Writing Tip — Time Management

finding the time to writeLately, when it comes to managing my time so I can write, I feel like the narrator in Patrick F. McManus’s story “Controlling My Life” from the book Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink!

“I just read a book on how to get control of my time and therefore of my life. My time has always had a tendency to slip away from me and do as it pleases. My life  follows it, like a puppy after an untrained bird dog. Come night, my life shows up, usually covered with mud and full of stickers, exhausted by grinning happily. My time never returns.”

Here are two different views on how to schedule time to write. The first post is about “binge writing”, setting aside a large block of time to get a lot written in one session. The second advises setting a small daily goal and writing every day.

I know I am not a binge writer. I like variety in my life. So doing an hour or two a day while the kids are at school is perfect for me. But I haven’t been able to find that hour or two with all the demands of running my home and taking care of my kids and husband, whose job is demanding and has irregular hours.

While I have been able to keep up on my blog, I haven’t found the time to revise my first novel or make much headway on a new one.

So I am interested in other people’s writing schedules. How do you find time to do the writing you must do and the writing you want to do?

Writing Tip — Beginnings

slow-fastI’ve run into a problem with my YA novel The Truth and Other Strangers. I have written two different first chapters and don’t know which is better, starting slow or starting fast.

Slow start

This versions begins slowly, building tensions, raising questions, and introducing characters, a few at a time. Below are the opening paragraphs:

As the church service let out that wet morning in July, I had just one thought on my mind — get going and get gone. The longer we were out in public, the better the chance of stirring up suspicion.

My brothers’ and sisters’ comments bombarded me as I picked up my brother Damon-James, who was two, and herded the rest of them out of the pew.

“‘Junior, I gotta go to the bathroom.”

“Junior, it’s still rainin’.”

“Junior, where’s my hat?”

“Junior. Junior!”

That caught my attention because it was a man’s voice instead of a kid’s.

The rest of the chapter has Junior trying to get out of the church but he’s delayed by a retired lawyer and his brother Nick almost getting into a fight. In the next chapter, the family drives home where the sheriff, who hates their family, is waiting for them.

Fast start

The second version starts with Junior driving the kids home from church and finding the sheriff waiting for them. I introduce the characters as the main plot unfolds.

As I forced our ancient van onto the steep, rocky drive to our trailer, I was only thinking about lunch and how relieved I was that we had gone to church without raising anyone’s suspicions. Every trip into town ran a risk of somebody noticing something wrong.

Ignoring the groans of the Deathtrap, as we loathingly called our van, I drove over the last rise to the only flat spot on the mountainside and stomped on the brakes, throwing myself and my eight brothers and sister forward. And all thoughts of lunch and relief out of my head.

Voices chattered around me, but I couldn’t tell the words.  All my senses could take in was that a sheriff’s car was parked into front of our work shed.

I have had positive and negative remarks about both beginnings. I am reading YA novels, and some start quickly, throwing the main problem out in the first sentence, and others have prologues or slow starts, so you can get to know the characters before the plot kicks in. I personally prefer slow starts, but then I like characters. I will put up with a fairly lousy plot if the characters engage me.

So which do you think is better to catch the attention of YA readers?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

football words… a football game or another fall sport.

As a former high school band member, I attended a lot of football games.

The sight catches me first. The artificial lights attempting to burn away the night, too harsh to be real or too give warmth. Then the noise, all the voices ebbing and flowing, like a tide, changing from murmurs to roars depending on the success of the teams. The crisp air traces red on my cheeks.

But nothing send me back to my high school days like the smell of a game — fried food and cigarettes, smells so strong I can almost taste the grease and smoke.

Share if inspired!

Writing Tip — Doubting Yourself

social-1206603_1280Over the past few years, I’ve been working, off and on, on the Halloween murder mystery I described last week. I hadn’t touched it in several months when I sat down to work on the first draft last Friday. I felt a great reluctance to start writing.

During the past year, most of my writing consisted of blog posts and revising my first novel. Sitting at my kitchen table last week, doubt gripped me. It had been so long since I had done original fiction that I wondered if I had anything left to say. Maybe I just had one book in me. I had lots of ideas, but that’s not the same was writing them done and then pounding them into comprehensible structure.

I thought of so many others things I needed to do like laundry, and weeding and cleaning out our home office. I was afraid to make myself write for fear no words would come.

But I forced myself to stay at the table with my pen and paper, ignore the demands for clean clothes and orderly flower beds, and with great anxiety, I WROTE!

And the words came.

social-1206610_1280Maybe not great words, maybe not compelling words, but ink on paper is better than no ink on paper.

And I enjoyed myself hugely, diving into my imaginary word with some characters I’ve known half my life.

I learned that when when writing is a burden instead of a joy, KEEP WRITING! Eventually the joy will return. But it never can if I quit.

The picture below sums it up perfectly.



Writing Tip — Favorite Stories

jack-o-lantern wordsI love a good laugh, especially if it’s satire or a spoof. So I enjoy riffs on scary stories. Fun Phantoms is a short story collection of funny ghost stories. They aren’t scary, but they do turn a lot of the conventions of the horror story on their heads.

My favorites are:

“The Night the Ghost Got In” by James Thurber. The ghost is only the beginning of the family’s problems that night.

“The Water Ghost” by John Kendrick Bangs. The heir of Harrowby Hall decides to end his family’s Christmas Eve curse.

“The Open Window” by Saki. Like many of Saki’s stories, this has a hysterical twist at the end. I have been thinking up ways to rewrite this story in a contemporary setting.

“To Starch a Spook” by Andrew Benedict. Teen ghostbusters go into action to help the girl’s father, who is supposed to work on a house crawling with ghosts.

And for kids

The Best Halloween Ever by Barbara Robinson. I don’t think this book is nearly as good as her first, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. But my kids enjoyed it when we read it out loud. And while the plot has huge gaps, the narration by Beth is entertaining as usual.



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