Thursday, September 27, 2012

Procrastination Bug Bit Me - Now I'm Biting Back!

When writing was a hobby I could punch out anything at anytime - poems, short stories, long stories, anthologies, whatever.  But when I decided to take it on full-time, all of a sudden that stupid dung beetle (aka procrastination) writhed into my life and bit me.

He crawled on my keyboard, slithered on my outline, stole my notes and creeped his way into every conversation I had with my main characters.

I'd really like him to take a permanent vacation.

So I went searching for the Eradicator – something, anything to help me get rid of the pest.  I’ve jotted down a few of these tools in the hopes that maybe they can help you too, sweep that bug from your life.

Tool 1- Kitchen Timer -- am I writing or am I trolling the Internet?

Tool 2- Word Count -- do I have a word count goal or am I cleaning out the fridge today?

Tool 3- Page Count – how about a page count goal or is this organizing-the-office day?

Tool 4- Scenes -- do I want to finish one scene or two, or maybe I’d rather watch TV for more "research" ideas?

Tool 5- Time of Day -- do I write at the exact same time every single day or do I keep filling that space with essentials like alphabetizing my book collection?

Tool 6- Favorite Place -- do I write in the same place every day (well-lit, uncluttered and mine) or is it filled with bills, homework or other fun stuff?

For me, the best tool has been to create a habit that works.  Experts say two weeks of the same thing at the same time and you’ll have that habit down.  I’m on day 10 – wish me luck!

Do you have favorite techniques for staying on task and fulfilling the dream of a completed, well-edited, ready-to-go manuscript?  Please share!

The sketch is from my good friend Chris Watt, please see more of his illustrations at

Monday, September 24, 2012

Veterans Benefits

*DISCLAIMER* A Veteran Benefit Rant

So I was researching some Veterans benefits information for a friend.  Two years ago I found out that Iraq and Afghanistan war Veterans were entitled to 5 years of medical care at the VA (and the only reason I knew this was because I worked at the VA).  When I went through the transition program before leaving active duty, there was NO mention of it.
Today, I read this benefit still applies but to two separate groups of Veterans.  If a Veteran left active duty after 2003, he or she can still apply for medical benefits as long as 5 years has not passed.  BUT, if a Veteran left active duty before 2003 and still hasn't registered, he or she can't get the benefit.  

Excuse me but is the war over?  Did I miss the huge welcome home parades and congressional announcements that we have ended the war in Afghanistan?  Has the unemployment rate for war Veterans dropped below 15%?

At what point do we as a nation realize that Veterans are entitled to these benefits because they sacrifice their lives at the request of their government?  And at what point do Americans realize that without an all-volunteer military, the draft will be implemented because somebody has to ensure the United States of America is the fiercest military on the planet?

Here's something else too.  If you think Veterans are only sacrificing their lives, think again.  Their families suffer, their friends suffer and they suffer.  War is not pretty.  It is not glory.  It is not adventure.  It is ugly.  And I have seen too many families ripped apart in the last eleven years.  Those families and their Veterans deserve every single benefit this nation can give them.

So, Congress, when are you going to extend the deadline to register for 5 years of medical coverage for Veterans to whenever they can get an appointment at the VA or even better, to whenever they can get a person to pick up the phone at the VA to make an appointment?  Because here's the other funny thing, of the 11 years worth of Veterans I know, NONE of them knew they were entitled to free medical coverage.

What a travesty during a time of major unemployment, ever-increasing medical insurance and oh yeah, ongoing war.

For more on Veteran Benefits, please see the Veteran Benefits link at the VA.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ever been to war?

I have.  It is nothing like the movies and I've not even been in combat.  

After nine years of begging and pleading, my career field finally let me go.  I thought, great now I can get it out of my system.

Boy, have I never been more wrong.  

I grew up on stories of my grandfather fighting in the Pacific with the 3rd Marines.  His FOUR brothers were in Normandy and another brother taught pilots how to fly the hump with the Flying Tigers (two are in the US Air Force Museum and one is in Arlington).  My family can trace its war history back to the Revolution and they still own the 648 acres given to them for fighting. 

Those stories drove me through childhood and since I was 14 I knew I'd join the military.  After an unfortunate knee injury, the only option I had was the Air Force and I happily went.  Now, 11 years later and after my first "war" deployment, the only thing I can tell you about war is that it's a drug.

Yes, a drug.  I figured one trip and I'd be good.  Nope.  One trip and all I think about is going back.
A lot of guilt goes into that feeling also since I'm a wife and mother.  But I have found a writer who can articulate this better than anyone else.  Antonio Salinas wrote a war memoir that dares to tell the truth -- that war is one of the most terrifying yet intoxicating experiences on the planet for so many reasons.

Read it.  And you might understand why a wounded Marine wants to get back in the fight or why a Navy Seal returns year after year.  Or why a mother is riddled with guilt for wanting to serve her country.

Antonio, Thank you for explaining what I can't.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sangria Summit

A writers conference for military folks -- awesome idea!

Veterans have stories to tell and some of them are hard stories to tell but still need to be written down and shared with the masses.

Today, folks don't even think about the fact that we still have thousands of service members in Afghanistan and Africa fighting terrorists.  Normally people don't think about this until one is dead.  While I understand daily life must go on, it is a shame.

The difference between this war and previous wars of the 20th century is the lack of conscription.  This war was fought completely with volunteers and no American was asked to support.  No matter your political perspective, I believe that when the nation is at war, it should be fought by everyone or no one.

For those who won't actually pick up a weapon, there are so many ways to serve.  Volunteer at the VA or the VFW or the American Legion or on a base near you.  Educate yourself on the programs offered to Veterans so you can help them find them.

One of the most astounding things to me is the lack of knowledge of benefits.  I talked with two Veterans last week, both recently returned from Afghanistan.  Neither knew they were entitled to five years of medical coverage at the VA - FIVE years and one of them just lost his medical insurance.

Simple things like that can save the life of a service member who simply wanted the honor of serving his country.

So a big thank you to the organizers of the Sangria Summit last week.  What an amazing way to help Veterans tell their story!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Want out of the slush pile?

Top 5 Reasons Agents Stop Reading (this is from Anita Mumm of Kristin Nelson Literary Agency)

1- Story starts in wrong place (confused about where the action is)

2- Too much set up or data dumping in the beginning

3- No sign of the main conflict (where's this going?  Seems to me this ties in with the first one)

4- Story isn't big enough (this isn't about word count but rather stakes.  Are they high enough?)

5- Mechanic mistakes (grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc... It smacks of rough draft.  BTW, Chicago Manual Style is the preferred writing guide)

Foundations of Fiction (why an editor will reject a manuscripts -- this is from Peter Kenftlberg of Kensington Press)

1- POV issues (no head hopping)

2- Tense issues (be consistent)

3- Conflict (it isn't evident right from the beginning)

4- Static characters (they need to change from the beginning to the end -- did they learn anything?  how did they grow?  why can't they go back to the way it was?)

5- Plot (what is the goal or motivation to do something - STAKES need to be high)

6- Pacing (don't have it bogged down in emotion, scene setting or description)

7- Info Dump (lots of background or set up; be careful with this in dialogue as well)

8- Dialogue (use contractions!  characters refer to each other by name too often)

9- Cliched opening (wakes from dream, looks in mirror, in a car)

10 - Mechanics (punctuation, grammar, spelling, voice (how does the voice differ from other books?)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Writers Conference Keynotes

Jodi Thomas, 3 time RITA award winner and Romance Writer Hall of Famer, gave an absolutely inspiring and hilarious keynote this weekend.

Best quotes:
"If you are a writer, you need to realize you are not normal."

"The longer I write, the harder it is to be around normal people.  I was at a cocktail party where this woman was telling me about picking out new carpet.  Before she was done, I was plotting her death."

"The day you stop taking critiques is the day you'll be as good as you'll ever be."

"Writers are like drunks.  First we start out doing it socially, then we're in denial, then we lock ourselves in the closet to do it.  Writers conferences are like AA for us."

"Creativity is the black gold of the future."

Best advice:

"Triumph comes through perseverance."  She saw this in a cemetery after being rejected for all six categories she entered in a contest.

"Be proud of what you write."

"Be honest.  Be nice.  Believe in yourself."

"Always deliver when you say you'll deliver."

"Never walk anywhere you wouldn't go in your Sunday shoes."  In other words, don't write because a genre is hot.  Write because you believe it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Critique Sessions

I'm attending the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference in Denver tomorrow and the first session is a critique group with an editor. Each of us received a copy of the other members' first ten pages a couple of weeks ago. Feedback is critical for me to understand where the major issues are in my work, so I assume other writers feel it is critical as well. Here is the process I use to critique, hopefully you'll find it helpful.

 1- Read it through twice.
This is merely to get a feel for the story and a feel for the writing style.

 2- Simple proofread.
 During the second read, focus on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, consistent verb tense and basic mechanics are distracting. This is a relatively easy thing to help fix.

 3- Plot flow.
In a macro sense, analyze all the scenes for organization, clarity and flow. If something doesn't make sense or requires a reread to understand it, then make a note.

 4- Dialogue.
The dialogue needs to sound natural. I love the term "conversation hijacking." The more writers observe everyday conversation and read other authors, the more likely the dialogue isn't cheesy.

 5- Word choice.
 This is almost like line editing. Every single word of each sentence needs to be effective.

 6- Point of View.
Maintaining a consistent point of view (POV) allows the reader to dive into the book without distraction.

Monday, September 3, 2012

DNC This Week & Informed Voting

Democratic National Convention starts tomorrow. I'm not really excited about it but then I'm also not a Democrat and fundamentally disagree with them on just about everything. However, I think that uninformed voters completely wreck the system. So to Charlotte I go and just to help make it interesting, I'll tweet it. Should be good times listening to folks talk about giving the money of hard workers to those on welfare. But I'm not biased or anything.


Revising is excruciating but it is where the real work gets done. Stephen King says to get the story on paper. Then let it sit before revising. Joe Lansdale says he writes a scene and then immediately edits is 6 or 7 times and it's finished. I think the process of writing is as individual as the writer. I'm not a plotter or a pantser but a mix of the two. I meticulously plot out the novel and change as the characters get on the paper. Currently, I know without looking at my plot board or character sketches or outlines that I have three scenes in terrible need of work. So I should probably get to work -- I'm pushing a deadline for the conference this weekend!