Tag Archives: PNWA

#amwriting: sit down and write

This last weekend, I attended the 2017 PNWA Conference. I had the chance to connect with friends whom I rarely get to see in person elsewhere, and met many, many new friends.

I immersed myself into four days of seminars on writing craft, with the intention of kickstarting the rough draft of the one manuscript which has stalled for the last two months.

Let’s be clear—I always have three or four projects in various stages of completion, so I always have one novel in the first, rough draft. Usually, I have no difficulty getting my idea onto the paper but, as I have mentioned before, life sometimes throws us curve balls. When that happens, I have no trouble writing blog posts or making revisions on finished manuscripts as requested by my intrepid beta readers and editor. But it is then that completing whatever story is in the rough draft form becomes a struggle for me.

So, let’s talk about getting past that mysterious thing some people call writer’s block, the horrible nightmare that is only a temporary lull in the creative process. This is when you hear those voices mocking you, “you claim to be a writer but you haven’t written a new word in days.” (Or weeks, or months.)

First, you must understand that this is not a permanent, career killing disability. It is a fleeting, dry period where the project you want to work on is not moving forward. But other writing can and should happen!

My recommendation is to sit down and write your way through it—don’t abuse yourself over whatever project you have that is stalled. Clear your mind of those little mental voices of doom and guilt because they are the carrion birds whose songs of despair lure you along the path to failure.

Focus on writing something completely unrelated instead.

In a seminar I attended this last weekend, taught by the award-winning sci fi/fantasy author and current SFWA president, Cat Rambo, she admitted that rather than beat herself up for a momentary lapse of creativity, she works her way through the rough patches with timed stream-of-consciousness writing sessions. She does this every day and shoots for 2000 new words a day, whether they are good words or not.

The way I interpreted her comments, she does this in the NaNoWriMo style, where you set a timer and write whatever nonsense comes into your head for a certain length of time and do not stop writing for any reason whatsoever until the timer goes off.

Cat’s advice? If all you can do when you sit down for that timed writing session is to write “I can’t think of anything” repeatedly, just write that. She said (and she is right) that after a few minutes of that sort of boredom, your creative mind will rebel, your subconscious mind will take over and push you in new directions. When I do this, I usually end up with some of my best ideas embedded in those long strings of rambling words.

Those nuggets of good writing and ideas are straw I can spin into gold.

My personal advice is to not set absurdly unrealistic goals for your work. Target goals are good, but in my opinion, setting too a high wordcount for new words on your rough draft each day is a good way to set yourself up to fail, as you can’t sustain it. I find that when I am involved in NaNoWriMo, which is a different kind of writing, I can put down 2000 to 4000 words each morning–but that kind of output is not sustainable over more than just the month of November. My usual output is 1000 to 2000 new words per writing session.

Consider setting your minimum goal of writing for at least one fifteen-minute increment per day, working straight with no stopping.  Repeat the fifteen-minute sessions as many times as you like each day, if you are really fired and inspired to write.

I am a fulltime author, but even when I was holding down three part-time jobs, I still managed to write every evening. When my children were still at home, I wrote when they were doing homework, or I wrote after they went to bed. I made my time to write by choosing to only watch the TV shows that meant the most to me and ditching the rest. That meant that most evenings I had at least one hour (but sometimes two or three) of good writing time after dinner was done and the kitchen was clean.

I understand if you are emotionally invested in some TV shows, but you must choose to make time to write—choose your entertainment wisely and don’t waste what could be writing time on shows you don’t absolutely love.

So, what about multiple projects? I find that having multiple projects in the works is good for me, as switching from one to another allows me to rest my writing mind. I am fortunate, in that writing is my full-time career.  Because it is my job, I always have three or four projects going, so I do have a certain, inviolable time of the day that I will work no matter what. On Sundays, I write all the blog posts I might need for that week, both for this blog and for several other websites where I have a regular column.

I need to keep regular office hours to be productive, so the morning hours of 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. are divided like this:

6:00 to 8:00, I work on adding new words to the current rough draft.

8:00 to 9:00, if I don’t have a writing group to attend, I handle my social media stuff—a nasty but necessary task that is part of the job if you don’t have a personal PR person but hope to connect with both readers and other writers.

I don’t have a PR person.

9:00-10:00, (again if I don’t have a writing group) I take a break from writing and make a stab at cleaning my house.

10:00 – 12:00 I do revisions on other projects as my editors ask for them or I edit for clients.

I always take a break at noon and either take a walk or sit on my back porch and just watch the world go by.

In the afternoon, I make maps or do other support work that may be required for one or another of my projects, depending which is firing my mind most intensely, or if I have a client’s manuscript to edit I will go back to that.

I’m no different than any other writer—I do have times when the well of creativity runs dry. But I have the support of other authors, and I have the mental tools I need to pull me out of those rocky spots. I hope this post offers you some idea of how to jumpstart your creativity, and remember–I am always here to talk you off the ledge.

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Gearing up for #PNWA2015

House of Sand and Fog Andre Dubus III

I love conventions. Especially writer’s conventions, where the craft of writing is the central theme, so that is why I look forward to the PNWA convention every year. Two weeks from now, that is where I will be, along with fellow Myrddin Publishing Group editor and bff, Irene Roth Luvaul.

It is horribly expensive, but for me, it is so worth it.

This year, Andre Dubus III will be the keynote speaker. While I frequently read literary fiction, I have to say I didn’t really enjoy his book, House of Sand and Fog, although it was excellently crafted. I found it exceedingly depressing, as I did most books touted by Oprah’s Book Club, which I generally don’t find to be much of a recommendation any more. Oprah is a wonderful lady, but her tastes in literature are far different than mine.

Let’s face it–I’m an escape-reader. I read to get away from the misery of the world, so while the story is thought-provoking, and worthy of every honor it has received, I didn’t enjoy it. I prefer happy endings.

But that doesn’t really matter–I want to hear what he has to say. I don’t care for George R.R. Martin‘s work either. But I love to hear George speak, and so I am looking forward to hearing what Andre Dubus III has to say.

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL AUTHORSMy hubby took a vacation-day yesterday, giving himself a 4 day weekend to help me take my books 75 miles north to Bellevue. 3 hours each direction, inching along I-5 and I-405 in 90 degree heat–what fun!

This was so they can  be included in the PNWA July 16-19 convention’s Friday Autograph Party event. I’m pretty excited about that. My good friend, Lindsay Schopfer will also be signing books, as will 58 other authors.

I’ll be showcasing the World of Neveyah series, and Huw the Bard, so 4 books for the signing event. But all my books will be there.

Every attendee will receive an Ebook copy of Tales from the Dreamtime courtesy of Smashwords. I so wish I could give them each a copy of the audio book–Craig Allen’s narration is simply amazing.

I really enjoy the PNWA conference. A lot of people who are going the traditional route use it to pitch to agents and editors, but that doesn’t interest me. I am happy as an indie and have no plans to court a large publisher.

What I am interested in are the seminars on the craft of writing. Every year I come away from this event feeling completely inspired, and ready to write.

Friday morning Irene and I will attend the annual meeting. I do have some concerns which I have made a list of, and wish I lived closer to Seattle to be more of a volunteer. Living 75 miles away limits what I can do to help out, but I could do some virtual assisting, if there is an option for that.

Also, I will be attending seminars given by Scott Driscoll, Robert Dugoni, and Lindsay Schopfer.

creamy_wild_rice_and_mushroom_soup_recipe

creamy wild rice and mushroom soup w/coconut milk

All in all, I think it will be a fun event, and am planning my food ahead for it, as the vegan can never count on the kindness of strangers when it comes to food. The wise vegan author travels well-prepared to stay in a room with no microwave, in a hotel that is less than understanding about what constitutes a vegan meal.

I can honestly say I am NOT looking forward to the dinners, but will be well-able to provide for myself, and who needs food anyway–were gonna be talking books!

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Kicking off the annual PNWA writers conference

300px-DocsavageWell it’s that time of the year again–today is the first day of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference, held in Seattle, Washington. I’m a proud member of PNWA, and find incredible inspiration at these conventions. This year’s keynote speaker is James Rollins, the well-known master of magic, mayhem, and monsters.  According to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge,  “Rollins found the authors of the Doc Savage series inspirational as a youth and acquired an extensive collection of the popular 1930′s and 1940′s pulp magazine stories.”

Quite frankly, I too adored Doc Savage, and discovering that another author was influenced by that wonderful, lurid, misogynistic series is quite a treat.  I’m looking forward to hearing him speak tonight.

Another person whose seminar I am looking forward to will be given by Lindsay Schopfer, author of The Beast Hunter. He will be talking on the subject of unlocking character motivation, and I am quite interested in hearing what he has to say on the subject, as he is an accomplished author, and his characters leap off the page.

The Beast Hunter, Lindsay SchopferIt’s one thing to understand the mechanics of writing, the nuts and bolts of how to put together a coherent sentence and join it together with other sentences to make paragraphs. Most writers can do that. It’s quite another thing to write paragraphs that become stories other people will want to read.  Attending writers conferences and seminars gives me insight into how successful authors whom I’ve admired over the years think, and helps me stay fired up about my own work.

I will reconnect with many local northwest authors who I’ve become friends with over the years, and of course I’ll be connecting with agents and editors from all over the country.  This is a huge opportunity for me to absorb the mojo that happens whenever writers gather to talk shop. My next blog post will cover the events and hilarity of this one.

Jake RansomLast year I did learn one important thing–even the Hilton doesn’t have a clue when it comes to providing decent vegan entrees, no matter how the conference organizers claim they will offer them. Rather than starve as I did last year, this year I am commuting from home and bringing my own sack-lunch with plenty of snacks. It’s a bit of a drive, a little over 1 hour each way, but if the dinners provided are less than adequate, I’ll survive.

Today’s lunch will be an avocado, lettuce and tomato sandwich on whole-wheat. ♥  It doesn’t get any better than that!

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Timber Rose, by J.L. Oakley – official launch

Timber RoseToday is the launch of J.L. Oakley’s ‘Timber Rose.’ As a third-generation, life-long resident of the Pacific Northwest, I am proud of our rich history. I know it’s not fantasy, but I am a multidimensional reader and I’ve been looking forward to this book all year. I loved her first book, ‘Tree Soldier.’ 

Oakley will be officially launching  ‘Timber Rose’ at Village Books in Fairhaven, in Bellingham Washington today at  4:00 P.M.  If you are a Northwest resident and can make the drive to Bellingham, by all means do so.

Here is the Blurb on the back of the book:

1907. Women climbing mountains in skirts. Loggers fighting for the eight hour day. The forests and mountains of the North Cascades are alive with  progress, but not everyone is on board. Caroline Symington comes from a prominent family in Portland, Oregon. Much to her family’s dismay, she’s more interested in hiking outdoors and exploring the freedoms of a 1907’s New Woman than fancy parties and money. She plans to marry on her own terms, not her parents. When she falls in love with Bob Alford, an enterprising working-class man who loves the outdoors as much as she, little does she know how sorely her theories will be tested. Betrayed by her jealous sister, Caroline elopes, a decision that causes her father to disown her. The young couple moves to a rugged village in the North Cascade Mountains where Caroline begins a new life as the wife of a forest ranger. Though she loves her life in the mountains as a wife and mother, her isolation and the loss of her family is a challenge. As she searches for meaning among nature, she’s ushered along by a group of like-minded women and a mysterious, mountain man with a tragic past.

‘Timber Rose’ has already received a fine review from Barbara Lloyd McMichael of the Bellingham Herald. Published on April 3, 2014, you can read McMichael’s review of Timber Rose here:  Prequel taps early 20th century for drama.

tree soldierI’ve known and admired J.L. Oakley for several years, having ‘met’ her in the virtual universe in 2011, when we both entered the  ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards) contest that year. This year she entered her book, Tree Soldier, and has made it to the second round of the contest.
Janet is also an active member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, of which I am also a member. She has been a presenter as several PNWA conventions, and is a well-known historian here in the Pacific Northwest.
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And if you are curious to know more about her, here is Janet’s official bio:


About the writer:

Janet Oakley is an award winning author of memoir essays and novels. Her work appears in various magazines, anthologies, and other media including the Cup of Comfort series and Historylink, the on-line encyclopedia of Washington State history.  She writes social studies curricula for schools and historical organizations, demonstrates 19thcentury folkways, and was for many years the curator of education at a small county museum in La Conner, WA.  Her historical novels, The Tree Soldier set in 1930s Pacific NW and The Jossing Affair set in WW II Norway were PNWA Literary Contest finalists.  Tree Soldier went on to win the 2013 EPIC ebook award for historical fiction and grand prize for Chanticleer Book Reviews Lit Contest.

She writes both non-fiction and fiction, applying her research skills to both types of writing.  In 2006 she was the manager of a History Channel grant, researching old court cases in early Washington Territory.

She especially enjoys the hunt in old newspapers, court cases, and other delights in archives around the country.  The history of the Pacific Northwest is rich and not as well known in the rest of the country beyond Lewis and Clark’s passage through, yet crucial happenings took place here that influenced the formation of United State of America.  In December 2012, an article on a  19th century bark that was a part of the coastal trade between Puget’s Sound and San Francisco was published the prestigious Sea Chest.

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This wraps up my post for today, but if you have a chance, get to Village Books in Bellingham and meet Janet, a.k.a. J.L. Oakley.

fort-nistqually-talk-june-6-2012

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What I’ve learned from Greg Bear

Wow.  I just made me a new BFF! I’m never going to wash my ears again (insert starry eyes here.)  I am currently at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference in Seattle, Washington with my real BFF, Irene Roth Luvaul. We are having the best time and even though we are only on the second day of the event, with two more days to go, this thing has already paid for itself in what we have learned about writing, editing and the publishing industry in general.

Greg Bear - portrait-mediumThe keynote speaker was none other than Greg Bear (cue the angels) and what he had to say was more than entertaining–it was inspirational.

While still in high-school, this man and his gang of sci-fi fanatic friends used to hang out with mentor Ray Bradbury! THAT connection was invaluable to his career as writer and storyteller, working in the less-than-respectable genre of speculative fiction.

Greg’s complete dedication to the craft of writing and his passion for the genre of science fiction and fantasy comes across in his talks. He is very frank and has a sense of the ridiculous that resonates with his audience. He is a humble man, who told me he worked to deadlines because he has to pay the mortgage, and publishers frequently have deadlines.

cover_foundation and chaos, Greg BearGreg spoke about working on the foundation series after Asimov’s death, and how he frequently felt he heard the man’s voice in his head, guiding him as he was writing Foundation and Chaos. 

The best part of the evening for me was meeting the man and getting his signature on my copy of the Mongoliad, book 1. 

Irene is a champ at getting things done.  She got me moving so I was fourth in line to meet him and get his signature. I’m just going to say it–Nothing is more undignified than an old fat woman who has just met god.

cover_hull Greg BearYou will be so proud of me!  I made it all the way out of the room before SQUEEEEEing like a school girl with a front row ticket to see One Direction. I am fully convinced that by virtue of having exchanged pleasantries while he signed my copy of his book, Greg Bear and I are now best chums and will be forever.

Irene managed to get me peeled off the ceiling and back to earth, but it was dicey there, for a while.

What I learned from Greg Bear is this:  to be a writer, you must write. You must have passion for your story and you must be obsessed with your universe and the worlds therein. His passion and obsession for the craft of writing really come across in his speech. He lives in his worlds, he knows his characters and their lives better than he knows his own.

Another thing I have learned from Greg Bear is to attend writers conventions if you can.

mongoliad book 1These forums offer us the tools to advance our careers. With the huge boom in indie publishing, it is even more crucial than ever for those of us who intend to remain indies to have the edge that knowledge of the way the industry works gives us. We have to stand out of the crowd, and to do that we must have a professional product and a real marketing plan. If we intend to compete, we have to know and understand the competition.

For the indie author, the competition is the high quality of the finished product put out by traditional publishing houses who are blessed with talented staffs of editors and cover designers and their long established connections  with literary publicity publications.

We can compete. We have to put out the best, most professional product we are able to create. We have to hire editors, and pay for good covers. We have to write ‘blurbs’ that intrigue our readers. Our personal online presence when we are googled must be consistent and professional.  Attending conventions offers us the opportunity to meet people in the industry and make professional connections. It is so much more than just being an elderly fangirl.

I am inspired to write. More than ever I am driven to live this writing life, inventing improbable plots and eccentric people. And I am empowered to believe I can succeed because great storytellers like Greg Bear have gone before me, and paved the way.

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