Everyday Writing - Journaling Adventure

I’d heard of other writers keeping journals, but I wasn’t interested. What would a journal do for me? I’ve enough writing to do as it is.

I’m whistling a different tune these days. I didn’t realize what wonderful satisfaction and perspective journaling can provide. It’s a way to keep positive, constructive thoughts and aspirations close.

I’m not a daily journaler (that is a word, right?); I write in my journal a few times a month, but I always start out my writing with a gratitude list. To keep the important things in life next to my heart. I stop-and-go my writing to let the highest of thoughts and aspirations absorb deeply. My gratitude list includes everything from a warm bed at night and running water to the kindly individuals who cross my path. When our kids were younger, we experienced a financial hardship. We rented a small home not knowing how we would pay. But we did, sometimes a little tardy. We happened to have a landlord who was an angel in disguise. He embodied understanding, patience and generosity, which I still hold close to my heart, some twenty plus years later. Our families were also angels who stepped in to help whenever needed, without being asked.

Journaling helps me to remember those and many other kindnesses, so that I can pass them on, whenever possible. And, so I can better appreciate life and the necessity for helping hands. Journaling also helps me to overcome challenges.

Writing about obstacles, unpleasantries and worries helps to diminish them. They never seem quite as bad on paper. For instance, there’s a human thorn in my side who pops up just when I’ve forgotten the last displeasing encounter. To overcome the encounter, I write about it. That helps me to better understand what’s really going on within myself, and the possible reasons for the actions of the thorn. It helps me to remember that I can’t change the thorn’s inner workings, but I can change my own, namely my reaction. I need to be so good that there’s no room to feel anything but good will. Even toward a thorn. Besides, it’s not that hard to pull the thorn out of one’s side, if done quickly. It’ll hurt less, too.

These are just a few of the things journaling can help a writer accomplish, all of which can lead to peace of mind, well being and better writing. Isn’t that what we all want?

Character Try-Outs: Audition Time

Once I’ve got the seeds of a story, I begin writing and, as new characters pop up, I hold auditions. Not literally, of course, but in my head.

First I consider the basics: gender, age, hobbies, job – and turn to the specifics: quirks, emotional state, sense of humor, role or stake in the story. Character background and history may be important, in case I need to flesh a character out. I also think how the character will look and sound. Here’s an example of an audition:

In Gambling with Murder, coming to the book world on March 29th, heroine Corrie hangs with older folks because the story takes place in a ritzy retirement community where a resident goes missing. But security guards also play a role, keeping the seniors safe, and keeping Corrie under control. Fat chance! (I got that last phrase from a character in Murder: Double or Nothing.)

One of the early scenes involves a guard named Kyle. He’s somewhat menacing at the get-go and takes his job mighty seriously which causes Corrie, and associate Veera, to stand-back, which they don’t often do. Who did I audition for the role of Kyle? A few prospects jumped to mind, real and not so real. Only one character sprang to life and was just who I wanted. Seven feet tall and gangly, but menacing. When Corrie meets Kyle, she mentions his mouth must be filled with steel-capped teeth. I pictured the character Jaws who appeared in a few James Bond flicks. My Kyle loosely resembles Jaws, but with a little more ambition and a soft side that Corrie may or may not discover. 

For the seniors who populate posh retirement community, Villa Sunset, I gathered a slew of old-time actors to audition; very easy for me, since I’m an avid fan of old movies. The seniors are composites of everyone from James Cagney to Myrna Loy with a dash of Laurel and Hardy thrown in. One character, Sofi Reyes, had Myrna’s nose and hair, Jean Arthur’s antics, and a sprinkling of Rosalind Russell to toughen her up.

Each character has to have a distinct voice in my head. Otherwise, how will I know which words to use? During auditions, I listen extra closely once I “meet” the character, and make a list of words relevant to each. For instance, in MURDER GONE MISSING, the janitor’s voice was crystal clear. I knew he’d use words like “nifty.” I also knew he’d feed the koi in the campus pond. Auditions help me create just the right people to play the roles in my books!

First Draft Dread - The Stages

The subject of this post arises just about every time I start a first draft. It’s like I’ve never written one before. It’s like I have amnesia. But, the truth is, I’ve actually finished a book or two and they’ve been published. So?

These are the stages I go through:

Stage 1. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. It’s like sitting in a rowboat without oars, watching a small hole in the bottom grow.

When that happens, grab a life vest (never write a draft without one). A life vest may consist of:

– Taking a short, and I mean SHORT, break, preferably outdoors, maybe skygazing, birdwatching or just casually strolling. Even whistling or singing a jaunty tune can change a mood.

– Reading something by someone you admire or that gives you a lift. Anything that promotes constructive, positive thoughts

Stage 2. Why is it taking me so long? I can’t believe the words don’t just pour out of my fingers by now. Haven’t I learned anything? I have learned at least one thing: that I need to be kinder and more patient with myself when writing the dreaded draft. And I need to unlearn or cast aside the thoughts in Stage 1.

Stage 3. Before I start writing the draft, I tell myself, “I’m glad I created an outline for this installment. It’ll make writing much easier!” Once I start writing, I tell myself, “I’m not using the outline. It’s not fun to know what happens next.” Translation: I prefer to drive myself crazy. What I should be thinking is: flexibility and readiness to change are superstar attributes. They also help the flow of creative juices. Yes, go with the flow.

Stage 4. While writing the draft, I keep thinking back to the opening chapter. It’s too dull. Nothing happens. Then I firmly remind myself: once you finish the WHOLE draft, the welcome mat for revisiting will be awaiting. That’s exactly what I did on Books Two and Five. I went back and created new first chapters. Multiple changes are permitted. No one’ll ever know or care. Here’s a secret: you actually can make that and other changes any time, if it helps you forge ahead.

Stage 5. The dialogue stinks. Everyone sounds the same. My reply: So what? Because, you can…refer to Stage 4, the last three lines.

Wasn’t that simple? Excuse me, I really should get back to writing my first draft.

Writing is hard, but the more you write, and enjoy what you write, the better it gets. (Alice Munro)