Why I Write

 

My life is divided into before and after. I’m in the after now.

Eight years ago, this coming April, my world turned upside down. Eight years ago, this coming April, I began the slow journey back. I hadn’t written a book then. Since that time, I have finished penning three.

When I got sick, my daughter became frightened. Who wouldn’t be? It was the summer before her freshman year of high school, and she spent her vacation taking care of her mother who needed assistance walking and bathing. It didn’t matter what I told her, or how many reassurances were held out, she was terrified. All the soft gentle words and reassurances never made it past her fear wrapped worry.

Sometimes you need a story.

I wrote her a book about a girl who was afraid her mother would die and leave her alone. In the book, the mother does die. The girl is not left alone, however. She has family and unlikely heroes to depend on. I wrote my daughter a book to make her laugh and cry, but most of all to help her see she was not alone and it wasn’t up to her to save the world. I think maybe it was both comforting and uncomfortable for her to discover how much I understood her.

She’s not a character in a book, and she is not this character. But young girls everywhere get angry with their mothers, at times think they’ve been abandoned, and generally feel treated unfairly by life. They’re often surprised when they discover their mothers were once girls and understand all of these deeply held, secret feelings.

Among the pages of this made up place filled with pretend people my daughter finally understood what I was trying to tell her. She wasn’t alone.

Sometimes you need a story.

A funny thing happened. Out of the story, two more grew. Each of these novels stand alone, and while they don’t lean on each other, they do rub shoulders, exploring the lives of the various characters in the same fictional small Texas town.

It’s quite a surprise to find at the end of these eight years I have three complete novels. I’d freelanced in my former writing life, and even written a novella, which resides in the dark recesses of my computer files, but I’d never attempted a novel length work.

As my health improved and my responsibilities shifted, I had more time to write books. With each novel, I learned better and went back, refining and polishing. I hunted down critique partners and entered contests. I was quite pleased with the feedback I got. Now I’m ready to start querying agents.

I’m telling you this tale because, as with all of my stories, I want to encourage and bring hope to the reader. Because sometimes you need a story.

Donna Jo Stone writes YA contemporary novels about tough issues but always ends the stories with a note of hope. She blogs at donnajostone.com.

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Whining or Winning

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” said Rain. She wished they could go back to just sitting in the quiet, not saying anything.

Will stood, fists clenched at his sides before he visibly relaxed, and let his arms hang loosely. Rain expected him to come and sit beside her, or look at her, or say something. Instead, he turned on his heel and walked away into the late afternoon shadows, leaving her sitting there alone on a cool concrete bench in his dead mother’s garden.

***************

At 40,000 words, the rough draft of this novel is about half way through my plot outline. Hmmm. May need to trim a bit. I usually write short and then add. I’m not good at math, but even I know at this rate the story would be way too long.

Last month I took advantage of nanowrimo fever to try and keep up the momentum I established a few weeks earlier after reading Finish by Jon Acuff. One of his suggestions was to cut your goals in half, so at half done I feel pretty good about my progress. Except when I don’t feel good about it. Ha! Do you ever beat yourself up for not being as good, as fast, or as brilliant as someone else?

This morning I told my daughter I was a bit sad and depressed for no apparent reason. I wondered if it was because I wasn’t cranking out the high word counts I saw others producing.

Obviously, I was feeling a little sorry for myself and enjoying some sour grapes when I said, “Other people are getting to be all fabulous because they won nanowrimo and here I am still poking along.”

She said, “But you’re already fabulous, mama.”

We laughed. So much for whining about not winning. I guess maybe I don’t need to “win” at everything. As long as I stay fabulous.

Time for me to quit belly aching and get back to work on this novel.

Stay fabulous, y’all!

By the way, what do you think of the new mini book break reviews I’ve been posting? Do you like them?

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Changes, Finished Drafts, and Nanowrimo

“Mother,” Rain said, “did you really grow up here?”

Rain knew the answer to the question, but wanted to feel her mother out. She wanted to ask her mother what was she thinking and when could they leave, but it was better to not approach the topic directly. You had to take your time. Mother could be skittish and ornery, especially when her back was pushed up against the wall of unrealized hopes and tattered dreams.

“Yes, I did,” said Mother, letting the sheet she was spreading on the daybed fly out with a snap. It caught the air and bellowed before settling onto the mattress. She had chosen to stay in what Aunt Linda called the sunroom, an old converted porch now walled in, the open end graced with windows all along the backside.

“I have history here. So do you.”

If there was one thing that Mother had plenty of, it was history. Rain was a little too acquainted with particular chapters of Mother’s history, or at least her version of it, which seemed to be subject to varying interpretations and in a constant state of revision. History was not Rain’s favorite subject.

“How long do you think we’ll stay here? We need to find a place before school starts.” In case her mother forgot, she added, “And where you can get a job.”

Mother wouldn’t stay long in this kind of place. That was stone cold fact. It was much too tame and boring. It was no wonder she had wanted to get out, and the small shabbiness of the town also explained why she had never brought them back here.

“Why did you bring us here?” The question popped out before Rain could stop herself.

“I wanted to show you where I came from.”

“That shouldn’t take long.”

Mother laughed and snatched up a crocheted throw pillow, bopping Rain on the head with it. Rain grabbed it and returned the favor. Before long they were squealing and jumping on the bed in a full out pillow fight. They tussled and rolled, laughing until, exhausted and happy as puppies in a pile, they flopped back onto the bed, arms entwined. Doran Bea favored Mother in looks, but Rain could always make Mother smile, at least for a little while. Sometimes a little was enough. Sometimes it was all you were going to get.

Rain listened to the quiet of the house, and to their breathing, until the two separate exhalations matched up.

Her mother said, “I know what you’re doing.”

Rain kept her focus on the ceiling joists above her head. A string of spider webs clung to a crossbeam, and bits of dust were caught up in the construction, the edges of the sticky gossamer creation lose and floating.

“You don’t have to try so hard. You know I love you, right?”

The automatic, expected response tumbled from Rain’s lips, reassurance her Mother wanted to hear. “I know,” she said. “I love you, too.”

There was not the slightest doubt that her mother loved her. She told her so every day. But then, Mother always gave her love away easily.

***********

Taking advantage of nanowrimo fever, I am busily working away on a brand new book, the third in a series. So far, I am liking this one. A while back I started a new and productive writing routine that seems to be working for me. Perhaps the atmosphere in the writer community will help me keep the daily practices I have established over the last several weeks. It can’t hurt, right?

Before I started on book three November 1st, I finally finished the rough (very rough) draft of my second book.

Yay!

It was a tough one, but I did it. The subject matter was hard for me to write about but I am glad I did. It feels good to finish.

I sped up my writing quite a bit after I read Finish by Jon Acuff. I did a Book Break review of Finish here.

I read some good advice about dictation and realized I have not been doing it wrong and that freed me up tremendously. Tech still frustrates me from time to time, but that’s part of the package.

You might have noticed a few changes to the blog. I’ve been enjoying Instagram, and decided to post my instareviews here as well under the title of Book Break. My super awesome technically gifted son did that magic code writing thing so it does it automatically, if I remember to tag it properly. Tell me what you think. I love the nifty little coffee cups he put in the titles. I will try to post the longer book reviews from time to time, but needed to streamline things and spend more time writing.

Any changes in your life lately? Have any tips on how to succeed and make it to finished?

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Pitching at A Writers’ Conference

I was ready. My book was finished, revised, and edited. My book coach encouraged me to go to this year’s writers’ conference and make an agent appointment, so I did.

I bought shoes, got a bad haircut, and actually ironed clothes. This was serious.

Months in advance, I did the research and prepared myself to meet a literary agent or publisher. I wrote a one sheet, printed my first four chapters in correct format, and had lists of questions to ask for the ‘extra’ time left over after my pitch. After reading about the available choices, I listed three, understanding I would get one of them. Since I registered early, I would probably get the first one I listed. In case I didn’t, I continued to read online a bit about each person so I could easily bring up topics to chit chat about. Pleased, I realized I had plenty of conversation fodder. I had this.

Then I got there.

Things were going well at first. Arriving early, I had plenty of time to spare. I felt fine, if tired. Sleep had eluded me, but no worries. Instead of sleeping, I listened to relaxing music and did deep breathing to Paul Cardall’s Be Calm. Who needs sleep? I’d faced bigger challenges on less sleep and succeeded. I could probably even get a blog post out of this experience like other writers do, sharing wisdom I garnered from the meeting.

Finding out I had three appointments threw me for a sec, but no problem. I had planned to meet with anyone, remember? I was prepared.

Another poor soul who was waiting to pitch her book looked as if she were about to come unglued. I felt bad for her. I traded business cards with the other writers in the waiting area. We reassured each other that we would be fine. This wasn’t so tough.

My name was called. Even though I had done my homework, I did not recognize the agent I was directed to. After a few seconds, it became apparent this was the one person in the room who I did not have an appointment with that day. No problem. We exchanged pleasantries and exited the room. It turns out I had been confused with another Donna. No big, I didn’t miss anything because I was early.

My actual turn came. I floundered at the beginning, but I was sure to find my footing soon, right?

Uhhhhh. No.

My brain emptied itself, thoughts completely scattered. My hands flopped around on the table as if I could gather those thoughts back somehow, but every coherent speck of intelligence was gone. Poof. I was tongue-tied, stammering. This from the lady who talks to people in the checkout line and has long conversations with telemarketers.

The agent was exceedingly gracious and kind.

I did not throw up or cry. I did not dump hot coffee on her. So that was good. As a friend told me, the encounter probably wasn’t as bad as a sharp stick to the eye.

I don’t know why I was so anxious, unless it was because my little subconscious was screaming, “This may be a pivotal moment and the next ten minutes is likely to have an impact on your ability to deliver the message God has given you to share with the world of suffering children and the timer is running right over there, numbers flying by.”

No pressure.

Now, I realize this was overly dramatic, but it was my subconscious whispering. It’s hard to reason with such a thing. Realistic Donna understands that my ability, or lack of, in any given situation is not capable of derailing God’s plan. I am simply not big enough to have that kind of impact. To place such importance on self displays an arrogant lack of trust and faith.

Ouch.

I made it through this rite of passage. No one was injured. And she asked to see my work. Maybe she will like it. All I can do now is wait and see.

In the meantime, I plan to trust in the process knowing it will all work out while I happily dig into my next project.

Onward.

Here’s a few pitching tips from Writer’s Digest and The Write Practice. All I can add is: Tell your subconscious self to chill.

 

 

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Crappy First Draft: My Smiling Pile of Poo

All writers know first drafts are less than perfect. In fact, they are usually awful. Crappy first drafts are par for the course.

At Walmart one day I was shopping with my son. I saw a Smiling Pile of Poo Bank. Jokingly, I said, “When I finish the rough draft for my novel I should treat myself by buying this to hold all the money I earn when I’m a famous author.”

He took it off the shelf and put it in the buggy. “I’m buying it for you.”

“No, no,” I said. “I have to finish the draft first.”

“You will,” he said.

“What if I don’t?”

“You will.”

It gave me the warm fuzzies to think he had faith in me. The guy must believe I could write a novel if he parted with cash to purchase such a thing.

I’m not really sure if having this bank represents earnings I will make selling books. Perhaps, being empty, it better represents all the money I have spent attempting to learn the craft of novel writing.

The Pile of Poo sat in a central place. I saw it every day. We all saw it every day. If I had been good and worked on my novel, the face smiled encouragingly at me. On the other hand, on days I could have written but didn’t, I swear that pile of poo mocked me with its big, round bugeyes and sly, silly grin. Plus, now my son was invested, having bought that pile of poo for me.  He is a grown man, but he is still my kid. If he had enough faith in me to buy a ceramic bank with his own money, I had to be worthy of that pile of poo.

poobank

It was about this time last year when I heard back from an agent. My full manuscript had been requested, but in the end was turned down. I wasn’t entirely sure what the issue was, so I hired book coach Sarah Hamer to help me. 

Here we are many months later with about 40,000 words added to the story. Many of these words were written 500 at a time as I kept to my daily minimum goal. Over time I did pick up speed, learning to use speech to text and making adjustments to current challenges.

New characters walked onto the stage, and the plot is better. I decided to change from Middle Grade to Young Adult, and hopefully corrected any major story flaws.

Finally, my draft is finished! You know what that means. Now I get to begin re-writing and editing.

And my Smiling Pile of Poo will be here to encourage me every step of the way.

Oh, and by the way, one of my other boys bought me this lovely first draft notebook, trusting I have another story in me waiting to be written.

poonotebook

 

It’s wonderful to have supportive kids, even if they give me lots of crap, I mean poo.

#AmWriting

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Keepgoingturtle

Writing Through Challenges

I’ve been fairly good at keeping my goal of writing every day. This has been a challenge. Adjustments were necessary.

The physical act of writing became too much. I have always been a person who thinks through my fingers, so to speak, which made writing fiction using speech to text challenging. It made me want to pull my hair out. To solve this problem I decided to switch gears for a bit.

There are times when you have to take a step back. To leave projects undone goes against my nature. It was hard for me to abandon my fiction long enough to figure out the best way to get words on paper, but it had to be done.

Over the summer I “wrote” the rough draft for a non-fiction book using my iPhone. There are oh-so-many bits of hard won knowledge I would like to impart to my children, or my children’s children, so I decided to make a record of my thoughts on education and homeschooling. This helped get me into the groove of transcribing thoughts without a keyboard or pen. It felt unnatural to write fiction using this method. Using verbal skills to give motherly advice was not an issue. I’m sure the kids will come to appreciate all those nuggets of wisdom someday.

Once the nonfiction project was drafted, I returned to novel writing and found speech to text a little more cooperative. It is still awkward and tedious, but I’m getting better at it. Practice makes perfect, or if not perfect, at least manageable. If only it would transcribe purposeful dictation as well as it records my frustrated, unladylike utterances.

And y’all, I have met new writing buddies! In any difficult journey, finding people who support you, believe in you, and cheer you on helps keep you focused on your calling. Go visit Linda and Rachel on their blogs and tell them “hey” from me.

I’ve found a couple of other writers who I hope to spend time with soon, sharing stories and sugar laden, caffeinated treats. I need my crit partners! Producing a marketable work takes support and help from many fronts, at least it does for this girl.

My writing coach, Sarah Hamer, has been wonderfully patient with me. I appreciate her guidance and support dearly. If you need a little help with writing projects, check out her site here.

It’s time to start considering the editing process, and with that in mind I am trying to outfit my writing space. I purchased an anti-fatigue mat to use with my standing computer desk. My standing desk is an IKEA computer desk we found on craigslist and adapted. I went by Office Depot and tried out the line of Serta computer chairs and was happy to find a comfortable chair. They even have a couple made for shorter people like me!

My eldest found a cool adjustable desk. Smartdesk moves from sitting to standing with the push of a button. It is on the wish list.

Now all I have to do is finish the last twelve chapters of the rough draft for the current rewrite of Nina’s story and I will be ready to begin edits. Right after I get some new glasses.

#AmWriting

 

 

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4 Tips On How Not to Plan a Writing Retreat

#amwriting donnajostone.comI have had fair success at getting words on the current WIP flowing. Not all of those words are kept, mind you. But then that is the nature of a first draft.

“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”Joyce Carol Oates

Committed to writing a certain amount on my novel in progress every day, I have decided to pretend this forced vacating of my home is a writer’s retreat. This fantasy would probably be easier to maintain if I had not brought my family, including our new puppy, along with me.

Tip #1 Don’t bring your kids or a puppy.

kayleeintroublesmall.

There are also the constant interruptions of new information about the home repairs which tend to get me sidetracked. The ongoing saga is a twisted version of a never ending story, reminding me of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie.

Along the way to the discovery of where the moisture is coming from we found no leaks, but we did find out the home has what was referred to as “the pipe of the future” otherwise known as polybutylene pipe. This particular kind of pipe is no longer used because it is destined to fail. Check your pipes, peeps.

During the new water line installation, I was informed the hot water heater has been leaking. No word on the water damage from that yet.

After numerous consultations, it has been determined that the constant water collecting under the sinks is probably from condensation. This may be due to the vapor barrier being compromised when a neighbor’s dog got under the home. Or it could be because of improper site prep. They are working on it.

Tip #2 Leave your home problems at home and don’t answer calls.

Other issues will be dealt with as the summer progresses. The good news is, no mold in the walls as far as we can tell with mold kits and this handy snaking camera.

WIN_20150614_181226

 

Tip # 3 Don’t give up writing no matter what.

“Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”               Red Smith

Meanwhile, I will keep busy scribbling away on the book when I’m not enjoying myself poolside here at my writing retreat.

Tip #4 Don’t forget to find JOY in the journey.

#amwriting

How are you reaching your goals? What inspires you? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment.

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Am Writing| A Persistent Passion

#amwriting  donnajostone.comFor the last few weeks I have been displaced, my thoughts scattered by events and summer schedules. On top of all the chaos that is typical of the Stone Clan, I have not been feeling all that great.

Some days it is a challenge to write. Most days lately. But it’s not like I can NOT write. It is what I do.

But boy, doesn’t life intervene? I need to refocus on my goal and make the necessary adaptations.

I may have mentioned accountability before, but in the past I joined a group whose members are dedicated to write at least 500 words every day. Every. Single. Day.

For me, that means a minimum of 500 words on my novel draft in progress, no matter what.

I’m struggling with this. I know many people find it easy to write the first draft, but not me. I am primarily using voice to text on an old HP tablet. I have been informed on numerous occasions it is so old it’s obsolete, but I feel a certain kinship with it. It took forever for it to learn to translate my accent into recognizable English and it still makes mistakes.

I also tend to forget what it was I was saying if my device doesn’t translate well the first time. When I go back to read a section of indecipherable text regularly leaves me puzzled as to what I originally meant to write. For a  time, I wondered if I needed to plot more to solve that issue, but I don’t want to over plot.

It is harder for me to write fiction using speech to text than to write blog posts, emails, or letters with it. Have you found this to be true for you?

And then there is the obstacle of my own self. In my first middle grade novel, I could write the main character, Nina straight out of the chute. She is plain looking, snarky, emotional, and has a quirky family. My new MC, Trish, is different. She is a blonde ballerina who always tries to be the good girl. Hmmmm. We do share some issues. I will get past her looks and personality to dig them out. I may not be a ballerina, but I am exceedingly persistent and will find the real Trish under all those blonde locks.

coffeegrinder

I may have to let some things slide a bit, what with the current craziness, work on the book, house stuff, and taking care of the family. But my 500 daily words on the novel in progress is one of my anchors. I know this is what I am called to do.

#amwriting

What’s your calling? How are you managing to answer that call while juggling life?

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How I Ruined Snowflake Plotting

The Snowflake Method

I am a girl in need of a plan. My book requires a second in the series. I have most of my characters, my theme, setting, and I know the message I want to convey. It’s time to plot the story.

Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method of Plotting always looked interesting. I thought I’d give it a try. My previous approach had been to use massive amounts of note cards and tape them to the walls, shuffling and adding to them periodically. This worked fine, but it seemed a bit random and tedious to me.

Many writers have been helped by plotting with The Snowflake Method. The method has been so popular and worked for so many that now you can buy Snowflake Pro software or his book How To Write A Novel Using The Snowflake Method but he still provides the original article free of charge. (Thank you, Randy Ingermanson!)

From the get go he says to take what you can use and don’t worry about the rest, but something in me wants to follow lists. I want to know the plan.

I have looked at his directions before. I usually got bogged down about halfway through reading and would give up before I started. Since then I have learned that for me, with some projects, I need to just go ahead and jump in. It’s hard because I tend to want all the details ironed out before I commit. If I can’t see the end I don’t like starting down that path.

I got through steps one to four with no trouble. It was fun and easy. Then, when I started on the next step, parts of story began to pop into my head so I started making a list of scenes before they got away. Randy Ingermanson suggests using a spreadsheet for your list of scenes, but I started the list in the same document I was putting everything else in. I didn’t want to forget what I needed to write while trying to figure out a spreadsheet. I was already out of order with the Snowflake Method instructions anyway.

So far I have a decent direction for the story, more than I had when I started writing the first book in my series. This method helped me figure out holes before I started writing the novel, even if I made adjustments to the system early on.

I’m not sure if I will be able to go back and pick up with the rest of The Snowflake Method from where I’m at right now with this book. I will try The Snowflake Method again, though, of that I am sure.

Will my plot work out even though I’m deviating from my originally intended mode? Probably. Would it work better or easier if I follow directions? I don’t know. Did I ruin it? I don’t think so.

Just Write, Create, Jump In

The point is, I am writing my own story. I got a jump start from suggestions and tools, but it’s okay if I take another route. I know I will make it to the end.

Life is like that. Don’t be scared to be a little creative with the format and structure of approaches as long as you stay true to the course. You are not going to ruin it.

It’s your story. You know how to tell it.

Jump in.

P. S. The Paper Snowflake Ballerina

The directions for the snowflake ballerina in the picture can be found at krokotak, but there is no printable template for the skirt. There are pictures. I eyeballed the designs and took a stab at it and it worked fine. You can’t let a little thing like a missing template stop you.

 

Did this encourage you? Please share it! Have you made adjustments to a plan recently? How did it go? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below.

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Finding Strength: Cipro Story

Strength is what I do not have.

Three years ago I had a reaction to a common antibiotic, Cipro. I was unable to walk or care for myself without assistance. I have improved, but recovery often seems like an unattainable dream.

I get discouraged. My strength has been stolen.

I miss things. Shopping with my daughter for prom dresses via text message is not the same.  I miss my family. I miss their moments and celebrations. You can’t hug when you are in different locations.

It is rare for my good days to coincide with days out. Struggling sucks the joy out. Thank goodness for online shopping. The UPS man probably thinks, “Lady, why don’t you make one big order a month already.”

During the past three years I have been occupied fighting my every day battles. On the counter right now I have several lidless containers because when I finally do get one open, the lid tends to slip away and land on the floor. You know what? Jars do fine with a bit of plastic wrap to cover the opening, and I planned on taking another vitamin tomorrow so it’s all right. However, someone really needs to pick up under the kitchen table.

The tendons and joints in my body often swell now, so any given day may be ice pack worthy. The amount of ace bandages make me look like a mummy at times. My downhill slide has been a bumpy one, with one thing following another. Challenges pop up as if falling were not already hard enough. I suppose if you’re going to go down, make it spectacular.

When I think about the physical grind it can seem like all I’ve done is shuffle along. Remember that Tim Conway old man skit? But during these three years I have had my Rocky Moments as well. Imagine that old man doing the fist pump to Gonna Fly Now. Yeah! That’s what I did the first time I managed handicap steps instead of a ramp. Go me!

I have my own speed now.

I fought a huge battle for my son, too much to get into here, but moms and dads know. Someone decided to get in the way of my child’s progress. Mistake. I fought for a year and it was one of the hardest battles I’ve ever been in. There were many prayers and tears. In the end we finally got his chance, what was rightfully his. Nothing was wrong with my voice. I made phone calls until I found a way.

He is running with that chance. Does it matter if his steps are a little slow at times? Nope. Cue Gonna Fly Now. We will fist pump together. Go son!

After I regained enough health, I completed writing two novels and started a third. Wow. I impressed myself. Sometimes I had to use speech to text. I thought I would never get Dragon trained. What a formatting mess. But words got onto the page.

I am sure the most eloquent prose ever spoken has been forever lost, mangled by my computer’s inability to master the southern accent.

The trick is to get words on paper by any means possible. Spiral notebooks were always in my bed so I could reach them. I learned to put them on their own pillow. Temperamental, they are.

I joined an accountability group and committed to a minimum of words written on my novel per day. Once you give yourself permission to take small steps and plod away you will be amazed at what you can do.

These accomplishments only came about through prayer and persistence.

Other good things of note happened these last three years. My middle son became a proud homeowner. The oldest is building a house, the youngest boy started college, and Baby Girl has found her calling.

It’s enough to make one dizzy, this fast crawl.

None of my strength comes from myself. It’s plain to see I have none. What I have is a destiny. And I have my own pace, even if it is a slow shuffle.

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None of my strength comes from myself . . .donnajostone.com on pink boxing gloves

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