Category: Writing

Deep Thinking at the Writer’s Retreat

My Muse is extroverted in every imagined scenario. My actual body and mind are introverted enough to happily stay home every weekend reading a book.
While Musie celebrated the idea of the Deep Thinker’s Writing Retreat, my mind shriveled into the fetal position and begged to visit a library instead. Preferably the one on my iPad which wouldn’t involve moving away from my couch.
Since the retreat was in Florida, my body argued with my feeble mind. “There will be sunshine and blue skies. We can get our daily dose of Vitamin D without taking that soft gel.”


The part of my brain that knows I need a writing tribe and that my writing is falling short—somehow, since I can’t get an agent to jump on it—also slapped the curled mound of quivering gray matter. After all, 2018 is a year for metamorphosis, and the biggest part of that is with my writing.
The battlefield inside didn’t stop me from packing a bag or waking up at 3AM. On waged the upheaval between mind, soul and Musie, while I kissed hubby goodbye and boarded a plane for the first of three legs of the journey to Destin, Florida.

My Expectations

It was a writing retreat. I expected to write.

In fact, I set myself a goal of completing 5,000 new words for the third Sweet Grove Romance. I figured, that’s five hours. I’ll be there six DAYS, surely there will be at least five hours to write.
Not if I expected to sleep.

Not if I hoped to glean the lessons I needed for character development.

I know this is my weak area, and the retreat organizers gave us three days to work on our characters. In fact, we spent hours brainstorming the hero and shero of every retreat attendee.
This after the entire group tossed out ideas for characters of the “group” story we were brainstorming.

Brainstormers Extraordinaire headed by Susan May Warren

Brainstorming is my super power. No less than six people told me that at the group. One woman (a former managing editor for Zondervan) told me to expect an email from her every time she got stuck.
Oh-kay.
But the only time I got to write anything was on the final day of the retreat. Then I was expected to craft the first scene we had brainstormed earlier and share it with my group mentor, Susan May Warren.
She wanted me to share a rough draft scene with her? Was she honestly expecting to see my best work?
Enough of that. Even if the retreat wasn’t what I expected, it was an incredible experience.

A Day in the Life

I don’t sleep in. The fact I was in a different time zone didn’t matter.
I woke up around 5:30 AM (3:30 my time). My roomie woke up, too, and we headed down to the beach for a walk. This became our normal morning routine for the next four days.
Breakfast was meant to be served at 7:30. The oven wasn’t cooperating, so that didn’t happen the first several days. (Eventually the maintenance man arrived and determined that the convection setting was the default, so the retreat hostess had been using that instead of a regular bake setting.)
At 8:45, Rachel Hauck led the group in devotions. She’d recently taught a class on the Song of Solomon at her church, so we got some condensed thoughts from that.
Enlightening, for sure. I was considering the intimacy of my relationship with Christ…and finding it sadly lacking.
Then the morning sessions began. These were the topics:

  • Stories that matter
  • Characters that matter
  • Lindy Hop MEGA
  • 4-Act Plot
  • Plot your bookends
  • Scenes that matter
  • Building your premise

No, we didn’t do ALL those the first day. There were two morning sessions and these were the topics for those sessions (ten planned sessions in all, although it ended up only being eight).
After lunch, the larger group broke into two smaller brainstorming groups of six attendees, one mentor and one scribe (the Administrative Assistant for My Book Therapy was our scribe and the retreat hostess was the scribe for the other group. Both of these ladies are published authors).
Here’s what the afternoon brainstorming sessions were supposed to look like:

  • SEQ Brainstorming (four sessions)
  • Plot Brainstorming (two sessions)
  • Black Moment Brainstorming (one session)
  • Scene One Brainstorming (one session)
  • One session of writing time
  • Two sessions for one-to-one meetings with mentors

Note how I said “supposed to” in the preceding sentence? Yeah, the brainstorming of the hero and shero took the first three days of the retreat for the six authors in our group. A full hour or more per character.

This is what a character SEQ looks like

This left no time for scene brainstorming because the rest of the sessions were needed to brainstorm six plot outlines (LINDY Hop four-act plot diagram).
I will say that we brainstormed the black moments and first scenes as we went, so all the bases were covered.

The Lindy Hop plot for my novella

The first three nights, we watched a movie from 7 to 9 PM. Each person was assigned something from that day’s lesson to find in the movie and we discussed it after the film.

  • We used THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY to discuss characterization on Friday night.
  • On Saturday, we talked about the major plot points with THE LEGEND OF TARZAN.
  • They made us cry on Sunday with THE IMPOSSIBLE. We talked about why that movie “worked” when the story was not action-packed. How did they build the emotional tension?

Not surprisingly, the emotion building still fit into the LINDY Hop structure we’d been learning.
Using movies is a great way to solidify the importance of characterization and plot. Everyone has the same frame of reference, so the question of subjectiveness is alleviated.

The spot where phone calls home happened

For the most part. There were varying themes for TARZAN that could be determined by naming different things as the “man in the mirror” moment or “black moment.”
The Deep Thinkers Retreat might not have been what I was expecting. (Notice I didn’t call it a writing retreat there. I think it’s meant to be a writer’s retreat rather than a retreat for writing.) Still, I learned so much that my brain overloaded on the flight home.

The perfect place for writing

My next Sweet Grove romance was written using these methods. In July, you can judge for yourself if this retreat made me a better storyteller.
What makes something a retreat? Have you ever when to a retreat with one set of expectations only to discover it would deliver a different set?

Seven Things I Learned from Publishing in Kindle Worlds

Every story and book I’ve published has taught me something about the publishing industry. Since Amazon gets a lot of flak about taking advantage of authors, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from publishing in Kindle Worlds.
First off, Kindle Worlds are considered fan fiction. I’m not a fan of this genre or this label.
Furthermore, I’m not a huge fan of the original First Street Church novellas written by Melissa Storm. I am a HUGE admirer of Melissa because she believes in supporting authors with every resource at her disposal.


I’ve mentioned before that I don’t read romance. Okay, that’s false now that I’ve dedicated myself to publishing three romance novellas this year and getting my first romance novel into print.

My first choice for reading material is not romance. And if I pick up a romance, I prefer romantic suspense. Sure, the romance is important but it isn’t the sole focus of the story.
So what the heck am I doing writing in a genre I don’t prefer to read?

I’ve been asking myself this question at least once a week since the dawn of my contract with Kindle Direct Publishing.

Now, on to what I’ve learned from this experience:

  1. The timeline of publishing may be shorter than with traditional publishers, but it isn’t quick and easy. Let me add: I have only contracted for a bonus with the first book released in November. This is an incentive from KDP to get authors involved in these universes they “own.”
  2. There is even LESS communication with KDP than with any other publisher I’ve worked with. Even the small house that took two years to print the anthology I was involved it had a specific editor who replied to my emails in a timely manner. Not so much with the KDP representative.
  3. It’s better to get support from other authors when you’re uploading your first book. The cover portion of the upload is confusing (set up so you will design your cover right there), and I was glad that there were multiple authors in the FSC Facebook group who could walk me through it.
  4. You won’t sell a ton of books. Even authors with huge followings who mailed their large lists of subscribers found they didn’t sell the expected number of copies. Which seems strange since Amazon promoted the heck out of these books on release day.
  5. The influx of cross-over readers takes time. In fact, I didn’t see a huge rise in subscribers to my Facebook page (we ran a promotion) or my email list when the book released.
  6. Staying the course with multiple avenues of exposure is still necessary. Once I finally got my spot in the Sweet Grove Sentinel (newsletter for the Kindle World), I netted 53 new subscribers in one weekend. Wow!
  7. Quantity is as important as quality. I believe the more titles I publish in this world will grow my following. Since there are so many books and authors in the First Street Church universe, the readers can’t be expected to buy ever one of them. At least not within the first few months.

    In the end, I don’t feel I’ve wasted my time and effort writing for Kindle Worlds. Yes, they own all these stories—forever—but I could take the characters to a different location if I wanted to publish outside of the First Street Church universe.

    Do you have any questions about this form of publishing?

Florida in February

Who wouldn’t want to go to Florida in the middle of winter? (Okay, winter is only a month from being “officially” over, but still.)

What writer wouldn’t want to attend a five-day writing retreat with two best-selling authors? Maybe someone, but not this author.

I wish I could tell you more about it, but at the moment, I’m in transit. Since the retreat is held at a house in Destin, Florida, I’m having to zig and zag all over the place to get there from the Pacific Northwest.

I left before 7 am this morning from Portland to fly to San Francisco. From there, I’m heading off to Houston, which appears to be the only major airport on the west side of Destin with flights to the little airport.


I arrive at 6 pm, exactly one hour before the shuttle leaves from the airport to take a bunch of us writers to the retreat.

Bright and early (okay, not really early in my book) on Friday morning, the retreat begins with breakfast and devotions led by Rachel Hauck. Not sure who that is? One of the best-selling authors. She writes Christian historical romances and historical fiction, so if those aren’t your genres…you’re forgiven.
There will be classes in the morning. Group sessions for brainstorming and applying the lessons.
In the afternoon, I’ll be writing my next Sweet Grove romance novella. That’s the entire focus of this retreat for me. I hope to come back with 5-10 thousand new words. If nothing else, I’ll have an incredible hooking scene and complete understanding of my characters’ motivations.

Because the first draft WILL be written before the second book releases on March 13.

Yes, here’s the pretty cover, in case you missed my post about the series. (You did? Here’s the link.)


Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to let you know how well the retreat worked out for me. Maybe even this time next week.

Or maybe not since I’ve scheduled March 1 as an official “recovery” day from all the travel and lack of sleep.

Where is your ideal winter vacation spot?

Transformation: Genre Branding & Platform

It’s hard to make a change when you don’t have consistency. Or at least that’s what I told myself about my author brand and platform. And then came 2018 and its Word:

The truth is, I’ve been walking around rather apologetically since I started this professional author gig. Well, except for a few months around the time of this release:

“What do you write?” People would ask.
“All sorts of things.” And then my eyes would dart to the side. “Most of my published stuff is romance, but I have one YA Fantasy and a women’s fiction novel.”
I’m guilty. I was ashamed to admit that I wrote romance. Many of my author friends are angry and revolted as they read this.

Because romance writing isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. Is it what I “dreamed” of writing? Nope.
But it IS what I’ve been able to market to publishers, and where most of my readers come from.
This is the year I embrace that identity. With one caveat, of course.

My Brand: Before

I’m not even sure I had a brand before this. Check out the things I used for continuity across every social media platform.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you saw those things, what would you guess I wrote?

What? It doesn’t scream any genre at you?

That would be because I wrote so many genres I feared embracing anything that might look distinctively romance or fantasy or nonfiction or Christian.
Is it any wonder I haven’t been able to build an audience? No one can figure out what it is I’m selling here.

My Brand: After

 
One thing I’ve heard over and over is: “As an author, YOU are your brand.”
But what does that really mean? What does that LOOK like in logos and colors and fonts?
I am a person who loves to read many genres and has too many ideas to contain in a single writing category. So do I brand multiple personalities? How?
This is what I learned from a quick quiz from Kaye Putnam and her Brand Personality Quiz:
1. I have elements of several personalities in my brand
2. The ones that appeal to me most are Hero and Magician
3. To settle on ONE or know how to properly combine these, I needed to discover what I want my ideal clients (readers) to FEEL
Light bulb moment.
I knew the answer to this. So I took some time considering it more deeply.
I want my readers to feel understood and hopeful and encouraged. I want them to be empowered to chase (and capture) their own dreams.
Yes, I want to offer them escape, but more than that I wanted them to see themselves between the pages and know they are not alone. Someone relates to how they’re feeling and what their lives are throwing at them right now.
Then I outlined all of that and shipped it off to a designer. Perry Elisabeth is a freelancer I met through a Facebook Group. I’d been admiring her cover designs for months and I’d succumbed to the magnetism of her WriteMind Planner.
And this is what she came up with.



There was a transformation here, right? I can build a platform with this distinctive symbol.
Based on that, what genre would you guess I wrote?

And if you say “romance” or “women’s fiction” I won’t cringe. Because in 2018 I’m going to publish three (or more) Christian romances with women’s fiction themes and motifs.
More on that later.
What do you think of the new look? What/how does it make you feel?

A Romance Series in Sweet Grove, Texas

Small town romance series are a huge hit. How do I know? Because the little town of Cedar Cove,Washington (now a Hallmark Channel series) was invented by Debbie Macomber years ago and has millions of adoring fans.

It isn’t the only small town series I’ve read and enjoyed. Currently, I’m a huge fan of Kait Nolan’s Wishful Series. In fact, I never thought much about Mississippi until I read these books. Now I want to go there…and specifically to Wishful. Too bad it’s fictional…

Because of my affection for small town romances, my joy at being included in the Kindle World of Sweet Grove, Texas, shouldn’t surprise anyone.

I hope you’ll learn to love the people and the places of Sweet Grove as much as I do. Check out the entire world here. Read the recent feature about me from the SWEET GROVE SENTINEL here.

My newest romance series is considered a Christian romance series. I’d encourage readers of my sweet romances to give it a try. I swerve far from being preachy (and if you think I don’t after reading one of these books, please email me with your concerns), so I think even people who aren’t generally a fan of Christian books will enjoy this series.

Also, as several reviewers remarked, I tend to dabble on the darker side of town. Sweet Grove is a wonderful place, but it isn’t free from problems.

In this series, I’m trying to use non-standard sheroes and heroes with real life issues. And my happily ever after endings don’t feel forced or fast. (If you read and feel differently, again, send me an email. I want to know if I’m missing the mark and I don’t always read my reviews.)

Let me introduce you to my Sweet Grove Romances.

Book One

LOVE’S LATE ARRIVAL released on November 15, 2017. Read all about it here.

 
Book Two

LOVE’S LITTLE SECRETS will release on March 13, 2018.
Will his secrets end their marriage?
Blurb
On the eve of her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Norma Wells isn’t sure she loves her husband anymore. They’ve grown apart since a barren womb robbed Norma of her most cherished dream. When his secret son crashes their anniversary party, she’s ready to walk away.
Herman Wells performs his duties, even when it means keeping secrets that would destroy the love of his life. All at once, every secret is revealed, and Herman prepares for damage control. No matter what, he’s not willing to see his marriage end.
To save it, he will have to take advice from his son and even confide in the preacher. He can’t rely on Norma’s anti-divorce to save him. Somehow, he must make her fall in love with him again.
Can Norma forgive the betrayal? Or has Herman’s secret-keeping doomed their love?

Book Three

Within the First Street Church Kindle World, the authors have decided to introduce specific subcategories. My third book will debut with the Heroes of Sweet Grove line on July 3, 2018
LOVE’S LINGERING DOUBTS
This is the tentative tagline and blurb, subject to change as the story is written and the characters buck my outline.
To trust each other or lose it all?
Blurb
When her brother is killed in battle, Jazlyn Rolle gave up her softball scholarship for Army green. Barely four years later, she’s home again, disgraced and disillusioned. She’s nobody’s hero.
Bailey Dyer’s doing everything he can to save the ranch he’s called home since being fostered there at the age of six. He doesn’t have time for anything but work.
Until the pretty stranger in clingy running shorts carries his dog along the country road. He wants to deny the attraction, but how do you avoid someone who hits a softball into your lap?
When a distant relative decides to fight Bailey for the ranch, Jaz will get her chance to come to the rescue using the legal skills she learned in the JAG’s office. But will Bailey admit to love? Or will he let Jaz succumb to her lingering doubts?

Book Four

Sweet Grove High is a line for young adult and new adult romances within this Kindle World. It debuts on September 10, 2018.
Readers of LOVE’S LATE ARRIVAL expressed curiosity about what happened next for Ariel Stryker. Her story will be expanded in this fourth book, still untitled.
Future Books
I’ve roughed out at least two more stories for this series and they will likely be released in 2019. After that…who knows?
Another novella for the Heroes of Sweet Grove line, LOVE’S LOST INNOCENCE pairs a woman fleeing memories of a brutal assault with an angry former soldier, whose external wounds aren’t nearly as debilitating as his festering fury.
The secret son of Herman Wells is going to get his own book too. I think I’ll pair him up with a minor character from LOVE’S LATE ARRIVAL, but I haven’t decided for sure. I don’t have enough of the story outlined to settle on an appropriate title.
What’s your favorite small town series? What sort of characters or issues would you like to see addressed in future stories? (If I use your ideas, I’ll mention you in the acknowledgments or perhaps even dedicate the story to you.)

Three Reasons I Avoid Writing Book Reviews

I read tons of books. And I enjoy reading them. Even if I don’t end up liking the book all that much, reading has the potential to make me a better writer of stories.
And even though I track all my books on Goodreads, I’ve stopped writing reviews for many of the books I read. At times, I don’t even give them a rating.
And, no, this isn’t just because I didn’t finish them. I don’t even add those ones to my “READ” shelf. I have a special shelf for them: “Abandoned.” And it used to be a lonely place, but not so much any more.
If you don’t finish a book, you have no business reviewing it. Or giving it a rating. I’m sorry, folks, but you shouldn’t even say why you couldn’t get through it.
Reviews are for finishers. Why? Because the story could have turned around. Maybe it was a slow starter. Plenty of books that went on to become blockbuster movies were a drag to begin reading. Nope, I’m not naming names here, but I’m sure you know who you are *winks*
Many of the books I read are advance copies meant for the sole purpose of garnering a review on release day. And sometimes I’ll bet the authors who asked this “favor” from me wish they wouldn’t have.
Because if you’ve read my reviews, you know I can be harsh. Some people have commented that my four-star reviews sound like they’re for two-star books.

I’m honest with my criticism.

I’ll be the first to announce that reading preference is all subjective. A reader’s idea of what makes a book wonderful is also subjective…to the criteria their enjoyment is based upon.

My criteria are few:

  1. A well-structured story (that isn’t predictable)
  2. Characters I can relate to and root for
  3. An obvious story problem with a clear resolution
  4. A dynamic main character (meaning this person CHANGES over the course of the story)

Sure, if you can make me laugh AND cry, you’ll get bonus points, but that won’t keep me from overlooking a lack of any of the above items.

In recent months, the number of books I’ve finished reading but haven’t written reviews for has increased. Here are the reasons for that:

ONE: SOMETHING IN THE STORY AWOKE MY BIASES

Yes, I just admitted I have biases. I’m sorry folks, but everyone does. Even if you consider yourself the most accepting and non-judgmental person on the planet, you have biases.
It’s impossible not to form them. If you disagree with this, let’s have a reasonable discussion about it in the comment section. (But don’t be surprised if I call out your biases when they appear in your commentary…because they will.)
For example, a recent book by an author whose stories I adore didn’t earn a review from me. The story line endorsed something that I am opposed to.
However, her writing was fine. The story met the other qualifications for being great. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to write an honest review without mentioning this thing that burrowed under my skin like a ravenous scarab.
So, I rated the book but didn’t write a review.
And I didn’t mention the reason anywhere.
In fact, I’m still not really telling anyone which book it was or what the THING was.

TWO: THE AUTHOR IS MY FRIEND

Okay, this is a tough one to admit. I’d love to say that I’m only friends with authors whose work I love and adore.
Alas, no.
Sometimes they are writing too far on the edge and I can’t buy into their fantasy world. They haven’t done the work to make me suspend my disbelief.
If I truly dislike the story or find the writing subpar, I might not even give a rating to the book.
In either case, I always contact the author directly if I’m giving anything less than four stars to their book. Because…I don’t want my “negative” review to affect their sales.
I’m an author, too. I might have been a reader first, but the business part of me understands that my opinion could sway people. And they might have enjoyed the story.
Who am I to keep people from reading something they might enjoy? Especially if the fact they bought it would help a friend of mine further their writing dream?
But…I’m not going to fib either. I’m not going to claim something is amazing when I growled about it.

THREE: THERE’S NOTHING REMARKABLE TO SAY

This is the one that I’ve decided is most prevalent for me (even though I’ve listed it third). Sometimes, I really like the book. It made me smile, laugh or tear up.

But when I finish, there’s nothing that stands out about it.

You can be sure it won’t get FIVE STARS in this case. But if I’m feeling warm and fuzzy, I’ll probably give it four stars. After all, all that means is that “I liked it” (on Amazon) and “I really liked it” (on Goodreads).
But if there’s nothing to SAY, why would I write a review?
If I give it a rating but not a review, you can most likely put it in this category. Unless the rating is three stars or less. And I really try NOT to give anything less than three stars.
Do you write book reviews? If not, why not? If so, what are your criteria?

Inside a Writer’s Brain

I thought the Professional Author’s Brain (PAB) would be different. Back when I started down this road to become a published author, I accepted that disparate ideas and motivation would war against my love of story writing. I was an amateur after all, and that creative writing/professional writing degree didn’t really prepare me for reality.
Four years into the real deal, I’m not sure anything could have given me a heads-up about being a professional author. Or what really went on behind the forehead inside a PAB.
True, continual writing and seeking feedback from more skilled writers could equip me with the TOOLS I needed. But there isn’t a book or course that can tame the beast inside my brain.
I know this because I’ve read an endless stream of writing craft and career books from successful authors, and I’m still scratching my head over some aspects of the whole “author gig.” I’ve also taken multiple courses offered online and at conferences from published authors who are also competent teachers (and as an educator, I can tell the difference).
What did I get? More knowledge. More tools.

Nothing to discipline the genius inside my heart, soul and mind.

The part some people call “The Muse,” but I’m inclined to agree with Elizabeth Gilbert’s assessment that we all have a genius at our disposal, and it isn’t subject to the spurious whims of the gods.


What? You didn’t know Muse is actually a Greek goddess, patron of artists everywhere.

Now you do. And that explains her fickle game plans and unpredictable work schedule.

What I’ve learned as a professional author is that you can NOT wait for the Muse to show up before you work. You have to sit your rear in the chair and do the work.
But, the truth is: Muse work reads like poetry and my work affects me like a C-level college essay. So why write the words are going to sound so…average?
Why didn’t my brain shift into a different gear once I decided to go “pro”? Surely professional authors with a string of best sellers and a backlist that fills five Amazon screens don’t have problems tricking their brains into work mode. And their Muse must show up for eighty percent of their writing sessions.
You’d be surprised what best-selling authors do to trick their brain to do its best work. But, I can’t rely on the bag of tricks they share as “writer’s gold” in their blogs, memoirs and books on writing best sellers.
Because most of it is nothing more than fool’s gold to my brain.

My Creative Brain

I come up with ideas for stories quite easily. Too bad that’s NOT the hard part.

I might be standing in the grocery line and here are some things that would grab my creative genius:

  • The cover of a gossip rag in the magazine stand
  • A snippet of overheard conversation
  • The set of the cashier’s shoulders
  • The look a stranger gives as he passes by
  • The contents scrolling across the belt about to be purchased by the person in front of me

There’s no shortage of ideas in the world. Anyone with a spark of imagination can come up with hundreds of ideas during a one-hour brainstorming session.
In fact, I never need to brainstorm story ideas. What I need to learn is how to multiply plot points that will compel readers to turn the pages.
Because while the idea pool is deeper than the Mariana Trench and wider than the Pacific Ocean, the number of ideas which will generate an entire, interesting story or novella (forget the gargantuan required for a novel) fit in an espresso cup.


The Other Half of my Brain

And that little puddle is where the other half of my brain refuses to play. It likes the splash of plenty in the ocean of ideas.

Why narrow things down? Won’t it be more fun to play with all the interesting water puppies?
No, Brain, it only leads to frustration.

Except for when it causes plot holes. Or there’s an off chance it will peter out in the dreaded middle of the story. Maybe it locks itself in a tower and conveniently misplaces the key.

The left brain has lots of fun, but at some point the right brain (PAB) must approve all the fantasy-babble. It has to contain enough truth to suspend the reader’s disbelief. And this half of the brain is like a wet blanket on the fiery creative half.
So why can’t I convince this half of my brain to “create” like a professional author?
Because it doesn’t tends to cage the fluttering explosion of ideas and the Muse doesn’t survive behind bars.
In other words, professional authors learn to write IN SPITE of the flibbertigibbet whiff of inspiration and genius.
Me? I’m still trying to escape the beast with all my limbs intact.
What sort of things do you imagine go through a PAB? Any questions for this full-time author that might light a fire beneath the Muse?

BIG MAGIC for Creatives

At the suggestion of an author I follow, I checked the audiobook of BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR written by Elizabeth Gilbert. After all, I needed something to listen to while I cleaned the house and logged miles on the pavement.

In case you’re not familiar with authors, Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE, so she had a little authority in the are of creativity. As a bonus, she narrated the audiobook.

What’s the Magic?

Inspiration is the magic behind creativity. There’s tons of noise about listening to your muse and being inspired by certain things.

Gilbert has an interesting view on inspiration. She proposes that ideas are the offspring of inspiration. Ideas float freely through the air around us, buzzing into the hearts and minds of various people, looking for a receptive venue.

When they find an artist that pauses to consider them, they stay awhile. They plant their seedling concept into a ready mind where the willing artist considers it.

If the artist, waters and feeds and otherwise tends the idea, it happily grows and flourishes, until finally it becomes the premise for a novel, theme of a painting or thought behind a symphony. Then it goes fully formed into the wider world to be viewed and appreciated by everyone.

Should the artist give up on the idea, it won’t wait around forever. This is why sometimes when we set aside a project for awhile, when we come back to it, the magic is gone. We can’t get into the flow again. It suddenly feels stale and unimaginative.

Gilbert has proof for her hypothesis regarding ideas. It’s a real eyebrow-raiser, and involves an exchange of ideas with Ann Patchett through nothing more than a touch. That’s all I’ll say about that. Read (or listen to ) the book if you want to know the whole score.

Gilbert’s advice: consider art as a vocation rather than a career. Even if you do it full-time. Once you call it a career, the weight of responsibility (to pay the bills and feed the artist’s family) presses against ideas, stifling them.

She names many fears and addresses her own methods for counteracting them. She debunks the idea of a “suffering artist” and proposes creatives fill their well with love for their art. The art will reciprocate with kindness.

My Takeaway

I enjoyed the various anecdotes and personal experiences shared by Gilbert. This will be the only book of hers I have ever read (although I did see the film version of the best-seller mentioned above, but we all know it was NOWHERE as amazing as the book).

Although I’m not entirely convinced of her theory regarding ideas, I can see how she would have made the conclusion she did.

Ideas are inanimate. However, the Creator of all things could very well send them on the air and into the hearts and minds of people He wants to develop them.

I have said, “Inspiration struck. The words poured out of me.” However, this isn’t inspiration in the sense of “God-breathed” scriptures.

Instead, I mean an idea bloomed and was ready for harvest. It responded to my watering with introspection and my feeding through brainstorming or research. It’s growth can no longer be contained in my heart and mind,

Idea explosion makes me adore writing a first draft. Sure, some parts of it might be a struggle, but I’ve learned to skip to the part the muse want to expel. The other parts will fall in line–eventually. Or maybe they will end up being summarized, nothing more than connective tissue for the brain child birthed with a minimum of labor.

A few lines jumped out at me, and I scrawled them down. They’ll be fodder for reflection in the quiet corners of my mind.

It’s true fear dampens creativity, can destroy it altogether. This is why I chose “dauntless” for my word this year. And why I’ve embraced the unexpected opportunities that have flowed my way this year.

BIG MAGIC isn’t an especially long book, so I recommend it if fear is stifling your creativity. It can’t possibly hurt anything, right? And it might invite the Big Magic of Inspiration to drop an idea (or ten) in the fertile soil of your imagination.

If you’ve read this book, what was your takeaway? What fear stifles your creativity?

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Writing Insanity

November. National Novel Writing Month. It’s a brotherhood of insane writers, pounding out 1,700 words per day for thirty days.
Since I’m rather unsure if I am meant to be a novelist, I may be a rebel again this year.
In 2014 I wrote that path. It netted four short stories, one of which I fleshed out into a 70,000-word novel.
A novel I pitched to three agents this past summer. All of them said the same things:

  • Women’s fiction must be at least 80,000 words and closer to 100,000 is better
  • The stakes need to be upped for at least one of the characters

All that to tell me I needed to rethink the story and add another 10,000 words at least.
But it hasn’t called to me.
However, I’ve planned and plotted a follow-up novel starring the youngest woman from that story. I could write that story in November.
Or I could write the next novella or two for the Christian romance “series” set in Sweet Grove, Texas.
After all, my debut in that Kindle World will be here in two weeks.


I’m hoping readers will be panting for the next installment, a story featuring minor characters from this first one.

What about doing something fun?

I’ve been jotting ideas for another fantasy novel for several months. I want to tackle the idea of a realm that exists outside of time encroaching on a world that exists inside the restrictions and constructions of time.

My thought is to have the mentor figure and the villain brothers who live in the timeless realm. They’re competing (as brothers do) and have gotten caught up in trying to trip each other up…by planting prophecies and information along the timeline in the world where time exists.
The story could include elemental magic with atypical sources.

But I really don’t have a story for it. Just a ton of vague ideas. And that’s NOT the best way to be a winner during National Novel Writing Month.
With the release coming up on the 15th and the content edits for REALITY EVER AFTER due on the 13th, I’m not certain I’ll have the focus for NaNoWriMo.

But how can I NOT do it? I’ve done it for three years and won every time. It’s such a morale booster.

Sure, it’s a little bit crazy, too. Especially when I only have three days per week to get my words written. And I’d want to finish by November 22 because we’re heading to the Oregon coast to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my sister.

If I’m not finished, the story will be hanging over my head the entire time.

Part of me wants to write something “just for fun” and another part of me knows I need to stop procrastinating and get stories down on paper.

What’s your advice? What would you do?

Like reading this? You’re a click away from getting Hero Delivery, a bulletin with deals and new releases from Sharon Hughson.

Maybe you like romance or some of my other books. I’m sure there’s something worth reading on my page.

Already read one or more of my books? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. A review is the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

Sometimes Blue is just Blue

Subbing in a high school language arts classroom recently, my thoughts turned toward symbolism in literature. And the fact that I don’t use it heavily in my own writing made me ponder a few things.

For those of you whose stint with literature in high school isn’t as recent as mine, let me refresh your memory.

The teacher would stop the reading of a story, play or novel and stare over the tops of reading glasses and ask, “Why was the room blue?”

Most of the time, I’m guessing the author made the room blue because they liked blue. Or maybe it reminded them of their character’s eyes or the bright orbs of the husky next door.

“Because the woman’s getting depressed.” This from the geeky person who always raised her hand when the teacher asked a question. (Hermione Granger or even me back in the day.)

Blue often symbolizes depression. Which I totally don’t get because a blue sky can make me content and happy faster than just about anything else.

The Story

The two freshman classes were reading “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst.

This story of two brothers is set in the 1910s. It’s narrated by the older brother, and chronicles the brothers’ journey to make the sick and invalid younger brother “just like all the normal boys” when he starts school.

The Symbol

You might guess from the title that the symbol is the ibis. What the heck is an ibis? Glad you joined the freshmen in asking such an important question. An ibis is a tropical bird.

However, if you look up different meanings for the color red or scarlet, you might see that it is often used to symbolize things: like blood, for example.

In the story, a scarlet ibis shows up in the tree outside of the boys’ home and drops to the ground: dead. The younger (invalid) brother is highly affected and decides to bury the bird. His mother warns him that to touch it would bring the death curse on himself. So he manipulates it with a rope.

This is foreshadowing, of course. And when the final image of the story in the younger brother bleeding from his nose beneath a red bush, it’s clear that the author used the bird and the color of its plumage as a symbol.

Sometimes the symbols are obvious. Other times they’re more obscure.

If they’re obscure, I tend to wonder if they are reader created rather than author intended.

After all, if I’m going to use symbolism, wouldn’t it be most effective if it was clear and plain?

Literary fiction is rife with symbolism. The genres I write? Not so much.

This reflection made me wonder if readers enjoyed the odd symbol now and again. Would they want the woman to be wearing a green shirt when she learned a new skill? Did they understand the plot and arcs better when symbols were used?

I can only speak for myself. A well-done symbol is fine, and even interesting or enlightening when it’s well-executed. Making the murderer wear black just because black is the color of death? Not so much.

There must be a point to it. A point other than using symbolism for the sake of symbolism.

Is symbolism important to you when you read? Does it add to your enjoyment? Does it add extra dimension to the story? Or is it something you pay very little attention to?

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