When life hands you a butternut squash…

Confession: I’m failing at NaNo right now.

Prediction: This month will be incredibly important to both my most recent manuscript, and the one I planned to use November to sketch out.

Result: WIN anyhow!

The truth is, sometimes life hands you a butternut squash when what you really want is a pumpkin.

Case in point, my friend’s husband went in search of Halloween pumpkins for carving, and came home with a butternut squash. It was all he could find after trekking across various stores. Did he just give up? NO. That man bought it, brought it home, and they carved the best damned butternut squash jack o’ lantern I’ve ever seen 🙂

sid's pumpkin
The photo’s by me. Brilliant carving is by my lovely friends.

Apart from making me laugh, this story has been the theme for November. I regularly read blogs and how-to craft articles and books, clicking on Twitter links, or reading the blogs I subscribe to. But this month, I went for it. It was time for another serious growth spurt in my writing, and I wanted to nurture it before putting one. more. word. down. That was the squash life gave me. I certainly hadn’t planned it that way — no! I wanted to WIN WIN WIN! But a little voice said it was time for learning, not doing. No matter what the calendar tells me.

Everything I’ve read/listened to this month has had major effects on both the story I’m polishing, the one I’m plotting before throwing more words at, and all my future stories (maybe even my past ones…).

Here’s what I did:

1) Got hooked into Susan Dennard’s awesome series, How I Plan A Book. She’s the author of the SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY series, and is a kick-butt motivator. There are several parts to the series, and I highly recommend reading all of them (and taking notes). Her magic cookie concept, as well as her pointing to Rachel Aaron‘s earth-shattering reveal on how to write 10k a day, have changed my life.

2) Scoured the brilliant Janice Hardy‘s website for articles in how to handle internalisation, exposition, and backstory. These two stood out, but every article on her blog is an incredible tool for writing. Exposition can be filtered in – it has to be, especially in fantasy/sci-fi. We ARE in another world, and we do need to let the reader know how it works, and what its history is. She talks about how to add a character’s judgment/personal opinion to anything that sounds like telling that you can’t do without, to stop it from drying out your readers’ eyeballs. Among other gems.

3) Read Nathan Bransford‘s book – In case you haven’t heard, the man behind the hugely popular writing advice blog has a book, HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL. I loved how clear, concise, witty, and straight-to-the-heart this book is. I read it in one sitting and then re-read all my highlighted sections. Really puts things into perspective, and has a very helpful checklist on how to know when you’re done revising.

4) Listened to several hours of Writers’ Digest webinar archives – There are tons of video tutorials from past webinars on their website, and you can get a month’s worth of listening to as many as your heart desires for $25. I’ve “attended” a few of the webinars at the time, which usually comes with some critique of your work by the agent/pro who runs the webinar, but for a cheaper option, sans critique, you can pay 25 smackers and listen to as many as you want, pausing to take notes, etc. I wasn’t sure at first but you can listen to some 5-minute samples before taking the plunge. I’ve found it totally worth it – particularly for Chuck Sambuchino‘s tutorial on how to write a synopsis, agent Kathleen Ortiz‘s tutorial on querying, and agent Jim McCarthy‘s tutorial on “10 elements of a viable, lucrative novel”.

5) Revisited Query Tracker’s query forum. Post, critique, receive feedback. I’ve used it in the past and it’s been great, and it was wonderful to revisit, read others’ work, and receive feedback myself.

6) Joined Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror  I heard about this through Susan Dennard, and thought I would give it a go. Working with CPs and betas is one thing, but posting my work – whole chapters – for people to read and pick apart publicly always makes me squirm, but it’s great practice. Once you’re published, I imagine you must learn about squirming under public scrutiny on a WHOLE new level, and not only is it great practice, but I’ve read some wonderful stories and received great feedback. 

More than that, I traded feedback with a few people this month who’ve made me see the way forward for what would’ve been my NaNo story. I feel a lot more confident about starting this one out now, with some shiny new tools under my belt. That’s what makes writing fun for me — amongst the world building and character creation and tension plotting, I love that whenever I learn new tactics, or see something I’ve been doing wrong, it injects me with renewed passion.

If you’re looking for some new (or revisited) resources for inspiration and honing your skillz (with a Z), check any of the above out, and good luck with your pumpkin 🙂


Gratuitous Halloween shot . I am now the proud owner of a Starfleet uniform. Troi, eat your heart out.
Gratuitous Halloween photo. I am now the proud owner of a Starfleet uniform (phased out in late 2365).


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Writemotivation Update – a little late!

“But it’s Friday, not Monday!” you say.

Currently, the UK is suffering enjoying a glorious heatwave and nearly 3-week stretch of blue skies, sun, and 75-80 degree temps. My Weatherbug app currently tells me it’s 82 in Portishead. AMAZING. There have been short splashes of such loveliness over the past 6 years I’ve lived here; our wedding last year enjoyed summer-like qualities. But to go for this long without rain or clouds or the typical British chill has been so welcome!

FYI, this isn’t the UK. It’s Allegany State Park on our June visit.

It’s also made it difficult to focus for long indoors. Our flat has windows on only one wall and therefore little circulation, and of course, no AC. I am NOT complaining because this is the kind of weather I’m made for 🙂 but it does explain why I’ve been somewhat sluggish online.

So without further adieu, here is my update to Writemotivation July’s butt-kicking:

1. Finish paper revision of WIP. Done!
2. Read-through of revision changes. This has become, “Revise in entirety.” I’m going through, much quicker this time, catching silly errors and continuity problems, addressing a small laundry list of items to change, and I’ll get through this before the month’s end. Fingers crossed.
3. Send to 2 betas/CPs. This should happen by the end of the month, I hope!
4. Beta reading for J & A. Done! Now on to L’s MS which I’m 40% through 🙂
5. SOMEBODY new version x 5. Done!
6. Draft WIP synopsis. Done! And I’m pleased to say, I mustered the guts to share both with a CP.

So that’s it! We’re off to play volleyball in the 80-degree temps! Stay cool, people 🙂 Good luck with your monthly goals, if you’re taking part in #Writemotivation!

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July recap

I’m hoping tomorrow is a crazy productive day, because I didn’t quite reach all my #writemotivation goals for July. But I did have a birthday this past weekend, and 3 days away from everything was very welcome. I was busy climbing this:

The ridge back down from Snowdon in North Wales. We climbed up via the Watkin trail. Gorgeous!

So, on to the goals.

1. Finish new round of edits to MS #1.  Done.
2. MS #1 x5. Done.
3. Finish edits to WIP to Chapter 9. Not done. But instead, I spent a week this month mulling over needed changes, reading through CPs’ feedback, and did several pages of worldbuilding and plotting, with changes including MC’s age and disposition, eliminating other characters, and several completely new elements that have enabled me to – FINALLY on this story – see a complete path through all three acts. I no longer just have a vague idea of an ending. I have the whole thing mapped out. Now I can start constructing scenes with confidence! WOO! So I might not have edited everything, or written 10k (see #4) but I think I’ve written about 7k in preparation for the actual writing 😉 I call this a success.
4. Write 10k in WIP. Nope, but as above, I think it was better to sacrifice this goal for having a plot summary from start to finish! 
5. Balance job hunting with writing, CP/Beta work, and blogging. Be realistic! I took part in Authoress Anon’s CP dating service this month and exchanged emails with some fantastic writers, not all of whom I have had time to reply to yet 🙁 This frustrates me because I don’t like being slow with replying or sending feedback. So I’ve got to learn how to balance this better. I was more realistic this month than May though so that’s progress.

And as I mentioned on Twitter, Susan Dennard (author of SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY) has written a clear, simple method to attacking synopsis writing, and this was a lifesaver. It helped me write a 1-page synopsis for my first MS, but I also used it to finally finish a plot summary for my WIP. Thank you, Susan!

I learned some valuable lessons this month, about the UK Border Agency, patience, focusing on the now rather than tomorrow, and trusting God to do what I (or anyone else) cannot. I got my first interview in months for an opportunity I would love in a place I want to be. I had a birthday and my husband and I climbed the highest peak in England & Wales (still prefer Ben Nevis, highest peak in the UK, in Scotland, but Snowdon was still awesome) as well as another hill (Cadair Idris) in Snowdonia. I managed some light scrambling on a cliff edge in a cloud which always freaks me out but I did it sans panic attack 😉 I finished a set of revisions to my first MS and received two partial requests for pages from agents I respect.

Despite some of the downs, the ups were great and I’m thankful for a productive and fun July, and the friends who’ve been helping me to remember its better to be grateful for life’s blessings rather than focus on the negatives. Thank you 🙂 Hope your July has been productive and fun as well!

view from Snowdon


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