Tag: writing process

writing process

Weird Facts (and how they help you write)

Weird facts about owls

One of the pleasures of being a writer is that it is my actual job to seek out weird facts. Sometimes I feel a bit like a jaybird, skimming through books and articles. Or eavesdropping. Or gossiping. Feathering my nest with all sorts of intriguing information. Will I actually use them? I just don’t know. When I least expect it, these facts pop out of my head. Or melt into my brain. For example, a weird fact about owls is that a group of them together is known as “a parliament.” According to chipperbirds.com, this is because owls are considered to be wise and intelligent. Like a parliament. Then there is the issue of the chocolate chip cookies. I was chatting with my son, who is living in London at the moment, and he informed me that when the French bake chocolate chip cookies, they don’t use brown sugar. (He sent me a recipe, so I can attest that this is true.) This weird fact stunned me as I have spent a good percentage of my life hacking away at brown sugar in a desperate attempt to make chocolate chip cookies. And more weird facts Then I was reading Midnight […]

Read More

New England Crime Bake

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the New England Crime Bake, which is co-organized by fellow Miss Demeanor Michele Dorsey. It’s a wonderful conference because it’s fairly small, and everywhere you sit you run into someone you know or have heard of or are friends with on Facebook. But the very special treat this time was that Ann Cleeves was guest of honor.

Read More

Words! Words!

I was that strange little kid who was always walking around with a dictionary, and I’ve never lost my love of learning new words. This year I’ve learned a number of them.

Read More


A few months ago, I was teaching a class and mentioned that my boss would be visiting us to share some information about an upcoming conference. Immediately one of my students said, “Don’t use that word. Boss has negative connotations.” So I asked, “What word would you use in its place?” and she suggested supervisor.

Read More


Early Monday morning and I’m sitting on a deck, looking out at Lake George, stunned by its beauty. I’m working on my new novel, which is a suspense novel. Something different for me, and I’m very excited about it. My mind is humming along. Except that, there’s a part of my mind that’s somewhere else because I know that next week this time I’ll be starting chemo.

Read More

Writing during the holidays

Guess what? The holidays are a tricky time to keep writing. There are parties, families, family parties, work deadlines, crowds, presents. Snow. Holiday euphoria or holiday depression. School vacation days. And blog post deadlines (which I missed. Which is why this is a day late and in the wrong font and missing two Miss Demeanors.) So I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors how they kept their writing schedule going during the holidays. Did they put themselves on hiatus or did they keep going? This is what they said:   Michele:   One of the unfortunate things about practicing family law is dealing with how conflict within families escalates during the holidays. Who gets the kids for Christmas? How can I buy gifts if I’m not being paid support? It goes on and on, and frankly has dampened my holiday spirits over the years. One of the ways I have coped with this is to continue to write and crawl into the fictional world I control and that insulates me from the reality of human misery.    Sleep? I’ve been an insomniac since I was a child. Fortunately, some of my best ideas come in the middle of the night.    And that’s my Bah Humbug, I fear. Paula: I don’t know how you do it. I need at least eight hours of sleep a night or I am a walking nightmare. Alison: Count me with those who need sleep! My years of burning the candle at both ends are behind me. I have a deadline of December 21st for Abish Taylor #2 revisions, so I’m in the cave of re-writing. My life is pared down to the bare minimum of what absolutely must be done beyond writing. Under normal circumstances, I write Monday through Friday. Every day until I reach my word count. I have my weekly word count goal, so occasionally I will write on the weekends if I need to make up for a day. I do find, though, that my process differs depending on where I am in the process. I’ve experimented with a lot of different routines to find what lets me be my most productive. I’ll keep trying different things, I’m sure, because what works now may not work next year. Currently, having at least a day away from writing renews me. I once tried to work on one story during the week and a different one on the weekends, but I found that when I did that I lost the help of my subconscious brain, that part of my thinking that worked out plot problems and then suggested solutions while I was on a run, or in the shower, or falling asleep. You know, those flashes of insight that dance out of sight when you search for them, but magically appear when you don’t? Cate: I write every day still and I get less sleep. Less sleep is, more or less, my solution for everything. Robin: I’m sort of in Cate’s camp. I stay up later. But I try not to lose sleep – I’m a big baby if I don’t get enough rest. My lifestyle is such that I’m able to compensate most of the time by sleeping in a little later when I stay up later. I used to have to live and die by my meeting calendar, largely dictated by others, and, as a result, I got sick a lot during the holidays. Now that I don’t *have* to live that way, I try to take better care of myself. “Try,” because sometimes my internal clock doesn’t care if I planned on waking up later.  Paula:I work all the time. Finding time to write in between my swell day job as an agent and traveling and family is the hard part. I just got back my notes from my editor for Book 2 so I have some work to do that must happen over the holidays. I have no idea how I’ll do it. Probably on planes, trains, buses, and automobiles.   Looks like we’re a pretty hard-working bunch.  How about you, friends. What do you do?

Read More

The Third Draft

I’ve been working on my third Maggie Dove book for more than a year. The first draft flowed out of me in a Nanowrimo eruption–more than 50,000 words in a month. The second draft took longer. I had to read through all those words and figure out what the plot was, which did not become clear to me until about word 17,000. Then I had to figure out who the characters were and what they wanted. You would think this would be a simple matter since my protagonist stays the same from book to book, but Maggie Dove is evolving (as am I) and I needed to think about how to reflect that. Then, of course, there are all the murder details, and those take a certain amount of cogitation. Drowning versus falling off a cliff versus getting hit on the head with an ax. I have to choose the right thing to go with the murderer, and oh, about halfway through I decided that the killer was going to be someone else entirely. I surprised myself, and hopefully will surprise the reader, but that meant I had to go back and think some more about what I’d plotted out. By the time I finished the second draft it was November, and now I’m in the midst of the third draft, which I find the hardest one to write. Because there are no more little spots where you can write in TK (meaning To Come, meaning, I’ll fix it later.) This is the draft where I have to fix that sentence that has been giving me trouble all along. This is the draft where I have to figure out how on earth someone can be some place on Tuesday when I’ve just set up a snow storm on Monday. I have the confidence of knowing the story’s there. The story is in place. But now I have to make it shine. All of which is to say, it takes patience.  So much of writing takes patience and I’m coming to realize that a big part of patience is trust. I know I will do this. Unless of course I go keeling over, I will get this done. I will make it through the holidays, I will finish up my manuscript and send it to my agent and she will say wise things. I just have to take the time to do it just right. But honestly, I just want it all to be done.  How do you keep your patience?

Read More

Writing Promptly

 NaNoWriMo starts November 1. To encourage writers to start thinking about their upcoming writing odyssey they ran a month-long Instagram challenge featuring daily prompts. Writers were encouraged to post ideas for cover art, describe what their main character had in their pockets, and choose their main character’s theme song, among other ideas. The Career Authors blog posts a writing prompt every Sunday. Last week’s was about replacing unnecessary dialogue with a gesture or action that conveyed the same message.
I don’t use writing prompts to help me with my work in progress. But sometimes I’ll use a random writing prompt as a creative warmup, a way to get the ideas, and the words, flowing if I’m in a dry spell. Sometimes, like with the NaNoWriMo Instachallenge, I’ll join in for fun. I asked my fellow Missdemeanors their opinions about writing prompts.

I use a lot of writing exercises in my teaching. So often when my students are working on them, I work on them, and it’s very helpful. But mainly I love filling out character dossiers. I love those little details that crop up about characters and find I have to go hunting for them and the dossiers really help. The other day I was filling out one and remembered how my aunt could only sleep on white sheets. Colorful or, God forbid patterned, sheets made her nervous. It’s a small and insane detail, but I used it for a character and I really liked it.

I learned the value of writing prompts in high school and was reminded of them during the first Algonkian craft workshop I took a few years ago. These days, I don’t sit down and go through exercises unrelated to my WIPs but I do think about them when I see them, like the prompts on Career Authors. It flexes the writer part of my brain the same way lifting weights flexes muscles. In early drafts I give myself prompts to add depth and texture to setting, or address the “why” of a character. What time of year is it – describe it without using the words “spring,” “summer,” “fall, or “winter.” What does my protagonist hear when they walk out their front door? What did my MC want to be when they grew up and what derailed them? Who

I don’t use writing prompts. Stories tend to come to me more fully formed from some conversation between my subconscious and conscious mind. Right now, I feel like the news is a giant writing trigger.

Amen to that, Cate. I’m quite certain my first, second, and third books are informed by the political Zeitgeist (not a word that often seems appropriate, but it does now). When I struggle, I pick up a thread that works and keep going. Almost always, something points me in the right direction. That “ah ha” usually comes during dialogue when I let my characters just talk. They usually tell me something I was missing.
Having said, I’m currently working on a New York story, and I find myself having to trust the process of letting my characters guide me…and, I admit, it’s not easy for me. With the Abish Taylor mysteries, I have an overarching theme that guides each book. Here, I know the beginning and the end, but the theme isn’t so clear to me yet.

When I hear “writing prompt” I used to think it’s time to sit down and write based on this lesson. Maybe that’s old school! When I’m in a project, my new way of thinking of a writing prompt helps me over difficult humps. If I can’t get the scene right and am spinning wheels, then perhaps it’s time to Stop. But not stop working. Instead, I can pick an angle (aka choosing one of the writing prompts) and do it that way. Change the location, or the POV, or perhaps start at a different moment. This is a writing prompt to solve a very specific problem. Sometimes I then see both the good and bad in the original.
That said, I’m still not one to use a writing prompt out of the blue. I’m always working toward a larger goal (even if the goal is a “short” story). I may see a writing prompt and think great idea…. and then use it when I’m at a specific stumbling block. A writing prompt is also a writing tip. Or maybe I should say lesson. 

Read More

Survival Tips

The other day I was talking to a writer friend I’d lost touch with for about 20 years. We each shared stories of inspiring successes and heart-breaking failures and it occurred to me that there are a lot of highs and lows in this business. So I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors: How do you deal with the ups and downs? What are your survival tips?  This is what they said: Tracee: how to survive the ups and downs? I’ll take the ‘downs’ first and say it’s necessary to remember that this is a job, and like any job there are ups and downs. Some failures are private…. a flat scene, newly discovered plot holes. That these private ‘failures’ are in our heads doesn’t help and I think it’s necessary to have someone, or a group, to turn to and share the trials and tribulations and get a sympathetic pat on the back. Finding the right support person or group is important. Certainly someone who understands that while the failures are on paper, they are also real. Big failures, certainly those that are public, let’s say a particularly bad review, well, this is no different than losing a client at work, or a trial, or not being re-elected. Everyone has professional set backs, it’s what we learn from them, and how we dust off and get back to work that matters. Now success is another thing altogether. Success is such a sliding scale and – at least for me – when I hit my goals suddenly they are in the rear view mirror. Possibly we all need to remember to celebrate the little victories – that might be getting good feedback on a rejection letter from an agent! Or it might be staying on the NYT bestsellers list for more than 100 consecutive weeks. Every writer should appreciate where they are in the process and value the successes as they come (even while keeping a weather eye on the NYT bestseller’s list). Bottom line – don’t be afraid to applaud the small things, even while dreaming of the big time! Cate: Personally, I’ve been feeling the downs a lot this year and it helps to have people to commiserate with that remind when those successes, now in the rear view, were your destinations. thanks Tracee! Michele: I take the ups and downs as they come, remembering both are temporary. I seek comfort from other writers who understand how difficult this can be to do. Then I sit down, put my pen to paper, and start writing again. It’s the only remedy I know that works.  Robin: I’ll start with the downs first, too. As Tracee points out, “down” is relative. It’s not like writers and artists get a lot of sympathy from non-artists on the down days. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, “Isn’t this something you’re doing for fun? Just don’t do it.” Thus, I’m selective about when/if/what I share on a bad day. When I do, I’ll turn to writer friends, of course, and friends who have revealed themselves to be cheerleaders and allies. Before I had an agent, I didn’t tell anyone but my significant other, because she would bear the brunt of my moping around. As far as how I deal with it now, I give myself permission to feel bad, because it’s natural, but only to a point. It is a business, as Tracee said, and bad days happen. Wallowing serves no one. If I’m on the brink of wallowing, I look for opportunities to get out of my own head and help someone else. Volunteering, mentoring, sharing my expertise in some way. And, like Michele, I write. It makes me happy in a way nothing else does, which is why I do it in the first place. The good days are also relative. Before I signed with Paula, I printed out agent rejections whenever they said something complimentary, highlighted the good parts in bright yellow, then stuck the pages up where I could see them in my home office. I celebrate every win, no matter how personal. Had a great writing day? Yay! Attended a conference where I learned something? Yay! Met a personal hero? Yay! Sold a short story? Yay! Finished a new manuscript? Yay! Celebrations could be as humble as doing a literal happy dance (picture lots of fist pumping in the air) to splurging on a nice dinner or bottle of wine. When I signed with Paula, I did all three 🙂 Alison: I don’t think I can possibly add to what the rest of you have written, but I’ll try. As a relatively new writer, I firmly believe we can all use a little help from our friends–writer friends–with whom we can be completely honest. It’s hard to admit that you’re not happy with your writing or you got a bad review. I’ve known both and then some. After a little time has passed, I go back to the work I don’t like (if it’s not already sent to the copy editor) and revisit. When it comes to reviews, I also force myself to wait. If the critique doesn’t sting anymore, then the criticism had more to do with the person writing it than with me. If it still stings, then it’s me, and something I can learn from.  Alexia: My coping mechanism isn’t particularly profound–shopping. When I’m down, finding something nice cheers me up and when I’m celebrating success, shopping is my reward.If I’m in a full-on blue funk where nothing’s right with the world and everyone sucks, I try to do something completely unproductive and totally fun. A change of environment or a new experience or reliving an old but enjoyable experience usually gives me renewed energy. I also try to avoid the news and scale back on social media as I find the constant negativity reinforces my own glumness.One thing I have to guard against when I experience a success is impostor syndrome. I have to remind myself that I earned the success and I’m not a fraud, I didn’t just get lucky, and I deserve it.I don’t obsess over reviews, good or bad. Obsessing over reviews is crazy-making. I remind myself everyone is entitled to an opinion and not everything is to everyone’s taste. I take reviews as opinions on my work, not me. And advice/feedback from people I know and respect is a good thing–I use it to improve. (And I’m actually my harshest critic; see my above comment about impostor syndrome.)I tend not to share the downs with others. As an introvert, that’s not in my nature. When I commiserate with colleagues it tends to be about bigger things like the state of the publishing industry in general instead of something specific to me. Paula: I love this question. As a writer, because I know firsthand that if you don’t love the writing, you’ll never last. As an editor, because I know that the writers who get published are the writers who finish, and revise. And as an agent, because I see way too many good writers quit just when success is right around the corner. The answer: Never give up, never surrender!

Read More

Search By Tags