Archive for the 'Resolutions' Category

The tricky part
by Jessa Slade on April 26th, 2010

Currently working on: Packing for the Romantic Times convention
Mood: Frantic

For me, coming up with new ideas is easy and fun.  There’s no stress or strain since they coalesce out of the ether with no particular effort on my part.  They tend to be quick to capture — only a page or two and their essence is on paper.

Prewriting is also fun, if not quite so easy.  A dozen to 20 pages of notes and the fill-in-the-blank charts that I like take about a week to compile.  Having the bones of a real story is quite satisfying, and when I see it all charted out, it looks all tidy and pretty, like a clean, dry, assembled skeleton.

And then the wet work begins.

Putting flesh on the skeleton, then plumbing the vascular system so blood flows through its veins, and finally zapping the monster with the lighting bolt of creativity gets messy.  Very messy.  There’ s a reason mad scientists wear full-length aprons and goggles.

Getting down the 100,000 or so words of a novel can be daunting, even if you’re crazy.  I like to keep track of my progress so that I can have a good, solid grasp on just how daunted I should be.  Here’s a screenshot of the Excel spreadsheet I use to keep an accounting of my daily word counts.  It shows the end 2/3 of writing FORGED OF SHADOWS, my June release.


I track my daily word goal, my actual word count, and then I use Excel’s mathematical formulas to make the numbers dance so I can see my percentages and the number of sessions I have left until The End.  I also keep notes at the end to encourage (or castigate — mostly castigate) myself as necessary.  As you can see from the mass of red in the middle, I spend a lot of time being behind.  Frustrating!  But in the end, I finished my first draft three days early.  Yay!

I recently decided the 85,000-word first drafts I aim for are too scary (plus I usually end up going over and then writing too long in my final drafts) so I’m breaking my next goal setting into 3 months of 25,000 each.  That will give me a 75,000-word first draft.  And you should see how fast the “percent done” column fills up when there’s only 25 writing session per spreadsheet.  Inspiring!

If you’re a writer, here’s a link to a shared version of the new spreadsheet I’m using.  If you have a question about how to work the document, ask in comments and I’ll try to help.  I converted the Excel spreadsheet to a Google Docs format, which seems similar…  I hope all the formulas work. 

More importantly, I hope your formula –whatever it is — works for you.  Whether you’re a writer or have some other creative or work project, how do you keep yourself moving forward on long projects?  Do you have a favorite reward for yourself?  I usually eat cake :grin:

by Annette McCleave on April 6th, 2010

Spring is a great time to re-evaluate. As the buds sprout into leaves on the trees and the birds chirp as they build nests, I almost always get a wonderful sense of impending … something. Call it promise, call it potential, call it what you will, but the days ahead are brimming with it. And I love that feeling.

I get inspired to eat better, exercise more, and generally savor life. Maybe it’s as easy to explain as the additional light in every day, but whatever the reason, spring creates the inspiration to renew myself. You know–turn the sod, sharpen the saw, water the garden. Mentally, of course.


How? I look for ways to improve my writing craft. Obviously, there’s plenty of ways to do that, but here are a few I’m actively doing:

1) Online workshops. I signed up for one because I’ll never know everything here is to know about the craft of writing, no matter how long I’ve been doing it.

2) Reading. I’m doing lots, in several different genres. Reading other people’s prose reminds me of the art, not the struggle. Words can be so beautiful … when they’re not my own. Well, some of mine are beautiful, too, but it’s much harder to appreciate my own work than it is to appreciate someone else’s.

3) Idea hatching. I’m thinking ahead to my next book, and I’ve got some very definite ideas about it. But before I commit myself, I like to brainstorm. Sometimes, it’s whatever comes into my head. Wild and crazy stuff. Sometimes, it’s expanding on an idea that occurred to me while I was wrapped up in my previous manuscript. Fodder for a next series, perhaps.

So many of us have challenges and issues and crises to deal with. It’s hard to hit the refresh button on ourselves, because we’re so engaged in supporting others. Do you take time out of your busy life to renew yourself, even if it’s only once a year? What sort of thing do you do?

Starting over again & again
by Jessa Slade on April 5th, 2010

Currently working on: Marked Souls Book 4
Mood: Excited

It’s spring!  I have lilacs blooming and sunlight clearing the north fence and temptation to run around outside without seven layers of clothes on (tank top, long underwear, short-sleeve T-shirt, long-sleeve T-shirt, sweatshirt, fleece, waterproof shell)!  Six layers are entirely enough!

It’s spring!  The beginning of new life, a.k.a. the death of New Year’s Resolutions.

Or maybe that’s just me.  But something about that first quarter of the new year seems so full of possibility.  It doesn’t hurt that I’m stuck inside, which makes it easy to focus on my goals.  But when the sun returns, I’m lured to all sorts of anti-resolution activities:

  • Strawberry season – there goes the diet!  I know strawberries seem like good diet food, except that fresh strawberries must be eaten with ice cream and whipped cream on a thick, soft bed of pound cake, sponge cake, short cake or — who am I kidding? — any cake at all.
  • Nicer weather outside — there goes the exercise!  Can’t do sit-ups and push-ups outside without the whole neighborhood pointing and laughing. (Although I admit I’m thinking about adding a jump rope and hula hoop to my routine and I can’t do that IN the house without busting out a wall.)
  • Sun doesn’t go down until almost quarter to eight at night — there goes half my evening writing session!

About this time of year, I have to rededicate myself to my resolutions.  Because I do WANT to keep up with my diet and exercise… Well, no, not really, but I NEED to.  And I most certainly LOVE my writing.

But evenwhat I love isn’t always easy.  Like diets and exercise, sometimes I need inspiration or castigation to keep writing.  So for the next six weeks here at Silk And Shadows, we’ll be writing about writing.  If you’re a writer, we hope you’ll chime in and share what works for you, from the start of the process to the final polish.

I just started the next book in the Marked Souls series.  Book 4 adds new twists, new characters, new evils.  That’s the inspiration part.  For the castigation side of the equation, I’m chief cheerleader of the April writing challenge through my local writing group.  A bunch of us have sworn blood oaths (or was that chocolate syrup?) to write 25,000 words in the next 25 days.  Huge raspberries (not sweet strawberries with whipped cream) will be blown at anyone who falters.

The start of a new book.  The start of a new season.  The start of a new challenge.  The start of every day offers opportunity to start again.  C’mere, day, I’m going to seize you.

Have you let any resolutions lapse?  Do you want to rededicate to them, or have you refocused?  How do you stay inspired in the presence of distraction?

Oops, you made a mistake
by Jessa Slade on February 15th, 2010


Currently working on: The last dash of Book 3
Mood: Breathless

I hate revising.  I understand the need for revising, in the same way I understand the need for flossing after brushing.  But I don’t have to like it.  Revising means I didn’t do it right the first time.  And I hate not doing things right the first time.

There was a School House Rock song from the 70s that shows a string of bloodless Kid Fail bloopers: spilled milk, falling off bicycles, shooting water from the water fountain up your nose.  The chorus goes like this:  “Oops, you made a mistake, that’s all.  Mistakes can happen to anyone.”


Despite the cheery tune, conciliatory message and studiously rainbow interracial casting, the sentiment irked me.  Then, like now, I found mistakes to be annoying, wasteful and embarrassing.  But — and I’m reluctant to admit this — mistakes aren’t all bad.

Mistakes are where a lot of serendipity happens. 
I made a mistake when I started writing Book 3 of the Marked Souls.  See, I sort of forgot to plot it. And I’m a die-hard plotter.  I love to plot.  I love charts and spreadsheets and workbook pages filled with plot.  But in one of my many spreadsheets, I forgot to schedule plotting into my calendar and so I never got around to it.

By the end of the first draft, Book 3 was out of control.  I had to make notes to myself on every page, notes like the following, cut and pasted from my manuscript:

  • What is this clue they keep talking about?!
  • Is this appropriate post coital convo??
  • Did we see where the body was last time? Whose body is it?!

Going back through the pages as I revised and seeing note after note of fumbling confusion was maddening…  And really interesting.  I had no idea what would happen until it happened, and I discovered new things about my characters, my storyworld and myself as a writer.

And I won’t ever make that stupid mistake again!  But I think I will try to preserve some of the sense of mystery that kept me turning pages.

Beading and collaging have helped me accept  work with work around my hatred of mistakes.  For a long time, I had trouble beading because I just couldn’t get started.  I thought:

  • I needed one of every bead in the world so I could be sure I had the right combination.
  • I had to get it strung exactly right the first time. 
  • I had to have an outfit that went with the beads.

Oh please.  #1, I’m never going to have one of every bead in the world.  And besides, I’d need at least two of every bead in the world so I could have matching earrings.  #2, I can just restring it if I don’t like it.  And #3, I can give the piece away as a present if it doesn’t work with my wardrobe.

Collaging (with the help of glue sniffing probably) taught me that flipping through all the world’s magazines (are we seeing a trend here?) to find exactly the right image is boooring and cutting on straight lines is for wusses.  I learned to flip, rip and stick and move along.  Sure, my collages are crooked and a little sticky (glue is every bit as messy as you remember from preschool) but they’re INSPIRING to me, and inspiration trumps correct every time.

Most importantly, mistakes are inevitable.
Knowing that I WILL make a mistake at some point, I try to cultivate a certain fatalism, even PLAN for the mistake.  I heard from a Navajo basket weaver once that the patterns in some Native American baskets are designed to include a visible flaw, because perfection belongs only to the gods.

I have no idea how true the story is, but it works for me.  Perfection belongs to the gods, and I’m just stumbling along behind, tripping over the flaws.  It takes a lot of the pressure off  :roll:

In the end, “Oops, you made a mistake, that’s all” was just the start.  Now, when the mistakes are coming fast and furious, I have my favorite mantras to get me through:

  • Don’t get it right, get it written.
  • We’ll fix it in post.

And lastly, a favorite quote:

  • Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
    Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Do you have favorite saying or quote to console yourself after a mistake?  Or is chocolate enough for you?

Ready… Set… Resolve!
by Jessa Slade on January 4th, 2010

Currently working on: The race to The End
Mood: High on naturally induced painkillers

Last week, I talked about how at the end of the year, I like to look back and see what I learned (if anything).  So of course the start of the new year is a time to look forward.

Because I’m looking forward and see mostly a monstrous looming deadline, I was gonna totally cheat and review last year’s resolutions… maybe cut’n'paste since I never keep my New Year’s Resolutions anyway…  Imagine my horror when I scrolled back and realized I totally cheated last year and didn’t actually write down any resolutions at all!

Who’s in charge of these things?

So, okay, fine, this year, I resolved to make real resolutions.  But I decided resolutions aren’t enough, since we all hear stories (I think I might have just mentioned one) about how nobody keeps their New Year’s Resolutions.  This year, each resolution (a “how”) is backed up by a goal (a “what”) and a dream (a “why”).  That way, whenever I’m tempted to not keep my resolution, I’ll be able to see what I was trying to accomplish and — more importantly — why.

Add 10 minutes to my daily workout.  (Since my daily workout is currently zero if I don’t count the dog walks, this should be achievable, even for a slug like me.)
Goal: Stave off the cookie-induced metabolic collapse I’m told is in my near future.
Dream: Touch my toes with my head on my knees — Literally, I’ve had this dream, like, a half dozen times in the last two years, and I’ve never been able to bend completely in half like that.

First attempt: I’m typing this while sitting on an exercise ball.  My 1950s office chair (complete with cigarette burns!) is the antithesis of ergonomic, and I can’t splurge on a real chair right now.  I read that people stuck for long hours on computers can benefit from rolling around on a ball.  It’s definitely more fun than a chair. 

Increase my writing pace by 500 words every night by June; increase by another 500 words by this time nex year.
Goal: Write faster.  (This is my eternal goal; I should just say that now.)
Dream: Sneak a new book into my writing schedule.

First attempt: In the rush to The End of Book 3, I have to actually meet my old resolution on word count.  I figure that’s a place to start before stretching forward.

 Say once nice thing about my achievements aloud every day week.
Goal: Transition my Eeyore mindset to a more Piglet philosophy.
Dream: Learn to assess my fears and wishes in alignment with the truth of the challenges that face me.

First attempt: I haven’t fallen off my balance ball.  Yet. 

I’m off to a great start!  Update coming next year!

Wake up! — Making a dream come true
by Jessa Slade on December 14th, 2009

Currently working on: Word wrestling
Mood: WWF Smackdown

I love when cheesy rock anthems — the kind that demand a lighter held high overhead — seem to speak directly to me.  One that came at a particularly needful time of my life was Creed’s 1999 angsty tune “Higher.”  The part I liked to sing along with — very angstily and with marginal tunefulness — went a little something like this:

When dreaming I’m guided through another world
Time and time again
At sunrise I fight to stay asleep
…’Cause there’s a hunger, a longing to escape
From the life I live when I’m awake
…But, my friend, I’d sacrifice all those nights
If I could make the Earth and my dreams the same…

I thought I’d sacrifice anything to make my dream come true.  My dream, essentially forever, was to be a published author.  I’d been writing for a long time, and I felt like I was stuck in one of those running dreams, going nowhere.  I admit, my authoring dream may have been slightly misinformed early on by a particular heroine of mine:


As a kid, I’d read an article about Dame Barbara Cartland that talked about how she wrote a $#!+load of books while reclining on a pink divan, reciting the stories in her head to a secretary, whilst caressing her dogs.  For some reason, in my memory, the article said the dogs were pink too, although this picture I found doesn’t corroborate.

Regardless, based on that article, my dream went a little something like this:

Be rich
Be famous
Have a dog

Write all day long…

So, turns out, the third one is doable and the last part is a must.  Here are a few lessons I learned in between dreaming of being a published author and waking up as one:

1.  Dreams take work.
And not the kind of work I normally do in dreams.  In a high percentage of my night-time dreams, I’m some sort of super-spy skulking around.  Which is cool.  Unlike my second most common dream occupation which is hiding from monsters.  Actually, now that I think about it, my night-time dreams are sort of decent practice for my day dreams.  But really, the work of dreams requires more sweat and less flying than the dream of dreams.

2. Dreams can be as surreal in real life as they are in dreams.
The funny thing about dreams is — Creed’s wishes aside — they don’t always look the same in real life.  The Earth and my dreams will never be the same — for which my black labrador is very grateful, since making her Cartland pink would actually be a nightmare.

3. Dreams need more dreams.
At my writers’ group holiday party this weekend, one of the other writers, who I hadn’t seen in awhile, said to me, “You did it!”  As if “it” was ever done.  The dream doesn’t end when you wake up.  The dream-come-true is very much like the endless rooms dream, where every door leads someplace new.

Speaking of doors, sometimes The Doors got a little trippy, but I always liked this line from “Awake”:

Shake dreams from your hair
My pretty child, my sweet one.
Choose the day…

If you were going to choose the next step toward making your dream a reality, where would the path take you?

This little piggy went wee-wee-wee, all the way to the bookstore
by Jessa Slade on July 20th, 2009

Currently working on: Sleep
Mood: Exhausted

Having just returned from the Romance Writers of American national conference in Washington DC, I have nothing to say.  I won’t have anything to say for several days while I refill the well of words emptied from me in a week of talking, talking, talking writing with friends and colleagues.

And yet I find myself able to write a few words :)  The topic here at Silk And Shadows this week is reading and writing series.  Despite the fact I am writing what I hope will be a series, I’m torn about whether I truly like series.  No, that’s not true, I LOVE a good series.  I just finished Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books and am fidgeting for the next one.  But it’s hard to do a series well.  As a reader, here’s why I shy away from some series:

1. The author dies.
Or sells the series to a lesser writer.  Obviously, the first one isn’t the author’s fault (probably) and the storyworld shouldn’t have to die just because its creator did.  But so often something of my enjoyment is lost along with the voice of the original writer.

2. I’m already too far behind.
I loved Star Trek fiction as a kid, but I didn’t have time for it in high school and college.  By the time I came back to it, entire universes had changed.  The canon had grown so large and diverse, I was hopelessly intimidated.

3. I have a mind less like a steel trap and more like a rusty sieve.
Even when I love a series, if somebody does pull my head out from under a rock and then smack me lightly on both cheeks a few times to bring me around, I often forget that I’m supposed to be waiting for book next.  Honestly, this is one of my favorite things about social networking like Facebook and Twitter; I can finally stay current with my favorite authors! 

Oh, but a well-done series with enough books to immerse me for days…  That is a thing of wonder.   My next trick is trying to write one…  Here’s what I will be attempting:

1. Tie every book to the overarching storyline.
Because that’s so simple.

2. Make every book strong enough to stand alone.
Oh, is that all?

3. Deliver a knock-out punch at the end of every book and keep ‘em coming back for more.
But of course.

I’ll check back in five years and let you know how I did.

Do you seek out new series, or do you shy away?  If you shied away — without bashing anyone — what scared you off?  If you download countdown clock widgets from your favorite author to remind yourself when her next book is out, what draws you to a series?

“…And they lived Happily Ever After. The end. Until tomorrow.”
by Jessa Slade on May 25th, 2009

Cheers for the living; tears for the dead ~ Memorial Day 2009

Currently working on: Sledgehammering
Mood: Sledgehammery

My XY wanted to know how I could write a post about believing in Happily Ever Afters.  “In real life, everybody dies,” he said.

He’s fun at parties, I swear.

Yes, I explained, people die.  But if they lived a full, satisfying life, reaching their potential and connecting with the people they loved, that counts as an HEA (Happily Ever After).  Most books don’t follow that entire progression, because we can’t all be turn-of-the-century Russian novelists (they didn’t believe in HEAs anyway) burning through paper pulp like weak vodka Jello shots.  The best we can do is show — in 400 pages or less — that our characters met and overcame their roadblocks, and walked away with the skills to continue down that path, whatever else might come along — whether we see that in the next book in the series or just imagine it.

I read a thread in an online romance reading community that asked whether the readers felt that romance skewed their perception of what “real” relationships should be like.  I was shocked at the number that said, yes, reading romances made it harder to maintain a real-world relationship because their expectations were too high.  HEA was one of the alleged culprits.

Which made me think those readers had my XY’s interpretation of HEA:  That somehow HEA meant you’d never have another fight, always orgasm simultaneously (in his defense, I’m extrapolating my XY’s beliefs a bit) and never die.  Whether you’re a vampire or not.

Instead, I think an HEA is built on three elements, and all of them have real-world applications, not just in our romantic relationships but elsewhere too.

1. Communication
Romance novels are a uniquely female pleasure, I think, because of all the words that go into building the relationship,  culminating in the “I love you” moment. As anyone with a Y chromosome in the vicinity knows, relationship words aren’t always the easiest for the male persuasion to muster.  But romances also understand the value of the gesture — grand or small — that reveals the truth behind words unspoken.  Whether with words or action, romances teach that only by reaching beyond the confines of themselves can our characters begin to seek their HEA.

2. Compromise
Half of communicating is receiving what the other person reveals.  With that new understanding, our characters — female and male — are able to progress past the prejudices and limitations that have held them back. Compromise gets a bad name because it sounds like giving up, giving in.  But anybody whose read about the bad boy alpha hero oh-so reluctantly giving his woman a place on the mission team — only to discover that she’s crucial to his success — knows that compromise is the heart of the HEA.

3. Commitment
Whether it’s an HEA or HFN (happy for now) the dedication to the cause completes the Ever After.  Or should we say Even After?  Because that decision to stay the course – regardless of annoyances, tribulations and assorted escalating bad guys — means we can believe that our hero and heroine remain true to each other and themselves.


How would you describe Happily Ever After?  Is it reserved for fairy tales?  Or does everyone deserve it?  Would HEA be better described as Hopefully Ever After?

The Oops Factor of New Year’s Resolutions
by Our Guest on January 1st, 2009

I was never one for making resolutions. It had always seemed to me that the quickest and surest way to NOT achieve a goal was to make it a New Years resolution, because I’d never known anyone to pursue their resolutions beyond the month of January, if that. I believe that if you’re going to dedicate yourself to any sort of personal change, it’s got to happen gradually, from the inside out, and slowly become a part of who you are.

We’re wired from birth a certain way, and how we grow up does a lot to determine the stubbornness of that wiring. It takes a lot of work to reroute the circuits. Not a sudden “Hey, from today on I’m going to be this or do this,” but more of an evolutionary thing where each day you push yourself a little more, try to see yourself and your life a little differently, and work toward those changes you want to make. They just don’t happen overnight, which is why a lot of people get discouraged and give up so soon. I think the most important aspect of change comes from attitude, rather than from action, at least at first. 

Because New Years Resolutions are so hard to keep, and we do often stumble along the way, I call it the OOPS factor:

Open-mindedness — about who I am, my ability to grow and change, and about the world around me.  
Optimism — about the future, my own, my family’s, and the world’s
Produce — everyday, sit down to turn out my very best work.
Stay focused — on my work, my goals, my family, everything in life that’s important to me.

I’ll leave you with that, because it’s New Years Day and I went to bed around 3:00 last night, and my brain is tired! I’ll begin my fundamental changing tomorrow!

Happy New Year, Everyone!


Did you say resolution or revolution?
by Sharon Ashwood on December 31st, 2008

There’s more than one meaning to “resolution.” Goal-setting. Concluding. Mystery-solving. They’re all about results. They’re all important and worthy.


Every year I make laudable resolutions, but my “process” seems to resist structure like a cat avoiding a bath. The more I try to point it toward a logical path, the more it squirms and wriggles out of my grip.  Resolutions are unresolved within days. My acronym would read something like:


The best I can do is to hypnotize myself into writing on a quasi-regular basis. Vague routine I can manage, and that (cross my fingers) seems to get the job done. If my aims are all about enchanting the reader, spinning the story, and enjoying the writing experience, my muse performs beautifully.

Good Muse

Good Muse

But ….

The moment Captain Deadline starts checking his watch, inspiration leaves the building quicker than Elvis on rollerblades. I end up with a thousand-yard stare at a blank screen.

The resolution to this quagmire? Severe muse abuse, a lot of sick days, and the consumption of things best not eaten. Rules don’t work for me. Bribery, emotional blackmail and trickery have potential—but bring on a “must” and rebellion ensues.

No, the very soft-footed goals I need to set are all about creating the best Muse Spa:  the right view from the window, the right tea, the right music, and enough hours to get up a head of writing steam.  I’ve learned my lesson the hard way:  Don’t tell the muse what to do. Instead, give the lady what she wants.

Naughty muse

Naughty muse

My New Year’s writing resolution? Don’t waste time. Surrender to her quirky process. It’s the only way she’ll deliver the goods.