Tag Archives: writing process

So how’d you like it?

I put The Incident up over the summer because I was going to be on the road while my home was for sale. 8400 miles later, I’m home again, except my place has been sold so I’m staying with friends while I figure out what’s next.

Serendipity, as always, is playing a role. At the beginning of July, my plans to visit family on the East Coast were bumped a week due to circumstances beyond my control. Denver was kind of on the way, so I decided to attend the RWA conference  and see if romance writing would be a good fit for me. (2018 workshops are still listed at that link, but if they’ve been removed when you read this, check RWA events.)

Well, it was an amazing conference, loaded with so many sessions you could only attend a fraction of them, with thousands of people attending. After listening to an editor and agent address a sub-group of people who write Romantic Women’s Fiction (where the woman’s journey is the core of the story and the romance is secondary), I decided to give traditional publishing another try. So I spent a day pitching and had a really good response. Still waiting while requested materials are reviewed by several people.

I also got to talk with Robin Cutler of Ingram Spark about getting my back list onto Ingram as well as Amazon. That work’s on the list for the next few weeks. Now that CreateSpace is closing, I want to make sure I’ve got everything with Ingram for distribution beyond Amazon. (In case you didn’t realize, CreateSpace was also a division of Amazon – they’re consolidating services to KDP, but no longer doing Expanded Distribution.)

Last week, I gave a Basics of Self-Publishing class through Community Education at Sierra Community College and realized how much I enjoy helping people figure out this process – at the same time I’m hoping to land a traditional contract for Peg’s Story, One Woman’s Journey. Each route has its benefits and drawbacks.

However, with either road to publishing, building a readership is key.

That’s where you come in – while The Incident trickled out over 13 episodes, my followers increased. However, you’re not commenting! Tough to know what you want that way.

Please take a minute to comment. I’d really like to know:

  1. Did you like having a story come in pieces over two months? Would a few weeks be better? Or a short-short that’s all in one blog? Or a whole novel over months?
  2. Do you want the fiction to keep coming or would you rather I go back to writing about writing? Or do you want both?
  3. I keep hearing that a newsletter’s better than a blog because you address people who want to hear from you, as individuals. Would you want to be on a mailing list that alerted you when I post new stories and/or gave you other updates and/or writing tips?
  4. Do you care what time of day the blog arrives? (If so, when’s better?)

Let me know soon, so I can have a story or article ready for you next week!

Sheri McGuinn Photo SignatureI write books about people you could know, people who show resilience as they go through rough times to realistic resolutions.

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Setting Priorities

My datebook’s a mess. I’ve been tracking what I do every day so I know where I’m spending time. It all goes onto a weekly chart that I’m sharing with a accountability writing buddy. What I’ve found is I slide off into unplanned activities and spend too much time on things that aren’t really that important.

So the tracking has been a good thing. While I’ve accomplished a lot the last three months (see last week’s Quarterly Report), the tracking records show that I could be using my time more effectively.

Enter the new experiment – or is it old? I sat down this morning and made a traditional four-box matrix for my writing activities. In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, this is what it looks like:

Urgent Not Urgent
Primary Importance  1  3
Secondary  2  4

Of course, you can louse this up by putting too many things in the urgent & important box, which leads to feeling overwhelmed to the point nothing gets done.

I’ve used this matrix for each of the next few months. For example, consider developing materials for the workshop I’m teaching in June (Self-Publishing for Educators, at Sierra Community College). This is of Primary Importance, because this is the first workshop I’m teaching in this area and I’ll be judged by it. However, the class is at the end of June. So in April, that will be in the upper right-hand box (3), Primary Importance but Not Urgent. In May, I’ll move it into the upper left-hand box, Primary and Urgent (1). In April, I may work on it, but only after April’s Primary/Urgent matters are addressed.

Secondary tasks may be urgent, like getting the reading done for critique groups, or secondary and non-urgent, like making sure I get some exercise in each day. The things in the secondary/urgent box (2) will be scheduled on a timely basis, but won’t replace taking care of items in (1). The items in secondary/non-urgent (4) will get some attention throughout the week, but they’ll be slipped in between the items in the other three boxes.

This clarification of priorities makes it easy to decide what needs to be done when. On days I have a lot of meetings, I’ll knock off some of the secondary items. When I’m home all day, I’ll focus on something of primary importance that needs to be done urgently.

I’ll still use my datebook as a tracking device, noting what I’m doing during the day, but the only thing getting penciled in ahead of time will be meetings. The weekly chart will still go to my accountability buddy. But hopefully it will reflect more time spent on the most important things.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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First Quarter Review

Back at the end of December, I set my goals for 2018. Well, March is behind us – the end of the first quarter of the year, when businesses assess how they’re doing.

My primary writing goal for the year is to make at least $10,000 and I’m losing money at this point. So when I looked at the page with three columns of objectives and steps to reach each that I set up at the beginning of the year, I initially felt disheartened. Then I took a closer look and made notes.

To achieve that one writing goal, I have three objectives. I’ve made progress on each.

Goal #1: Maintain and build on promotional activities, center them on the book coming out later this year (Peg’s Story). Progress:

  • I haven’t had any shorts published yet, but I’ve researched markets, organized my submission process, and have seven pending. I know where each will be sent next.
  • I’ve written this blog every week and several posts have been dedicated to how my writing needs to link to the Me Too movement, which ties in with Peg’s Story.
  • I’ve listened to podcasts and started reading the new edition of Self-Publishing Bootcamp. I’ll focus more on developing the release and marketing plan for Peg’s Story in the next three months.

Goal #2: Keep working on new material. Progress:

  • I have several chapters of a romance novel written and re-written with critique group input. I set up rules for myself in previous blog posts – I want strong heroines.
  • I am developing a YA paranormal novel with feedback from two critique groups – one gets the first draft, I revise, then submit it to the second. This pushes me to keep producing at least two chapters a month through polished level.
  • I’m reworking shorts for the specific markets I’ve decided my work fits.

Goal #3: Do workshops. This goal needs to be amended to Do Activities that Generate Income. Progress:

  • I’ll be teaching a summer workshop Self-Publishing for Educators through Community Education at Sierra Community College and have applied to teach that and a Self-Publishing Basics workshop in the fall.
  • I’m shepherding a local artist and writer, Suzanne BlaneyHer website had been shut down and her Amazon author page was incomplete. I’ve started updating her online presence and her domain is pending transfer to GoDaddy, where I’ll be able to rebuild it for her. She’s finishing up a new art book and I’ll be editing that.
  • I’m negotiating a contract to write another screenplay for Nasser Entertainment. They don’t want to pay anything up front, so I’ll be gambling that they actually produce the film, but they probably will.

I also have two non-writing goals: Maintain balance in my life and Improve my financial status. I’ve made some progress on those, too, spending time with family, doing a little subbing. I still need to get back into a regular exercise routine. Blocking that in may actually increase my productive writing time. We’ll see how the next quarter goes.Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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When You’re Not a Writer – Yet

I believe all writing is good practice for a writer.

While my kids were growing up, I put aside “being a writer” for day jobs. However, many of those day jobs involved writing. For example, I’ve written stacks of court reports. Did that build any skills for my fiction writing? Absolutely.

  • I had to interview people and present their position accurately – to do that I listened carefully and checked for understanding. Even the few villains I encountered had what they believed were good reasons for their actions. So I avoid cardboard characters in my fiction. I know each of my characters from the inside out. Each has a distinct voice.
  • I had to pay attention to details. Small details, buried amidst non-essential information, often clarified an issue or sequence of events. The same holds true in fiction – the details often decide the course of events.
  • I had to take the facts I’d gathered and present them in a logical order that helped the judge make sense of the situation – which was often quite complicated. The same skill is necessary in fiction. If you confuse the reader by putting a conclusion before the facts that lead to it, you will probably lose them altogether.
  • I couldn’t include every single piece of information I collected. I had to decide which facts were necessary and which were superfluous. When writing fiction, I always know more backstory than my readers – they’d be bored if I included all of it. I have to choose what they need to know when. It’s the same skill, repurposed.
  • I also had to decide when to quote an interviewed person directly and when to paraphrase. When writing fiction, I need to decide where to describe interactions and where to use dialogue. The elements that make each effective are remarkably similar whether a court report or a novel.

What about jobs that don’t involve much writing? It’s all experience. Most writers have had a series of jobs before they start making a living (or at least part of one) writing.

If you find a complete job history of an author and then read all of that author’s work, you will probably find characters and settings that use non-writing jobs.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Press release:

Sheri McGuinn at Gold Country Writers Six-Author Event! Official release.

Event date: Sunday, March 25, 2018 – 1:00pm to 4:00pm Event address: FACE IN A BOOK, 4359 Town Center Blvd #113, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

http://www.getyourfaceinabook.com/event/gold-country-writers-six-author-event

 

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Does it work?

My next novel, which will come out later this year, is Peg’s Story: In Search of Self. It’s the story of the mother in my first novel, Running Away. After that book came out, I wrote and sold the screenplay – the selling part took a few years. You may have seen the movie Running Away on Lifetime, and it’s been pirated to YouTube as well.

If you’ve read the book and watched the movie, you know that the movie did a great job with the suspense line but the backstory for the characters is different. That also means the dynamics between characters and the focus of the story changed.

This is how the changes look:

The novel is about the relationship between mother and daughter and how a subtle predator manipulates both of them to the point where Maggie (the daughter) ends up running away. The emphasis is on the mother-daughter bond – that’s why the hands are reaching for each other on the novel’s cover. My original script stuck with that emphasis, as did the re-writes I did to make it more affordable to shoot.

I’m still the only screenwriter on the credits, however the director added short scenes, including some up front to establish the stepfather as a bad guy quickly. The filmmakers explained that was essential to hold the audience. With several short scenes, the director also added a storyline making the stepfather evil beyond what he does to Maggie. As in the movie poster, he becomes the focal point.

Film is a collaborative medium and the final measure is always: Does it work?

  • Whenever someone tells me they’ve seen the movie, their comments center on the creepy stepfather – no one talks about the girl or her mother. My central theme didn’t survive, but the film does grab people and hold their attention.
  • I sold the script to a production company with a track record for producing and marketing films to television and computer movie markets. They sold the film successfully to French-speaking European television and then Lifetime. They knew their market.

So yeah, the film works. I got paid, got my credits at the beginning and end, and it’s added to my IMDb page. I’m happy.

Next week I’ll take a closer look at the film and how it compares to my screenplay.

00A2011SheriCMYK

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Motivational Boards

Each year I was in Arizona, a group of us would gather near the changing of the year and spend an evening with stacks of old magazines and glue sticks, sharing and enjoying our community as we made vision boards for the coming year. Some approached it with specific ideas in mind; I let intuition lead me to specific pictures and phrases that I then glued onto my poster board. Sometimes this clarified what I wanted in the coming year, sometimes it was just fun. But always, there were a few key words that reflected something I needed to work on.

KeepPaddlingThose key words made their way to my motivational board—a collage pinned onto a bulletin board that hangs in my workroom. I spent the better part of a day last week rearranging this board, printing out inspirational phrases, reviewing everything on it. The key words from years of vision boards are still there, their prominence determined by how much reminding I need to incorporate them into my daily life—things like balance, focus, and process.

What’s not on it? Photos of my kids and grandkids—those are in another place in my home, not my workroom. They are enormously important in my life and always present in my being, but they are not the reason I write. That comes from the core of me that existed long before they were born. So the photos on my motivational board are of me as a confident little girl and an adventurous traveler. There’s also a striking headshot from my twenties, when I wanted to be an actress. There’s a newspaper clip I’ve kept since I was fourteen, about making the world a better place to be, and quotes that strengthen my resolve to keep trying. There’s a photocopy of the first check I received for writing work and photographs I’ve taken that remind me writing is not my only creative endeavor.

What else is not on it? Specific goals and my writing credits—I post my accomplishments for the past year and goals for the current in a different place.

My motivational board is about supporting who I am and why I create—the force within.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com

www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Looking Back

In 2016, I made a respectable amount of money as a writer. I really wanted to make more this year. Instead, I’ve made virtually none. I felt like a failure, until I saved my “Priorities for 2017” as “Accomplishments for 2017” and edited it to reflect what actually got done this year:

I expanded the number of excellent critique groups with which I’m working on screenwriting, short stories, and novels. That was an essential goal and a major reason for my move to an urban area.

Running Away was shown in French-speaking Europe, then was released as a Lifetime movie.

The screenplay for Michael Dolan McCarthy lost an award, but I used their notes to make revisions. With feedback from two screenwriting groups, I wrote and revised a screenplay based on “Maria Angelica’s Baby” – the short story included in Saturday Evening Post’s anthology in 2016. I submitted both of these to the 15th Annual American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest. Results don’t come out until February. I also wrote a script for Frankie and Grace and submitted that and other scripts to multiple network writer development programs.

With feedback from beta readers, I did revisions of my new novel – the story of Peg, the mother in Running Away. Then I met and traded books with Sarita Sarvate and made major revisions thanks to all of her questions and comments. Peg’s Story: In Search of Self has been submitted multiple places. But in light of current events and the general rule that traditional publishing takes its time, I may decide to self-publish to get it out sooner. The character surprised me when she landed in the arms of a trafficker, but the ups and downs of her journey after that will speak to anyone who says “Me, too.” Goal for 2018: Fund an effective marketing campaign.

I sold books at the Citrus Heights Hidden Treasures Art Show, the Oakland Book Festival, the Gold Country Writer’s booth at the Gold Country Fair, and an author event at Book Passage in Corte Madera put on by the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA). I also attended the WNBA Pitch-O-Rama in San Francisco. I sent out a press release after getting a glowing review of Alice and saw a jump in sales of my books at Amazon.

That’s not everything, either. I’ve been tracking submissions and have short stories out all the time. I wrote a script based on one and the actors in the Capital Film Arts Alliance gave it an awesome table read. It may be produced as a trailer when I’m ready to publish a collection of short stories.

I didn’t make much money this year. In fact, after expenses it’ll probably be a loss. My projects didn’t come in first place anywhere and I didn’t get accepted into those writing programs, but I got good feedback from judges. With the input of good critique groups I produced multiple well-written major and minor projects. They’ll eventually be produced or published because tracking submissions and my time has made me more consistent. I’m even posting here weekly.

So while I may not have made much money writing this year, I did accomplish a lot.

The funny thing? In 2016 I did very little writing. The first half I was teaching full time with injuries, the second half I was living in my son’s living room with almost everything buried in storage while I had and recuperated from surgeries on knee and shoulder. The successes and income were from work done previously. So maybe next year…

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com

www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

 

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Reasonable Expectations

My to-do list tends to be insane. At times it’s grown to multiple two-column pages. That may be okay for long range planning or keeping track of little details, but when it’s multiple major projects it can lead to paralysis and a sense of failure because I never get it all done.

I’ve developed something that’s working better.

A couple months ago, I set up a spreadsheet to track the hours I spend on different writing activities. The first column has the categories: writing new material for blogs or promo; writing or revising stories, novels, etc.; research; routine business; new business; networking; critique groups and reading for them; marketing activities; and writing/editing for pay. I estimate how much time I’ll spend on each activity each day and the hours for each activity are totaled for the week. Then I’ll type in the estimate totals in a separate column and erase the daily estimates.

Each day I keep track of how I’m spending my time in a day planner, then enter those times into the chart and compare the actual time spent weekly with the estimates. This gives me a realistic view of how I’m spending my time and whether or not I’m maintaining an effective balance. I also can see when I’m pushing myself too hard or slacking off.

After the first week or two, I added two more columns—one to list what I plan to do in each area, and one to record what actually got done. The to-do list! Because I’d been keeping track of my time, I was able to come up with reasonable estimates for the time needed for similar activities and make this more reasonable.

One or two sixty hour weeks when a project’s near completion is reasonable (for me), but to maintain any kind of life balance, that level cannot be sustained. During the holidays, when family time expanded, the hours I expected myself to work on writing decreased. Since I know I do those sixty hour weeks, it was okay to have some short ones.

Thanks to this system, I’m getting closer to reasonable expectations for each week. My goal is to routinely complete everything planned in the time allotted each week and sometimes do a little more if time allows. Then I’ll feel competent consistently.

00A2011SheriCMYKwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Process

As I understand it, writer’s block is that empty feeling when you sit staring at the screen or paper with no clue what to write. I’ve had that feeling trying to figure out topics for this weekly blog!

But I’m not sure it counts as writer’s block because it doesn’t “block” me. I’m pretty sure my process is the reason I’ve never suffered from writer’s block for more than a few moments, why it’s never really stopped me.

Here are the pieces I think are key:

1. I have given myself permission to not write at any given point in time. It’s okay for me to say “Well, that’s not happening right now,” and move on to another task. There’s no feeling of guilt magnifying the temporary loss of words until it’s paralytic. There’s no time lost because I’m free to move to another project quickly.

2. I have multiple writing projects at all times. Currently, I’m researching what the future may look like so I can write a futuristic novel; I’m pitching a completed women’s novel; I’m pitching screenplays; I’ve started turning a short story into a stage play; I’m working on a self-publishing manual to go with my workshops; I’m writing this weekly blog; and I’m revising short stories with critique groups and pitching them. So if I hit a blank on one project, I can probably make progress on another—I can even spend a day reading for that research or critiquing others’ work, reading instead of writing.

3. I set yearly and weekly goals that include writing, networking, marketing, and other writing-related activities. As long as I’m making progress on any of those goals, I can feel good about the day. If not, I can adjust my weekly plans to make up for the lost time.

4. Sometimes I’ll even take a day off from writing altogether and take care of other areas of my life. That’s okay, too. I’m a writer, and that’s a huge part of me, but it’s not the only part that needs attention and nurturing. The rest supports the writer.

The issue that stopped my writing will still be simmering on a back burner in my brain. I let the pieces fall into place, so I return to the project not only ready to write, but eager.

00A2011SheriCMYKwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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