WHY I READ: WALKING AROUND IN SOMEONE ELSE’S HEAD

I remember the first time I connected with a book. The Pain and the Great One, a picture book by Judy Blume.  It’s about sibling rivalry–younger brother, older sister. And it was just so much like me and my brother, it was scary. The girl played piano (I started taking lessons when I was pretty little), and the boy was kind of a rascal, always knocking over her towers of blocks, etc. If I remember right, in my edition, the kids even had a cat (we had two). It was my life there on the pages. Judy Blume got it. She knew exactly what it was like to be me. It was like she had been in my head somehow.

That’s what initially hooked me on reading: finding those books that seemed to tell my own life experience. It’s a powerful thing to have your own thoughts spit back at you. Makes you feel like there are all sorts of people going through exactly what you’re going through.

Now, though?

I find myself gravitating more and more toward people or situations totally unlike my own. I’m developing a real thing for classic sci-fi (Invasion of the Body Snatchers). And I really love anything by Kurt Vonnegut. I just really like spending time in his head. I like looking through eyes unlike my own.

I’m not sure if that’s a result of growing older or a result of the times. A need for escapism, maybe? Then again, according to what we see on the nightly news, it’s becoming harder and harder for us all to do just that–look through each other’s eyes, see from another point of view. It’s a skill I hope we never lose.

WRITING YOUR NOVEL: TREAT YOUR OUTLINE AS THE FIRST DRAFT

This is no way is my own original advice. I’ve heard it from various writers–it seems I’ve heard it somewhat frequently over the past year or so. But I’ve begun to consider my initial outline my first draft as well–and I’ve come to think it’s some of the most powerful advice anyone can get regarding drafting a new book.

Even if you think you’re a pantser, I’d encourage you to outline. Here’s the thing: THE OUTLINE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THE FIRST THING YOU DO.

Seriously. It doesn’t. If you need to write some scenes to get a feel for the piece, do it. If you want to write character sketches and brainstorm and play, do it. If you want to put on a pot of coffee and disconnect from the Internet and plow through 10K words, do it.

But after you get a feel, after you’ve “pantsed” a bit, outline the book as a whole.

Here’s another thing: OUTLINES DO NOT HAVE TO BE, WELL, OUTLINES. Write in paragraphs. Write in lists. Whatever works. This is a tool for YOU, after all, not for anyone else.

However: AN OUTLINE IS NOT A ROUGH IDEA. It is specific. It’s detailed. If you don’t know in detail what happens in every single chapter in your book and why, you are not done with your outline yet.

WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER AN OUTLINE FOR A FIRST DRAFT:

I’m going to use the word “you” here in order to state my points, but really, I’m talking about my own experiences:

*Because it’s waaaaay faster than writing a full first draft, which is inevitably a mess. NaNoWriMo participants strive to write 50K new words in a month, and it is HARD. In order to achieve word count goals, you often just start throwing junk down. Writing an outline can be done in far less time and sweating far less blood. Think of how much detail you could put into an outline if you gave it your full attention to it for two weeks!

*Because you’re throwing waaaaay less into the trash. I used to speed-draft through my first drafts. I was all about 5K-word days. And frankly, I wound up ditching more than half of what I wrote. I’m not quite sure what the point is anymore. Why wear yourself out writing a draft your not going to use for the most post?

*Because if you throw out 50%+ of a manuscript, you still haven’t nailed down what it’s about. So you’ve spent at least a month–probably more like two or three–working on a project you don’t understand yet. Outlining, in my experience, is a far better method for “finding” the heart of your novel.

*Because it’s also waaaaay easier to get feedback on an outline. No reader wants to try to make sense of your mess of a sloppily written first draft. It’s much easier for them to wrap their minds around an outline. Better yet, put your outline in front of you and TELL your “reader” the story. Get their ideas and impressions about the storyline before you sit down to write draft #2.

One more thing: OUTLINES ARE MEANT TO BE ADJUSTED. Of course, as you head into the second draft of a book, you’ll come up with new ideas, new insights, etc. At this point, you need to stop what you’re doing and come back to your outline, tweaking here and there accordingly.

Treating an outline as a draft has helped me immensely–I hope it works for you, too!

 

WORK IN PROGRESS

So many blog posts are all about what writers have already figured out. They’re tips and tricks that have been dug out through a (frequently long) period of trial and error.

This time around, I thought I might disclose something I’m working on–something I’m not even close to figuring out:

How to manage daily expectations.

I’m a big believer in setting goals. I know in my mind where I’d like to be with a current project by, say, the end of the week. And I know how many words I need to write or chapters I need to revise, etc. in order to meet those goals.

But when I fall short one day? I kind of beat myself up.

What keeps me from meeting certain goals is never stupid, either. It’s not like I’m binge-watching TV or playing solitaire. Usually, it’s because–well–life happens. As it inevitably does. I go to mow the lawn and the battery’s dead (which means I’m now making an extra shopping trip). It’s because my aging dog has an upset stomach. Or the roof is leaking. Or I’m figuring estimated taxes. Or my brother needs me to head on a buying trip for his business.

Or, or, or…

I mean, I know it’s not JUST about writing. Life has to be lived. And not just a chore-filled life, either. A life in which you eat ice cream and roll down the windows and laugh until your sides ache. A life in which you meet new people and talk to old friends. A life in which you get sunburned and maybe even scrape an elbow or two because you’re still, even now, trying new things.

But I can’t help it. I have a hard time NOT beating myself up for goals not met.

Any pointers anyone might have on the subject?

GET A LOAD OF THESE TITLES (SUMMER READING RECOMMENDATIONS)

Seriously. You want to get your hands on these books.

RUBY STARR: THE FANTASTIC LIBRARY RESCUE AND OTHER MAJOR PLOT TWISTS – DEBORAH LYTTON

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Like Ruby Starr, I also believe that every good book should always have a sequel…one that reminds you how much you loved the first, but takes you on an even more imaginative adventure—the kind that encourages every reader to put pen to their own epic poem. Besides, who could ever pass up a good pickle cupcake or another delightful dose of Ruby Starr? Brava!

Snag a copy here.

AUGUST AND EVERYTHING AFTER – JENNIFER SALVATO DOKTORSKI

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As a child of the ‘90s, Doktorski already had me at the title of this fantastic new read. But soon after wading into the pages, it became clear that AUGUST is Doktorski’s strongest work to date. A delightful mixtape of ‘90s music, humor, and the kind of young-summer-romance that makes a life-changing impact on the characters. What YA should be—do not let the summer get by without reading AUGUST!

Snag a copy here.

Happy summer reading!

MILES LEFT YET – ONE OF MY FAVORITE INDIES

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I’ve always had a soft spot for this book.

It’s one of the first I wrote for the indie platform. And for some reason, it just never “took off” (driving pun intended). Probably because I wasn’t doing quite as much advertising (or even newsletters) when I first started indie pubbing.

One of the reasons I have such a soft spot, though, is that my first reader / main editor is a “senior”–nearly 80. And the characters in this book are seniors as well. It’s not a group we see quite as often in literature–not as main characters, anyway. Usually, they’re part of the supporting cast. But that seems so strange to me; these characters have seen and done and experienced so much. They’re rich with development possibilities!

With characters this age, I get to say things in the narration that I wouldn’t with a younger cast. Seventeen-year-olds certainly don’t have the same world view as seventy-year-olds, after all.

I loved writing this book. And it is spring, after all, the season of deep-cleaning and gardens, of opening the windows, dusting off our old favorites, getting back out in the sunshine.

Sooo…

I decided to dust off this old fave. A new cover, a new synopsis. A wide release. It’s available in e-book form for $1.99 for a limited time. The paperback is available for $9.99. I hope you’ll take a moment to check out the synopsis and links below:

 

None of them really expected to wind up at the Granite Ridge Retirement Community for Active Seniors. And yet, here they are—Jim arriving after his wife’s unexpected passing, Norma after selling her home to rescue her financially strapped daughter, and Mildred after her lifelong neighborhood becomes overrun by crime. It’s an odd place to be, for sure—put out to pasture, some might phrase it. At the end of life’s road.

And yet, inside, they all still feel as young as ever.

When a figure from Mildred’s past emerges, a motley crew from the retirement community embarks on a road trip—in a vintage Mustang convertible, no less—which quickly turns into an adventure of second chances, fresh starts, and the discovery that love is never a landmark in the rearview mirror. No matter what the odometer reads, as long as there’s gas in the tank, there are always still new roads to explore…plenty of miles left yet.

**Includes book club discussion questions.**

It’s Never the End of the Road

None of them really expected to wind up at the Granite Ridge Retirement Community for Active Seniors. And yet, here they are—Jim arriving after his wife’s unexpected passing, Norma after selling her home to rescue her financially strapped daughter, and Mildred after her lifelong neighborhood becomes overrun by crime. It’s an odd place to be, for sure—put out to pasture, some might phrase it. At the end of life’s road.

And yet, inside, they all still feel as young as ever.

When a figure from Mildred’s past emerges, a motley crew from the retirement community embarks on a road trip—in a vintage Mustang convertible, no less—which quickly turns into an adventure of second chances, fresh starts, and the discovery that love is never a landmark in the rearview mirror. No matter what the odometer reads, as long as there’s gas in the tank, there are always still new roads to explore…plenty of miles left yet.

**Includes book club discussion questions.**

Links

Amazon
iBooks
B&N
Kobo

Happy spring, everyone! I hope your gardens are growing and your flowers are blooming and you get a chance to read beneath your favorite shade tree. (Come on–aren’t shade trees the perfect place to read?)

–Holly

WRITING AIN’T GARDENING

IMG_0450This week, we tackled the garden at the Schindler house. It’s always such a joy to get outside, especially after a long, cold winter. As much as I love my work, it’s also a joy to get away from the computer for a little while, get my fingers in the dirt.

 

 

I think the other thing about gardening that has a definite appeal to a writer is that it kind of just takes off on its own. Once you get it in the ground, it does most of the work for you. All you have to do is make sure it gets plenty of water and the bunnies don’t have access (hence the elaborate plastic walls around ours this year–since taking that pic, I’ve also added pinwheels to keep birds out).

It’s so much fun to go out in the morning and check on the growth. Watching what sprouts first, what takes off. The green shoots can be such a welcome sight.

Never, in all my years of writing, has a book behaved that way. I’ve never opened a file to find that the thing wrote a new chapter for me while I wasn’t looking–the same way the tomato plants sprout little yellow flowers while I’m off doing something else.

Writing is so time–and effort–intensive. If you aren’t putting fingers to keyboard, it just ain’t gettin’ done.

But one fantastic thing about writing is that it doesn’t die. No matter how long you’ve neglected to water it. No matter how long it’s been shunted into the back of your desk.

Go on. Open that ancient file.

Write a few lines. Write a few more.

It’s spring, after all.

See what grows.

EXCERPT FROM TANGLES

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As National Poetry Month winds to a close, I wanted to share an excerpt from TANGLES, my first poetry collection:

 

 

Of all the poems in the collection, I think “Blushing Crimson” might be my favorite:

“Blushing Crimson”

blush

 

 

 

 

 

summer heat

riverbank

bare feet

heart harpooned

so complete

beers we drank

whispers sweet

breeze in June

faces meet

giggles clank

kisses heat

clothing strewn

emotions piqued

bodies sank

love discreet

under a blushing crimson moon