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.

Malice made fun

More than Malice program cover (Screen shot by me)

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.