Thursday, October 30


 Writers are often asked what their favorite stage or thing about writing is. Is it the beginning, the end, the glory of a finished product, world-building?

My immediate response is always dialogue. Because I'm good at it and it comes easily for me. In fact, if I'm struggling with a scene, I will find some way to have a conversation. For me, dialogue might be considered a crutch--because I don't force myself to have those quiet, introspective moments the character might need to have.

But today I realized that my favorite part of writing is actually the birth and development of a new idea. 

The seed for my new idea came from a plaque I saw at work. What happens under the mistletoe stays under the mistletoe.

And I thought, "What if it didn't?"

So, I revised the saying to, "What happened under the mistletoe should've stayed under the mistletoe."

And every time I passed the plaque--I'd placed it on an end--I'd think of the story I wanted to write. Then I finally broke down and bought it, so that it didn't disappear. Now it's sitting on my desk as a constant reminder of the seedling in my head.

This morning, plot sprouts woke me up and demanded to be written down.  I had character names, a possible love triangle and jobs for the characters. And there's a cupid. And maybe the mistletoe doesn't play as big of role as I'd originally thought. But, then again, maybe it does.

I have another book to finish before I start tinkering with this one. 

But, my how I love that first blush of a new relationship.

Wednesday, October 29

Doing What We Think We Can't

I've always been able to see the accomplishments that other people have made so much more clearly than I can see my own. That is both a blessing and a curse. I've never been a conceited person (benefit). On the other hand I think its important to self-esteem to really 'see' what we've done.

RadioMan and I started biking in the spring. I don't care what they say, riding a bike for the first time in ... well, too many years, isn't easy. Its hard. There is balance to be re-learned, peddling to master. That first ride I barely made it around the outside loop of our neighborhood (a 3 mile stretch). I had to stop once and I wasn't fast; I think those 4 miles took a solid 30 minutes. I liked biking but I wasn't at all sure I could do it.

The next day, same result.

The following day, same result.

I kept trying, though, because each time I rode there was a moment when I didn't hurt and when I remembered how much fun I had riding my bike as a kid. My goal was to be able to ride 20 miles per session by the end of the summer...I hit 18, and I think that is a good accomplishment, but next summer I'm going to hit that 20-per-session mark...and maybe more.

Obstacles aren't just in exercise programs. Obstacles can be anywhere - a particularly hard class in school, chasing a dream or making a change from Job A to Career B and most definitely in our writing. Every time I start I new book the same fear hits me: this will be the book I can't write.

Over the summer I really thought I'd hit the writing wall because I started a book that I just couldn't get a handle on. I started it, stopped it, re-started and stopped again so many times I wanted to scream. I tweaked characterization, motivation, goals and conflicts so many times I just wanted to toss the project in the trash. So I started something completely different...and the messed up characters from The Project That Wouldn't Let Me Write It bugged me until that new project imploded, too. So I started tweaking and fiddling and tweaking one more time.

No, there was no lightbulb moment and at no point did the heavens open and angels begin singing...but hard-fought-for-word after hard-fought-for-word made it onto my pages. Conflicts and resolutions came into that book that I'd never imagined. Good conflicts and good resolutions and eventually I was able to write The End - something that, had you asked mid-summer, I'd have said would never happen.

I don't have any great advice on how I worked through the block that was that book, but I have a little distance from the project now and I think it's good. There are some rough areas that I'll polish in revisions...but overall the book is good.

What is better is that I can look back at the battle of this book and I can see how this particular battle changed my writing process and how I approach a story. It changed how I look at writing, in general, in a good way. This book, as awful as it was in the middle of it, has made me a better writer and has inspired me to open another blank document and start the process all over again. This time, I'll remember the battles I fought to write that book. I'll draw on the strength that kept me on that bike for 18 miles and I'll remind myself that I can....even when I think I can't.

Tuesday, October 28


Confession? I’m not a big fan of revisions and I think I’ve finally figured out why. That’s not the confession, actually, this is: A little part of me hates to change a story I’ve written. Yes, I know, my words aren’t golden, and edits and revisions are a necessary evil in every author’s life. But you know, there’s a bratty little writer in me who just wants it to be perfect the first time and doesn't want to hear anyone tell her any different. 

Perfect. Ah, now there’s the real rub. Perfect is so not ever gonna happen. Especially from this writer, who has a penchant for backstory that makes her editor want to weep. Book 3 of the Women of Willow Bay series is in revision right now, and I knew exactly how rough it was when I sent to my editor. I knew exactly what she’d say, but I sent it anyway because I was so very done with the story. 

However, it’s been a good seven weeks since she sent it back to me and I’m ready to dive in again. Her comments are always spot on--yes, the backstory has to go. Start in the present—the right now—and let’s meet both the heroine and the hero in the first chapter. And you know what? I already like it so much better. In just a few pages, I’ve given my reader all the introduction they need to my heroine and hero, and now I can move forward with the story. I am amazed at the difference it makes. My writing is tighter with more emotion and action in just those first pages than in all the old beginning chapters combined.

It feels terrific to be writing and making progress. Why does that take me by surprise time and again? You’d think I would realize that what makes life work for me is writing, and that when I’m not writing, I’m not happy. How hard is that concept? I remember once that fellow romance author, Anne Stuart, once wrote on the Reinventing Fabulous blog, “Everything in my life is filtered through my writing. There is no me without it.” I need to remember that during the restless, unhappy times. It’s all about the writing.

How about it, writers? How do you feel about revisions? Do they make you crazy or do they make a better writer?

Monday, October 27

There's a golden sky

        I’m a morning person, which means even though I make my own hours, I go to work in the dark. It’s my favorite time—watching the day come alive. This morning, for a few minutes, the pinkness in the sky wrought by the rising sun turned the fields and the woods a warm gold. I tried to get pictures, but they didn’t capture the color or the feeling. That’s where being a writer comes in handy. Because by the time the gold had brightened and split into bars of light and shadows, the scene was there.
          I already had the people—I always do—so now I know where they’re going to be. How they’re going to feel when the sun slips up to offer them a new start.  
       I know that she will have stopped by the side of the road and is standing, looking first one direction and then another because she doesn’t know what to do. Where to go. Her whole world, or what’s left of it, is in the minivan she’s driving.
          I know that across some fields and around a corner or two, he stops on the way across the barn lot to his office and gazes in his accustomed silence as the wind whispers through the cornfield. It dries the mud left by last night’s storm. The end of a storm, he remembers from an old musical, leaves a golden sky and the comfort of birdsong in its wake. He knows better than to anticipate—life hasn’t been kind enough for him to feel comfortable with expecting the best—but it looks like it’s going to be a good day.
          It’s one of those times I love being a writer. When a nice sunrise is more than just a few minutes in the day. It’s a scene or the beginning (or ending) of a story. It’s a catalyst for whatever you need it to be. It can be a backdrop for a portrait of a story’s cast or it can be the final scene of the epilogue when you’re at the bittersweet “the end” moment. It can be the setting for walking and talking—one of my favorite things TV writers do (yay, Aaron Sorkin)—or it can be the ending of a night the protagonists might or might not regret.
          Just a few minutes, but the possibilities are endless. Has this happened to you? When it comes to gifts to give a writer, it’s almost as good as a really nice pen that fits your hand right, isn’t it?
          Have a great day—I hope you have some wonderful minutes. Tell us about them, won’t you?

Friday, October 24

Question Friday

Hi, all! Nan here! It's Friday and that means it's time for our new meme here at WordWranglers. It's Question Friday! I’m the questioner this week, so here we go. 

What’s the toughest criticism you’ve received as a writer? And the best compliment?

Margie’s Answer: I guess the toughest criticism has come just lately. I had three fulls out of my eighth rewrite of Bix and every one of the agents said that at times it read YA and other times MG. Death note. Why didn't someone tell me this six rewrites ago??? So, now I have to decide if I want to try and fix it—in which case, do I go up or down?? I'm kind of leaning toward going MG and cutting a bunch. But man, it's tough. Kristi and Liz know how long I've been working on this and this news was particularly heartbreaking.

My favorite compliment is when someone reads what I wrote and says, "I forgot that you wrote this." Because for me, it seems as if they got sucked into the story that they forgot they were reading it as a favor to me.

Liz’s Answer: My greatest criticism has been that my writing is old fashioned. It's come from more than one source and I'm sure it's true know...I'm old fashioned. The first time it was said--in a review--I was offended. Since then, I guess it's just okay with me. I don't know what makes it that way, but just as I would look ridiculous dressing like a 17-year-old, I think I'd probably sound ridiculous trying to write like a 25-year-old.

Best compliment? A reviewer on Goodreads (not my finest venue!) said, “This book had to be one of the most 'healing' books in my life” about One More Summer. I have never felt more honored.

Kristie’s Answer: Good question, Nan! Hmmm...Criticism is hard, no matter where it comes from. I get revision notes and suggestions all the time from my editor and agent as well as my critique partners. I can't remember who said this to me and I think it may even have been more than one person, but early in my career (this would be before I was published) someone told me that they couldn't 'see' my characters even though they knew what the characters looked like. I realized that I was so busy getting from Point A to Point B that I wasn't developing the characters in my story enough. I've really tried to focus on character development ever since - note just the physical, but their emotional development, too.

As for compliments...My very first editor, Jennifer Lawler with Crimson Romance, wrote in a comment bubble that my dialogue made her laugh out loud. I love dialogue, and I work at it, but that particular scene just kind of flowed. I thought maybe I'd gone too far with it, so it was great to learn that she was responding to the characters and dialogue. 

Nan’s Answer: My greatest criticism came from my editor, the amazing Lani Diane Rich. She read the first iteration of Sex and the Widow Miles and her first reaction was, “Your hero’s an asshole.” I was kind of shocked because I thought I’d written a guy who was cute and fun and charming, but interestingly, the day I sent her the manuscript, I’d reread it, and the thought occurred to me that he seemed a little pervy. Apparently, it was my better writer nudging me because that’s exactly how he came across to her. So I not only rewrote him, I even changed his name. ;-)

My best compliment also came from Lani. After several times of rewriting the opening scene to Once More From the Top, I finally received this comment: “Love it. This opening is damn near perfect.” My heart sang!

So talk to us, fellow writers? What are the worst and best criticisms you've ever gotten on your writing?