Inside the soul of a writer

Category Archives: writing

I didn’t post last week because I was in the throes of seeing how many more words I could get on my NaNo novel. Since November is now over though, I thought I would come back and update you on what I was able to finish.

As I said at the beginning of the month, the goal for National Novel Writing Month is to write 50,000 words of a novel before the end of the month. I didn’t quite get there although I completed more of the first draft than I expected. So, that makes my November word count for my novel The Long Way Home 33,481. I’ve written more of it in the first few days of December, but the object of NaNo is to count what was written in November. I’m pleased with my progress though I didn’t “win”.

I also wrote 3,311 words for my blog Thriving in Grace. It might be asked why I didn’t completely focus on writing my novel. That would be a fair question. I have two reasons. One, my writing for that blog and for this blog functioned as my warm-up writing for my novel. It got my brain in writing mode and was helpful in getting me started each day. The other reason was because I needed to write the words I wrote for Thriving in Grace. When I write for that blog, I process my questions about my faith and about the things that happen in my life. I also consider these words a part of my November writing experience.

Finally, there are the words I wrote for this blog, Write What You Know. That word total for November, drum roll please, was 2,625 words. I felt like I needed to document my thinking process about the various literary elements as I was considering them for my own novel. I hope my musings were helpful to you especially if you were considering how everything was fitting together for your own novel.

So, what comes next? I will continue to work on my novel. I want to finish my first draft so I can begin revisions and editing. This book is being written from my heart, and I want to make sure it is the best it can possibly be. I want to write more stories too. Creating the stories that are in my head is an act that can’t be matched by any other. It changes the status quo just by the act of its creation. As Kurt Vonnegut says, “Practicing an art, not matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow…” And finally, I will continue to write in both of my blogs so I can continue to develop as a writer.

Have a great day, everyone!

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This fall has been a season of change for me and my family. Things are different now. Both of my children are now in college, and I’m no longer homeschooling. My husband and I are now empty nesters though our younger son still lives at home. I’ve spoken of this before. But, what I haven’t spoken of is how different it feels to be in the season as opposed to anticipating it. It hasn’t been easy to find a place where we fit. We’re not actively parenting, and we’re not grandparents yet. (Hopefully, that won’t happen for a while. 🙂 ) I’m trying to launch a freelance writing career and learning how that works in scheduling my days. And I’m learning who I am again and what it is I have to contribute.

When I was considering the topic for this post, all of this and my novel came to mind. In my first post of this month, I spoke of the theme I was hoping to weave throughout the pages of my novel–acceptance of self and love of family. While this is still my theme, thinking about seasons of change has enriched it. If you write, you are familiar with the term “inciting incident.” Here is the definition if you’re not. “The inciting incident is an episode, plot point, or event that hooks the reader into the story. This particular moment is when an event thrusts the protagonist into the main action of the story.” (from http://www.nownovel.com/blog/incitingincident) It’s what makes the story interesting to readers. Anyway, I’ve already written the inciting incident for my novel, and I was thinking how similar this was to a season of change. My protagonist can’t go back to the way it was before the story began, and I’m not sure she would want to. By the time I’m done writing, I hope to have shown how much she has grown as a person by how much she has changed. I believe that would be a season of change by any definition.

As I’ve thought of how “season of change” has enriched the theme of my novel, I came upon some questions and quotes from one of my writing books. Jennifer Probst had this to say about theme in Write Naked. “Think about what is important to you and what you want readers to remember about your book. What are your characters really fighting for? What do you want to explore?” These are words that bring theme down to its most basic level, and they were some of the many words that made me glad I bought and read Ms. Probst’s book.

I also learned about story theme when I was reading the section about theme. Here is the definition. “The story theme runs on a deeper level, identifying what type of story you like to write. It’s a theme that’s present in your collective works.” (pg. 198, Write Naked, Jennifer Probst) That concept was fascinating to me as well. I’m too new of a writer to know for sure what my story theme is, but I have some ideas. I’ll need to come back to this post at some point and update if I’m right. (After I’ve published a few books, I hope. 🙂 )

In the first paragraph of this post, I wrote of my own season of change. The thing I’ve been most surprised about is that things are actually changing. For some reason, I thought there would be a core of things that would remain the same, but that core has been smaller than I would have thought. I understand the concept of “mid-life crisis” a bit better now and why people go out and do crazy things like buy a sports car. The changes at this time of life have been tumultuous, and it has been hard to breathe. Letting go of the familiar has seemed to be the watchword of people I know who are in this stage of life. The question I need to answer, I think, is whether I need to do the same. Hopefully, writing this book will give me the answers I’m looking for. I hope it does the same for you.

Have a great day, everyone!


Last week, I spoke a little of the main protagonist of my novel. I want to speak more this week of how this character and the other characters around her came to be a part of the story I’m writing this month. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a story about someone who has overcome difficulties from their past, who is now successful, but who still has lessons to learn from the difficulties. I wanted her to have a career and surround her with a loving family and most of all, to have her overcome obstacles.

This character has been growing in my mind for the last couple of years, but I knew I needed a story to go with her. That story has finally come together this year, and it is the story I’m writing now. I’ve heard it said that some authors write characters who are similar to them in personality and who are able to do the things they’re not. I want to say this particular character is that way for me, but I won’t know for sure until I get further into my writing and into the story.

As I thought about this character and this story, I knew there would need to be additional characters. The first ones I thought of were the members of her family–her husband and her children. I made her husband part of her back story so he would be intimately familiar with her trauma.  I also had her husband love her unconditionally though she would have times of doubting that love because of the trauma she had endured–her obstacles to overcome.

Finally, as I was doing my preliminary thinking about my main character, I wanted her to be a woman of faith and have her faith be important to her. But, I also wanted her to defy stereotypes and be a regular person too. She has a career though she is a pastor’s wife. She expresses emotion and doesn’t do everything that is “expected” of her. She says cuss words and goes into places a regular person of faith wouldn’t go. (because of her reporting career) She is her own person and has the full support of her husband to be so.

So, everything about my main character, her family, and the story itself was firmed up in my head before I began writing. But, as I started writing, I knew I would need more characters. Other writers, I’m sure, would have had all their characters fully fleshed out in the planning stages. I have learned over the years though that I am not other writers. I am my own writer which means I have introduced these other characters in my own way. I have enjoyed this process of finding out what I need through writing it. The police detective and the FBI agents who will be important later on. My main character’s editor. Her sources. Her other friends who are also defying stereotypes. They will all make my story the story it needs to be so I’m looking forward to writing their stories too. I might stop my writing at points to write back story and more details in my evolving outline. But, for the most part, I plan to see where my characters take me as I write this first draft during NaNoWrimo.

I hope you have enjoyed my process of thinking about and forming the characters for my novel. Feel free to share your own process in the comments.

Have a great day, everyone!


With today being the first day of NaNoWriMo (That’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you who aren’t writers.), I thought I would do a quick post on how I plotted the book I am about to begin writing. During the month of November, writers from all over the world furiously write in notebooks or type on computers hoping to complete 50,000 words of a novel by the end of the month. I’ve participated before with success, and I’ve also failed to reach the goal a few times. But, I’ve learned something each time I’ve participated, and my writing has gotten better each time. I decided this was going to be the year I wrote the book that’s been in my head for the last couple of years. I would have more time to do it now that I was no longer homeschooling, and doing my first draft in November would put me in the company of many writers who were doing the same thing.

So, plotting. What is it, and why is it important to those of us who write novels? Here is the definition. A plot is the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence. Essentially, a plot is what happens in the book. Over the last few years, I have read more writing craft books trying to learn about the different literary elements. Some of them have been more challenging than others (What’s the theme of my story going to be?) while the rest have had a sequence to learn which I’m not quite sure I’ve gotten the hang of yet. But, I’ve learned the right and wrong things to do as I’ve planned my story.

The main thing I’ve learned is that the literary elements are interwoven. Ray Bradbury had this to say about plot in Zen in the Art of Writing. “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” This imagery intrigued me. Plot is not just what happens in the story. No, the plot in a novel ties the journey of the main characters to what they learn in the process of making the journey. And what they learn is the theme of the story. This brought me to my story’s theme. Acceptance of self and love of family. My theme is not going to be one of those nebulous things that’s hard to figure out. By the end of writing this book, I want it to be clear to anyone who reads it. My story is going to be about my main character learning she is worthy to be loved and knowing she is loved by her family.

As far as plotting goes, I know I have a lot of details to put together. I have a general idea of the story I want to tell, but getting the details right will make it a story worth telling. And if it’s a story worth telling; then, it will be a story worth reading. And if it’s a story worth reading; then, it will be a story worth buying. At least, I hope it will be. 🙂

I’ve also learned the way my story will be unique. When I first started writing, I was discouraged at one point when someone told me that every plot in the world had already been used, and no one could possibly come up with anything new. It made me think I couldn’t write anything truly original that anyone would be interested in reading. I’ve learned better since then mainly because of this quote by author Caroline Lawrence. “Plot is what happens in your story. Every story needs structure, just as every body needs a skeleton. It is how you ‘flesh out and clothe’ your structure that makes each story unique.” So, what I’ve learned in my writing craft books has helped me build the structure of the story I’m going to write, but what I say in the story is going to make it my own which makes me excited to get started.

As I finish this post, I want to wish everyone who is participating in NaNoWriMo well. I hope the words, plot, characters, and theme come easily as you work your way towards 50,000 words.

Have a great day, everyone!


A lot has changed in the last seven years. My children are grown now. One will be done with college in May, and the other has just started college. They have navigated the beginnings of adulthood well, and I couldn’t be more proud. But, there should be something else now, someone else now. There should be a child running after his or her big brothers. She should be in the first grade starting this journey of an education and learning about life. There’s not though. It wasn’t meant to be.

One year after my miscarriage, I was able to write about my loss here. (https://writewhatyouknowdotorg.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/reflections-on-the-beginning-of-fall/) I was able to reflect on my loss and talk about all the good that had happened in my life since it had happened. I was able to say I was okay and thought I was moving on.

The grieving process though has been different every year. There have been years I have been overwhelmed with sadness on this day, and there have been years I’ve been reminded of how close Jesus was to me on that day though I hadn’t come back to faith yet. There have also been years when I’ve felt a combination of both sets of feelings. Sadness and peace. I haven’t quite been able to explain it, but I’m pretty sure it’s related to what has changed in my heart–the presence of God in my heart and my life.

I said in the first paragraph a lot had changed in the last seven years. There have been deaths, and there have been births. I’ve become friends with a precious little girl who has the same name my daughter would have had. There have been job changes and hospital stays. I’ve learned and grown from essentially living life, and it’s been good for me.

However, over the last several months, I’ve become convinced I needed to keep my bad feelings stuffed inside, and if I even thought of expressing them, bad things would happen. I’ve thought I had to do this because reflecting my bad feelings would mean I wasn’t reflecting the joy of the faith I’ve come to profess. Essentially, I wasn’t being real.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about, praying about, and trying to get a handle on. How do Christians have real joy and peace while considering such emotions as sadness, anger, and depression? Do we pretend when we’re not at home? Do we put up shields? I would think since God gave us all these emotions, we should use all of them, or we would just be robots, right?

Through my prayers and talks with God, I was reassured that it was okay to be real in my life. God is there when I shake with sadness, and He’s there when I jump with joy. He wants us to be real and to care only about what He thinks not about what others think. And if I needed more proof, I could go back to the first post I ever published on this blog in 2012. I leave it here for you and me to consider as we think about how to integrate all of the parts of our lives–the sadness and the happiness–into our writing.

Until next time, be real!

Inside a Writer’s Soul

Words….words on a page with no feelings or emotions behind them.  Is that what catches your eye when you read something? Or is it the words that have feeling and emotions that catch your eye? I have been writing stories for the last two and a half years and have been told that the best way to reach a person through words is to write what you know.  This is my plan for this blog. Why are we afraid to tell people what we really feel? To let them see inside our hearts? I think it’s because we’re afraid–afraid of rejection, afraid that what we’re writing isn’t popular, afraid of being real. For my first post for this blog, I want to share an experience that was very real to me and one that still resonates deep within my soul.

Almost eight months ago, my family and I had lived in our new town for just about a month. Unemployment had been our watchword for almost a year, but we were now beginning to get back on our feet with my husband’s new job. What I had not told anyone though was the extreme pain I had been in. We had held off on getting health insurance because of the expense, and I was hoping against hope that what I was experiencing was just normal monthly woman’s pain. It was not to be. By the middle of the day, I was bleeding heavily and barely able to get out of the bed because of the pain. My husband was worried and looked up my symptoms on the Internet, and we determined that it was highly probable I was having a miscarriage. It was on the side though of being something a doctor couldn’t do anything about, and we decided it would be better for me to just stay at home and wait things out. Thirty minutes later, I had a strong urge to push and barely made it to the bathroom before something came out. It was very, very small, but was still recognizable as a baby. A baby….I had lost a baby. Tears began pouring down my face.  I managed to get to the bed, and at that point, began my physical recovery.

The mental recovery though is something I would not wish on anyone.  My husband and children were amazing. I can’t tell you the number of laundry loads and meals that were taken care of without my having to worry about it over the next few weeks. The people we had met were pretty good too. I was especially grateful for the home school mom who took my kids for the afternoon a few days later so I could rest, for the manager who let my husband work from home the afternoon I had the miscarriage and for my four special girlfriends who I have a Facebook group with. But, the one thing that was hard was feeling like I couldn’t talk about it—feeling like I couldn’t talk about my pain and anguish— that people just expected me to move on.  There are health issues that are talked about; dare I say that are ‘fashionable’ to talk about.  I’m thinking of such things as breast cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. When a woman says she has lost a baby though, people don’t know what to say or they say something that wounds her further.  Why? Why is this loss not talked about? Wait, I can’t say it’s not talked about. There are people who are doing wonderful work with miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss support–on the Internet and in real life. It’s hard though, not being able to talk about a loss especially a loss that was early like mine was because people don’t consider it to be real. But it was real to me.

It might be a mistake to be real, but I won’t know unless I try. I’m reminded of a quote I saw on Facebook on a photo. “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t correct those mistakes, you’re doing it really wrong. If you can’t accept that you’re mistaken, you’re not doing it at all.”  (credited to I fucking love science’s photo that was posted on May 26, 2012)

Until next time, be real!

 


When I first started writing, I had trouble writing a story with a specific word count. I’d want to keep making the action move forward or describing the world I’d developed or putting more description and development into my characters. In other words, I would meander through my writing. 🙂 Now, that’s fine for the first draft of a novel or a short story. But then, I would need to enter the editing process, and I wasn’t sure of the best way to do that. So today, I thought I would describe the process I’ve been learning in my class about how to write a short story and about making word count. Then, I’ll post the story I wrote for my class for your reading enjoyment.

The first thing I learned was to make each word count whether it was a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, or any other part of speech. If one word could say what I wanted it to write better than two or three, it was all the better for my writing. The trouble I ran into was which words to use so I put a lot of thought into it while I was writing the first draft of my story and while I was editing it. It was a good process for me to learn–to make my story truly say what I wanted it to say and to make it “lean and mean” as some of my author friends would say.

The second thing I learned wasn’t necessarily from my class, or maybe it was something mentioned, but something I had already decided to try. I decided to write my short story about a moment in time. If the moment wasn’t a long-lasting moment, then it would be more likely I would hit the word count I needed to hit. It was interesting theory. I started writing, and the moment in my head started appearing on paper. I used the best words I could think of for each part fully describing the moment, but trying to be economical with them as well.

Did I hit my word count? No, I didn’t, and that brings me to the next thing I learned. I learned about editing and how it was supposed to work. When I finished the first draft of my piece, it was about ninety words more than I needed. I had been careful about my word usage, but my story wasn’t where it needed to be. This was where the editing came in. I was able to go back through my story and find more words I didn’t need or find a better way to state something with fewer words. I found I understood the process better after going through it this time for some reason. My story felt stronger, and I felt like it conveyed what I wanted it to say. I know this knowledge will help me as I begin to edit longer pieces and as I submit my work for possible publication.

Here is my story, “Belonging”, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Crash! Clank! Melissa hung her head in shame. This was the second time this week her lunch had ended up on the floor. The cafeteria workers ran to clean up the mess, and she was sure she heard the Spanish word for clumsy in there. She replied in kind. “No soy terpe. Alguien me empujo.” A torrent of Spanish came from the worker.

After taking the sandwich thrust at her by the manager, she turned to go to her table. She gazed at the crowd. There was no indication of who had pushed her, but two of the cheerleader brats were hiding their faces behind their hands. Emily saw her staring and raised her hand in salute. “Enjoy your sandwich, geek girl!”

Knowing that Emily had failed their Spanish test earlier, Melissa yelled, “te odio, perra!” She walked away from the crowd. After sitting down at a table in the corner, Melissa gave rein to her churning thoughts. ‘I hate this place. I wish we had never left Peru.’ Her parents had been teachers at the international school in Lima, and she had loved her life. She had been accepted there. But now they were back in the United States, and she had to go to this stupid school.

“Excuse me, young lady.” Melissa looked up to see one of the janitors sweeping near her table. “I like your hair.”

“You do?” She cradled the magenta ends of her hair. “It’s inspired by Gamora on Guardians of the Galaxy. She’s so kick-ass.” She gazed at the long table with the cheerleaders and football players. “And she wouldn’t let Emily push her around either.”

The janitor followed her gaze. “Don’t worry about her. She’s gonna get what’s coming.” He stuck out his hand. “Name’s Oscar. What’s yours?”

“Melissa.” She shook his hand. It was nice to feel comfortable with someone. “What do you mean?”

“Watch.”

Melissa saw the cheerleading coach walk up to the long table. The coach spoke to Emily. “Due to your score on the Spanish test today, you are on probation. Gotta get those grades up, Emily.”

Emily screeched. “You can’t do that, Coach!” She tossed her hair. “I’m a cheerleader.”

The coach spoke again. “Yes, I can. You need to listen. Cheerleading isn’t everything.”

“But it is!” She burst into tears as the coach walked off.”

Melissa grinned. “You were right, Oscar. She did get what was coming.”

“Keep watching,” said Oscar.

At the table, the football captain was speaking. “You have to move.”

“Why?” asked Emily.

“You made the rule. Only cheerleaders and football players can sit at this table.” He gestured to another table. “Move along.”

Melissa wasn’t able to contain her laughter. “Best day yet at this school.” She looked back at Oscar who had a slight disapproving look on his face. “Sorry.”

“I need to get back to work,” said Oscar. “Let me tell you something. You are worth ten of those girls, even with your magenta hair. And…you’re gonna find your tribe. In fact, I think you and Natasha would get along just fine.” He motioned to the door where a red-haired girl had come in. “Ask her to eat with you.”

Melissa recognized the girl from her math class. “I will, Oscar. Thanks.” She turned back, and he had disappeared. “Huh? That was weird.” She watched Natasha go through the line and motioned her over to the table. As they both sat down to eat, Melissa realized she might have a chance to belong in her new school after all. She looked up. “Thank you, Oscar.”

 


This week I’ve started a creative writing class through Wesleyan University called The Craft of Style. It’s part of a set of writing courses for people who are planning to participate in NaNoWriMo in November. In case you don’t know what this means, the abbreviation stands for National Novel Writing Month where those of us who are of the writing persuasion try to complete the first draft of a 50,000 word novel during the month. Anyway, back to my course. I thought for the next few weeks I would write about what I’m learning and provide excerpts from my writing assignments so I can accomplish some “practicing in public” time.

First up is style. Scribophile.com defines style like this. “Style is like a fingerprint, no two are alike. A function of diction, syntax, and voice, style tends to emerge from how you write rather than from a concerted effort to control it.” This is where I’ve always confused style with some of the other elements of writing. How can style be taught? Isn’t style just our own way of writing?

The answer to that is yes…and no. Notice the definition includes “diction, syntax, and voice.” I believe that is what makes style similar to setting, and it also explains how they’re both interrelated with description. The professor is using description to teach us about style, and it’s been fascinating so far. I’ve learned about taking a piece of writing and making it more vivid by the words I’ve used. I’ve also learned that making scenes clear and vivid are the underpinnings to having a great story. I rewrote something I had written a few months as part of an assignment using what I had learned and was intrigued by how different it sounded when I read it.

I know I have a lot more to learn about style and the other elements of writing, but, for now, here is my latest piece of writing for you to peruse.

Description Assignment

Kathleen Whitaker and her daughter Olivia looked up and around in fascination, barely noticing that their limousine had driven away. There was the red and black pagoda featuring the poster of the movie Kathleen had come to review. The building appeared as traditionally Chinese as the buildings she had seen in Beijing two years ago. She could sense the history oozing out of the building and into her pores. Looking up as she walked forward and studied the building, Kathleen didn’t see the person in front of her until it was too late. Oof! Crash! It was one of the waiters carrying a tray of cocktails. Kathleen helped him steady the tray. “So sorry, sir.”

He didn’t reply and walked off. She was almost sure she could hear him saying, ‘Tourist yokels,’ under his breath. She thought of replying that she was most certainly not, but then realized she had been acting like a tourist yokel. It was time to focus. She turned to her daughter who was wearing a gown identical to hers except Olivia’s was royal blue, and hers was midnight black. “So Livy, what do you think of your old mom now?” She motioned to the crowd and historic buildings around them. “Do you like it?”

Olivia was bouncing with excitement. “Mama, this is so fancy.” Her eyes widened at the sight of the red carpet. “Do we really get to walk on it?” Her mother nodded glad to see her so excited. They followed the crowd of reporters there for the premiere into the theater. Everyone oohed and ahhed at the gift shop, the concession stand, and finally, the elegant staircase and escalator leading to the theater itself. It was all so beautiful. She could hardly believe she had been asked to come to such an elegant place. Now, to see if the movie was as good as the theater it was being shown in.

Have a great day, everyone!