Saturday, August 22, 2009

Writing Advice--Daily Goals

Writing tip

Don't get overwhelmed by the big picture. Writing an entire book is daunting.

Set a daily goal that is small enough not to overwhelm you. Today I'll write one page. Today I'll write this scene. Today I'll write this conversation. All these small steps will get you to your goal.

Do you set daily, weekly or monthly writing goals? If so, what works or doesn't work for you?

Cindi Myers

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Are You Alone Out There?

Today I had a wonderfully productive critique session with my friend Rebecca Russell, who wrote two books for Silhouette Romance and is now writing a mystery. We've been writing buddies for twenty years come September. That's longer than a lot of marriages! Over the years what we've written has changed. I started out writing historical romance, then went to paranormal romance and short contemporary, then Harlequin American. We've read each others' "stuff," from sweet to spicy, from light to dark, from ordinary to bizarre. Today we ate at Cafe Brazil, remembering our critique partner, Kara Lennox, who is now in California. (Please note the menu, Kara. Gosh, we miss you already and you're barely gone!)

Before Kara left, we had a critique session "party" at a local ceramics studio to make geckos for her new home in California. I have to say, the geckos turned out great. We had a good time painting them and thinking about where they might end up - a patio, a tree, or someplace as undefined as the future, stetched out in front of a new life in a new place. I guess it's weird to say this, but whenever she looks at her geckos, she'll think of us! (Which one of those cute little critters do you think I painted?)
The important thing that I wanted to post is that having friends who are also writers is very important. While family may support us or think everything we write is great, a good critique partner will tell you what you didn't do so well. Or if you family isn't so supportive of you getting up early or staying up late to write "those silly books," your writer friends will understand and listen. When you've decided that everything you've written is horrible and you'll never sell it, your critique buddies will tell you what you've done right, what scene made them laugh or cry, and what character touched their heart. If you don't live near other writers, then try an online chapter of Romance Writers of America, or even Facebook. I've just gotten on there to meet up with my high school classmates. There are so many writers and readers on Facebook that the task will be narrowing down which ones to become friends with.
I hope that if you are writing, you are not alone. The process of sitting in front of the computer or leaning back with the laptop is a solitary pursuit by definition; only you are writing the book. Having other writers to talk to makes the process from idea conception to the words "The End" so much easier. Rebecca and I met when we "newbies" attended a local all-genre writing conference at The University of Texas at Dallas. Kara met us when she moved to Dallas, but we didn't become critique partners until some time later. We now have a new critique buddy, Gay Kiser, who is unpublished at the moment. But we're working on her ...

Next month I'll be in Orlando, Florida on the 21st, so maybe I'll have some more fun photos to post now that I've learned how to do this. Rebecca and I are leaving our husbands and children at home to go on a girls-only trip to celebrate our twenty year friendship. We're taking our laptops and a lot of ideas to share. Happy writing and reading, everyone.

What works for me (writing advice)

What works for me…

Might not work for you. It’s a concept I’ve been mulling lately as I'm back in school teaching another year of school, where I have to individualize learning to best reach all my students. I was thinking about this concept as I read an article in a writing magazine that said, “write every day, even if it’s for 20 minutes” and also gave other such advice as “keep a journal”.

It’s great advice, sure. But I don’t do either and I’m a published author of 21 novels. I write in big spurts, and then will go weeks and sometimes months without writing a thing. That “20 minutes” the author advises is spent doing all those things I didn’t do during that intense focus on writing.

But that’s me. My big on and off spurts are how I balance and prioritize my time, and that’s what I’ve learned works best for my life. During the school year my priority is on my family and my teaching job. Writing is a distant third, unless my deadline is around the corner. Over the summer, I can easily make writing number two and devote 40+ hours a week to my craft.

To me, writing is like dieting. For some, Jenny Craig works. For others, it’s South Beach. For someone else it’s Weight Watchers. Others are naturally skinny and don’t need to do a darn thing. The same holds true for writing. There are plotsters, pantsters, and there are those who create scrapbooks, those who have three ring binders stuffed full, those who interview their characters, those who enter contests, those who sell the first time…the list goes on. Everyone is different, which is logical. As each writer should have a unique, individual voice, each writer will have his or her own individual writing style and system, that, through trial and error works for him or her.

This system, or process, is personal. I see too many writers get bogged down in the “how” they should be writing and trying to follow some system or formula and thus they lose the actual writing. If something isn’t working after a few tries, perhaps that technique isn’t for you. Just because it works for a NYT best selling author or your critique partner doesn’t mean that the approach is perfect for everyone. I know writers who get up at 4 AM to create before their family wakes. I’d die if I had to get up at 4 AM. When my alarm goes off at 5:25 for work, it’s already far too early. I know writers who run every chapter by a critique partner, and there are others who do that only on rare occasions.

Don’t be afraid to do some personal assessing and figure out what works best for you if you're trying to write a novel, or writing anything actually. Try new things and techniques, but don’t lose faith in your abilities or talent if someone else's ideas fail to work. Remember, what works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. So reassess and find something new. Writing should be a happy time—a creative and pleasurable escape into your mind. So just like trusting your own inner voice with your story, don’t be afraid to take advice, but don’t be afraid to trust your gut if it tells you that advice isn’t for you. After all, just as it’s your story, it’s your process. There is no one writing process answer for everyone except for passion, persistence and putting your fingers to the keys.

Bachelor CEO, July 2009
Baby in the Boardroom, Feb. 2010

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Who Me? Interviewed?

It’s such a pleasure to be among all the wonderful HAR authors here on the blog. I’ve gotten to “know” so many more of them than I would have without it. Reading their blog posts and especially their interviews is always a delight, and I wish I had more time to comment. As Rascal Flatts sings, “Life is a highway” and some days I feel like I’m going 80 mph.

What inspired you to write your first book?

Reading. I hadn’t read romance for several years, and then my best friend steered me to Susan Elizabeth Phillips after reading the first few pages of It Had to Be You to me over the phone. I was hooked. After that, I consumed books, both single title and category. One Christmas I went out and bought as many Christmas themed category books that I could find. Of course I had to try writing one, and that led to another and another and another…

How did you make your first sale?

My short contemporary entry won The Maggie contest, and Mary-Theresa Hussey requested the full manuscript. To my surprise, she liked it enough to buy it for Silhouette Romance.

How long have you been published?

Rachel’s Rescuer was a March 2001 Silhouette Romance, so eight years total, although it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. I had five books with Silhouette Romance before the line closed. My first HAR was published in 2008, so I’m a relative newbie here. I have to admit that I love writing for HAR even more than I did for SR. I think it’s the small town feel of HAR that makes writing them so enjoyable.

What helps inspire you when you write? Do you have any ‘rituals’ (like music, candles, a favorite scent) that helps you find your writing zone?

Music. Lots of music! I have 612 songs on my playlist of which 169 are designated as “writing” music (those romantic love songs), 134 are “walking” or upbeat dance music for when I need some pep, and the rest are Beach Boys, 50’s and 60’s oldies and a few Christmas songs. (Yes, I'm a music junkie.) If those aren’t enough, I listen to Pandora and have set up my own stations. If you haven’t tried Pandora, it’s free! And then there are all those candles…

Tell us about your family and where you live

I was born in and have returned to live in the biggest city in Kansas. No, not Kansas City. ;) Between then and now, I’ve lived in a small Kansas town and on a Kansas farm. My four daughters also live here. The two youngest live with me, the oldest of the four lives three blocks away, while the next oldest lives a little over a mile away. The two oldest have 5 children between them, now that my youngest granddaughter was born August 10. I also have a step-granddaughter. Every Saturday night we have Family Night and get together to talk and sometimes play board games. You’d think we see enough of each other during the week, but Saturdays are when we’re all in one place. It can get crazy with all the little ones, hubbies and an occasional friend or two.

Do you have any talents readers might find interesting?

Web design, although I don’t consider it a talent. I began playing around with it years ago and ended up enjoying it so much that I do it for real now. Drawing has never been one of my talents, but web design gives me the opportunity to work with colors and shapes, a real break from working with words, but still "creative."

What were you doing at midnight last night?

I was particpating in one of my newest guilting pleasures: Playing on Facebook. I dragged my feet about joining and now can’t stay away. Shameful, isn’t it?

If someone gave you a million dollars what would you do with the money?

I’d give a portion of it to charities, pay off my daughters’ houses (if their hubbies would let me), and buy myself a modest but roomy house. One never knows when family will return, or so I’ve learned--the hard way. Then there’s the dream of taking a Mediterranean cruise…

What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?

Cactus. I spent tens day during the summer before my senior year in high school with 20 other teens on a working trip into Mexico. We stayed on a garlic farm that was used as a school in the winter months, and we painted the dormitories, both inside and outside. Because there was no refrigeration, we went into the nearby small village for food each day. Our adult “chaperones” insisted we try some of the more exoctic offerings. I’m usually not brave enough to try something new, but the cactus was great!

What are you reading now?

Honestly? Nothing, although I really enjoyed Susan Wiggs' Just Breathe about a month or so ago. I recently bought Barefoot, a women’s fiction book by Elin Hilderbrand and Judy Blume’s Smart Women. I read at night, but since I’ve been working on deadlines, reading has taken a back seat. Soon, though. Very soon.

Can you taste the difference between Pepsi and Coke? If so, which do you prefer?

Yes, in the blink of an eye! I took a taste test at the State Fair a few years ago and passed it. I don’t drink coffee, so Pepsi is my caffeine fix.

If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?

Greece, hence the dream of a Mediterranean Cruise. Ireland is my second choice. I’d probably like either one so much that I’d want to stay.

Are you working on anything at the present you'd like to share?

The Rodeo Rider is the first in a series of books set in the fictional town of Desperation, Oklahoma. The second book, Bachelor Cowboy will be out in January next year. I recently sold two more books, so I’m currently working on book #4 of that series and learning everything I can about Native Americans in Oklahoma. The heroine of the book is half Cherokee, and the research is proving to be more interesting than I’d ever imagined. Oh, and that heroine? She’s a surprise relative of one of the characters in The Rodeo Rider.

Describe your writing space.

My desk is neat and tidy, with only a pen, a paper, and my computer monitor. I can look out my window and see the ocean pounding against the rocks on the shore. Wait a minute. That’s my dream writing space. In the real world, my desk is covered with just about everything imaginable, including two fish and a cat. During the day I work on websites and chase grandkids. Writing is done at night. There are always snippets of notes from both littering my desk and sticky notes hanging on my monitor. My two-year-old grandson (he’ll be two on the 24th), likes to climb on my desk and steal M&Ms from the jar that resides on my desk and is rarely empty…unless he eats all of them. There are books everywhere, along with piles of paper that always need sorting. The window looks out onto the side of the house next door. My daughters and I switched rooms a couple of months ago, so there are still boxes to be sorted that wait patiently for me to find the time. There never seems to be time.

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?

For a long time, I had a sign that hung above my desk that said, "Nobody is born published," so my advice is to read, read, read. And never, ever, ever give up on your writing. If you give up, you’ll never know if the next book or article or short story might have been The One. As far as selling that first, it always happens when you least expect it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Please tell me I’m not alone!

The subtitle for this blog post ought to read: Dumb Things I Gotta Confess. (grin)

My blog last month was all about the excitement of getting ready to leave for the Romance Writers of America’s annual conference. In fact, I’d even said the following in my post:

“However, the plane leaves tomorrow morning and--prepared or not--I’ll be on it.”

Well...umm...I wasn’t.

That’s right--I missed my plane!

Okay, I’m so not a frequent flyer. But punctual is a different story. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time to check my baggage and wait for my flight. Even had time for a leisurely breakfast in a concourse restaurant with my carry-on bag by my side and a good book in my hands. For someone who flies once a year, I felt like a seasoned traveler.

Breakfast over, with still more than an hour before my flight, I freshened up and took my time heading to the short line at the security checkpoint.

Well, who knew that once you walked past the first dividers at the checkpoint, that tiny little line actually went on and on and on, weaving in and out and up and down and back and forth on a never-ending path to the ACTUAL checkpoint?!?

No worries. Still an hour to go before my flight.

I couldn’t understand why the woman with the two little boys who stood a path-length row behind me seemed so harried. The boys kept telling her their plane didn’t leave for another thirty minutes.

I didn’t see why the elderly couple a half-row back looked so anxious.

I had no clue why the woman up ahead with the two carry-ons, oversized handbag, and three plastic convenience store carrier bags had cornered an attendant and seemed to be negotiating frantically (and unsuccessfully) with him.

Then I saw how swiftly the line was moving--not!--and everything became magically clear.

No problem. Still fifteen minutes to go before my flight left.

I made it through the checkpoint without a problem and hurried my pace just a bit to get to my gate with three minutes to spare!

Well, who knew they actually closed the doors of the plane before the scheduled takeoff time?!?

I’d been on plenty of flights before where we’d had to sit around for last-minute passengers to board. Guess this wasn’t one of them.

So, my flight plans were rescheduled, putting me on a plane that would leave three hours later.

No big deal. We all know wait time is like a gift to a writer and reader. The good thing about this experience was I had time to sit and finish my book!

The bad thing was...I felt like the world’s biggest idiot.

Please tell me I’m not the only person who has ever done something silly like this!

All my best to you,



Barbara White Daille

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Romance Heroines

The recent news story about people stranded inside an airplane for hours got me thinking…how in the world would I cope in a situation like that? I'd like to believe I'd act the part of a romance-book heroine--keep my composure, calm crying babies, whip out my secret stash of tools and fix the broken toilet. Or maybe sneak people off the plane when the flight attendants weren't looking--you know, save the day for all those helpless passengers. I wish I was capable of extra-ordinary actions when under duress, but the sad truth is I am not a romance heroine and could not have done any of those things--except maybe calm a crying baby.

If truth be told I'm just your average Joe…or Josephine. I obey rules. Don't break laws. Scoop the poop when I take the dogs on their morning walk. Say Please and Thank You. Hold the door open for old ladies and moms with strollers. I cave in to others to keep the peace. And I don't speak up when someone cuts in front of me in line. That's why I live vicariously through the heroines I write in my romance books.

Romance heroines are gutsy. They take chances and break laws--for the right reasons. They aren’t afraid of what other people think or say about them. They’re willing to sacrifice their own happiness for others. They're passionate about causes dear to their hearts and they always put others' wants and needs before their own. And they WILL speak up if someone butts in front of them in line. A romance heroine is the kind of woman I aspire to be on a daily basis.

What qualities in a romance heroine do you admire most? Or is there a romance heroine from a book you've recently read that stands out in your mind?

Samantha's Cowboy August 2009
A Cowboy Christmas December 2009