Encore Episode: Just Blow Something Up

Can I take a moment to plug our retreat with the #AmWriting podcast ladies? Its called the Find Your Book, Find Your Mojo retreat. It was KJ’s idea, really, so we should give her the credit. But I’ve been working hard on all the details to make it an unforgettable weekend of friendship and writing and laughter. Our dearest hope is that you’ll come with your writing buddy or your writing group and learn how you can use Jennie’s Two-Tier Outline to help you move your writing forward. The Two-Tier can be used at any point. Really. Any point. (I should know, I refer to and rewrite mine all the time.) It’s small and powerful and social, and we will show you how to use it by yourself and with your writing group to help each other move forward.

I’m bringing my friends. Join us and bring yours!

You can find out more details HERE.

We are gearing up for Season TWO of Mom Writes. It’s all about REVISION! And to kick things off, Jennie is going to give a webinar about the Stoplight Method. It’s part of her revision process, and it helps you identify how best to use your time when tackling your revision.

If you would like to sign up for the webinar, you can do so HERE.

Show notes for the encore episode 59: Just Blow Something Up

[NSFK—the end of this episode is Not Suitable for Kids. Abby swears and we don’t edit it out, plus we mention dildos about 16 times, so put on your headphones as we enter chit chat territory at the end!]

Both Mel and Abby are sick. But Mel wins. She has the flu and shows up anyway because she is convinced that part of her self-care is talking about her edits. She tried extra hard this week to make up for her “bad edits” last time.

Jennie’s comments last time were along the lines of “but nothing is happening in the story.” So Mel’s solution was to go back and blow something up.

Jennie points out how dangerous it is to “blow stuff up” in a story. You can very easily make it about plot and not story. Mel’s story is about life and death and the choices we make around life and death. Mel’s writing played into that, so it works. But Jennie cautions writers not to just randomly include epic events in their stories if they don’t serve a purpose in the overarching WHY. If your motivation is “I just gotta make something happen” then that’s bad.

There needs to be a logic to every single action a character makes.  It has to be logical in the universe of the story, and it has to be logical to who that character is. (Would that character actually do that? Why would they do that? And is it clear to the audience why they would do that?)

Mel beat herself up over her previous edits, but we talk about writers’ high standards for themselves. Why do writers think it has to be perfect the first time they write something? Mel points out that first-time writers hold themselves to that standard of perfection because they have been raised on a million wonderful books in their final form and have yet to develop an appreciation for the iterative process of writing.

Jennie says no one is immune from this, and that the people who are willing to put themselves in the vulnerable place of sharing their work are the people who end up doing good work. There are so many skills you have to master when writing a novel—SO MANY!  So go easy on yourself when you make mistakes. 

Besides having the flu, Mel also lost her work when Word crashes and she lost four pages. It could have been worse, but she had really liked those pages! Jennie shares a secret, and she calls it “device agnostic.” She talks about how everything she does lives in Dropbox.  

We end by talking about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. We all have funny stories that revolve around hoarding childhood treasures.

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Encore Episode: KJ Dell'Antonia

As we take a break in-between Seasons 1 & 2 of Mom Writes, we are bringing back some of our favorite episodes. And this week we have an interview with former NY Times writer and host of the #AmWriting podcast, KJ Dell’Antonia! We chose to rerelease this episode in honor of our exciting announcement:

Mom Writes is teaming up with the gals from #AmWriting for a retreat! We want to invite listeners of our podcasts to join us at the Find Your Book, Find Your Mojo Retreat in Winter Harbor, Maine, from September 12-15, 201.

Jennie Nash and KJ Dell’Antonia headline this intensive retreat designed to help you start strong, get unstuck, or plan your revision using Jennie’s Two-Tier Outline system.

Registration opens Friday, March 15th, so head to our website for more details and to register! click here

In this episode:

(Fun fact, this episode was originally episode 46, and is 46 minutes and 46 seconds long, according to my file info!)

This episode we welcome KJ Dell'Antonia, former NYT parenting writer/editor and cohost of the #AmWriting podcast! Her book, How To Be A Happier Parent, comes out in August 2018.

Here are the highlights!

-We discuss how to shifting your perspective from the mom guilt of putting your writing first, to setting an example for your kids with your writing.  

- If you're going to write about parenting, whether it be essays or journalism or stories, it's important to balance the respect for your kids' privacy while still being cognizant of the fact that parents have a need to commiserate over the common aspects of parenting that everyone deals with (KJ sites a favorite essay by Naomi Shulman, linked below). Universal truths speak volumes to your readers. 

 - When you sign up for something like NaNoWriMo, one of the challenges is to keep going after you get to the end. It's great to finish, and it's great to win, but don't put it down for too long! According to KJ, forming the habit is the hardest part. It's okay to put your writing first most of the time. While family comes first for all moms and dads, you're still allowed to be yourself, to have this part of yourself to nurture and maintain. And sometimes you have to get up early to get that time, but it's not permanent. One day the kids will sleep later than you! 

“If you're working on a long-form project, make sure you open the file every day. Touch it every day, give it thought every day, and most of the time you'll do more.” -KJ Dell’Antonia

-Having your work right in front of your, every single day, is paramount - out of sight is really out of mind. 

- Another great way to hold yourself accountable is to set goals with writer friends for a particular word count or writing goal, and send each other updates. It's not competitive as much as it is motivating! 

- If you parent with a partner, split up your responsibilities if you can. If you go to two hockey performances, the partner gets the orchestra concert, and when you get a night off you get to spend that time writing. If you're solo that day--or every day--bring your laptop! Ten words are better than nothing. In regards to watching your kids play sports, according to research, "The least-favorite part of the sport is the ride home." They don't need to be watched and don't want to be watched 100% of the time, and you can use that time to your advantage. And it's OKAY to say no to All The Activities. Your kids can pick and choose their passions, and it's healthy to have to prioritize and make choices. It's OKAY to tell your kids no sometimes, that you will take care of whatever when you finish what you're doing, it's okay to let them figure things out for themselves (we're talking about getting themselves a glass of milk, not asking your three year old to walk themselves to school). 

“What stops most people from getting paid to write isn't failure, it's failure to do it.” —KJ Dell’Antonia

Further reading

Naomi Shulman, Requiem for A Minivan

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Encore Episode: Talking Creative Obsession with Dan Blank

Welcome back to another encore episode of Mom Writes. While we are taking a break between Seasons 1 and 2, we are re-releasing some listener favorites. You can’t hang around us too long without hearing the name Dan Blank. And today, we bring Dan back to the show for this conversation on creative obsession.

Next week we will re-release another interview, KJ Dell’Antonia from the #AmWriting podcast. KJ and Abby met through Dan. KJ and Abby and Jennie also have a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT! We are hosting a Mom Writes/#AmWriting writing retreat in Maine in September! It’s all official, so tune in next week for details and to find out how to register. You can also get on the interest list here.

In this episode:

This week, Abby sits down to have a conversation with writer dad Dan Blank about obsession. Dan dedicates his days to helping creatives, specifically writers, with all. the. things. And today he and Abby talk about what to do when obsession derails you from your creative work. They talk about how to harness that obsession, when to give yourself permission to take a break from your creative work, and how to get back on track if you do.

We talk about Dan's specialty - helping creatives get the most out of their time. Dan's Mastermind class welcomes creatives of all stripes - writers, photographers, artists, etc. Dan's class tackles issues we deal with on a regular basis, co-operatively - you get feedback not only from Dan but all your Mastermind classmates.

Obsession is a necessary component for writers. If you can't obsess about your book for the time it takes to get it done, it won't get done. Donald Miller of the Storybrand podcast states that the first quality you have to have to write a book is that you have to be able to obsess about it for at least a year in order to see it through. A year! We know - it's a long time, but that's usually about how long it takes (if not longer) when you've got a full plate, as most of us do.

I don’t believe in balance. I believe in obsessions.
— Dan Blank

In life, we've got so much on our plates - unless you're radically clear about what's important to you- you're going to flake on everything, go a mile wide and an inch deep on everything. Radical clarity is knowing what you want to do, and why. Once you've got that lined up your motivations and plans can fall more easily into place.

Obsession is a two-sided coin, though. What happens when you obsess about the wrong thing? How do you even know when you're obsessing about the wrong thing?

Abby says that her real-life stuff was getting in the way of her book stuff - a cross country move has sort of taken over her life for the past six months. Writing and creativity was her solace, but she hit a rough spot for about two weeks where she couldn't think of anything else but getting the move arranged. Despite showing up for her writing every day, her brain was not on board with it. Why?

A lot of us have a challenge between short term and long term goals - reacting to crises, emergencies, need-to-deal-with-this stuff is very much in the short term. And these things happen to all of us - there are points in life where sabbaticals, breaks, whatever - are absolutely necessary. Remember to put in a boundary, though - give yourself a time limit. A day, a week, a month, whatever you need, but make sure you check in with your work. Take a look at it even for five minutes once in a while and say, "I see you, you're there, you're waiting for me when I come back." Instead of feeling bad about it, you're going to feel positive knowing that you're taking care of the things you need to, but that the work is waiting in anticipation for you to return to it.

Sometimes it doesn't matter what words - just that words are flowing. When you feel uninspired, it might be garbage, but it might not! We surprise ourselves. Melanie often uses negative emotions to connect it to her work in just the right place, and sometimes we can use what we're feeling to get the words out.

Dan compares this to show up no matter what - this is your profession, your chosen passion. You'll lose the battle if you hem and haw on whether or not you have time for your work. Abby decided that even though everything else was up in the air with her move, she was going to show up every morning even if the words wouldn't come. Dan says that writing every day, even if you don't feel like it, averts the crisis of guilt that happens when you don't show up. Holding yourself accountable, and having others hold you accountable, is something you can use to give yourself the kick in the pants. Sometimes you have to create this for yourself via writers groups, critique partners, or certain individuals that you know can motivate you when you're stuck.

Many thanks to Dan Blank for coming on the podcast again!

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Encore Episode: Doing All. The. Things.

To celebrate the launch of Season Two of Mom Writes, we are planning a webinar on revision with Jennie (as well as a big giveaway)! Come and learn the same techniques that Jennie teaches Abby and Mel that they will be using in Season Two. The webinar will be happening mid-April and will coincide with new episodes of the podcast, so stay tuned for details!

If you want to jumpstart your revision LIVE AND IN PERSON with Jennie Nash, we still have three seats available for our Austin, TX writing retreat. You can get the details and register HERE. (BTW, Abby will be in Austin, too, so you can come hang with 2/3 of Mom Writes!)

In the meantime, we are rereleasing a few encore episodes. This week we had a listener request for Episode 38: Doing All. The. Things. If there’s an episode of the podcast that you are particularly fond of or that you found particularly helpful, let Abby know in the comments and we’ll add it to our rerelease list.

As an aside, this episode was originally titled Fear & Writing. Not sure where or why along the way it changed, but that title was the file name for this episode on my (Abby’s) computer!

In this episode:

One of the most challenging aspects of writing is pulling it all together - what you know about your story, what you know you should do with your story, and all the plot lines and characterizations going on in your head. In this episode Mel and Jennie discuss raising the stakes, avoiding info dumps, and where the line is between not enough and too much information. 

People either think one thing or the other:

‘I suck and everything I write sucks’ OR ‘I am amazing and everything I write is brilliant.’ Either end is not a good place to be because it’s not real. You’re never always good or always bad and developing your muscle of discernment is an important skill.
— Jennie Nash


Jennie points out that Mel needs to work on remembering your character's history and motivations when continuing the story - be more in your character's heads. When your character is an expert on something, or is well-versed in a certain profession, they need to swim in that water all the time and see things through their own personal lens, and you've got to commit to consistency in their reactions to events. Characters are rarely neutral about things that affect them or the things or people they care about. 

When we talk about raising stakes in a story, people always think it’s drama - that could do it, but it really means raising the emotional stakes in the individual.
— Jennie Nash

Jennie and Mel also address info dumps: When you're learning how to engage the reader sometimes it's three steps forward two steps back - lots of repetition means that you're already getting down what you need. There's nothing wrong with doing an info dump as long as you recognize that you need to eventually revise and make it more nuanced. The kind of nuance you're looking for is subtle and placed in thought, dialogue, story details, etc. Info dumps in general box the reader out, but the reader wants to be IN the story, IN the scene, IN the character's head. Ask yourself: "How can I put this back in a moment, back in the scene, and filter the rest of the information through the narrator or character themselves?"  The goal is to recognize when you're doing it and know that you can go back and clean it up. It's much easier to go back and fix something that's too much than not enough

I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.
— Stephen King

Stephen King says, "I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing". If you're not dialing it up to 11, maybe you need to stop playing it safe and take the risks you need to go farther in your story. Fear of what, though? The fear is about looking at your true self - if you have to sit and examine the nitty gritty details of how your characters make decisions, how YOU or anyone you know might react to anything in your story - that can be a frightening thing. As writers, some of our biggest fears surround being exposed when our readers see us for who we really are through our work.

Abby, Jennie, and Mel close out the conversation with a discussion about art and how it teaches us and connects us as human beings. Many writers seem to have this fundamental dissatisfaction with the way the world is, and a fundamental desire to understand it better. The art that captures our hearts is that which imparts some sort of understanding about those universal struggles and truths about the world. That--the connection with others--is what keeps us coming back to our favorite works of art again and again, whether in writing, photography, painting, or music. 

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Episode 82: Season 1 Finale!

My Post - 2019-02-18T083846.383.jpg

We did it! Both Melanie and Abby have reached THE END on their first drafts. And since iTunes gives the options for different “season” to a podcast, this makes a natural end to Season One.

Finishing a first draft is a HUGE milestone for a writer. So we want to celebrate our success by helping you find your own. So… as we look forward to Season Two: Mom Revises, we’ll kick off with a big giveaway!

While we aren’t ready to release all the details just yet, let me list a few of the things you can look forward to in the first episode of Season Two.

  • A new co-host, book coach Kemlo Aki. (And of course, you still get Jennie, too!)

  • A fun giveaway!

  • Insight into Jennie’s revision process

  • Details about a retreat, featuring the hosts of Mom Writes and, drumroll please… the hosts of the #AmWriting podcast, too!

So, if you haven’t already subscribed to Mom Writes, DO IT! That way you don’t miss our launch of Season Two.

In the meantime, enjoy a few weeks of encore Mom Writes episodes while we get ourselves set up to rock and roll revision.

And remember…

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Episode 81: Give the Reader MORE

In this episode

In episode 81, we talk about Mel’s logic problems in her submitted pages. Logic problems on a first draft are common, and easier to catch when you have someone else reading through your pages who can say, “Wait….what?” A lot of logic problems can be solved by simply putting more on the page – MORE thoughts, MORE feelings, MORE internal goings-on in your character’s mind and motivations. Once again, it’s the WHY that gets us.

Jennie uses the example of Tom Cruise movies—everything is very clear, very well-explained, very black and white. We’re never left in the dark, we know the stakes, and that’s why it’s so suspenseful. We have to know why, or we’re not going to care. Generically “bad things” aren’t enough. Big drama isn’t powerful unless there’s big meaning behind it as well. Give the reader MORE MEANING.

Jennie also brings up the big issue of Mel dancing around the sexual tension in her scenes – dancing around it isn’t working! She totally admits to chickening out, which is a common problem of the chronically awkward among us. Jennie assures her this is totally fixable, however – Mel needs to get the emotion and meaning on the page. She also admits that growing up in a very conservative culture has probably stunted her ability to express any sort of sexuality in her writing. Writing is about being vulnerable, however – the author has to be vulnerable in their work, and vulnerability in your characters helps us relate to them as we watch them change and grow.Give the reader MORE EMOTION.

“You can’t be a writer and write well without confronting the scariest things in your own self. People think it’s hard because you have to sit down and put words on the page – it’s hard, because if you do it well you’re going to have to go to the places you don’t want to go.” - Jennie Nash

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Episode 80: Champagne, Cupcakes, and Abby Gets To THE END

In this episode:

I had nothing and now I have something! I have a rough draft.  And Jennie made me feel AWESOME about huge leap my writing took from my initial ten pages to the last chapter of my rough draft. As a matter of fact, Jennie said my last chapter was even loads better than the previous chapter I had turned in. She wanted to know, “What happened? What did you do?”

My only answer was this: I finally figured out what the hell was going on. And I put it on the page. And now I’m ready to tackle the revision and make the first 20 chapters match the last one!

We talk a little bit about my last chapter and my introduction of a new character (who becomes my new favorite character and actually almost made Jennie cry). The new character, Sodapop, is actually a tip of the hat to my writing friend Lorrie Tom. We also talk about the underlying meaning that the books I’m incorporating have with the story. It’s subtle but knowing WHY some of these stories are important helps me make them important to my book as well. It gives them a meaningful role, not just a plot point.

So join us as we celebrate an awesome and important writing milestone!

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Episode 79: An Interview with Crystal Duffy

In this episode

This week on MomWrites we welcome Crystal Duffy, author of the recent release "Twin to Twin: From High Risk Pregnancy to Happy Family".

covers her high risk pregnancy with her twin girls. Crystal tells us all about her harrowing journey through her pregnancy with blood clots, twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, in-utero surgery, mono-mono twin risks, and her ultimate rise to author and patient advocate. Crystal feels her personal story has fueled her patient advocacy work, because no one knows you or your children's health better than you.

Twin to Twin: From High Risk Pregnancy to Happy Family was written while Crystal was raising preemie twins AND a toddler!

Crystal says, "I think I deserve a Pulitzer prize for having written a book with preemies that needed ongoing medical treatments as well as raising a toddler we were trying to potty train.” 

WE TOTALLY AGREE, CRYSTAL!

She soon realized that if she wanted to write this book, she had to let go of multiple things - laundry, clutter, household stuff - which was all still going to be there after the book was finished. She maximized her time while the kids were sleeping and used weekends and late nights while writing. There were sacrifices, but Crystal says she felt amazing and proud she felt when the first shipment of her books arrived, and how happy and excited her kids were as well. The process of writing books is pretty removed from any physical product for most kids, but seeing the books in print really helped them understand what Crystal had accomplished.

Crystal is an Author Accelerator client and has listened to the #amwriting podcast with Jess and KJ, our co-podcasting nonfiction gurus. She went through the Blueprint program for her second book, and she's well into the process of writing book #2 with her coach. She assures Abby (and Mel) that writing a book IS (mostly!) easier the second time around! There are challenges from jumping genres from memoir to nonfiction and the process of weaving patient stories into research, but there are things you can do to make it easier.

1) Check in with yourself, and compile all your notes in one spot on a regular basis.

2) Outlining can be super useful for non-fiction. You still have to weave a tale, it's just with facts!

3) Writing your jacket cover, synopsis, and pitch beforehand can help you narrow your focus from an idea to a plan.

This final tip Crystal recommends to us from Damon Brown’s book Bring Your Worth (coming out in February – www.damonbrown.net  and www.bringyourworth.com – try to focus on completing 3 work-related things per day. Whether that’s an important email, several pages on your book, or other important tasks, anything beyond that is a blessing because inevitably, several other things will come up that will need your attention.

Thanks for coming on the podcast, Crystal! Her book can be found on Amazon, Indiebound, Target, and wherever books are sold.

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Episode 78 Encore Episode: It Always Goes Dark

Since we are on a temporary hiatus while our editor catches up from his mysterious and zombie-like illness, it’s time for another encore episode. Another Mom Writes favorite. It goes to a place that’s deep and dark. We connect my middle grade novel about a girl and her father’s magic library to something more. Something Jennie said this episode has always stuck with me. That it doesn’t matter what you’re writing, it always goes dark.

In today’s episode:

  • Jennie and I chat about my daughter’s amazing male kindergarten teacher, “Mr. E,” while we wait for Mel to dial in.

  • We chat about the Pete the Cat empire, Mr. E’s Pete the Cat scavenger hunt, and Jennie makes a confession about Amazon.

  • Mel and I have a little mom competition over diapers. I talk about the Fort Worth Competitive Mom Circuit, and Jennie talks about the dreaded school car pool.

  • “All the people are just alone in their own little bubble” of SAMENESS.

  • I talk about going to see a medium, who I end up interviewing for the podcast (episode to come)! Jennie jokingly tries to edit my conversation as I tell the story. But I connect my visit to the medium with my writing as I tell the story about my best friend, Robyn, dying over a decade ago and how it has affected both my life and my writing. Jennie goes into full-blown therapist mode and reminds us that these deep WHYs are what we come to writing for. She also connects the book world I’ve written about in my story to the psychic realm, where characters go and can’t come back.

  • I write about the first moment my main character notices a boy in middle school. I had just attended a workshop where the instructor said not to write about bodily sensations, which only served to challenge me to go back and write about bodily sensations… Jennie translates “don’t write body sensations” to “don’t write bad crap!” She persuades me to read part of the “body sensations” scene I wrote, and we talk about why it works.

  • Massive amounts of information go through our heads really fast in the real world. Sometimes you have to figure out how to work in small connections in your writing, small important bits that your characters will process without belaboring them.

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Episode 77: #TBT Encore of the Mom Guilt Episode

It’s Thursday. And who doesn’t like a good #TBT? Especially when your podcast editor is deathly ill and temporarily out-of-commission. So, let us present you with a #TBT episode of Mom Writes.

The Mom Guilt episode was our first “real” episode. I say “real” because not only were Melanie and I just starting our writing journey, but we were also starting our podcasting journey. This was pre- Jeremy Noessel (our fabulous and currently sick editor), so the audio was crappy. Crappy with a capital C. This is because I taught myself to edit a podcast using YouTube. This episode is definitely a snapshot of me— learning to write, learning to feel less guilty about chasing a dream, learning to edit podcasts.

Despite my questionable audio editing skills, I am unashamed of this episode. (Despite an ugly review saying our advice was good but audio quality “unlistenable.”) Let this episode be an encouragement to the rest of you struggling under the mantle of self-doubt. When we first released this episode- and all the other early ones- I would press “publish” and immediately question if it was good enough. I would suppress feelings like, “Ugh! My voice!” and “I wish I had said X instead” and “I wish I hadn’t over-shared.” I still pretty much feel this way, just to a lesser degree!

But here’s the thing. I kept hitting publish. We eventually quit interrupting each other so much. We eventually became more comfortable with each other and being recorded. We eventually had enough listeners to justify hiring an editor (who could edit out our chronic oversharing, of which we are still guilty).

The early episodes were GOOD ENOUGH. You can’t get better without being good enough first.

I just had a conversation about this with a writer in the Author Accelerator Membership Circle. I am hosting a beta reader speed dating event at the end of the month in our forum (details HERE, if you’re interested). She was worried that her jacket copy wasn’t ready. My answer was, “So what. Share it anyway.”

If you wait for things to be perfect, they will never see the light of day. So, that said, here’s our first #TBT Mom Writes episode all about MOM GUILT. Now, go forth and embrace your crappiness and rejoice!


Today Jennie, Mel and I talk about the issues we face as creative people and parents, how to fit writing into your busy life, and the value of doing “intangible” work.  

The best way to guide children without coercion is to be ourselves.
— Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Some things we cover in this episode:

  • Mom guilt -- how to lean in and accept that your creative endeavors matter to you.

  • How do you balance motherhood/parenthood and maintain a productive writing habit?

  • Sharing with your kids and your family what you’re doing -- tell them you’re writing and what you’re writing about.  

  • Click to tweet: @@One remedy for Mom Guilt? Show don't tell- model hard work and creativity for your kids.@@

  • Your kids DO come first, but there is value in doing what matters to you.

  • The importance of making an active decision to give something else up in order to make time for your writing (laundry, dishes, etc).  

At the end of the day, there is nothing more important for your kids than doing what you’re called to do.
— Jennie Nash


Jennie’s Recommended Reading

A Circle of Quiet
By Madeleine L'Engle


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Episode 76: Word(s) of the Year

In this episode:

This week it’s our now-annual January reflection/resolution episode.

Melanie shares a great Emily McDowell quote. She paraphrases it to say that instead of looking back at the last year thinking it sucked, you should be congratulating yourself for being a survivor. Abby and Melanie look back at their successes, all while Melanie drinks from a coffee cup that says, “Disappointment Awaits.” We hope it’s not an omen!

In 2018 both Melanie and Abby finished the first drafts of their novels, and Melanie talks about having to “accept success.” The book-writing process is far from over but finishing the first draft is a huge success. Both Abby and Melanie want to make 2019 the year when they finish revisions and (at least for Mel) start the pitching process.

The holidays are exhausting, even with all the time off (or perhaps it’s because of all the “time off”). And getting back into the swing of writing is a challenge, especially when you’re tired. Melanie walked 19.5 miles (according to her phone) over the course of 4 days on vacation. And Abby did a lot of manual labor fixing fences and getting a 200 lb pig to the vet. Physical exhaustion overrode both of their brains this holiday season!

Word of the year. This year that seems to be a big trend, having a word of the year. Abby laughs that everyone’s words are “business sterile.” Her first gut reaction was to make the word community her word of the year. After all, she is the Manager of Community Engagement for Author Accelerator. But the word community wasn’t deep enough for her. You can be a part of a community at a surface level, but Abby really wanted something that reflected a deeper connection. So, she chose the word friendship. She points out that the friendships she’s developed in the writing community help keep her writing, help keep her motivated. If she ever decided to quit writing, she wouldn’t have the heart to tell Melanie!

While Abby points out that anyone with an internet connection can have an “online writing community” there’s a difference between a bunch of random strangers who write and actual writing friends. In 2018 Abby and Melanie joined a small group of writers who all have an Author Accelerator connection. They bonded over this shared experience and formed real friendships. So as part of Abby’s 2019, the Year of Friendship, she would like to continue to foster those strong writing friendships.

“The fear of disappointing others is a great motivator.” -Melanie Parish

Melanie does point out that the fear of disappointing our friends is pretty superficial. Real friends will still love you. And the level of their disappointment is greater in our minds than it is in all actuality. It’s more likely that we would disappoint ourselves. Yet fear of disappointing our writing friends and being kicked out of our super-fun writing group gives a great (even if made-up) external motivator!

Melanie’s word of the year is persevere. Melanie says writing is hard, and she can always find reasons in her life not to write. Whenever she sits down to write, she has anxiety over her work and often has to talk herself into writing something, even if it’s not perfect. She has to persevere and work her way through those feelings of self-doubt. Melanie says she is a “high-functioning person with mental issues” and she has to persevere to get shit done!  

Abby and Mel talk about getting back into the swing after the holidays. Leading up to Christmas, it’s a hectic race. Then you have that odd few days between Christmas and New Year where, as Mel puts it, time doesn’t really exist. Discombobulated was the word for the end of 2018!

As they talk about getting back on track, Melanie confesses to identifying yet another huge plot hole in her book. So, it’s back to the grind for our two Mom Writes hosts, while they persevere through the first month of 2019. 

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Episode 75: The Boneyard

In this episode:

 This episode starts with Melanie’s car accident, after which she was so shaken that she couldn’t work the insurance app on her phone. She’s also surprised to learn that both Abby and Jennie have only ever been pulled over by a cop once. (And Melanie won’t divulge her driving record…) Jennie coins the phrase driving under the influence of children.

Besides the car accident, Melanie also starts a new job and has a death in the family, which just goes to prove that life never stops.

 Despite all the stressful things going on in Mel’s life, she met her deadline and wrote well. Jennie asks her how she did it, and her answer was, basically, I didn’t want to disappoint you.  Jennie talks about how you have to be in the headspace to do this (by this, she means write a book). You either do it or don’t do it-- no matter what else is going on-- because it’s easy to make excuses (no matter how valid) all day long.

This time Melanie revised two chapters because she had some logic that wasn’t holding together. Jennie points out that Melanie was able to solve some of these big problems beautifully. Jennie says that some writers fear that a book coach is going to take over your story or mess with your story. But she points out that what she and Melanie did was identify where Melanie’s story wasn’t working and do a little brainstorming, but that Melanie’s fixes were NOT things that they had talked about. Our listeners were privy to these brainstorming sessions in previous episodes, yet Melanie talks about how she played off that brainstorming and came up with smart solutions to the logic problems that needed fixing.

Melanie points out that it took 3 or 4 revisions of this chapter to get it right. Each time she revised she was still unsatisfied with it. Jennie asked her how she knew when it was right. Melanie’s trick is to not look at it for a day, then reread it pretending she hasn’t ever read it before. She said when nothing stood out, she made the call to move on.

Melanie’s WIP is actually a rewrite of an earlier draft, which she started fresh on when she started working with Jennie. Melanie confesses that she pulled some of the material for this chapter from the original, original draft and incorporated it! Our writing friend Jocelyn Lindsay calls it “the Boneyard.” That’s all the stuff you throw away. Jocelyn never actually throws it away, she just moves it to the Boneyard to mine later when you need it. Jennie says that strategy involves discernment, which some writers have trouble with. Too often they try and stick with the original version and just retrofit it—WHICH DOESN’T WORK. You have to take the old and weigh it against the new. Will it pass the test? What do I need to do to tie it in?

Mel is also writing what Jennie calls “high action”: car chases, drama, blood, guns, possible murder, unconscious people, and… gravel skidding. But when your actual life is boring, sometimes you have to be creative with your research to make it believable on the page. Mel gets creative on a back road in the desert and confirms for Jennie what a skidding car with an open door on a gravel road would actually do.

Jennie spends a few minutes talking about writing physical scenes: sex scenes, action scenes, any scene where you zoom in close on the action of bodies in motion. Resorting to straight up descriptions of physical things is not good writing. Why does it all matter? What does it reveal about the characters and what they know or what they discover about how they feel?

 

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Episode 74: Writing Backwards to Write Forwards

It’s the final stretch in the race towards the holidays and the New Year, and we at Mom Writes are right there with you. It’s a challenge to find a way to get everything done: school projects, school parties, last minute gifts because you realize you forgot Great Aunt Muriel, finding enough stamps to send the cards (heck, finding all the addresses to put on the cards)… PLUS all the regular stuff. Like laundry. And dinner.

And writing.

Do yourself a favor and breathe. Then give yourself the gift of grace. The good things is, grace is free. And unlike Prime shipping, it’s instant. You can’t do it all, and kidding yourself that you can just leads to extra holiday stress.

The first 10 minutes we spend chatting about my up-coming move and my disappointment that the sellers of our new house wouldn’t leave me their pig. All of this gets loosely connected to writing and two of our favorite writers: Lori Richmond and KJ Dell’Antonia. If you aren’t into the chit-chat, I suggest skipping ahead roughly 10 minutes!

Next we dig into my assignment for the week. Last week, I paused in writing forward to look back and sketch out my (three!) books. I also summarized my character's backstories, which went a long way in figuring out where my characters end up and nailing down the rules of the particular magic in the book. Again, the iterative nature of writing comes through as we go again and again through our stories, building our worlds and our characters and plot. The plot really does thicken, along with everything else!

"I didn't know what I needed in order to make my world stick together. I had the basics, but it wasn't until I started asking these questions of myself that I really could answer them." - Abby Mathews

My backstory for the parents in my book is actually very adult (no, not like that) - just real adults, with real problems. I wrote how they met, what the problems were, and what really happened to Bernadette's mom. I even wrote out the timeline of what happens during Bernadette's early life so that her story makes sense. As I wrote this backstory, I was very conscious to leave out the details that don't matter and stick directly to what actually mattered to my story. Now, I have to figure out how and where to put this information over the course of three books!

"How do you take this information that you now know, and weave it into the book in a way that's organic?" - Jennie Nash

Jennie tells me I have a few options. I can go back to the very beginning and weave the "golden thread" (as Jennie calls it), sprinkling in and dotting in clues and information. Or, I could start where I am right now, knowing there are big revaluations coming for my character, and write forward with that new information (and later on during revisions go back and weave in those other bits). I’m dealing with not only the backstory timeline, but the story-present timeline, and a very important piece - what does Bernadette know, and when does she know it. I need to find big moments of revelation for my character and start to plant clues so we can watch Bernadette can figure it out for herself. Jennie uses the example of JK Rowling's Harry Potter to point out the layers in the story - we know what's coming in the story from the second book, but we still read through all of them to find out how it happens. 

Lastly, we mention another of our favorite people ever: Dan Blank! I had the idea to get Dan to come back on the show and talk about creative obsession. (We’ve already released that episode, by the way! It’s Episode 49: Creative Obsession with Dan Blank. So if you missed it, might I suggest giving it a listen sometime.)

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Episode 73: Baking It In

First, some important news: Congrats to Abby, who was hired at Author Accelerator as Manager of Community Engagement! She's in charge of several upcoming retreats through Author Accelerator scheduled for 2019, so if you've ever dreamed of picking Jennie's brain for a weekend, stay tuned!

In this episode of Mom Writes, Abby and Jennie brainstorm her book into a series. Jennie has a saying that is--while simple--very effective: THINK BEFORE YOU WRITE. Now, we're not treating you like you're stupid. Of course, you think before you write! But we're talking PLAN. You don't have to make a super detailed outline with three different colors and various fonts or anything, but you do need to plan. Know where you're going and what your characters want and how they're going to get it (or not)!

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Last time we talked about Abby's book she shared with us that she realized that she was not writing one book, but a series! She's had to understand that not only does each book have a an arc, but the whole series has an arc as well. She's been doing some serious plotting and planning in the past couple of weeks, trying to figure out what to disclose to her readers, where to disclose it, and how best to wrap up one story while prepping the next.

Abby had this to say about plotting out her series this time: "I learned so much doing Blueprint the first time that while it wasn't easy, the process and how iterative it was, was not daunting to me."

The question is, how much of the series do you "bake in" to your first book before you write the following books? "Baking in" refers to the story building and world building you do - the why and the how of the plot and character motivations. What drives your characters to do what they do? What moves the story forward? You have to know these things in book one, so you can use these things when it comes to writing subsequent books in the series. Jennie gives Abby some homework so she can find out what her characters want, and what they know and when they know it.

"You can't really only figure out book one - you have to figure out some of those other big things too." - Jennie Nash

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Episode 72: It's In The Details

In this episode we listen as Abby channels Jennie to use her writing powers for...good? Or at least, channels them in the process of house-selling! Writing skills are applicable to pretty much all aspects of life and you should bring them out as necessary, and Abby uses hers to write a response to a letter she got from a prospective buyer. 

Mel also unleashes the dark recesses of her brain and kills off a (sort of?) beloved character. RIP Harrison, he of the khaki pants. Jennie compared his ride to a roller-coaster. "It builds and builds and then wheee, hands up, here we go!" We delve into the nitty gritty of Mel's chapter - she got the big picture stuff down but there were a lot of little things that need attention. We also go over some logistical details in the background - character motivations and decisions aren't ringing true, and Mel needs to go over it again to make sure everything makes sense. The readers need to know why her characters are doing what they're doing in order to move the story forward. 

One thing we cover is the use of "muttering" - Mel uses it a lot in this chapter. SO MUCH! Too much. But it's not because she can't find the right word - it's because she's using "muttering" as shorthand. You know what it means, but the reader has no idea. 

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"This is a huge mistake people make, and it's not a thesaurus problem. If you want to convey something about the way people are talking to each other - SAY IT! It's kind of passive aggressive, for example, for a character to speak too softly to hear, or to turn their head away so the other person can't hear them talking. If it's important, put it in there - if it's not, get it out. If the way they're talking to each other doesn't serve the story, don't put it in there. I think you use it as shorthand sometimes." - Jennie Nash 

When you find yourself short-handing your writing like this, it's totally fine to go back and fix things after your first draft. The important thing is to not do it so much that you're only working halfway and find yourself with a first draft where the big stuff, the meaning and the why, isn't there. 

Lastly, Jennie brings attention to something else Mel keeps doing - saying her protagonist "stood there wordlessly"  "had nothing to say", etc etc. We want our protagonist to speak, but if she can't, we need to know why. We need to know what's going on inside, so much that she cannot speak, and we need to see our protagonist putting things together, making decisions, making judgments. 

"One of the reasons you want good feedback on your work is because it's hard to see your own habits. It ultimately makes for a multi-layered, much richer story." - Jennie Nash

In the meantime, I did promise in the intro a link to the revision class that starts December 8th. And here it is!




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