were so eager to find out what happens next, you kept reading. You stay up late, put off chores for just a day or two, and read as fast as you can. Until you get to the last chapter. That’s when you realize the book has been so good, you don’t want it to end. You want to continue reading about these characters. You don’t want to have come to the end of the story.

It’s the same way for me when writing a book. Just as I reach the point where I’m almost done, I don’t want the writing to end. I tell myself there’s plenty of time until the deadline, so I don’t have to rush. I make up stuff to do other than writing those final chapters.

Weird, huh?

But that’s the way things go, and to get the book done takes a lot of discipline. Let’s hope I can manage that over the next week so I can publish the book!

May 31, 2022 - What I've Been Doing

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Yes, it’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been sucked into the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial this month. I first started watching as “research” for the Shipwreck Point Series, which features a lawyer. But I’ve also been a Johnny Depp fan all the way back to 21 Jump Street. And, like almost everyone else, I loved his campy performance in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Then, also like almost everyone else, I heard something about him abusing his wife, and suddenly I didn’t feel like watching anything that he was in, even though I own DVDs of Finding Neverland (a favorite), Donnie Brasco, and even Sweeney Todd. So the defamation lawsuit intrigued me, and I’ve watched most of each day’s testimony as it happened.

That was how I learned that things were not as they seemed. Based on the evidence, he was not the abuser in that relationship. She was.

Enough of that except to say that all is left is for the jury to render a verdict, so I’ve gotten most of my day back to return to writing. I’m closing in on the end of the first draft of The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle, which hopefully will be almost a final draft. I’ve also designed two different covers for the book and polled my newsletter subscribers and an author group I belong to as to which one to use. I am now totally confused, because the readers overwhelmingly liked one cover and the writers overwhelmingly liked the other.

I can’t believe tomorrow is June already. Look for my newsletter next Tuesday. There will be something in it (well more than one something, I hope) that you’re sure to want to know about.

May 12, 2022 - Progress!

Thursday, May 12, 2022

I’m happy to report that I’m making steady, if slow, progress on writing The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle. With the pressure of meeting a daily word count gone, I’m thoroughly enjoying this book now. I take the time to research things like what an Italian restaurant menu would look like so Elisabeth and Stella can have lunch at one before writing the scene. Previously, I would have inserted one of those XXX markers to do that in revision. But, as I think I’ve said before, that makes the revision stage exceedingly tedious and frustrating.

This method also leaves time for sudden inspiration. Earlier today, while not working on the book, an idea for how I could slowly introduce my killer blossomed, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s always tricky to keep the murderer hidden, yet still play fair with the reader. Half of the fun of reading mysteries is in trying to figure out whodunit before the answer is revealed. But it can’t be too easy. And so I made a quick note before I made breakfast, because I tend to remember that I had an idea, but not necessarily what it was if I wait too long. It was sitting there for me when I actually sat down to write this morning.

Then, after a longish nap this afternoon, I was ready to go back to working on the cover. Cover design is always a lot of trial and error, playing with different ideas before the right combination clicks. I like what I’ve got right now, but I also have an alternate version that I might use. I’ll have to try that tomorrow, as it’s getting late. If you’re reading this on my actual blog, here’s a thumbnail of what I have tonight.

Pirate's Puzzle Book Cover

April 27, 2022 - The Reset

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

While working on The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle this month, I found myself repeating a pattern. A not very satisfactory pattern. I had set up a production schedule for this book, like I usually do, by working backwards from my desired release date. I then work backwards from there, putting in dates for formatting the book, proofreading, revisions based on beta reader feedback, date to get the book to beta readers, dates to finish revisions, and finally, dates left for writing. I then calculate word count goals based on how many words I want to be in the book (usually 50-60,000) divided by the number of writing days. Most of the time, I’ll realize my schedule is too ambitious and have to change the release date and rework all the rest to give me a reasonable number of words to write each day.

What has happened every single time (except for the first books I wrote when I didn’t have the concept of deadlines) is that I almost immediately fall behind. Plotting, research, character development, and writing all take a lot longer than I planned for. I react by doing two opposite things: writing for more hours than I’m comfortable with on some days and not writing at all on others because I’m sick of spending all my time sitting at my computer. Meanwhile, other things, like blogging, writing newsletters, advertising, designing covers, etc., don’t get done either.

So at the beginning of last week, I spent significant time thinking about what I wanted from my writing. That quickly became a broader question: What do I want from my life? And, after much soul-searching and prayer, I knew what I wanted in my life was Balance. I’ve already put in 60-70 hours a week when I had a day job. I don’t really want to spend my “retirement” working that way.

That was all well and good, but I didn’t change my habits. I was still largely driven by word count goals. It was only yesterday that I realized that instead of budgeting how many words I would write every day, I would budget my time and track how many hours I spent writing. In other words, I’m going to try to use what Elana Johnson calls “time blocks.” I’ll spend two hours per day writing (which also includes planning, research, “cycling”, and whatever else goes into making a story) and when the two hours are up, I’m done with writing for the day no matter how many—or how few—words I’ve written.

I’ll next take a break, then attack a different task, like updating my website, allowing a specific amount of time for that and then, when the time is up, stop. If I’ve only completed half of what I wanted to do in that time, so be it. Because if I get hung up on finishing every task on my list no matter how long it takes, I’ll need forty-eight hour days. And at my age, time is precious.

If I do this right, instead of being behind on everything, I mean seriously behind because I haven’t even started some tasks that are past their deadline, I’ll at least have made some progress on most, if not all, of them.

So The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle probably won’t be published in June. And it will take longer for me to publish the second book in my Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. But I’m not going to worry about that for now. I’m going to try not to fume and fret over my writing and try to enjoy it again instead.

April 14, 2022 - Writing Styles

Thursday, April 14, 2022

No, I don’t mean the style of language an author uses, although that might be an interesting topic. I do know that my Shipwreck Point Mysteries are written in a style reminiscent of the time period in which they occur (longer sentences, vocabulary choices, etc.), while my mysteries featuring Lilliana are much more casual in language and structure.

What I’m talking about is the style in which each author constructs their writing. Or they way they practice their craft.

Maybe it’s because I began seriously writing novels during National Novel Writing Month, which focuses on getting a specific word count each day, but for years that’s how I wrote my novels. I bought into the outline, write a rough first draft, revise, hand it to beta readers, revise again based on their feedback, edit for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc., and proofread process, sometimes with multiple revisions before moving on to the next step.

But recently, I’m trying more of Dean Wesley Smith’s method of writing fiction. First of all, no outline in advance. Now, he says no planning, just start typing, but I’m not ready to do that yet. I have my victim, my primary suspect, the killer, other suspects, a motive, method, and setting for the murder before I begin. Otherwise, I haven’t got a clue how to start. But the only actual scene I probably have in my head is the “Aha!” moment when the sleuth figures out who did it. But not always.

And then I start writing the story, doing what Dean calls writing a clean first draft. In method one, where number of words in a time period is what you’re aiming for, if you need a new character, you type in XXX as a placeholder for that character’s name and keep going. It’s in the revision stage that you actually name the character and flesh out the details. In writing a clean first draft, you stop right there and figure out the name, and if you’re me, pick out a picture of what that character looks like, and maybe some basic characteristics. If you need to do some research, say as to whether a word was in use in 1895, rather than scribbling a note to check that later, you stop and look it up immediately. If you stumble over a plot hole, instead of making another note to fix the plot hole in revision, you cycle back, plug the hole, then keep writing forward.

That “cycling” is a big part of writing a clean first draft. You start each day by rereading what you wrote the day before, correcting typos, changing wording, adding some sentences or phrases to make the writing clearer, etc. If you get stuck in the story, you cycle back and find where the story went astray, fix that, add or delete as necessary, then continue where you left off.

I’m finding this method a lot more satisfying than leaving a bunch of Xs and notes and a big mess that has to be torn apart a couple of months later. I’m not getting as many words written on a daily basis as I used to, but I think they’re better words. And the class I took with Dean Wesley Smith where I tracked the time taken to do it both ways proved to me that the first way wasn’t any faster than the second. In fact, it often took longer because I’d forgotten what I’d meant to write the first time and had to figure that out before I could proceed.

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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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