Villa in Tuscany

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Power of Organization

I'm trying to get my left brain and my right brain to work together in my writing endeavors. I think I might have hit upon the perfect solution.

The last completed novel I wrote was an exercise in perseverance, dedication, and WHAT NOT TO DO NEXT TIME. I am taking those lessons to heart. I keep remembering all the problems I had just trying to recall what my character's goals, conflicts, and motivations were. That should be simple to do, right? But I hadn't plotted those particular aspects of my novel before I began writing it. I did a lot of other work, but not the most important - which are the GMC's.

After attending a writing conference in Iowa a few weeks ago, some authors handed out very simple charts detailing what each character's GMC's were, the plot turning points in both the plot and the romance, the black moment, the resolution, etc. So I decided to try my hand at it.

After doing a few detailed charts, I can't believe how much better I feel about this novel. I don't feel as though I'm wandering in the dark. Does that make me a pantser or a plotter?


Am I just being organized?

I think I must be a plotter. I can't just sit down and write without a clear road ahead. Sure, I leave room for lots of things to happen - but I have my points that I have to reach in order to get to the end.

More importantly, I know who my characters are. I had problems with this in the last manuscript I finished and I was bound and determined not to let it happen again.

At any rate, I feel like the path is now smooth and not riddled with lots of bumps and potholes. I'm sure the occasional mudhole will appear, but now that I have my trusty 4Wheel Drive Organization Extraordinaire, I should be able to navigate through them with no problem. :-)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Dying in the Desert of my WIP

I have been crawling, exhausted and parched, through the desert that is my historical WIP. The blazing sun of aggravation has burned me out while the shifting sands of my story have sucked up my creativity. Once in awhile I have found an oasis of genius where my WIP looks really good, but I'm hot and tired and cannot for the life of me see the end of this desolate wasteland.

So I'm departing from this inhospitable landscape for greener pastures, I hope. Maybe this new WIP will be a five star hotel with excellent roomservice. Perhaps my new WIP welcome me in 1000 count sheets, cuddling me with brilliant bursts of creativity and passion.

I know, I know, writing is never easy. But sometimes the struggle just isn't worth it and a writer has to step back and wonder what in the hell they are doing. I've done it before, no doubt I will do it again.

Good bye, desert. We had some good times, but you are a little to arid for me.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


I love the women at my local chapter of RWA. They provide so much support and inspiration for me. Many of the group gathered at a local bookstore for another member to sign her first hardcover. What a wonderful show of support! And we stood around and gabbed for a while, sort of an informal meeting. I was asked about my stories and how they were going. I received encouragement, ideas, and some stern words about my procrastination. All in all, a good gathering.

I came away inspired! I know I can continue writing. I am trying to start a new suspense book and complete a historical. I can do it! I came home and started writing on the historical. I think this will be easier to complete. I have more work to do on the suspense. I have to plot more and come up with a good beginning. I know how to start, but not the details.

It is wonderful to have such a support system locally. What a joy to meet face to face with other writers who have the same love of romance that I have.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Thou Shalt Not Abandon Your First Manuscript!

I don't really think of my first novel as a "mistake." But what I've learned since finishing it is invaluable. I've learned about GMC. I've learned about the Black Moment. I've learned about (gasp!) organization!

I owe a lot to RWA. They've helped me a lot. Yeah, I subscribed to "Writer's Digest" before I joined RWA, but it didn't have the "punch" I needed to help me hone my craft. Belonging to an RWA chapter, having a critique group, the email loops, writing workshops, etc., have all made my writing 100% better than it used to be.

But what I did not do was abandon my first novel. I re-wrote it, using everything I learned, and kept at it because darn it, if I spent that much time writing it, I was going to do it right. I guess I'm not one of those people that abandons a project because they feel it's never going to amount to anything. I figure, if I'm spending X amount of hours/days/weeks/years on this baby, it's going to get finished and it's going to be GOOD.

But, having said that, there is something to be said for starting over fresh, for remembering your earlier mistakes and avoiding them. I've already done some great new things for my next historical - ways to keep track of where I'm at without having to go back and re-read the manuscript. I'm excited simply because that will cut down on the amount of time I need to search for things when I can just look at my handy little charts.

It's exciting to use your knowledge and even more exciting to see the results!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Finding the Love

Sometimes I feel like I focus so much on the elements of writing a novel I forget about the big picture, the enchilada grande. The ROMANCE! I'm so worried about my conflicts, my plots, my POV switches, I forget the heart of the story.

It's all about the prince and his princess, whether the prince is a vampire and the princess is a firefighter. The story remains the same. Sometimes I forget I'm not writing about reality. Oh, it has the trappings of the real world, but the man and woman I am focusing on are on another plane, at least I hope so.

I worry about the market. I worry about the buttons and bows of my novel when I think if I quit worrying about that stuff and focused on the love story, I'd be a happier writer.

Is finding the love in your book the key to writing happiness?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Finding Time to Write

Thanks to Mel and Rene I have picked back up my historical and I will finish it. I need to set some goals, like one scene/chapter a week.

Finding time to write has always been a challenge for me. I have a husband, kids, and a fulltime job.

I need to get creative. I need to MAKE time to write. I need to push aside or delegate less important tasks and make time for me to write. I used to be able to get some writing done at work, but my job changed, people were downsized and the worked has piled up. There is no more free time at work.

My wonderful, understanding husband has bought me a dana computer/screen so I now can write/type/compose just about anywhere. I can sit at my kitchen table and write. I can sit in the living room and write. I am no longer chained to the main computer in our house. I can compose without my two boys breathing down my neck asking if I'm done yet.

So what's stopping me? Dishes, laundry, preparing dinner, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, are all tasks that still need to get done. Dh (dear husband) helps a lot, but he's no maid. I don't expect him to do it all. After doing housework, I still have some free time and that gets eaten up spending time with my kids and reading. (I don't have hobbies, I have children)

Just like I need to set goals to complete scenes or chapters, I need to set goals to have free time to write. I probably spend too much time on the internet. I can cut out time surfing and playing computer games.

So, right here, today, I am going to set a goal of writing at least an hour and a half everyday., and three hours a day on the weekend. I will keep a log to check my progress. I need to know if I am setting realistic goals. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Who Creates the Market?

There's an interesting article in this month's issue of Romantic Times Bookclub (RTB) by agent Denise Marcil entitled Secrets of Long-Term Success. She had some great advice, but one section in particular jumped at me.

Keep Up with the Marketplace: This doesn't mean you should write whatever is popular just because it's in vogue. However, readers' tastes change and publishing houses follow trends. They don't set them. Authors set the trends.

Authors set the trends. That's an important statement.

We have to think about the recent trends we've seen in the romance genre. Paranormal is spicy hot right now - so is erotica (and I won't get into RWA's "graphic guidelines" here) and Regency historicals. Chick-lit keeps getting bigger and better.

But ten years ago, what was the trend? To be honest, I didn't read a lot of romance back then - I was still in undergrad school and I didn't have much time for reading, other than textbooks. But when I was in high school, the bestsellers were the big, juicy historicals. Johanna Lindsey. Rebecca Brandewyne. Ellen Tanner Marsh. Penelope Neri. Locales encompassed a variety of locations - Colonial America, the American Civil War, Medieval England and Scotland - the list was endless.

So what happened? Why did the market shift? I'm pretty sure a lot of the readers out there didn't stop reading - or did they?

In my opinion, and I could be wrong, someone wrote something new, exciting, and fresh. And people gobbled it up. The first person to write a vampire paranormal romance started something.

But here is my point. Do you think the authors who sat at home and wrote these break-out books knew they would be break-out books? Of course not. They wrote what they wanted to write.

In so doing, they created a market.

Denise Marcil's observation couldn't be more correct. Authors set the trend.

So go ahead. Write the book you want to write - and maybe, just maybe, the market might come to you.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Maybe There's a Reason the Historical Market is Down

I just started a novel by an author I've never read before, and I never will again. She isn't a new author, she has a string of bestsellers. Maybe she thinks this gives her the right to be sloppy and careless with her research. Maybe she just doesn't care, I'm not sure, but I find her historical inaccuracies so abhorrent, I can't read the story.

I'm not a historical-accuracy fascist, really, I'm not. An anachronism here and there is okay. Misnaming an article of clothing doesn't bother me neither does a slight error in title-usage. But this author has shown complete ignorance about the era in which she is writing about. She assumes the era she is writing about fits the rest of the century when it doesn't.

It bothers me on so many levels. I find it insulting as a reader. It is apparent she underestimates her readers. However, I haven't found a review that has pointed out the errors, so maybe I'm just crabby.

As a writer, it bothers me because the reason I write historicals is because I love history. I like to research an era, learn as much as I can and try to pass my enjoyment on to my readers. I almost had a nervous breakdown when I realized I used the word "hello" in my Regency-era novel. Would anyone really have picked that up? Probably not, but I knew better, so I knew it had to be fixed.

I work hard to make sure my historicals are as accurate as possible and I can't help but hold other authors accountable as well. I'm not expecting an author to have insight into the deep political philosophies of a time period, but to have a good understanding of the basics. While a fashion faux pas seems nit-picky, quite often clothing reflects the attitudes of an era and thus changes the story.

Researching is not that hard, particularly if you are using a historical setting more as a back drop than an actual plot point. I don't think I'm asking too much, am I?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Something In the Wind

Olivia needs joy. Rene is stuck.

And I feel like giving up.

Oh, I know it's a passing phase. I could never truly give up writing. I love it too much.

But today I had to give myself permission not to write. I just plain didn't want to. This is contrary to all the advice I've read that says, "You need to write even when you don't feel like it."

Well, I didn't feel like it today. The thought popped into my mind of just giving up on this writing gig. I stopped to think and realized that I've been writing for twenty years now (and I turn 30 this month).

And what do I have to show for it?

A few published short stories, a few published articles, gobs of unfinished manuscripts, scraps of character sketches and story ideas scattered around my office and my house...

But not what I've always wanted: the published novel. My ultimate goal. Yet to be realized.

Yet how can it be realized when I can't sit down and write? I feel so much better when I write - emotionally and spiritually.

For some reason, I'm resisting. The muse or maybe the "should committee" keeps bugging me. You need to sit down and write. Do it. Now. It truly never leaves me alone. It's always pushing me to write.

Maybe I'm rebelling right now. Maybe I just don't want to write today.

I completely screwed up on my "four hours of writing a week" project, which wasn't helped by the killer headaches (which still come and go).

What's wrong with me? Why can't I keep my goals? Why do I have such a problem sitting down at the keyboard and working? Have I lost the joy? When? Why? And more importantly, will I ever be able to capture it again?

I wrote the article on "Rediscovering Your Joy" last summer. I had my head on straight at that time, apparently, because I felt compelled to write that article. I felt the joy.

What happened? And why do I keep getting in this cycle?

And am I over analyzing this whole thing?

Probably. :-)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I Need Joy

The joy of writing.

I need some right now.

I’m not sure what’s going on in my head, but I seem to be having a difficult time putting pen to paper (okay, fingers to keyboard). I have writer’s block. There I said it. Does it make anything easier? No. I still can’t write anything but crap.

This past weekend I set a goal for myself to write anything…. Anything to fill five single spaced pages. I wrote and wrote and wrote…. It was all crap. I wrote three openings for my next story, a gothic. I wrote character outlines and bits of scenes. I tried writing the end (it sucked).


I need inspiration… I need motivation…. I need…. something.

Maybe I need to set my self attainable goals. Like, I so many pages in a week. Maybe if I make myself write, I will. It’s not like I don’t have anything to write. The gothic I am working on sounds awesome! I have the plot, the killer, the bodies, the hero, everything all plotted out. I just need to WRITE IT DOWN!!!

Geez… can it be any easier?

I stopped writing on my historical because I couldn't get past the last scene. I was stuck. Now, I think the scene is wrong for the book and should be tossed. So... I need to get moving and write. Here again is a story that is all plotted out. I just need to write it down.

So... I will quit bitchin' and start writing.


I'm nearing the end of my historical. Right now, the heroine is running through the moors in the dark of night wearing only her shift, trying to escape the bad guys. The hero has his hands chained behind his back and has done some damage to his captor with a well-aimed knee to the groin. This should be fun, right?

Then why am I struggling? Because I have no idea what I'm going to do with this book. I can feel myself waver, tempted to put it aside and work on something more "marketable." But I like this book, it's well-written and a little different. I'm afraid dealing with the submission process with my last ms has jaded me towards this book. Why bother finishing it if it's never going to see the light of day?

Which is why I asked Melissa to post her "Villa in Tuscany" article. I can't remember when she wrote it, but I did remember it helped me realize why I write and why I need to finish this book. I need to write this book for myself because I like it and I need to see my characters with their happy ending. It may never see the light of day, but it's my creation and not completing it would be selling my book and myself short.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Find Your Villa in Tuscany: Rediscovering the Joy of Writing

Italy and writing. What better combination?

From the moment I saw the preview for Under the Tuscan Sun, I wanted to see it. Okay, okay, so what really caught my attention was the hunkyRaoul Bova. Who can blame me? But I've watched it three times now and have to wonder why it spoke so loudly to me.

A quick synop: Frances, a newly divorced American writer, impulsively buys a run-down villa in Tuscany. We follow her struggles to come to terms with her new life through her interaction with Polish carpenters, the locals, Italian men, the zany and wonderful Catherine, and finally, to her fulfillment as a writer once again.

A scene in particular caught my attention. Frances sits in the marketplace with a fellow tourist. He wonders how to describe the scene around him with a mere postcard. She offers to write it for him. He asks, "Are you a good writer?" Her reply: "I used to be."

I think that scene changed the way I write.

Let me explain.

As Frances put pen to paper, she forgot, for a moment, that she is in Italy by herself; that her husband is a lying cheat; that she is lost in life. She just wrote. And she didn't do it to be published, to receive praise or criticism. She wrote just to write.

Despite the fact that one day I will be hooking up with my Italian relatives and asking them if they have an unused villa lying around, I made a discovery within myself.

I had lost the joy of writing just to write.

The other day I took my journal and pen and sat on my front porch. It was a lazy, spring Sunday afternoon, perfect for reflection. And reflect I did. I wrote pages and pages in my journal that day, something I rarely do. And I just wrote what I saw, what I felt, what I heard. Anything and everything was fair game. I loved stringing the words together descriptions, feelings, thoughts, observations.

When I finished, I felt at peace. I didn't write any of it for an editor's eyes to see, or anyone else's, for that matter. I wrote because I wanted to write. And that's all.

When was the last time you sat down and wrote, just to write? Just for the simple joy of playing with words and phrases, of listening to everything around you, of listening to your heart?

A friend of mine, a published author, quit RWA. It wasn't the people or RWA itself, but she had made a realization. Her writing had become too focused on publishing instead of on the joy of writing. And she needed to change that.

I'm hoping to keep the balance before it gets to that point because I love being an RWA member and a member of my local chapter. But I found my own footsteps walking down the same path. I was becoming fixated with writing for publication instead of writing because I love to.

Here is my conclusion and it might help you. The first draft should come from the heart. The second should come from the head.

Of course, I don't want my joy of writing to diminish any when I'm working on my second draft, but of necessity, I must allow my inner critic to lend its thoughts to me upon occasion. If we want to become published, then we must take a look at our work through publishing eyes.

But to keep you balanced and to keep yourself from burning out, take time to write - daily, weekly, monthly, whatever - something just for you. A journal entry. A poem. A short story. A personal essay. Sit and relish the words you put on paper - let them flow over you like a fountain of spring water, refreshing and cool, nurturing your writer's soul.

Remember why you started this writing gig in the first place. Remember why you want to do this for the rest of your life.

For me, I've told my husband that I want that villa in Tuscany someday (minus the cheating husband and divorce) because I want to write looking out at the rolling green hills and valleys of my ancestors. And I want to sit and write about those olive trees and vineyards, the rapid Italian language, the pulse of life from another culture, the Italian sunset - just for me.

Just for the joy.

COPYRIGHT 2004 by Melissa Marsh