WiP it Wednesday

I just surpassed 100,000 words in my WiP, Stolen Dreams! What a perfect thing to blog about on WiP Wednesday. :o)

I'm going to be taking on Tristi's October Writing Challenge starting tomorrow, and my goal is to finish this rough draft once and for all!

Happy Dancing!!

100th Post Extravaganza

I went to a writer's conference at UVU on Thursday, and came away with several very good tidbits. I thought I'd share them with you guys, 'cuz I'm nice like that. :o)

I also realized just in time that it's my 100th post. I don't want to blow by that without doing something to celebrate. So read on, contest lovers. Read on.

The class I got the most out of was Anita Stansfield's. I heard Anita speak in '01 in Lisa Peck's basement, but haven't seen her since despite all the conferences I've been to. So I was excited to hear what she had to say. And I had two very loud, big a-ha moments in that class.

The first was regarding the left and right brains. As writers, we all know about the dreaded "internal editor." If my 10-year-old were here, she would be making a scary music sound effect right now, that goes something like this: du-du-duuuu, in a low, descending pattern. ;o) Kinda hard to make it come alive in the written word, but I gave it a shot. Anyway, so we were talking about our internal editors. Du-du-duuuu.

The question for me hasn't ever been why I should shut her up while I'm trying to write my first draft, but, rather, how. Well, I think I have some new ammo for that now. See, what I learned is that first drafts come from the right side of the brain. The creative side. The storytelling side. Edits, on the other hand, come from the left side. The logical, grammar-checking side.

Every time you're writing along and you start thinking there might be a better way to say this, or that your word choice isn't quite right, or that you don't know if your character would be doing this, all those happily firing synapses on the right side of the brain come to a screeching halt and the electrical current has to go through this little connecting tissue between the two halves of the brain to access your editing capabilities. Then, when you've decided on a word, or on just exactly how that scene should play out to be the most compelling to keep the reader flipping pages, the current has to then travel back to the right side of the brain and get back in place to start writing again.

Are you starting to see why this is bad? So far, I've found this imagery of the left and right brain halves switching back and forth to be extremely helpful in keeping my internal editor (du-du-duuuu) at bay. She made a very good point, too, that goes along with it. She said the first draft is when you figure out what you want to say, and the subsequent drafts are figuring out how you want to say it.

The other thing she talked about is a study that was done by K. Anders Ericsson. He found after studying violinists at Berlin's Academy of Music for 15 years that those who became virtuosos had put in 10,000 hours of practice. Those who were merely good practiced for 8,000. And those who were good enough to teach music, but weren't performers, had put in just 400 hours. The most amazing part is that there were no violinists who were so naturally talented that they emerged at the top without practicing as much. And there were none who were so awkward as beginners who didn't make it if they put in their 10,000 hours.

I found another interesting related study today as well. Some researches at MIT studied the brains of grandmaster chess champions compared to other great chess players who hadn't reached grandmaster status. They found that the grandmasters had laid down two billion neural pathways and linkages in their brains. At that point, they have achieved a level of conscious subject matter expertise that those chess masters with less than 2 billion pathways haven't achieved.

If you want to read more about these studies, there are tons of articles and blog posts on the 'net. This is the article I personally found most clear and helpful.

We've all heard that "Practice makes perfect," and "Don't let your internal editor (du-du-duuuu) pop up while you're writing your first draft." But I found these two illustrations of those points immensely helpful.

So, the question I have to ask myself is, "Do I want to be a grandmaster author? Or am I okay with just being a good one?" And I have to say that I do want to be a grandmaster. And that makes it all the more important to sit my butt down in that chair and WRITE more. I get all seized up all the time worrying that my writing is junk. Now I know the cure - put in the hours it takes, and it'll get better! Hallelujah!

All right, so on to the contest. For you stalwart blog readers who made it this far through all my long-windedness, you have a chance to win a copy of Achieving Your Life Mission by Randal Wright. I haven't finished reading it yet myself, but so far, I've found it to be excellent. And my friend Ali has nothing but good things to say about the book.

If you happen to be Ali or someone else who already owns the book, or even someone who doesn't care to own the book, enter anyway and I'll come up with an equally awesome prize for you.

All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what, if anything, is important enough to you to put in the practice it would take to become a grandmaster? Writing? Home decorating? Music? Sports? Art? And I'd like to know one thing you'll start doing different in your life to work toward your goal.

I'll draw a winner from a hat on October 1st, so comment by the last day of September if you want a chance to win.

By the way, it occurred to me that if I had spent 100 hours on each of these 100 blog posts, I would now be a grandmaster blogger! Instead, I'm merely a great one. :-P

Saving Madeline - Review, Interview, and Contest

I recently had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Rachel Ann Nunes's new book, Saving Madeline, and I loved it.

The very beginning wasn't as compelling as I was getting into the story, but soon, like many of Rachel's books, Saving Madeline gripped me and wouldn't let me go. There was such a sense of urgency throughout most of the book that I could barely put it down, no matter how late it was or how many dishes were piled in the sink.

Saving Madeline is the story of Caitlin McLoughlin, public defender, and her client Parker Hathaway, accused of kidnapping his 4-year-old daughter. It's Caitlin's job to discover the truth - is Parker a criminal, or is he acting in his daughter's best interest, protecting her from danger?

I sat down with Rachel over coffee to discuss her book. (Just kidding. It was an email conversation, and neither of us drinks coffee. The interview just sounded more exciting that way.) Anyway, here's what she had to say:

Jenn: You've had nearly 30 books published over the past 13 years. How has your experience changed over the course of your career? Has it gotten easier over the years, or are there things that are as challenging or even more so in writing your 30th published book as they were for the first?

Rachel: For me actually writing the books has become more time-consuming because as my children grow, they have become far more demanding. I've had years where it seemed like I lived in the car. This year the driving aspect is not as big an issue, but six many children always seem to need something. It was all so much easier when they were toddlers around my feet.

Over the years, I've seen publishers go from moderate to very conservative and now back to moderate again. It's sometimes hard determining your plot when you have to worry about that. However, the publishing process is easier now, working with editors and others, taking feedback. But launching a book, keeping up on the website, balancing speaking engagements with family, responding to e-mails is all just as difficult as it's always been.

Jenn: Some of the aspects of Saving Madeline are heartbreaking, and I've noticed that many of your books deal with difficult subject matter. Is it harder to write those books? Why do you choose to tell those stories?

Rachel: I tell these stories because they grab me and won't let me go until I write them. Subjects that dig deep are what people want to read about. When a reader is emotionally vested in a story, that's when it becomes hard to put down. I do experience a lot of emotion when writing certain stories, some more than others. I usually learn far, far more about my subject than I ever put in a novel. But the same rule applies to me as it does to readers. If I feel strongly about a subject, even a difficult one, I can write with a lot more feeling and realism.

Jenn: What do you think Caitlin should have done when she had the incriminating evidence in Chet Belstead's case? Do you believe that the end justifies the means, at least some of the time? If so, how do you know where to draw the line?

Rachel: I really don't know. I think that had I been in Caitlin's place, I would have quit the field long before such a thing came up. I don't know that I could survive under such daily pressure. I never used to believe that the ends could ever justify the means, but after the real-life drug case in Utah and several other stories I researched, I think that sometimes on rare occasions, it can and should. Where to draw the line in real life is a very personal decision, hopefully one made with a lot of thought and prayer.

Jenn: What do you hope your readers will take away from reading Saving Madeline?

Rachel: I want them to be aware of the challenges some children face. I want them to look around in their communities and see if they might help someone. I want them not to be so quick to judge others because they may not know the full story. Life is sometimes very gray, but we must make choices. Sometimes it's hard to know which are the right ones. We will probably make mistakes, but we can't ever give up. And of course, I want my readers to enjoy themselves, to spend a little time relaxing away from their hectic lives. I want them to fall in love right along with Caitlin.

Jenn: Why did you choose to give a secondary character a mental handicap? Did you feel it was integral to the story and the development of the main characters? Or was there some other reason?

Rachel: Caitlin is a strong woman working in difficult career. Having her care for her mentally disabled sister allows the reader and the other characters to see a part of her she doesn't normally show. Amy was present mostly for character development because only when real sacrifice is involved, can we really know where a person's values lie.

Jenn: This is probably your most-asked question of all time, but how do you find time to write two books a year while raising a family?

Rachel: I don't sleep. Just kidding. I really don't know. I basically just plug away, a little each day until the novel is finished, stopping to do whatever I need to do for my family. I don't go out a lot with friends, I don't shop, I'm not a stickler on having the house perfectly clean all the time (I assign all the housework to my kids as chores, which does wonders for their character), I don't garden, and I'm hit and miss at exercise. So mostly, I try to put writing up in priority right after my family. Saying no to things, even good things, gives me more opportunity to do what I love.

Jenn: Why did you decide to become a writer? What draws you to continue writing books? Is it the limos, the second home in Maui, getting to meet Oprah for lunch once a month? Or is there something else that compels you to keep going despite whatever challenges have surely come your way over the course of your career?

Rachel: Limos? A home in Maui? Oprah? I wish! Actually, I'm in writing because of the stories. I knew from the time I was in the fifth grade that I would be an author. I loved reading and yet I couldn't find the perfect story that I wanted to read, so I decided to write it. All these years later I'm still writing because I can't stop. It's really a part of who I am. Even if I tried to get a better paying job, the stories won't leave me alone. I'm happier when I write. I'm more relaxed. There's something unique and fulfilling about creating a story that I've never felt with anything else. Besides, there's still always that chance for Maui--right?

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Rachel. :o)

Rachel is doing a book give-away contest, and all you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post. You won't get multiple entries for multiple posts, but you can get more entries by commenting on other blog reviews. To find more reviews of Saving Madeline and get more chances to win, visit Rachel's blog at http://rachelannnunes.blogspot.com/ She is giving away at least one book, but will give away more based on how many entries she receives. The winner will be chosen after the last review is posted on September 25th.

On Being Realistic

I've subscribed to Flylady's emails off and on. But I've gotten them often enough to understand a principle called, "Paralyzed Perfectionism." For those who haven't heard of it, it's pretty self-explanatory. You're so worried about doing something RIGHT and PERFECTLY that you don't even know where to start, so you don't do anything at all.

That's me to a T.

It happens when I sit down to write a scene in my book. It happens when I look at my sink full of dirty dishes. It happens when the kids get home from school and want to play and I know they really have to read and do homework and practice the piano and do chores. It happens when I decide I want to start an exercise and diet plan. It all just feels so overwhelming that I just get a chocolate bar and go read a book in my bed.

But the thing I'm mostly thinking of right now is that it happens when I set a daily wordcount goal for myself.

Part of why I set unrealistic expectations is because I've performed at high levels of efficiency in all of the above areas in the past at some point. I've kept my house clean every day when it was on the market. I've followed a rigorous diet and exercise plan, felt great, and lost 20 pounds in a few months. I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge and wrote 50,000 words in 1 month. Etc., etc., etc.

But a couple days ago as I was falling farther and farther behind on my words every day, I just thought, "Why don't I change it to writing 500 words a day instead of 1,000. Who cares if I went a whole month writing almost 2,000 words a day 6 days a week? What matters right now is that every day I fall behind, I feel more and more hopeless of being able to catch back up and stay on target to meet my goal.

So I changed my spreadsheet (yes, I'm obsessive about spreadsheets) to reflect a 500 words a day goal instead of a 1000 words a day one. And it feels awesome! 500 words a day feels do-able to me right now. Partly because I'm having a hard time writing every day, hence the falling behind. But if I write 1,000 words one day and then miss the next day, I'm still on track! I love the feeling of being on track. :o)

How do YOU set reasonable goals and keep yourself on track? I'd love any extra tips you guys have for me.

Out of the Rut and Into the Groove

I've been in a writing slump for the last month or so. I only wrote 2000 words or so in August, and almost all of them were in the first week of the month.

Then, I went on to write exactly nothing for the first 9 days of August. I just didn't feel inspired. I've been trying to dig up some stuff for my critique group every couple of weeks, but I always pull out something I've already written because I'm farther into the writing of the book than my critique group has read.

But yesterday, I felt inspired. I've been letting my fears and doubts and hang-ups keep me from working on this book for far too long. So I pulled out the last chapter I worked on, read up to the point where I'd stopped, and just picked up from there. And it was amazing! I feel like the story is just flowing right now. So today, I sat down and wrote some more. And I don't feel ready to stop. I just want to keep going and finish this book already. Slow and steady wins the race and everything, but this is kind of ridiculous. Of course, I do need to work on the "steady" part still. :o) Once I've got that down, I'll have arrived.

Oh, yeah. And how do you like my new blog background? Pretty nice, if I do say so myself. (Which I just did.) I even changed up my header to match the colors. I'm really excited about how it turned out.

And one more thing - don't forget to vote on my little mini-polls at the bottom of each post. :o)

I'll check back in soon with more updates. For now, I'm off to write another scene. It's about a boy, and a girl, and a drive-in movie . . . :o) (And, no, it's not what you think! You'll have to read my book to find out what happens. LOL!)