Archive for the ‘How You Write’ Category

How You Write: My Non-Fiction Novel Project

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Followed my How We Write blog series? How YOU write is the novel project I’ve been waiting to launch forever.

Join me over on Wattpad…

writing pen

Or wait for the posts to crop up here on the blog.

I’m SUPER excited.

Hope you are, too.

And, yes, I’m back ;o) It’s been a crazy few months of finishing yet another book, burning out, revising regardless, promoting a new release, and getting my feet back under me. But I’m back.

I’ve missed you all!

How We Write: Day 5, One Step, One Leap at a time…

Friday, June 7th, 2013

When you have to go back to the beginning, do your step outline. Steps and leaps are what we’re talking about today. When you’re rewriting and you can’t see where you’re going, it’s time to retrace your steps. Every step. Every leap. What have you had your characters doing? Why are they doing it. What’s in their way (conflict), stopping them from getting what they want (goal), and how does that change their goal or the reason they keep fighting (motivation)? In EVERY scene. In EVERY story turning point.


That’s what I’ve been doing for two days. We’re going to forget Day 3 and 4 like they never happened–because they didn’t for me, from a work standpoint. That’s how my life’s going these days. I can’t move forward, in the midst of chaos. But that doesn’t mean I stop working on my story. It means I find different ways to look at what I have so far–and this week, I’ve worked on another rewriting/manuscript deconstruction technique I’ve learned…step  outlining  what I’ve already written, to discover where my story AND character arcs need to be refined and deepened. Not just one or two scenes. Every scene. From the beginning. Until you realize what’s blocking the escalating conflict and flow of your characters and plot.

Yep. That’s a lot of work. (more…)

How We Write: Day 2 of Rewriting Is my B**ch. Simple, right?

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Yeah, I said it. Because part of what I teach is that at this point of the process–the rewriting of a full draft that rarely wants to be rewritten–your job isn’t easy. Either the overwhelming work to be done is going to win, or you’re going to win because you’re a professional writer. And the only way for you to win, is to take control and show the rewrites or the new draft or whatever stage you’re in, that you’re the boss.

The way to do that?


No, the process isn’t simple. You have to keep it simple.


When you’re drafting with a plan (and you have a plan, right?) or rewriting with plan (because you revamp your plan for your story before you rewrite, right?), you stop the overwhelming, sinking feeling that you can’t succeed at something as complex as creating a novel–by focusing on one piece of the story at a time, until the whole manuscript finally begins to take shape.

I encourage students to do what I do…focus on the beginning, middle, and end of your characters’ journeys, as you plot or deconstruct or draft write a novel. I also teach students to pinpoint the emotional focus of a character at the inciting incident of a story, then at the black moment, and only then at the middle of the book. If you can define for yourself or me or a critique partner what your character’s internal journey will be at these three story points , you’ll never be writing or rewriting into a void.

An example?

My protagonist/heroine in my Mimosa Lane WIP (Book 3 of my Seasons of the Heart series) grew up in a dysfunctional family. That could have made her angry at the world and rebellious (as it does our hero, but that’s another blog post). Instead, while she’s wary of ever making family work for her, it’s made her a champion of other families and of the kids she teaches and cares for in her job (she’s an amazing assistant elementary school principal, whom you get to know in Seasons of the Heart Book 2, Three Days on Mimosa Lane). Sound interesting? I hope so.

But that’s only the beginning. It’s nowhere close to a full story arc. Not yet. And if I’m going to rewrite my muddled and wandering draft into the best story it can be, I need to understand my protagonist’s emotional/internal journey as I weave her in and out of the external story points I’ve already created–I need to motivate her carefully and throw the right conflict at her for the right reasons (using my hero and key secondary characters), so that she’ll change and grow and achieve a goal by the end of the book that she/we wouldn’t have thought possible at the beginning–claiming the happy family she’s always wanted, even if that family can never be the perfect thing she dreamed of as a little girl.

The simple part
(that’s taken me a long time to arrive at, longer than most other stories I’ve written, because of the complexity of the characters and community I’m writing about)

Heroine at the story Inciting Incident: She’s surround herself with love and family (other peoples’), focusing on her job and helping the ideal community she’s grateful to be a part of. Her success at her job helps other families and the children she’s responsible for thrive, and that makes her happy, or so she’s convinced herself.


How We Write: The Ugly, Sleep-deprived Truth…

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

For the next 12 days, I’m writing ugly–revising ugly, mostly–and I’m blog posting every day about it. I taught a NC retreat weekend a few weeks ago and am teaching again this weekend coming up on what it means to draft and revise as a professional fiction writer. Students tend not to believe that it’s as hard for the pros as it is for them. I tend to believe and teach that it’s harder.

I say I work 15-20 hr days at this point in the process.


Because of personal issues, I’m so far behind with this deadline (and am working on an extension my publisher graciously gave me) that it’s going to be more like 20 hrs a day. No. Really. I have close to 100k words of meandering draft, with no end in sight, even though I know what I want the ending to be. Only the beginning and middle of this thing won’t take form enough for me to be able to finish it. So it’s back to the drawing/design board. I’m deconstructing again and revamping character/plot/story AGAIN, the way I teach other writers to.

And I’ll be recording daily here, for  anyone who’s in the same place or is interested in following a long for the hell of it. In the end, this is a job, as much as I love to create and spend time with my characters. I have a series and a book to do my very best to bring to life and finish. I have a publisher, editor and agent counting on me to fulfill my obligation, no matter the chaos going on in my personal life. I have a plan for my career that I don’t intend to let fizzle away because of some bumps in the road.

There will always be bumps in the road. I have the great pleasure and luck of doing what I love for a living–most of the time I love it, anyway. Sometimes this is simply my job–and my kid needs to go to college, so I do my job.

So for 12 days I’m working my ass off to turn this thing over to my editor on June 15th. You can do anything for 12 days, right?

Join me, won’t you?

For those who follow my process as I teach it, here’s the new plan (character-driven, of course), from the analysis I spent most of yesterday pulling together. Today, I’m ripping at the old draft, cutting and tuning things up and moving scenes/plot points as needed. Likely, that’ll be all I do this week–ALL on hard copy, because that’s how I see story best at this stage. It’s most of us see it best, not that I’m insisting you try it this way, unless you’re one of my students, and then, yeah, I’ll insist!

Story Themes (weave in from beginning, through the middle, to the end): (more…)

How We Write: What does your wall look like?

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Every book just flows from my fingers, like a movie playing itself from my imagination into the most beautiful of prose… And THEN, I wake up.

Such is the charmed life of a working fiction writer.

I’m a month away from my next manuscript deadline–the fourth in a year, and each night when I sleep (not that I sleep much), I dream of the book magically being done and the pressure being off and me and my husband and son being on a beach somewhere whiling away simple hours free of the fear that I won’t EVER puzzle this story out.

But that dream doesn’t last long, unfortunately, before a darker one takes over.

I’ve hit a wall, you see, as I do with every story.

hitting the wall woman

I teach others how to do this stuff, so you’d think I’d know better how to handle this place in the process that we all come to. Yet the despair is always here waiting for me. The wall is my darkest creative point–when I must push through doubt and confusion and make story and character make sense NOW, because there’s no more time for them to figure themselves out on their own.

And in my dreams, when they stop being fanciful and take a nightmarish turn toward reality, this is what my wall often looks like.

hitting the wall windows and doors

It has doors and windows, I realize once I calm down. There are openings in the wall I fear blocks my story, doors and windows that I can see through, create through, believe through. THAT’S my job. It’s yours, too, when you write.

I’ve been at this long enough to understand and organize my process. (more…)

How We Write: When we’re not…

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

I’ve been frozen. My fingers have been still. But my mind has been racing. I’m a writer who’s been in one of those fugue states between projects that is full of thinking and planning and anxiously wondering, but not full of words. They’re not coming. They’re not my friends right now. They want to be now, but I’m mute. They’re jealous and needy and greedy and bitchy, and I’m not sleeping, the way I don’t when I’m on deadline. I can’t write. Not yet. But I will. Soon. Why can’t the words understand that?

i can and i will watch me

I stress about and regress into and resist these times between most every major project. I should be catching up on business and planning. I should be enjoying the peace and freedom of a deadline well met. But I’m angtsty instead. Writing is my natural state. I feel at loose ends and a little like I’m lazy when I’m not.  But I’ve delivered three books in a row in the last nine months, and my mind needs a break–whether it wants one or not.

People are waiting for me to get up-to-date on emails and commitments and plans for the rest of 2013. Friends are wanting to catch up, and so do I! But I’m still wanting to hide a bit. Okay, a lot. The pressure hasn’t let up, and I’m not sure it will until the next story is flowing. It’s not natural for me–this down time. But it IS part of my writing, and it’s time I accept that.

I need to conquer this state of letting go that renews and gives me direction and fills me with the hope (often unreasonable hope) that the next book will be magic, just as the last one was (you know, once I’d revised it like 100 times, because I was dreading working on it not to long ago, the same way I’m dreading the new words).

Let go of things

We need to trust the not writing parts of our creative process, the same as we do the writing ones. We need to see that we can’t always be ON, and that trying to force ourselves to be will defeat us in the end. (more…)

The Soul of the Matter: Sunday, Sunday…Rest with me, won’t you?

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Resting isn’t for the faint of heart. Resting with purpose, that is. Being lazy has its place, no doubt. But resting isn’t all we need, when rebuilding is the goal. Revitalizing. Renewing. Reconnecting with who and what we are beneath the work and the responsibilities and the demands on our emotional selves that drive us to the brink. These are the intricate, delicate bones of real rest.


Good times, bad times, all the time that we spend being and doing and saying what the world accepts we are… Our outward selves are important. But it’s the inner us that only we know how to feed, and it’s our own renewal that only we are responsible for in the end.

To others, we are the combination of everything they’ve seen and heard us do and say, and everything they’ve thought about that person they’ve watched perform for them. But unless we come with our own running narrative (too bad we can’t all live in a novel, right?) others don’t know what we really fee and need and aren’t getting, not unless we tell them. And who wants to be that needy girl, right?

So we muddle through–the kind of muddling that takes a lot of skill and deflection while we take care of our own stuff, on our own, so others won’t see so much of it that they’d get fed up with how demanding we could really be if we let our insecurities off their leash. That kind of muddling can be exhausting. (more…)

How We Write: When our soul is tired…

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Ever panic, thinking you might never be able to do what you love again?


Me? I love writing. It’s my job,  but also my passion; how I enter the world. And after a season of not feeling well enough to do much of it, I was on a roll in 2012. That is, until the great crash of early 2013.

Hello, my name is Anna. And I haven’t been able to write for over two weeks. Not even a blog post. Me–and I LOVE to blog. Three, sometimes four times a week,  blogging is my morning writing exercise.

It’s how I prime the creative pump. It’s the blood that flows first, engaging my creativity, helping me smile or think or dig a little deeper  until I’m ready to tackle my daily pages. But ever since I turned in the final developmental rewrites for Three Days on Mimosa Lane the first week in February…nada. The well wasn’t just dry–picture a bunch of two-by-fours nailed across the opening, daring me to rip through them and face the big, bad ugly lurking beyond.

But why? Have the two and a half weeks been about being lazy? Giving up? What about the month before that, when I barely had the energy to complete the TDOML developmental edits and didn’t blog in January, either?

You’ve heard of bone tired. I think I’ve stumbled across the state of being I’m going to call Soul Tired.

soul tired

Overwhelmed. That’s where we sometimes find ourselves, whether its about writing or family or friends or other commitments that we love but realize we can’t face. Not right now. Not with a smile on our faces and a I’m so glad to be here hug.

When you’re soul tired, you’re disconnected. Sometimes, you’re overwhelmed. But always, always, you’re looking at the world around you and realizing you no longer know or feel your place in it. (more…)

Publishing Isn’t for Sissies…When the work and creative and “other” sides collide

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Samantha Perry was all dressed up with someplace to go. Yet it was closer to midnight than dawn in her winter world. Amidst what wouldn’t be a flowering garden for several months, as if a July morning’s warmth surrounded her, she paced another lap around her community’s park.

The sun was due. It would soon be another January day like any other day in their northern suburb of Atlanta. Another harmless moment to get through. Nothing yawned more threatening than getting her sleepy family ready for their Mimosa Lane Monday. But on a scale from nervous to freaked out, Sam had been silently racing toward a meltdown the entire weekend.

Somewhere around three o’clock last night she’d risen from beside her still-sleeping husband, showered and dressed for the day and bundled into the heavy coat Georgia demanded from only a few months each year. Heading downstairs and through her cozy kitchen’s French doors, she’d escaped into the peace that being outside and alone brought her. She’d been night walking for hours.

Opening Draft
Sweet Summer Sunrise
Seasons of the Heart
Book Two


It’s a crazy work and personal weekend.

crazy work day

I won’t go into the details, except to say that opportunities are taking off all over the place, and so is the stress, and so is the upheaval in my “away from work” life. It’s usually like that. You never see the good or the bad stuff coming, and you never appreciate the calm until the storm’s upon you.

So, of course, I owe my publisher the second book in the series that’s taking off like no one expected, with it’s Christmas novel launch.And on top of my life being overwhelmed with back-to-back holidays AND promoting a book release that keeps (YAY!) going strong, I’m facing the rewriting of a 380 page rough draft that means so much to me–but isn’t at the point where I think it’ll mean anything to anyone else unless I recraft it over and over and over again, until it’s talking on it’s own.

Publishing isn’t for sissies, my friends.And it’s always about the next book. And the next. And these days, success in digital publishing about having an ongoing series with lots of backlist titles. The only way to do that is to keep writing forward and building into what readers are buying–and somehow maintaining the integrity of your work and stories and characters, so you keep pleasing the fans who are loving what you’ve already done. (more…)

How We Write: NANOWRIMO Rewrites… Ouch!

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

So, you’ve participated in NANOWRIMO. Now what? NOTE: I didn’t say you’d finishedNANO.  I saw a tweet from someone yesterday saying she wasn’t going to finish her NANO project this year, and that she was likely never going to finish this book at all. And that’s just sad to me. It’s the worst of what can happen with an extreme challenge like this: demotivation. Or even harder to watch than that: any writer, no matter how new, deciding after a month of dedicated draft writing that she CAN’T do what she wants to with a book–to the point that she’s giving up before giving it a real chance. Don’t do that, my friends. DON’T!

just say now

Remember our revision discussions:

ANYONE can learn to deconstruct and rewrite story. It’s always better if you approach a draftingproject with as much planning as possible,  at some point WE ALL feel lost while we draft, even multiple-published authors.

I just finished a 3-day writing retreat where I’ve drafted 150 pages. Which just about killed me. And not because of NANO. Because I have a book due–NOW. And sometimes in this business, no matter how much we’d like to for every book, faster has to take precedence over slow and thoughtful and story slowly evolving in its own organic way. It’s an unfortunate fact of our world that getting the next book out sooner rather than later is key to maintaining and escalating reader interest, particularly in a series like the one I’m writing in my Seasons of the Heart books for Montlake. Christmas on Mimosa Lane is selling well now, readers are asking for Sweet Summer Sunrise, and by God I’m going to finish this draft so I can promise them it’s coming on time next June.

The question became very quickly once I’d squirreled myself away from all distractions to create, “Could I? Would I?”

no yes

I’ve been drafting UGLY. Really ugly. But there’s also beauty in what I’ve created.

This dark but creative place that crashing a draft out becomes is what I teach students when we talk about Improvisation. The story and characters and community I’m dreaming up as I type like a mad woman (with purpose, because I have the bones of a story outline) have taken over at this point. (more…)