Blog hop: My writing process

Thanks, Traci Andrighetti, for inviting me to take part in this blog hop. If you haven’t read Traci’s novel, Limoncello Yellow, I highly recommend you give it a try! And for a limited time, you can get this novel along with nine others for a mere 99 cents (and your buck supports a good cause).

Okay, on to the blog hop.

What am I working on? My first novel, tentatively titled Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer, will be released later this year by Gemma Halliday Publishing. I’m sure I’ll have more edits to do on that, but in the meantime, I’ve been writing a romantic suspense that is as yet untitled. In fact, I just finished it this weekend (cue confetti, horns, and champagne corks popping). Here’s the blurb:

Miranda Vaughn was just found not guilty of fraud, putting an end to the worst year and a half of her life. And now the trouble really starts. Determined to find who set her up, Miranda begins her own investigation—leading her to Macau and Belize, and into the arms of a sexy FBI agent who has his own agenda.

Once I finish polishing this for the beta readers, then I’ll complete the outline for the second book in the Twin Rivers series that starts with Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer. It’s a romantic suspense featuring two characters from Trust Me, Fiona and Matt. There’s always trouble brewing in Twin Rivers.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?  In Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer, I set out to write a mystery that had no murder. There were times when I was writing it that I did consider killing off a couple different characters, but after sternly telling myself that homicide is rarely a solution, I kept everyone alive. Well, except for the part where they don’t actually exist.

Why do I write what I do?  In my day job, I’m a lawyer, and in keeping with the maxim to “write what you know,” I set out to write a legal thriller. But on the way to becoming the next John Grisham, my book kept taking a detour into Carl Hiassen country. I decided to just go with it. Mainly what I’m interested in is crime—the things that people do to each other, the motives, the passions, the schemes, the betrayals. And because my day job rarely ends with a “happily ever after,” I like to read and write stories where the characters do get that.

How does your writing process work? I’m still developing a process, and so far, each book has had its own. What I’ve noticed so far is that I usually write a few scenes, or maybe even a few chapters, then I have to stop and figure out the rest in an outline. I like having a skeleton outline that allows me to work toward the end. When I don’t have the ending in mind, things go off the rails. But my outlines are not detailed, so there’s still plenty of room to explore and be surprised when my characters do things that weren’t planned.

As far as inspiration, Miranda’s story was sparked when I read a long article about financial fraud that included this paragraph:

“As Kuhlmann traveled the world trying to repair relationships, trace lost assets and solve the mystery of Deak’s murder, he descended ever deeper into a rabbit hole. One of his stops was in Macau, where Deak’s office manager vanished without a trace after the collapse. Kuhlmann entered the paper-strewn offices to find the manager’s girlfriend sitting at her boyfriend’s old desk. She opened a drawer and pulled out a photo she’d found there: a grainy black-and-white snapshot of Nicholas Deak, lying bleeding on his office floor, just minutes from death.”

I kept thinking about that woman in the office, her missing boyfriend, the mysterious photograph. The what-ifs kept running through my mind. What I came up with has nothing in common with the story that inspired it, other than the location of the second act in Macau and a scene set in an abandoned corporate office.

What inspired me to write Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer was the title. I was laying in bed and it came to me in that twilight space between waking and dreaming. Then I imagined the first scene, then the second, then the third… until I finally got out of bed and wrote it down.

Next week, stop by and visit these lovely ladies who are going to discuss their writing processes:

Evangeline Holland writes romantic historical fiction set in the Edwardian era and during WWI. Her writing focuses on strong and intelligent heroines grappling with their personal relationships and the thornier issues of their time. She lives in Northern California, but you can find her online here.

T. Sue VerSteeg has always loved to make people laugh. It was only natural to pull that element into her writing. Whether it’s long lost castles, covert paranormal agencies, or cozy mysteries, her snarky, quick witted characters can’t help but follow suit. When you add her super hubby to the mix, there also has to be a happily-ever-after to wrap things up. Visit her at www.tsvbooks.com for a complete listing of her books.

Zoe York lives in London, Ontario with her young family. She has an English degree and works at a university, so it was probably a foregone conclusion that she’d write a romance novel one day. She’s currently chugging Americanos, wiping sticky fingers, and plotting super secret books about heroes in (and out) of uniform. Visit her at http://zoeyork.com/zoes-blog/

And if you’d like to keep up with me and be notified when Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer is released and other book news, sign up for my newsletter here. I promise not to spam you and you can opt out at any time and my feelings won’t be hurt.

2013 Resolution Update — How did I do?

Before I dive into drafting my 2014 Resolutions, I wanted to take a look back at 2013 and see how I did on my last year’s resolutions — or how soon I abandoned them.

To be fair to myself, I actually did quite well on my goals.

1.  Keep a monthly word-count calendar.
Done! This was not a difficult task because I love creating spreadsheets and tracking incremental progress toward a goal. Especially if there are charts involved. Man, I love charts. This year, I think I’m going to use a different type of spreadsheet. This makes my inner accountant ridiculously excited. I had a goal of writing 180,000 words in 2014 and I came fairly close to that with 156,000 words. I’ll do a separate entry dissecting what I wrote last year and what I learned from that.

2.  Finish and edit Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer
Done! It started as a novella. It ended about 120,000 words later. The the painful editing began. Seriously, this book convinced me to learn more about plotting, outlining, writing the ending first — all sorts of tactics that might have helped me rein in my out-of-control story.

3.  Finish draft of PDT
OK, this didn’t happen. I do have a full outline for it, and I’ve written about 10 chapters. I will get back to this standalone romantic suspense novel. But probably not right away. I do love the characters and the premise. Maybe I’ll add this to the 2014 to-do list.

4.  Finish You, Again
Again, this didn’t happen. Once I realized that I need to rewrite the first three chapters, I lost some steam on this. But I do know where I’m going and have a good idea how to get there. It may just take a heavy revision of the 76,000 words written.

5.  Submit something.
Done! And then, done again! I submitted a chapter to a contest, got great feedback and was invited to submit a partial manuscript. And then the rest of the manuscript. That went out on December 1, so this item can be crossed off my resolutions list.

6.  Professional development
Still not networking with other authors, except online. I still haven’t joined RWA or attended a conference. I do have an awesome critique partner and nobody listens to more writing podcasts. (Nobody! I have a long commute.) But I would like to do more in real life, not just online. This will go on the 2014 list.

7.  Write something in first-person POV
Done! Sort of! My new project is in first-person POV and I’m loving it. It’s been really fun and so far, I have received some nice comments about my voice in this WIP. It’s a little more than half-finished.

8.  Outlines for next WIPs
I have many more outlines filed away now — including a couple standalone novels, two in the Trust Me series, and one and a half in a new series of novellas. I did the outline for my first-person WIP in a spreadsheet, so you know I loved that. I had intended to write the outlines for books two and three that follow Trust Me. I have a fairly sketchy one for Jude, but I still have no idea why there’s a dead body in the first chapter of Fiona’s book. But I do have books 4 and 5 outlined.

So overall, I’m pretty happy with how well I stuck with my 2013 goals. I think doing a monthly recap helps me keep on track, so I’ll keep doing that in 2014. Next up, what do I want to do in 2014? It’s time to make that commitment.

Resolution Update — November 2013

I love the idea of National Novel Writing Month. I love the community that comes together in support of each other. I love the madcap dash to write that book now before the idea dissolves into the ether!

I do not love that every November I seem to have huge work commitments that eat up all my spare time and energy. Plus there’s the holidays and I have a large family, so Thanksgiving means either hosting a dozen people for dinner or traveling out of town. This leaves little time for writing.

This year was a little different. I didn’t have huge work projects, but I did have a personal commitment to finish the manuscript of Trust Me, I’m A Lawyer so I could submit it by the end of the month. Because that was my priority, I didn’t sign up for NaNoWriMo this year. Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 3.25.24 PM

But, somehow, I still managed to write and at the end of November, I had logged 15,087 words. That’s nearly 300 more words than my monthly goal of 14,795. So yay! And I finished the revisions for Trust Me and submitted the full manuscript. Now the waiting…

So what did I write this month? A good chunk, 3,270 words, was rewriting scenes in Trust Me. Another 4,784 was on the first-person WIP that is still untitled. And 7,033 words was an outline for a story that one day, I hope, will be book No. 4 in the Twin Rivers series that begins with Trust Me. This last idea grew out of something that my friend’s ex-husband did several years ago, but when I was recently re-telling the story to someone, I got angry all over again. So I decided to put that energy to good use. It’s been productive and cathartic.

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 3.24.49 PMAnyway, I’m now at 136,748 words for the year. My goal was to reach 180,000 words in 2013, and it’s looking very doubtful that I’ll make it.

In the next month, I’m going to do my damnedest to reach my yearly goal, though if I make the 15,000 word goal for the month, I’ll be thrilled. I’ve completed 8 chapters in the first-person WIP and since I have an outline, it’s flowing pretty well. I’m planning to focus on that WIP until the end of the year.

Of course, I’ll be squeezing the writing in between parties, baking, tree-cutting, decorating, gift-wrapping, and all the other fun things that happen this time of year. And with that thought, I think I’ll take a break from the keyboard and start pulling down Christmas decor from the attic.

Resolution Update — October 2013

I didn’t expect to have much to report this month and well, that just about came true. I got the manuscript back from my second beta reader, so I dove back into edits on Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer. Because of that, I didn’t write much last month.

Still, I did write 5,968 words in October, most of that in the first week before I had Trust Me back. Most of that, 4,192 words, was on a lite-paranormal romance that I think will turn into a novella. This is out of my normal area of expertise, which would be suspense and humorous romance. It’s been fun to explore a new sub-genre and develop the supernatural world where the story is set. I also wrote 234 words on the sequel to Trust Me, and 1,542 words on a contemporary novella that I started a couple months ago. I’m not sure where the novella is going, but I’m more than half done with it, so I’ll keep working on it and see what develops.

I’m at 121,661 words for the year so far, which is 68% of my goal. To make my goal of 180,000 words in 2013, I’ll need to write about 58,000 words. That sounds… crazy. But no one ever accused writers of being sane.

So after I wrote nearly 6,000 words in the first seven days of October, I took the comments from my second beta reader (Thanks, Deb!) and started working her suggestions into the manuscript. As I was finishing the revisions using the comments from my second beta reader, I realized that I was not working on the same version that I had revised with the comments from the first beta. And now… ugh. I don’t even know. I guess I need to compare them side-by-side? Blergh.

And that’s why I’ll be spending the first part of November revising, delaying my entry into NaNoWriMo. Which is fine, really. I want to finish Trust Me and get the finished manuscript out to an interested party. (I just have to add that I can’t say that without smiling, particularly because of who the interested party is. SO HAPPY!) I haven’t yet chosen a WIP to focus on in November. I have two WIPs with completed outlines, but it would be nice to jump into the sequel to Trust Me, too. And then there’s that paranormal WIP that’s been tugging at my sleeve.

At least I’ll have a little more time to mull that over, while I start my revisions again.

Happy NaNoWriMo to those participating! Good luck!

And now, to the red pen!

 

The Muse beckons

I am so close to finishing the revisions on Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer. I am up to Chapter 22 and have about 120 pages left. Thank goodness for beta readers who can catch everything from typos to plot holes. Now I need to decide whether to combine two scenes into one, which I hope will tighten up the middle, and I need to rewrite the last chapter to wrap up some loose ends.

While my Inner Editor is trying to focus, my Muse is already starting to look ahead. Yes, I do hear both of their voices, like a pair of bickering sisters. In the last week, the Editor has been winning. I’ve been really productive, getting through large chunks of the book in each sitting. But the Muse, she tugs at my sleeve and points out all sorts of new shiny ideas.

Look at the calendar, she says. It’s almost November and you know what that means — National Novel Writing Month is almost here!

Yeah, Muse, I know. I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo many times in the past. But right now, I have a finished novel that needs to be revised, polished and sent off by November 11. That’s going to cut into my drafting time for NaNoWriMo.

Ah, but remember that excellent character I gave you? the Muse reminds me. The impetuous one? With good intentions, but a bad track record? She’s going to be so much fun to write. You don’t want to put that off.

Well, I may not want to, but I have to. I have these other characters that you gave me and I’d like to get their story published.

Yes, but how about this? *Hands me a fortune cookie.*

Mischevious

You’re good, Muse, very good.

I am, aren’t I?

Fine, one hour. Then I’m going back to revisions. Then you’ll leave me alone until I finish this project?

Oh, yes. I promise. I won’t bother you unless the next idea is really good and perfect for you…

Even more vacation photos

Maine 5 (2)
Just before sunset, Maine coast, September 2013

There’s something about a deadline that inspires me. Unfortunately, I often find that a deadline at work inspires a great story idea or plot twist that I’d rather be working on. This happened today. That bolt of inspiration hit at the most inconvenient time — in the middle of a complex task that I need to complete by Friday for the job that pays my bills.

So I now know a little more about what is going to happen in the sequel to Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer, but I didn’t have time to work on it. I jotted a few notes and hope to get back to it this weekend. Juggling is fun!

While I’m fending off plot bunnies, enjoy this view of the Maine coast.

Resolution Update — September 2013

I didn’t expect that September would be a very good month for writing. I had a two week vacation planned, which meant I would be away from my keyboard during that time. Plus, the first half of the month was busy at work because I was preparing to be away. Yet, I managed to exceed my goal for the month and was struck by inspiration while away so I have ideas for three more books. Yay!

First, the stats.Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 10.12.44 PM

My goal for September was 14,795 words. I wrote 20,847 words. That brought me up to 115,693 words for the year. My daily average was 695 words per day, but that’s a little misleading because I only wrote 14 days in September. So that’s actually *looks for calculator* an average of 1,489 words every day that I wrote. My best day writing was 3,600 words and my lowest daily word-count was 183. I’m now at 64 percent of my yearly goal of 180,000 words.

I focused on two projects last month — one was a first-person POV mystery/thriller (14,392 words) and the other was a novella idea (6,455 words) that struck suddenly and out of the blue and I’m not sure how to describe it. A lite paranormal romance? Sure, that works. I think it’s going to be a novella, but we’ll see.

I also received comments from a beta reader on Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer and should get the other beta reader’s comments in the next couple of weeks. Then I’m looking forward to reviewing their suggestions and reworking that manuscript in October.

Until I get to dive back into Ben and Lindsey’s story, I’m going to continue writing on the two unnamed projects as inspiration hits. My goal for October is to write 15,288 words and to write daily, even if it’s just a few words. I’d also like to make my plans for NaNoWriMo. I have two WIPs that are fully outlined, including the first-person project I wrote on this month, and I think I may use one of them for November. Or maybe I’ll take one of the ideas that hit me while on vacation and just run with it.

Plotter? Or Pantser?

That is the question for writers, isn’t it?

Now that I’ve finished a manuscript and made a couple editing passes, I can definitely say that I’ve learned a lot about my writing process. I didn’t have an outline for Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer. At times, I wasn’t sure how I was going to end it. That’s probably why it came in at 20,000 words over my estimated, or desired, length.

At one point, I remember writing a scene and thinking, “Whoa. They’re having an affair? I did not see that coming!” It was fun! It was exciting!

It was a pain in the ass to edit.

Once I had something written, it felt like it was carved in granite and it was very difficult to make huge changes. While I was writing, I would tell myself to just write. Fix it in editing. You can’t edit a blank page. That’s all true, but I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to take chapters out to fix big, structural issues with your book.

So maybe I’m not a seat-of-my-pants writer after all. Maybe I need an outline to follow. At least a road map. Or some guideposts. At least a compass.

I had an idea for another book and, as is my usual process, I wrote the first scene that came to me. But then I started asking questions about the ending. With Trust Me, I had a problem finishing it because I didn’t know where I was going. I was determined to at least have an ending in mind this time, so I’d know my destination.

I sketched out a rough outline of a few scenes I could see being between the chapter I’d written and the ending I had in mind. And then I filled in a few more scenes because I needed to know how my California-based heroine ended up in Macau. And then a few more scenes here and there to explain the jump to Belize. And then I sat back and realized I had an outline.

Huh. Maybe I’m a plotter after all.

After sending Trust Me off to my beta readers, I had some time to look at the new project again. I was a little concerned that since I’d told the story, in bullet-point list at least, I would lose the fire for it. I hadn’t. In fact, having a few sentences from my outline that set out what each chapter needed to accomplish was an excellent way to get started writing.

This week, I wrote 10,000 words on that project. Knowing where I was going really helped me. It was still fun to write and I learned surprising things about my characters and my story as I wrote the scenes.

Who knows if this is always going to be the way I work best. For this project, at least, I am firmly in the plotters’ camp.

Resolution Update — August 2013

I was a busy, busy writer in August. Just not, uh, writing all that much. I did keep a word count because there were some bursts of inspiration for new works and scenes for existing WIPs. But if I were counting the words I edited out of Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer, it would have been a negative total for the month.*

OK, so there was some production of words. Only 3,120 words, but some of them were big. I wrote 396 words on a project that I think will become a novella. It’s the project I did an outline for last month and after coming back to it after a couple weeks away, I still like it and think it’s going to work. Then I had another out-of-the-clear blue idea hit me while driving to pick up the Chinese take-out last week. I ended up writing the scene on the back of a piece of junk mail in the restaurant lobby before the idea faded. That turned into a 2,724- word, uh, outline? No, that’s not it. A couple scene descriptions, some background on characters, a little bit of plot. Let’s just call it word soup. I think it may eventually turn into something interesting, but it needs to cook a while longer.

In addition to the writing, I gave Trust Me a thorough edit, then printed a copy and mailed it to my critique partner, who is acting as beta reader. I also polished the first 50-pages of Trust Me and sent it in to a publisher who expressed interest.

I’m eager to work on the next project, but I’m still unsure what that’s going to be. In part because I know I’m not nearly done with Trust Me yet. After my critique partner gives me her thoughts and suggestions, I’ll be reworking the manuscript again. And who knows? Maybe an agent or editor will have ideas for revisions, too.

So while I wait for feedback on that project, what should I work on? The sequel to Trust Me? The stand-alone romantic suspense/crime novel that is completely outlined? The other stand-alone romantic suspense/crime novel that’s about 75-percent finished? The new novella project? So many choices… Such a short attention span.

*And yes, technically, August isn’t quite over yet. But I have a family event to travel to and doubt I’ll get any more words written. Inspiration from my wacky relatives? Yes, plenty. But writing? Probably not.