Word Count: 59,387

So I’ve been kicking myself the last two weeks because I haven’t had the time to blog much.  Oh, it’s not because I don’t have the time.  In fact, since I’ve stopped watching the two children, I’ve found myself with oodles of time.

One of my “quirks,” as my husband likes to call them, is I will often become obsessed with a project for approximately a month, and then it gets dropped to the wayside.  I tend to pick up the same project again, but not for another three or four months.

Now, you might think that I’m doing that about my writing.  No, actually, my writing has been quite an obsession, lasting for much longer than all my others.  I’m determined to get through my first book.

The last couple of weeks (which is why I haven’t written that much), I’ve been obsessed with rereading all the books that I like, especially in my genre.  My friend also recommended a few books that she’s liked, and told me why she likes them.

Actually, this isn’t quite true.  It isn’t the books that I’m really reading, it’s the passages within the books.

You see, I’ve been taking apart all the books that I like, chopping them up (not literally), and finding the scenes that I love.  Then, I have been typing them out in a Microsoft Word document that my husband will probably end up printing for me.  It’s my “book” of inspiration as I’ve been thinking of it.

I’m not trying to copy, as in rip off, the writers that I love.  I’m trying to create a master document of the writing that I love, so I can read it whenever I have writer’s block.  I’m also studying the manuscript.  Why do I love those scenes?  How do the authors sneak in characterization, other than just a paragraph of description?  What parts of the dialog do I think are terrific?  How do the authors intertwine plot and subplot into their novels?  If it is a series of books, how do the authors drop pieces of significant information – hints of later books, innuendos, plot, characterization, or history?

I think it’s important that all authors have a library of books that they love, books that they can study and read and reread until the pages fall off and the spines break into a hundred pieces.

What are some of your favorite books?


So I came across this blog post about writing several books before one book is published.  Honestly, this is something that I never even considered before, but I guess it makes sense.  I mean, if I sat around and waited for my first book to be published, it would take years and years before I ever published another.  I have to have something to do while I’m waiting, right?

There is a cliché in publishing that by the time a writer finally gets published, she already has a whole stack of novels completed and hidden in a drawer, never to see the light of day. No writer gets their first book published, right?

But it’s more than that, writing another book while I’m sending out the first, I mean.  I think she missed #5, which is, Editing.

I’ve been breaking all the conventional advice and I continually edit my book while I am writing.  Not the “big edit” that I will do once I am completed with the entire novel, but minor edits.  I also have several notes that I’ve made to “go back and fix this part,” because at the time of writing, I knew it wasn’t going to pass muster.

However, once I’m finished with the “big edit,” I will move onto the next book.  Maybe I’ll do another book in the series, although I think I’m going to let the idea stew for a while.  I’ll probably end up writing a completely different novel.

And then when I’m done with that novel, I plan on revisiting my first novel and edit it again.  I’ve become (hopefully) a better writer.  I’ve entered (hopefully) dozens of short story contests, gotten feedback from those contests, went through several college classes, joined a peer editing critique group, had the book read and edited by my best friend, and so on and so forth.

And this growth is what she means about the several books before publishing cliché.

Word Count: 55,238

This week and last week are combined into one post.  As you can see, I didn’t get much writing done.  Part of the reason is because I have been entering several short story contests, my recent fascination.  For that, I ordered two books that I’m eagerly awaiting: Write Ways to WIN WRITING CONTESTS: How To Join the Winners’ Circle for Prose and Poetry Awards, NEW EXPANDED EDITION and Writing To Win:: The Colossal Guide To Writing Contests.  It’s very exciting to add a new dimension to my writing.  All writing is practice, right?

Sadly, this means that I have less time to write my book, but just as wonderful, I am no longer going to be watching children anymore so that will free up loads of time.  Just as great, I am starting a new semester of my recently transferred college degree in Creative Writing.  I am extremely happy about my choice.

I also did a synopsis of my book that I will be writing for the 3DN and also one for the NaNoWriMo.

This upcoming week won’t have much more writing than I have now, because I’m going to write three more short stories to enter into short story contests.  Hopefully, I will come out of it with a better understanding of my writing.  This weekend is jammed packed for me, but I will also sit myself down and write.

Wish me luck on my contests!

My apologies for not writing a post since last Wednesday.  This post is going to be an abridged one, too.  You see, this week I am busy writing short stories for a few competitions.

The first one is Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition created by the granddaughter of Earnest Hemingway and I entered my story called Sakura, which was the project that I did for my creative writing class.  It has some very Asian influences (Sakura means “Cherry Blossom Tree” in Japanese) as well as some historical undertones.  Lorian Hemingway has a fabulous interview that you should check out, too.

The second was the Asian American Short Story Contest and I entered a piece called Our Hands, which is another college essay that I wrote, memoir style.  Out of the two short stories, I think this one is the best, although Sakura does have a nice ending.

The third was an autobiography, done in 555 words or less for the 555 collective.  This was just a submission, not a contest, but I’ve already received an email confirmation that it’s going to be published.  When it does, I’ll post it for everyone!

The rest of the week I took some time off of my novel for the express purpose of finishing my short story for the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition and to do some prompts over at Writer’s Digest as well.

In case you are interested in entering some contests, a great resource is Be a Better Writer, which has the lists written out in submission dates (a very nice tool), and Creative Writing Contests at a WordPress blog which is little more messy but still a great resource.

On Monday, I wrote about my hummus recipe.  I love publishing recipes, and even more, I love writing about why I’m publishing the recipe, so one of the things that I decided to do with my blog was to give everyone more food for thought (pun intended).  Let me know how you feel about them!  I do realize that writing and eating don’t have much in common, but they are also the two things that I love most in this world, aside from the people that I adore.  (They are very closely followed by coffee, sleeping and gardening.)

Which brings me to today’s topic: giving yourself a unique voice.  Writing, like cooking, is all about your style.  It’s what makes you, you.  Developing your style takes time, just like learning how to cook.  It takes experimenting, on a regular basis.  It takes practice, everyday.  And most of all, it takes courage, the courage to open up your cookbook of writing ideas, find a recipe that you want to write, and then bake it.

Lots of times, I run out of an ingredient, which means that I either (a) have to look up a substitute on the internet or (b) modify the recipe.  Taking this analogy a bit farther, writing is like that too.  You look up things on the internet, like grammar, spelling or synonyms.  And then you modify your writing when an inspiration hits you.  Lots of my recipes are like that, and so is my writing.  I read a great book, and then an idea sparks.  Or you are doing something, and all of a sudden, you get an inspiration.   What if …?  What would happen when …?  This is what writing is all about.

Take this blog as an example.  The other day I was making a sandwich for lunch, my Basil, Tomato, and Mozzarella Sandwiches.  This was one of those recipes that my writing inspired my cooking.  I love these things, and I found out about them at Starbucks.  Starbucks is my regular haunt for my novel writing (I never go there otherwise).  So, me being me, I was attempting to recreate the Starbucks-environment at home, because it’s a lot cheaper than going to Starbucks.

Coffee, check.  Sandwiches, check.  Light jazz music, check.  Annoying people who want your seat and are so rude they give you dirty looks while you are writing, check (I have teenagers in the house, so this one is aplenty).

So a revelation hits me while I am trying to find the recipe in my recipe box.  Every single one of these recipes (I have over 400 of them) has a special meaning.  I can write a story about each one of them.  My recipe box has turned into my built-in writer’s prompt idea box.  Why not combine my recipes with my blog?  Not only can I drum up over 400 blog posts, but it’s also an interesting twist (my own voice) on a blog about writing a novel.

Basil, Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwiches.

1 long Italian loaf
6 fresh basil leaves
2 tomatoes, sliced
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

1/8 teaspoon red pepper-flakes
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Slice loaf in half length-wise.  Place each basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese in a single layer.  Combine red pepper and balsamic vinegar for dipping sauce.

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I read a very interesting article the other day about “victim anger.”  This is when you blame everyone else for your problems.  Everyone knows someone like this.  This person just can’t seem to get ahead, and it’s always someone else’s fault.

I see this a lot with dieters, and I know quite a few of them.  This isn’t because I know a lot of overweight people (even though I do), but it’s because, being 95 pounds, I’m a magnet for anyone who feels that they are fat.

I’ve heard dozens upon dozens of excuses, from the old Garfield-like expression, “I’m not fat, I’m just short.”  Or how about, “My body is just made to be fat.”  Even better, “If you can’t accept me for being 200 pounds overweight, then you’re a {{insert bleep}}.”

I’m not bashing on anyone who needs to lose some weight.  In fact, I have a very nonchalant attitude about weight. If you are overweight, and you don’t care, well, then, I don’t care.

The article explains victim anger thus:

As trauma after trauma batters you, you will begin to say, “Why me? This isn’t fair!” You will blame anyone who gets in your way. You will feel victimized by the world. You might even become a psychological terrorist. Because you can’t look at your responsibility in what is happening, you will develop a “victim” mentality, and you will have fallen into “victim” anger.

Just don’t complain that it’s someone else’s fault when you sit in front of the TV four hours a night and eat potato chips.  Meanwhile, I sit in front of the boob tube for a maximum of one show per night (if even that) and I eat hummus and pita chips baked with olive oil.  And then I go for a half-hour walk.

This is what I mean by victim anger, and it just doesn’t happen with people on a diet.  It happens with writers, too.  And yes, I am blaming myself as well, because I often find myself without time.  Some days I make excuses not to write or even go to the coffee shop.  This past week, I made an excuse not to blog.  It’s my kid’s fault because I had to pick her up from track practice.  It’s my insurance agent’s fault because I he wanted to talk to me for three hours.  It’s my friend’s fault because she wouldn’t let me off the phone.

But it’s no one’s fault but mine.

Psychological reasons aside (e.g. exploring the reasons that I am procrastinating), this week I made a renewed commitment to myself.  I decided to cut all the trimmings and go on a diet.  A writer’s diet.  This means that I feel “victim anger,” I need to take steps to avoid it.

The first to go was, unfortunately, watching little babies.  I need to manage my time and it has to come at the sacrifice of being nice, because ultimately, someone else not having enough money for daycare is not my problem.  Finding the time to write is my problem.  Getting my master’s degree in creative writing is my problem.

Mandi’s Hummus

1 (16 ounce) can garbanzo beans
1/4 cup liquid
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
1/4 onion, optional

In a food processor, crush beans.  Add the lemon, garlic, salt, olive oil, cumin and onion as it is processing.  Slowly pour in liquid, adding more if a creamier texture is desired.

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Word Count: 53,534

This past week, I rolled out another few thousand words.  This week, however, marked two significant events to my book.

The first, which is definitely related to the second, is that I got some feedback from my friend (my unpaid, and very highly skilled editor, who also acts as my motivation couch throughout this entire process) as well as my husband.  My husband’s comment was that the book, so far, is interesting enough to read, and this must be something since he has never read a book to its entirety his entire life.  A biased opinion, to be sure, but definitely helpful to keep my spirits positive.  My friend, who also liked the book, told me some key structural areas that I needed to fix (but overall the book was very good so far, and she can’t wait for more of it to be written).  One of the things that she mentioned was characterization, which I will need to correct in my first draft.  The second thing that she mentioned was “to drop seat-holding clues throughout the book, without giving away anything abouts its conclusion too fast.”

She gave me a nice example from one of the books that she was reading, the author being James Patterson.  So I stole his idea, and put in a very enticing prologue, and then the book starts off without any of those characters.  You’ll find one them later in the book, of course, when I want to reveal a nice juicy tidbit, and then you’ll meet the other two sometime even later.  “Make me wonder what ever happened to them,” she told me.  “It should be related to your ending, but don’t make it too key, either.  Just let the reader know something that the main character, or even all the other characters except for the arch-nemesis, doesn’t know.”  This is such great advice, and it comes at a perfect time in my writing.

The reason is because I’m a good way into writing, but I’m not even close to being done yet, so if I want to change things, then I can, without really rewriting entire chapters.

So the second thing that I did is interweave another story line, based off the prologue that I wrote, which was based off my friend’s advice.  This changed my outline somewhat, since I have to introduce these characters, but one of them is going to be introduced right at the time of last week’s ending point.  This coincides nicely with the first “turning point” in the book, according to the Marshall Plan and it also gives my book some depth that I was craving.  This section of the book was kind of lagging, and the outline was a little weak, and it really needed her timely, and wise, advice.

So I learned the most important thing of writing.  You can write your entire book according to your outline, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Or you can view it as as a rough draft, the very first draft of your book, which means that it’s supposed to change and you’re supposed to make your first draft better.

Word Count: 42,291

After my forced jury duty hiatus, I jumped back on the writing wagon, as it were, and fleshed out a good chunk of my novel.  In fact, I spent all day Friday and all last weekend writing.  It was as if something inside of me broke, my inner muse finally pouring over the keyboard, and over 12,000 words just let themselves be written.  It was an amazing weekend.

I think that part of the reason everything went so smoothly is because I finally got past the writer’s block, the one that usually happens around the 15,000 to 20,000 mark for a lot of writers.  I spoke about this previously, where it seems you hit this block because your character hasn’t been quite developed enough.  I originally got through this by reading 45 Master Characters, and following the advice to add bits and pieces about my character, to make him more recognizable as a person as well as a story piece.

I am now safely past a quarter of the book, and it feels wonderful.  Mind you, this is a quarter of the first draft only.  I intend to revisit the entire book later on, putting in more description, filling out the characters more by adding more lines of their personalities, and fleshing out the second, third, and forth points of views.  I think by the time that I’m done, the book should be 225,000 to 250,000 words in total.

This week, I have been giving a lot more thought to my life goals, the not-so-little master list of things that I want to accomplish before I am six feet under.  So I decided to put my writing skills to good use by writing out a scene of what my life should look like in ten years.  Call it the novel, titled Mandi’s Life.

Imagination is a powerful tool to help overcome the obstacles of your life.  I found that many times this is because if you start thinking outside the box, then you think of possibilities that weren’t there only moments ago.  A year ago, for instance, I never thought that I could write a novel.  Sure, I’d fantasize how nice it would be to see my novel in print, or to be a famous writer, or even a stereotypical writer – the one that lives in a deep forest, away from civilization.  The hermit.

It just so happens that I also came across a great article about yoga, and the imagination, which I find relevant here:

Imagination—our ability to create images not available to the sensory system—is arguably our greatest faculty for evolving human consciousness. In order to transform ourselves and our world, we need to be able to leap out of the familiar and into the unknown. The first step in doing this is to imagine a future different from the past, a self-sense different from the one we have now. Of course, we are shaped by our memories, our karma, and the patterns woven into our neurons and cells. Undeniably, we’re also influenced by culture and physical circumstances. Some of these factors are hard to change. But the imagination can help us begin to replace our internal patterns, especially the ones that keep us limited and stuck. If we can reimagine our sense of who we are, we can change our experience of life.

I especially like the line “to imagine a future different from the past.”  I guess that is what I did this week, imagining how my future could look if I follow the path that I am on now.

I ended up with about four pages of what my life is going to look like.  I’ve included my husband, and what he’s doing, too.  And also what the kids are up to.  I wrote about my picturesque house on the beach, the daily walks that my husband and I take, my afternoons filled with writing my latest novel while I hear the sounds of the ocean crashing on the shore.  I wrote about my backyard, and how I make a beautiful sustainable garden.  And the second bedroom, how it is for the guests that love to come to visit.  I even threw in the third bedroom, which I use as my wonderful office, a small room facing the ocean, filled with houseplants that never die.

That place is different for all of us.  If I can dream it, then I will make it happen.

Last week I was stuck in jury duty, which for anyone who has served can attest, is really boring.  They take you to a very large room where you sit all day until your name is called.  If you’re lucky enough to be called, then you can break up your perpetual boredom by sitting in another room (with very hard, very uncomfortable benches) while two sets of lawyers stare at and talk about you.  If you are chosen then you get to (finally) sit in a comfy chair.  If not, then you go back to the sheep pen.

Observing all the jurors is an interesting process, although it doesn’t relieve any of the boredom.  You can get a real treat into the social psychology aspects – how cliques form, who becomes the “leaders” of a group (hint: it’s whoever is the loudest), who become the followers (hint: it’s people who aren’t loud), battles over rulings (hint: it’s the leaders battling over other loud people, and whoever has the loudest voice, wins), and other intriguing aspects of human relations.

This week I didn’t do any writing, although I probably had ample opportunity to sneak in several chapters.  The entire week wasn’t a total waste of time, however, because I ended up carrying things that were easy and lightweight, such as books.  Each day, I pulled a book from my stash of favorites and during periods of non-human contact, I read.

Let me just tell you that the old adage about writers is very much true: all writers are first, readers.  It was a refreshing change to be on the other side of the quill, as it were, as I got lost in the world of make believe.  This time, however, I paid attention to their style of writing and how they formulate sentences, plot and characters.  While I don’t advocate copying another author’s style (or ideas), I do encourage to let the masters inspire you.  I know that rereading has inspired me.

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