Oh, no! It’s almost March Madness time again!

Didn’t we just have Christmas? How can we possibly be on the eve of March? I could swear the calendar is lying to me, but there are people around me mentioning March Madness in hushed voices.

IMGP7750_2It’s the writing version (not football), and it’s a collaborative effort where we all — writers, readers, illustrators, and bloggers — set our own goals for the month of March, and encourage each other towards reaching them. It’s all about commitment, accountability, encouragement and achievement.

As the coordinator, Denise Jaden has introduced it on her blog. I’m saving you clicking time by reprinting her message below, but if you’d like to join us you’ll need to click on over to her space on Sunday and add your name and goals in the comment section there so she has you registered.

Think about joining us. It’ll be a blast! At least, it will be once I get myself psyched up for the commitment. AND THERE’S JUST ONE MORE DAY TO DO IT! ACK!! ;)

~

From Denise Jaden’s Blog

MARCH MADNESS Writing, Reading, and Blogging Challenge! #WIPMadness

It’s almost March and time for an Almost-Nano Challenge! If you have a writing project you’re ready to start, or a work in progress you’re ready to finish, come and join the fun. Accountability is our main aim and the more support we have, the easier it will be to sail on through the month of March, bouncing along on each others successes!

And, like last year, we’re opening up March Madness to readers who want to challenge themselves to read more, bloggers who want to challenge themselves to blog more, and illustrators who want to challenge themselves to illustrate more! Basically, anything to do with books!

And did I mention there will be PRIZES? Prizes will not be awarded based on how much you write, read, draw, or blog, but simply on how involved you are in the Big Accountability Plan. There will be check-in points most days throughout the month of March. Each time you check in and record your progress, your name will be entered into a draw for some great prizes, donated by our fabulous blog hosts, including some high demand advance copy books, audiobooks, and a writer’s survival kit! And not only that, but the more you encourage others along the way (in the comments), the more times your name will go into the hat!

Spread the word, and check out http://denisejaden.blogspot.com on Sunday, March 1st, to put your goals officially in writing and find out the locations of the check-in points. If you’re ready to get serious, don’t do it alone…Get serious with us!

Now is the time to be setting your Ambitious Goals for the month of March! (Trust me, you will be able to accomplish much more than you normally would with the added camaraderie and support, so don’t be afraid to set the bar a little higher.) If you haven’t already, start meeting up with us on Twitter under the hashtag #WIPMadness .

Please spread the word about this Challenge. There will be lots to win throughout the month and the more support we have, the better all of our goals will go this month!

So check back in at my blog March 1st. If you’re such a proud participant that you want to let everyone know, grab the March Madness badge from below, and put it somewhere prominent.
#Wipmadness Participant!

 

Everyone is welcome and the more the merrier! Let’s march into March like the mad group of writers we are!!!

~

Okay, that’s the skinny on March Madness. Now start thinking about your goals, and on Sunday head on over to Denise’s place to share them and sign up!!

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From the Archives: Partying in the Bedroom

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Once the bed is made, thoughts or dreams from the night before usually disappear into the fabric of a new day. But not always. The following account comes from my 2008 archives.

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By 2:00 a.m. last night (technically, I guess it was this morning) I was ready to evict everyone. Some time prior to midnight characters from my novels had decided to gather at the foot of my bed and challenge my right to go to sleep.

Normally such nightly encounters are welcome. The twilight zone between yawning and oblivion is often my mind’s most productive time. As the day’s memories slip away they are replaced with solutions to story telling dilemmas that eluded me during an earlier writing session. Conversations with my characters are not unusual. It is in those not-quite-asleep-yet moments that just the right words jump into my unfettered brain.

What was distressing about last night’s group was that they weren’t the characters from only my current w.i.p. (work in progress), but also from the previous book. Granted, some of them appear in both, but their stories are not connected and last night’s dialogues won’t fit into either plot. It was a useless waste of my mental energy. I would rather have been sleeping, but the unruly guests wouldn’t go home.

We were out for dinner during the evening. Maybe I drank too much coffee? (Or not enough wine?)

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Finding inspiration

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One of my newest treasures is this hand stitched Double Irish Chain scrap quilt made by my aunt. She was 86 at the time. It took her two years, and I believe was the last one she made. I apologize for the cliché, but it truly is a work of art.

She had a sewing machine, but it was too heavy to lift from the cupboard shelf, so she decided she would sew the quilt entirely by hand, just as her mother and her grandmother had, and as she had done before. She said if she’d realized at the beginning, however, just how much work this one was going to be, she might not have undertaken it.

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I wonder if that isn’t true for many novelists, too. Few realize how much work will go into producing 90,000 ‘just right’ words, until ‘The End’ is staring back at us from the page. If we knew how much effort and time it was going to take, and the possibility that it would never be of publishable quality anyway, would we even begin?

While some might not, I believe the dedicated ones would, simply because they have a creative spirit and the desire to try. The drive to produce something special, something of significance, has to be followed by the determination to make a start. Then, word by word, stitch by stitch, we keep going. We know our earliest creative attempts aren’t going to be perfect, but only by learning and experience will we improve, and we have to begin somewhere.

Like playing a concerto, hand stitching an intricate pattern, or painting a masterpiece, writing an outstanding story takes more than desire. It takes ability, dedication, perseverance, and very hard work.

I’m not there yet as a writer, but the exquisite beauty created by my Aunt Norma inspires me to continue on my journey.

What inspires you in your creative pursuits?

~

“For everything that was written in the past
was written to teach us,
so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures
and the encouragement they provide
we might have hope.”

[Romans 15:4]

~  ~  ~

 (Photos by Norma McGuire)

 

How do you feel about construction?

 

BackhoeHorror stories are not uncommon when it comes to home renovations. My father was a masonry contractor and built a couple of our homes when I was a child. I don’t recall it being a particularly stressful process, but that may have been because I was young and oblivious.

Later years Dad helped one of our churches build a new manse for us, and I quite enjoyed that, even when construction didn’t overlap with our holidays as planned, and it meant a week of bunking on the church lounge floor in sleeping bags with four children, and cooking in the church kitchen. We got to choose the design and all the interior and exterior finishes, fixtures and appliances, while the church paid all the bills. Now that was an ideal arrangement. ;)

It’s been almost fourteen years since I was last involved in a construction project. In 2000 our church added a new wing to its building, and everyone participated in whatever capacity they could. I ended up on the interior design and décor committee, helping to select wall colours, carpets, and furniture.

My hubby would probably tell you that I must have been an interior decorator in another life because I’m always rearranging furniture in our home and thinking about new colour schemes! During the months of church construction it was messy, and noisy, and tiring, but despite all that and the occasional frustration, I loved the whole experience!

 

Construction

In retrospect, I found similarities to my novel writing. Before driving a single nail, there was the initial planning stage, researching, establishing the game-players, and drawing up blueprints. We had a ceremonial turning of the sod, which was followed by the massive backhoe that arrived to begin the groundwork. Forms and foundation undergirded the subsequent framing and roof structure. So much work went into it before it began resembling the rooms and stairwells and gymnasium that were the eventual result. And even after it was finished, it wasn’t.

There was still a lot of fine-tuning. Extra coats of paint. Miscommunication required the change of some light fixtures. Trim was missing in a couple places. Little things, but important pieces in the overall finishing.

So it is with my storytelling. All that mulling of ideas, the research, setting up characters and POV. I dig through magazines and catalogues, putting together the bits and pieces of a collaged storyboard — my ceremonial start to every new story. Finally, with it set out for inspiration, I begin writing.

I’m not a fast writer, so it can be a long time before the essence of the story begins to take shape. It’s a lot of work. I think I’m on track, and then I’m deleting paragraphs and pages that don’t fulfill their intended purpose. It gets messy. Even when I think I’m done, I’m not. There are endless revisions, beta reading and further edits.

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Is it worth it? When I stand back and view the completed manuscript, despite its lingering flaws, there is satisfaction from seeing how all the pieces came together to create the harmony of a pleasing story. I find characters I’d like to live with, in a world I’d like to inhabit.

There are endless writing analogies in the construction process. Perhaps the most enlightening discovery is that no one part of the process is more important than another. Remove the initial idea, or the blueprints, the coordinating contractor, quality materials, or careful workmanship, even the final check of all the finishing details … miss any one of them, and the resulting structure may not be sound. It may collapse under scrutiny.

Do you understand the basic steps in creating a story? Have you read any good books on the topic lately? I still like James Scott Bell’s PLOT & STRUCTURE, and now he has a brand new book I’m anxious to read: SUPER STRUCTURE: THE KEY TO UNLEASHING THE POWER OF STORY.

So, how are you at dealing with construction?

~  ~  ~

From the Archives: New Perspectives

While visiting one of my favourite blogs one Thursday back in November 2011 — Susan Atole’s Just… a Moment – I was intrigued by the unusual perspective in her featured photos. I learned she had been challenged by someone to lay on her back for taking photo shots, and I decided to try it, too.

This unusual perspective offered design and reflections, glimmers of colours and shapes not previously noticed. The ordinary became extraordinary.

There’s something to be said for lifting our eyes beyond the obvious. If we always look at things from the same perspective, we’re going to keep seeing the same things in the same way. It’s true in life, and it’s true in writing.

I’ve been doing some editing for a friend, and am appalled at how often I’ve found an error in sections already line edited several times. “How could I possibly have missed that?” Every time I read through a chapter on the computer my brain insisted on reading what it expected to find, not necessarily what my eyes were seeing. It wasn’t until I printed the manuscript and read it in the new format that more errors popped out at me. For the final proofing I printed it again, but in a different font, and found still more.

A new perspective provides fresh inspiration when we’re bogged down writing a scene, too. Where do we go when our only idea keeps leading us to a proverbial brick wall? Sometimes we need to take the story on the road … write in a different environment, use different tools, maybe give the scene to a different character.

A different perspective tricks the brain into shifting its thinking. And that new viewpoint may be all that’s needed to stimulate the mind and send it off in a fresh direction.

Besides laying on your back, how might you achieve a new perspective for an existing project? Has a new perspective ever helped you out of a dilemma? 

~

(A click on the photo will enlarge it so you can see the source of my camera’s focus.)

~

The day this was originally posted (in 2011) I was also talking about Dealing with Transitions over at The Pastor’s Wife Speaks Blog. Please consider clicking on over there if you’d like to read what I said on that topic. [The Pastor’s Wife Speaks blog was discontinued at the end of November 2011, so it was my final post there.]

~ ~  ~

From the Archives: Beta Readers

One of my favourite (and best) beta readers was my dear Aunt Norma. Now that she’s gone I’ve been thinking back to all the reading she did for me, and remembering her insight and tact, her encouragement and wisdom. Beta reading isn’t easy, either for the writer or for the reader.

I’ve drawn from the Archives again, from January 2009, for today’s post.

~

One snowy Sunday afternoon as wind-driven snow whipped over the backyard peaks and valleys, fashioning them into anonymous mounds, I settled in by the fireplace. It was time to begin reviewing notes made by the long-suffering people who agreed to be beta readers of my current novel.

Beta reading is a necessary tool in the path to publication but I find it nerve-wracking. This is the point when a story first goes public — someone other than me gets to probe my creation, poke into its structure and pass judgment on its credibility and readability. I want and need honesty from the readers, but I cringe at what their opinions might reveal about my storytelling effort.

Few of my readers are impartial. Family members and friends have a built-in bias — they are predisposed to a positive response. More experienced critique partners can sometimes be the opposite, nitpicking to the extreme as they identify all the ways in which the story isn’t told as they think it should be. I’m not obligated to accept any of the criticisms or suggestions, but I value every one. Once the story is published (notice my positive attitude here!), I may never know what the majority of readers think of it, so getting feedback now is desirable.

But still, there is a small chill of uncertainty within me. I suspect it belongs to the icy heart of my I.C. (Inner Critic) as she circles close by, subtly trying to cool my flame of hope for the success of this story. Is it really the best it can be? Is there even a market for it?

As the evening begins to descend, the outdoor lights come on for one last pre-Epiphany sparkle and I put aside my pen and the comment sheets. I’m choosing to spend the rest of the evening curled up with a book… mine.

I wonder, can I be one of my own beta readers?

Evening descends ~ January 2009

Flying like a writer

I’m not a serious birdwatcher, but you’ve seen enough photos of birds posted here to know they fascinate me. During my recent Christmas visit with family on Vancouver Island, we took a few excursions to the beach with our cameras. The scenery was spectacular, but the following photos aren’t some of my better shots. I snatched them for a specific reason.

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It was intriguing to watch how the different species flew. When the eagles weren’t gliding in the wind currents or landing in a tree to watch for a meal, they were launching themselves directly into the ocean to grab it. Unless a school of herring attracted a raucous crowd, single gulls flapped and flew aimlessly in the breeze, eventually landing in the waves or on the rocky shore. The ducks rose together from one spot and skimmed above the water until they found another promising place to settle.

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I could often identify the species from a distance, just by the way they behaved. It made me wonder what my habits say about me to onlookers. I’m not sure I want to know!

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As a serious introvert, I tend to enjoy my solitude, so I’m not overly social. I can deal with groups of people when I must, but I’m happy to stay holed up for days at a time with my computer and a head full of fictional characters. When I hesitate over an invitation, it could look like stand-offishness (is that a word?), or unfriendliness to those who reasonably expect I would look forward to an entertaining occasion.

I don’t expect people to understand my reluctance, especially since I’m not very good at explaining in a way that wouldn’t leave them feeling rejected or worse, insulted. If I were an author under contract it might be easier to use work as a legitimate excuse. As an ‘occasionally published writer’, however, I’m sure the time I spend writing is viewed as a voluntary thing, and choosing it over a dinner invitation or concert raises eyebrows.

Attending writers’ conferences takes me out of my comfort zone as far as crowds go, but being immersed in a group made up entirely of authors, agents, editors, and publishers is invigorating. I have no fear of being misunderstood — they all ‘get’ what I do, why I do it, and how.

In other company, I expect I’m viewed as a bit of a strange bird, darting about in pursuit of a goal that doesn’t seem to produce visible results.

Maybe that’s why I sometimes cross my fingers behind my back (awkwardly… arthritis is so uncooperative), and deftly respond to an invitation by saying, “I’d love to join you… if only I didn’t have a prior commitment.”

I have a long-standing commitment to my writing, so that’s not exactly telling a lie, is it? Do you suppose it would be considered a sin?

How do you protect your precious writing time?

~

The freelance writer is a man who is paid
per piece or per word or perhaps.

[Robert Benchley]

~

How thin and insecure is
that little beach of white sand
we call consciousness.
I’ve always known that in my writing
it is the dark troubled sea
of which I know nothing,
save its presence,
that carried me.
I’ve always felt that creating
was a fearless and a timid,
a despairing and hopeful,
launching out into that unknown.

[Athol Fugard]

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