First Ten Pages…Critiqued!

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My experiences at the Writing Workshop of Chicago (see posts here and here) were invaluable. Perhaps one of my favorites was having my first ten pages critiqued by Lori Rader-Day, author of The Black Hour, Little Pretty Things, The Day I Died, and Under a Dark Sky. It’s a struggle for creatives to share their work, but how will we ever get better (or published) if we don’t? I’ve had my first ten critiqued before and made so many changes as a result that I couldn’t even say they’re the same first ten pages. I consider this a good thing.

So what did Ms. Rader-Day, Anthony Award and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee, have to say about my first ten?  Here are a few snippets with her comments in bold.

SNIPPET ONE  

A marvelous yet grotesque sight greeted them. This museum didn’t play: from three-story tornadoes to a full-size German u-boat, it was a place of learning and discovery for children and adults alike, and it was enormous–one of the biggest in the world. The DNA and the Devil in the White City display alone was 3700 square feet in an octagonal space. Intended to be a supplement to the genetics exhibit (famous for its chicken hatchery), ten foot tall DNA helices stood on either side of the exhibit’s entrance, but the first thing visitors saw was H.H. Holmes’ now-familiar face gazing out from the wall furthest from the entrance–a full two-stories tall, eyes leering with the effect of watching a patron no matter where they stood. Along the bright white walls were educational explanations and hands-on activities relating to the collecting and extracting of DNA, and what genetic markers were and how they helped identify bodies and clear suspects. One infographic proclaimed, “Your genome is an instruction manual for how you grow throughout life…You get half your DNA from your father, and half from your mother…Did H.H. Holmes pass on a serial killing genome?” A replica of Holmes’ concrete-encased double-grave was at the center of it all.  (LORI: IS THIS A REAL EXHIBIT? THE QUESTIONS SEEM SO…CONTRIVED.)

Most of the police concentrated their attention along one of the side walls, titled “Identifying Murder Victims…and Their Murderers.” Davis nudged Adele and pointed at the signage.

“Fitting,” he said.

As they moved forward, a large, antique-looking steamer trunk at the foot of the display came into view, and in it was a body. At first glance, considering the macabre nature of the rest of the exhibit, it almost looked like it belonged–except it was freshly dead. Two police officers stood nearby, their profiles reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy.

“Hey, Chapman.” Davis nodded in the direction of Laurel, then Hardy. “Avery.” (LORI: NOT REALLY FITTING WITH THE TONE OF YOUR BOOK, IS IT? DESCRIBE THEM INSTEAD.)

“Dunleavy! How’s life?” Chapman smiled cheerfully.

“Better than this poor soul’s.” Davis craned his neck at the crime scene, as he pulled on latex gloves. Another infographic explained that DNA could have been collected from one of Holmes’ trunks to help identify both the victim and the killer if only the technology had been available–or if they still had one of the trunks because of trace DNA. (AWKWARD PHRASING. MAKES IT SEEM LIKE THE TRUNK WOULD STILL BE ON HAND BECAUSE OF TRACE DNA, NOT THAT THE TRACE DNA WOULD BE USEFUL WITH THE NEW TECH OR IF THEY STILL HAD ONE OF THE TRUNKS…)

 

SNIPPET TWO

“Any guesses on the time of death?”

“Not ’til the M.E. gets here, but we know there was no body in the trunk as of 6am this morning,” Avery pointed out.

“Oh?” Davis replied, walking around the trunk. “How do you know that?”

Avery tossed his head across the room. (LORI: READ THAT SENTENCE AGAIN. DOESN’T IT SOUND LIKE HE’S THROWING A HEAD ACROSS THE ROOM?)

“The brunette over there. Says she was the last one in here–at least before the body arrived. That guy–” Avery nodded in the opposite direction. “He checked in on things at 8am and 8:45am, but only to make sure the lights were on. He couldn’t say if there was a body there or not.”

 

TAKE-AWAY

Ms. Rader-Day also provided me with other comments, like how the transition from my opening scene to the museum scene was jarring because the opener feels historical and it seemed as if I were jumping time. But she also said this: 

“I’ve marked a few moments where I was taken out of the story for some reason or another, but my silence during most of the pages is actually good news for you. I didn’t see a lot of amateur hour stuff that I would normally have to comment on—I was just reading a story, and getting lost in it.”

And there it is. Some pretty obvious mistakes which are slightly embarrassing (my students will love the head-tossing example), but some promising feedback that is a perfect example of why sharing is necessary to move forward: we need to see the good, the bad, and the ugly, and for creative types, we really need to be reminded to see the good. If you have an opportunity to take in a writing conference, do it. You won’t regret it!

 

Why You Should Attend a Writing Conference–part two

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Last week, after my experience at the Writing Workshop of Chicago, I gave you three reasons for attending a writing conference. Today, I’ll give you three more!

4. Confirmation that you’re moving in the right direction

I think for most writers, certainly for me, the doubts creep in continuously. Am I good enough? Is anyone going to like this? What the hell was I thinking? Last year, I participated in PitMad on Twitter and had someone tell me they thought my idea had promise and was marketable. That was enough to propel me to continue. At the Writing Workshop of Chicago, I was able to pitch my concept in person to small press publisher, Emily Clark Victorson of Allium Press. She too said that it was intriguing and asked for my first three chapters. Hearing this not once, but twice, made me feel like I was on the right track. I had a good, marketable idea. The next question would be could I write the story? Remember, I’m an English teacher. I had better have a good command of the English language, grammar, and punctuation–but these things do not a story make.

Last fall, after my PitMad experience, I participated in a writing bootcamp for my first ten pages. The agent and writer I worked with, Paula Munier, showed me that my manuscript was far from perfect, but she did tell me what my strengths were as well as where I’d need to improve. At the Chicago workshop, I submitted my revised ten pages to Lori Rader-Day, author of four mysteries (including Little Pretty Things, which I loved!). My hard work at revisions paid off, as she was very complimentary–but rest assured, I still have a page of revisions to tackle based on her comments.

Aside from the huge boost in my ego and confidence, these experiences confirmed that yes, I could write the story. I could also take revisions and make improvements. Every day that the doubts creep in, I can come back to this and remember that no, it’s not all a pointless waste of time. I’m headed in the right direction–and that provides the impetus for me to continue pursuing this path to publication.

5. Suggestions that you may have never thought of

Chatting with other writers gave us all the opportunity to share our works-in-progress. That resulted in lots of questions–some of which we could answer; some, not so much. Those unanswered questions revealed plot holes, character development needs, and, for some, world-building issues.

Both Paula Munier and Emily Clark Victorson asked if I’d considered making my protagonist a female. You know what they say–if more than one person makes a suggestion, there may be something to it. So I asked Ms. Rader-Day her thoughts, and she asked me it would improve the plot, the conflict, if I changed the gender. In other words, would it make more sense?

Now THAT gave me pause because…well, the answer was yes. Most of H.H. Holmes’ victims were female. Wouldn’t it create more tension to have a female bring down his illustrious descendant?

6. Did I mention networking?

Last week I pointed out that the writers, agents, editors, and publishers you meet may not necessarily become your mentor, agent, editor, or publisher, but you never know who may be the one to open that door for you. And while this was just a one-day workshop, I feel as though I left with the start of some excellent connections. I am already a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and both of these groups were represented at the conference. Ms. Rader-Day encouraged me to come to the fall meetings to get to know others, and Ms. Victorson suggested the same–commenting that they are some of the nicest people around. (Ironic, isn’t it, that the nice people are the ones killing off characters?) If you’ve been researching this industry as I did for some time before I took the plunge, I’m sure you’ve noticed the theme that surrounds getting published: it’s about getting your name out there and making connections. If that scares you to near-death, that’s ok. Find a class, or a one-day workshop, near you. Join a group and hang around on the edges until you’re more comfortable–I’m a complete stalker of the Mystery Writers of America’s social media, but I rarely comment. I’m still too in awe of the company! The point is–get out there and do something. Get outside of your comfort zone. The only way you know is if you try.

 

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Why You Should Attend a Writing Workshop–part one

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If you’ve never attending a writing workshop, my first piece of advice is this: DO IT.

So many writers tend to be introverts, and the thought of spending hours alongside total strangers is enough to say, “nah, I’d rather claw my eyes out doing edits.” My experience this past weekend at the Writing Workshop of Chicago was phenomenal, and in addition to the benefits I experienced (Partial manuscript request! Positive feedback from a published author!), I kept thinking about all the reasons why writers should participate in a workshop.

1. Networking with peers

Talking and commiserating with other writers pumps up your motivation and ambition. Don’t believe me? Try it. If, like me, your friend circle does not contain many writers, it’s hard to vent about how you just can’t get that one scene right, or how you feel like you’ll never be done with editing, or how you feel guilty that you’ve only written 300 words in as many days. At a workshop, you are surrounded by like-minded people suffering through the same perils and insecurities. They remind us that we aren’t alone–and that we most certainly are not the only ones wondering if we’ll die on the spot of our first live pitch. While not everyone you meet will be the making of a writing group or even beta readers, it’s still nice to have people who can remind you that you are not crazy. Or, if you are, you’re not alone.

2. Networking with professionals

In addition to workshop sessions being led by agents, publishers, editors, and published authors, the opportunity to converse with those people throughout the day–whether through pitch sessions, query critiques, manuscript critiques, or hanging out at the water cooler–is beyond valuable. In just this one-day workshop, I could discover directly from the professionals what they are looking for in a memoir, how to write a non-fiction proposal and a fiction query, why social media matters, what to look for in an agent, and what to watch out for in the realm of publishing. The most illuminating session I attended was one called “Writers Got Talent.” As the first pages of various novels were read aloud (anonymously), a panel of judges raised their hand to indicate when they would stop reading–in other words, when that manuscript just headed to the rejection pile. Once three hands were raised, the reading ended, and the judges explained why they would have stopped reading. It didn’t matter what genre these first pages were from–the advice was all about writing, period. And good writing is good writing no matter the genre.

Just like with the writers you meet, the professionals may not necessarily become your mentor, agent, editor, or publisher, but you never know who may be the one to open that door for you. More on this aspect later.

3. Total immersion in Writingland

So many writers have day jobs. Most writers have day jobs. If you’re like me, being able to focus on my writing for one entire day is next to impossible. This workshop was from 9am to 5pm on a Saturday. I was able to immerse myself for one. whole. day. No, I wasn’t writing, but I was learning about it, and that counts to me. I was fortunate enough to be able to make a weekend of it–I took the train up on Friday and didn’t come home until Sunday. That gave me Friday night and Saturday night to work on my novel, plus the train ride there and back to read and write. That’s even more than next to impossible, and I treasured the time I had available. Did it cost money? Yes. I’ve discussed before how investing in my writing and myself was an important step in taking this writing gig seriously, and as I’ve progressed, I’ve allowed myself a little more–because I’ve been getting positive feedback on my work. In other words, I don’t feel like I’m just tossing my hard-earned money out the tenth floor window of the hotel.

Want more reasons? Check out next week’s blog post!

Sign up for my mailing list HERE to receive a snippet of my current project: The Devil Inside Me. I’d love to hear your comments!

Writing Queries and Pitching Agents

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I finally finished the rough draft and one round of edits for The Devil Inside Me and have begun a never-ending second round of edits. This should be cause for celebration, but I’m holding off until I get the second round done. In the meantime, I’m beginning to prepare for what follows: querying agents. Eek!

I’m getting a jumpstart at this weekend’s Chicago Writing Workshop where I’ll be querying two agents for feedback. I have my query letter written that has been edited by a close friend/former English teacher/librarian as well as Chuck Sambuchino. I apologize to both of these wonderful human beings for being the first two people to have to look at it. Much more solid now, though I’m looking forward to hear what two other professionals will have to suggest.

Lauren Sapala and Jane Friedman seem to always know just what I need to hear at any given moment, and this week was no different. I know my query isn’t perfect, but my brain has moved on to being nervous about pitching it at the Chicago workshop. Jane’s recent post, entitled “The Power of Silence in a Pitch Situation,” addressed that in such a timely fashion that I’m beginning to get freaked out by her and Lauren’s psychic abilities. My favorite one-liner: “Get the other person talking and asking questions.” She then links to another article she wrote for Publisher’s Weekly regarding the power of silence in networking situations in general.

If you’re in query/pitching mode, I highly recommend reading that. Also, here are some of the resources I’ve found useful in writing my query. Have any resources or suggestions to share? Leave them in the comments!

Query Shark

Reedsy

Writer’s Digest

Andrea Somberg on Manuscript Wish List

Jane Friedman–includes other resources

Chicago Writing Workshop

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It’s not too late! There are still open spots for you to sign up and attend the Chicago Writing Workshop that’s happening on Saturday, June 23. If you’re looking for a conference that won’t break the bank (especially if you’re near Chi-town and don’t need a hotel), check this one out. Likewise, if the thought of spending two or more days with a bunch of strangers is terrifying, this is a one-day 9-5 workshop. You can do lunch all by yourself if you so desire.

Bonus: It’s held at the architecturally beautiful Congress Plaza hotel, which also happens to feature prominently (read: murder scene!) in my novel, The Devil Inside Me.

Registration is just $169. I thought that a fair price for what’s offered. Literary agents, editors, and authors deliver most of the workshop sessions. And for each of the five breakout blocks, there are three sessions to choose from. Some are applicable to everyone, such as “Pursuing a Small Press Publisher,” and some are geared to specific genres: “How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal,” “How to Write and Pitch Awesome Science Fiction and Fantasy,” “How to Get Your Young Adult and Middle Grade Novels Published,” “Tell Me True: Tips on Writing Memoir and Essay.”

I’m particularly looking forward to the “Query Letter Comprehensive” session since that is the next step on my list after these edits that seemingly never end.

For reasonable add-on fees, you can also pitch agents and editors of all genres ($29 per). Several are sold out of time slots, but to give you an idea of the caliber we’re talking about, here’s just a few on the list: Emily Clark Victorson, Marcy Posner, Tracy Brennan, Abby Saul…

Sound like a decent deal? I thought so. I’ll let you know how it went afterward–and if you’re attending, I’d love to meet!

Take a Break!

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Last week I encouraged writers to submit their writing, but this week I’m going to tell you the opposite: sometimes you just need a break. When I first began learning about this industry, a recommendation was to write daily. Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo (insert link), and I struggled with burnout at that word count level. I do try to write daily, but sometimes life gets in the way. Writing is a priority to me, but not over my family, teaching job, and extracurricular responsibilities for the day job (I’m writing this on the way home from a student council conference, for example).

There is no crime in taking a break, and no need to feel guilty–as long as you get back on that horse. Sometimes a break can provide clarity for where you want to take a scene or a character. If you’re at the editing stage, take a break to ensure you have fresh eyes for that manuscript. Even writers who write for a living need to take a break occasionally, as Kristen Kieffer points out on her (massively helpful for writers) website, Well-Storied: I had fallen out of love with my writing  She then shares her “epic mission” to fall back in love with it–definitely worth a read for any writer! Kristen, who also hosts Your Write Dream on Facebook and #StorySocial on Twitter, wrote one of the best articles I read when I started on my journey, “10 Ways to Practice Self-Care as a Writer, that suggests taking breaks as needed.  Head on over to her Well-Storied website and check out her resources!

How Many Rejections Can You Take?

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Comparison is the thief of joy. I’m positive Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t talking about writers when he said that, but for those of us still in the aspiring-to-be-published category, it most definitely rings true.

When you’re the person still wondering if you can ever complete your first draft, or considering stabbing your eyes out during your first round of edits, or questioning if it’s your query letter or manuscript that is the cause of multiple rejections, seeing others’ success stories can make you doubt yourself. Why haven’t you gotten that far? Why aren’t you published? Scratch that–why is it taking so long to finish the first draft?

These doubts can quickly shift to negative thoughts. You know, the I’m-not-really-a-writer thoughts. The I’m-not-good-enough thoughts. The why-is-it-so-easy-for-everyone-else thoughts. It’s like a disease that spreads in your brain, doubt. But fear not! There is an antidote.

At the end of April, Caitlin LaRue started a #authorstats Twitter thread asking published authors to share their stats: how long it took to get an agent or deal, how many rounds of revisions, how many manuscripts, etc. The responses were eye-opening and ranged from a year to a lifetime. In other words, there is no timeline. The path is sometimes circuitous. No two journeys are the same. And for the love of all that is holy in Writing Land, don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Don’t let all that comparing take your joy.

What if you need a boost? Something to give you some confidence?

Submit something–just don’t forget that your timeline is your own.

When I first sat down and seriously decided I was going to write The Devil Inside Me, I learned as much as I could about the industry. One recommendation suggested writing and submitting short stories (or articles for you non-fiction writers) to build your publishing resume. My initial response was why? I didn’t want to be a short story writer; I wanted to be a novelist. And then, as I mentioned in “Just Submit the Story Already,” @HollyWrites13 and @AvrinKelly tweeted about #52weeks52stories, and I relented–mostly because I thought it would be fun to write a few exploring the backgrounds of my novel’s characters. I had no real plan to submit them–I wanted them to be exploratory and add some back story.

So I wrote a few, and, to my surprise, I genuinely loved one of them. “What have you got to lose?” became my mantra, and I submitted it. Repeatedly. And the rejections came, and they did indeed sting, but I remembered Stephen King. As a kid, long before he was published (in anything, not just his novels), he put all of his rejection letters on a nail in the wall. In his book On Writing, he said, “the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” If repeated rejections were good enough for Stephen King, they’re good enough for me.

So, my #authorstats? In April, my short story “Downright Devilish” was published in Fourth & Sycamore’s online literary journal. I wrote it in a couple of days but revised it over a couple of weeks. I submitted it to nine different places via Submittable and received four rejections and four non-responses (typically equated with rejections in the publishing world).

I was so excited that someone liked it that I submitted another. My short story “Fiendish” will be published in a traditional print anthology (I can announce where later in May!). I wrote it in a couple of days and revised over a couple of weeks. I submitted that short story to twenty-three different places and contests via Submittable. This garnered ten rejections and four non-response/rejections. (The remainder are still in-process.)

I am far from what I would consider a published author. For me, that will be a published full-length novel with some respectable sales. And I haven’t won a Glimmer Train contest nor am I published in Strand. (Yet.) BUT, my writerly friends, I can not tell you how indescribable it is to see a YES! We love your work! email.

And now I get it. Those emails, those glorious people who read your work and say hey, I like what you’ve done here–they don’t just add to your publishing bio. They bolster your esteem. They’re a reminder that it’s not a race, that it’s ok to be on your own path. And that, writers, makes you want to write more. The more you write, the better you’ll get. 

Plotting vs. Pantsing

nanowrimo.jpgIt’s April, and that can only mean one thing: Camp NaNoWriMo! National Novel Writing Month is technically November, when crazy ambitious writers all around the world strive to “win” NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words in that one month. April’s Camp NaNoWriMo is similar, but each writer sets an individual goal. Some may stick with 50,000 words; some may be trying for writing ten minutes a day. The camaraderie is beyond inspirational!

One of the quintessential questions of NaNoWriMo is this: Are you a plotter or a pantser–or the combination of plantser? When I did NaNoWriMo the first time, I was a *pantser: a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer. 

In my defense, I had already started that novel prior to NaNoWriMo. I knew where it began, I thought I knew where it was going, and I had a rough idea of how it would get there, so writing out a plot line seemed overkill. I mean, it was all in my brain. And writing is a creative endeavor, not one to plot out, right?

Sort of. Depends. Kinda.

The problem: I hadn’t thought through how some of my plot points would connect (or not). I had a couple of endings in mind, but they seemed impossible to get to, even once I was 50,000+ words in. I didn’t give up right away. I went back and re-worked scenes, moved scenes around (shout out to Novelize), edited, edited, edited. I just couldn’t get it right. So I shelved it. (You can read more about that here.) I do think it’s salvageable, but I think it will need to sit for awhile–and likely, I’ll start pretty much all over. Except this time I’ll plot before I start. This was a lesson I took with me into my current WIP.

I was about 4,000 words in The Devil Inside Me before I did any major plot sketching. I had my idea–then the idea for making it a trilogy–but thanks to my previous experience, I wanted to know where I was going with it before I was 50,000 words in. 

I did some research and came across the “snowflake” method for planning. I loved the idea of taking a one sentence summary of my story and expanding from there. I came up with my suspects and how they’d fit. I decided upon the locations of the murders–and the order in which they’d occur. I gave my poor protagonist a fatal flaw from hell. And I determined which Chicagoans were going to bite the proverbial bullet.

Magically, plot holes appeared. Shouldn’t I have this murder occur at that location? Shouldn’t I have this person die instead of that one? This non-linear method worked so well for me that before long, I was ready for the linear. I created a spreadsheet of scenes. More plot holes. I could see where the story became protagonist-heavy and antagonist-heavy, where I’d need to do some more research. Other obvious issues made themselves known, including my favorite: person A could not have been 18 during a crime committed ten years ago if they are only 21 today. (Did I mention I teach English and not math?)

Knowing these gaps in the beginning made writing that much easier. I still don’t want to try to control every detail because not doing so will allow some spontaneity and creativity to live in the process.  Has it been perfect? Not on your life. But has it given me direction and the freedom to sit down and pound out some good word counts? You bet, especially when you’re working full-time and trying to cram in 2000 words a day. If you’ve tried plotting and failed miserably, give the snowflake method a try. There is no one-size-fits-all writing handbook, after all.

Writers, who has NaNoWriMo’d? Did you love it? Hate it? Win? Fail miserably? Are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser? Share your strategies!

Readers, what are some stories you’ve read that have an impeccable plot that seems perfectly planned? Writers would love to read your well-loved examples!

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*Confession: Not having a plan is completely and utterly counterintuitive to who I am as a person, but for some reason, writing does not fit into that order for me. As a teacher, my lesson plan units for every class are all tabbed, labeled, divided, and in the same size, color, and brand of binders.  My clothes hang in rainbow (and sleeve-length) order in my closet. I once had a co-worker move everything on my desk to see if I could work without changing everything back first. I couldn’t. I’m that person.

Local Author Fairs

books-bookstore-book-reading-159711.jpegAre you a book lover? Are you obsessed with certain authors? Do you wish you could meet them, have them sign your copy of their book, ask them questions? Then check out some of your local author book fairs! It’s a perfect way to do all of the above AND support the arts in your local community. (Aspiring writers, you should go too! Keep reading!)

While I live in the sticks, I am also within an hour of three large (populations over 100,000) cities. There are a plethora of events among them, typically located at public libraries, community colleges, universities, and bookstores. These provide an excellent way to connect with and support your local writers!

Last November, one public library hosted a drop-in fair to celebrate NaNoWriMo. Six local authors were on hand to sell and sign copies of their books. There was a variety of genres from thriller to children’s, and attendees were also treated to complimentary snacks and drinks.

On the same day, another city’s public library hosted a similar event, this time to help a children’s literacy fund. Authors generously donated a proceed of their sales, and the library advertised it as a way to get some holiday shopping done–simultaneously stimulating the local economy, local authors’ pocketbooks, and funds for the non-profit.

Every local author event I’ve gone to has been free for attendees–and often there are free goodies to be had–from refreshments to bookmarks and other book-swag the authors have available. How cool is it to be able to discover local authors, to talk to them about their work, to discuss their processes not only in writing but publishing? Readers, you might find your next favorite, and never underestimate the importance of readers to writers. Without you, who would read our work? For aspiring authors, this is more than just a networking opportunity. Most people are more than happy to share what their path has been like and may be able to offer you hints and advice for your own journey. For example, I took a community education course taught by Joe Chianakas, author of the Rabbit in Red trilogy. He was instrumental in helping me believe that I, too, could travel down the writing and publication path. Thanks, Joe!

Not sure where to find them? Try bookmarking the local college’s website, and start following social media sites for your public library. Google searches may help you find locations you didn’t even know about. That’s how I discovered one of my now-favorite bookstores, Lit Books, and a super-cool Madison book fair called Madtown Author Daze. You’ll forge friendships with booksellers and authors alike.

On April 7th, my local Barnes and Noble will have several local authors representing everything from young adult to paranormal, including Joe Chianakas, Sylvia Shults, J.E. Mueller, Sydney Raine, Alana Hitchell, Ron Swan, and Dylan Nelson. UPDATE: I just found out there will be TWO DAYS of local-author-goodness happening! The following will be at Barnes and Noble on Sunday, April 8th: Jason HendersonNancy FrantzDemetria WilliamsAnne PetersonJessica PetersonBridget NelanCarrie Lowrance, and Ahaveh Maure.

Readers, have you attended a local author fair? What was the best part? How far would you travel to see your favorite author? What/who would you like to see at one?

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A Writer’s Retreat

books-shelves-architecture-wood-442420.jpegSomewhere in this world is a perfect study. Rich mahogany bookshelves stretch from wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling, replete with a little rolling ladder to reach tomes on the uppermost shelves. An enormous window looks out onto a slightly overcast and rainy day, which we all know fosters the feeling of needing to read and write. An oversized chair upholstered in a chocolate-y brown velvet invites a reader to curl up in it, to enjoy the massive fireplace that’s roaring, taking the chill out of the rainy day. The piece-de-resistance of this study is the massive desk that is in the center of the room, its surface large enough to stretch out and take a nap on. The surface is devoid of anything, save maybe a cup of InkJoy and Frixion pens in every possible color. If you’re envisioning a combination of the mansion in Clue and the Gryffindor common room in Harry Potter, you’re in my head. Let’s face it, this is exactly where I picture JK Rowling sitting down to write another world in which she can send me.

I don’t have that study. Send me pictures if you do.

I must admit that there is part of me that thinks if only I had that kind of environment in which to write, surely the words would flow like honey. However, for most of us, our reality of where we write may be nothing more than where we get an opportunity to write.

I typically write at home, but I long to have a local writers’ group. Alas, country life has its cons, and this is one of them. I long to go to workshops and retreats, which are inevitably in “the” city of some sort (for me that would be Chicago–2-3 hours away, depending upon where you’re heading). I, like Chaucer’s tale-tellers, long to go on a pilgrimage, except my pilgrimage would be to the Story Studio in Chicago for write-ins, where the entire vibe is centered around writing and writers and stories and absolutely nothing else.

So, on those days when I start feeling like I haven’t had a good, solid chunk of writing time and I just need one, I plan my own writing retreat. Yes, I’m flying solo, but providing myself dedicated time and space to do nothing but writing has a way of reviving my spirit and my zest for the current WIP. The characters come back to life as I reconnect to the story–a win-win for everyone (except whoever may be the next fictional murder victim).

How do you plan a writing retreat for one? There are a few options, but first, determine your circumstance:

  1. ALL OTHER COHABITANTS HAVE LEFT THE BUILDING–also known as “what every parent dreams of.” In this option, your partner/spouse and all children have vacated the premises and left you alone. Be it for two hours or two days, allow that laundry to sit there, let those dishes stay in the sink. Give yourself that time–and permission–for just you and your creative side.  Set up a writing station–the couch, the dining table, the bed.  Be sure you have drinks and snacks of your choice on hand.

Recently, I felt a hankering to go to Panera, but it was C-O-L-D. My husband was gone all day working, so I had the house to myself. I may not have a big slab of mahogany, but I do have a farm table in my dining room with a beautiful view of the countryside. I lit a few candles, sliced myself a piece of banana nut bread, made some Earl Grey (I had to at least simulate Panera), and settled in to write. It was the most productive I’d been in days, and I’d like to think that the change of scenery of a different room did that for me.

2. YOU CAN LEAVE THE BUILDING.  Escape! It’s underrated, really.  Panera and our local library are two of my favorite places to write because I can avoid seeing what needs to be done at home. Explore your town or city. Is there a nice quiet nook in the public library?  Are you a Starbucks fiend? Bonus in some places: free wi-fi.

3. YOU CAN LEAVE THE BUILDING FOR A GLORIOUS WEEKEND.  Ah, this is my dream. Financially, it’s not always feasible, but thanks to Groupon and a great downtown-hotel deal, I’m planning a Chicago-escape weekend for myself. A change of pace, a new vista–both of these can help shake up the writer inside of you. Bonus: Take a train if you can. Great for people-watching, a train provides not only character-fodder and often free wi-fi, but also uninterrupted writing time.

Need some more inspiration for where to write? Check out Kristin Pope’s 22 Places to Write blog post on The Write Life for plenty more.

Writers, what are some of your favorite places to write? Share with us–we are all looking for ideas!

Readers, I’ve rambled on about the best places to write, but writers and readers are often one in the same. What are your favorite places to read?

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