Dogs VS Cats: Writing Companions

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Cats or dogs?

Many writers I’ve encountered have a furry companion, and most of the time it either meows or barks.  The majority of the time, however, it’s the feline friend writers prefer.  Ample writing time, coffee and cats is the recipe happiness for many a writer (throw in a few dozen good reviews, too).   Rarely have I encountered writers who have a dog.  As a dog owner, this was disheartening to me, but to each their own!  I love cats, too, but I’m allergic, and the allergens trigger my asthma.  Still, cats have their merit, as do dogs, and when I’m working on Belinda Starr, I like to have my sweet Emmie Lou right by my side.

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She’s a wonderful little beagle!  It just so happens there is a beagle in Belinda Starr, making Emmie the perfect inspiration for that particular character.  But not all stories have dogs, nor do all writers write about animals.  But even so, having a furry friend by the writer’s side gives her a sense of wellness she would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.  For example,

The dog companion:

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  • Lies at feet with a canine-brand loyalty.   This fills the writer’s writing room with good loyalty vibes.  This is a crucial concept when sticking to a writing project.  Writing takes loyalty, to yourself and to your work.
  • Cocks her head (hounds more than others, I believe).  This makes her an excellent conversationalist.  Writers often need to bounce ideas off others.  The head cock gives the writer the impression that they are being heard, even if they have to repeat themselves to the confused pooch.
  • Will let you know when it’s time for a break.  Dogs have bladders and stomachs, each with different functions.  One says “Hey, Ma, let’s go for a quick walk outside.  You can stretch your legs, get some fresh air, get a fresh perspective on that troublesome character, you know, the reason you’ve been banging your head on your desk for hours, and I’ll urinate on stuff.  Sound good?” The other says, “feed me!  Oh, while you’re at it, you need to eat too, remember?”   And then there’s the doggy mind, which needs stimulation, and will remind you it’s break time when it tells doggy to bring you the slobber-ridden toy.  Go on.  Step away from the computer for a while. You need the stimulation, too!
  • Snuggles close.  When you’re stressed, nothing says “I’m here for you, writer!” like having a dog nuzzle up to you and give that wistful puppy sigh.  ❤
  • Reminds you there’s more to life than writing.  Usually by wiggling her sweet face onto my lap and staring up at me with those doe-like eyes.  Makes me melt, every time, and convinces me it’s time to spend some time with her and my less-furry other loved ones.

 

The cat companion:

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  • Purrs! One of the most relaxing sounds on the planet Earth!  When writer is going bonkers, writer can just pet the purring machine, and if it’s an automatic engine, then voila, stress-be-gone!  If it’s a stick-shift, the purring machine may take a while, and if it’s a tricky engine, purring may be replaced by swiping claws.  Stress-reducing results may vary.
  • Sits on shoulders.  While this may make it difficult to write, it’s nice to know that at least someone cares about your writing.
  • Also reminds you it’s break time:  Knocks stuff down, meows because food, bats at loose strings on your sweater, knocks stuff down, digs claws into shoulders, knocks stuff down, meows because, well, meow, knocks stuff down.
  • Curls up on your lap.  Cats are generally more compact than dogs, making it easier to allow them to situated themselves on your lap in that adorable little ball of cat they fold themselves into.  How convenient, when you need to stop typing and think for a while, there’s a kitty, all ready for your thinking-pets!
  • Gives you a bath.   Hey, writer.  You’re stinky.  You need to be cleaned. Kitty says so.  You’re welcome.

 

I love my writing companion, and when I’m working on Belinda Starr, there is none other like my little beagle, Emmie Lou. Who is your preferred writing companion?  Does it bark or meow?   Let me know in the comments below!

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Guard Your Writing Time

 

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So, you’ve closed the social media tabs, tucked the little one in for the night and fed the dog.  Great.  Woo hoo!  You’re ready to write!  …Until your friend contacts you and asks you to (fill in the blank), and you will, right?  Because you can just drop everything…after all, you’re a writer.  Your schedule is flexible.  

The moment you decide to become a full-time writer, you must stop seeing it as a hobby.  Treat it as a career.  Writing is my career and I know I wouldn’t be able to write the 7-part middle grade fantasy series Belinda Starr if I didn’t treat it as such.  Even if you don’t plan on making money off of it, you did decide to start writing for a reason, right?  Maybe you just want the accomplishment of completing a novel.  Whatever your reasons, you still have a book to write, and the more you treat it like an afterthought, the more it’s going to be reflected as such in your results.

So, then.  This:  After you’ve prioritized (family needs, etc), make your writing schedule inflexible.  Ask yourself, if your writing time were time spent working another job, say, at a local deli or at a school as a teacher, would you be as willing to drop everything?  As a writer, you are your own boss.  At any other job, what would your boss say if your friend called and demanded “you need a break”?

You may not even commit said drop because you’re “such a good friend”.  Be honest.  You just might be looking for a distraction…an excuse to not write.  If you’re reading this and you have an author friend or one in the family, pay attention: This writing thing they’re doing…?  It’s important to them.  My family and friends have, for the most part, been pretty respectful of my writing time, but their minds aren’t wired like that of a writer.  Home time to them is free time. Home time to me, more often than not, is writing time.

Now, writers, if you’re headed for a burn-out, then by all means, take a break.   And what’s more, being a full-time writer doesn’t mean your whole life should revolve around writing.  Make time for other things.  As difficult as it is for me at times to tear myself away from Belinda Starr, I do have other things going on in my life. Don’t neglect your relationships and your health. Find a good balance (I recommend a break every hour or so to get up AWAY from the computer/desk and do something else for ten minutes, a short walk, fold a load of laundry, etc., but then get back to it!)

Point is, when it comes to writing, you need decide your schedule, and sometimes, you won’t know if your schedule is doable until you try it on for size.  Tweak what needs to be tweaked, but find a schedule that works for you, and then stick to it. Solid.  Inflexible.  Remember, this isn’t just a hobby.  This is your career, or it’s at least something you want to happen.  Make it happen.

 

Finding the Right Valve

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A lot of people have been asking me variations of the same question…why is it taking me so long to finish Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment?  (Read: I mean, good grief, Sarah, you’ve been working on this thing for years!  No more drafts!  Just finish it already!)  Let’s see if I can tackle this one with an analogy, and since I’m sitting here writing this while smacking my lips, yearning for a glass of ice water, I’ll make it a water analogy.

Picture, if you will, a giant reservoir of water.  Oh, and you’re thirsty.  …Really freaking thirsty.   Attached to this reservoir are several pipes with valves, but you have to try several wrong pipes before you can get to the right one, the one that will spout out a glorious rush of sweet, perfect water.  Some of the pipe valves are rusted over and only produce nasty rust-colored water.  Other valves are difficult to turn and by the time it finally budges, only a trickle of water drips out for your parched tongue.  Some of the pipes produce an okay flow, but it just tastes…off.   …Like your husband’s been making tea in it and the tea bag is his balled-up sweaty wool socks.

I hope this analogy gives you a taste of why I’ve been working on my first novel for almost three years.  If you’re a writer or have ever taken on a project this big before, you might not need such a picture painted for you.  You’ve been to the museum.  You know what’s up.  You know what I mean when I say that never have I done anything so exhausting, so daunting, so maddening…and yet so central to my livelihood and well-being.  It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever loved doing.  I didn’t have to work half this hard to get my BA.  Yup.  That’s right—in case no one’s told you, writing a novel, especially an epic fantasy, is hard.  Six drafts of “Belinda Starr” later, I’m still hacking away at the dirt clump, trying to find the fossil of story beneath it (reference Stephen King).

When I started “Belinda” in 2013, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted, I just knew I wanted to write a 7 (or 8) part middle grade fantasy series.  I completed the first draft of the first book, and as a rough draft does, it stunk.

Months later, the second draft was born.  It was…eh…okay, but it still had the stinky, rusty remnants of the first draft.  I was not pleased. I went back and forth between polishing drafts, producing new ones and taking long, antagonizing breaks, where I plugged away at other projects, all while pining for my dearest Bel.  I wrote a few other stories. I honed my craft.  I became a better writer.  I set deadlines.  Some of them I met.  Others laughed at me as they went by, cackling like some sort of malicious time monster.

Sometime last year, I threw most of “Belinda” in the trash, because try as I might, I couldn’t get those “bits of rust” to disappear.  Most of the characters were mundane or weak.  The plot was far-fetched and too complicated.  It had a few good characters and some exciting action sequences, but it was just not up to par.  In the following months, I watched a lot of Brandon Sanderson lectures, read other middle grade fantasy novels and “how-to” writing books as well as countless articles from writing blogs such as “Writers Write”.  I started over, and no, not completely over, because even though I pulled up a new blank word document, the heart of Belinda, most of its characters and the feel of the story, was still waiting for me in the reservoir.  I just had to find the right pipe.

Last December, I took a good long look at what it is that I, Sarah, actually want to write.  I listened to my squishy insides, and it told me a story.  I listened.  I went back to the drawing board.  I nixed a lot of stuff from the original drafts that while cool in a sense, were just not working.  I killed my darlings, as King would say.

Last month, I started to write the “Belinda” manuscript again.  As of today, I am two chapters and one vague outline into the seventh draft, which in a lot of ways, is first draft.  It’s a first draft with bits of soul from the first six resting in its newborn body.  And while I can’t promise anything, I have this really amazing feeling that I’ve at last found the correct pipe.  I’ll let you know.  I’m still turning the valve.

 

 

 

 

 

My Go-To Writing Heroes

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Just in time, to save the day!

Until I became a serious writer, a lot of my goals in life were guided by those close to me, and here’s the reason why:  they had already done it, so from watching their examples, I knew it could be done.   My parents and older siblings haven’t ever done what I am setting out to do, and for me, that’s a daunting reality, as I have often looked to them for assurance that what I want to do will work.   And yet, onward I write—I am the unlikely hero and writing is my quest.  It’s the first thing I’ve truly done on my own, but even so, it hasn’t been completely on my own.  Here are some of my favorite go-to resources for all things writing:

  1. Writers Write.  Based out of South Africa, Writers Write offers practical, well-written, straight-forward and thought-challenging content written by intelligent authors who know their stuff.    On several occasions they’ve helped me solve my many character-related issues by suggesting tricks and perspectives I hadn’t before encountered on other writing sites.  I mean it when I say I would not be the writer I am today without this site.   They offer writing courses, too! Check ’em out!  Writers Write
  2.  Stephen King’s “On Writing”.  The most helpful tip I took away from Mr. King’s book for aspiring authors was this:  “Kill your darlings”.  I’ve written a good number of enthralling characters and exciting plot points that still, for whatever reason, just aren’t working for the story.  It’s tough, but sometimes (frequently!) you have to make that cut.  Once you free them from your brain, often your troubled story will fall into place, and if you believe in writer’s block, it could be those characters and plots you held so dearly were the causes behind it!
  3. Life, as is.  Do not, oh please do not get your ideas solely from books, TV shows and films!  Read other books to see what is deemed as publishable, but do not let your art imitate art.  Let your art imitate life. (And if you do it right, you may just have life imitating your art.) You have a unique perspective on what makes a character a (memorable) character.   Observe life as it is, around you. In my opinion, a good story is more about character than anything else.  Go people-watching.     Pay attention to mannerisms, facial expressions, quirky habits, reactions to stressful situations, the way they show love, the way they carry themselves….  Pay attention to who stands out to you, and write it down.

What are your go-to writing resources?  What tips have you picked up that have really helped shape and change your writing for the better?

Happy writing!

The Problem Is

FIRE

The Problem Is 

Blur the lines to have a good time, nurture your pride, protect your own hide.  So easily insulted at every sneeze and blink, can’t have an opinion without a lawsuit on the brink.  Songs used to say stop and pay attention, now they say be selfish, raise your fist and get offended.   Each and every day we let computers do our thinking, books grow mold and hyperlinks are dripping, with mass hysteria and lies to draw you in, as long as it feels good, don’t matter it’s a sin.  How do we split that golden pie of rights?  Each side screams this is not a fair fight!

      So easy to get angry and shout your stance, your tantrums deserve a binkie and an extra long nap.  You’re the center of your anger, there’s no virtue in your rage, you’re acting like a petty child, get off the pity stage.  I’m the biggest hypocrite; the guilt is also mine, I should be feeding the homeless instead of writing these curt lines.  But it needed to be said, my heart was in full churn, let’s dump water on this flame, let’s not just watch it burn.

    You nod at social media and give likes to those citations, but with no screen to hide your face, do you practice the convictions? The heart of this, of course, goes deeper than just labels.  We’re hurting to the core but the Medicine’s deemed a fable.   You troll, complain and ask for hugs, longing for attention, but what you seek comes from the One they warn me not to mention.

“Compulse” is now available! WOO HOO!

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I cannot wait for my loyal fans to check out this gruesome collection, “Compulse”!  This three-part horror anthology is now available on Amazon.  You can buy it now, or wait for a special treat the week of Halloween!  The three stories in “Compulse” are “A Sunflower for Daddy” (creepy kids have always scared the you-know-what out of me!), “Alienation”, (the aliens have arrived, and they’re hungry), and “The Watcher” (chances are, you know this serial killer’s next victim quite well).

Buy “Compulse” here.    Don’t forget to leave a review!  Thank you, thank you! Happy Halloween!

“Belinda” Update and Other News

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 “Belinda” is in really good shape!  I still have more work to do, but right now it’s looking so FANTASTIC, I am just oh so tempted to hand it off to my beta readers right NOW!    But…I won’t, because it’s still not my best work, though it’s pretty dang close.  Still one minor character role I need to tweak, and then need to check for use of 5 senses, description, word choice/style, etc.  But the plot?  Solid.  The characters?  Most of them POP, buuuuut some of them still need a bit of work, I think.  January 5th is my deadline!

In other news, I’m eagerly (excuse the adverb, I’m all “strong-verbed” out, atm) awaiting the arrival of the proof for my horror short story anthology, “Compulse”.   It should be here tomorrow or the next day, after which point if all checks out, I will click the publish button, and voila!  Y’all can read it and leave your reviews!

In other other news, I’m getting ready for another reading binge.  I’m thinking Stephen King as well as a few indie author works.    And maybe the back of the shampoo bottle while I’m on the can.  If I get to it.

Alright, time to go pet a beagle.  I suggest you do the same.  ❤