Obligatory #NaNoWriMo Post – 2019 Edition

Welp, here we are: the first week of Nano! Tomorrow is obviously the first full week, but we post on Thursdays so deal with it.

So. How’s it going, boo boo?

At this point, this morning, to be on par you should have hit that all-important 10k word milestone yesterday, looking at hitting 11,669 by the end of the day. But if you haven’t, don’t despair; there is still time. And, honestly, as long as you’re writing, it doesn’t matter if you hit par or if you “win” at the end of the month.

Nano doesn’t work for everyone, but I personally love it. I’ve been participating in Nano or Camp Nano since 2012 when I wrote my first Matilda Kavanagh novel that month, well, the first half of it anyway.

And that’s one of the reasons I love Nano, I love the jump start it gives me on a project. I’ve used it many a time for the push I needed to get into writing.

Take this year for example: I took most of the year off from writing, since about February, and was terrified I wouldn’t get back into the groove of writing again and be back at square one. But the pressure of Nano mounted for me in October and I managed to get thirteen chapters outlined before November first so I had something to start with when the big day came. And, so far, I am slightly over par.

“I don’t need time, I need a deadline.” – Duke Ellington. I feel you man. This is so me.

I like to write more than I need if I can on a given day so when I come up on days like today yesterday, and I can’t quite write the 1633 words I need, I’m still okay on the overall word count.

How do I do it, you ask? Well, henny, sit back and Auntie Shauna will give you a few tips and tricks that work for me.

As I mentioned above, I love an outline. When I was a baby writer, I didn’t outline and that led to meandering, massive manuscripts (say that three times fast) that needed 4-5 rounds edits before they were decent. With an outline I have a map I’m following to help me focus and leads to much cleaner and tighter manuscripts at the end. Yes, I deviate, and that’s okay, but the next page in the outline helps me remember where to pull back on course. Like, this story for example? My MC was giving me serious Carrie in the Library vibes as I was writing, but not when I was outlining. So, it’s in the story now and I’ll adjust as I go along. You can add things that weren’t in the outline to begin with, it’s fun to discover things you hadn’t thought of. So don’t look at an outline as set in stone, look at it as Google Maps that keeps “recalculating” as you turn down this road and that to see different attractions or get a coffee.

I also need a soundtrack.

I like to curate a playlist for every book/story, but I also have a playlist that is just soundtrack scores if I need that kind of big, fast energy without lyrics. It helps me tune everything out and zone in on the writing. Some people need silence and that’s hard to come by, so maybe just put your headphones in but with nothing playing and the soft electronic buzz might help.

Now to get the word counts. I’ve written quite a few books, so the idea of getting 1633 words a day isn’t particularly daunting, but I do NOT sit down and think, “Okay, I’m going to type until I hit 1600 words before I stop.” Nope. That’s a recipe for failure for me. Now, I just might get that many in a sprint/session, but I’m not doing it intentionally. I like to break it into pieces. I’ll tell myself I’m gonna get 500 words and then take a break—which might net more like 600 words. Or I’ll see that I have 20 mins before I have to go do something, so I’ll just get what I get in that 20 and it just might be a full 1k words. You decide if word goals or timed sessions work better for you.

Day-to-day, outside of Nano I may not go for multiple writing sessions. If I have time in the morning and over the course of an hour or two, if I get 1500-3000 words, I’ll call that good for the day and not come back in the afternoon or evening. But during Nano? No. If I have time to get a second session in, I will. Even if it is less than 30 mins. That’s how I stay over par. That’s how you get 2-3k words a day when you don’t have a couple of hours in the morning to do it all.

That’s also you hit par. If you get in your head that you HAVE to get those 1633 words all at once, you may be creating a creative blockage in your system. The anxiety, the pressure, that just steals the fun of this.

You’re writing with literally millions of other people. You’re writing with me. You might be writing with your favorite author. Even if you’re not sprinting actively with friends, if you’re doing this on your own, we’re all doing this with you! It’s a fun, friendly competition where we all want to win, but we’re excited to see you winning too! Nano is like the writer community Great British Bake Off! We’re all clapping for you and saying “Well done!” So don’t work yourself up thinking it all has to happen in one sitting.

I mean, look at this:

See that graph? So I “only” wrote 1334 today yesterday. And I did that in 2 sessions, not one. But I was just so tired and felt kinda grumpy all day; I didn’t have those 300 extra words in me. But I was already over par because of how many words I got the day before. Ups and downs are normal and there is always time to catch up. Do not kill yourself doing this. It’s meant to be encouraging and fun so try to keep that in mind.

You’re doing great. I promise!

One other thing I make sure I do is not end right after a climax. If I wrote a particularly exciting scene, maybe a fight or something intense and there’s a natural end to that scene, and I’ve hit my goal for the day, I will still make sure I start the first couple hundred words or so of the next scene. There’s something about starting a new chapter at the very beginning that kind of feels like starting at the very beginning again and you have to sort of find your momentum again and it can be a little hard. It may eat some of your writing time figuring out how you meant to start the next scene. But if you flow right into it and get a couple of paragraphs, you’re setting yourself up to get right into it the next day. If you haven’t done this before, try it, see if it helps.

One last piece of advice from Auntie Shauna. BACK UP YOUR WORK! Seriously. Email your manuscript to yourself every damn day. Do it after every session if you want—even if that means you have 3 or 4 emails in one day—I don’t care. JUST EMAIL IT. BACK IT UP. DO IT! DO IT NOW!

Of Vampires and Other Things

Back in 2015 – yikes! I’ve been blogging here for along time – I made a post called Ten Good Vampire Books. At some point along the way, that post got caught up in Google’s SEO magic algorithms and it’s had more views in 2019 than it had the year it was published.

Go me?

At any rate, when I sat down to write this post, I planned to make an updated version of the old post, except almost immediately I ran into a problem. I haven’t been keeping up on the vampire literature.

In part, that’s because I have a vampire of my own. Thaddeus Dupont is 100 years old, and he was a monk before he was turned back in 1925. He and his boyfriend Sarasija Mishra appear in the Hours of the Night series I co-write with Irene Preston. (Jump HERE to learn more about Vespers, book 1 in the series.)

Some of you have seen me post about the Hours of the Night and Thaddeus Dupont before, so maybe this won’t be news, but bear with me for a bit. There were a couple compelling reasons I chose to write a vampire character – above and beyond Irene telling me I needed to write another vampire. (She can be very persistent.)

First off, I’ve always loved stories about vampires. Whether it’s trad vamps like Dracula or naughty vamps like Bill & Eric from the Southern Vampire Mysteries (the books that inspired True Blood), I’m a fan. For a while, I made something of a study of vampire fiction, reading as much as I could get my hands on.

Did you know George RR Martin wrote a vampire novel? I couldn’t finish it.

When Irene and I first started working on Vespers, I had a good knowledge of what was out there in the world of vampire literature and some ideas about the kind of character I wanted to create. The popularity of vampire fiction rises and falls, following some unspoken cultural zeitgeist.

Victorian vampires addressed the cultural fear of death. Later in the ’80s and early ’90s, the themes were blood and infection, likely a response to the AIDS crisis. Then in the ’90s to early ’00s, vampires explored our ideas about eternal youth and sexiness.

At the risk of taking myself too seriously, when I write Thaddeus, there’s a similar theme at play. See, I’m the elderScribe, a good 10-20 years older than the rest of the gang who blogs here, and Thaddeus Dupont is my attempt to express my sometimes bewildering experience dealing with the modern world.

Thaddeus was born in 1900 and grew up in the bayou, speaking a patios of English and French, in a time and place before most of the modern accouterments we take for granted. His mildly confused response to his 21st century boyfriend is an echo of my own feelings. I try to keep up, but kids these days….damn….

There’s another, more personal reason for Thaddeus Dupont’s creation, specifically, why I gave him a strong Catholic orientation. I’m a cradle Catholic, and while my relationship to the Church has waxed and waned over the last 50-odd years, it’s currently on indefinite hiatus. The dissonance between Thaddeus’s relationship to the church and the love he has for Sara give me a place to work out my own feelings – in a hopefully-entertaining way.

Irene and I are currently working on Spooked, book 2 in our spin-off Haunts & Hoaxes series. The first book, Haunted, was written for a freebie giveaway, but readers liked the characters so we turned it into a series. I made the first cover (b/c freebie), but we recently unveiled a much-improved version that brands the series.

Isn’t it pretty?!

Haunts & Hoaxes is a mash-up of Supernatural + The X Files with naughty bits thrown in, and we’re hoping to release Spooked sometime in early 2020. Keep your eye out for it!

This post turned into kind of a ramble, but in summary, I probably know more about vampires than is good for me, I hadn’t kept up with vampire fiction b/c I don’t want it to color my own vampire, I have several reasons for how Thaddeus Dupont took shape, Irene and I are headed in a slightly different direction but will come back to HotN soon, and this is one of the longest sentences I’ve ever written.

Happy Halloween!

Oh, and…uh… I have a couple gift codes for a free copy of Vespers. Leave me a comment and I’ll hook you up. (In the off chance that I get more comments than I have codes, I’ll draw names or something.)

Halloween Tarot, Books, and Editing Special! Oh My!

(Originally posted on my website, shaunagranger.com)

tl:dr I’m offering 3 Tarot Reading specials, a discount on MS Critiques or Content Edits, and I have books for sale that I’ll sign for you! Scroll to the bottom for details and how to go about giving me your monies! Erm. I mean, how to get these deals!

If you follow me anywhere, you probably know that I read tarot. It’s a tradition passed to me by my mother and something that I’ve come to love once again.

I enjoy reading tarot and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Obviously not everything is going to be spot on and sometimes the messages can be vague, but for the most part, my interpretation of the messages have been accurate for the client in front of me.

If you follow my blog you know that I offer readings to those who seek them out. But now I’m tossing my proverbial hat on the corner and setting up a table to ask for clients. I’m trying to raise a little extra money because I need to do something about my office. It has become a mess and not the most comfortable place to work in.

office mess

Crazy right? We live in a tiny house that is nearly one hundred years old, which means it wasn’t designed with modern tastes in mind (in fact my office was added on to the original house in the 70s or 80s and you have to go through one room to get to it. It’s weird). There are no open floor plans or high ceilings here; everything is compartmentalized and a bit small. Which also means there’s not a lot of room to spread out.

As I run my business from home, so does my husband. So he has clients here six days a week, which means I’m often closed off in my office to work. Which is totally fine! But if it could been better organized with a little more comfort for the times when I’m researching, outlining, or editing, that would be amazing. When I’m just writing, my desk works for me, if not the ancient chair that I slouch in (heh), but it is often the catch-all for all things paper and business related. Which means it’s not the best place to edit, critique, or outline.

So, I find myself in other parts of the house, only to scurry out of the way when clients come through. Nothing less professional than a harried writer in her pajama bottoms just hanging out with pens in her hair and papers spread everywhere.

Now to the fundraising. If you’ve read this far, I am hoping to raise between $500 and $1,500 total (low end, I just get to  make this a little more comfortable to do all my work in one room, high end I can also replace my desk and be more organized).

The first thing I’m offering is tarot card readings. Three levels.

The first level is a One Card Draw. This is $5 and suitable to basic questions, usually yes or no answers.

1 card

The second level is the Three Card Spread. This is $10 and suitable to slightly more complicated questions, nothing too life-changing but bigger than a simple yes or no.

3 card

The third level is the Five Card Spread. This is $20 and suitable to complicated questions. It can help you with pros and cons of a situation.

5 card

All you need to do is email me at shaunagranger82@gmail.com with your question and any details you think are pertinent if you’re going with one of the two larger spreads and which spread you’re looking for. If your question is time-sensitive, definitely let me know and I’ll do my best to get back to you as quickly as possible.

And, secondly, I am offering to sign and sell personalized books! I have a few copies of my books, which make excellent holiday gifts! Books are so easy to wrap you know.

thumbnail (7).jpg

I have 10 copies each of Earth, Book One in the Elemental Series, World of Ash the first in the Ash and Ruin Trilogy, and Wytchcraft the first Matilda Kavanagh Novel. And 5 copies of Dandelions and Blackbird. They are $10 each with $3 shipping–signed and personalized to who you’d like.

And I have 5 full sets of the Ash of Ruin Trilogy for $25 and $7 shipping. And just 2 full sets left of The Elemental Series for $45 and $9 shipping. Again, just email me at shaunagranger82@gmail.com with your order and what name you’d like inscribed (see below for payment options).

Thirdly if you need a manuscript critique, check out the price page for that and see what you’re looking for, reach out to me and mention the Office Fundraiser and get 15% off the regular price!

Supernatural, prophet, Chuck

And, finally, if you need a content edit, check out the price page for that, reach out to me and mention the Office Fundraiser and get 20% off the regular price!

Please review this page to see which service, critique or content edit, is more what you’re looking for.

I am planning on doing this through the end of the month, but I think I will accept requests for these prices through November since October is already half-gone.

I accept Venmo (preferred), bank-to-bank supported by Zelle (preferred), and PayPal (least preferred).

Venmo: https://venmo.com/Shauna-Granger

Bank-to-bank supported by Zelle: shaunagranger82@gmail.com

Paypal: paypal.me/thegrangers

Competing Demands

When I’m here on the Spellbound Scribes, I try to write about either a craft question that’s been bothering me (see my post on characters-as-verbs) or some quasi-philosophical musings that are rattling around in the ol’ brain.

This month, the only thing on my mind is the upcoming release of my book Lost & Found!

L&F is a gay romance set in 1920 Paris. It’s my first release in over a year, and tbh I feel like I’m one of those jugglers with spinning hats on every stick.

Couldn’t find a gif with spinning plates, but this dude juggling his head is close enough.

There are so many moving pieces to a self-publishing project. Review queries and organizing paid promo and formatting and uploading and updating and blog posts and omg omg omg

I can’t think about it too hard, or my head will pop off. (See gif ^^^)

(If you’d like a taste for how all the pieces of self publishing fit together, check out Nicole’s post from July, where she spells out how she made the USA Today best seller list.)

So…yeah. In the interest of getting back at it, I’m going to close here with the blurb for Lost & Found, along with an excerpt and a link to where you can find it. The preorder price is $2.99 (regular $4.99) so it’s a bit of a bargain right now. Thanks….

Blurb

A dancer who cannot dance and a doctor who cannot heal must find in each other the strength to love.

History books will call it The Great War, but for Benjamin Holm, that is a misnomer. The war is a disaster, a calamity, and it leaves Benjamin profoundly wounded, his mind and memory shattered. A year after Armistice, still struggling to regain his mental faculties, he returns to Paris in search of his closest friend, Elias.

Benjamin meets Louis Donadieu, a striking and mysterious dance master. Though Louis is a difficult man to know, he offers to help Benjamin. Together they search the cabarets, salons, and art exhibits in the newly revitalized city on the brink of les années folles (the Crazy Years). Almost despite himself, Benjamin breaches Louis’s defenses, and the two men discover an unexpected passion.

As his memory slowly returns, Benjamin will need every ounce of courage he possesses to recover Elias’s story. He and Louis will need even more than that to lay claim to the love – and the future – they deserve.

Excerpt
In which our heroes, Benjamin and Louis, make their acquaintance…

The table on the other side of me was empty, at least until I’d poured myself a second glass of wine. Then, crossing the room in a familiar halting rhythm, my neighbor, the man from the café on the Place du Tertre, took a seat.

I raised my glass in a toast of alcohol-fueled enthusiasm. “It’s nice to see you.”

He blinked as if surprised by my words. “I’m not sure I know you.”

His gaze suggested otherwise. “A while ago, you were at L’Oiseau Bleu.” I swirled the wine in my cup. “Are you following me?”

“I had a taste for fish.” Hooking his cane over the edge of his table, he shrugged again. “And I have better things to do than observe the habits of a drunk American.”

We were interrupted by the arrival of my dinner. There might have been humor in his tone, but still, the sting of his words quashed the impulse to invite him to join me.

Turning to the waiter, slick black hair gleaming, he placed his own order. When the waiter brought his wine, I took the opportunity to raise my glass a second time. “Cheers.” I deliberately did not smile. “Comment allez-vous?How are you, using the formal “vous,” not the more intimate “tu.

Tu. In all my time in France, I’d never regularly used the personal form of address. To be honest, if English had an equivalent construction, I could have said the same about my friends and family at home.

Bien. I am well.”

His tone, and the slight tremor of his fingers on his glass of wine, hinted otherwise. He turned as if to shield himself from my appraisal. I couldn’t help myself. It was my nature to observe. Assess. Diagnose. “I’m Benjamin Holm.” The distance between us was too great to bridge with a handshake.

He raised his glass. “Louis Donadieu.”

I forced my fork through the crisp crust of fish. Juices ran free, and my mouth watered. I ate, hunger keeping my attention fixed on the food on my plate. Though it had been almost two years since I’d last sat at an army canteen, I still attacked each meal as if someone might steal it away.

At my last bite, I glanced at Louis. He watched me, a pool of stillness amidst the confusion around us. “Did you even taste it?”

“Yes.” Swirling my fork through the drippings on my plate, I fought the urge to smile, unsure of the rules for the game he played.

He sniffed. “Bien.” Shifting in his seat, he poured himself more wine. As long as he wasn’t looking, I continued my assessment. He held his right leg extended, as if he was unable to bend it at the knee, but was otherwise quite vigorous, virile even.

I finished my peas and potatoes, bemused by my strange dinner companion. After a week in Paris, I’d had no luck with my main goal, and this conversation, though tentative, intrigued me.

“Were you injured?” I gestured at his feet with my wine.

“What?”

“In the war. Your leg.” His narrowed gaze suggested I’d transgressed. So, no questions about his health. “Pardon. I did not mean to—”

“No, I was unable to participate in the grand conflict.”

He turned his attention away, leaving me confused. This was less a game than a jousting contest. Rather than bring another helping of rudeness on my head, I swallowed the rest of my wine and prepared to leave.

“What are you doing?”

I paused in the act of reaching for my wallet. “I’m finished. I need to be going.” Though I had no real destination beyond the poor comfort of my solitary rooms. Instead of my wallet, I fished out the photograph. “Here.” I stood, leaning over his table and offering him the picture of Elias. “I’m looking for my friend Elias. Have you seen him?”

Always the same words, bringing the same blank response.

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be found.” He tapped the white edge of the photograph, and I snatched it away.

“He’s my friend.”

“So?”

His acid tone burned through my good humor. Who is this man to follow and then abuse me? “Have a good evening.”

“Good evening, though if you give up so easily, you must not really want to find him.”

Surprise kept me planted by his table. “Do you know where he is?”

He tipped his glass in my direction, the corner of his lips curling in what could not truly be called a smile. Though it wasn’t a scowl either. “No, but if I do see him, I will send him to the heavy-footed American man who lives on the floor above me.”

Tired of being the target of his sport, I straightened, falling into the habitual pose of a military officer. “Again, good evening.” Annoyed beyond what the situation called for, I departed.

Click HERE to find Lost & Found on Amazon and most every other retailer!

Happy reading!!!

Writing prompts and inspiration

Following Nicole’s awesome post from last week is not an easy task, but I’m gonna try. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and go read it now. I’ll wait.

When Nicole brought up the resurgence of witches in the late 90’s, it got me to reminiscing about me and my friends being swept up in that New Age renaissance, which would eventually lead to inspiring my very first book, Earth: Book One in the Elemental Series.

And that led me into thinking about inspiration and what has worked for me to think of story ideas. Since we’re talking about witches, I’m gonna stick with those stories right now.

Like I said above, my first book was inspired by my friends and I discovering witchcraft and Wicca in high school and finally feeling something like normal and empowered. Obviously, the story evolved into the fictional story that you can read now, but it was very much about wanting to have those awesome, magical abilities and what would have happened if we did. We were obsessed with The Craft and Hocus Pocus and those types of witches.

My next witch story came to me thanks to none other than Chuck Wendig. I know what you’re thinking, wait? That bearded weirdo? Doesn’t he write Star Wars stuff? How did he inspire a witch story?

So Chuck is a pretty cool dude and has a lot of writing advice if you ever feel yourself stuck, go check out his blog.

He used to have Flash Fiction Fridays. I didn’t always participate, but occasionally he’d have a prompt that would spark an idea in my mind that I couldn’t ignore. There were two that helped me start the very first Matilda Kavanagh Novel: Wytchcraft.

Chuck likes profanity. No. Sorry. Chuck LOVES profanity. He’s a master at it. A life-long love affair has made him an expert at creating new and exciting profane words and phrases you might never think of. That love made him give it as a prompt one week. That was it: a 1,000 word story focusing on profanity.

Of course the key word there was “story.” Couldn’t just be a character spewing filth for the fun of it.

A spunky, dark-haired woman burst through a door in my mind, angry and vengeful and full of biting profanity.

“Dirty little numb nut bastard!” I threw my keys into the bowl on the table by the front door, slamming the door shut with a kick. “Goddamn fucking gremlin thinks he can cheat me!” I screamed at the ceiling.

“Mrrrow!”

“Ugh,” I sighed. “Hello baby,” I bent down and scooped up my cat, Artemis, before I tripped over him. He purred loudly in my arms becoming boneless as I buried my face in his fur, stepping out of my wet shoes, kicking them away.

“Alright, Artemis, it’s time for Mama to perform a little payback for that shit-faced dick weasel,” I whispered, feeling a sense of giddiness come over me as I walked into the kitchen. I set Artemis on the counter and poured him some cream from the fridge so he’d let me work in peace.

“So he asks me to make him a fucking spell. I make the fucking spell. I gave him the fucking spell. And what does that stupid mother fucker do?” I asked the cat as I slammed my spell pot on the stove top. “He stiffs me!” Sparks erupted from my fingertips in blue and white in my anger.

“Says he doesn’t need the spell anymore. Says I took too long to brew it. I told that maggoty piece of dog shit that it would take a week to brew! A whole fucking week of my life out the goddamn window!” I snatched a wooden spoon from the utensil holder on the counter, spinning it in my hand. “Well this is one bitchy witch he shouldn’t have fucked with!”

“Mrow?”

And thus, Matilda Kavanagh was born.

A second writing prompt he gave, for a quick 500 word flash fiction, was to pick the name of a cocktail and let it be your inspiration. Luckily, I have a few cocktail recipe books so I grabbed one and had a look and found “Irish Gold.”

I don’t remember why it stood out to me, but thanks to that, the race of Royal Fae came to me, another building block to Mattie’s world and I had the opening of her first story. A troll had stolen a Fae’s clover to blackmail her into giving him riches, but you know what they say, Never trust the Fae. And the troll’s greed would get him into a world of trouble and he would drag Mattie into it.

Thanks to these two totally unrelated writing prompts, I’d thought of a brand new main character and started world building around her and would eventually have eight novels worth of her adventures.

It’s been a long time since I’ve used a writing prompt to help me think of a story, but if you’re finding yourself stuck, it might be something that helps turn the key in your lock.

Look at a picture you didn’t take and try to think of a story unfolding on the canvas.

Listen to a song, something obscure, and unspool the lyrics into a novel. Or even just the title.

Wonder, what would happen if you found a door in the middle of nowhere, open it, where does it lead?

Sometimes all you need to build an entire world is the first stone in a wall, whether you’re placing it or pulling it out to make it all come falling down.

If Love was a Train, I’d write better.

This morning I remembered Michelle Shocked. I hadn’t thought about her in years, but I loved her first couple albums. Here’s a link to a live version of My Little Sister. Such a good song! Back in my cover band days, we used do Little Sister and If Love was a Train.

Good stuff!

I didn’t take many liberties with Michelle’s vocal style. Like, I pretty much copied her note-for-note. Well, maybe not every note but I stayed true to the way she interpreted the songs. Save that thought for later.

The thing that made me sad about remembering Michelle is that when I googled her name, I got her Wikipedia page, a couple hits about a supposed homophobic rant, followed by her apologies for said rant…or denials, or something. Then I went to youtube, and all I could find were really sketchy covers of some of her songs.

Dear god I hope my band sounded better than that.

Which got me thinking about writing. Okay, you’re right. Just about everything gets me thinking about writing, but still. The thought I’ve been chewing on this time has to do with what’s good and what’s not.

It seems to me that the difference between me and the authors that find a place in the broader cultural landscape is larger than the difference between Serena Williams and that seventeen year old kid she played on center court in Arthur Ashe Stadium last night.

Catherine McNally played well – she won the first set, which is not easy to do against Serena – but by the middle of the second set, they could have been playing in different universes.

Catherine is good. Serena is the best, possibly ever.

The thing that hangs me up is figuring out where I fit on the spectrum between “good” and “best”. Do I even reach “good”? I don’t know, and sometimes that uncertainty makes it hard to get any words on the page.

There’s this contradiction between “there’s so much crap out there” and “everyone’s voice is important”. Can both, “you’re a shitty cover band singer” and, “you are uniquely creative and no one else can tell your stories” be true?

And does it matter that my old band’s version of If Love was a Train doesn’t stray far at all from the original?

I don’t need to be Serena, but I’d like to see if I could play on the same court at least once.

I’ve been pondering whether it would be worth my while to get my MFA, maybe at one of the low-residency programs that focus on genre fiction. (I can’t stand to read much literary fiction, so don’t look for me on the lit fic bestseller list, like ever.) They programs I’ve looked at are expensive (!), and while I’m sure I’d learn, I’m not sure I’d learn more than I could teach myself by, you know, reading and writing.

Artists learn to paint by copying the masters. Singers learn to scat by mimicking Ella Fitzgerald. (And yes, I’ve had Mr. Paganini on constant rotation in my brain for the last couple weeks.) I’ve never sat down and said “I’ma write just like _______,” but I do take mental notes while I’m reading.

And I read a lot, hitting just about anything but horror and YA. (And Lit Fic, but we already covered that.) I read, and I write, and I try to push myself.

You may be wondering what brought on this little bout of naval gazing. See, I read an article about the Dunning-Kruger effect. That’s the one that says when you first learn something, your confidence is low because you know you don’t know anything, but once you learn a little, your confidence goes up, higher than your relative skill would warrant.

Once you move toward expert, you know what you don’t know, and your confidence goes down.

Here’s me, down at the bottom of the well.

I won’t ever play as well as Serena, and I do still tend to sing a lot like Michelle Shocked, but I have too much writing to do to worry about how my work will eventually be judged. So, on that note…

…if you can’t sing it, you simply have to …. swing it!

Outlining With Index Cards

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but on the continuum of pantser to plotter, I’m pretty far down on the pantser scale (as in, by the seat of my pants, meaning I don’t do much in the way of outlining). I do try to outline–really, I do! I’ve read a number of craft books promoting the practice, from Story Engineering by Larry Brooks to Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. I’ve downloaded beat sheets and mapped pinch points.

But for some reason, outlining has never quite clicked for me. I’ll get half-way through an outline for a project, only to get so excited about the project that I abandon the outline and just start drafting. Or, I’ll outline all the way through, but then once I start drafting I’ll realize some plot point isn’t working, and instead of going back to the outline and working it out that way, I just say eff this! and figure it out on page. Usually, by the time I’m done with a novel and go back to look at my original outline, the finished manuscript looks absolutely nothing like the outline I started out with.

And honestly, that’s worked out okay for me so far. I’ve written mostly first person narratives that move linearly through time (well, one was close third person, but that’s almost the same). I’ve never pushed myself to work with multiple POV characters, different settings or times, or even too many subplots.

Until now.

I’m really excited about the project I’m about to dive into (no spoilers yet!) but I’m self-aware enough about my own creative process to know that my usually laissez-faire style isn’t going to cut it. With 4-5 POV characters, two parallel timelines, and plenty of intertwining plot lines, I need to do the diligence of actually outlining. Which means I think I need to change my method of outlining in the first place, since nothing has really worked for me in the past.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the past few days, and I’ve finally decided to try out using index cards to outline! It’s not a method I’m totally unfamiliar with–several authors (including Caraval author Stephanie Garber) who I follow on social media use it to outline their books. But I never knew exactly how. Apparently there are numerous methods, but all of them focus on the basic principle of writing scenes, character arcs, plot points, conflicts, etc on single index cards, then adding, removing, or rearranging the index cards until they begin to resemble the coherent plot of a novel.

I’m not positive it will convert me from my pantsing ways, but I’m hopeful for a few reasons:

First, it seems like a very tactile method. Before I actually start drafting on my laptop, I really enjoy brainstorming, jotting down ideas, and fleshing out characters longhand. But in the past, I’ve done my outlining digitally, either on a word processor or in a program like Scrivener. I’m hoping the index card method will be a more organic way for me to explore my ideas.

Second, there’s plenty of flexibility. Like I said, the second I feel boxed in or off base with my outline, I go off script in the draft. But with index cards, if something isn’t working I can just get rid of the card or write a new one. I don’t need to have a sense of pinch points, character arcs, or even linear plot in advance of jotting down scenes and seeing how they fit together. I’m hoping this will stimulate my creativity while still providing structure.

Finally, it seems new and fun. Hey, I’ll admit it–I can be a bit of a dilettante! But sometimes, exploring a new method or element of craft can be just the thing to keep you moving forward and learning new things.

If you’re interested in learning more, here are a few of the resources I tracked down:

Holly Lisle–Plotting Under Pressure

Writer’s Digest–Create Structure in Your Fiction Using Index Cards

Greenkeys–How to Plot a Novel

Have you ever outlined using index cards before? Do you want me to report back on how it turns out? Let me know in the comments section!