Writing Short

by Ottilia Scherschel

Ottilia ScherschelWhen the members of my critique group decided to publish a Christmas anthology, I took on a form of writing I had not practiced for years. Recently, I’ve been working on novels but chose to tackle a short story. Okay, now what?

I knew writing short had its own set of conventions with which I was no longer that familiar. I hoped with a little research and study I could refresh my knowledge. The big question looming in my mind was what story could I write that occurred over a short time frame and provided a beginning, middle and end.

I read an article about Tolkien. He said important truths include the idea that all of life constitutes a clash between good and evil, dark and light, and everyone’s choices, no matter how “little” of a person they are, matter. The idea of making a choice that matters in the moment and how that affects us stuck with me. I had to think in terms of a small choice–the kind we make every day without expecting consequences, the kind we make in a pinch, the kind we see as inconsequential. After some thought, I chose to write a romantic suspense story about a business woman who encounters evil when she chooses to take a train from Beijing to Hong Kong, China, during the Christmas season.

I worked on the story for weeks to discover my facts, to pinpoint the details and action I needed and to add that touch of romance. The project turned out to be more labor intensive than I anticipated. When I completed the story, my journey felt worthy. I had a sense of accomplishment. I hope you enjoy reading “Night Train to Hong Kong” in the Love for Christmas anthology releasing in November 2017.

How Do Writers Measure Success,Part 1 by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

So, I’ve written a book. Or a few. How do I know I’m a success as a writer?

That would depend on how I measure success.

I could pick the most common measures – money and fame – but even that is a matter of personal definition.

Financial success is certainly one way to measure success. Money as the currency of success seems pretty self-explanatory.But how much money equals success? Does it have to be”Lottery Rich” (enough to never worry about money again)? Enough to quit my job and support myself? Enough to buy a house? Or does even a single sale do it for me?

Or maybe its recognition, like hitting the New York Times or USA Today’s Best Seller lists. Or winning an award of some kind.

Personally, I think a definition of success has more to do with what satisfies us than just a dollar amount.

They say that nothing succeeds like success, but I think it’s satisfaction that keeps us coming back and working hard. I work in a corporate world and I’ve seen companies spend a lot of money and time trying to figure out the key to keeping good employees. I’ve been asked to take my share of surveys that have been developed to try and zero in on what makes people want to stay a a particular job or company.

In these kinds of surveys, I’ve been asked to rate the factors like the following in order of importance for why I stay at my job or company: Salary, health benefits, geographical distance from home, manager, opportunity to grow, feeling like I have meaningful work, feeling enabled to make decisions, etc.

I’m also asked to rate the reasons I would leave, or have left, a job.

The answers are not as simple as you’d think. Over and over, the results of these surveys show that salary actually does not occupy the first position for why someone chooses to stay in a job. Actually, feeling recognized and empowered has that spot.

Also interesting – the number one reason people leave a job is their boss. A high salary doesn’t overcome the daily misery of working under a bad manager.

In other words, for people who work for a living- and work hard- money simply isn’t everything. It isn’t even the most important thing. In fact, if that is the measure of success, it simply isn’t enough.

Its something a little more wiggly and subjective. It’s a little more personal. It depends on what you really want.

So as a writer, I owe it to myself to sit down and seriously answer that question for myself;-

Why am I doing this? What do I really want?

I’ll talk more about that in a future post.

A Timely Christmas Message

Winston Churchill’s Christmas Message, 24 December 1941

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, Churchill went to Washington, D.C. with his chiefs of staff to meet President Roosevelt and the American military leaders and coordinate plans for the defeat of the common enemy.  On Christmas Eve Churchill broadcast to the world from the White House on the 20th annual observation of the lighting of the community Christmas tree.

His message begins:  I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family…..

…..This is a strange Christmas Eve.  Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other.  Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not sure that no greed for the land or wealth of any other people, no vulgar ambition, no morbid lust for material gain at the expense of others, had led us to the field.  Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart.  Therefore we may cast aside for this night at least the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children an evening of happiness in a world of storm.  Here, then, for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace.

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter.  Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play.  Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

Churchill’s message is somehow as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.  Let’s take the message to heart and enjoy the holiday season the way is is meant to be.

Emotional Support

By Ottilia Scherschel

I recently attended the Romance Writers of America’s annual conference in San Diego, California. Those of you who attend industry events already know they involve both stimulating and exhausting days of listening, talking, sitting, and walking. They offer a veritable overload of the senses and are a physical stress test. As if all that weren’t enough, add to it emotional ups and downs.

The primary goal of any writer is to provide an emotional experience for her reader. At conference, I was on the receiving end of the emotional ride. I realized during workshops I attended that many presenters had a genuine desire to share their knowledge, so my days at the keyboard would be easier and my learning curve as a writer less steep. I sensed a contagious emotional high among the participants, a can do attitude, and a belief in their own successful futures.

My most significant emotional moment came on the night I had dinner with my critique group. I recognized how much they cared about my achieving writing success and how genuinely willing they were to help me reach my goals. These things are sometimes hard to remember in the heat of a critiquing session. Validation, emotional support, and friendship filled our evening, topped off with a few glasses of wine.

IMG_1815

My critique group with Michael Hague at RWA ’16. 

In the end, I was reminded of one of Winston Churchill’s remarks I have adapted: “If you are going through (writing) hell, keep going.” Why? Because you have a community of romance writers out there who will help you on your road to publication.

I look forward to next year’s RWA Conference for the same reinforcement I received this year. See you all at RWA ’17.

 

Stories From Under the Bed by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

I was recently asked, what do I want readers to come away with after they read my book?

Well, first of all, I’m thrilled readers read my books.

That is the point, isn’t it? To write words, stories, and put them out in a place where people can read them?

I know people who write entire books only to tuck them away in neat little coffins under their beds, never to show them to another living soul. While I greatly admire their ability to actually create and FINISH an entire book, (something I struggled with for a long time), I don’t fully understand this impulse to Never Show Another Soul.  Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of writing something down? Isn’t the written word meant to be read? If not, then why write it?

I mean, I do understand that some people have a very deep fear of being ridiculed for the work they have poured their soul into. Fear can be very powerful.

And I also understand that writing is a learning process for the writer, and there are some books that should probably stay under the bed as far as” prime time” is concerned.

But writing is a learning process, so eventually, these things must see the light of day and actually be read- by someone, at some point. (Showing it to other writers is sometimes a good place to start). That is the only way to know how good, or how bad, they really are. And to create the opportunity to actually become a better writer- to learn what you could have done better, then try it.

I’ve written stories since I was a child. I knew that someday, I’d write a book. I tucked that dream under my bed and it nearly died in its neat little coffin, buried under the weight of daily life ticking away in years. Luckily it revived and reminded me it was there. One thing about this dream, though. It was always to write a book so people would read it.

Maybe it’s more natural for me to take this view of writing because I have a performer gene. I have a bit of musical talent, for both singing and playing an instrument, which I’ve gone to some trouble to cultivate. So the idea of getting up in front of an audience and displaying (exposing) my talent (or lack thereof) is something I’ve always accepted as part of the “artistic talent” deal.

And writing is a lot like music. Music must be played, it must be heard. Writing is meant to be read. It’s part of the definition of the thing itself.

When someone reads the words I write, the words become more than arbitrary ink marks on white paper. A whole world, a whole reality, springs to life in the reader’s mind. Directly from mine.

Stephen King talks about this kind of amazing connection between the writer and the reader that completes the circuit of telling the story. Like a live wire, always waiting to make contact. The reader can experience this shared reality regardless of the distance of space and time between them and the writer. The words are the notes, music waiting to be played.  Written to be heard.

I write so people can read what I wrote. I write for you, the reader.

And the answer to the original question is I hope you, my reader, come away with a combination of what I put into my book when I wrote it and what you bring to the book when you read it. That you find something that rings emotionally true to you in the story. I hope it makes you smile and I hope it makes you want to read another one!

Staying The Course

by Ottilia Scherschel

I read a statistic recently that said people finish reading ten per cent of the books they start. A friend of mine calls bookmarks his white flags of surrender since he leaves them in books he doesn’t finish. As a writer, I often ask myself when starting a project if I can stay the course.

The things that make me start a story will not help me finish. Stories carry a certain Ottilia Scherschelexcitement at the beginning—a sort of high. I have the opportunity to discover new ideas, create new characters and settings, and build a plot. The newness of every story sustains me for a while, but the novelty wears off when I start digging deeper and deeper into my creation. At some point, the end seems far away and the road to get there endless. I feel like I want to chuck everything I’ve put together.

I’ve been writing long enough now to know my sustenance to carry on can only come through perspiration. It’s that old concept of put your butt in the chair and write. This is easier said than done. I tell myself that my strength as a writer will come from writing. I encourage myself with sayings I learned as a kid like to be good at something you have to practice. Relying on the misery loves company angle, I seek encouragement from my critique group whose members are dealing with the same feelings.

I struggle, but I continue sitting at my computer and working. I slog through my doubts, my fears, and my insecurities. I ask myself what is important about my writing. The same answer always echoes in my brain. What’s important is staying the course—finishing well. I don’t want to be a writer who only completes ten per cent of the books she starts.

How do you feel about staying the course with your projects?

 

 

Goals -In Writing and in Life

By Barb DeLong

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. C.S. Lewis

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a woman of a certain age. And at my age, I’ve occasionally wondered if I’m too old to handle the traditional publishing rat race, or to learn all the ins and outs of the self-publishing business, what with formatting, uploading, downloading, covers, editing, sales and marketing. It all seems so—complicated. Sigh.

But then I take inspiration from other authors who published later in life, or continued to write and publish into their senior years. Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her sixties when she first published. Richard Adams, who wrote Watership Down, was in his forties and continued to write until he died at ninety. Romance author Charlotte Lobb w/a Charlotte Carter, wrote until she passed away at seventy-eight. There’s a prolific Texas author of erotic romance, Desiree Holt, who published her first romance in her seventies. Yee-haw! So, I will continue to set writing goals to achieve my dream of multi-publication.

A goal is a dream with a deadline. Napoleon Hill

But (why is there always a big but?), a goal means there’s a deadline somewhere in the equation. Whether it’s a contest deadline, critique group deadline, personal or editor deadline, there’s a date that must be met. Therein lies the stress, the fear of disappointment, the fear of failure. I thrive on deadlines. I need deadlines so I can at least attempt to order my life in hopes of meeting my goal. I entered a contest this year at 11:59 p.m. The deadline was midnight. Gulp! Just made it.

A goal without a plan is just a wish. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I mentioned ordering my life to meet a goal. I always create a detailed plan for my stories and a schedule for writing time. There are pantsers and plotters and those who are a bit of both. I’m definitely a plotter. I can’t write by the seat of my pants. In other words, I can’t just jump in and start typing away on a half-formed story to nowhere. I create character charts complete with goals, motivations and conflicts along with quirks and eccentricities. I use plotting processes such as the hero’s journey and three-act structure. I need to know what’s going to happen in each scene before I write it. Doesn’t mean I keep everything I write, but at least I have a PLAN.

All of this planning and writing takes time. Just because I’m retired, doesn’t mean every minute of the day is mine to do with as I please. Au contraire. I have a retired husband and nearby grandkids. ‘nuf said. I look at my deadlines and backtrack on the calendar to calculate how many words/pages I need to write and when in order to meet that deadline. Oh, life has a way of fouling the best-laid plans, but getting back on track and forging ahead is key to meeting goals.

Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another. John Dewey

Life is a series of goals, and so are writing goals. Yay! Finished the first draft of a short story. Next goal—edits. Next goal—submit to formatter. Next goal—choose a cover. Yay! I won a local contest. Next—submit to a national contest. Next—send out query letters to publishers. Next—write that next book.

The message here is to keep going. Don’t stagnate. Build on past achievements, or perceived failures. Go ahead, set another goal, set a deadline and create a plan. Dreams can come true.