Taking a minute to crow…

It was a journey through my keyboard this month, a journey to 50,000 new words toward as yet unpublished fiction. And, starting Dec. 1, my goal will be to get from the second half of the middle all the way to “The End.”

À bientôt!

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Back on the debate trail

Charleston (left) and Galesburg, Illinois, debate sites. (Sharon’s photos)

A couple of months ago, after I finally took a few photos of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate site in Ottawa, Illinois, and the second one in Freeport, I said I was going to put the seven sites on my “to visit” list. Well, I ticked off two more this month on the way home from a southern road trip.

(Sharon’s photo)

I stopped at Charleston, site of the fourth debate, and Galesburg, site of the fifth debate. No, I’m not taking them in the order they happened. This was the order that worked for my route back home to northern Illinois. I figure I’ll try to do three, six and seven on my next trek south.

And I don’t expect to log as many miles as Lincoln did while he was on the debate circuit. There’s a map of the whole route, including details about how many miles Lincoln covered via train, boat and wagon at the Charleston museum. (Apparently Douglas didn’t keep track as closely.)

My only advance research for the sites was finding them on my GPS. I was expecting small parks, like the surroundings of the two sites I’d already seen. Each of those has some relatively new signs explaining what went on back in 1858. But neither of these sites is in a park.

Charleston’s debate site is at the Coles County Fairgrounds, and its statues of the debaters are the most accessible of the ones I’ve seen so far. They stand at the corner of a little museum that features some hands-on exhibits, as well as a little theater that shows a short film at the press of a button.

(Sharon’s photo)

The political nature of the debates is clear, with red white and blue bunting and colors throughout the room. But the location was considered especially friendly to Lincoln, where his stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, and other family members still lived. The local hospital bears her name.

(Sharon’s photo)

In Galesburg (also the home of Carl Sandburg, but that’s another story), the debate was held outside Old Main, a building that was finished in the summer of 1857 on the campus of Knox College. There are no statues to commemorate the debate, but on the east side of the building large, bronze plaques of each candidate frame doorways into the building. (The handicapped entrance is on the west side of the building.)

Inside along the hall, several signs and photos illustrate the history of the college, as well as the significance of the debate. And in a small room on the left from the debate doorway is the Lincoln Chair room. The chair is the one Lincoln sat in while waiting for the debate to begin.

(Sharon’s photo)

The room also houses a collection of memorabilia from the debate, as well as from the life of the 16th president. Across from the doorway sits a detailed miniature of the law office Lincoln shared with William H. Herndon in Springfield, Illinois. There are also a variety of images — posters, photos– and a small statue of Lincoln on a bookshelf.

Historical note: One of Knox College’s graduates was Hiram Rhodes Revels, who would become the first African-American U.S. Senator and the president of Alcorn University in Mississippi.

To the left of the miniature, is the window Lincoln and Douglas climbed through to reach a platform that was built for their debate. It blocked the door between the plaques, making the window the only access for the debaters. The effort, according to a small sign near the window, led to Lincoln’s remark, “At last, I have gone through college.”

À bientôt!

It’s almost time to NaNo

For the last several years, Halloween has been the day before National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to me.

I am pretty excited about finishing the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on this year. It was an outgrowth of my 2020 NaNo project, and I didn’t spend a lot of regular time on it until September. Since then, I’ve had pretty regular writing sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. For November (NaNo month), I plan to put in some time every day of the month.

But I did want to pass on a few of the gems from the presenters at Write On Door County’s first mystery writing conference. The ideas weren’t new to me, but the reminders were just what I needed. Maybe you need them, too.

Everyone has a a different writing process

The first panel with the authors who led opening day workshops made that pretty clear. All were published authors, some of many novels, some of few. Some were plotters and some were pantsers. A couple admitted to being plantsers — those who start out with a vague idea, but make plans as they get into the story.

For the first few years I’ve done NaNo, I’ve been firmly in the panster camp, but I’m leaning toward plantser. I finished the first draft of my work in progress because I started figuring out which scenes I still needed to make the novel work. I didn’t write them from start to finish, but I made notes and wrote them whenever I got a fair idea of where each scene needed to go. I did write the first scene first and the last scene last, but that was about it.

Let the reader do some work

Years ago when I took a playwriting course in college, I learned a lesson from the professor. I wrote the last scene of my play with a happy ending — more or less. When he read the first draft, he told me, “You need to give the actors something to do. Why don’t you kill somebody?”

I realized then that acting is as crucial to a successful play as scriptwriting is. (And costuming, stage designing, directing and all the rest….) So, too, is leaving something for the reader to imagine. It’s possible to spell out too much in a story. Pete Hautman wasn’t asking us to be vague, but to leave a little to the reader’s imagination, too. It helps them get involved in — and keep reading — the story. The writer, he told us, must trust the reader to connect the dots.

Downtime counts, too

“Ruminating is also writing.” So said John DeDakis.

While nothing will ever get written without sitting in a chair pounding on a keyboard or writing in a notebook, storytelling begins in ideas, daydreams, imagination. It will take work for most of us to put those ideas into a form that will intrigue a reader. But never discount the time when you find yourself gazing out a window, mindlessly watching leaves fall from a tree or clouds scud across the sky.

We all need to give our creative minds a chance to run free so we can have words to put on pages (or screens).

There was much more packed into two short days, but right now I need to ruminate before I start this year’s NaNo novel.

À bientôt 

Big small changes

(S. Boehlefeld photo)

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.

So, hurray for big small changes!

À bientôt!

Writing groups vs. writers’ groups

(Photo/fauxels from Pexels)

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.