January 22 2017

​You Deserve to be Inspired

(NOTE: I am participating in the Writing Contest: You Deserve to be Inspired. Hosted by Positive Writer: http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-you-deserve-to-be-inspired/ This blog post shall serve as my entry.)

Hello, my name is Karen and I am a writer. For many years I have felt I was supposed to write a book. The feeling wouldn’t go away, but I never got the sense of what sort of book I should be writing, so I waited for the same sense of purpose that I got with needing to write the book. I waited and thought about it, but still no still small voice whispered to me what this book I was absolutely certain I should be writing should be about. Nothing, not even what genre I should be writing. I tried to be patient. After all it hadn’t been my idea to write the book, so I figured I should wait to get further guidance on the matter.

Then one night, in the wee hours of November 1, 2013, I was surfing the net and searching for instructions on how to write a book and came across the NaNoWriMo.org website. I read about the annual challenge that happens every November where people all over the world spend the 30 days of November trying to write a 50,000 word novel. It was as if the voice I had been waiting on was now smacking me upside the head and telling me to stop thinking and talking about writing a book and just write it already!

Alright. But what should I write I asked out loud? Suddenly the age old advice to write what you know popped into my head. Well…that was something but when it comes to writing a book I don’t exactly KNOW anything I thought. So I thought and thought and finally decided that what I know is my life and what about my life might be interesting enough for someone else to want to read I asked myself. I finally decided that I should accept the challenge and that I would spend the next thirty days writing about our adventures in parenting our two, now adult children. I figured since they were now both in college and we had survived thus far will very little drama, perhaps we were doing something right and should write it all down to see if there was anything worth sharing with the world. So I worked on writing for the next thirty days, all the time wondering if I was crazy to have taken on this challenge. But I kept at it and also decided to join my local region and see if anyone else in my city was interested in writing. I fully expected to be the only crazy one in our mid-west city to want to write. I didn’t know anyone else who called themselves a writer, so I thought I was all alone, but was comforted by the thought that somewhere else in the world, others surely must be taking the challenge with me.

I discovered that there were write-ins happening a regular intervals all around my city and figured if I was in for the challenge, I should be all in and attend a few write-ins and see if they would help me. After the first write-in I was hooked. When the gathering of writers did word sprints I had to write because they would know if I wasn’t and I wanted to fit into this writer-ly group in the worst way. So I wrote and you know what? I wrote more than I thought I could. I was typing out one memory after another with twenty plus years of parenting under my belt to draw from. I learned that writing is a group sport. Who knew? After reading over some of what I had written, I realized I could write in a way that might actually enjoy reading.

I made it through the month, and I learned something else about myself. I could write every day. Maybe not a lot some days, but I could write EVERY day. I also learned that I could reach the goal of 50,000 words in less than 30 days! I felt like a million bucks! I was on top of the world. I was a writer, a REAL writer and I could do ANY thing. I gained so much confidence in myself as a person. A person who never used to try new things like writing, like meeting and talking to total strangers in places I had never been before, who never ventured out to strange places because I might get lost. I had a reason to do all those things. I had a goal to achieve. Little old me, a forty-something mom with grown kids was doing all this and being accepted into a group of writers that were mostly young enough to be my kids. There were a few in their late twenties and even some in their thirties, but I was definitely one of the older ones and yet I was taken at face value as a writer and even praised for my enthusiasm. I AM a writer! I am a WRITER! Having met the goal in the time allotted, I am also now a WINNER! I have gained so much from participating in NaNoWriMo  these last 4 years! I am a winner and I am a writer and I will likely do NaNoWriMo for the rest of my life.

January 12 2017

​SMART Goals 2017

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Ok, we have a new year and that means I need to bunch of new goals. I have been setting goals for years, but it seems I write them down, post them to the group that asks us to set the goals and then proceed o forget all about them until December when I dig them up and look them over to see if I have managed to actually, accidentally get any of them done. Usually, the only ones I got accomplished were the ones I would have done anyway because I certainly wasn’t deliberately trying o get any of my goals done. I decided that since I found this shiny new obsession called bullet journaling, that perhaps I would do well to really think about my goals before setting them this year and once they were recorded in my bullet journal I should actually try to actively get them done this year.

So I saw some folks in the bullet journal community talking about the importance of setting SMART Goals. So I, of course, Googled it and came up with lots of helpful websites and graphics. I decided I liked the looks of one of them so I saved it and tried to stick to what it said when it came to creating my goals this year. I will include the graphic in this post in case you want to see if the goals you have set for yourself are SMART Goals.

So, I won’t bore you by telling you what makes a smart goal because you can read them for yourself in the colorful graphic.
I split my goals into categories. I’m not sure why, but I’ve done this a few times before, so decided to stick to the established system this year because it seemed like a decent idea at the time.

FAMILY FUN GOALS:
1) Do a cabin weekend
2) April trip
3) Annual Hockey Trip for the kids’ birthdays

You are probably saying that these sound easy enough and you’d be right. I actually marked the first one off after New Year’s weekend because hubby and I decided the cabin was the way we wanted to celebrate the new year. (See my previous post and pictures of the cabin.) We already have the April trip planned because we planned it during our trip last April. The hockey trip is a matter of hubby and the two grown kids settling on a NY Rangers game that fits everyone’s schedule and is somewhere in the midwest. We actually did the 2015 trip in March 2016 and the 2016 trip in November 2016 because that was the way it worked out with the NHL hockey season schedule.

FITNESS GOALS:
1) Get 6 hours of sleep a night
2) Drink 6 cups of water a day
3) Continue using MyFitnessPal app

None of these is easy for me. I usually drink only water after work, but almost never drink water earlier in the day because I need my caffeine fix and so I drink my unsweetened iced tea instead. Yes, someday I will need to break the caffeine addiction, but this is not the year for that goal. I log into MyFitnessPal daily when I am at home, if nothing else, to record my weight each day. I am trying to do better about recording what I eat and drink in the app because I know when I do so regularly and stay within the caloric recommendations, I can lose weight. The sleep thing I have been trying to do better about since before I had kids (25 years ago) and it just isn’t happening, but I continue to try.

HOUSE GOALS:
1) Clean out my home office
2) Declutter the landing
3) Declutter my clothes

My office is an eight-foot square that was, in a former life, a breakfast nook. It has a built in china cabinet, an L-shaped desk, half of which has a hutch attached to it, three file cabinets with six drawers of files and four drawers of assorted junk between them and my desk has one of those long drawers for pens and such too. I am very good at cramming a lot of stuff in a small amount of space, unfortunately. Most of the stuff is just there at this point and needs to be gone through, sorted and decluttered. The clothing can always use a good culling. The landing is full of furniture waiting for the master bedroom to be gutted and rebuilt from the studs out. Seriously lofty, those goals!

PERSONAL GOALS:
1) Do some genealogy
2) Take three writing classes 
3) Read for thirty minutes a day

I was looking at the website just yesterday to see what classes are being offered at the local writers center. Reading is not hard, but I don’t always make time for it every day and I really should. I used to do genealogy all the time, it was my passion from the time I was in fifth grade until I started working full-time over ten years ago. I miss it, I can’t remember where I left off so jumping back into it might be difficult.

SPIRITUAL/CHARITY GOALS:
1) Pray daily
2) Read 15 inspirational fiction books
3) Crochet 26 hats to donate to charity (12 of 26 done)

Ok, so I already pray daily, but perhaps I should expand my prayer list a bit. I prefer to read inspirational fiction but want to make sure I am reading mostly in this genre. I attend three crochet/knit meetings a month where I can usually get an entire hat crocheted, but I don’t always get to attend the meetings and don’t always finish a hat at each meeting. I have already completed four hats this year toward the goal. Hats are my thing, I rarely deviate from the one hat pattern. Carpel tunnel could be a serious issue in achieving this goal.

WRITING GOALS:
1) Finish one of my previous NaNoWriMo novels
2) Publish something
3) Participate in NaNoWriMo (and hopefully win again)

In case you haven’t figured it out already, I LOVE NaNoWriMo! I have participated and won for the past four years. I have four unfinished manuscripts (just over 50k words each) to show for my efforts along with one Camp NaNoWriMo unfinished manuscript (just over 30k words) and a non-fiction book as yet unfinished. Thus, goal number one. Once that is completed, it would be nice to actually publish one of those six books. That goal could also mean writing and publishing a short story or article of some kind. Come November, I will be writing another 50,000 words on some new project.

So those are my 2017 goals for what it’s worth. The thing I’m not good at it checking in on those goals occasionally and planning to make sure they get accomplished. If you have any tips or tricks for how to actually get yourself to accomplish the goals, please contact me by email or leave a comment.

December 11 2016

NaNoWriMo Lessons

November has come and gone and I seemed to have let posting blog entries go by the wayside way back in mid-September. The reason is because for all of October and part of September I start to focus on reading writing craft books and not reading fiction. I also start trying to plot the novel I will write in November. 
This year marks my fourth attempt at NaNoWriMo and also my fourth year of winning the challenge to write 50,000 words in the 30 days that make up November. I knew I could make it to the goal if I applied myself, but this year I had hope to also write enough words to actually complete the novel. Needless to say that didn’t happen. Due to some extra responsibilities at work, I was working longer hours and had trouble getting out of work early enough to get to some of the write-ins we had in the Indianapolis Region. I was careful to make sure I didn’t get too far behind because I know from past experience how difficult it can be to come back from being way behind on my word count. The problem with writing enough to finish the book was mostly a plotting problem. I still feel like I am not good at the whole plotting and story arc thing. So what I thought I had extremely well planned before November started ended up a little off course about a week into the month. Now before you say that I am the author and I should have just written myself back on track with what I had outlined, just know that I felt like what I was writing was better than what I had planned. Now it may or may not have really been better, but I felt like it was at least good enough to con sider going off track, err off outline worth while.
So I was looking at my bar graph after the win was recorded and thinking about how even though I felt like I was behind a good deal of the month, I wasn’t very far behind at any point and this was really the most consistent year I have ever had during NaNo. 
So at this point I would like to post here for all the world to see, the four years of bar graphs. See those below. As I looked at the graphs I decided it might be kind of cool to compare the four years and see what we can learn from them.

Year    Won    Word Count
2013    27th    50,155
2014    29th    50,063
2015    27th    56,505
2016    27th    53,568

Notable Things about Each Year:
2013 – Behind until day 23 with almost no words until day 4.
2014 – Behind until day 28, basically no words until day 9. First time writing fiction.
2015 – On track until days 6-15, a little behind and then caught after day 15.
2016 – Ahead days 4-7 and 12-15 behind days 8-11 and 19-24.

Advice to First Time NaNoWriMo Participants:
~ Spend some time planning or reading craft books. You can obviously do this any time of the year, but I usually try to cram this info into my brain in September and October. 
~ Get your word count (1,667 words) every day if possible.
~ Get ahead and stay there. Whenever possible, write more than the daily goal and bank those words for the tough days when you get sick, the words aren’t flowing or you just are too tired to write.
Get to know your characters and their back story before November.    You can write back story or character sketches before November if you like, but these words do not count toward word count goals in November.  
~ Try not to schedule any appointments, dates, errands, etc. In November, instead opt for October or December instead.
~Go on the NaNoWriMo.org website and declare your novel, choose your home region, check the calendar for your region and go to as many local writing events as you can fit in. It has been our experience in the Indianapolis area that those who participate usually stick to the goal and do the work required to win. You get to know other writers this way and can help hold each other accountable and motivate each other to write.
~ Writing Sprints! Whether you are at home alone or in a group. Set a timer for a designated amount of time (try 10, 15, 20 or 25 minutes) start the timer and focus only on writing as much as you can until the timer goes off. If in a group, compare word counts during the sprint, cheer the achievements. If alone track your word counts. Get to know what you are capable of writing in a given amount of time. Try to beat your own best score. When the timer goes off get up, go use the restroom if needed, grab a drink or snack, move around chat amongst yourselves if in a group, read your favorite lines from that sprint if you like. Give yourself a 5 or 10 minute break then do another sprint. Before you know it you will have written your daily goal.

New things I tried this year and really liked:
~ #1k30min Set the timer for 30 minutes and try to write 1,000 words. You have to write so fast, the inner editor doesn’t stand a chance!
~ When I can’t go to a live write-in near me, I find a virtual one on YouTube. There are some on the NaNoWriMo channel, @NaNoWordSprints or #NaNoWordSprints on Twitter, the WordNerds (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSKHG1eUF7vnL1kieYiVasA) have virtual write-ins every Sunday evening during their live chat so check their channel, also Tamara Woods has some on her channel, PenPaperPad (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCUt-YGmeMSHZfXQQe4XF0g) also has some, I really enjoyed writing with her, probably because she isn’t a giggly high school or college girl. There are most likely many others too. Search on YouTube for “Virtual Write In” or “NaNoWriMo Virtual Write in” and give some a try.

After watching the WordNerds YouTube videos and live streams for a couple of years, I find myself wondering if I can find a group of writers willing to give Google Hangouts a try and doing our own virtual write ins. This would be great for when one of our local members relocates to a different state or when the weather is bad and prevents you from going to a live write-in isn’t an option. What do you think? I have also wondered about doing a crafting club this way where everyone knits or crochets on camera.

September 9 2016

Creating Characters

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I get my characters from real life. Sometimes they are loosely based on an actual person I have met and admired. Most of the time my characters are a compilation of characteristics of many different people I have come across in my life. I may take the looks from one person and add in the personality of another person with the odd quirks from someone completely different from either of the two people the character is based on. Sometimes my characters are based more on ideal people than actual people. I imagine a person I would like to meet and how that person would behave in a given situation.
I had the idea for the Crafty Ladies Club and wanted them to all be in the 45 to 70 year old age range. I wanted them to all have different crafting specialties, so I began making a list of the various types of crafting they might be good at. At first, they were listed as Crafty Lady #1, Crafty Lady #2 and so on. Then, I wasn’t sure how to make them realistic. I remembered a co-worker who was creepy accurate with describing a person he had just met based on learning their zodiac sign. He had apparently made a study of how various zodiac signs interacted with each other and how they behaved. I witnessed him telling a woman she likely had a shoe collection that would make Imelda Marcos jealous. He told her that she behaved like this or that and her eyes got as round as saucers and she was shocked how accurate his guesses about her were. He went on to tell her that she likely had a good friend who was a particular zodiac sign and that she had trouble getting along with another zodiac sign. She thought he was psychic or something. So, remembering that, I decided that I had come up with twelve character that I needed to know more about, so I assigned the twelve zodiac signs to them to make sure I had variety in my characters. I studied a sheet listing the signs and a few characteristics about each one and decided which craft or job a person with that zodiac sign would be best suited to. Some were very easy to match up and others were harder, but I really liked having a little guide to help me create each character and decide how he or she would act.
I have heard of authors who use the personality types for their characters. There are numerous websites and tests you can take either as yourself or as one of your characters. One site to help explain the sixteen personality types is https://www.16personalities.com/personality-types. It can help you to get to know your characters better by answering the questions on the test as though you were that character. I have taken the test a few times at different times, but have never used it to help me with story writing or character development.
Now, I have no idea if this is an original idea I came up with or not. I’m not sure if it was a good or bad idea but it was a place to start and at the time I really had no idea how to do it any differently or better. My characters went through most of the first draft of the first book in the series with names like The Sheriff, Deputy One, Female Deputy, Store Keeper and that sort of name. They were place holders. One time, my main character’s late husband went through most of the book being called Hubby and with me having no idea what sort of job he had, but knowing it needed to be a decent office type job that paid well enough for his wife not to have to work. I think I was so afraid of picking the wrong name and occupation for him that I just kept putting it off and thinking about it.
I don’t really create character profiles, but I do try to carefully record in a character sheet each detail about that person as I write it into the story to keep myself from having trouble remembering what I have written about them later.
When I come across a person that I think would make a good character, I try to write what ever I know about them on an index card or scrap of paper so I can add it to a character list I have in a document in my computer. One time I was perusing the forums on the NaNoWriMo.org website and found a place where NaNos could offer themselves up as characters for others to use in their writing. They would give as many details as they felt were needed and that they felt comfortable putting out there for the world. I found several that I thought I could use, so I copied the details down for later use. Most of these people just wanted to be told if they were used as the basis of a character and be given the chance to read all about their fictionalized selves if they were used. This was extremely interesting because many of the “characters” had details listed that I wouldn’t have thought of or have put together in the same person.
So, what about you? Are you a character? Would you want someone to fictionalize you? Where do you get the characters for your writing from? Do you write about the real people in your life, your family members or maybe the strangers you see at the mall? I have been known to sit in crowded public places watching the people and trying to imagine what they do for a living, what their relationship to the person they are with is or what sorts of trouble they have seen in their lives. Sometimes I wish I had the nerve to take photos of them so I could describe them better later on . Have you ever looked at the photos at peopleofwalmart.com? I have often wondered how those photos get taken without someone getting suspicious or angry about their privacy being invaded. Heck for all I know the photographer (and I use that term very loosely) walked up to the person and asked if they would mind having their picture taken. From what I have seen there, that scenario is entirely possible. I’ve thought of using some of those photos as inspiration for characters, but then talk myself out of it because they would never be believable characters. But then again, they are already real people, so I supposed there is no reason they wouldn’t make believable characters. Maybe I am just not imaginative enough to create the right setting and story for them to appear in.

August 12 2016

​NaNoWriMo Is Coming!

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This is August already. Oh My! November will be here before we know it and I have no idea what I should do for my NaNo project. I feel like I should tackle the whole writing 50,000 words on a new fiction novel thing as is the intended thing for NaNo. But, I have currently got no less than five previously started novels that are as yet unfinished. Quite honestly, I can’t say I am particularly jazzed about finishing any of them right now. I plan to finish all of them eventually, but probably not until I figure out whether I have written workable plots and where they need help. I just don’t feel like I am ready to tackle the editing of any of these projects yet.I know I shouldn’t start yet an other novel until I finish some of the ones I have started but I know I don’t have time between now and November to do any of them justice. Three of them have between fifty and sixty thousand words written on them and the fourth has just over thirty thousand words written. The fifth book is a different animal altogether. It is a non-fiction book that may be mostly finished it is about sixty pages and have right at ten thousand words. I kind of want to spend August and September working on polishing this book and getting it self-published either on Amazon or on a website of my own in PDF format. Doing that would require a lot of research of the pros and cons of self-publishing with Amazon. I should probably admit here and now that while I really, really want to be published and have confidence in the need for a book like mine, I am also terrified that I will do the publishing thing wrong somehow and mess up my chances of actually successfully launching my first book. I wish I had someone I could trust and then get to lead me by the hand through the entire process and have confidence because of their previous success and experience that it would all go smoothly and turn out exceedingly well. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone like that who I would feel comfortable asking to help me publish the book.
So, that is where I am as an author. I DO consider myself an author even though I have yet to finish a book or be published. I would love to figure out a way to make a living on my writing. That is my goal, my dream, my torment. I may present myself as a confident person, but inside I am a small child cringing in fear that I will do something wrong and disappoint someone important in my life. I know this is not realistic or founded and I don’t even know who it is I think I would disappoint. Maybe I am afraid of disappointing myself. Maybe I am scare that if I fail everyone will know and laugh at me and then I won’t want to try writing anything again because if I fail, no one will take me seriously as a writer. If I never try to publish anything I have written, I need never experience rejection, there will always be hope of being published…someday.

Another part of me says I should just go for it. What do I really have to lose by trying? Should I use my real name, or assume a pen name? If I succeed, of course, I would want to have used my real name so everyone would know it was me. If I fail, I would rather it be a pen name so I could have a do-over without ruining my real name as a writer. There are so many decisions to be made when you are a writer.

So I am listening to music while I write this and the song Day One by Matthew West just came on and I am wondering if that is Divine intervention telling me I should just do it already. I feel like I am supposed to be writing a book, but have no idea what sort of book I am to write. I feel like I pray for guidance a lot but have yet to hear that “Still Small Voice” I have heard and read so much about. This causes me to question whether I am doing God Will with my life. Am I following God’s path or wandering down my own path selfishly? How is a writer to know?

So sorry, I seem to have gotten off track. I was talking about what to write for NaNoWriMo in November which is only about ten weeks away. I want to write another of the Crafty Ladies Series books, but have no idea which of the Crafty Ladies to feature in the next book. There are seven ladies in the group and so far I have attempted to write a mystery (Marni’s Story) and a romance (Lu Ann’s Story) so the question is not only whose story to tell next, but what genre it should be. Can you have two or more different genres in a series? Should I try to write in yet another genre in hopes of finding the one that clicks for me? The five books I have begun were, in order: memoir, mystery, romance, historical romance and non-fiction. Obviously, I am still trying to find myself as an author. I have no idea what genre to write or whether I should focus on one or just write what feels right? While I am at it, I question what sort of things I should be blogging about as an author, especially as an unpublished author.

I am getting better about writing throughout the year instead of only in November, so I am happy about that. I still don’t feel driving to write with any kind of regularity and often question what I should write when I do sit down to write. Most of my writing outside of November happens on Thursday nights when I join the ladies in the Thursday Nights Writing at Panera group at various Panera Bread Cafes around our fair city. Sometimes if it weren’t for meeting every week with this fabulous group of ladies I don’t think I would be half as far along the path as I am now. I actually participated in Camp NaNoWriMo in both April and July this year and have successfully met those goals as well as completing the November challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days three years in a row. This makes me feel successful even if I haven’t finished any of these books. I know I must keep writing, because I can see a lot of confidence and understanding that has come about as a result of these five “wins”. I KNOW I can do it again this November, I just have to figure out what book to write.

Please leave your comments and suggestions below. I would love to hear from you. If you have a favorite go-to book for story structure, outlining a novel, plotting, story arcs, character development, etc. Please let me know what they are in the comments. I need all the help I can get! (1,224 words)

(Note: comment was originally left 8/19/2016)