Little Green Box

Previously, I shared a bit about my writing habits, as well as some things I like to have in place, which make my work enjoyable. For me, writing is a passion but it is also my occupation, so I treat it seriously, with respect, the same way I would approach any other job. Organization is an important part of it; however, I do it to my liking, and do what seems to work well for me. Ideas come to me at any moment and with disregard of time of day. Inspiration is everywhere and I don’t know when or what will spark an idea that might make it in a future novel. If I don’t write these ideas when they happen I forget them. If the idea comes through a dream, I write it as soon as I wake up. I keep pen and paper inside the night table. If during the waking hours, there’s pen and paper all over the house. If it happens while I am on an errand, I carry a small idea notebook in my handbag.

After an idea is captured, I will look it over and decide if it is worth keeping. I write/organize it in an index card, with any other related thoughts or details that will surface, and then, I file it in a green metal box. I visit this box when I am considering a new story, and sometimes, when a current story might trigger a memory of an idea in that box that I might include in the current work. The index cards are alphabetized, and I keep month tabs as well, for easy retrieval, and to include any ideas that surface in a particular month. This method has work well for many years. I understand that it is not for everyone, especially if you favor electronic methods/software for organizing your work. So far, I keep enjoying it and will keep using it. What methods help you organize your writing?

Little green box

Slowing Down to the Speed of My Pen

Throughout the years, I have discovered what works for me as far as my writing routine and process, as well as likes and dislikes. I think that it is important for a writer to feel comfortable in the process, at home and at peace with your pen. I would like to share some of the things that have become my constants when writing. As time goes by, you will attune to your pen speed.

I have a better disposition for writing in the morning.

I cannot write in my pajamas. I must be dressed and ready, and only after breakfast will I write.

I write a first draft by hand, old school, with paper and pencil. Later on, I will type it, either by chapters as I finish them, or I will wait until the entire manuscript is done and type it. I prefer to write in pencil. I have a collection of vintage pencils for that purpose.

I must print the manuscript for revisions; I don’t like to read and revise from the computer screen.

Many times, the title comes up first before the story is written. Sometimes, the end presents itself first, whether as an image, and idea, or a single line.

I don’t outline. Side notes develop as I write. I consider that my raw outline.

I cannot force the story. It flows freely, and sometimes it surprises me. By that I mean that something unplanned reveals itself, something I had not thought about the story.

I prefer traditional methods of organizing my notes/work than electronic methods – rolodex (some of you might be too young to know what that is), metal box for index cards, and many other things. I tried electronic devices and methods but lost interest. The magic was simply not there for me. I still use a planner or an old ledger to organize my work for the day.

I go through three revisions before a final edit. I must take at least a day or two off (not looking at the manuscript) between revisions.

I can only focus on writing one story at a time; I give it my all. I admire people who can write more than one story at a time.

After I finish a story, I must take time off before starting another. Emotionally, I feel drained a bit. I need time to recharge.

I have learned to listen to my characters and not impose the pen on them.

I have learned to slow down to the speed of my pen and the flow of the story. I will not rush it. Also, I have eliminated the word prolific from my writing process. I dedicate as much time as the story needs; however, I have deadlines in place for my own benefit.

Sometimes, I place an inspirational prop (related to the story) nearby. For Moonlit Valley it was a vintage Shirley Temple doll. For the story I am writing now (The Five-dollar Miracle) it is a sky blue envelope.

My favorite character is not necessarily the main character.

When revising, I need to read aloud, sentence by sentence. It helps me determine how reader friendly the pace is. Sometimes, I may need to rehearse a line.

I don’t find weird anymore if I cry when writing a scene or if I talk with a character; it is all for the story.

Before starting a chapter, I like to say a short prayer. It helps me center.

I learned to accept that sometimes, I must put aside the story I want to write next and write the one that speaks louder (the nagger).

I write better in an organized/neat environment. Out in nature works well too.

I must have a thesaurus and a dictionary next to me when I revise. Sometimes the first or second word I chose is not the best one to use.

I feel my best when I write or when I create something.

These are just a few of the constants that have developed over time. I have tried other methods but this seems to work well for me. What seems to work for you? What are the things you would not change in your writing process.

I wish to share a few pictures of my beloved writing tools. I understand that these might not work for many people, but I love these and they make me happy, and these enhance my writing environment as well. As you write, over time, you will develop your writing nest, an environment in which you feel at peace and at home – your writing sanctuary.

This old ledger serves as my planner at the moment.

Rolodex and metal green box where I keep ideas for future novels. The old golden box serves as storage for clips, tacks…

Vintage pencils

Because one cannot have too many vintage pens and pencils. They make me happy. The metal object next to the pencils is a stapler, and it still works.

Old sharpener, a necessity.
Inspirational prop
A little bit of my writing space.
My mantra.

The Four Sides of Truth

For the longest time, I have been hearing about how there are two sides to a story/situation/incident, and for the longest time I have never seen it that way. Perception is only one part of it. I think there are four earthly sides to the truth, and I say earthly because other dimensions/realms such as the divine/supernatural or space might alter that number, but that is another topic. However, since we all live on Earth let’s stick with the earthly realm for the purpose of this post.

Mostly, we are aware of the two sides of an argument or any situation – two points of view. As an example, two people are arguing about an incident represent those two points of view, and we usually assume that one is correct and the other is not – all in search of the truth in a situation. I believe there are four sides to truth in any situation. These are, Individual/group #1 side/point of view, Individual/group #2 side/point of view, The observer/witness #3 side/point of view, and #4 the raw incident (what truly happened without perception).

We process information in different ways, and our perception is influenced by many factors – culture, upbringing, beliefs, financial status, religion … and many more. This applies to #1,#2, and even #3 the witness/observer who only observes part of the interaction between #1 and #2, but lacks information or background prior an incident, so the witness relies on what he/she observes only. This three sides are influenced by the above mentioned factors. Side #4 – the raw incident – is closest to the truth. To illustrate this I will give a simple example involving three neighbors and a dog. Neighbor #2 happens to see Neighbor # 1 dog running loose earlier. Neighbor #3 is taking a walk and sees the dog running, and coming from neighbor #2 house. Neighbor # 2 steps outside and sees that his recently planted garden has been partially dug out. He goes to Neighbor #1 home and tells him how upset he is about the dog ruining his beautiful garden. A light argument erupts, and Neighbor #3 listens from his front yard. Neighbor #3 (the witness) assumes that because he saw the dog coming out of Neighbor #2 front yard the dog did it. Both neighbors, #2 and #3 think they know what happened. However, the truth (the raw incident as it is) is that Neighbor #2 garden has a mole problem. The little critters ruined the garden. In this example, all three people involved are far away from the truth, which has nothing to do with the dog, that by the way, happens to have a very clean nose and paws, but no one noticed.

As writers, we have the advantage of knowing the truth in our story (although sometimes, a twist we did not expect to write surprises us), and we are witness in a sense, however, omniscient when writing the story. We write from all sides.

Boxed In?

For many years I’ve tried to define my writing niche – my little genre box. The truth is that I don’t have one. For some reason, I cannot box myself in a particular genre. I cannot define myself as a (fill the blank) writer. When asked the question, I cannot say that I am a romance writer, a mystery writer … so I usually answer with “I am a fiction writer” or “I write fiction.” It is not that I won’t commit to a genre or that there is a lack of clarity. It is not that I cannot decide on one particular genre and stick with it, as many experts suggest. I have pondered my reasons for not going inside the box many times. The only answer I can come up with is that I want to be open to write the book that wants to be written.

I labeled my first published novel a paranormal romance for lack of a better genre definition, but truthfully, I don’t feel that I am a paranormal romance writer. The novels are more inspirational in nature than romantic, and they have a supernatural vibe. The current story I am working on – The Five-dollar Miracle – is an inspirational story and very different from my other books. One theme that seems to filter into my writing is that of the divine and the supernatural working together. It is the only thread that seems to give my writing a cohesive element. Other than that, I am open to any story that wants to be written.

So what am I? I guess that when forced to stick on a label, I will call myself an inspirational fiction writer but that feels a bit too boxy for me. Instead, I will let inspiration mold my pen and trace a path. Of course, this is irreverent to traditional publishing/writing and to the mighty pen gods, the omniscient powers that be. I am at peace with that.

My Obsession with Westerns

I don’t know how it started, but lately, I have been watching the old westerns. It has become an obsession. I cannot get enough of Bonanza, Wagon Train, and The Rifleman. I love the story line on these westerns, but also, I find myself mesmerized by the background in a scene – the furniture, décor, especially in La Ponderosa. Love that place. This has peak an interest in possibly exploring western novels. I have not read many western novels; in fact, I have only read one, which I enjoyed very much – The Last Hunt by Cliff Burns. I also love the cover.

Other than that, I have only read western comic books when I was a kid. One thing I remember, and that is my grandfather and I watching together western movies and series on TV when I was a child. It brings warm and happy memories.

There is something spellbinding about a western. Its uncomplicated simplicity and easy flow takes me along for the ride. It feels natural. It is like a fresh breath of air. Will I ever write a western? I don’t know. I would have to read plenty of them (and I mean plenty) before attempting such an adventure.

To Know, and Know Well

“Write what you know.” I’ve heard this advice many times, and have to admit that I did not realize the depth of it until the other day when I was thinking about the past decade, when a lot of changes took place in my life. Previously, I thought that it referred to field of study, work, expertise, and current/past endeavors, the intellectual and methodology areas, for most part. Rarely did I think of all the emotional impact that living brings to writing. Aside from memoirs, DIY/expert books, educational, and self-help books, where the emotional and factual views are strong, other genres seemed to me a bit more “creative and imaginative” as well as less constrained and more freely approachable.

As writers, many of us are observers and draw much inspiration from our environment and practically anything that crosses our path. However, we tend to forget where we have been in life, emotionally, and tend to dismiss our feelings in those life situations as past. This information is permanently attached/stored in us, and ready to be used as inspiration on our next novel. It will serve us when describing a situation , a similar place, a character that is feeling something we already experienced.
Yes, we have all experienced life in different ways, at many levels. Have you ever been wronged in some way, betrayed, tricked, taken for granted? Ever suffered the loss of a loved one? Have you ever been through so much that it hurts to remember? Have you been so happy, in love, elated, and/or experienced the most sublime of moments in your life? Have life been good to you? Then you can describe with vivid intent how your characters feel in similar situations, making them as human and real as you can. You are writing what you know, and know well. The rest is up to your creativity, passion, and imagination. For writing what you know goes beyond expertise, it transcend your intellectual knowledge of the physical, it duels in you, forever.

A book can be inspirational, educational, entertaining, instructional, helpful, and so many other things, but it can also be a healing tool for the reader as well as it’s author.

In Retrospect

I have done a bit of soul searching. In retrospect, a lot has happened in the past 7 years, including my decision to publish independently. Time goes by quickly. There are so many things I’ve learned that to sum it all in one post is not easy, but what I can do is write about a few things I learned in the process, and how important these became in my decision to continue on this path.

I have narrowed it to four points that represent the most challenging elements during that time.

Timing – I had to learn to recognize my own timing and honor it. This was not easy for me. As a person who likes clarity, does not tolerate drama too well, and likes things straight and to the point, I have to say that timing translated into being patient with myself, allowing the time I needed to learn much of the craft and some of the technology attached to it, as well as weed out information while learning to recognize the pertinent information and disregard the rest. Impatience and rush/speed did not have a place in this process, as it was one of discovery and education. The bulk of it happened in the first two years, and it was frustrating at times. I needed to know many things about the writing process but also discover what was right for me, my working style, my pace, my ethics, and what I wanted from it all. And as we all know, the learning process never ends, but I could figure out where I was headed as far as publishing venues and method. Independent publishing was the right venue for me, as far as fitting my personality, work ethic, and writing goals. For me, timing was one of the most important elements during this process.

Commitment – Once I had an idea of the process, had gone through much of the raw learning steps, and mentally dealt with the immensity of the amoutnt of information that was being put out there by other indie writers (which was all over the place and in a broad spectrum), I was able to make a commitment to myself with some clarity as far as what I wanted. During this time I found it very challenging to not fall prey of the publishing frenzy that everyone seemed to have at one point – to publish volume at a fast pace, inundating Amazon and other venues with electronic books. I had to shake off the feelings of “being behind” and replace them with my own sense of what felt right for me, and at what pace. Once I understood what I wanted out of it, and made a long term commitment that had no monetary value attached to it, it became easier to deal with those feelings of “being behind.” The commitment did not come right away but as a result of going through the timing and education process.

The Others – Not minding the Others. The Others refers to what other people thought about my decision to write and publish independently. From views that were as narrow as the eye of a needle to more aceptable views and opinions, many times not solicited, I had to learn that all of it was inconsequential for me. Questionable motives, hurtful comments, and very ortodox views about the craft, had to mean absolutely nothing to me as far as entertaining them in my mind. The Others had no say as far as I was concerned. Learning to deal with the negative during this process determined the next element – Trust.

Trust – Trust is an ongoing issue when it comes to my writing. Not only do I have to trust my internal process and the pen, but also, the inner me has to let the writer out. If you tend to be demanding of yourself, and a bit hard on yourself as well, like I am many times, then trust doesn’t come easy. If by nature you are a trusting person, I think it will flow a bit easier, but if you are not, trusting may present a challenge when it comes to writing, as well as any other endeavor. Trusting the process, trusting yourself, and trusting God, comes all wrapped in a package that you unwrap many times, over and over. I view trust as the most challenging element on this journey, mostly because it determined if I was to take the plunge or not. Trust also refers to keep the commitment when results do not match expectation, and goes hand in hand with faith. Faith is defined as confident belief, trust, conviction, loyalty, allegiance, and also, as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

Trust is an ongoing element. In retrospect, in the past years these elements have been present in my life and most influential as far as my writing journey. As far as summing it all up to this point, I identify those elements as the most important ones in my experience so far. I hope that if you are starting on your journey as a writer, this post offers a bit of help or at least some clarity. Of course, each journey is unique.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Who doesn’t like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? I love them. I have them for lunch many times. Something quick, easy, and filling. Some people like to cut out the bread corners. I cut out the side corners but like the top corner; it is like a door to delight. Sometimes, I eat the end corner; sometimes I do not. Why am I writing about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cutting the corners?

Sometimes, people like to cut corners. They like the quick and easy route. I have found that some people would like to cut corners when it comes to writing or publishing a book. They want to cut corners to enjoy the filling right away. I understand the excitement of publishing your first book; it is like nothing else. People who want to cut corners and jump right away are just excited enough. Sometimes, people expect to know in only one conversation everything that it took me years to learn. If I say something along the lines of “educate yourself on as much as you can about the writing process and publishing business,” it might be misinterpreted as an unwillingness to pass on the information. On the contrary, the intention is of meaning well enough to care. It took me years of research and study on my own to learn as much as I could on the topic before attempting to self publish. I had to make sure that I understood the current trends, technology, as well as to what type of publishing suited my personality, work ethic, and style. I only sent out one query, and as soon as I sent it I knew that I didn’t really wanted to pursue traditional publishing. It was then, after learning some more, that I decided to publish my first novel independently.

It is to the aspiring writer best interest to learn much about the craft, to know herself/himself well enough to know how to choose the best writing path. Industry, genre, writing methods, technology, trends, websites, publishing industry methods … all plays a role in the deciding factor. Many times, writing is approached with money signs in mind – “How much money will I make, and how quickly?” Again, cutting corners. No one can guarantee that you will make money writing. Some writers do well soon enough, while others do not do as well or it takes more than 10 years of hard work to see any financial pay off.

The internet opened a new world as far as writing is concerned. It opened the flood gates and brought opportunity to those who were not able to afford the steep price of self publishing back then. It has allowed me to publish my novels, and accomplish my dream of writing. For that I am grateful. However, when I entered into this beautiful and exciting world I did it with knowledge and sure of what my next step would be, as far as publishing my work. People assume that x amount of books published equals money. That is not necessarily true. They might even change tunes (even with you) when they realize that the bulk of the peanut butter and jelly is at the center of the sandwich. Cutting corners might get one quicker to the center but something will be missing – the knowledge to get there, and keep on going.

I treat writing like any other course of study and post education. Whether you do it on your own or by pursuing a degree from college as many others have done, the important factor is that you obtain the knowledge you need to pursue your writing career clearly. Knowledge is to your advantage always. If in it for the long run, the more prepared you are the better.

More Than One Hat

Fiction writers wear many hats. We wear a costume everyday. When we create a story, we create worlds, and people in those worlds, characters to whom we give life through challenges and the emotions we try to convey through them. Sometimes, readers might mistake a character for its writer or believe that the writer shares its attributes. Although I believe that there is a bit of the writer in between the lines, fictional characters are fiction. We rely on our mind, imagination, observation, and life experience to give life to our characters, but many times, we rely on research, on learning a particular subject to present a character and a story in a better light. Depending on our writing style, we might become poets, song writers, prophets, and even preachers. I have done a little bit of those jobs when writing my books. I’ve written a poem, a prophecy, and pages of an imaginary book, as I did in The Book of Sharon and in Sunrise Souls, books two and three of The Dinorah Chronicles trilogy. I’ve written riddles on Moonlit Valley, and a song in Sunrise Souls. On my work in progress – The Five-dollar Miracle, I had to write an entire sermon.

My point is, we sometimes have to become our characters and see the world through their eyes for a little while, to be able to write the story. Sometimes, the writing feels effortless, and at other times, it is more challenging, but always with levels of engagement. We are separate from our characters but we step inside their world, their minds, and their feelings/emotions to be able to convey a story to the readers as best as we can. In that regard, we wear many hats. We become the heroine, the villain, the priest, the prophet, and even an inanimate object, such as a book of prophecies and teachings.

I write stories, I create worlds, I give life to characters and become one with them, and then, disengage. I put on a costume everyday. I write fiction and love it.

 

 

Inevitable

How did you fall into writing? The inevitable question. I’ve been asked the question many times. Other times, followed by, “I never knew you were into that?”

How do you answer it? I fell into a pile of books while going downstairs half asleep. No seriously, have you thought of the moment when you became interested in writing? Not when you felt “a writer,” because that moment might never come. The usual answer people give is, “I’ve written since I can remember.”  If I go back in time, I can see a child who read everything she got her hands on, a child who amassed a large quantity of pens and pencils, a child who thought that a typewriter was the greatest invention on the planet, and also loved the scent of new notebooks and old books (I still do). I also see a child who followed members of the family, while holding a notebook and pen, and wrote in it everything they did. I see a child who kept diaries, and then, burned them. How many stories do I have from my early years, my teenage years, and the years until I decided to become a writer? None. Not even one. Why? For some inexplicable reason, I had a habit; I burned everything I wrote or broke it into tiny pieces. I never kept one story. It puzzles me today. Although I had the desire to become a writer, I never pursued it. I went into many different careers, pretty much anything that I fancied at the time, but always kept that secret desire well-kept inside me. I had an image of writers that didn’t fit who I thought I was. I saw writers as old people with money. Where did that image came from? I don’t know.

Well, to answer the question – How did I fall into writing? When I resigned from my last job, I felt a strong urge to write, and I did. Almost as a long-lost calling, too loud to keep ignoring. At that same job, in one of our meetings my former boss asked an exercise question to start the meeting. It was, “If you were not here, what would you rather be doing; what is your ideal job?” Each one of us was urged to answer, and we did. Some of us answered honestly, including her, who’d rather be a detective. I answered, “I see myself writing at a cottage near the sea.” Of course, I got the weird looks, but not from her. She said, “I can see you doing exactly that.” Going back to that memory, I think that was the moment when I fell into writing.