Round 1

And the Big “M” – Mystery by Beth Camp

Note from Kait: Thank you, Beth for pulling a Twofer on inspiration this round!!!

***

Little Johnny was too excited to sit still. Today, Miss Jones was going to teach the class how to write.

“Now, children,” she began. “Don’t be intimidated. When you write your story, remember to include four key elements: Religion, romance, and royalty – and the big “M” – mystery!”

The children seated in tidy rows, bent their heads over their pens and papers, and began to write.

Within a very short minute, little Johnny’s hand shot into the air.

“Are you finished already, Johnny?” asked Mrs. Jones.

“Yes, Miss Jones.”

“Do you have all four of the elements – religion, romance, royalty, and the big “M” – mystery?”

“Yes, Miss Jones, I checked.”

“Very well, Johnny. You may read your story to the class.”

Little Johnny straightened up and read, “Holy Moses,” said the princess. “Pregnant again. I wonder who did it.”

I do love this story, for humor invites us to be entertained by the unexpected.

The reality for most writers, though, is far different than Johnny’s experience. Inspiration may result in many words on the page, or a sudden flash of insight about our characters, but most of us spend many hundreds of hours planning, plotting, drafting, and editing to hone our stories – in addition to that pure joy of writing that brings our stories and our characters to life.

Like the teacher in the story, we can number the elements of our craft that lead to good writing. The big mystery, though, remains exactly that question: What is good writing?

For how do we include those hidden themes or motifs that underlie a story, that leave us feeling satisfied or inspired by our hero? I’m not talking about those stories that seem to circle around death or pick at infidelity as if it were a scab, but those stories that leave us wanting more, that teach us something about being human, and that may provoke us to be better people – and perhaps remember the author.

I read somewhere that each author explores one theme that rings through every story he or she writes. Last night, we were sitting around with family we hadn’t seen in a very long time, and the question came up, “What is your favorite song?” Immediately I thought of the main aria from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. If I were to choose a song that personifies the theme that’s closest to my heart, I would choose this larger-than-life, soaring melody, sung at the moment of greatest loss and sacrifice. For we do struggle to survive, hopefully with grace and dignity. Do my stories revolve around this theme? As I write, I can only hope.

When little Johnny writes his next story, he may decide to move away from his teacher’s formula. He may well ask: What is my purpose in writing this story? What do I hope to achieve? What do I want the reader to take away from the experience of reading my stories? I’m not so sure we can control or number these mysterious elements of good storytelling. We can refine our writing. Hire outside editors. What is at the very essence of our stories, though, is ours alone.

May what you write inspire you!

~*~

Beth Camp

Sunday #ROW80 Check-In

Barreling toward the end here…we’re no longer ROWing, we’re in the rapids!  GO GO GO!  Don’t forget your lifejacket!

If you’re interested in being a sponsor for Round 2, check out the FAQs and send me an email at kaitnolanwriter (at) gmail.com.

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Midweek #ROW80 Check-In

It’s officially MARCH. Holy crap.  This means we are in the LAST THREE WEEKS of the challenge.   Time to PICK UP THE PACE PEOPLE!

It’s also time for me to start thinking about Round 2.  If you’re interested in sponsoring, dash me an email at kaitnolanwriter (at) gmail.com.

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Inspiration and Perspiration By Tonya Cannariato

One of the questions I’ve seen floating through this group roughly boils down to “What inspires you?” I think it has equal parts to it of “What pushes your imagination’s boundaries?” and “What are you hoping to achieve?” Together, this triumvirate of questions should be part of the mental background that percolates through a writer’s life to help them determine what makes all the effort worth it.

Because committing to a regular practice of putting words on paper (or screen), improving story-telling skills, and learning the arcane rules of grammar, structure, and good writing means there are hours of days, weeks, and months that don’t get the author’s attention. Times when phone calls go unanswered, furbabies don’t get their pets and walks, children and spouses suffer absent-minded neglect. What is so great about writing (and improving as a writer) that makes this worth it?

There will never be a one-size-fits-all answer to these questions because the trade-offs are real. Time is a zero-sum game and the clock is a harsh mistress. For myself, I tend to try to squeeze the most number of hours out of a day as possible, and consequently spend most of my time some level of tired. I’ve been having to clean up small protest messes from my dogs because between the weather and my recent writing spurt, they haven’t been getting the longer walks they crave.

Of course, that means I’ve been sitting for longer stretches than is entirely healthy for me, too.

My problem is: My imagination takes off at the slightest hint of something interesting. And everything is interesting. Snippets of conversation overheard in the check-out line. Headlines proclaiming scientific breakthroughs and accompanying stories that speculate the sky might fall because researchers are stretching the boundaries uncomfortably far. Even my dreams, which variously involve strange aliens or colleagues, have brought me story inspirations by the bucket load.

The challenge, and the skill, comes in balancing inspiration with the commitment to sit still and commit it to paper with as much skill as you can muster. First draft, revisions galore, editorial passes, I’ve discovered that even after you’ve blessed a manuscript and sent it out into the world, there can be a strong temptation to call it home and make additional revisions.

My reward: I get to see my name in print. I get to claim a completed creative work. Sometimes, I even get to earn some money for having invested all that time and effort (and money to pay for editors and cover artists).

There was a blog post recently in which an author had set herself the goal of becoming a New York Times bestselling author. She made it onto the USA Today list of top sellers, but fell short of the other goal. In the process she learned about the simultaneously mercurial and seemingly capricious process that goal requires enduring. It made me realize that while I’m in my writing career for the long haul, I have no interest in submitting to a system so arbitrary.

So while you’re furiously pounding on the keyboard, and quietly ignoring the rest of your life, think about the trade-offs. Think about what your goals are and what it is about them that makes you happy. Because for as many sacrifices as you make to reach your word count or publication goals, it would be a shame to reach what you thought was the culmination only to face a crisis of self—understanding that the reward you thought you wanted wasn’t what was actually going to satisfy you.

~*~

Tonya Cannariato

The Importance of Planning by Lauralynn Elliott

I wasn’t sure whether or not to write about this since you all probably don’t have Spark Planners. This is a goal oriented planner that I bought from a Kickstarter project. But then I thought that maybe if you did have a planner, you could make it work the same way. Or you could even make your own. Or simply write this down in a notebook.

 

Anyway, here’s how it works and how it can help you.

 

First, there’s a 2016 theme. There’s a page where you write your theme and your top goals for 2016. For instance, my theme is an acronym. FOCUS. It stands for Fitness, Organization, Consistency, Using Time Wisely, and Spirituality. How can this help us as writers? Looking at the whole year might seem a little overwhelming at first, but you still can break that all up in smaller goals and challenges. (There’s a place for the year’s goals.) But if you have an overall theme, it can help you stay “focused”. Which is why I picked that as my theme. It could be anything, though, something you want to work on this year. You can look at this every day and remind yourself what 2016 is going to be about.

 

Then there’s a place for your 2016 Achievements. If you’re going to set goals, you most definitely need to write down your achievements. There’s nothing that feels better than to write down something you’ve accomplished. That usually makes you feel even more motivated. So write down an achievement when you finish or publish a book. Anything you accomplish!

 

Next, there’s a place for the month’s goals with little check boxes. Don’t you love to check off boxes? There’s that feeling of accomplishment again! All those little (or big) achievements can make you feel like going forward.

 

Here’s something I REALLY like, and you can do this with just pen and paper. You don’t have to have a planner. There’s a 31 (or 30, or 29) day challenge for each month. The first box in January says “For the next 31 days, I want to…” The second box says “I want to make this happen because…” The third box says “My plan of action is…” There’s a place to sign your name and there’s a check box for each day of the month. So if January’s goal is to write 300 words per day every day of the month, you check off the box for each day you do it. This is so helpful in staying on track.

 

Then there are weekly goals. It’s easier when you break things down into smaller goals. And more check boxes! You can make your own goals and check boxes without using a planner. I know people who do this all the time.

 

There are pages with inspirational quotes where you can just doodle or write down anything you want. You can just keep a doodling notebook! I was recently in a seminar for work where the speaker said we should draw our goals and dreams along with words. She said when you draw pictures, your right brain works and the words trigger your left brain. That way, both sides of your brain work together. It made a lot of sense.

 

Of course there are weekly and monthly calendar pages to write down things that have to be done at a certain time.

 

This has really made a difference for me. I don’t do everything I’m supposed to every single day, but I’m getting there slowly. I feel like planning for the year, the month, and the week really helps keep me focused on the things I need to accomplish. If I miss something on the day I planned it, I allow myself to bring that over to another day. No beating myself up for not being perfect!

 

So let’s all try to do some planning for 2016. Set goals for finishing a book, finishing the edits, publishing, marketing, anything you want to do. Set goals for how many books you want to publish this year. Set word count goals. And plan out how you’re going to accomplish all this. When you see things written down in black and white (or better yet, in colored ink!), I think it makes us more aware.

 

So what should our first goal be? To plan!

~*~

Lauralynn Elliott