Nano Prep: Oct. 31: Commitment

How badly do you want this?

That is a question each individual must ask and answer for him or herself.

There’s nothing wrong with writing on the side, or writing only because you enjoy it, not because you plan to make it your career. It’s simply a different approach.

If writing is to be your vocation as well as your passion, it must be a priority. There are no excuses, there is no such thing as “no time to write”. You re-shape your life and people in it with those who will support your work.

That doesn’t mean surrounding yourself with people who only pamper and praise you. Constructive criticism is important. Nor does it mean you get to be selfish and never consider the needs of anyone else in your life. But it means having people in your life who respect your needs and your boundaries.

If you want it badly enough, you make the changes in your life necessary to make it work.

If you don’t, take responsibility for that choice and act accordingly. Don’t blame others, and don’t use friends and family as an excuse because you don’t have the courage or commitment to go for it. Say, “This was fun, but only a hobby.” There’s nothing wrong with making that choice. It simply defines a different career trajectory.

You’re prepared — tomorrow, you begin.

Published in: on October 31, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Nano Prep: Oct. 31: Commitment  
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Nano Prep: Oct. 30: Quantity over Quality

This is where many get frustrated. The point of writing a great deal of material, quickly, in a first draft, is to get it down on paper, so that you know what you’re writing about and can shape your book in subsequent drafts. First drafts are where you see what you have, if your characters and ideas have the stamina to make it through a novel. If it’s not on paper, it can’t be shaped and molded into something better. If you wait until you’ve written the perfect sentence in your head, you won’t write.

There are times when you figure out you need to go down a different route. That’s fine. But don’t go back and rewrite what you’ve done up until now. You need to move forward.

What you can do is to go back and mark, in a different color, what I call “placeholders” – notes where you want to make changes in the next draft. And then continue from your stopping point with the new direction.

If you keep going back to revise, you won’t finish. I believe that it’s detrimental to revise until you have an entire first draft, because you need to get the big picture before you can focus on the details. In subsequent drafts, you can work on each chapter as much as you want before moving on; you can flow back and forth. But in first drafts, keep moving forward.

In my experience as a writer, a Trusted Reader, a mentor, a teacher, and a critiquer, 97% of the people who keep going back to revise and claim it’s because they’re “perfectionists” are really afraid of finishing. Because if they ever finish, they have to take the next steps, and someone might reject them. Fear of failure keeps them from finishing, but they pretend (often even to themselves) that it’s because they’re perfectionists.

Perfection is for final drafts, not first drafts. You won’t reach perfection until you have a draft on paper to perfect.

Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Nano Prep: Oct. 30: Quantity over Quality  
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Thurs. Oct. 29, 2015: My Mother’s Birthday and Tandem Nano

Thursday, October 29, 2015
Waning Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Raining and warm

First and foremost, happy 91st birthday to my mom! I’m lucky that she’s still so on top of things and independent.

It’s kind of a nasty day out there, but at least it’s not Hurricane Sandy, like it was a few years ago on her birthday!

Yesterday was busy at work. I wrote an article wrapping up the photography contest and tried to write a snappy press release for the upcoming craft fair. Books came in, but I didn’t have a chance to process them. I’m still getting things situated for Nano, and doing all the other things that come up in the job.

I’m not having as much fun on the Nano forums as I usually do. I used to love spending time on them. But I don’t have much that’s useful to say, and, frankly, most of the inexperienced writers come across as dis-interested in learning from experienced writers. They’d rather whine or give out lousy information (with no credits to back it up) or try to sound like something out of a chick lit novel, which often winds up sounding desperate rather than cute. Granted, I haven’t read every post in every thread, so the above is just what I’ve run into. But it makes me tired, and doesn’t help my own writing (I dis-engaged myself from a group recently just to avoid the same sorts of non-conversations that I found detrimental to my writing). I’m having fun with my region, and I just won’t spend much time on the forums. I’ll check in to post word counts, but that’s it.

I decided I’m going to do a Tandem Nano this year. Either it will work, or it won’t. 50-50 chance. As a “Nano Rebel” – I’m going to keep working on TIE-CUTTER, trying to write about 1K a day, which seems its natural pace.

I’m also going to give the mystery that popped into my head a chance as a “Classic Nano”. The tentative title is DEATH OF A CHOLERIC, and we’ll see where it takes us. I will need to do between 7 and 10 pages a day in order to achieve the full Nano with that. It means writing between 11 and 14 pages up until Thanksgiving. I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I’m going to give it a shot. If it doesn’t work, I’ll know better.

I also decided that, since I’m not sleeping well lately and waking up in the middle of the night, that, if I do so during Nano, I will get up and write a few pages. Hopefully, my own writing won’t put me to sleep!

I haven’t written much the last few days. There’s been a lot of percolating, but I’m letting the writing build, so it can break like a dam at the start of Nano. We’ll see if THAT works, too! 😉

Today will be a long day, and then I’m cooking a special birthday dinner for my mother, and she’s got her favorite cake: cheesecake!

The Nano Prep post for the day, about working from character or plot, is below this one.

I had to go out early this morning to pick up my mother’s cake, and it was like driving through a monsoon. But I managed.

Have a wonderful day, all!


Published in: on October 29, 2015 at 8:31 am  Comments (6)  
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Nano Prep: Oct. 29: Character or Plot?

That depends on the way you like to work.

I’m character-driven. The character has to speak to me strongly, tell me his or her story. Then I start asking questions, and asking “what if?” and we go from there.

Sometimes, a situation will intrigue me, a premise will intrigue me. But until I have a character to drive the piece, I’m stalled.

Some people work better from plot and shape characters to serve the plot. It’s personal preference.

Also, remember this is a playground. Don’t be afraid to switch up your process. Every novel involves a bit of reinventing the wheel. Insisting “this is my process” will often hinder you rather than help you. You’re trying to create, not follow a formula, even in genre work.

When you’re making a living off your work, then you have a “process” that works for you. Inevitably, just when you think you’ve settled into “your process”, you’ll hit a roadblock and have to change it.

Published in: on October 29, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments (3)  
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Wed. Oct. 28, 2015: The Writing’s Natural Pace

Wednesday, October 29, 2015
Day After Full Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Cloudy and cold

Busy few days. I was tired by the time I got back home on Saturday, but the awards presentation for the photography contest was fun, and the winners were so delighted! That’s the kind of thing that’s fun to do.

Got some good writing done on Sunday and Monday. On Monday, the tree guys came to prune the big maple in the back, the one that was damaged in the bad weather last winter. Of course, I looked my absolute worst, because I didn’t expect anyone to come by the house! And, right after that, my Town Councilor stopped by to say hi. Oh, well, if you’re not going to call ahead . . .

Got the orange lights up in the yard for this weekend. They’re really cute. Also got most of the plants on the deck put away for the winter. The ones I’m overwintering are in the garage, on the side where they’ll get some sun and get watered every week. The annuals are out of the pots and the pots stacked on the far side of the garage, where I can use them next year. We had our first frost over the weekend. There are still a few plants who need some more outside time, including one tomato plant valiantly promising another handful of tomatoes. I couldn’t believe how many tomatoes we found on the plants we took out.

TIE-CUTTER is plugging along very well. I’m sure I’ll have to do some massive cuts in it, but that’s okay. Right now, I’m writing the first draft to see what I have. The pace is a slow, steady, 1000-15000 words a day, which is a good pace. There’s some fun stuff and it, and a few scenes where I think I can really push it.

As I look at the material for SONGBOUND SISTERS, the natural pace of that — the writing pace, not the pace of the story — is much slower. In other words, it would be detrimental to use that as a Nano project (apologies to the writers in the group where it was birthed who are eager to read the rest of it). I wouldn’t be able to meet my own goals with it, and pushing it faster than it wants to would hurt the piece, be frustrating, and cause it to be put aside until who-knows-when. It’s natural pace seems to be about 3-4 pages per day (750-1000 words) — still respectable, but I find I need to pace and mutter each scene to myself before I actually sit down and write it. It’s a very visceral, textural, aural piece (sound is important), and it requires me to adjust my so-called process to serve it properly. Which is fine; it’s just not something I can do for Nano.

Honoring a piece’s natural rhythm is very important in the writing of it. The writing rhythm is different from the actual pace of the story, but it order for character, plot, story, and themes to be properly served in the piece, I have to honor its natural rhythm.

So, for Nano, I’m going to work at TIE-CUTTER’s natural pace, being a “rebel”. I might or might not work on the first draft of the mystery that’s forming in my head — it’s kind of a comic, fun piece, one that I believe would serve its first draft written quickly. SONGBIRD SISTERS will need to wait, probably until January. Writing it in winter appeals to me.

And, somewhere in there, I have to finish the historical play and get BALTHAZAAR back on track.

While meeting my other commitments.

Not sure how to do that yet, so I’m just going to go day by day.

I keep trying to tell myself, “so, if you don’t hit 50K, so what?” Unfortunately, it would matter to me, because, to me, it would mean I was unable to meet my own expectation of myself, and do what I needed to do to meet the deadline. The fact that it’s my deadline and not someone else’s doesn’t matter — a deadline is a deadline. Whatever anyone else does or does not do is up to them, but for me, if I say I’m going to hit 50K –even if it’s spread across projects as a “rebel” — then I damn well do whatever needs to be done to hit 50K. Some days that may mean adding in late night writing sessions along with early morning ones. It won’t be the first time.

Showing up at the page, even on the days you don’t want to, is so important. I have to trust that if I keep showing up and work to meeting my daily goal, that the work will come.

Today’s Nano prep tip is in the post below. It gives some tips on whether to outline or blank page (because I really, REALLY hate the term “pantser”).



Published in: on October 28, 2015 at 9:04 am  Comments (2)  
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Nano Prep: Oct. 28: Outline or Blank Page?

There are two traps here: one is to over-outline and use that as an excuse to not get down to writing. The other is to blank page (also called “pantsing”, an expression, which, to me, means “lazy amateur who doesn’t care”) and then not know what to do next.

There is nothing wrong with either technique, unless it prevents you from doing the actual writing.

If you have tight deadlines or juggle multiple projects, I suggest that you outline. That way, you can sit down each day and have an idea of the day’s work, thereby meeting your quota. When you Blank Page, it’s very easy to sit down, be overtired or unfocused, say “I can’t”, get up and walk away. Do that for a few days, and you’ve blown your goal.

You’re not in competition with any one except yourself, but unfinished projects drain creative energy. In fact, I teach a class called “The Graveyard of Abandoned Projects”. Make the commitment to do this, fulfill the commitment during the month, go past it if you need to in order to finish, and THEN decide where you’ll take it.

Remember, you are under no obligation to ever publish this. So don’t look at it and think, “it sucks, no one will ever want it.” If you choose to keep working on future drafts, it will have a life beyond the first one. If you choose to stick it in a drawer and use what you learned on a different project, that’s fine. It’s your CHOICE. But make sure it’s a CHOICE and not a cop-out by not finishing.

If you decide to outline, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy. I do what I call a “Writer’s Rough”, which is basically a scene list with a sentence or two of description or dialogue about each scene. When I sit down to write, I fill it in. For me, that is the best of both worlds – I’ve got a framework, but I’ve got room to explore.

There’s also nothing wrong with keeping it all in your head, if you’re good at that. Sometimes, writing it down dilutes the creative pressure, and you need to build it in order to have the momentum to carry you through.

Don’t be afraid of tangents – the focus of a first draft is words on paper. You cut and shape in the next draft(s).

Published in: on October 28, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Nano Prep: Oct. 28: Outline or Blank Page?  
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Nano Prep: Oct. 27: Rituals, Routines, Timing

I prefer to write in the morning, before I am “tainted by the day”. I get up, feed the cats (or nothing gets done), do my yoga and meditation practice, and then I sit down to write.

Then and ONLY then, am I free to start my day – breakfast, shower, other freelance work, catching a train to a site job, etc. On days that I write full-time, I do my first 1K of the day on whatever is in first draft, and then, after breakfast, blog, check email, and switch between other freelance projects, depending upon deadline and money. On days I work on a site, I do my first 1K before breakfast, and get out the door on time to get to work on time. It means getting up early; it’s worth it.

It’s fine to occasionally skip a day; it’s when you start skipping a sequence of days that you trip yourself up. It gets very easy to let the writing slip away, or use “life” as an excuse not to write. We all have to work when we’re tired or don’t feel like it or anything else. If you don’t treat writing as a second job, it will never become your only job. That doesn’t mean you can’t love it – you can and you should. But you can’t just do it when you feel like it.

I use my creativity altar as a place to brainstorm, or I go out in the garden and do some yard work. Weeding, folding laundry, and working out problems in the shower are my best places to work past “stuck.”

The ritual of lighting the candle at the beginning and end of a session helps me drop into my creative zone, and also rejoin the world in a positive manner.

Published in: on October 27, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Nano Prep: Oct. 27: Rituals, Routines, Timing  
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Nano Prep: Oct. 26: Word Count

The type of book you write determines your word count. Romance novels and many mysteries often come in between 75,000 and 90,000 words, while literary fiction and fantasy hover around 100,000. Some category romances are now down to either 50,000 or 60,000. Do some research within your genre and figure out a rough number.

If this is your first novel, try to stay in the 100k ballpark. It will make it an easier sell when you get to that point.

Take your number and divide it by the number of days you plan to work. That will tell you your daily quota. Your quota is the number of words you need to hit every day in order to complete the work on time.

Carolyn See, in her wonderful book MAKING A LITERARY LIFE, states that you should write 1000 words a day, 5 days a week, for the rest of your life. That’s a good goal. It’s only four pages a day, which adds up quickly, gives you a steady writing pace, builds your stamina, and keeps you in the flow of your manuscript. It also allows you to take off two days a week (such as weekends). I prefer writing 6 days/week most days, taking at least one day off or sometimes having a “floating” day off.

If I know I need more than one day off – I adjust my daily word count to reflect that.

If you’re doing Nano, the goal is only 50,000 words in 30 days, which means you only have to write 1667 per day to meet the goal. I prefer to frontload Nano, writing 2500 words per day. That way, I complete my goal by November 20 and don’t have to stress out during times such as American Thanksgiving. Also, by getting ahead, I leave myself room in case life gets in the way.

If you’ve got a book you figure will come in at 100K, and you want to finish it in three months, figure 5 working days per week x 12 weeks, which is 60 writing days. Divide 100K by 60 and you have 1666 words/per day, which is just over 6 pages. Similar to Nano.

If you figure roughly 250 words per page, you can figure a page count along with the word count.

There will be days when you don’t want to. Show up at the page and complete your quota anyway. There will be days when the writing flows and you write more than your daily quota. Good. Bank ‘em, you’ll need them, because something will happen during your writing days to throw you off track.

Don’t stop because it’s hard. The hard days are the most important ones to get through. Those are the days you lean on your craft rather than your art. That’s why a solid foundation in craft is so important.

Every book has its own internal rhythm. However, too often, inexperienced writers confuse “resistance” with “rhythm”. Writing takes work. Books don’t write themselves; writers write them. There will be days where you flow and days were you struggle. The days you struggle and do it anyway are vital to survival as a writer.

Published in: on October 26, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Nano Prep: October 25: Creativity Altar

The Creativity Altar is a useful, inspirational tool. It doesn’t have to be attached to any particular religious system, and the sky’s the limit on how you put it together.

I have a steady creativity altar in my office, set on a glass tray I received from my grandmother. It holds shells, candles, a small crystal ball, a smooth wooden Buddha statue, crystals, stones, and an assortment of other objects that symbolize creativity to me. When I sit down to write, I like to light the candle. When I am done with that day’s writing, I extinguish the candle. The ritual of lighting the candle helps me drop down into my creativity; the gesture of extinguishing it allows me to return to the world, leaving my sacred space of imagination.

At the same time, I often create project-specific altars. For instance, I taught a year-long novel writing class. At the beginning of the class, I set up an altar dedicated to that year’s work, also in my office. I assembled a group of objects to inspire me for the coming year, adding to the space as new objects appeared, removing those as things changed over the year, and, at the end, ritually disassembling the altar with thanks for what it meant to me throughout the year. The items were either returned to the earth, or used as inspiration for other projects.

Friends have multi-tiered creativity altars, where one tier has permanent symbols, with other tiers represent specific projects. See what works for you.

Some terrific books on this topic are:

MOVE YOUR STUFF, CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Karen Rauch Carter – the best Feng Shui book I’ve ever read. Fireside Press: 2000.

ALTARS: BRINGING SACRED SHRINES INTO YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE by Denise Linn. Ballantine Wellspring: 1999. (gorgeous photos)

SACRED SPACE. Denise Linn. Ballantine: 1995.

ALTARS MADE EASY. Peg Streep. HarperSanFranciso. 1997

Nano Prep: Oct. 24: Music

I used to write to music.

However, when I write, it needs to be instrumental, or the lyrics distract me.

One of my favorite procrastination techniques is to create Character CDs – a CD for each of my main characters, filled with the music to which I think that character would listen.

I’ll play it before I write about the character; or, if it’s instrumental, while I write about the character.

Writing the romantic suspense novel Assumption of Right(as Annabel Aidan), I told the tale in chapters from alternating points of view. Each day’s chapter was from one or the other’s point of view. So I’d pop in that character’s CD, listen to it for a few minutes, and I’d be in the right mindset to write.

That was when I lived in New York, and it was noisy and full of interruptions. Once I moved to Cape Cod, for the most part, I stopped writing to music. Weather-permitting, I have the windows open and listen to the birds and the wind and sometimes, even the rain.

If someone’s running a leaf blower or some other power tool, and I’m ready to strangle them with their own cord, I’ll put on the iPod and crank up the tunes.

But, still, it has to be instrumental.

I never, EVER use a soundtrack from a play or movie. That music was created and assembled to support someone else’s creative vision. It bleeds into your writing. When students turn in work that was written to soundtracks, I can tell exactly which ones, because it shows up in the writing.

Published in: on October 24, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Nano Prep: Oct. 24: Music  
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Fri. Oct. 23, 2015: Nano and Ultron

Friday, October 23, 2015
Waxing Moon
Sunny and pleasant

Yesterday was a busy day. On the plus side, I got a lot of books and DVDs processed, and got things moving for the awards presentation for the photography contest tomorrow. There were plenty of minuses, too, which I won’t get into.

The first Nano Prep tip is up on the blog in the post below this one – it’s about using blogs and journals in your work.

My further Nano dilemma as to whether I should stay with TIE-CUTTER or start something new was made even more complicated when I came up with a fun title for the piece, the backstories of the characters fell into place, and plot pieces fell into place. I have a fun, contemporary mystery set to go.

I want to make sure, if I try working on both in tandem, that it’s not about ego, but about actually flowing with good work.

I also can’t blow the deadline for the play that’s due.

Either I can manage my time to handle all the projects, or I have to put off the projects that aren’t due.

There’s some other stuff going on that I’m trying to juggle, and I’m trying to line up some interesting career ducks. We will see what happens.

Watched AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON last night. Spoiler alert. I was disappointed. I liked it better than I expected to like it, but it still didn’t hit where I felt it should hit. There some funny throwaway lines and good short scenes between actors. The action sequences are too long. The whole thing about Hawkeye suddenly having this wife and kids and bringing everyone home to his “safe house” didn’t ring true, and his wife’s role was underwritten and too much 1950s housewife. I understand they were going for contrast, but it would have made more sense, in their universe, if they’d arrived and she’d EITHER have been, “Oh, honey, by the way, while you were destroying Johannesburg, the kids and I saved Cleveland” OR, if you really wanted to go homestead, have them have handled some major farm crisis while he was gone – gotten in the entire harvest in spite of a storm or an earthquake or something. Just having them there wasn’t enough. I liked the way the Black Widow was an accepted part of the family as his friend, and that his wife and kids obviously adored her, too. I was worried the creators would negate the bond that was established between Hawkeye and Black Widow in the first film. I missed Tom Hiddleston’s Loki – his scenes with everyone are such a delight, and he was missed. I didn’t feel the foundation was enough in the science before going off into speculation, and I felt the editing cuts were too abrupt in the actors’ scenes – even with the throwaway lines, the cut was just a beat too soon – and lingered too much on the destruction. I also missed both Jane and Pepper, even with the one-line explanations given for their absences. It didn’t live up to its potential, in my opinion. And the “bonus features”? First of all, there’s only one, and all it is a short piece where they jabber that it’s cool to work in locations all over the world and that makes the movie bigger. And. . .?

Woke up tired and cranky. Had bad dreams, never a good sign. Dashed to the store first thing to get what I need so I can bake tonight for tomorrow’s presentation.

Will have a long day at work today, and then four hours tomorrow (including the ceremony), and then away from that work for three days, while I concentrate on writing. And reading. And research! 😉

Have a wonderful weekend!


Published in: on October 23, 2015 at 8:59 am  Comments Off on Fri. Oct. 23, 2015: Nano and Ultron  
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Nano Prep October 23: Blogs and Journals

It can be very helpful to create a blog or journal to help you through the process. You can write it in longhand in a blank book, or keep it on your computer. In her wonderful book WRITE AWAY!, Elizabeth George shares entries from journals she keeps for each book she writes. My preferred blog host is Word Press. They are easy to use, have terrific customer service, a variety of customizable templates, and they’re free.

The only rule about journal entries is to date each one. That way, you can refer back and keep the entry within context. There will be many ups and downs on this road, and it’s helpful to look back as you’re moving forward; see where you’ve been to help you get where you’re going.

It’s a great way to play with characters and ideas. It’s a wonderful way to explore tangents that might not make it into the book, but help you flesh out your characters and situations. If you keep your journal in a notebook, you can tote it around with you and make entries whenever you’ve got a free moment, then take it back to your desk and integrate the material into your WIP.

You might want to write before you start your work, as a warm-up. Or you might want to write after you’ve completed your day’s work. In either case, daily entries will help you in the process, and will help you once you’ve finished.

Don’t publish excerpts from a WIP online. First of all, you only want your best, most polished work out there. Second, many places consider material online “published”, and thereby, you’ve used up your First Rights. If you want/need feedback, find trusted readers and swap manuscripts. Don’t send a raw manuscript out into the public cold.

Published in: on October 23, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments (3)  
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Thurs. Oct. 22, 2015: The Nano Dilemma

Thursday, October 22, 2015
Waxing Moon
Sunny and warm

Busy day yesterday! Lots going on, which is just fine. Masterpiece Book and Film Club was lots of fun – we laughed a lot.

After closing, I headed over to the Nano Meet-n-Greet in Centerville. Small group, fun, one of my writer friends is doing it, too. So that was good. It has the potential to be a fun, tightly-knit group.

Home, dinner, some research.

I’m reading a book in which writers write about their favorite book stores. Not only is my favorite, Strand, in there (the essay is by Pete Hamill), but I know about 60% of the stores! Funny.

I’m having a Nano Dilemma. I know, talk about First World Problems.

The sensible side of me says I should just keep working on TIE-CUTTER, which has found a nice, smooth rhythm, and I’m having fun seeing where it leads, while holding to a loose outline that has more to do with the novel’s episodic structure and how each supports the theme of the piece, rather than an outline that makes the characters do specific things. The way my protagonist changes her environment as she’s going through some major life transitions has a lot to do with both the plot and the story.

However, there’s the ego part of me that wants to do what’s now called “Classic Nano”: start a new novel on November 1 and write 50K in 30 Days. I’ve been fighting it, but, unfortunately, the idea for the novel, a contemporary mystery that doesn’t quite fit the rigid formula that several of the cozy lines are falling into , has been forming. Bits and pieces pop into my head at odd moments. I have a really strong opening. I have characters I love. It’s in my wheelhouse, so writing fast is not an issue.

Can I do both? I don’t know. I look at my schedule for November, where there are things I actually have to do that aren’t writing-related. Also, I have to finish the historical play and get it to the company in New York. It’s not logical.

And yet, the siren song keeps calling . . .

Published in: on October 22, 2015 at 11:12 am  Comments (4)