It’s Almost Over, Saying Goodbye to 2017

What many people may not realize about being a writer is that it can be nerve wracking. We writers pour our hearts and souls into what we do, and if there is a single misspelled word we feel failure. It is not an easy job, but one that we all feel crazily compelled to do. We can be an insecure bunch of people, but we are not in it alone.

I am a member of The Insecure Writers Support Group, and every month we are given a question that we can answer in our IWSG post. These questions may prompt us to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. This month, the last in a very long year, our question is:

As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

The only thing I would do differently is to wrap my entire family in bubble wrap. Without going into detail, let me just say that seeing the inside of nine emergency rooms in twelve months is more than anyone should have to go through. (No one died this year, so there’s that). To say the least, this put a huge crimp on my writing progress. Getting a story out has been the last thing on my to-do list.

It wasn’t all bad though. I did manage to complete a couple of short stories, several blog posts, and I wrote everyday for NaNoWriMo. My debut novel, The Manx, is shaping up with characters that are living and breathing entities in a brilliant world. I also attended two writing conferences (PPWC and RMFW) where I reconnected with writers across the country and re-energized my creative battery. I also had the pleasure to meet one of my favorite authors, Diane Gabaldon.

At book signing during RMFW2017

My advice to anyone who is in the thick of life’s challenges? Get through it anyway you can. Writing does not have to be at the top of your to-do list, but sometimes it should surface to the top just so you can have a few moments of sanity. It is okay to let the words fall by the side of the road while you are trying to maintain a straight direction with four flat tires.

Say goodbye to 2017 because 2018 will be a better year. It has to be.

Thanks to our awesome co-hosts for the December 6 posting of the IWSG, Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner!

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Chris Mandeville

Chris Mandeville

Author Chris Mandeville joins us today for a quick chat.

KJ ~Tell us a little bit about yourself.
CHRIS ~ I’m a UC Berkeley grad, wife of a retired Air Force officer, and mom of three boys. I grew up in California, moved around a bit with the military (including a stint in Canada), then settled in Colorado where I’m more than happy to stay. Once upon a time I worked in advertising (most notably on the Lexus launch and Iams Pet Food) and also taught preschool. Since leaving the paid workforce to raise my children, I’ve always kept busy doing some kind of volunteer work or other, including working with the Red Cross, Project Sanctuary (www.projectsanctuary.org), and Pikes Peak Writers (www.pikespeakwriters.com) where I served for more than ten years on their Board of Directors. Now I’m a full-time writer and president of Delve Writing, an online community providing boot camps for writers (www.delvewriting.com). I love to teach writing and spend time with other writers, so look for me at writing events in Colorado and online, or contact me if you’d like me to present a writing workshop for your group: Chris@delvewriting.com

KJ ~ What are you working on right now?
CHRIS ~ I write New Adult speculative fiction and currently have a post-apocalyptic under consideration at several publishers and literary agencies. While that manuscript is making the rounds, I’m trying my hand at something new: this week I began working on a mystery novel. I love reading mysteries but this is my first time writing one. I’m also putting together an ebook for writers: 52 Ways to Name a Character which is due out later this year.

KJ ~Of the books you have written, which one would you like to tell us about?
CHRIS ~ 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block
http://www.amazon.com/author/chrismandeville
This is a comprehensive guide to overcoming writer’s block, including suggestions for how to prevent it from occurring. It includes innovative exercises, anecdotes, and advice from dozens of authors.

KJ ~ What was the hardest part about getting this book from the first ideas to publication?
CHRIS ~ There was nothing hard about the project itself—it was a dream to write. The only slight difficulty was that occasionally during the writing process I missed working on fiction because the nonfiction process keeps me in my own life rather than transporting me to “somewhere else.”

KJ ~Where did you get your inspiration for this book?
CHRIS ~ Several years ago the Pikes Peak Writers Conference was in need of a workshop on writer’s block and asked if I could put together something on that topic. I did and “52 Ways to Get Unstuck” was born. The workshop was so well received, I immediately began making plans to put it into book form, but it took me awhile to wrap up some fiction projects before turning my focus to nonfiction.

KJ ~ What books or authors have influenced you the most and why?
CHRIS ~ In terms of nonfiction books for writers, several have been very influential in both my fiction and nonfiction writing. In particular, GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon and Writing the Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCutcheon have been invaluable. As far as fiction, I’ve been influenced, inspired, and instructed (as well as entertained) in countless ways by hundreds of books over the course of my life. If I had to choose just one, I’d say Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman stands out as being the most influential because it was only in reading this book that I learned to embrace my own voice as a writer.

KJ ~What are your favorite books that you have read simply for pleasure?
CHRIS ~ Iron House by John Hart, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldie the Caterer series, Faye Kellerman’s Decker series, everything by Jeffery Deaver, and I just finished –and loved– The Breakup Doctor by Phoebe Fox.

KJ ~What does a typical writing day look like for you?
CHRIS ~ I like to write in “binges” rather than for a set amount each day, so a typical writing day for me is to tank up on coffee at breakfast, then write all day until something forces me to stop (sometimes that’s making dinner or sometimes I’ll write into the evening). It’s not uncommon for me to put in 8-10 hours on a good writing day. If I’m on a deadline I’ll sneak an hour or two of writing into a busy non-writing day, but I usually plan my week so that I have the opportunity for a couple of binges. The only essentials—besides time—are coffee and my laptop. I can write anywhere, but my usual spot is in a comfy leather chair in the pub at my house. There I have a great view of the woods, it’s quiet except for the wind in the trees, and I have an espresso maker within reach. Heaven.

KJ ~Do you have strategies for getting past those days that are hard to write?
CHRIS ~ Yes! The specific strategy depends on the type of difficulty I’m having. Often when it’s “hard to write” that simply means I’m having trouble getting my butt in the chair and I need to clear the decks and put my nose to the grindstone. I seldom have difficulty being productive once my butt is in the chair and my hands are on the keyboard. If I’m stuck on something related to story/character, or if I’m having difficulty turning my focus away from my non-writing life, I turn to one of the strategies in my book, 52 Ways to Get Unstuck. My top strategies are to take a shower or take a drive.

KJ ~If you took a two-week vacation in any book or story, where would you go and who would you be?
CHRIS ~ Most of what I read is mystery/suspense/thriller, and I don’t want to take a vacation amidst killers, corpses, and danger! So I think I’d choose to go to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, and I’d want to be myself. I’ve already seen how the characters in the Narnia stories interact with their world; I’d want to experience that magical place for myself as myself.

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Coming July 31: Anthonette Klinkerman (2 time winner of the Reader’s Choice Award) is the author of “Battle of the Grandmas” and she shares some of her thoughts about writing this children’s book.

PPWC 2014

Over the weekend I was treated to an amazing four days surrounded by writers. For the first time, I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference (PPWC) and I don’t think I have learned so much since I was in college. Let me share with you just a few of the highlights, but before I do, did I mention that I was surrounded by writers? Oh, and editors, and agents, and more writers. There were even writers who have books. Yes, plural….BOOKS that are actually published and available on Amazon (or a bookstore near you). I was in writer’s heaven.

I sat in on workshops taught by authors like Becky Clark, Kris Tualla, Linda Rohrbough, Brandy Vallance, Chuck Wedig, Cindi Myers, Jim Hines, and Carol Berg. I was given an opportunity to read a first page of my historical fiction to Beth Phelan (The Bent Agency) who had some great feedback for me. I had lunch with a detective, and dinner with an agent, and after every meal I was back at it again. WHEW!!

The workshops were all amazing. I could take each one and share all the details with you, but that would actually take an entire book and I really only have the space for a blog. So, let me just give you some of the tips (in the form of a bulleted list) that stood out for me.

  • Self-editing is, and must be, painful. Take yourself into “editing triage” and rip that first draft down to your best writing.
  • Do your research when it comes to indie publishing. There are a ton of options to publish that famous novel so check out all the available avenues.
  • Make a good marketing plan. You are your own product (I should say your book is your product) and it needs to be sold. A marketing plan will make that happen.
  • Know your genre. If you have written a horror romance novel, be sure you publicize it as such. Your readers will be upset if they think they have a romance novel when it is more a murder mystery with a bit of romance in it.
  • Create memorable characters that come to life off the pages. Think of them as people who live beyond your book. Who are they? What do they like? What is their favorite color?
  • Your first draft will be crappy and that is a good thing. NO ONE writes beautiful prose right out of the starting gate (well, I should never say no one but you know what I mean). Get your story on paper by any means. Don’t do any research during the first draft. Don’t do any editing during your first draft. Just get it down on paper!
  • Be sure to develop your characters as much as you develop the plot. One gives the other form and color.
  • Real life can be, at times, pretty boring. Leave it out! Your readers already have to live some of that boredom and you, as the writer, do not need to inflict this upon them in your book.
  • If you are writing a book….get Scrivener or some other software dedicated to writing novels. It will save your sanity and prevent balding. OK, you might still go bald, but you won’t rip your hair out while you write.

The four days did come to an end and I fell into what was referred to as post-conference slump. I wanted to continue riding the wave with my fellow writers, but alas, life called me back home. I made new friends and I learned so much about the craft of writing. I am looking forward to applying all the things I learned in my writing. I hope you will consider joining me next year at PPWC and enjoy a piece of writer’s heaven too.