Aug 30, 2011

Night Owl, Morning Writer

I begin my writing day every morning at 5AM.

Never in my life have I considered myself a morning person.


I can't stand anyone speaking to me first thing in the morning. At a breakfast gathering, I'm the one slouching and staring into my coffee cup, avoiding eye contact lest someone expect actual conversation from me.

I've practiced saying that line my whole life:  "I am not a morning person."

Yeah, so that turns out not to be the case.  No one who knows me in real life can believe it either.

My late night hours began as a teenager.  I needed nights for one basic reason: I am an introvert. I needed space.

Growing up, I shared a bedroom in a smallish house with one bathroom.  No one had space.  I did what I had to do:  I outlasted everyone else.  In a family full of night owls, the last person would go to sleep between midnight-thirty and 1AM.  That left two hours between 1AM-3AM for me.  I had the living room and kitchen to myself.  I made cream puffs.  I wrote poetry.  I danced.

Then, early the next morning, I stared into my coffee cup and avoided eye contact.

It became a vicious cycle.  The more I craved alone time in the middle of the night, the more obnoxious mornings felt to me.  I couldn't imagine anyone who would wake in time to see the sunrise--on purpose.

Then a funny thing happened: I became the parent of kids who are night owls.  I cannot outlast them. From the time they were born, they would outlast me. We would all fall asleep cranky and, the next morning, they would stare into their Froot Loops and I would stare into my coffee.  It turned out staying up late wasn't worth it without the reward of being alone and we developed new routines.  Now we're all night readers.  We tuck in early and read quietly together every night--each of us inside our own cone of silence--snuggling, but not talking.

When I started writing every day, I turned to early morning hours the same way I once turned to the stillness of the night. In the time between 5-7AM, my house is blissfully quiet, just as it used to be between 1-3AM.

I've discovered, however, that the magic of the early morning hours extends well beyond the magic of the late nighttime hours.

Dark mornings contain essential stillness. In these hours, I breathe well knowing my roof does not leak, my house is warm, and food fills the cupboards.  The presence of dreaming children contents me.  I see their fluttering eyelids and I know this blissful, stolen time is a time for dreams, written or otherwise.  It's a time for deep imagining, a time to believe in the power of words and stories, a time to focus on the aspects of humanity that run deep.

I've discovered something so profound about mornings that I'm certain I knew it all along: mornings are not normal times of day and they should not be approached as if they are.  Mornings are a time when dreams break gently into reality.  Mornings are sacred.

Mornings are a perfect time for writing.

I still need my coffee.

I still do not speak.

But I am definitely a morning person.

Aug 21, 2011

Western Idaho Fun

Everything I write has a bit of Idaho in it.  I belong to Idaho and Idaho belongs to me.  I wouldn't want it any other way. Western Idaho is a particularly great place to be at the end of August.

I adore the Power of Pink night at The Caldwell Night Rodeo.  Not only do they raise money to provide needed mammograms, but all those guys really look hot in pink. Here's a pic of steer wrestling:

This year we arrived at opening and left just as the gates closed.  So much to enjoy!
Some of my favorite things, in no particular order:

Carnival Rides

Pronto Pubs

Open class photography

The midway

Livestock exhibits

Antique tractor display

Kids Carnival

Sheep being shown in the show ring

Old fashioned lemonade

Old fashioned milkshakes

Favorite midway prize: Rastafarian banana dude

Pony rides

Bungee trampolines

Hamster ball water rides

Jugglers on unicycles

Frozen coke

Hypnotist shows

Lumberjack show

The Midway After Dark
I love summer evenings like this, when the heat of the day recedes, the air smells of fair food, and fun is a ticket away.

The Show Ring
These kids are really amazing.  Their dedication impresses me every time.

Carnival Goldfish
Carnival Goldfish Games are a lesson in abstinence. One weak moment and that little life is yours.  Our goldfish turned a year old this year.  Bah.

The Lumberjack Show
Great fun! Just watch:

Aug 16, 2011

Approaching a Big Revision

Not long ago, a Twitter friend said she needed to jump into a major revision and the enormity of the task made her feel defeated before she started.  She asked what I would do, so I'm sharing my recipe.

First, gather ingredients:

  • Notecards:  I like a mix of blank cards in different colors

  • Pens that provide the right sensory experience for jotting bold ideas. Ultra fine point retractable Sharpie markers do it for me.

  • A clothes line or a blank wall. I have an IKEA dignitet curtain wire strung along the top of my bookcases for this purpose. (See the picture at the top of the page?  That's mine.)

  • Paper clips, binder clips, clothes pins---something to afix note cards to the line or wall. I find aesthetically-pleasing supplies make the process more enjoyable.

  • Some sticky notes in a variety of colors

  • A manuscript (no need to print)

Start with one note card per chapter.  I usually start with plain white.  Skim through your manuscript and observe key elements in each chapter.  Jot them down.  You are not judging or evaluating at this point.  Judging and evaluating take too much time.  Observe and jot.  That is all.  Get it done. String up your cards.

Look!  It's your book.  How cool is that?

With a few notes jotted down from each chapter, you should be able to work from memory now.  One by one, take down each card and evaluate the chapter like it's a short story.  I know, It's not a stand-alone short story. It belongs in a series.  It may even have a cliff-hanger before the next story in the series, but each chapter should have a beginning, middle, and an end and it should have a purpose.

Pick up another note card.  It can be a nice bold color this time. As briefly as possible, write down the point of that chapter.  Why does that chapter exist?  If you're not sure, don't agonize too much. Put a big question mark on the card.  Paper clip that card on top of the first one and hang it back up.  Move to the next.  (If all or most of your cards have question marks, it's okay, but you'll need to do another run through before you move to the next step.)

Now take a look at your novel again, with all the main points.  Identify the chapters with the following information and hit them with sticky notes.

  • It becomes clear what your character wants

  • Your character hits a point of no-return (Impossible to say, "Oh forget it.")

  • The critical turning point when all the action starts to move toward conclusion

  • The darkest point for your character

  • Resolution of the central problem in the story.

Now check out where these things happen in relation to the whole. If it doesn't become clear what your character wants until 1/3 of the way through the book, you might be starting with back story.  The point of no-return should be fairly close to the beginning too.  Turning point?  Top of the story arc & middle of story. The darkest point is probably toward the end. If resolution happens too early, you might have forgotten to shut up when the story was over. (Oh yeah--did I mention?  One of the best parts of self-critique is that you don't have to be polite with yourself. You can also laugh at your own jokes. It's kind of awesome.)

So now you're looking at the story arc. You know where the story begins, how it ends, and what the point of the whole thing is.

Now you go back to each note card and see if the chapters belong in this story.  Do they contribute to your overall story arc?  If not?  Take them down.  If they contain one or two tiny plot points, but they don't really pull their weight?  Add sticky notes to surrounding chapters, reminding yourself to insert tiny plot point there--and then take the weak chapter down.

Remember:  you are not evaluating whether that chapter is fabulous.  It probably is!  After all, you wrote it.  How could it not be fabulous?  All you're considering is whether that story fits in this particular book.  If it doesn't fit, you can save it for a different book--or actually write it into a full short story.  It is fabulous, after all.  Just take it out of this book.

Next?  Use your notecards to revise the remaining chapters.  Now that you know what you're trying to achieve, you can aim more accurately for that target.  Your working time will be much more efficient and your writing time will be more satisfying too.

Now go!  Get note cards!  It's time to play.

Aug 4, 2011

I won. I won. I won.

I won. I won. I won.

I played a word game at Dina's Lair of Doom and I won.

She said I won a signed copy of The Eternal Kiss.  And I did. She signed her short story entitled "All Wounds." If you're not following Dina, you might not know that she expanded that story into a novel, All Wounds. Yep. She made it long enough for italics.  We'll all be able to buy it this October from Mundania Press.

But seriously:  check out the rest of those pictures!  She sent yummy, hand-knit, fingerless gloves. And candy! And crayons and a word search and a coloring mat---and VAMPIRE FANGS!  This woman knows how to do a giveaway.

So I'm dancing and oh-so-happy.  You can send me eviltry any time, Dina James.  No wonder you have so many happy minions.

#Amwriting Birthday #Blogparty Wrap-Up

Wow!  That was some #amwriting birthday #blogparty!  It was the busiest day ever---for both the hashtag and the #amwriting website.  So. Much. Fun.

I spent all day reading and playing and only a couple hours writing. For those of you who didn't take the day off to celebrate, I give you the #blogparty re-cap, complete with an annotated list of stops:

  1. The Amwriting BlogThe beginning point for the blog party.  I talk about the hashtag and how it started.  I provide links.

  2. Robert McKay's Chronicles of a Wandering Writer: Robert describes #amwriting as, "a continuously running Twitter chat that is an endless font of inspiration for writers."

  3. L.S. Taylor's What I Learned Today: L.S. offers a not-to-be-missed filked song, featuring #amwriting, "To the tune of: "Truck Stop In LaGrange"

  4. Marian Allen's Fantasies, Mysteries, Comedies, Recipes: Marian offers us a limerick with this memorable last line: “I #am, you #am, we all #amwriting!”

  5. JC Rosen's Girl Meets Word: JC remembers early days of #amwriting and thanks all for the continued support and writing advice.  We love you too, Jess!

  6. Gem State Writers I blog with a wonderful group of Idaho writers. Here I offer you a tour of my home state and explain one reason #amwriting is so important to me.

  7. John Ross Barnes' Love This Live, Onward Through The Fog: John has an amazing, poetic voice. Here he talks about how #amwriting gave him more confidence to accept his journey forward as a writer.

  8. Linda Poitevin's Angels Gather Here: Linda takes time out from her busy schedule to share her #amwriting space---and a great photo of her keyboard kitty.

  9. LK Gardner-Griffie's blog: LK describes how she found #amwriting through #amwritingparty---very cool.

  10. Khyiah Angel's author page: Khyiah talks about hearing voices in her head---and how only other writers understand it!

  11. Johanna Harness' Big Thoughts: I post some pictures from the last couple years---including my previous twitter pics and some photos from the 2010 PNWA conference.

  12. PJ Kaiser's Inspired by Real Life: PJ says #amwriting has "become an entire platform of not just Twitter chat, but valuable content over at the #amwriting site along with author profiles so we have an opportunity to showcase our work." She also links to a picture of her office space!

  13. Jamie Ridenhour's Blog: Jamie shares his office space.  I especially like the skull!

  14. Everett Maroon's Trans/Plant/Portation: Ev describes meeting me and @KerrySchafer at the PNWA conference last year.  He says I've "built something of a benevolent empire," and that really makes me smile.

  15. Carol Despeaux's One Wild Word: You don't want to miss the fire hydrant picture. That's all I'm saying.

  16. Julie Butcher's Fire Drill: Julie invites us into her #writerclubhouse for birthday cake.  I'm loving the clubhouse.

  17. Johanna Harness' House Lamb: I teased everyone with a partial pic of Baxter the House Lamb and now I unveil the full pic.  @KerrySchafer says he "looks like such a dork."  Yeah. Isn't it great?

  18. Lily White LeFevre's Blog: Lily shares her office space and also a haiku "to be read in the style of William Shatner."

  19. Jennifer Spiller's Blog: Jenn shares memories of writing with a five-month-old. (I remember those tweets!) She also calls #amwriting a writer's "spiritual gatorade."  Gotta love that.

  20. Another House Lamb Photo:  So Kerry would have a nice counter-balance to the dork-lamb photo, I posted another of Baxter in shades.

  21. David Ozab's Fatherhood, Etc.:  David looks back on his last year using the #amwriting hashtag.  Go, David! I can't wait to see what the next year brings.

  22. M.K. Hutchins' Books, Board Games, and Writing: I met M.K. just this week! She came to my twitter talk in Boise. I was so happy to see an entry from her here. In her post, M.K. talks about using the #amwriting hashtag without realizing it was a group---and she also discusses deadlines.

  23. Phoebe Jane's La Vita Ho Vivere: Pheobe Jane says she follows #amwriting like, "the white rabbit to a world of other writers."

  24. Johanna asks, "Can you name these twitter peeps?"  Yes, I added a party game to the day, but it's late and people aren't playing.  There's still time, you know. I don't intend to reveal the answers unless someone plays. :)

  25. Mike St's Many Stories: Mike shares his writing space.  I especially appreciate his mention of rituals.

  26. Elizabeth Saunders' Travels With Books: Elizabeth does a great job explaining why Twitter is such a great platform for writer support. I will point people to this blog post when they ask, "why twitter?"

  27. Robyn Leatherman's The One AM Pen: Robyn says she appreciates that, "information is shared about the writing world and not hoarded as private property."

  28. Nik Barnabee's Blog: Nikki ends our party with her short story, "Written in Stone."

Many thanks to all who participated, whether as bloggers or readers (or both).  It was a great day and I'm already hearing talk of next year.

Whew.  I need to get some writing done before then!  Back to work.

Aug 3, 2011

Can you name these twitter peeps?

I had these books out on the table for my recent talk, "Twitter for Writers." Can you name these authors by their twitter names?  Extra credit if you know the twitter name of the photographer featured in the open book.

Aug 2, 2011

Making Connections

Two years ago today I wrote the first tweet that sparked the #amwriting community into life on Twitter.  Today, the energy within this group continues to blow me away. To celebrate the hashtag's birthday, more than 25 bloggers have signed on to post photos, essays, short stories, poetry---gifts for the community from the authors who participate there.  The idea of a blog party only came to me a few days ago. I posted the idea---with very short notice---and writers jumped in with enthusiasm.  (I say we have more than 25 writers because every time I attempt to get the number right, more writers join in.)  Today, as part of this blog party, I want to share with you one of the many reasons this community is vital to me as a writer in The Gem State.

Idaho is big.  There are not a lot of writers near my home.

If you live outside The West, you might not realize just how big Idaho is.  Heck, a lot of people who live here can't quite grasp it.

Southeastern Idaho is full of farmland and small towns. The rivers chisel right through volcanic basalt and the waterfalls will take your breath away in the springtime.

The Sun Valley area boasts movie stars and resorts, but drive a few miles farther and you'll find campgrounds filled with trailers and tents.  The lure of The Sawtooths crosses boundaries.

In Southwestern Idaho, we have mountain scenery to take your breath away. We also have deserts and sand dunes. We have sagebrush and evergreens, sometimes co-existing.

Central Idaho is farther north than many Southern Idahoans ever venture. When I was living in Lewiston, Idaho, we had a politician tell us he'd crawl all the way up Highway 55 to Lewiston to get our votes.  Yeah, funny, since Highway 55 doesn't go north of New Meadows--and Lewiston is another 2.5 hours north from there.

There is no interstate connecting our state from North to South (or South to North, depending on your Idaho orientation).  But before you get cocky and think we're backward yokels, I remind you that America's deepest river gorge runs through the middle of our state:

And the prettiest drive you can imagine is the one between Lewiston, Idaho and Missoula, Montana.  Highway 12 is the kind of beauty that makes me use swear words as adverbs:  ____ beautiful.

And you want geothermal?  We do claim part of Yellowstone--and we have these great old hot springs resorts. (That's not even counting the amazing undeveloped springs.)

But wait. Don't start thinking Lewiston is North Idaho.  And don't start feeling you've seen it all just because you've traveled Highway 12.  It'll take another 2.5 hours to drive up to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (where you'll find Interstate 90 cutting up from Missoula, MT).

Now you think you can just cross over into Canada from there? Think again.   You want to zip up to Sandpoint, Idaho?  It will take another hour.  Of course, you have to see both Coeur d'Alene Lake and Lake Pend Oreille while you're there, so you're going to need more time.

From Sandpoint? You'll still have to drive about an hour north to get to the Canadian border.

To drive the direct path through Idaho, from South to North (or vice versa, depending on your Idaho orientation), it will take over 14 hours.  That's in the summertime, when roads are good. And on that route, you'll miss that whole big, beautiful portion of the state near Yellowstone National Park. You'll miss The Sawtooth Mountains. You'll miss that gorgeous stretch of Highway 12. You'll miss the wilderness, the rivers, the sand dunes, the boat trip up Hells Canyon. My heart breaks with all the things you'll miss.

Idaho is my home.  I love it here.

And yet I need the community of other writers.

So every morning, I get up before dawn and switch on my computer.  By the time the Boise foothills glow with morning rays, I've chatted with authors all over the world.  By the time the sun sets over the Owyhee Mountains, I've finished a good day's work in the presence of some of the smartest people anywhere. And I've managed it all in the gorgeous solitude of my home state.

Thank you, #Amwriting. Happy birthday.

If you'd like to continue on the blog party, the next stop is the blog of John Ross Barnes.  John is an integral part of the #amwriting community and I look for his tweets every day.  His blog is: "Love This Life, Onward Through the Fog."

Happy Birthday, #Amwriting!

Two years ago today, I started the #amwriting community on Twitter.  It still feels surreal that a simple idea turned into something so big.

I've written about the beginnings of the community on The Amwriting Blog and I've talked about the value of connecting with my Gem State Writers post.  I'm using this space to share some pictures.

These are the three pictures I've used over the last two years.  I started out afraid to look at the camera. My daughter took the next picture when @gharness and I celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary.  Then I took a wonderful online class from @viviennemcm and learned how to have fun with self-portraiture. During that class, I took the third picture.

I start my writing day at 5AM. This is me, waiting for coffee to brew, just before I post the writer roll call.

How about some pictures from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference last year?  I have a few fuzzy pictures from my phone.

Here I am with @wayzgoose

And here I am with @MonicaEPierce.

And here with @Bob_Mayer:

One more.

Here I am with @levimontgomery:

I will be posting and tweeting throughout the day.  Watch for more pictures!

Happy birthday, #Amwriting!

The next post belongs to PJ Kaiser and her blog is "Inspired by Real Life."

Aug 1, 2011

Twitter For Writers

Tonight I'm speaking about "Twitter for Writers" at our local SCBWI meeting.  We're meeting at Rediscovered Books in downtown Boise, from 6:30-8pm (Mountain time).

Hmm.  Why mention the time zone?  Because I've enlisted @gharness to live tweet the talk for me from my @johannalive account and you're all invited, whether you're in Boise or not.

If you show up and say hi, you can email me later and I'll even send you a copy of the handout.  Yeah?  Yeah.  I hope to see you there!