The first 100 words

I entered two of my stories in BookEnds first 100-word Romantic Suspense contest. Sending the first one gave me palpitations. The second had me reaching for my inhaler. I love what I write until I have to share it with someone else. Then… I’m not so confident.

So… the first 100 words… entering this contest made me realize how much lead-in I usually have. My current WIP, the one I’m doing for the Book-in-a-week, had about three paragraphs I thought were vital to the opening of the story. When I highlighted the first 100 words to submit to this contest, I realized they did nothing to grip a reader. They tell important details, they’re vital to the story. But they’re in the wrong place.

My wonderful and amazingly supportive critique partner, Linda Ford, made a logical suggestion – start with the action. I balked at first. The ‘action’ in this opening is a car-jacking, but that happens after I set up the status quo. It happens halfway down the first single-spaced page. How would a reader feel anchored in my story if I begin with something from way down there?

How about if the reader isn’t given a chance to feel anchored but rather is gripped by the first few words and willingly taken along for the ride, always wanting to know what’s happening and seeing when s/he keeps reading that the answers are all provided… though not before other questions are created.

I hope that’s what I’ve done. I don’t see a chance of winning the contest – some of those entries are phenomenal. But I entered. I’ve leaped the first hurdle of fear. And I’ve learned tons by revising the opening until those first 100 words were as tight and as gripping as they could be for the story I wanted to tell.

I’m not new to revisions. With my second completed, it took a while but I realized my first chapter didn’t work. Well, part of it did. The other part? Not so much. How did I fix it? I lopped off the first 12 pages. Just like that. I cut them off without second thought. They were the dead limb drawing the life force from the rest of the body. The story grew so much stronger after I deleted them… and was requested by an agent at my dream agency. Twice. Alas… 

I know I still have a lot to learn, but being honest with myself about my own work has been the biggest and most important lesson of all.

When you write, and when you revise, do you think you’re as hard on the work as you should be? Or are you intimidated by the prospect of cutting the precious words you labored for hours to put on the page? 

Day 5 – Book in a Week

My wrists staged a mutiny yesterday. I could barely move the fingers on my right hand. They just locked up. This has happened to me before. I have to watch how I sit when I type. I tend to let my wrists droop, sitting more for comfort than for function. And I MUST get wrist guards.

Well, because of the stiffness and pain in my hands, yesterday was a bit of a wash. I managed only a few hundred words – about four hundred, in fact. But… resting my wrists yesterday helped me today. It’s not even 10am and I’m nearly done with this chapter. Already 1425 words this morning and the day is still young. Another 1200 words or so, and this chapter is done, done, DONE!

Snoopy-dancing!

 

 

 

I’m going to keep this momentum going. I’m not as afraid to make mistakes because I know I can fix them. In fact, I know when I’m done with this rough draft, I can let Nil play/revise/nitpick until she’s giggling with glee. I will confess, however, it’s been a struggle to avoid going back to fix every little thing… like having my heroine lift her car keys and give them a shake to make a point – TWICE IN ONE SCENE. Blah. But, I also know, I can eventually go back in to fix that. This is not meant to be perfect, it’s meant to be fun. Writing fast is supposed to help get the story down without distraction or second guessing. I second, third and fourth guess myself all the time when I write. Writing fast leaves little time for that bit of sabotage so writing fast is a precious and vital thing to master… and so is understanding that this is a first draft. Perfection has no place here.

Wow. I should repeat that until it doesn’t cause me to reach for my inhaler. Yikes. It doesn’t have to be perfect???

Okay. I’ll repeat that – Perfection has no place here in my first draft. 

My first draft is for fun and creativity. My first draft is my time to play. When I’m done in this sandbox, my inner critic can have her chance and clean things up all she wants. After all, without me to make the ‘mess’, what would there be for her to do? She’ll just have to wait her turn. Meanwhile, I will play until my hero and heroine reach their happily ever after and I reach… The End.

Day 3 – Book in a Week

TWO DAY TOTAL – 3031 WORDS!

My way of writing seems to involve a LOT of thinking – like sometimes days or weeks – and then I have this manic spurt of writing. And then more thinking. It’s a frustrating process, and I’ve hoped for a more efficient way to unjumble the words in my head and get them onto the page.

I might have found it.

Day one of this challenge gave me three solid, single-spaced pages. I was thrilled but realized three pages a day does not a book-in-a-week make. So… instead of ramping up the typing, I revised what I’d written. How’s that for sabotaging my own work? It seems that perfectionist, nit-picky, inner critic of mine has an intense aversion to speed writing.

This inner-critic, whom I shall henceforth call ‘Nil’ as nil is all it allows me to write – nags me constantly about every little word, every punctuation mark, every thought I dare consider worthy. Nil has forced me to stop the writing flow and do things like research awkward wording, rethink the plot, change the heroine’s name and whatnot.

Nil slices creativity, hacks away at confidence, rewords everything I’ve written while grumbling how awful it all is and then laughs as I slink away from the computer certain I’ll never write another word. That’s what Nil does best.

It’s time I put her in her place. Yes? And I think I know how.

You see… I have learned something fantastic during this process. The best way to keep Nil from messing with the work is not to show Nil the work in the first place. 🙂

When you write without looking back at what you’ve written, you fall deeper into the story and wind up with a more flowing and consistent rhythm, tone, mood and voice. It’s when you stop writing to review or revise, that Nil puts on her work clothes and happily tweaks and alters your beautiful prose until it’s barely recognizable. 

Ever hear the term “less is more”? So it is with revising as you go. Less is more. Nil has yet to learn that term.

Day two was yesterday, Sunday, and so there were family things to tend to. However, I managed another three pages… and this happened in just two hours. For me, that is some kind of record. I’m thrilled to have written 3,031 words in two days and cannot wait to get back into it today, Day 3.

Will I finish my book this week? I highly doubt it (my wrists are already planning a mutiny), but I will have a new tool in my tool box because of it. This tool is the privacy screen between the words I type and Nil. If I do not show it to her by rereading what I write as I write it, SHE cannot possibly feel the need to ‘fix’ it.

Not until the end is written will Nil be allowed to have a go at it.

At least, that’s the plan. I have the new tool, now I just need to make sure I use it.

Day three? Here I come… armed and ready.

Book in a week

I’ve accepted the challenge that starts today in a workshop I’m taking. It’s the Book-in-a-week workshop with April Kihlstrom as instructor.

The challenge? Type a complete first draft of my work in progress in one week and one week only. That means… no revising as I go. That means, whatever scene pops into my head is the one I should write. That means keeping my inner critic bound and gagged until the week is over – longer if possible.

That means pushing WAY past my comfort zone. Writing a book in a week without revising as I go is the same to me as jumping from a plane without a parachute. Okay, for me, the non-adventurous type, it’s more like going over a speed bump without putting on the brakes. 😕

I am a rule follower. I don’t like to make waves and I don’t like to upset those around me… including myself. And so, this book in a week challenge, challenges me on many levels. I have to break the rules I set for myself which say every word I write has to have a purpose. Every scene must draw a reader into the heart and mind of my characters. Every page must contain several sense-stirring phrases that will place the reader right there in the scene. To accomplish a book in a week, I must simply write what’s in my head despite how sparse it might be. Can I do it? Well… I can certainly try. And posting here commits me to the process… hopefully that’s all I’ll wind up committed to. 😯

I’ll check in as often as I can to keep you posted and to keep myself answerable to someone. I have a new ticker right there to the right of this post…….. see it? It’s next to the picture of beautiful Tiffy. I’ll move that slider each time I complete a chapter. I should tell you, because I’m an honest soul, that I already have three solid chapters completed and seventeen left to go. Three solid chapters is a lot to me. “Three” means I’m committed to the work… ah, ‘committed’ there’s that word again. I hope that’s not some kind of forshadowing…

Food Wars

As  a homeschooling family, we’re always looking for new and exciting ways to teach and learn. My daughter is 12 ½ (can’t forget the ½!) and we’ve just finished studying the world wars and are now onto Vietnam. Especially with things as they are today, how do you teach a child the horrors of war without horrifying or scarring them to their souls?   Well, wouldn’t you know it? There’s actually a fun way to close out lessons on war, so some of the heaviness is lifted but the impact of it all remains.

It’s a food fight. Of sorts. One ingenious wizard of animation designed a synopsis of the world’s wars in which America has played a part. There’s a ‘cheat sheet’ that explains which food comes from which country so that when you watch the ‘food wars’ you can keep up.

Honestly, this was the BEST pop quiz I’ve ever given to my daughter.

Check out the “Cheat Sheet” if you’d like to familiarize yourself with the players before (or after) you watch this incredible video… which, btw, got my daughter interested in graphics, web design, and all that cool stuff. 🙂

 

I want a Sven.

Seriously, I really do. You’ve seen Sven, haven’t you? He’s the tall blond on the AT&T commercials who knows just what everyone needs and wants and he either provides it for them – like warm fluffy sweaters or steaming cups of coffee – or he gently guides them so they stay on track.

I not only want a Sven, I need a Sven.

One glitch in the routine, and suddenly, my house is a mess, the fridge is empty, the bills are late, the unreachable light bulb is out and surprise company arrives ‘just to say hello’.

Hubby, Daughter, and I spent the weekend out doing things for Hubby’s second office. We were painting, shopping for furniture and all that other good stuff.  Let me just say, getting in and out of the car three dozen times is a lot more exhausting than walking several miles. What is it with that? You sit and you don’t want to get up. Sven could get me up. He’d remind me of the task at hand and the reward to follow.

See, with a Sven, I believe I’d stick to a schedule and that schedule would allow for more pleasurable things – not simply chores. Sven would see to it that I accomplish what I need to accomplish in manageable blocks of time and still have leftover minutes to enjoy those accomplishments and unwind.

I’m telling hubby I want a Sven for my birthday.

How about you? How do you stay on track? Or do you need a Sven as well?

Earth Hour

Go dark. Today – March 29th, at 8:00pm. It’s such a simple thing to do but it can help make some major changes. As always, awareness is the first step. So, at eight o’clock in the evening of March 29th, wherever you are in the world, go dark to raise awareness of global warming.

From the World Wildlife Fund’s website –

On March 29, 2008 at 8 p.m., join millions of people around the world in making a statement about climate change by turning off your lights for Earth Hour, an event created by the World Wildlife Fund.

Earth Hour was created by WWF in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and in one year has grown from an event in one city to a global movement. In 2008, millions of people, businesses, governments and civic organizations in nearly 200 cities around the globe will turn out for Earth Hour. More than 100 cities across North America will participate, including the US flagships–Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco and Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

We invite everyone throughout North America and around the world to turn off the lights for an hour starting at 8 p.m. (your own local time)–whether at home or at work, with friends and family or solo, in a big city or a small town.

What will you do when the lights are off? We have lots of ideas.

Join people all around the world in showing that you care about our planet and want to play a part in helping to fight climate change. Don’t forget to sign up and let us know you want to join Earth Hour.

One hour, America. Earth Hour. Turn out for Earth Hour!

Muffin tops

Who doesn’t like a muffin? Corn, bran, streusel. Yum. But… as was the case on that episode of Seinfeld… doesn’t everyone prefer the muffin TOP?

I make corn muffins a lot. Sometimes I’ll make the same recipe as a loaf of corn bread instead. Either way, it’s a favorite of ours – especially toasted then slathered with fresh fruit preserves. Oh, yeah. Food is definitely the way to this girl’s heart.

You’ve made muffins, too, yes? Or you’ve at least seen muffin pans, right? The standard kind looks like this –

Muffin pan

Ah… but what if your muffin pan looked like this –

Muffin top pan

Hmm? See the difference? 🙂

How would your special desserts look then? Perhaps like this –

Muffin Tops!

Yup. Muffin tops. Crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. The perfect balance. The perfect excuse to bake. Again.

Be it standard muffins, loaf or muffin tops, this is the recipe I always use (just cut the time to 15 minutes if you’re making only muffin tops):

EASY PEASY CORN BREAD –

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup corn meal

1/3 cup sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

dash salt

1 cup milk (any is good – I use 1%)

1/3 cup olive oil

1 large beaten egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Grease pan/s. Mix all dry ingredients together then gently stir in milk, oil and egg. DO NOT WHIP or overbeat. Pour into prepared pan/s and bake 25 minutes (15 for muffin top pans) or until golden.

Happy noshing!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programing…

We have a regular TV viewing schedule in my house. Or, rather, we HAD a regular viewing schedule. Then the writer’s strike came and wiped that out. It was only an hour or two per day, but that hour or two sometimes seemed to be what we all were most excited about. 

Sundays = Masterpiece Theater

Mondays = 24

Tuesdays = American Idol + House

Wednesdays = American Idol + LOST

Well, during the writer’s strike, we were LOST. What would we do without our shows? New HOUSE episodes are still not forthcoming despite the three teaser episodes they had a few weeks ago. And waiting from June to January for the next season of 24 was bad enough but not even having a next season THIS season was… was…

Easier than expected.

We’d become so conditioned, feeling like everything had to be completed, conversation had to stop, phone calls would go unanswered… all be causes of a TV show that drove our collective blood pressure through the roof (and into raccoon territory – for those of you ‘in the know’… 🙂 ).

What would we do without our regularly scheduled programs?

How about chat? How about fill each other in on what we did that day, what we hope to do the next day? How about go for a walk after dinner? Or take out some board games and enjoy what little quality time our busy lives allow?

We’ve started to do all of that again after years of letting it slide, and we’ve rediscovered something rather amazing – we actually enjoy each other’s company. Playing CLUE, Backgammon and other games is fun. Talking about our days helps heal some perceived slights and provides some laughs as well as a stronger connection to each other – much more so than all of us sitting shoulder to shoulder without speaking as we watch ‘life’ occur to others via cable TV.

Will we go back to watching our shows when they come back on? Probably. But these days, the remote sits on top of the games, so we’re reminded of what’s really important. “Together time” is not just about being in the same room. Not anymore.

How do you spend the after-dinner hours with your family? Did the writer’s strike change the way you view your evening habits? Or was TV addiction not an issue for you to begin with?

Good things happenin’

Things are looking mighty fine around here these days. I am now in the middle of four online writer’s workshops and I’m keeping up with all of them! I’m even doing the homework. 🙂 Raccoon issues seem to have quelled… not one neighbor has heard from those bandits in two – count ’em, TWO – weeks. Spring is here!!! I LOVE the spring. I’m adding more words to my work-in-progress, more shelter cats have been adopted, Daughter is just about caught up with all of her assignments and I’ve cleared the mound of paperwork and bills that needed tending to. Things are looking good.

In light of the weights being lifted from my shoulders, I thought I’d share a sweet and heartwarming video with y’all. If you have the time, watch it through to the end. It’s so worth it.

Happy spring, everyone! Share the hugs…

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