header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); Thoughts Archives – Kristen Koster
Jan 182013

Staying Positive Despite Rejection: Wildflowers blooming in the scrub by Kristen KosterThis week in my accountability group’s How I Write series we were asked, “Every writer goes through ups and downs. What do you do to keep positive about what you’re working on?” I chose to interpret this as “How do you focus on staying positive despite rejection?” Because, we writer’s know, there are different forms of rejection that must be faced and overcome on a regular basis.

Staying Positive Despite Rejection from Our Selves

This is the hardest one for me. I am definitely my own worst critic. So, how do I deal with this?

Work with a timer.
This gives me something to beat. It’s that competitive streak. Also, I know I have to write until the timer goes off, but then I get a quick break.
Stuff the internal editor in a box.
Ok, so some days the visualization is more like stuffing her into an iron-bound chest and shipping her off to Timbuktu, but I’m sure you get the idea. She’s NOT welcome for first drafts.
Reread Old Stuff
Yup, pull out that ms that’s been hidden with the dust bunnies under the bed and see just how far my writing’s come. Who would ever start with a daydream where the heroine’s looking in a mirror. Cringe and be glad you’re not that writer any more.
Revisit the Praise
Reread some of the good comments from feedback from crit partners, beta readers and contest judges.

Staying Positive Despite Rejection from Our Peers

Writing is often a solitary pursuit, but many don’t think you should remain completely in a vacuum for the entire process. It took me a long time to build the confidence to show my work to others. When I did, I told myself that I wanted the feedback and that it wasn’t personal and that the people giving the advice wanted the same thing I did, to improve the story.

Take what you can use, and ignore what doesn’t make sense or doesn’t work. It’s your book/story/etc, don’t write by committee. But do remind yourself that people have the story’s best interests in mind. Sometimes, when you come back to it later, you may see the comments from a different perspective.
Again, you’re not going to please everyone, but save off the stuff you do well and sift through for the useful stuff. Remind yourself that people have the story’s best interests in mind.
I’m not lucky enough to be in this boat yet, but I’d like to think I could handle truthful ones.
This is a more general space. This could be in email, on your blog, or even facebook or twitter.

Let It Sit
This is good for all of the above: read it, let it sting, bask in the praise, whatever. Then, put it away! Come back to it at least a day or two later and look at it with a fresh perspective.

Staying Positive Despite Rejection from the Industry

I don’t have a lot of experience with the publishing industry beyond querying some agents and editors, but here’s what I’ve learned so far and from watching others go through similar situations.

Hit Send & Move On
After hitting send, I try to jump into the next project and ignore the fact that it’s out there.
What’s the worst they can say?
No, right? Ok, there are probably worse ways they could phrase that “no thanks”, but really, it’s not personal. Move on to the next person on your list. Besides, you’re liable to get pleasantly surprised with a “yes!” at some point.
It’s all Subjective!
Look at how many books/movies/tv shows/paintings/photographs/dances/sculptures that you’ve either loved or hated. Or even just been “meh” over. Everyone has their own tastes and no two people will ever read the same book.
Keep Going/Keep Learning
This may sound similar to the first one, but it’s more specific. Keep practicing, don’t stop if it’s something you love. I don’t know who originally said it, but I love the quote, “Failure leads to success (unless you quit trying.)”. So true.

Your Turn: What do you do to keep positive about what you’re working on?

And if you’d like to read what the rest of my accountability group is expanding out their comfort zones, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Susan Saxx

Aug 032012

Character Traits: Photo of a man reading a book.This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group was asked, “There was an article a bit ago about how readers take on character traits of a favorite character from the book they’re reading. Do you do that with your own characters? Do you find yourself doing something your character would do?

I have to admit I was more curious about the article than thinking about the question itself. I may have tracked down the original article or one very similar, and I wanted to include it here for reference, so you could understand where my thinking on this topic was coming from. The article, “Psychologists Discover How People Subconsciously Become Their Favorite Fictional Characters” by Christine Hsu ran at the site MedicalDaily.com on May 14, 2012 and focuses on the phenomenon of “experience taking”.

The article concludes that in order for readers to make the connection to the character, details that help readers relate to the character need to be shown earlier rather than later in the story. Gee, as writers, don’t we hear that  all the time? This effect is why, suck the reader in, keep them in the story and you might also have a temporary effect on the reader’s daily life. And we can hope it’s a positive one!

So… Most people talk about a writer’s characters from the other direction. What real life experiences and what parts of your life do you put into your characters? Which are the autobiographical parts? But this question turns that concept on its head. What parts of our characters that we’re writing, do we reflect back into our daily lives?

I suspect that a lot of my new found courage and willingness to step outside of my comfort zones is a combination of those two things. I want to be more adventurous and more social, therefore, I write about those types of characters and in turn maybe exploring their lives they have inspired me to venture out of the safe zone. Other than that, I can’t think of any specific traits or characteristics that I’m consciously borrowing from my characters that I write.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could consciously (and I suspect that’s a key word here) pin point any characteristics that I’ve adopted from characters written by other authors. Do I think I happens anyway? Probably. Both in fiction and non-fiction. I mean, part of our job is showing characters learning and growing after dealing with huge-to-them experiences and readers read for the emotional experience, putting themselves in the protagonist’s shoes.

I also remember my husband telling me recently about something he read and it might have been the NYTimes opinion piece by Annie Murphy Paul, “Your Brain on Fiction“. Apparently there are studies that show that when reading about someone doing an activity if it’s well described causes the same parts of the brain get used as when the activity is done for real. The article mentions relating words for smells to the memories in the same ways that actually experiencing the scent triggers. That’s pretty strong stuff…. vicarious experience is nearly equivalent to actual experience! Mind-blowing stuff. Makes you want to go read some more of those inspirational success stories, right?

If you didn’t go read those articles, I think you’ll find them interesting and thought provoking. The concepts should definitely make writers stop and think about their choices and whether they’re being morally responsible in their portrayals of their lead characters.

YOUR TURN: What do you think? Does it make sense? Think it’s a bunch of hogwash? What about the last book you read? Did you want to be more or less like the protagonist? Do you think you may have subconsciously picked anything up from them? Did you feel like you were vicariously along for the ride?


And if you’d like to read how the rest of my accountability group answered this question, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Jun 292012

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group is sharing shout outs for the people and sites who make our lives so much easier in the research department. If you’re looking for fabulous resources for Regency research, check out the sites and people listed below.

Regency Research: 173/366 Hydrangea

THANK YOU! For bringing a bright spot to my day and making research fun, interesting and easier!

I’m not sure if everyone mentioned will see this post, but THANK YOU for your interest, your time and love of the Regency Era. You have definitely inspired me on many levels and I can only hope my own blog and pages here are as useful to others as yours have been to me. Again, thank you for all you do.

Useful Sites for Regency Research

The Regency Collection and especially for the section on Neckclothitania and how to tie Regency style cravats.

Jane Austen’s World is a wonderful blog devoted to, yup, the world of Jane Austen! Lots of great Regency resources and articles to be found here.
You can also follow Vic on Pinterest and twitter at @janeaustenworld.

The Regency World of Author Lesley-Anne McLeod
You can also follow her on twitter at @lesleyannemc.

Shannon Donnelly’s research articles on horses and everything related You can also follow her on twitter at @sdwriter.

Susanna Ive’s Regency research links You can also follow her on twitter at @SusannaIves.

Nancy Mayer Regency Researcher Nancy is the go to gal for answers on the Beau Monde chapter’s Facebook group and their member’s only forum.

Suzi Love’s Blog articles and her various Research Links. You can also follow her on twitter at @suzilove.

Angelyn Schmid collects The Assembly Room posts for the Beau Monde blog, but she also has a great Regency blog. You can also follow her on twitter at @AngelynSchmid.

David W Wilkin has a great blog over at The Things That Catch My Eye where he’s been doing a lot of Regency timelines, notable personalities and lexicon entries. You can also follow him on twitter at @DWWilkin.

I also have more links saved in my Regency Resources page (which looks like I need to update it again with some these!) so feel free to browse over there and see if you find anything interesting.

YOUR TURN: What are some of YOUR favorite places to do do research? Hint: it doesn’t have to be Regency or Writing related at all! I’m curious about all sorts of things.

And if you’d like to read about who the rest of my accountability group are highlighting, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Jun 222012

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group asked about Comfort Zones. So what exactly is one?

Comfort Zone: Those places or activities where you’re comfortable and free from anxiety.

Things that create stress and ratchet up your fears are most certainly outside of your comfort zone.

Now, there’s no question I’m an introvert, I’m drained by physically being around other people and being “on” for them, which is one of the reasons I love the internet. So one of my physical comfort zones is my cave.
I don’t have a dark cave, but it’s mine and it’s comfy.

As you can guess, I REALLY dislike doing new things in new places, especially with new people. Just joining RWA and attending my local chapter meetings used to be outside my comfort zone. Now, I don’t want to miss a month! At times it can be a bit draining, but mostly it’s become something that is a breath of fresh air each month. A sort of homecoming.

On the writing front, there have been a few other frontiers that I’ve ventured toward this year: contests, conferences, and submitting to agents.

In each of these areas, I’ve told myself, “It’s ok. Do it once, if you really hate it, don’t do it again. But you’ve tried. Each step past the line is that much farther you’re stepping out of your comfort zone.”

Ok, so the verdict is still out on conferences, but I’m actually excited about it, not freaking out. Maybe I will when I get there, but I’ll have made the effort. I think it’s interesting that I didn’t even ask my family if they wanted to tag along this time. This is progress for me.

Contests: once I submitted to one contest, I submitted to another. Submitting was the easy part. Reading the score sheets was far more difficult! But I survived. Will I do it again? Probably. It was a great way to get impartial feedback from experienced writers.

Submitting to agents: I haven’t gone hog wild with this one. I’m actually “still waiting” to hear from the agency I submitted to last fall to get my PRO status. Yeah, not holding my breath though! I also won two opportunities through other agents to submit a bit of my work to them for critique. Talk about removing most of the pressure! I got very valuable feedback from one of them and I’m still waiting to hear from the other. It’s only been a few weeks, so I’m not worried! I know how super busy she is from twitter.

I think the biggest thing I gained from these latter two opportunities wasn’t just the feedback, but getting concrete evidence that they’re real people who love books too. They’re not scary except how we build them up in our minds as makers and breakers of our careers.

Does that mean I’m rushing out to query every other agent on the planet? Nope! But, I know it’s issues concerning my manuscript that are holding me back and not fear of the agents themselves.

“Been there, done that.” Is a big phrase for me and it doesn’t come with negative connotations. I don’t hear it in that condescending air of ennui. It doesn’t mean I’m bored with something, but rather that I’ve experienced it and it’s not a huge unknown looming on the horizon for me. It’s more of a “No big deal” type of phrase in my head.

YOUR TURN: What do YOU do to push yourself to step out of your comfort zones?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Apr 132012
Photo of an old foundation at Harper's Ferry, WVa.

I like lots of layers for a strong foundation.

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group asked, “Share at least 3 things you like or admire about each of your main characters. Share at least 3 things you like about your story.”

I’m going to focus on my reluctant duke’s story, Beneath His Touch.

Main Characters

  1. James never expected to be the Duke, but he’s trying, for the sake of his family to do things correctly. He can admit he’s not prepared for the role and needs help. Just how much help, I don’t think he’s quite realized. He also has a quiet sense of humor about him that I just love.
  2. Tabitha is trying to save her brother from himself. She’s always been there to clean up his messes and she worries she will always be there, because at this rate, he’s never going to marry and will need someone to take care of him. In many ways, she’s fearless. She’s not afraid to ask for what she wants or needs, even though she may think she’s nervous about doing so at the time. She’s already decided what steps need to be taken and does them.
  3. Ambrose was a fun character to write. He’s over the top in so many ways, but I think we’ve all known someone similar. Rude, crude and totally wrapped up in themselves.

About the Story

  1. Lots of layers.This is one of the things I both love and hate about this story. There’s so much going on, I have trouble juggling it all. However, this is exactly the kind of story I love to read.
  2. Focus on partnerships. Neither the hero nor the heroine can function at their best on their own. They need the skills, perspective, and experience of the other in order to achieve the best possible outcomes. They balance one another in so many ways. Again, the kind of story I like to read. The hero might come across at first as an arrogant jerk, but as we get to know him better along with the heroine, we know that’s not the real man.
  3. First impressions aren’t everything. Both the hero and the heroine misread each other when they first meet, providing a large source of the tension between them. Getting past these first impressions isn’t the only conflict, but it’s one of the things I like about the story.

YOUR TURN: What are the three things you like best about your current creative endeavor?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 302012

Little girl joyously running across the beach

When was the last time YOU had this much fun?

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group asked, “What’s the last thing you did strictly for fun? Strictly for yourself?”

“Oh, easy question!” I hear you… but take a second and think about it! We get so caught up in our daily routines that it’s all work, work, work. Or at least the same things over and over again. Also, if you’re like me, everyone else comes first. Sometimes this is necessary, pets can’t fend for themselves as easily. Nor can little kids. Even our significant others often need that extra bit of help to get them through their days…

So… did you think that was one question? On first read, I did. What was the last thing I did for fun, for myself? Just for me? You’re kidding right? Let’s see… my oldest was born in 1997… oh wait… no, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But honestly, I do tend to put myself last.

Strictly for Fun

When was the last time you drove down the road, windows open, music blaring and sang along like you didn’t care? Yeah, I can’t remember either.

What about dancing around like a maniac, maniac… oops 80s flashback there. Rolling down a hill or spinning in circles until you were dizzy?

Why do we give these simple joys up?

Anyway… to answer that as one question… I’d say the 365 photo project is probably the last thing I’ve done for fun that’s just for me. I’m so glad Kim & Mel talked me into it! Is it stressful taking a photo every day? I was afraid it would be, but it’s actually been very relaxing. I’ve only had a couple days when I was either so sick or exhausted that it was the last thing I wanted to do, but it felt wrong not to do it. Do I feel a certain pressure to perform and take that “perfect shot” each day? Not really. I’m very fortunate in where I live and I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on my photos, but I’ve also realized that taking and discovering the resulting photos is just something that makes me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when others like the same ones I do, but I find the photos more refreshing than the comments. I have zero aspirations about getting into a magazine, gallery or anything like that, so I’m working on pleasing myself and learning the controls on my camera. My favorite shots go into rotation on my screen saver and make me smile when I walk back through the room.

Strictly for Myself

Now, you could also read “What’s the last thing you did strictly for fun? Strictly for yourself?” as two separate questions. I’m still sticking with the above for the first part… but what about “What was the last thing I did strictly for myself?” That’s a much tougher question for me. Most of my days are still focused on making sure life keeps moving around me. I’ve gotten better about taking time for myself and doing things I enjoy, but I’m also prone to letting my days slide past and then scrambling to catch up on the stuff that has to get done, leaving me stressed and overwhelmed. My mom used to laugh at me because I took my “me time” on Sunday afternoons at the grocery store. It was an hour where I knew my husband would be home with the kids and I didn’t have to do or think about anything I didn’t want to. I could have an hour of near silence! Bliss! Yup, fooled myself good there, didn’t I?

There are two things that I started doing just for me in the past year or so. Once a month, two of my friends from when my son was in Cub Scouts and I go out to brunch. We take a couple hours to visit and gossip and share what’s going on in our lives. These people help ground me and also provide perspective. It’s a nice break from routine and is now something we’ve all come to look forward to each month.

The other is taking one Saturday a month and attending my RWA SD Chapter meetings. This seems like it might be getting close to fooling myself again, but having the day to myself without family obligations and surrounding myself with other writers really helps me recharge and keep the enthusiasm levels high for writing. I’m an introvert, so this sounds counter intuitive, but my chapter is awesome that way. I don’t feel pressured to perform, I can just sit and soak up everyone’s energy and boy does that chapter have it in spades! The announcements for sales, agent requests, contests and good news takes forever to get through! I definitely wouldn’t be stepping out of my comfort zone as much as I have if not for this great group of people. An instant cheering section, a sympathetic ear AND a great resource all rolled up into one.

What? Just two days a month? 24 days a year? That’s all I take and do for myself? It doesn’t sound like much and I’m sure there are dozens of smaller things I do far more regularly, but those are the big ones that stand out for me as being significant and ones that have also made positive changes in my outlook and attitude. The fact that both incorporate the ideas of “fun” and “for myself” make all the difference for me.

Stop what you’re doing & have some fun! Do it for yourself.

YOUR TURN: So… What’s the last thing you did strictly for fun? Strictly for yourself? (Feel free to answer it as one question or two!)

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Spring It Forward

 Writing Life  Comments Off on Spring It Forward
Mar 232012

photo of spring flowersSpring forward. Spring Cleaning. Renewal. Rebirth. Awakening.

These are all clichés associated with spring. Now, we all know that clichés become trite and commonplace for good reason. There’s a universally acknowledge grain of truth in them or tradition builds up and it’s just the done thing.

So… What have I done to spring myself forward this year?

2012 Seems to be the year of challenging myself. This is the first spring in about three years that I’ve felt able to do this. I’m not swamped with my son’s health issues. My focus isn’t bent to making sure he’s finishing every piece of assigned work so it counts toward his attendance or even being split by calls from the health office to come pick him up from school, because his head hurts so bad he can’t make it any longer.

First there was my RWASD chapter’s PALS Challenge where the published authors challenge the PROs to finish a book between February and September. Yup. Jumped on that bandwagon. Signed up to finish a 75k word story, I need to put about 500 words a day toward it. This used to mean about 20 minutes of writing on a good day. Completely doable though.

Next came the chapter’s Spring Into Romance contest (Deadline was extended to March 31, 2012! The contest has a positive reputation for constructive and valuable feedback and is only about $1 per page before postage.) I only judged last year and I’m judging again this year. But, I decided I needed to enter as well this year. It was on my goals list to enter an RWA Chapter contest, and what better place to start than my home chapter. I pushed this one further. I submitted two entries to see the difference between the feedback on the older piece and the newer piece to objectively see how my writing has changed.

Never one to shy away from encouraging others to join her in mad deadline dashes, Bria Quinlan decided to host a #wordfool challenge this year (yup, that’s lots of words by April Fool’s Day). I thought it would be cheating to use the same words I was already doing for the PALS challenge, so I signed up to add an additional 250 words a day to one of my older manuscripts that could use some fleshing out. Again, not a lot, but manageable right now. So far, so good! Even after coming down with a horrible sinus infection this week. I slacked off on the PALs challenge, but even with a 102˚F fever, I managed to find those 250 words. Hopefully, they won’t be too obvious. =)

Use that renewed energy and challenge yourself to take new steps, up your game, reach new heights. Pick a goal, and spring it forward!

YOUR TURN: So… What are you doing to spring yourself forward this year? (This can be in your career, your life, or any creative endeavor!)

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my accountability group is up to this spring, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 162012

Cover image for Dorothea Brande's On Becoming a Writer
This week’s topic for my accountability group in our How I Write Series is “What do you wish you had known before you had even started to write? What would you have told your past self? Would you have discouraged yourself or encouraged? Would you have gone a different route?”

So… this post isn’t so much general advice to newbie writers, but more specifically tailored to what I wish I’d known back in 2007 when I decided I was going to do this writing thing as a creative outlet. I was bored and at loose ends during the summer of 2007. I picked up my husband’s copy of Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande and was blown away.

The book was written in the 1930s, but here she was in my head, speaking directly to ME, telling me I COULD do this! She believed in me. Total and complete unconditional belief.

Ok. That sounds hokey, but it’s exactly how it felt. And, so armed with that boost in confidence and not much else, I set out to write a Regency-set historical romance, just like the ones I’d been devouring at an astonishing rate. In retrospect, probably not the best plan, but not the worst either. If I’d tried something too simple, I would have been bored easily and not stuck with it. Instead, I’m still eager to tell the first two stories I began the right way. And some day, I’ll pull it off! I’m getting closer all the time.


What do I wish I had known before you had even started to write?

How to better tell a story. I’m still working on learning this one, but knowing where to look for guidance would have been a godsend. These books will be some of the most influential to your writing process and understanding of how stories work: Emotional Structure: Creating the Story Beneath the Plot by Peter Dunne, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee and On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels. Go read them now.

Also, listen to Dorothea… write daily. The journaling is a good start, but keep it up and try playing with fiction in there too.

Oh, and going Gluten-Free will help instead of losing so much time to the boy’s almost daily migraines between 5th and 7th grade. Push to find the cause, not just treat symptoms.

What would I have told my past self?

This is harder than it looks. What you read in a published book is NOT a first draft. Don’t give up because the first draft isn’t perfect.

PRACTICE, practice, practice. Practice with ideas, synopses, hooks, blurbs. Oh.. and when you download Scrivener, don’t give up on it. It’s far more powerful than you think it is. It WILL help you see and build the structure you crave.

Would I have discouraged or encouraged myself?

I don’t think there are any valid reasons to discourage myself about writing in general. I definitely needed pushed and bless my DH, he’s encouraged me every step of the way.

Valid discouragement would be to avoid time sucks, avoid long stretches of not writing new words or ideas.

I would encourage putting myself out there sooner and networking earlier. Social media is a force to reckon with, but it’s not the only thing to spend time on.

Would I have gone a different route?

I don’t think I would have done things very differently, just sooner. And more consistently.

Life is going to happen around you. You will hit some serious road bumps, control what you can. Don’t hide from the world, don’t stop writing. Find your escape in the ballrooms, the salons, the characters. Yes, it may be easier to just play facebook games, and you may even convince yourself that you’re “helping your DH”, but you’re wasting valuable time and eneergy. *head smack*

Two other things, you know that Warrior Writer workshop with Bob Mayer?! It didn’t kill you, right? 1) You SHOULD take both days. *head smack* 2) You SHOULD listen to Pam and Margaret and join RWASD right away. *head smack*

YOUR TURN: What career advice would you go back and give yourself when you were just starting out?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group would go back and tell themselves, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 092012

Photo of a rabbit munching on grass.

The seemingly innocent-looking plot bunny
(Cuniculus ex machina).

Before we get to plot bunnies, let’s talk about creative insecurities for a minute. Many people worry to the point of paranoia about having their ideas stolen. This notion isn’t specific to any one industry either. Movies, music, writing, game design, car makers, electronics, everyone’s got something they’re afraid someone is going to overhear and take off with it and make their millions with it.

Unfortunately, ideas are cheap. Ideas are the easy part! It’s the execution of those ideas that are the equivalent of the MultiMillions Lotto ticket. Or not.

So… what’s a writer to do?

If you’ve ever heard the term plot bunny, you already know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, a plot bunny is an innocent looking idea that hops up to you, nibbles at the carrot you’ve been dangling in front of your muse’s cave, and promptly scampers off in completely unpredictable zig-zags only to disappear down some plot hole, dragging you and your work-in-progress (WIP) with it because you refuse to let go of the string tied to the carrot. Way to go!

Today, we’re going to talk about what we can do to harness these wild critters and tamer, more domesticated story ideas and put them to work for us when we need them. Generating ideas, once you start is easy… you play the “What If…” game enough and the ideas start breeding like… well,… bunnies.

How to keep track of story ideas?

You need a way to corral these pesky varmints! Whether you use a notebook, a scrapbook, a WORD document, some other fancy piece of software on your computer or a combination of all of the above really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that your system works for you and that you can periodically retrieve and review your ideas.

Personally, I keep a set of nested folders on my computer for projects I’d like to one day write. Several have simple notes, others are more detailed, complete with pictures and outlines. Others have exploratory writing where a character, a voice, or other aspect captured.

How to decide if an idea goes into the story idea file?

The middle of a brainstorming session is NOT the time to let internal editors out of their box. Leave the censoring until later. Ideas shouldn’t be tossed before they’ve had adequate time to ripen. Some will definitely be “off” when you look at them again. Toss them then. It really doesn’t cost anything in the meantime, and luckily there’s no physical mess or smell to deal with. The ones that only seem a bit stale? Let them percolate a while longer. They’ll either bloom given more time, or prove rotten later.

Yep, I periodically review my idea file (not just when I’m bored or procrastinating) looking to see what’s interesting, might spark other ideas, or just to see which ones need a little air and attention. This is all part of the next section…

How to decide if an idea will make a good story? If it won’t?

Some ideas won’t let go. Like earworms, they’ll keep coming back. Often when you least expect it. These plot bunnies are more like the vorpal rabbit of Monty Python fame. They’re the kind that leap up and grab you by the throat and refuse to let go. These shouldn’t be ignored, but carefully explored and exercised regularly. They can be tamed, although some may take longer than others. If it holds your attention over time, it probably has some merit.

Many people talk about the “Book of your Heart” and “commercial ready” fiction. Only you can decide if an idea contains a story you want to tell.

Take your plot bunnies to the equivalent of a county fair. Talk about them with other writers and readers. If they get excited about a story idea, it probably has some merit.

My biggest problem is identifying story ideas that are with the range of my technical capabilities. I often feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Practice and patience are probably the best tools to use in this situation. I keep telling myself that anyway.

How to choose which story idea to work on?

The one that won’t go away. That’s easy for me to say, because I don’t have any external deadlines yet. I’m free to pick and choose between which characters are vying most loudly for my attention. Shiny New Project Syndrome (SNPS) is a valid concern. This is when anything new looks more interesting than what you SHOULD be working on. Set a limit on how long you’ll allow the new idea out to play. Use it as a reward for progress toward completion on the dreaded old project.

How to take an idea and form it into a plot?

Once I have an idea selected, I play with it for quite some time before I ever try to begin putting together a plot. I have to know the characters first. I have to know what drives them and how they’ll react to certain things. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be surprised along the way too, but I need to know the lay of the land first.

What to do when a story idea hits while working on another WIP?

First, make sure it’s not just SNPS rearing it’s ugly head. If it is, feel free to set aside 5-15 minutes to jot down everything you can think of about it. Remember, at this point the idea is probably not ripe. You can’t judge its merit yet. Let you muse play with it for a bit, then let it sit. Of course, I’ve also taken ideas like this and run with them and I think it shows that they weren’t quite ready to go because there are either gaping holes or I run out of steam after a certain point with them. They’re still in my folder, waiting for more information.

What kinds of ideas are in my story file?

Regency Romance Ideas: Beyond my big three projects (BHT, Revealed, and a new one I just started writing, but have been playing around with since last summer), I have 2 sequel ideas for BHT, a sequel to Revealed, a story about horse breeding and bloodlines in the nobility that’s based on a folktale at the same time, a Regency-set romcom involving mistaken identity and gender role reversals.

Other ideas: contemporaries: chef & foodie/reviewer/blogger, Holiday story with two blizzard-grounded travelers paired up in hotel because the airline assumes she’s male because of her name, then there’s the game developer heroine who finds true love online.

Also, before I go, I’ll apologize for any mixed metaphors or even abandoned ones above. I’ll blame it on the free-ranging wild bunnies and not on distractions or the lateness of the hour.

YOUR TURN: How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you have a wishlist of things you want to work on (feel free to talk about artistic projects, or any other projects around the house, the organization methods are likely similar)?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group suggests for ways to deepen characters, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Feb 172012

Last week in my accountability group’s HOW I WRITE series, I talked about why I love historical romance. This week we’re talking about our mentors, whether they realize they influence us or not.

Mentors Who Are Aware They’re Mentoring

Photo of interconnected hands.My local San Diego RWA chapter has a great image it shares with its members. The image is a powerful one of one hand reaching forward and another reaching back. No matter your progress along your writer’s journey, there’s someone ahead of you who can lend a helping hand and someone else who may be just starting out that you could help in return. As a PRO member, I fall squarely in the middle of the pack. I may not always feel like I have a lot to offer in terms of writing, but I’m always willing to help where I can.

I first met Jodi Henley at Romance Divas. She very helpfully absolutely shredded my newbie offering in the critique forum. Since then, I’ve had many aha moments while chatting with her, reading her critiques for other people, and reading her blog. This quote from Galileo Galilei sums up my best experiences with reading Jodi’s pearls of wisdom:

“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”

You’re still here? I’m surprised you’re not off reading everything on her blog. I’ll be here when you get back.

So many things we hear, read, even experience, don’t sink in and click until we’re ready to hear them or are ready to recognize how it fits in with our own world views. One of the things I love about Jodi is how she makes me think.

I also consider my accountability group as mentors as well. There’s always something to be learned with this group, whether it’s about writing, balancing life, setting goals, or something completely random, the ladies listed at the bottom of this post are truly inspirational and supportive. I also still mentally include Bria Quinlan in this group she started. Thank you all. Again, there’s this wonderful feeling of being able to reach out and find helping hands.

Certainly not least of all is my husband. What can I say, I’ll follow him anywhere. He’s a super creative guy: MFA in poetry, and competent in art, fiction, music, game design and I can’t think of anyone who’d be as patient as he has been to put up with reading some of my horrendous first drafts without falling down laughing. It was his books on writing that caught my interest and introduced me to the person who actually set me off on this writer’s journey.

Mentors Who May Not Be Aware They’re Mentoring

I credit Dorothea Brande as setting me on this journey because after reading her book, On Becoming A Writer, I was bitten by the bug. Her voice cut across the decades and spoke directly to me. She believes in me all over again each time I re-read those pages. She’s my go to confidence booster and somehow, she also manages to say something new each time (sound like something Galileo said?) despite having written the book in the 1930s.

I also regularly read the blogs of the following people:
Kristen Lamb
Anna DeStefano
Joanna Bourne (especially her Technical Topics posts!)
James Scott Bell (his craft of writing books are wonderful and very straightforward!)
Scott Myers (Go Into The Story)

Each of them have provided a different lens to look through and discover new facets about writing or myself. I may never be able to thank them in person, but their insights and assistance are appreciated all the same.

Then there are the authors of everything I read. It’s hard to read for pure pleasure any more. I’m always thinking about story structure or character arcs and trying to figure out just how the author managed to wring such emotion out of a particular scene.

Everyone I interact with on social media has also had a hand in shaping who I am as a person, as a writer, as an artist. It doesn’t take a lot — pointing out a cool site, showing off an interesting photgraph, relating a personal experience, offering an opinion in the comments section, an offhand tip to others with similar interests — those all count!

I guess I’ve just been thinking a lot about who I can/should be reaching forward to and how I can be reaching back to lend a hand. So, c’mon… take my hand. It’s gonna be an interesting trip!

If you’d like to read more about who the rest of the group considers their mentors, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris*
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney *

Your Turn: Who do you consider your biggest influencers? Do you consider yourself influential to others?