Writing Update

Since my last post, I received the news that my short story, Bombs Away, won first place at the San Mateo County Fair Literary Arts contest, Mystery/Thriller Short Story/Adult category. The story is the same one that will be published this summer in Low Down Dirty Vote, a charity anthology to support the ACLU. I’m excited for readers to meet Olivia, community organizer and Black Lives Matter advocate, who takes on a bomb threat at a poll on Election Day.

I’ve also been working on meeting a May 31 deadline for several other projects.

One is a short story submission to the Mystery Writers of America Young Adult Anthology. That story is titled The Prank. It’s been critiqued by two of my beta readers and I’m now making sure it meets the submission requirements.

Contests and anthologies have specific formatting guidelines, and I’d hate for my entry to be disqualified because I didn’t follow them. (Much better to be rejected because my story’s not good enough. Or…wait…)

It’s things like font size, margins, cover page, and even deleting your personal information from the file itself so the entry can truly be evaluated blind.

My other May 31 deadline is a Fantasy Agent submission through Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters In Crime for unpublished authors. The Fantasy Agent is an opportunity to submit the first thirty pages of a novel and a synopsis for evaluation and feedback by a published author. A synopsis is a concise summary of the entire novel. I don’t know how to write a synopsis, but fortunately, Susan Dennard does and explains how here. I’m going to submit one of my previous NaNoWriMo novels.

May 31 is turning out to be good timing since the kids are off school in a couple of weeks and we have some trips planned early in the summer. I’m looking forward to pressing Send on these submissions. Then…to hurry up and wait!

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Berry Bombs of Wisdom from Mysti Berry

Recently, I was fortunate enough to have a coffee date with Mysti Berry. Mysti is a screenwriter–novelist–short story writer and all around awesome human being. We talked writing for an hour and she gave me permission to share some details of our conversation.

I told Mysti about my quest to be Jessica Fletcher, ie, a successful mystery writer who also does other things (such as work, raise three small children, etc, etc). I know that Mysti has a full-time job that is not writing fiction, so I asked her about her personal writing routine and her writing goals.

Mysti’s routine includes early morning writing and writing with friends which she says helps her stick with the program. She also takes writing retreats where she disappears into a dark lair (or just a hotel room) for a weekend to power through some writing or editing goals. The idea of writing for a weekend kid-free sounds like heaven to me. I hope my husband is reading this post.

I asked Mysti what she does when she gets stuck. She said she first yells at herself, which she does not recommend as a strategy. Some strategies she does recommend are:

  • Look for where the plot went wrong earlier in the story. Sometimes you can eliminate a later problem that way.
  • Ask certain questions about the problem: Is it structural? Is it character? Am I taking the story in the wrong direction?
  • Talk about the problem with others
  • Make a list of ten things to try to fix the problem

I then asked Mysti about her writing goals. She has both aspirational goals, like getting her novel published, and more concrete goals, such as:

  • Finish dialogue edits by x date
  • Send to agent by x date
  • Word count goals (if working on a first draft)
  • Hourly goals (spend x amount of time writing)

She also has a writing strategy. Mysti has had her short stories published, so she intends to keep writing and submitting those. She is working on an anthology of short stories as a way to dip her toes into the self-publishing world. And she continues to work on her novel and submit it to agents.

My talk with Mysti inspired me to come up with my own list of strategies to try when I feel stuck in my writing and to work on a long-term strategic plan for my writing goals. In the meantime, I hope I get to drink more coffee with Mysti soon.

Post-NaNo Update

Wow, it’s been a long time since my last post. I left off of blogging to put my energies into NaNoWriMo and somehow two and a half months have gone by. I guess I have no one to blame but Thanksgiving Hanukkah Christmas New Years myself.

NaNo was awesome. I had daily word count goals, which I stuck to (for the most part) and accomplished 50,000 words of a new novel by November 29. It was such a great feeling to achieve that goal. But the best part was actually spending a month writing consistently.

Here are my Top 5 Lessons Learned from my first NaNoWriMo:

1.    I can write a page in 15 minutes.

A real page! In regular-sized font! I didn’t know I could do that. Kind of does away with the excuse that I don’t have time to write, doesn’t it?

2.    Accountability is helpful.

Posting my goals and updating my word count on the NaNo website was fun and motivating. Anyone want to start a word count competition with me?

3.   Outlining is a good thing.

I wrote an outline for my NaNo novel during the month of October. Turns out when you outline an entire story, it helps you stay on track when you’re actually writing the thing. Otherwise, you may reach the end of your novel only to realize the story is totally different than you thought it was. You then have to decide: Do I rewrite the entire first half of the novel? Or toss it into the trash and never look at it again? With an outline, you get to the end and say, “Yay, I got to the end!”

4.   Social media is a mixed blessing.

The pep talks by authors on the NaNoWriMo website were inspiring. Twitter was slightly distracting but somewhat NaNo-related. Trolling Facebook to see which of my friends is getting married/having a baby/eating Paleo was not conducive to writing at all.

5.    50,000 words is a lot—but it’s not a complete novel.

It’s a skeleton. The next step is to go back and fill in the flesh, the blood, the organs, the muscle tissue—well, you get the idea. But having a solid skeleton is whole lot better than having nothing.

Did you win NaNoWriMo this year? What was your experience like? What are you going to do with the novel? Let me know!