Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog – A Story to Tell. This blog will document my journey as a new writer, while at the same time, sharing the untold stories wound tight around my heart and trapped deep inside my head.

While writing my first romantic suspense manuscript, I had several people ask what motivated me to write after years in the medical field. I’ve always been a storyteller, but my stories were spoken through other avenues like dance, music, art, and photography. Now with a great deal of courage, patience, guidance, and support, I am writing the first words of my story. I am so excited to see where they’ll take me.

Recently, I found a quote by Charles de Lint that spoke volumes to me and gave me direction for this blog, “Don’t forget – no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell.”  I invite you to pull up a comfy chair along with a cup of coffee (or iced tea) and then sit back and relax. . . I have a story to tell you.

“I Won’t Give Up”: Words of a Stubborn Writer

Draft photo During a recent writer’s workshop, the presenter asked everyone to make a mental note of the writers who packed the room. Then he dropped an opening statement, one that I certainly wouldn’t forget, “In two years, only a third of you will still be writing.”

What? Really?

Given the amount of writers seated around me, I couldn’t imagine the truth to that statement. He had my full attention at that point, and I had to know why.

So the main reason for the drop off – writing is hard. After two years, most people give up.

At first I wondered why he would start the session off with that line. Did he hope to motivate us or squash our writing dreams? In my case, it motivated me to prove him wrong. That same message has remained with me long after the workshop.

Before I started this journey, I thought the hardest part would be writing the story. But now that I’m stuck in the revision process of two novels, I can see why writers pack away their work, never to see the final outcome.

It is hard for me to stay motivated these days. Especially when my writing time is spent reviewing every line of every chapter and polishing one scene at a time. I can spend hours obsessing over one paragraph or one word. Then after I revise a chapter, I post it to an online critique group and/or a local writing group and await their feedback. Once the problem areas are addressed from these critiques, I move forward to another round of revisions. It is a lengthy process, and some days it feels like being in a revolving door that never stops.

After I attended that workshop – I made a vow not to become a person who gave up on their dream to write and eventually publish. I’m stubborn. Once I set my mind to do something, I follow through.

So how do I keep my forward momentum without getting discouraged these days?

Set a goal. This July, I plan to pitch my novel to an agent at a national writer’s conference. In the weeks to come, I will work hard to polish my story and develop a great query letter.

Utilize online resources. I recently found a great article on Now Novel that focuses on keeping motivated after the first draft. The best suggestions were breaking down the revision process into small manageable bites and rewarding yourself for making progress.

Reach out to other writers. Social media has been a great way for me to gain support from other writers. I’ve learned that even the best writers struggle and knowing this keeps me motivated to write.

If you have a strategy that works to keep you motivated during the writing process, I’d love to hear from you.

Setting the Scene

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Have you ever picked up a book, and from the moment you started reading, the story sucked you in and never let go until the final word? Did it seem like you were standing next to the character – seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and experiencing everything along with them?

I want readers to have the same experience when reading my work. So this spring, I enrolled in a creative writing course with an emphasis novel writing. The topics we’ve covered in class range from dialogue, character development, and one of my favorite things – building the setting of a novel.

To illustrate the importance of setting, I found several helpful items in the Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich, the primary resource for the class. According to Novakovich, a plot develops when the character relates to or is in conflict with the setting. A setting can also provide the perfect backdrop for the action in the scene.

There are two class activities that have drastically changed how I approach writing a scene. For one assignment, I developed a character who was an orthopedic surgeon, and made her visible through the surroundings. I created a list of everything she might observe in a surgical suite. I imagined her in the middle of the room and surrounded by interesting smells, a gurney with the patient, medical equipment and other personnel, beeping monitors and power tools, and the cold temperature of the room.

In the scene, she interacted with everything around her, and I threw in a few challenges for her to navigate. This one simple activity elevated the quality of the scene. My character and her actions came to life. In the end, she even provided me with a high-stakes plot filled with tension and conflict.

We performed this same activity in class, but in fun destinations like a coffee shop, emergency room, and carnival. In small groups, we plotted all of the items on a poster board and then rotated around, adding to the original list. Each group prioritized their list and chose seven of the best items to use in writing a scene in that location.

When I sit down and write a chapter, or revise my current work, I use these same strategies to structure my settings. My characters seem more realistic, the settings are packed with sensory details, and I’m left with plot ideas that push my story further.

The Intervention

This has been a wonderful year full of writing and meeting great people along the way. To commemorate where it all started, and to bring out a little holiday humor, I wanted to share my first short story written last Christmas.


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The Intervention

Naomi Neel spent way too much money shopping – again. She didn’t need another box of LED lights, a rotating snow globe, or two six-foot-tall blinking topiaries. But she had to use the half-price coupon that had burned a hole in her purse for the past week.

After she pulled the car into the driveway, she glanced at the home next door. The yard was almost ready for the annual decorating contest and way ahead of schedule. Her neighbor, Carolyn Crandall, stood on a ladder wrapping a string of lights around a tall evergreen shrub. Naomi hoped to get inside before Carolyn saw her, but that didn’t happen. When Naomi’s automatic garage door squeaked open, Carolyn leaned away from landscape and presented her with an enthusiastic wave.

Five years ago, the neighborhood yard decorating contest began as an attempt to boost Christmas cheer. But over the years, the competition morphed into a ruthless tug-of-war between the “Crazy Crandall’s” and the Neel’s, to win the coveted first place prize. Naomi’s family was known for their unique front yard masterpieces, and they had won the title the past two years. This Christmas, she’d already set her sights on a three-peat victory.

In the beginning, Naomi’s family coerced her to get on board. But after winning, she’d transformed into an obnoxious ring leader that barked out orders, shopped year round for unique holiday decorations, and turned their home into a Christmas command central.

As she exited the car, and moved around to her front yard, Naomi noticed a row of toy soldiers propped up against the Crandall’s house. Not just your ordinary soldiers, but life-size ones decorated in the untraditional colors of pink and green. Is that? No it can’t be the same familiar shade of pink and green? Wait – it is?

“Well, hello my favorite neighbor,” Carolyn said with a small hint of sarcasm. “Fine day to begin decorating isn’t it?”

Hoping to calm her inner rage, Naomi hesitated before answering.” Well, if you like decorating in freezing temps.”

“Nothing gets in the way of our holiday decorating. When will you start working on your yard?”

“Soon, very soon.” Naomi pointed to the toy soldiers. “Interesting items you have there, Carolyn. Where ever did you find such unique decorations?”

“Well, it’s a crazy story. One I’d love to tell, but I’m extremely busy.” She waved dramatically to the miles of lights overflowing from a plastic container. “Toodleloo!” Just like that she smiled and dismissed Naomi in her own flighty way.

Naomi darted to her basement like a race horse set free from a stall at the Kentucky Derby. When she reached the bottom step and flipped on the light, she froze mid-stride. All of her prized decorations were missing, gone, nowhere in sight. She couldn’t believe the Crandall’s would stoop this low. In that moment, Naomi made the vow to get everything back. All of her decorations back.

For her important, but very dangerous mission, Naomi decided to go rogue. After waiting until everyone left her house that evening, she set a strategic plan in motion. She peeked through the blinds to the Crandall’s home and noticed all of the lights were off including the yard decorations. Naomi leaped into action.

Dressed in all black, she crouched low and made her way into the Crandall’s yard. She shook uncontrollably with a twinge of excitement, but mostly fear, as she made her way to the first yard ornament. When she lifted the first toy soldier, a blaring alarm sounded and permeated through the quiet neighborhood. Naomi froze when all of the outside lights came on and illuminated the whole yard. If that wasn’t enough to embarrass her, a large group of people spilled out onto the front porch. As Naomi’s eyes adjusted to the bright light, she recognized the faces of the entire Crandall family, the neighbors from across the street, and her family. Oh geez. This was bad!

Before she could squeak out an explanation, Naomi’s husband escorted her into the Crandall’s living room, and over to a chair placed in the center of the room. Still confused, she sat and gazed around at the other folding chairs placed in a circle. But as everyone sat down, and pulled out their handwritten letters, all cylinders ignited.

Then everything came into focus – this was an intervention!

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and the best start to 2015!

I Slayed 50K during NaNoWriMo

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I met two big goals during the month of November. The first was to participate in the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The purpose is to join writers from around the world and write 50,000 words in 30 days. I made this a goal last year after reading posts from several writers I followed on social media. When they discussed how challenging and rewarding the experience was for them, I was hooked.

Not only did I meet my goal to participate this year, but I also met the second one – “winning” the challenge by completing 50,000 words. My final word count was 56,272 with one week left to spare.

I say this not to brag, but to inspire others who are on the fence about participating in the event. I almost didn’t sign-up for fear I wouldn’t finish. I am proof, it IS possible to do NaNoWriMo and win, even when working full-time. It just takes committment and a little help from friends.

So looking back on the crazy month of writing, here’s some things I want to share that got me to the finish line.

Keys to Success

  1. Before NaNoWriMo:
  • Good preparation was the key, not just the book itself, but setting up everything around you for success. NaNoWriMo had several online resources that I found very helpful during the planning process.
  • I made a small outline of the main points in my story which would kept me moving forward.
  • To increase my motivation and accountability, I shared my commitment with others by posting my goals on all of my social media accounts.
  • When the NaNoWriMo website opened, I created an author profile, joined a region, and found several writing buddies I connected with online.
  • I printed out a NaNoWriMo calendar and tracked my daily word count.
  1. During NaNoWriMo:
  • Community Support: My online writing buddies served as a great connection to others working on the same goal. As the days moved forward, we emailed back and forth to push each other, especially when our progress slowed. We also celebrated when the weekly milestones were met.
  • Region support: My region was located several hours away, and I couldn’t attend their in-person events. By reading their online forums, I could still stay updated and connected to the group from home.
  • Badges: These badges worked like a carrot dangled in front urging me to meet each milestone. Funny how watching a little icon pop up when you hit 5k, 10k, 25k, and then 50k could keep me motivated, but it definitely worked.badges
  • Word counter tracker: I loved seeing this grow every day when I updated my numbers.chart
  • Establish a writing routine: I planned each day around a scene I wanted to write. Most of the time it was written chronologically, but there were times where I was stuck. On those days, I wrote a scene that played in my head the most often.
  • Keep the mindset of just putting words down: There were days when I struggled and I made up for those times during my long writing sprints. I often carried a notebook for notes or typed up scenes in my phone while I was on the move. Then later in the day, I transcribed these ideas into the computer. I was always surprised how many words those small blips of information turned out to be.
  • Celebrate each writing goal: This was a must. I continued to read during that time and treated myself to several new book releases from my favorite authors. I also splurged on little things like a manicure, shopping, a trip to the local coffee shop, or fun time with the family.
  1. Things that didn’t work out like I expected:
  • I wish I could’ve blogged more to track my progress, but there wasn’t any extra time.
  • With NaNoWriMo the rule is to turn off the inner editor and just write. I found this very difficult. Of course, I cheated and had to edit some. Although, I didn’t do this as much as I normally do while writing. The biggest difference was when reading my work from the prior day, I didn’t dive in and start editing typos or problems within the story. I only tried this once and noticed my word count dropped quickly.
  1. What I learned:
  • I was amazed by what I tackled during one month simply by digging in and writing every day. During those 23 days of NaNoWriMo, I accomplished more than I did in almost 6 months with my first book.
  • This tells me that with self-discipline, time in the seat, making a commitment, and keeping a small story idea moving forward adds up to something really big.

Now you might be asking me. . . would you do this again? ABSOLUTELY!

For my next NaNoWriMo, I want to plan more local activities in my surrounding area like write-ins or other fun events for Wrimos to write together. I also want to enlist more people in my community and several of my online writing friends to participate with me.

So I have to know, who plans on joining me for NaNoWriMo next year?

Running Tab of Things I’ve Learned

During the next few posts, I will be sharing a running list of things I’ve learned in my pursuit to become a better writer. Hopefully, you’ll find this advice just as helpful.

Here are five items to get started:

1. Have patience.
This one has been the hardest for me to accept. I want to rush and put my book out there for others to read, but it’s not ready. I compare this process to baking a cake. As much as I love chocolate cake, you can’t remove it from the oven before it’s finished cooking. The outcome would be a gooey mess, which is exactly what a first draft looks like.

This leads me to the next item on the list.

2. Pause before pushing SEND or PUBLISH!
Never, I repeat never, push SEND or PUBLISH before waiting at least one day to proofread a writing project. Especially with this blog, I always find mistakes as soon as it is published, then I’m in a rush to correct them.

3. Invest in a good editing resource.
One of the best resources I’ve purchased was a text by Kathy Ide, Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors. I utilize this as a guide to grammar rules, punctuation, and spelling for any writing project. Another great lesson I learned was making a list of my most common bloopers and then create a cheat sheet to refer to while writing.

4. Keep some things to yourself.
Sometimes it’s better not to share everything about your writing process with others. Several months ago, I interviewed a main character for a new story idea.  This involved asking my character several questions hoping to get a glimpse of her personality and what motivates her. I started laughing at something she told me, and when I tried to explain to my family what I was doing, they seriously thought I lost my mind. Now they are even more worried about my sanity.

5. Writing is not for wimps!
It takes courage, discipline, and persistence to write. Even when I don’t feel like writing, I have to remind myself to put something down on paper. It may not be something for my novel, but it could be writing a new scene, a journal entry, a writing prompt, or completing a character sketch.

One of the best ways to keep the ideas flowing is to practice with several types of writing. Recently, I completed a creative non-fiction story and started a memoir piece. Trying new things sharpens my writing skills, opens other avenues for creativity, and really keeps me motivated.

Writing is physical work. It’s sweaty work. You just can’t will yourself to become a good writer. You really have to work at it.
Will Haygood

Join me for my next blog post when I continue sharing more of what I’ve learned on this journey.

I would love to hear from you. What are some things you’ve learned along the way and wish you knew when first starting as a writer?