Wonderful Workshops

open bookLast week was awesome. I held a free workshop on hooks & stakes at our local library, and we had a full house. Not only that, I saw lots of new faces. That means that word is getting out. Our local writing community is reaching more people and bringing them into the writing fold, which makes me very happy.

So now… [drumroll]…

I’m offering an intensive, two-day novel-writing workshop.

Why? Simple.

I spent too much time writing badly.

I cranked out five novels while reading various craft books and attending conferences. I felt like the advice I got was hit and miss. I wanted a more comprehensive, interactive learning environment for writing the novel. I signed up for an MFA program, which was a chunk of cash.

I don’t want you to have to pay $40k to learn the craft of the novel. I’m bringing you all the best lessons I’ve learned over the past decade and boiling them down to 16 hours.

I’m also hard at work writing a workbook to go along with the class. And we’re going to have fun!

So, save yourself thousands of dollars and a decade of bad drafts and sign up for this two-day workshop here.


Recipe for a Novel

My craft class this semester has been experimenting with form. We read “Recipe for a Self-Portrait” from Frida, then Carmen assigned us to write a recipe for our self-portrait as a novelist.

Like all things in writing, what you set out to do is never what you end up with in the end. Instead of a self-portrait of me as a novelist, I ended up with a recipe for a novel:


1 pound creative ideas

1 pound of determination

2 cups disappointments

3 cups stolen moments

1 T self-doubt

1 cup inspiration

1 teaspoon sheer will

 Soak stolen moments in determination. Combine with creative ideas. Cut in disappointments to form crumbs. Pour inspiration over the crumbs and knead into a smooth dough. Set aside.

Take a walk. Clear the mind.

Form dough into a ball. Squeeze out self-doubt. Pray for more inspiration. Add a teaspoon of sheer will and another tablespoon determination. Roll into 75,00 words. Sprinkle with wit and vivid images. Bake until it smells delicious, but let someone else taste before serving.

Everyone’s recipe is different. What’s in your recipe? Do you have a secret ingredient? I would love to hear what goes into your novels.

Someday begins Today

Recently, I returned from my second residency for the Whidbey MFA in Creative Writing.

I cannot say enough about this program. What sets it apart is that it is taught and run by working writers, and their goal for all graduates is to become working writers. It is not run by a University with the goal of only producing literary novels. It’s open to all genres, all types of people, all with the same goal.

I. Love. It.

One of the inspiring authors who came to the residency was Randall Platt. She talked about staking a claim for your writing.

We all have excuses. Randi had us write our excuses on 3×5 cards, and she read them aloud. Most of them centered around time and being busy.

This is what she said, “Give yourself permission to be a writer. It’s your dream. It’s your gift. It’s your right, and it’s your responsibility to see the dream through.”

Randi Platt gets up at 4 a.m. to write. She’d done this for years because she says that is when she writes the best– early, when the house is quiet.

It got me thinking about my ideal schedule. I don’t work outside the home. My kids are home schooled, so I don’t have a school dictating a schedule for me. Basically, I can schedule myself however I want. I spent a week thinking about what my ideal schedule would be. If I am going to create and stick to a schedule, it has to be a schedule that capitalizes on my strengths and allows for my weaknesses.

I was a morning person until I had babies. They wear you out. When you’re up three and four times a night, you sleep whenever you can for as long as you can. It’s a killer on your sleep schedule, though. My last child was a total night owl. We adjusted our entire schedule so that she would sleep in. Our house is quiet until 8 a.m. And so, I’ve slept in, too. My husband is a night owl. He goes to bed at 11 every night. I can’t do that if I’m going to get up early.

Back in college, when we didn’t have kids and I had early classes, I went to bed at nine and got up at five to do my homework. It was so much easier to think first thing in the morning rather than late at night. So, I realized, Randi Platt was right. Writing needed to be an early morning activity for me.

I’ve laid out a tentative schedule for my ideal day:

5 a.m.- Get up

5-7 a.m- Write. New scenes. New words. This is not editing time. This is writing.

7 a.m.- Morning exercises- push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, sit-ups. (If I’m going to get my writing life into shape, I might as well get my body into shape, too. Plus, after a stint writing, I need to move.)

7:30- 8:00 Make breakfast for the kids. Like I said, they’ve been conditioned to sleep in so the youngest will sleep longer.

8:00 Shower and get ready for the day

9-10:00 a.m. Do school with my kindergartner. The rest of them are self-directed. I just have to check in and crack the whip.

10- 11:00 a.m.- Clean up the kitchen and cook a big lunch. This is another change I want to make in my family. We are home during the day, so I prefer a big midday meal instead of a big evening meal. Then the kids can have light evening meal.

3:00- Go for a walk. My friends and I used to call 3-5 pm the Suicide Hours. They are the hardest with kids– the winding down, dinner hour. For me personally, they are the emotional slump. I get depressed around 3 p.m. That is when I need to get out of the house and exercise. I’m not a runner. Walking is more my thing.

The evenings are when the kids have all their activities- practice, cub scouts, boy scouts, church activities. If I stick to this schedule, my writing will never have to take a back seat to all their stuff.

So, how did I do? Well, it’s only 11:00 a.m., and it’s a holiday. Some cousins are visiting, so my kids aren’t doing school. However, I was out of bed by 5:30 and I wrote for two hours this morning. It was hard. I’d been out of my WIP for so long, I couldn’t remember what needed to come next. This is just day one. Keep moving forward, and most importantly, write on!


Residency Top 10

Top 10 things I learned at my first MFA residency:

1. Take your own printer. I did this and was VERY glad I did.

2. Take more PEPSI. A 12-pack doesn’t last me 10 days when I’m stressed. (Okay, maybe even when I’m not stressed.)

3. Take the rest of your office. I didn’t do this, and ended up going to Walmart to buy a stapler, a 3-hole punch, an extra notebook and more copy paper. And Pepsi.

4. Even when you’re doing something you love, ten 12-hour days are long and exhausting.

5. Writing your emotional truth at hour 10 on day 9 is a BAD idea. I ended up skipping the reading that night, taking a hot bath and trying not to cry because I left my children for 10 days. (That ol’ mom guilt taking its toll.)

6. Taking a break to have lunch with my sister was a much needed sanity saver. We rarely get to see each other without kids, so being able to talk all afternoon was SO nice.

7. People’s opinions about publishing differ and no one has the “right answer.” You have to find your own way. This was brought home to me by two sessions (back to back in the same room) where one presenter gave us a handout entitled “Self-Publishing– Just Don’t Do It” followed by a presentation by a self-published author who started her own imprint and built a successful business.

8. No matter what path you take, the book business is full of supportive, amazing people. This is why I chose the Whidbey MFA over another program. I wanted to meet people who were actually working in the business, not college professors whose focus was on finishing a novel rather than selling it.

9. According to Aristotle, plot is king and all other elements bow to it. Even though agents and editors say voice and character are the essential things of a novel, they won’t read page one if it doesn’t have a good hook. If my goal is to know myself as an author, I am in Aristotle’s camp. This helps me on the craft end to clearly define what belongs in a story and what doesn’t.

10. Even in the summer, Whidbey Island is cool. Take more long sleeved shirts and sweaters. Pretty much, I dressed warmly in the morning, changed clothes in the afternoon when it got warm, then changed back in the evening. Good grief. I need to learn to layer better.

I came home understanding (most importantly) that this is only the beginning. It’s going to be a lot of work, but it will pay off. It is already paying off in my WIP that I work-shopped during the residency. It is the beginning of lasting friendships and fond memories. Hopefully, it is also the beginning of successful writing careers… for all of us.