I’ve been writing so much, I haven’t written anything here in far too long. I started a couple of posts, then got busy and didn’t finish them. So this is just a touching-base, saying-hello short post to say I’m still here.
I just got back from a great little mystery writers’ conference sponsored by Write on Door County! And I’d like to put some of what I learned in use before I talk a lot about the conference.
But it was an opportunity to enjoy the last of season — for my first time — in the little finger of Wisconsin that is Door County. And to make some new friends in various stages of their writing journeys.
Who knew a keyboard could make so much difference?
I ordered a new wireless keyboard to use with my laptop. I’m trying to adjust to a work-at-home in retirement schedule and, even though I’ve been using my laptop almost daily since the first COVID lockdown, I only acted on the impulse to add a keyboard last week.
I’ve had the laptop for a few years and, frankly, I’ve never loved the flat keyboard. Oh, I guess I got used to it, but I like this one better. I can look straight at my screen, which is a plus.
But that’s just one small change I’ve made lately. A friend of mine, Sharon Michalove, has been sharing links for online write-ins. And the latest has been to a group called The Creative Academy for Writers. I’m not sure how old the group is, but the founders seem properly to bill themselves as “your friendly, neighbourhood accountability, craft and strategic author mentors.” And yes, they’re from the “neighbourhood” up north. I think they’re all from Vancouver, B.C., but I’m sure they’re all Canadian. The academy is a full of folks who are equally friendly, full of enthusiasm and ready to share tips as they learn them.
So far, my biggest involvement is taking part in their writing sprints. I’m in one as I write this post. They have a “writing room” that’s open 24/7 and several scheduled group sprints every day of the week. (And I’ve already talked about how much I like writing with groups.)
I joined a weekly motivation and accountability group. I’ve only been to one session so far, but I love the format. They start with a “win” from the previous week and end with a goal for the next week. We celebrate every win with jazz hands, as people politely mute their microphones during the meeting. In between wins and goals, members can bring up questions or problems they may be having with their work-in-progress (that’s WIP to some), and the host and others offer suggestions and encouragement.
I also signed up for a discussion for cozy mystery writers, but that’s not until next weekend. I’m looking forward to it.
So, what’s the bottom line from all these changes? I have a specific daily word goal in order to finish my first draft by Oct. 31. I’ve written a couple more scenes in the novel, and figured out a few more that I need. And as soon as I finish this, I’ll be back working on another one.
I just spent a stormy Tuesday evening writing with a half-dozen friends. I am always productive when I write with others. I also do pretty well when I write alone, but when I’m with others I’m less inclined to let myself get distracted from the work.
And, based on our conversation after we wrote, I realized I hadn’t articulated my goal in extending the invitation for others to meet me at a library. I know others aren’t as starved for writing time as I am. I’m working to change that, and joining groups that write is one way to do it.
For the last several years, my first writers’ group has hosted a writing day once or twice a year. We have a space we can use that’s big enough for our group members plus 10 or 12 additional writers. We’ve never needed more space than that. And it was perfect for social distancing the last few times we hosted the day.
We gather about 8:30 a.m. and pack up about 4:30 p.m., with an hour at lunch to socialize. That’s a pretty long day for writing, and twice a year seems like enough for something like that.
And since COVID, the magic of online meeting software has opened up a world of write-ins through two groups I belong to — Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. They, of course, offer far more than some group write-ins.
I’m not sure why I like write-ins so well. The only thing I can attribute it to is the years I’ve spent writing in newsrooms. I used to have trouble writing in those wide open spaces, but once I learned what background noise I could ignore and what I needed to heed, I found buckling down at deadline was easy.
I can imagine that there is something to having all those people involved in the same effort that put us all on a writing “wave length.” And I like that wave length.
As for critique groups, those have a different aim, and I haven’t done as well in them. I think part of my problem has been not having enough time to devote to reading others’ work — on top of the paucity of my own writing time. But I realized immediately that reading is a crucial part of critique groups. I dropped out of them.
Now that I’m moving to full time fiction writing, I think I might be ready to become a better member of a critique group. All I need to do is figure out a critique group formula that works for me … and a handful of other writers, too.
In the meantime, I’m taking full advantage of my writing groups. And I love the folks who are willing to write together.
Since the shutdown started last year, one of the best things in my life has been online chatting.
I’ve been a fan of the magic of the internet since I went back to school in the early 1980s. I was working for a publisher who was an early adopter of computers and those schreechy dial-up modems. I was able to take one of our “trash 80s” — a Texas Instruments keyboard with a minuscule memory — to campus with me. Between classes, I’d find a table in the student center near enough to an outlet that I could plug it into, and work through stacks of articles that I needed to edit.
I much prefer the tablet I’m writing on now to that “trash 80,” but the principle of portable computing power has always appealed to me.
And now that I can connect to online chats, it’s even better.
Since last March, I have “zoomed” to conferences and conversations with people all over the world. The first one was with folks in Italy, one of the earliest and worst-hit by the coronavirus. Just last night, I had a chat with siblings from my Sisters in Crime Chicagoland chapter.
Chicagoland stretches at least half-way across the stateline with Wisconsin (that would be me), and at least as far south as Champaign (hi, Robert). And neither of us would have made it to our 6:30 p.m. chapter meeting if it had been one of the pre-COVID-19, in person meetings at a book store, or library, or coffee shop in the city. Even one of the women who lives in Chicago might not have made it because of mobility problems.
I understand that some people crave face-to-face meetings. But I can only hope that the wonderful flexibility of online gatherings doesn’t go away just because in-person is becoming possible again.
I’ve been “attending” More than Malice, an online conference that’s taking the place of the in-person Malice Domestic conference this year. I’ve wanted to go to Malice almost since it’s inception. I found one of the early anthologies a year or two after it started, and it piqued my interest.
This year, thanks to the pandemic, the organizers opted to develop the online alternative. Since it’s held in Bethesda, Maryland, I signed up as soon as registration opened. And it has been everything I hoped for.
I loved the opening chat Wednesday night featuring Louise Penny. I’ve loved her Inspector Gamache series since I discovered it years ago. And the Thursday opening session was a panel of academics who have done research about cozy mysteries. Given my background in sociological research, I found that fascinating. I’d love to read the anthology — Reading the Cozy Mystery — they’re all part of. Here’s hoping the library will buy a copy.
The first two nights they held author speed-dating sessions. I’ve never been to one, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Each night they had nearly 50 authors and gave each of them one minute — 60 seconds — to tell everyone about her (mostly hers) or his latest book. It was a hoot — right down to the technical glitches. Anything can happen when you’re live.
Today already, I’ve listened to some of my favorite authors on panels. The first featured Chicago author Lori Rader-Day, as well as British author Sophie Hannah, Scot-American author Catriona McPherson, and a young British Ph.D. scholar JC Bernthal. What do they have in common? Agatha Christie.
Lori’s soon-to-be-released book is Death at Greenway, a fictionalized account of the time evacuated Londoners were housed at Christie’s vacation home. Sophie was selected by Christie’s heirs to pick up the pen for Poirot. She recently released her fourth Poirot novel, The Killings at Kingfisher Hall. I haven’t read it yet, but I expect it will be as good as the first ones. I’ve been lucky enough to meet both of these authors: Lori at the final Love is Murder conference in Chicago, and Sophie at the second Murder and Mayhem in Chicago conference, which Lori and Dana Kaye organize.
I have seen Catriona at so many Sisters in Crime events since everything went online that I almost feel I already know here. (I’ll need to remember to introduce myself properly if I ever do get to meet her in person.) She talked about how reading Christie influenced her own writing. Her latest is The Gingerbread House, in case you’d like to experience the results of that influence.
And JC (Jamie) talked about starting to read Agatha Christie with his mother when he was 8 years old. He puts many of us to shame with that early start. I have to admit, I didn’t really start reading Christie until I was already hooked on her stories from the PBS Mystery show. Since then, I’ve read quite a few, but clearly not with intensity of Jamie.
I have been having great fun, though, and feeling alternately inspired and incapable. Fingers crossed, by the end of the conference, I’ll have more chalked up on the inspiration side.
My local writing group hosted a writing day last Saturday. A few who came, once everyone got over seeing each other again after months, had what they described as “breakthrough” days. They’d been stuck and after settling down to work had sudden insights about where to take their stories.
None of us is without competition for our time. We have kids, jobs, illnesses, the gamut of life challenges that keep us from spending time with our words. But Saturday we got to put those behind us for a few hours and get some creative work done.
Personally, I was able to sort through last year’s NaNo novel, which has in the intervening months, become two novels.
Over lunch, a few of us tuned in to Jane Cleland’s We’re All in It Together writing seminar. An award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction who is on the faculty of CUNY, she started doing online monthly talks in April 2020 after her in-person events were cancelled. She’s continued every month since then. Each talk centers around one aspect of writing. The one we listened to focused on “whispering” to build suspense. Next month is titled “Writing Crime Fiction: Even When You’re Not.”. I plan to be there.
Believe it or not, I’ve actually been doing some writing in the last few months. Just not here.
But I’m excited to be devoting a couple of days a week to my own writing projects. And I’ve been working on sharpening my skills when it comes to writing fiction. For the last few years, about the only time I’ve been able to eke out has been in November for NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. But I haven’t been able to manage the follow-up time to edit my rough first drafts.
Now I’m hiring myself as a part-time novelist, potentially starving artist. I figure the continuing need to make some money will help motivate me to stay on track.. Fingers crossed.
In the meantime, I’m still (well, more like finally) trying to figure out how to incorporate my book reviews into this blog. And I do like sharing tips from other writers, so I hope to write a few posts on that topic up from time to time.
I also plan to set some weekly goals. This week I’ll be preparing for a local writing day with my writing group and some friends. About a dozen of us will be set up in a lake-side lodge for a binge writing spree. I know which novel I want to work on, so my goal this week is to plan some scenes.
Ok, we’re almost to the end of January and this greeting is a bit late. But I’ve been away from this blog for a while and it is a new year. I’ll blame COVID even though my writing lacuna has been much longer than that.
And, like the snow and icicles hanging from the roof of my house, I’m ready to unfreeze and spill over.
I’ve actually posted on another blog (or two) in the intervening time, but I’m ready to come back to this one. And to figure out how to combine it with a book review blog I’ve been semi-active on. (That could take a bit of time.)
In the interim, I have managed to draft a few novels. My goal is to revise and, eventually, get them published.
Some of the things — other than my day job — that I’ve been working on is improving my drafts by attending some great writing seminars. The free and inexpensive ones online since COVID have been great. And the ones I made it to PC (Pre-COVID) were both informative and fun. I’ve actually met some of my favorite writers at them.
But I plan to restart this blog as a way of sharing a bit of what I’ve been reading (hence the yet-to-be-accomplished merger with my book review blog) and what I’ve been learning.
I won’t promise daily posts. This started as a daily writing tip blog years ago. But I will make sure to get something up at least every couple of weeks. I need to have a place to record notes.
A co-worker periodically rails against the bad writing she she sees in documents that cross her desk. Then we commiserate about failings in writing education. Here’s an article from the New York Times about efforts to improve writing education.