Renewing Writing Practices

Reading and journaling these past weeks with Colleen Story’s game changing Writer Get Noticed, so many of my writing plans have come into sharper focus, including how best to adjust my writing practices. Specifically, I’m looking at changing writing routines when my husband retires at the end of the year.

When I finish Jane in St Pete in December, I have no plans for a next novel. Al’s retirement is not the only reason it feels right to take a break from writing novels. Since I’ve been publishing books, I’ve steadily released at least one a year. I noticed a slow down with Lily White in Detroit, my tenth novel.

At first I attributed my decreased output to the added research that comes with writing crime novels, but after studying Colleen’s writer’s self-help guide, I realized I’ve come to a natural stopping point, at least for now, at least as far as writing novels.

As I worked through the illuminating exercises Colleen lays out in a genius step process, I learned that while adjusting to a new life passage that involves fun, travel and moving out of my home state, I still want to keep some portable writing practices. Writing a novel takes a big chunk of time, a room of my own and steady commitment, day after day, month after month.

My life is not going to have those long stretches of time in a writing room, at least not for a year or maybe even longer. Although…I start every day with morning pages, and have done for many years. I won’t give up my journal and gel pen. And I don’t want to give up my fiction writing groups and friends, either.

Short stories helped me fill the gap after Lily White and gave me something to bring to my critique groups. Stories kept my craft skills sharp. And eventually, they led to Jane in St. Pete. Like many writers, I started writing fiction with short stories. I published a few of them, but mostly they were a way to begin to figure out my voice and how to write a narrative.

Things can get stale for me if I keep doing them over and over without hitting refresh, and that happened recently with morning pages. I’d write a half page and sit there with nothing to say. Julia Cameron, who introduced me to morning pages, recommends three pages every morning. That’s still what I shoot for. Answering the questions Colleen poses became a way for me to write not just three pages every morning, but four, five, even six pages. All while discovering what to do next.

I was on fire as I got deeper into the heart of what I really want out of my writing life now. More flexibility. Less sustained attention. Writing I can finish in a couple of hours or days. Long before I began the daily discipline needed for writing novels, I was a blogger. I also published book reviews, personal essays, poetry and short stories. All things I enjoyed and could do around my teaching job.

With the help of Colleen’s therapeutic method of writerly inquiry, I was able to figure out how to keep the writing I love close while figuring out how this new adventurous phase of married life will look in retirement. I have so many new goals. I’m looking forward to finishing Jane and going through the editing process with my publisher’s guidance. I can’t wait to gear up for the marketing aspect of a new release–Colleen also helped me clarify how to do publicity my way.

I’ve learned what does and does not work for me as a writer. I love morning pages, social media, my blog. I especially enjoy giving my website a fresh design, which will happen in 2020 along with that novel I’ve been working on for a while now. 🙂 I’ve still got a ways to go with the novel, but the revision is coming together even as I decide what to pack and what to leave behind on this next great adventure.

Writers Who Need Writers

Thankful this morning for Michigan Sisters in Crime critique group. We met on Saturday at noon and by the time we left my battered confidence was in much more hopeful shape. It’s no secret the WIP, started about year ago, has been giving me fits. Finally, in the company of other writers, everything bugging me about my plot resolved itself. I see the full picture now. My confidence is high.

Writers need confidence to even start a story. It’s a pretty big deal to believe you can write a novel. I don’t mean those people who say “I’d like to write a novel, I have it all in my head, it’s a great story, I just don’t have time to do it.” That’s a false confidence that every writer who is actually producing finished manuscripts sees through immediately. Because writers find the time to write. Jobs, kids, cooking, cleaning…they do all that and write, too. Because they can’t NOT write. They must write.

At first, they scribble in secret. Thrilled but worried too. Is it any good? We are too close to our own words to really know the answer. In my 20s I started sending out my poems and short stories to little magazines. There were editors who liked and published them, other who didn’t bother replying, just stuffed my stamped self-addressed envelope (this was in the 1970s, so, no internet) and sent it back. I remember dreading the mail. Or, less often, smiling wide enough to break my face.

Soon enough, I found my first critique group. They were poets. Nobody had anything much good to say about my poems, but we had fun drinking at the bar afterward. And since they didn’t ignore my work or ruthlessly rip it to shreds, I kept going back. I liked the company of other writers, other people who did the thing I did. I’ve been in many groups since then, and published a bunch of novels (and a tiny chapbook of poems).

I have a publisher now and an excellent editor. But I still need my critique groups. Yes, groups. I have three: one in Florida and two in Michigan. The newest group is great because we all write mystery. Right away, we know the basic structure. There’s a murder early in, someone tries to solve the crime, the bad guy gets caught at the end.

Michigan Sisters in Crime is the best resource I’ve found since moving from poems and stories to romance novels and women’s fiction and now finally, landing in the world of mystery writers. Not only do MI-SinC have a critique group, they continually have events geared to mystery writers. Check out the workshop “Under the Trenchcoat: A Peek Into Private Investigation” on July 27. You don’t have to be a member to attend this event. But unless you’re a member, you might not hear about it.

As for the critique group, who I thank for my remarkable breakthrough over the weekend, it’s fabulous and free to all Mi-SinC members. We meet once a month and you don’t need to attend every session. If you’re a mystery writer living in Michigan, or want to become one, consider joining MiSinC. Our free critique group takes all levels of talent, from beginner to published. You’ll feel energized and motivated, case closed!

Join A Critique Group

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Calling all Michigan Mystery Writers! Michigan Sisters in Crime has started a new critique group. It’s for mystery writers, and you need to be a member to participate. We meet once a month for two hours at a restaurant in Troy close to I-75. There were four of us at the first meeting. We came from Ann Arbor, Lake Orion, Clarkston and Washington Twp. It was a great success.

Critique groups are great motivators. I’m on fire to write the best pages of my life for this group. Any member of Michigan Sisters in Crime is welcome to attend. You don’t have to be there for every meeting. Summer is busy time. Still, if you’re writing a mystery novel, even a short story, even if it’s your first one, the critique group is a free perk of membership.

The critique group was just one of the many ideas for our chapter cooked up by Super President and founder, Jan Rydzon. I used to teach creative writing, so I offered to help Jan with this group. My role will be to lead the newer writers or writers who are new to crime writing. We’ll talk about craft as well as critiquing pages. If there are enough newbies, we’ll form our own group so everyone gets a turn to share their work.

I am a member of the group too. I brought my first page in for critique just like everyone else. If I can pull it off, the feedback I received will take my opening from not terrible to great. I find first pages the most difficult. All that info to convey about the character plus hook the reader and set up the mystery in about 250 words. Not easy. But a critique group can help you find that extra bit of special to take your writing to the next level.

Contact me at cindy@cynthiaharrison.com if you are interested. Title your subject line MiSinC Critique Group. You want to write or make your writing better? Join us in July. If you’re not a member, it’s easy to join. We are open to all, not just women. Men too. We call them “Misters” 🙂 Not just experienced writers. Even if you have not yet written a word, you can join the chapter and the critique group. Just go to our website for details.

Until then, happy writing!

Spring Cleaning for Writers

My kitchen counters are cluttered with the contents of my pantry. This is good news for a couple reasons. One ~ If I’m cleaning, I must be over the flu that hit our house just before the holiday weekend. Two ~ If I’m ready to tackle my pantry, my WIP revision will be a piece of cake.

Not that I’m eating cake. The flu helped me get through a week without sugar. I must continue to resist sweets if I want my blood sugar results to come back clean at end of June. I want to stay off diabetes medication. I fear it may be too little too late, nevertheless I will abide by these new rules my body demands. I need to be healthy as possible to write this book.

I had flu, but I wrote anyway. It feels as if I am rewriting the book from scratch, that’s how much this second draft is changing. But in truth, I’m only rearranging the words on the pages like food on my pantry shelves. I’m getting rid of expired items and building a new and better structure to support the parts I keep.

My house, my health and my book are coming together. It’s springtime and my worlds, both fictive and real, are beginning to bloom.

Writing Motivation

Trouble comes to every writer. Even writers with lots of published books. Before I sat down to write this, I looked up my old posts on the topic. None of them fit my current situation, but it was fun to read them because they reminded me of how far I’ve come and that I’ve successfully solved this problem before. Here’s the thing, what used to work doesn’t anymore. I thought for a long time about not writing novels anymore. I can get my writing fix here on the blog and in my morning pages. But I’m in the middle of a book and I hate to leave things unfinished, so I put time and thought into the decision.

It took awhile for me to decide not to trash the WIP. That process of thinking through if I wanted to keep doing this at least until I finish the current project is what led to my current motivation for continuing. I figured out that my old goals weren’t working any more. For so long my goal was “get published” then “publish a book” then “publish a novel” then “switch genres” then…nothing. I’d done it all. Every single one of my writing dreams had been achieved. I’d met all my writing goals. I could die happy. (Really. This becomes an actual thing at my age.)

Eventually, with a lot of help from morning pages and a pointed question from a friend, I figured out that in order to motivate myself I needed a new goal. None of my old goals would suffice. I had reached the top of my personal book mountain. But come to find out at the top of my writing mountain, I saw the bottom of another mountain. I could continue the climb if I was willing to do the work to reach a new goal. Right away I decided that of course I was going to try. Having a goal in life (about anything, not just writing) helps me keep moving, remain upbeat, and continue striving. I don’t think about goals that much, but I need them.

I’m 64. I started writing when I was 14. That’s 50 years of always writing, always finding another mountain to climb. My supply of enthusiasm and energy for the book biz has diminished. It was bound to happen on such a long road with so many obstacles to overcome, so many wrong turns and happy detours. Diminished doesn’t mean extinguished, though. I’m not finished quite yet.

What I know now that I didn’t know before was that as long as you’re alive, you can reach higher than your biggest dreams. My new goal in finishing this novel and making it great is modest. My husband is retiring soon and we want to travel and spend more time with our grandchildren. That is the golden goal. My motivation to finish this novel and make it my best effort is to send the book to an agent a friend says is perfect for me. After that, it’s out of my hands.

When I was younger, I had many goals and dreams. What I learned then is that goals are different than dreams. Goals only work 100% when you have control over the outcome. (Dreams are another post.) I don’t have control over what the agent will say about my book. And that’s fine. I already had an agent who couldn’t sell my book and I ended up with a perfectly fine publisher anyway. That was many books ago. I’m thinking submitting to another agent is worth a shot. And it does something else: it gives me a good reason to finish this novel and make it fabulous.