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Spring Forward and Plot Your Next Story

Spring has arrived and the sun is finally shining in Portland. While some might feel compelled to clean their house and organize their life, I felt the need to gather with friends and organize my next story.
 
So I spent this past Sunday conducting my own personal think tank with 5 wonderful friends: Susan Lute (host), Nancy Brophy, Linda Mercury, Wendy Warren and Carolyn Zane. We gathered to exchange story ideas and figure out plot points. There is power in collective creativity with people from your “tribe”. It doesn’t matter if you write the same genre. Our stories ranged from heartwarming, cozy mystery, witches, and vampires, oh my! What matters is that there is a level of trust and support among the group.
 
For the past few months, my story has been stuck in the Winter Blues. I have an idea for a paranormal young adult story and love my main characters but I couldn’t figure out the villains. This is why you need your writing buddies. When you are hesitant to give drama to your beloved characters, other writers can help you create their worst case scenarios, almost too easily and with non-concealed glee.
 
After 6 hours of exchanging ideas, the room was buzzing. I felt exhausted and excited with equal measure. Sharing your story is like sharing a secret. For the first time I had to truly explain the ins and outs of a complex story that keeps me awake at night. I spent over an hour drawing pictures and lines to connect the dots. Then I waited for the rejection. I felt like Carrie looking up to see if I was standing underneath a bucket. Instead I just felt support and suggestions from talented writers who want me to succeed. They could see a sparkle to my story and they helped me look at it from other angles.
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My only regret is that I didn’t bring a tape recorder. Not just for the notes I don’t remember but to listen to the cadence of our voices. Writers love talking about their stories and you can hear it when they speak. In fact, many writers talk about their characters like they are real people. I’m glad we were in Susan’s home because a public location would have drawn many raised eyebrows with our conversations on how best to redeem a murderous villain or why certain children needed to be orphans for everything to work out in the end.
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I left the gathering feeling three things. First, I am extremely motivated to write this story by my self-imposed October 15th deadline. Second, I also can’t wait to read their stories when completed and I will help keep them motivated. Lastly, I am lucky to have found such great writing friends.
 
If you feel energized by collective collaboration, I encourage you to find your own writing tribe and get started on organizing your own potluck plotting sessions. If you don’t know where to start and you write Happily Ever Afters, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) has local writing chapters all over the country. Writing is a solitary task but you don’t have to do it alone.
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The coffee table books of a true writer!

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This Is What Happens When Two Writers Get Together …by Susan Lute

It started Friday night when I met with Wendy Warren at Panera. Lost half a day of the day job because I had to run into Steam punk girl with Typewriter.Portland to swap out my computer. Got back just in time to drop the new one off in my office, and then turn around and head our favorite meeting place. The weather was beautiful, the 30 minute drive relaxing.

Probably because we spend so much time in our offices, and in our heads, when writers get together, there’s no getting a word in edgewise. Writers write stories, but they also have their own story. Somehow we got to talking about our stories. We started with Wendy, but she tired of that pretty quick, and steered the conversation to me. Did I stop her? No. Did she take notes? Yes. We got a little carried away. You remember we both right fiction, right?

Wendy: (writing on the back of a long grocery receipt she pulled out of her purse, which she later gave to me.) Nurse by day. Best selling novelist at 4am.

Me: I got a tattoo.

Wendy: Oooh! Let me see! (then back to the receipt) Dragonkind, an escape into a world of fire and power and love and fidelity, broken but mended hearts.

Me: My office is full of dragons. (Wendy, will you be my publicist?)

Wendy: Orphaned at a young Harlequin age; got an agent; went back to work full-time.

Me: (not too impressed with how my story was going so far) I have two computers and three monitors in my office. Occasionally a dog (not mine; he belongs to the children). Sometimes two delightful little girls.

Wendy: How big is your house?

Me: 1100 square feet, plus the unfinished edition.

Wendy: Works in 1100 square foot home; lives with three generations of family; had to add 300 square feet.

Me: Huh?

Wendy: To all things there is a season. I will write no matter what (meaning I will be writing), and the dragons will live. This is the story you told when you could no longer write the others. Look at the tattoo and remember your dreams!

Me: This is every woman’s story (I told her): work hard, have a family, pursue hard to achieve dreams.

Wendy: This is your story…a dream born out of the ashes like a Phoenix (I had mentioned there’s a Phoenix in my current WIP). As in all good dreams, you began again.

Me: I’d better see your story on your blog. Can I say I write on the funny side of dark?

Wendy: {{{snort}}}

I just popped over to Too Hot Mamas. Not a mention of Wendy’s “story”, but a very funny blog about ten year olds dating. The good thing to come out of our conversation at Panera…we both accepted a challenge to report on our current WIP every morning. Friday morning I wrote 210 words; Saturday 338; Sunday in four wonderful uninterrupted hours 1851 words; today (Monday) 0. Back to the day job. But this post is 521 words plus. That counts, right?

Self Publishing…Everything’s Changing, But One Thing Remains The Same. Let’s Party! …by Susan Lute

Yes, I’m late with my post, but there is SO much going on, and tons running through my head. I had two meetings yesterday, Steam punk girl with Typewriter.but before I get to that, there has been a lot of conversations going on in my house. One of them is storyteller versus writer. How do you go from being a good writer to being a great storyteller? I don’t know, but I’d love to find out. Of course, for the best storytellers, it’s a gift. One they’re born with. I also think you can learn to be a great storyteller. At least that’s what I believe today. I consider J.T. Geissinger a great storyteller (if you haven’t read Edge Of Oblivion, and you love paranormal stories, you must). And J.K. Rowling. And Jessa Slade. And Nancy Brophy. I think I write a good story, but a great storyteller? Not so much. This week I made a vow to figure out how to grow beyond being a good writer and it’s spiked my enthusiasm for writing, which okay, is almost always spiked pretty high.

So, the meetings – the first one was with Maggie Jaimeson, founder of Windtree Press. Maggie is a woman with a vision. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Windtree website, take a stroll. Windtree Press is in it’s infancy right now, but one day it’s going to be the go-to place to buy good stories by Indie authors, the Sundance of Indie Books, so cleverly put by the fabulous Carolyn Zane. Which brings me to my next meeting, which was with the lovely Two Hot Mamas, Carolyn and Wendy Warren. They came to talk to Maggie, but when they were done, I got to horn in on their meeting about their current project, a romance for Entangled Publishing. Just talking series titles with these two funny ladies is a hoot and a half. I’ve wrangled them in for an interview in June. Their new book comes out in September.

Which brings me to the part about how everything’s changing. I’m looking out my office window, and the sun is out. The sky is that baby blue of a warming spring day. It’s going to be 60 plus degrees in my little mountain town. And you know what? New York isn’t the only game in town anymore. We all know it hasn’t been for a long time, but it’s getting easier and easier to be a successful writer without them. Don’t get me wrong, if St. Martin’s offered a contract today, I’d be hard pressed to turn it down, and probably wouldn’t. That’s an old dream that hasn’t died.

Here’s the thing. Technology is changing so much, and so fast, it’s hard to keep up with all the new ways to publish your own book. Today, I can write a story, polish it to perfection, upload it to Jutoh (others have their favorite manuscript converter; GMLT Cover uploadable 800x1200Jutoh is mine), make sure there are no bugs, then upload the .mobi to Amazon, the .epub to BN and abracadabra, you’re published. The process is easy, even for non-left brainers like me who have to practice the processes until they get it right.

Eighteen months ago, five intrepid friends set out to write an anthology. Twenty-four hours after uploading to Amazon, it’s published! The Girl Most Likely To, an anthology by Linda Kaye, Jessie Smith, Darla Luke, Nancy Brophy and me, Susan Lute is now available at Amazon. Here’s the thing that hasn’t changed. Seeing a book you’ve put your heart and soul into on the bookshelf, whether it’s virtual or physical, it’s the best dang feeling there is! Except for looking at your newborn baby’s face for the first time, it’s…liberating.

Now it’s time to party!

A Writing Exercise …by Susan Lute

bigstock-The-beautiful-girl-at-a-typewr-29772122Sometimes when I’m writing a story I lose my way; take a left when I should have gone right. Story structure is kind of my thing, different approaches melded together so I can organically – so to speak – go from the first turning point to the second and so on. Once I’m sure I’ve got the necessary scene components and if I’m still not on the straight and narrow of the story, then the problem is with the characters. Conflict arises from the characters, their goals, desires and vision for their future. So if I’m still stuck there are two exercises I try.

The first one is to pull out the Tarot deck. It happens I have two. My very first deck was given to me by the incomparable Wendy Warren, a beautifully painted austere deck that has seen many years of use. My second deck is one Darla Luke and I found while in Seattle, The Dragon Tarot. You’re not surprised, right?

My current project is Dragon’s Keeper. Carlton is a Naga who has been forcefully separated from his dragon; a broken symbiotic relationship that is killing them both. I know a lot about Carlton (this is Book II in The Dragonkind Chronicles), but I think it would be fun to learn a little bit more. So let’s pick a card and see how it can work into the first act of the story.

Ace Of Coins. An earth element which shows material and financial conditions. A new doorway is opening up. Hmmm.

The next card – Ten Of Coins. Joint finance. Important investment decisions.

Next card – King of Coins? I’ll bite. Dragons. Treasure. A man at the top of his trade or profession.

Okay. One more – Judgement. A three headed dragon bursts forth from a tunnel in the ground, armed with a hammer. It moves to the anvil. Possesses powerful transformative energies. Phobias. Obsessions.

Interesting. Do I know how this fits into my dragon story? Not yet.Phoenix bird figure isolated

Then there’s The Element Encyclopedia Of Birthdays. It opened to 1 January, funny enough, the birthday of self-improvement. The greatest challenge to those born on this day is to stop beating themselves up over mistakes they’ve made. They are oversensitive, impatient , manipulative; and when at their best: have drive, dedication and honesty. Their life task is to recognize that weaknesses in themselves and others are not necessarily insurmountable obstacles, that weaknesses can become strengths.

So there you have it. Two strategies that can flesh out a character when you find yourself in trouble.

When your stories get tangled up, what tricks do you use to untangle the knot?

Reading this week: A Little Night Muse by Jessa Slade.

Sabotaging My Career… by Nancy Brophy

Someone ought to do a reality show called 1000 Ways to Defeat Yourself. We all do it. And we all have our special little twist on how we take aim and fire at our own feet. You may think that I see myself as a sage, able to dispense advice freely because my life is so perfect. However, I didn’t write this for you, in truth I wrote it for me to remind myself to stay on the path and not wander into the woods.

1) Finish the manuscript. A story is easy to start. I am the self-appointed queen of 70-100 pages. I have the concept of a cute meet down. But a story is more than a cute meet and these characters are going to become my best friends. I have to like them. I have to be able to root for them even as I’m throwing them under the bus.

2) Edit. I am so excited when a story comes together and I can finally write the words ‘the end’.  If I’ve already won the gold, why am I re-running the race? The phrase ‘good writing is in the rewriting’ came about because editing is as difficult as writing the original draft. Cut, rewrite, reshape. Get feedback. Cut, rewrite, reshape.

3) Volunteer time. The writing community is fun. My friends are other writers.  People talk about their books, their successes and failures. It’s easy to rub shoulders with famous and almost famous people. I’m able to live vicariously through others. Plus everyone is so grateful that I’m doing the things they want to do, but don’t have the time – because they are doing productive things – they are writing.

4) Write. Write. Write – Write the blog. Write the website. Write on the Facebook wall. Tweet. I can spend hours writing everything but the manuscript.

5) Never take a risk. My favorite quote from 2011 was from best-selling author, Wendy Warren, who said. “I’m standing on the edge of the cliff waiting for someone to build a bridge and refusing to acknowledge that I can fly.” It is easier to wait for the bridge. It is safer to wait than to leap off the edge.

6) Never consider alternatives. E-pubbed? Self-pubbed? A different genre? A different length?

7) Never let others see your work until it is perfect because they might make a comment that re-enforces old insecurities and my secret belief that every story I written could have been better told by an illiterate five-year-old.

8) Stop doing those things I need to do, such as writing, sending work out, entering contests, going to conferences, interacting with other writers, learning and relearning craft.

9) Refuse to pay someone to do what I can’t or won’t – copyediting, covers, formatting.

Refuse to take action – if my book isn’t selling, maybe it’s the title or cover or marketing needs help.

Refuse to face my fears. The voice in your head that says I’m not good enough, wins. What was I thinking of even trying?

10) Dream instead of working. I once read writers are liars. They make they stories up and manipulate the events to have the outcome they desire. Some of us believe we can do that with our own lives.

I am guilty of every of these. Not all at the same time. I like to trade off.

Each book I write is a challenge. This year I’ve set my goals and while this post might have been better served in early January, I find I need it more in March when my wanderings take me into the woods.

To my writing friends, I hope your writing is going well and you are on your chosen path.

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