Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflecting Back on 2009

Looks to be the theme for most blog posts today. :-) For those of you that know me pretty well, you know that 2009 was a huge year for me on many fronts. I don't think I could tackle everything here or if I would even want to. So, I figure I'll just hit some of the highlights and downlights when it comes to the writing and homeschooling end of things.

The first half of the year for homeschooling was not good. With a huge upset in my personal life and a lot going on in my writing life, the homeschooling was for the most part put on the back burner. Not that you'd hear any complaints from Big Daughter, LOL, in fact, she's asked a lot during the last half why can't she do what we did in the beginning of the year. :-) Anyway, a big thank you to Time4Learning which at least kept her on track academically while mommy was way too focused on other things. The second half has been better (depending on your viewpoint). I found this super cool curriculum called Moving Beyond the Page. Can I say how much I LUV this curriculum!! Only problem is Big Daughter isn't quite as thrilled with it as I am, but we slog along.

In looking back on the writing front and furthering myself as a professional, LOL, a lot happened this year. I think because it was in the summer of 2008 I made a commitment to myself to really pursue becoming a working novelist. Through 2009, I've been figuring out what works for me and what doesn't. In case, you're new on the writing front or not a writer, there are a whole bunch of people and strings of advice that tell you what you have to do to be successful. Needless to say, they are not always right. So, here are the highlights from the world of writing in 2009.
  • Had several articles on horse schools reprinted in magazines.
  • Horse Schools 4 was planned to be released, but then my publisher gave me the green light to create an online version of Horse Schools along with saying they wouldn't be releasing Horse Schools 4 in print.
  • Started said subject of Lots of learning curve on this one. Thankfully have had help from several knowledgeable people. Looking forward to it debuting in 2010.
  • Finished up my Institute of Children's Literature Novel Course. 
  • Entered several writing contests which was a huge stretch for me and pretty good practice for sending out to agents and editors.
  • Entered many online pitch contests. This has been an interesting experience. Pitched a WIP in one and had the editor request to see the full. Lesson learned, never pitch a WIP unless you like stress (even if said editor said it was okay to pitch WIPs). LOL Still working on that one to send into editor. 
  • Submitted novel written in ICL Novel course to agents. It has been making the rounds. Gotten form rejections and a few encouraging personal rejections. The personal rejections have been the ones that have kept me going, because I know it doesn't suck or they wouldn't have bothered with the personal reject. 
  • Registered my first screenplay with the Writers Guild of America.
  • Earned my PRO status with Romance Writers of America. PRO status within the RWA means that you have finished a manuscript and submitted it to an editor or agent. 
  • Started this blog and my sister blog
  • Signed up for my first critique partner
So, that's the list of highlights for me. What about you? Did you get closer to your dream in 2009? I believe I did. I completed several goals and got a lot closer to my dream. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Laid Plans

So, last night I'm planning out my day today. Big daughter can get a jump on her school work and then has an art class. Little daughter, will as usual, tag along. I will get 1750 words written today cause I only got about one page written before I simply could not think anymore last night.

Day is moving slowly along, typical day for us, I finally start getting ready for the day and Big Daughter and Little Daughter start playing nicely and sweetly together. I stand watching them going - okay am I gonna retain my title of Meanest Mother in the World and inform them play is over and Big Daughter has to get to her school work now. Or, am I gonna be a total softy, and tip toe away and pray the quiet and peace last longer than 15 minutes. In case you don't know me very well, it was the latter. Peace and quiet are always at the top of my list any day of the year.

But do I use this peace and quiet and jump into my writing, well, just a little. I got another page written (250 words), but I spend most of the time catching up on my emails (something I could do with the screaming and the fighting in the background). So, now back to the writing. They are still quiet, over an hour of peace, wow!! And before anyone asks, no they aren't getting into trouble, I've been checking every couple of minutes to make sure. Maybe it's the peace and quiet that is making it hard for me to get into the story. After about five minutes, I feel compelled to jump up and make sure that they aren't engaged in a silent war or completely destroying something.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Keeping All the Balls in the Air

When I have a day like today I'm reminded of how many balls I have in the air and the amount of juggling I have to do to keep any of them from falling, and today actually wasn't that busy of a day in the scheme of things. We headed down to take care of the horse (who lives almost 45 minutes away, one way, during the winter) and headed to another town to swing by the cheap grocery store and cheap gas (living in a tourist destination has its drawbacks, namely price gouging for all the necessities). Then gotta drive back up the mountain and head home. Big daughter had a friend over while little daughter tagged along. Thankfully, they actually all played really well together which meant a minimum of interaction required from me. Yeah! And big daughter actually talked me into letting her have a sleep over party on New Years night. Hmm, I must be softening, note to self, I must remain focused if I'm going to maintain the title of Meanest Mom in the World. No waffling aloud. Add in the housework, helping a friend proof a research paper, doing and sending my critique to my partner, and other odds and ends it felt like a lot of balls to keep in the air today. But it's all good, as I mentioned, when I really think about it, my day could have been a LOT busier. LOL.

I was home all afternoon and you'd think I would have gotten a lot of writing done today, but I found myself very unfocused, and I dabbled a little here and there on different things, but nothing got really done (at least to my satisfaction). I did more of the business side of writing than the writing today. Which that is all necessary, but I found today that I was oddly dissatisfied with just doing that. I guess that's good right, that I miss making my 1,000 word count goal for the day.I know there was a time that as long as I worked on something (not necessarily writing) that I'd be happy with my progress, but it ain't doing it for me today. And though it is late I plan on popping Word up as soon as I sign off here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Finding a Great Beta Reader II

On to the actual search and find of a great beta reader, critique group, or critique partner. After I posted my post yesterday I had a friend ask me what a beta reader was and how did I find her. Here are some basic tips on locating someone to beta read or critique your work.

1) Check with your local writing groups. If you prefer face to face contact a local critique or writing group is probably your best bet in joining a critique group or finding a partner/reader. If you're in a larger city, you shouldn't have any problem in finding such a group. You'll just need to choose which one (out of those accepting new members) you think will suit you. If you're in a smaller town, it might be a little more difficult to find one that is open to new members. If you know a member, approach that person and ask about an invitation. You can look for groups at libraries and book stores (talk to the staff). If you can't find a group, consider starting your own.

2) Chapters of writing organizations. I belong to my local chapter of RWA. Granted it's two hours away from me, but I go to meetings when I can. I know there are members of the group that have formed crititque groups and/or partners. Start going to the meetings, see who writes in the same genre as you (or at least likes to read it) and get to know them. You can also inquire with one of the board members to see if there is an already established critique system within the chapter that you can join.

3) Online writing groups or chapters. I found out two of my online RWA chapters offer a critique service. The one I mentioned before was through one of these services. What's interesting is each chapter does it very differently. One chapter has a critique mistress that partners you with someone else who is also looking for critiques. You fill out a questionnaire and they do their best to match with someone else. It worked very well for me. The other chapter has an email loop. You simply request to be added. You then begin to critique other peoples work and post your own work to be critiqued. I'm a little behind on that - was waiting till after the holidays to jump into that loop. Other online chapters and groups might have other methods of setting up critique partners or groups.

4) Connect with other writers in your genre through various means. You can follow blogs, go to readings, lurk on message boards, etc. Remember a critique partnership is a give and take relationship. Make sure you are just as weilling to give of your time and energy toward another person's work.

5) Be careful about changing anything by committee. As much as a critique group, partner, or beta reader can help you find the weak points in your work so you can fix them they can also ruin a perfectly good story. If you've been writing very long, I'm sure you've heard one critique group or partner horror story. They aren't all created equal. Dean Wesley Smith talks about the dangers of writing to committee. His post is focusing on Workshops, but I think it applies just as well to a critique group and partnerships.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Finding a Great Beta Reader

As I mentioned before, I just reentered the world of critique partners or beta readers (whatever term you prefer). I will admit freely that I was nervous about this, because of past experiences (from long, long ago, LOL). As usual, what I am most nervous about ending up being something that I shouldn't have been nervous about at all. I was paired up with a lady via one of my RWA chapters and got back a critique of my first couple of chapters from her like the day I emailed them to her. :-) And, the good news, she confirmed everything I had been worried was wrong with the thing. Not that it's awful, but that the story could be so much stronger. As I was reading her critique and the spots she marked as wanting to know more I found myself nodding along with her in complete agreement. Why? Because I had already suspected these problems, but wasn't sure if they were real problems or just the general "this sucks" that most writers feel when they read their own work.

It is not a closely guarded secret that we as writers are horrible judges of our own work. We can edit and edit and edit, but it's all too close to us for us to see where the real problems are and where we think there is a problem but there isn't. Dean Wesley Smith recently did a great post on this. Pay special attention to Rule #3 which addresses this issue very well.

Another problem with not being able to clearly see where there is a problem, you can edit out the great parts from your book, because you really are not the best judge of it.

Do you have a critique group, critique partner, or beta readers? Do you think they have helped or hindered your writing (yes, they can actually do the opposite if you aren't careful)?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Protecting Your Project

Protecting your project when you're creating is imperative. It's amazing how random people (and those close to you) can mortally damage an idea by an off hand comment if you haven't learned how to protect your baby. I've had several projects that I had to shelve because I hadn't yet learned to how to keep them safe. I still occasionally have a twinge when an arrow comes from an unexpected person though they no longer kill off an idea, but I might have to take a few days to shake the comment off before I can get back to that bright and shiny creation.

I've gotten to the point that if I'm actively writing something I don't even refer to it by it's title. If someone asks what I'm working on I'll be as evasive as possible, referring to one project as my YA fantasy and another as a space opera. Most people, those casually inquiring, will just nod and move onto another area of conversation. Closer friends or those who seem to want to ferret out if you really are a writer, LOL, may probe deaper asking what it's about. That's where it gets tricky. This is when their reactions can affect how you personally feel about your baby. I know some writers that just give the answer that they don't talk about what they're writing about because the energy for it evaporates (or some other excuse). I've done this one myself, but sometimes you might be talking with someone who for whatever reason you feel the need to give them at least the basics. One trick I've learned is the Hollywood answer. I'll say 'It's like Star Wars and Pirates of the Carribean.'

What do you do to protect the creative energy you need for what you're currently working on?

Have You Recovered Yet? or Happy Holidays

So, for those of you who do Christmas, did you have a good one?

For the last two years we've cut back a lot in what we've spent during the Christmas holidays and Christmas itself. This year was a little harder with a 10 year old and a 3 year old, but surprisingly I found they were perfectly happy with how little was spent (and they got). I focused on just getting the top two things that they wanted (which none of them were very expensive) and they were each thrilled Christmas morning. I filled up the tree (well, just added a few more presents under the tree) by purchasing inexpensive craft kits from a friend's store (so they got some extra stuff and I helped support a local business). A lot of my friends were doing similar things to keep within their own budgets. I'm sure some stuck to their budget while others ended up spending more than they intended. I have been one of the latter for the previous five Christmas', I think, it could have been even longer. Each year, I would make a commitment to spend less and always ended up doing the opposite. This is the first year that I really felt that I stuck to my plan (the past year, I did better than previous years, but still spent too much). My big worry about sticking to my plan, and why I failed so badly previous years, was that I'd have disappointed children on Christmas morning, but surprise, surprise, they weren't disappointed at all.

Something else I started this year, in previous years my daughter has wanted to buy presents for her friends. She spends some of her money, but I also ended up buying some stuff. This year, I encouraged her not to spend her money on her friends (yes, some of you will be horrified), but to think out of the box. We perused our bookshelf for presents for her cousins. I've given books as presents in years past so that wouldn't have been too much of a surprise, but this was the first time we gave very gently used books. For her other friends, we were at a toy swap, and she came across several small toys that she thought would be perfect for her friends and sister. She picked out those items and wrapped them and gave them to her friends. I also encouraged her to not feel she had to get a present for every one of her friends. She only gave something if it absolutely jumped out at her that this item would be "perfect" for this friend.

So, we did cut back a lot in the money spent this year, but I found that it didn't seem to make Christmas less at all. The girls were just as happy Christmas morning. I had many good conversations with friends with no pressure to exchange gifts. I spent a little bit of the money that I would have spent on my friends before  buying toys and foods for some of the drives. I felt better about that, the toys and food will go to those a lot less fortunate than my friends and I. And who really needs another little nick nack or doodad sitting on the mantel.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Classes and Workshops

Yep, I'm up way too late tonight. To much chocolate and sugar today - can we say I love this time of year! Anyway, playing around with my blog format, because what else am I gonna do. :-) And I got to thinking about my last blog post, I might have given you the impression that I didn't like writing classes and workshops.

Now, it's true that I've had my share of writing classes that didn't exactly encourage or inspire great writing, but I have also taken a whole bunch of classes that did. You could say that I'm a class junkie, because I am. Oh, how I love a good class or workshop. I've always found I write better on deadline (and not my own internal deadlines - those don't work at all) and I love to learn new things.

I was lucky enough to discover Charter Oak State College when I was looking to finish up my BA and I'd decided that I wanted to do it in writing, but alas there was not a single university within close driving distance where I lived that offered a writing program that excited me. Truthfully, I had my fill of literature classes and creative writing workshops from my previous colleges and I had no desire to return to them. I was so thrilled to discover their BA program that allowed me to design my own writing program all I had to do was find classes from accredited colleges and approved specialty schools to do it. So, I did.

In doing so, I rediscovered my joy for writing classes when you have a good teacher and other students that are focused on helping you get better. I've taken distance courses from Institute of Children's Literature and Long Ridge Writers Group in short story/articles and novels. I was thrilled to discover that you can take classes from the masters at UCLA Extension. Working screenwriters teach their courses and I can't gush enough about them. I also just recently started taking workshops from the various Romance Writers of America chapters that are offered online via message board or email loops.

Classes and workshops are great. When you find a place that helps build you up and improve your craft I highly recommend signing up for one. It can be an even bigger thrill to take a workshop/class from a writer that you read and admire (thank you RWA!).

Do you like writing classes and workshops? Know of any good ones?

Critiques & Classes

Wow, I got my first follower. LOL.

I am about to embark on the journey of a critique partner and/or group. Yes, I finally signed up for it with not one, but two of my RWA chapters that offer this service to their chapter members.

It's funny, I have friends that swear by their critique partner and groups, and then I have friends that have had bad experiences with them. I'm on the latter end. I survived, yes survived, my way through several college and university creative writing classes. These classes did not make me in any way eager for the concept of sharing my writing for the purpose of critiquing.

To put it plainly, the classes were brutal. Sometimes the teachers would allow it and other times the teachers would attempt to curb it, but there was always this level of meanness in the classes. Not from everyone in the class, there were the few students (or maybe there were more, but the meanies overshadowed the good ones) that did their best to provide thoughtful critiques of your work. In several classes (and I'm not just talking about critiques given to me, but to my other classmates) there was this element of one upmanship. As in, I am a way better writer than you, because look how I have shown everyone what a stupid little story you have written by pointing out the 101 things wrong with it. 

I for a short period of time joined a critique group (of sorts), but it quickly floundered as members stopped coming, and as with my previous experience I found that certain people seemed to be in the one upmanship category while others did want to help.

I am about to attempt it again as I've decided that at a minimum I at least need some beta readers for my stuff. I'm crossing my fingers, and I'm actually excited that I might connect with other writers that will help me become a better writer (and hopefully I can help them in return).

So, what about you. Do you have beta readers, a critique buddy, or critique group? Or do you avoid them at all costs?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One Writer's Journey

Here I am again in the blogosphere. I've been blogging related to my book, Horse Schools, over the last couple of months and have had to hold back because there was something I wanted to talk about that in no way related to horses, colleges, or searching for a school. So, here I am with a brand new blog, isn't it pretty? Well, as pretty as it can be till I personalize it a bit, but I'll save that for later.

I've been thinking a lot about my own writer's journey and being a homeschooling mom and how the two coexiste. I've found that an extremely productive day for me usually means that the school work for my ten year old gets put on hold (which she loves LOL) and my preschooler spends most of her day doing all the things a "good" mom isn't supposed to let her do all day. But a productive day with my girls, we get all of my ten year old's school work done for the day, I spend what I'd consider quality time with her and my preschooler, that type of day tends to be a sucky day for my writing.

I have to wonder why this is. The OCD in me says it's because I need to plan better, schedule better, make more lists, etc. But the creative person in me only seems to allow two straight days of a strict schedule before she revolts. Or I should say, I revolt, and start to sabotage myself with the usual, hmmm, we need to go grocery shopping, big daughter needs a play date, little daugher needs some socialization (she's on the shy side and I have to force it on her), I need to get out of the house because they are driving me bonkers, the house needs to be cleaned, and the list goes on and on.

When that happens I just need to remind myself that instead of setting up an elaborate to do list or schedule that I do better with little goals (even if they make me feel like I'm not doing as much as I should). Sometimes I'm good and I meet all of my goals and some days I meet one of my three goals, but at least if I meet one of the three I am moving forward with my writing. My main three goals are: work one hour on nonfiction project, input one chapter of corrections for romantic suspense, and do three pages or one thousand words or rewrites for space opera.

What types of daily goals do you set for yourself?