I thought you might want to meet the inspiration for my new novel, the working title is Finding Grace. It’s set in 1893 during the Oklahoma land rush. This woman homesteaded, alone, and built a life for herself as an entrepreneur, artist, teacher, shop keeper, and photographer. She’s my husband’s great grandmother. Meet Minnie Hoopes and her class of pupils.

Minnie, the teacher, is in the middle of the back row.

Where do I find inspiration?

In a word, EVERYWHERE. I’m not making fun, honest. Some days it is as simple as a sunrise. A snippet of music on the radio. A painting or photograph. A line of overheard conversation. The smell of fresh flowers. A kaleidoscope of fresh vegetables stacked at the store. A little girl with ringlets trying on pink shoes with sequins. Birdsong in the morning. Bugs singing at night. The quiet after a snow storm. Sun sparkling on ice crystals.

See what I mean? I never know what will inspire me. Dreams can get your subconscious going big time. The trick is remembering them when you wake up. Thus, I keep a handy dandy notepad and pen by my bed. I’m pretty good at writing in the dark.

That’s the key really – writing down the idea the moment it hits you. Having pen and paper at hand wherever you are so you can capture the muse as it flies by. Julia Cameron’s method: Morning Pages gives you fifteen minutes to unload whatever is stacked in the mind, clogging up the way. I used to think I had to write perfect prose in those fifteen minutes, but it wasn’t happening. It turned into a data dump, and truly that’s what I needed to do.

The main thing is to clear the roadblocks in your mind. Don’t worry about writing anything perfect. Write. Write anything. Don’t worry about the grammar of repetitive words, that’s what editing is designed to do. I heard an author once liken it to vomiting on the page. That’s vivid and not something I like to think about, but not writing can sometimes make us feel off. Sick, almost. It’s who we are and what we do.

So, if you can’t find inspiration where you are, go somewhere else. Walk in the park. Visit a museum. Sit in a cafe and eavesdrop over a cup of java. If you usually write with a computer, take a notebook and pen – mix it up! Make time for writing. Make an open space in your mind to allow the words and images to come. Like Nike says, Just Do It. There’s a slogan I can get behind. Enjoy the journey!

#4 The Writer’s Journey…

Never really ends.

Once you’ve put your book out there, do regular marketing, then the next step is tostart another story.

If you don’t have any ideas, then go for a long walk and see if something doesn’t pop for you. Inspiration can come from anything and everything, just be open to it.

If you’ve got more ideas than time to write them, pick one and get started. Keep an IDEA NOTEBOOK handy and jot down the other ideas, just in case your memory is iffy like mine.

If you’re a linear thinker, then plot, plan and outline. If you’re like me and are easily distracted, the start where the story started in your head. Write a scene. Then another and another. You may have to fit them together like a puzzle, but that can be fun.

The point is there is no perfect way to write a book. There is your way, and you will have to discover it for yourself. Authors will generally share their experiences, but each of us have our own individual path to follow.

Find like minded writers and create a critic group or book club. Brainstorm, commiserate, and celebrate with one another. No one truly understands the writer’s journey unless they are on it.

Writers Journey Goes On…#4

You’ve written a novel. It’s published. Now what, do you ask? I hear the echoes of the Carpenter’s singing “You’ve Only Just Begun.”

How do you let people know THE BOOK is out there? Does any one care? Word of mouth is a pretty good start, tell everyone you know. Social media is a good way to get the word out there. Visiting libraries, offering books in exchange for reviews on, shout it from the roof top?

Okay, maybe that isn’t the best way to do it, but you get the idea. “Get the word out.” Ways to do that might include bookstores, retail establishments that feature something that might be in your book. Clubs or special interest groups your story would appeal to. For example, if your main character is an avid knitter you have a built-in niche audience. Contact knitting shops or knitting groups and talk to them about your story. You may have to donate a book or two in order to get things started, but that’s a good way to get it out there.

Enter your novel in contests. The fees are generally reasonable and the audience is potentially huge and if you win, you get to talk that up, too.

Marketing is time consuming and expensive. You are not only marketing your new book, but you’re marketing yourself. Do you have a built in audience somewhere? Think about it. Does your book appeal to a certain age, gender or group that you can share it with? Ask around. Think outside the box. We are involved with people at work, at play, at church, at school, everywhere. How can you reach them?

One of my personal favorites is bookmarks. Everyone needs a bookmark and they are an inexpensive investment. There are lots of online printers that will help you design one with your cover and tag line front and center. Hand them out where people like to read – bookstores and libraries, especially. I’m always losing and picking up new bookmarks. Gone are the days when I use the receipt or a ribbon to hold my place. I have a stack of bookmarks and they are generally for books I read and enjoyed.

Talk to other authors and watch what they are doing. One of my favorite authors, C.Hope Clark has an amazing newsletter (Funds for Writers) and built a huge audience for her fiction with that. She gives great advice, too.

Genre fiction will appeal to genre readers, for example, sci-fi readers will try new sci-fi novels and share.

Also, I can’t emphasize enough the power of a book review. I review every book I read on Goodreads, Amazon, etc. Whether I liked it or not, I share my experience. Readers look at reviews to find their new favorite book, believe me. And once they find their favorite author they will read everything they publish.

More next time.

The Journey Continues, #3

You’ve written your manuscript. You’ve edited it more times than you can count. You’ve found a publisher. You’ve edited again. What’s next? Cover art and jacket blurb.

Many publishers request input from the author for the cover. What is important in the story? The house? The battered kitchen table? The lace curtains billowing in the breeze? The publisher chooses the art, folks, 99% of the time. If you are lucky, you can give them suggestions, but in the end it’s out of your hands.

Do covers always represent the story? I’ve been lucky. A friend of mine who writes romance told me a story about getting a cover for her book that represented absolutely nothing in the story. I seem to remember cowboy boots were central and here were no cowboys in the book. She brought it to the publishers attention, but they didn’t change it. Someone really wanted those boots on the front, no matter what. If I recall, the book didn’t sell well.

The outside of your novel will hopefully grab the reader’s attention. It’s interesting and represents the story. The Victorian house that the ladies lived in was a character in Feisty Family Values. There were roses in the yard and it was fall. The cover was fantastic. It made you want to peek in the windows for the characters inside.

If the artwork gets your attention, the blurb pulls you in. What will happen to whom inside? Why would someone want to read this book? A short tag line, created from the text can be catchy. Frankly, blurbs are hard for me. I want to tell too much. So all my blurbs have been shortened by the publishers. Short excerpts have also been used, as well as professional reviews. I was honored to have the NYT Bestselling author, Dorothea Benton Frank review Patchwork Family. It was prominently displayed inside the first page.

Both pub houses have done things just a little bit differently. I’ve loved the result. The last two novels I have published myself and hope that I successfully chose the art and blurbs that make folks want to read them. Don’t forget the art is the first impression. Make a good one!!

Stones in the Road, Step 2

The writer’s journey can be quite the adventure. You never know what is around the next bend in the road, or behind that rock, or just how far it is to the next milestone.

If you’ve accomplished the first steps, writing, finishing and editing your manuscript, then hold onto your knickers, the next step’s a doozy. Finding it a publishing home.

With my first novel, I was so proud of finishing it that I couldn’t wait to find an agent or publisher. I started sending out queries (Writer’s Market is the best resource for that information. It’s available online and in print.) Each agent or publishing house has their own set of submission requirements that must be followed to the letter or your request will immediately be filed in the trash bin.

If they ask for three pages and an outline, that’s what you send. If they ask for the first chapter and a synopsis, that’s what you do. No more. No less. This shows them that you can follow directions. A query letter gives them a hint about what you’ve written, who you are, and why they should care to read your manuscript.

Whatever their guidelines are, follow them. Edit your submission BEFORE you send it. If there are typos, grammatical errors, or some other oops, it will not be read. It will be trashed. Hundreds of queries and submissions are received daily and weekly by agents and publishers alike. If you can’t do what they ask in the proper form, they don’t want you or your work. There is too much competition out here (millions of manuscripts).

I tried the biggest publishers and agents first and didn’t get very far. Setting my sites on smaller houses got my submission read. My rejection file was filled with notes and letters, some of which were copies and some had “ink.” INK IS GOOD. It means they liked it enough to comment. A good first step, my friends.

Many times it takes months before you receive a response to a snail mail query and submission. With email and electronic submissions, that time has been shortened. BUT, it’s easier to say no thank you in an email. Quicker, too. Don’t give them an excuse to reject you. Give them what they ask for and you’ve got a better chance of being read.

When my first novel received comments like, “this is a good concept, flesh it out” or “submit again after you’ve edited” (even though I’d edited it several times), I realized my manuscript wasn’t quite ready yet. My enthusiasm for having finished the manuscript did not make up for the need for additional editing and rewriting. I sent out 75 queries/submissions and although I did have some requests for more material, those magic words “we’d like to publish/represent this novel” didn’t come. Rejections, however, did.

After an extensive rewrite, more editing from colleagues and beta readers, I felt Feisty Family Values was as good as I could make it. I sent out 25 more queries/submissions, this time to smaller publishers and agencies and within a few weeks I had a contract for publication.

It was edited and vetted yet again by the publisher, then put on their calendar for eighteen months later. OMG. I was going to be a published author! From the time I began writing the story and the day it hit the shelves was ten years. A decade. I sure wish I’d started sooner.

The Writer’s Journey, Step 1

A friend of mine asked me to blog on the writer’s journey. First off, if you aren’t a writer you don’t realize what it means. It’s one of those things you have to experience to understand fully, but I’ll try to explain the first steps.

Picture walking barefoot, up a rocky incline, with a splintery staff, torrential rain, wind gusts buffeting you every step of the way and the mountain keeps rising above you. That’s right, you feel like you’ll never reach the top. You hurt and you’re discouraged by the slippery path.

Okay. Now. Writing is much the same. You spend hours pouring your thoughts onto the page, wondering if you’ve painted a clear picture and who in the world will care to read it. You realize writing is harder than you every imagined and making what is in your mind make sense on the page is beyond challenging. Does the world I’ve created make any sense? Does anybody care?

This is a glimpse into 75 percent of the writer’s journey. HOWEVER…

You will learn along the way, how to avoid the sharp rocks on the path. Your feet with get tougher, your legs stronger, and you’ll wear the splinters off the staff that is helping you to stay upright. You’ll find others along the way, others just like you who have dreams and visions of a story they want to share.

You’ll help each other. While each of us is on our own individual path, we cross the paths of others. When we do we will commiserate, support, vent, and celebrate each other’s achievements.

When you’re totally focused on the story, you enter another world. A world you’ve created. You meet characters in that world that want to help you tell this story you’ve envisioned. The excitement will bolster you for the times when the words just won’t come. You’ll use every ounce of energy you possess to make your story come to life and when it does, you’ll feel accomplished.

You’ve birthed a bouncing baby story. You’ve labored and breathed through the pain, now it’s time to tidy it up for others to see. For the layman that means “edit.” Edit is a four-letter word. Edit is what reveals the jewels from the garbage, and we all write garbage from time to time. Edit will polish and comb the baby’s hair, put on it’s best duds and make people want to know the story.

So, to recap. Writing is a journey of discovery and pain, enlightenment and joy. Writing well is hard and will take dedication and total commitment to doing the best you can. I’ll talk more about what happens when you’ve finally written that story later, so stay tuned.