Our winners are: Maria Sanchez and Candy Charville. Congratulations, both of you. To recap: each week, two winners will be chosen at random from the comment section of this blog. Each winner will receive an autographed copy of my latest release, and their names will be announced here, usually on Monday.
I wanted to address a couple of comments that appeared after I mentioned my favorite brainstorming tool, the List of 20. One lady said that, despite physical challenges, she wanted to get more housework done, and I wanted to address that–from the sounds of things, that blog reader is already doing plenty; in other words, the last thing I wanted was to inspire guilt! In this case, I would rather recommend another kind of list entirely–“What are 20 things I’ve done well in my life?” or “What are 20 things I could do to be kinder to myself?” We are at all different stages of life, which makes us a pretty interesting bunch, methinks. I use the technique to build a plot and understand my characters better, but I also use it in many other ways. “What are 20 places I would like to visit?” or “What 20 things do I most want to accomplish this year?” The possibilities, obviously, are limitless.
The second comment was actually a question. Someone wanted a clearer explanation of what the List of 20 is. My answer is, the List of 20 is a brainstorming tool, a way to generate ideas, and to go beyond the stuff that usually comes up first to get to the good stuff. I have a notebook for my lists now, as I want to keep things in one place for easier reference later on, but you could just as easily use a single sheet of paper, the back of an envelope, etc. The most important things to remember are: don’t overthink–write as fast as you can, get it all down on paper, and don’t judge. The first few ideas I come up with are usually ridiculous, but I put them down anyway, for the sake of momentum. Invariably, good ideas pop up toward the end.
I use the technique mainly for plotting stories in the first place or solving problems that come up in the writing. If I find I’ve painted myself into a corner, in terms of a story I’m writing, I can use the technique to find a new direction.
Questions are always handy–I might ask myself, for instance, “What does the reader expect to happen here?” I will then look for a twist, something that would surprise you. (I hope.) I don’t know about you, but I love it when an author takes me somewhere I didn’t expect to go. Because I have read a great deal, as have all of you, I see patterns in books I’m reading or listening to, and I start anticipating how things will turn out for the story people. I often guess correctly–but I still read on most of the time, to find out if I’m right. Few things please me more than being surprised, as long as the writer has laid the proper groundwork. If something comes totally out of left field, I get annoyed. The best books are interactive; the reader is a participant, not merely an onlooker, a game played out on the field of imagination, where the writer and the reader meet and share an experience.
I had a good weekend, spending Saturday puttering around home, playing with the pets, listening to books, etc. I did a few Lists of 20 for the second historical novel, to follow “The Blue and the Gray”. On Sunday, I went to see my mom, and we visited for a while. I brought her potato chips and two new books–at 88, my mother is still an avid reader. She taught me to love books and I will always be grateful for that–and many other things, of course.
Tomorrow is New Book Day, so I’ll be on Audible.com for sure, checking out what’s on offer. This week’s favorites are: “The Five-Second Rule”, by Mel Robbins, (previously mentioned), “The Golden Hour”, by T. Greenwood, a suspense novel by an author I always enjoy, and “17 Carnations” by Andrew Morton. I’m still listening to this one–it’s another story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
I’m still recovering from burning the midnight oil, so I’m mainly making lists and notes and doing a lot of thinking.
See you tomorrow. Or the next day.
No, I’m not getting ready for Christmas in March. I’m making a list of things I need to do to work as efficiently as possible and write good books, plus more personal things, like consistent exercise, etc. Examples: I’ll be writing “The Wager” next, and this is a contemporary Western romance involving a hero, Cord Hollister, who trains horses in the new way, with gentle persuasion, humane treatment, mutual respect and, above all, patience. I know a bit about horses, but not nearly as much as Cord, since he’s a professional, so I’ll be listening to several very good books on the subject. I need to know more about my heroine, Shallie Fletcher, who comes to Cord’s ranch to study his methods, so there will be more list making around her goals, etc. I will also break my 49 page outline, much of which is backstory and will not appear in the actual book, into chapters and, wherever possible, scenes. My editor, Margo, and I will speak once a week, after she’s read my work, to brainstorm ideas and make sure the story is flowing along nicely, and meets the criteria of any good story, as Kathy Sagan, my Mira editor, and I have done so successfully with–drum roll, please, because the new and most probable title follows: “The Blue and the Gray”. I LOVE that title, and I hope it passes through the vetting process–as I mentioned in a recent blog, publishing is a co-operative effort, and we all have to agree. I will need to revise my Christmas novel, which features the Mustang Creek folks, and, finally, revise the Civil War book.
I’ve always been a list maker; in fact, I start every new book with Lists of 20, a marvelous technique I learned years ago, at a Brian Tracey seminar, which I attended with Debbie Macomber. The process can be used for any project, and I highly recommend it–the rules are simple. You start out with a heading, such as (in my case), What are 20 things I know about this book? This character? This scene? I use plain notebook paper and start listing ideas, without judging any of them. Usually, the first half a dozen or two are downright ridiculous, but as I persist, something wonderful happens. I start coming up with original stuff I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise, and often, there are many more than 20 potential ideas by the time I finish. This trick has never failed me and the applications are endless. Try it.
By making the above lists, I will be able to put all these different projects into working order, by priority. Since I’m a gold-star girl, I love being able to mark off a task as finished–what satisfaction that gives me! (Probably why my bullet journals seem to work so well; I use lots of color and art, and I love being able to color in a square because I’ve exercised that day, or met my page quota, etc.) I would probably accomplish little or nothing without my lists and charts; in my native state, I am wildly creative, yes, but very scattered, too. I need a plan, and if I can incorporate color and drawings, my right brain is happy to let the left hemisphere have its say.
Today, I came across an audiobook that has me so excited, I have to share. It’s called “The Five-Second Rule” and the author is Mel Robbins. I’m not even through listening yet, and I am blown away by this simple tool for getting past procrastination and its evil cousins and taking action. If you are struggling with analysis paralysis, as they say in the 12 step programs, this is the book for you. We all have things we know we ought to do, in all areas of our lives, but too often, fear stops us from even trying because–gasp–we might fail. Well, so what? Unless we’re in a life or death situation, we won’t die if we fail. What’s the worst that can happen? Sure, we might fall on our face, make a fool of ourself, suffer a painful disappointment, but, really, is that the end of the world? Of course not. And, well, what if it works? What if we don’t fail? We’ll never know if we don’t try.
Mind you, I’m not saying I always jump right in and go for the main chance. I struggle with doubt every single day of my life, and I’m out to win the fight a little more often. Hence, “The Five-Second Rule”.
This amuses me, how I’m supposed to be selling my own books on this blog, and I always seem to be selling someone else’s. Here’s the thing: if I say something that helps one single person, on this blog or elsewhere, then I have accomplished something important and real. I see my stories in a similar way–success is nice, but it isn’t the be-all-and-end-all–if my yarn gets somebody through a hard day, or inspires compassion toward an animal or another human being, or puts a smile on someone’s face, then I’m happy. And if, when I’m gone, somebody says, “That ole cowgirl was good to me”, that will be all the success anybody could ask for.
Have yourself a wonderful weekend, and be kind to every living creature, including your own dear self. A smile, a touch of the hand, a little well-placed forgiveness, well, any or all of these might make a bigger difference to the recipient than you can possibly imagine.