Writing Through It

One of my favorite days of the year is October first. Not only is it my husband’s birthday, but it is the day I mark to bring the Halloween decorations up from the basement. Halloween is at the top of my list for fun holidays. I dress for the Trick-or-Treaters and we pipe spooky music out of the upstairs window. My outdoor decorations are on the fun side rather than the creepy. I love the tiny tykes who are out for the first time in their princess crowns, ninjas, or ghost costumes.

October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It doesn’t score high on my “fun holiday” list but, being a survivor it has risen to an important level for me. I went through treatment in 2015 and three years later I am thrilled that I am still cancer free.

A couple of questions were posed to me (Insecure Writers Support Group) about major life events and writing. The exact questions were: How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

Breast Cancer was definitely a major life event, and here is how it effected my writing – Cancer crushed it.

Early in 2014 I had changed my focus to writing. I attended Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference starting my uphill learning curve to write and publish a book. My brain was overloaded with the amount of information I had to absorb, but I was in for the long haul and I was happy.

Then late in November 2014 I found the lump. My entire life crumbled around me as I collapsed on the floor weeping. Cancer? Me? How? Why? Treatment began in earnest on Christmas Eve.

Did this event affect my writing? I’d say a very loud YES. Did writing help me through it? Again, I yell, YES. But, it helped me through it in a way most people aren’t expecting. When I am emotionally raw I do not write about it. I don’t keep a journal. More often than not I collapse inward curled in a ball. Once the pain subsides I will reawaken moving on in my life.

Cancer was a big blow not only to my emotional well-being, but my physical as well. One of the big side effects that many non-cancer people are unaware of is “chemo-brain”. When a patient receives chemotherapy not only is the entire body decimated, the brain is too. Sometimes the damage lasts for years afterward.

Chemo-brain effects memory, cognition, problem solving, logic, and an array of other things that happen in the old noggin. Trying to write while impaired was an immense challenge for me. The harder I tried to think of a word the further out of reach that word went. My brain was thick slog. Nouns, verbs, adverbs, sentence structure, and spelling were not just elusive at times, but completely gone. I remember many days not being able to remember enough about sentence structure to make much more than babble.

This highly frustrating process of writing babble is what helped my brain begin healing. I forced myself to write a little bit here and there no matter how awful the story progressed. I wrote short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and all sorts of other garbage just to find the words again – making mental connections.

Three years later the struggle to write has lessened. When I need a word I can more easily find it. There are still residual mis-connections up there, but my doctor assures me that this will eventually pass. Keep writing and keep healing.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I ask you to take the time and make a contribution to the organization of your choice. My personal favorite is the American Cancer Society. If you would like to read my cancer story you can link to part one, Dread in the Dark, here.

I also hope that you have a very Spook-tacular Halloween!!

Until next time….


This post inspired by The Insecure Writers Support Group. Our awesome co-hosts for the October 3 posting of the IWSG are Dolorah @ Book Lover, Christopher D. Votey, Tanya Miranda, and Chemist Ken!

 

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Writing Goals

Over the past few years I have read a lot about the importance of setting goals. Not just personal goals, but for writing as well. One challenge many writers face (including myself) is procrastination. Goal setting helps stave this off which allows us to postpone those things in life that can wait a few hours while we write.

There are two kinds of goals: long term and short term.  It is through many sets of short term goals that the long term goals are reached. Take writing for example. I my case, in order to write a book (my ultimate goal) I had to set about achieving some smaller goals first. In order to show you my process let’s go back a few years.

It was about five or six years ago I decided my career needed a change from MLMs to something that, at the very least, wouldn’t cost me any money. My MLM businesses were resounding failures and I wasn’t getting any younger. Back then, my daughter was talking non-stop about writing and studying creative writing in college so I thought that I could too. Well, not study in college, but to find other avenues that would achieve the same thing.

My first small goal was to learn everything I could about writing fiction, specifically fantasy/sci-fi. A friend recommended I attend a writer’s conference (Pikes Peak Writers) to get started. It was also recommended to read what I wanted to write. I already read a lot (I still go through about 80-90 books a year), but now I read as writer. Today, I am still learning to write. I don’t think anyone who writes ever stops learning, but I think I have taken a major chunk out of the beast. 

My next smallish goal was to start writing. I knew I could write, after all I did write for a local mountain newspaper and a few articles were accepted online that actually paid real money. Even though they were short, journalistic pieces, I was still a published writer. Someone liked what I wrote, so I should be able to write a book too (my ultimate goal).

Another small goal I set was to write on a regular basis. This one has been a little hit or miss, but I do work at it. Every February I do the 28 Days of Writing Challenge and in April I started the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Both of these challenges fit my relaxed style. I also do a monthly post with the #IWSG. I did try NaNoWriMo once and I was so stressed out it nearly made me sick. I work on my book, at the very least, once per week, write book reviews as I finish a book (I don’t have time to write a review on every book, but some do get written), and poke a stick at around writing short stories. One day I’ll write everyday (another ultimate goal), but for now I am happy where I’m at.

My ultimate writing goal has not changed over the past five or six years: finish writing a novel of at least 80,000 words. I don’t have a specific time frame, but if it is done before I die then that will be a good thing. It is through the accomplishment of many smaller goals, done over and over again, that it will be written. I look forward to writing, THE END.

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Today’s blog post is inspired by:

 

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

 

July 3 question of the month- What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

The awesome co-hosts for the July 3 posting of the IWSG are Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne!

 

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Write Like a Photographer

I am a writer with a background in photography.  In creating a photograph, I consider every corner of the frame, along with every item within that frame. I look to see if there are any annoying objects, or things that detract from my final product. Is there a tossed away cup in the background? If so, does it contribute to the whole, or is it just a trashy distraction? If it is just a distraction, then the cup is removed, the shot tossed, and the scene re-photographed.

When you write a scene, visualize it like a photograph. Be sure all the pieces contribute to the whole. Look at every character, smell, and sound. Let’s say your protagonist is walking through a village square where there is a cacophony of activity. A mason toils over a piece of granite. You might be tempted to go into great detail. After all, this mason is sweaty, dirty, and a detailed description of him is a metaphor of the square. Ask yourself why is the mason there? Does the mason support the scene by adding to the mood or is the hammering just an annoyance like the discarded cup in the background?

Now, take the mason and widen the scene out and up. There is a window above him. What do you see? On your first draft you may have missed the window because you distracted by the mason. Is there a shadowed figure at the window? The mason is a good tool to help your reader visualize the scene as a whole, but don’t spend too much time on him. After all, the mason was a small tool to add flavor to a scene and draw the reader to the point that is most important, the figure in the window. A scene should have color that brings your story to life, but don’t over paint it.

View your book in a series of still photographs. Check each one to be sure there are no discarded cups hiding in the background. Look for anything that doesn’t fit and crop it out. These small (and sometimes large) changes will make the difference between a so-so manuscript and a dynamic one. When a photographer shoots, there are thousands of images that fall into a scrap heap. The same is true in writing. Thousands of words will spill into the trash and overflow onto the floor. That is OK. Keep taking words out, and putting words in. Write and re-write until you get that feeling; that giddy feeling when you know that you have written something amazing.

Question of the Month – #IWSG

It is that time of month when I address a question from IWSG. June sixth’s question is: What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names? I can easily say that character names are harder.

Titles for my stories and books have come organically. As I write, something just triggers in my mind and there it is. This doesn’t mean I don’t go back and change it ever. Originally I titled one short story, Bob. I liked the simplicity of it, but as I was writing I found it didn’t capture the depth of it so it became, Bob, An Ordinary Man. In the final edits, I still wasn’t satisfied with it. The final? Ordinary Man. Even though the title changed with my restless dissatisfaction with it, it was never stressful. It just flowed from what I wrote.

Names for characters, on the other hand, make me crazy. In April of 2018 I wrote a blog post addressing this very issue. That particular post addressed the difficulties I had with finding character names in The Manx. For any of my characters, I agonize over them. It feels like naming my children. At least when we named them, it was only for two kids rather than the populations filling my novels.

I have links to websites that list bay/girl names, Welsh, Manx, Irish, German, Polish, and on and on. I do rely on ancestry in many cases. It is fun to discover the rainbow of names. When I’m developing a character I have a list of traits that I want to match to a name. For instance, if I have a shy, mousy, female character who is so quiet people don’t know she’s even in the room, I would resonate with a name like Anne, Chris, or Sarah. The opposite character traits bring names like Debra, Monica, or Sheryl to mind.

There are many ways I drive myself nuts coming up with a character’s name. I really need to try and not be so possessive of their names. Just let all the Franks, Marys, Ethels, and Bernieces be who they are. Not every person is defined by their name. Just like anything in writing it all can be changed or deleted.

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This post inspired by:

Every month, IWSG announces a question that we, the members, can answer in our IWSG post. These questions may prompt us to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story.

The awesome co-hosts for the June 6 posting of the IWSG are Beverly Stowe McClure,Tyrean Martinson,Tonja Drecker, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!

 

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Writer’s Block?

Imagine yourself with a clean sheet of paper in front of you. You have to write a short story about something, but no matter how long you stare at that crisp white piece of paper you have nothing. Zip. Ziltch. Not one word comes to mind.  What do you do? How do you get over the initial panic that comes with every new moment that a story won’t come to mind? You could throw your computer out the window and swear off writing, or maybe just get comfortable with yourself and do some brainstorming.

This morning, I met with several fellow writers and we talked about brainstorming and the techniques we each use to get or mojo flowing.  It was interesting that each of the five people had their own unique way to brainstorm.  Therefore, you too should look at each of these as an idea for you to mull over and in the end come up with a formula that works for you.

  • Look for intense moments from your life (or someone else’s): This can be a tough one depending on the situation. Some events in life are better left in the past, but some of them can make for a great scene, short story, or book.
  • Ask questions: Get out a sheet of paper and a pencil. I like pencils because they seem to be more connected with the paper. Plus, pens are too permanent – you can erase pencil. Getting back to your paper…. When a question pops into your mind write it down. Don’t take the time to answer it, yet. Keep writing them down until your mind feels empty of them. Now, go back and answer them.
  • Play with your attractions: What sort of things attract you? Do you love wine, bookstores, plants, hiking, rock climbing, or knitting? Any one of these are potential subjects.
  • Use pre-printed idea cards: Let’s say you are listening to the news and you hear a n odd story that you think would be interesting to write about. Jot it down on a note pad or an index card. These will become your idea cards.
  • Online themes: there are plenty of websites and social media that provide writing prompts, contests, and games. Writers Digest, Penguin Random House, and Creative Writing Prompts are just a few that I use when I’m stuck.
  • Word dumps: sit down and just write nonsense words. Keep writing them until you feel the flood gates open. Put them on index cards. This turns your word dumps into idea cards.

One of the keys to be successful in these exercises is to stay away from your computer. Handwritten words are powerful. There is a connection between your hand and your brain that isn’t present between the computer and your brain. According to an article in Time, “… creative people have greater connectivity between these brain networks that tend to work in opposition in most people. This messiness of creativity at the neurological level mirrors its real-life complexity.”

Creative minds like a little bit of disorganization. Handwriting is one way to provide it. Scribbling up the margins, scratching out mistakes, flipping the page over to write upside-down all contribute to a wonderfully, messy, creative mind. Next time you’re stumped for words, grab a piece of paper, napkin, or the palm of your hand and start writing. Your mind will do the rest.

A to Z Challenge – Reflecting Back

What a month April was for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I did write a blog post everyday during the challenge and worked out a few kinks for my book (that was a big bonus for me). You, my followers also got a peek into The Manx and learned about the Isle of Man. I hope you go visit one day; I know I will.

The challenge was also about marketing and spreading the word around about the challenge and about my blog, K.J. Scrim, Writer. Looking at my stats I did get a big bump in readership for the month. I came out with 260+ visitors during the month whereas a normal month is about 35.

The comments were a little lagging, but I enjoyed those who took the time to say something. Thank you.

I understand that the more who people interact with your blog (through comments) the higher your algorithms bump you up in status. With over two hundred participants in the challenge I was expecting more. I did blog hop to at least 5 new blogs a day, but it did get a little too much to try and comment on everyone of them so I understand why that part didn’t work out as well.

All in all, I had a great time doing the A to Z Challenge. It got me writing everyday. It got me thinking about my book and working out those lose ends. The real bonus? It introduced me to a few blogs that I would have never known about before. Will I do it again next year? I plan on it. Until then, enjoy this blog as it will be a little more active than it has been in the past.

SURVIVOR!!!!

N is for Names

In choosing names for The Manx I used surnames that were listed in the census logs of the Isle of Man. I went as far back as I could find records for so that the names were as authentic as I could make them. Kaitlin Manning is named for the island, Mann (as it is sometimes spelled). Her first name is not of Manx origin, but she was born in America so I leaned toward something that would fit here in the states. Donal Kennaugh’s surname is one of the oldest I could find, plus I just liked it. His first name is of Manx origin and means “world conqueror.”

The book also takes us back into Manx history. King Magnus the Barefoot was king of Norway 1093-1103, during this time he was on the Isle of Man. King Magnus was ruthless in the battles he waged. He dominated much of the coastal area around the Irish sea. He had forts built on Man and he spent much of his time there while he was busy conquering the Irish Sea. His daughters, Ragnhild and Tora (I changed this name to Thora in the book), will play major parts in the past as well, along with a few other characters from his court.

The extent of historical accuracy does end there. I have used the names from the past  and taken a lot of artistic liberty with their characters. I also followed some of the historical narrative to build personalities for them, but that’s about it.

There have been days that I spent hours looking for names getting lost in the histories and the side trips of the internet. I am still building new characters so if you are Manx and know of a few good places, or people, that you think should be included. Leave a comment. I’d love to learn more.

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This post inspired by – N

O is for Osran