Writing exercise: Using all 5 senses

I’m reading “Make Your Words Work,” by Gary Provost, an essential book for every writer. This is a book I wish I’d read before ever attempting to write a novel. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and already I’ve learned so much.

One of the exercises in the book was to write a paragraph using all five senses. I did, and came up with the following scene.

Btw, try this exercise yourself! I’d love to read yours in the comments.

The Coffee Shop

I opened the glass door of the Java Hut with a jingle of the bells, which made way for the low murmur of conversation, along with the occasional clink of China. The rushing sound of the espresso machine served as background noise, a sweet symphony of sound as I took my place in line. I’d skipped my morning coffee when I woke up, and my mouth salivated in anticipation of the earthy brew.

I reached the front of the line, taking in the cashier’s colorful dreads, a rainbow of pink, purple, and turquoise, paired with blue eyes lined with kohl and a black painted mouth. If it weren’t for her smile, I’d have assumed she was unfriendly.

“What can I get you?”

I ordered my usual – two cups of drip, one with extra cream, and one black. She took my crinkled dollars and replaced them with a couple cold coins, which clinked in her tip jar as I dropped them.

With coffees in hand, I took a seat by the window, placing the pale coffee on the opposite side of the table, and holding the heated ceramic of my own dark brew. I breathed in, inhaling the roasted air mingled with the scent of bacon from my neighboring table. Then I raised my cup toward the empty seat in front of me.

“Ten years is a long time,” I murmured. “Think you’ll ever give up the charade?”

I clinked the cup of milky coffee, then brought my brew to my lips, sipping the scalding liquid. When I lowered my cup, the other was already empty. I picked it up and looked inside, reading the words in the bottom of the cup.

“Not yet.”

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Today is a new day.

dancerainHi. I’m back. Negative Nelly took over my blog yesterday, apparently, and had a field day. She does that sometimes. I think it has something to do with letting off some steam, so I allow her the space to do that, mostly in my personal journal, but sometimes here, as well.

She wants me to tell you that she’s okay, and feeling much better after releasing all that pent up tension in my blog yesterday. She still feels a little scared about her future plans and how they’ll pan out, and she still worries about whether she’s wasting her time. But she also knows that the best way out of sorrow is to first, tell the truth (which she did here), and second, to surround herself with good friends, which she did last night. She learned that she wasn’t alone in these feelings of stress and dread, that others were feeling this, too. She was reminded about how hard this past year has been, especially the past several months with the wildfires, tons of terrible current events, the season of political tension across the board we’re in, the stressful school semester she experienced, and writing a book at a time when she had so little of herself left. She realized she was drained, so no wonder she wasn’t feeling very positive.

Nelly has decided to have grace with herself, to be gentle and stop making rules to live by. She’s decided it’s best to live one day at a time, particularly while she’s on winter break. She plans to attempt to sleep in more, and maybe offset some of these negative feelings through eating nourishing foods and exercising more. But she also won’t beat herself up if she has something sweet or lays on the couch for the day.

In the meantime, I plan to let Nelly rest so I can finish editing Hope for the Broken Girl. My editor’s notes have been sitting on a shelf, waiting for me to have time to make the corrections and get this final book of the Hope series ready for publication on Feb. 5.

That is all. Thanks for all the love you’ve sent Negative Nelly!

Book-release hangover is real

Book-release hangover is real. Or maybe I should say vulnerability hangover. I go through it every single time I write or release a book. Writing it, editing it, tweaking it, gathering excitement about it, feeling so proud of it, releasing it to the world.

And then, the hangover.

I released Hope at the Crossroads on Oct. 24. It was a quiet release because my town was on fire. It didn’t feel right to tout something as trivial as a book when so many people lost their homes. So I quietly hit publish, and put it out there to anyone following me on social media. The next day, it was business as usual. I was too busy, too preoccupied, too everything else to worry about what happens next after releasing something I’d poured myself into for the better part of a year.

November came, and NaNoWriMo came with it. In the midst of midterms and prepping for finals, I wrote a book. The book took everything out of me, and now that it’s done, I’ve set it down and plan to forget about it until January.

But now that it’s over, I’ve got the hangover.

Here’s what that looks like. People have bought my book. Oh my God, they’re reading my book. Holy hell, they’re reading it! Do they like it? Does anyone like it? Why haven’t they left a review??? (Refresh.) They still haven’t left a review. Only 20 people bought it. 20. I know more than 20 people. Why did only 20 people buy it? Why aren’t 20 people leaving a review? Have they even read it? Oh God, they didn’t read it. They just bought it to be nice. They don’t even like to read. No one likes to read. Why am I writing if no one likes to read? Why am I even writing? I don’t know how to write. I think I lost the muse. I think I lost my talent. Did I ever have any talent? What is wrong with me???

Here’s how else that looks. I feel spun at all times, and even the smallest thing can send me over the edge. At the same time, I’m restless, and waiting for something to change. I want to do all things. I want to do NONE of the things. I’m having a hard time reading books right now because ALL OF THEM are better than mine. The comparison monster is alive and well, and it’s pouring jealousy all over me. I want to hide in my bed until the holidays are over. I’m frustrated that my books are ignored. I’m glad my books are ignored. I want to take back everything I’ve ever written. I question what I do, what I say, how I look, what I’ve done with my life, where I’m going, that I’m even admitting my crazy instead of being uber positive so you’ll buy my books. I’ve stopped caring. I care way too much.

Does that paint a clear enough picture? I swear, there needs to be a therapist who only deals with artists.

In A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson writes, “The ego is like a gravitational force field, built up over eons of fearful thinking, which draws us away from the love in our hearts. The ego is our mental power turned against ourselves.” And oh man, is this true.

I’m battling these feelings of ego and fear, something that happens with every book release, and every time I write a book. Now I’m battling the aftermath of both, and gearing up for another book release, while trying to keep my sanity as I try to get through finals. The book-hangover is real, and I’m gonna need some tomato juice and two aspirin.

Or maybe it’s a hair of the dog thing, and I just need to write another book.

Just published! Hope at the Crossroads, Book 2 of the Hope series

Hope at the Crossroads is available now! 

Take a journey with Maddie, a teen mom figuring out life while raising her daughter Hope in the heart of Wine Country. Hope at the Crossroads is now available in print and Kindle on Amazon.

bit.ly/hopecrossroadskindle

This is Book 2 of the Hope series, a trilogy that began with The Road to Hope, and will finish with the release of Book 3, Hope for the Broken Girl, on Feb. 5.

Happy reading!

Writing process: How to write a novel fast

Crissi vineyardAs I gear up for the release of Hope at the Crossroads (Oct. 24!), I thought I’d take a moment to share about my writing process. I always love reading how other authors crank out their novels, don’t you?

First, I fully admit that I’m not writing any books at the moment. My focus is on college and the Hope series book #2 release, so my main writing is journaling and class essays. However, writing is definitely on the horizon. NaNoWriMo is just around the corner (see more info at the end of this post), and I’m getting ready to start outlining my book project for that month.

In the meantime, here’s a look at what my writing process is like:

Before I’ve even started writing the novel, I have an outline to the story already in front of me, something that lays out every single chapter in as much detail as I can dream up. This outline can change, if the story requires it. But generally, it stays pretty similar. I’ve written books off the cuff, and it can be a truly organic experience. It can also take so much time to do, because there’s plenty of room for writer’s block. I’ve also done it with short outlines. But since I started mapping out each scene and chapter with details, my writing speed has increased a ton. I don’t think it impedes that organic creative flow, as it’s there while I’m writing the outline. Having it all mapped out, I know where I’m going and what it is going to take for me to get there. Then I let my characters fill in the blanks.

Now for my actual schedule. I wake up at 5 a.m. and start the water for a cup of coffee. While it’s heating, I let the dog out to pee, and I do my devotionals. This is my time with God, through both reading and praying. Once I have my coffee and the dog is settled, I finish my devotionals, and then spend about 30 minutes pre-writing. Usually this is just journaling an extension of my prayers or an issue I’m struggling with, or even a character study or scene that I’ll never use in the final draft. Pre-writing is important because it warms up that writing muscle so that when I get to actual novel writing, the first words aren’t those crappy ones we end up deleting anyway.

Then it’s on to the novel. I’ve made it a habit to NEVER GO BACK when I’m writing a book. I do not re-read anything until I’m totally done writing the story, as it will only trip me up. The first draft has a lot of mess to it, and focusing on any of that mess won’t help the forward motion. I do, however, write a paragraph at the end of each writing session to clue me in on where I’m headed. This way, there’s no guesswork. Plus, I have my outline to keep me on track.

My first writing session is about 2 hours, and then I’m off to work for the day. Generally that’s enough time for me to get about 1,500-2,000 words, my goal for the day. I’ll write a little more on my lunch break as well. After work, I often don’t write because I’m busy with family stuff. Plus, my brain stops working in the evening.

When I’m in the middle of a book project, the story is with me constantly, even when I’m not writing. The characters are with me, the scenes, everything. I could drive down the freeway, and I’m stuck in the middle of my world and my character’s world. It’s completely consuming, and I love it. But I can’t stay in that mode forever, because I tend to tune everyone else out. This is why I use seasons for book writing. I devote myself completely to the project, and then detach once it’s done (following the inevitable mourning period after typing The End, of course). I set it down for a month or so, catch up on some sleep, and then pick it back up to re-read and start editing.

And that’s it!

Want to write a novel? Here’s your recipe for success:

  1. Write a details outline of the story, start to finish, laid out scene-by-scene (you may even want to include character studies and scenery. Bonus, some of this can end up in the story!)..
  2. Pick the same time every day to sit down and write. This will strengthen your writing habit, and help your brain settle into writing mode since it’s an expected time to write..
  3. Start with pre-writing. This can be a few paragraphs of what you want to happen next in the story, a character study, or journaling. This is your warmup before you get to the actual story..
  4. WRITE..
  5. Don’t re-read anything, unless it’s just the last few paragraphs to get you reacquainted with the story..
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 every day.

Last year I released Reclaim Your Creative Soul, a book that shares tips and secrets for being the most creative you can be, even when living a full-time life. I included many of my writing tips for writing fast, and ways I’ve used organization to make my writing time the most effective. Trust me, I’m not the most organized person in general. However, I’ve developed a few habits around my writing career that have allowed me to keep writing books, even when I’m also going to college, working full-time, and raising a family.

If you’d like to learn how to find more time in your busy life for writing, you can find it on Amazon here, or visit crissilangwell.com/creative-soul for other retailers.

By the way, right now is the perfect time to start planning your novel. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is coming up in November. That’s only 1 1/2 months away, which is enough time for you to start working on your story outline. Find out more about NaNoWriMo here.

Two novels, four months. Here’s how.

Back in November, I battened down the hatches and cleared my schedule to take part in yet another NaNoWriMo. As you may remember, I really grappled with whether I would actually write a novel this year. I’d just started school, and it was taking up a good portion of my time. I eventually made a last minute decision that I’d at least attempt a NaNoWriMo effort, and would give myself grace if I didn’t finish.

Well, I’m one persistent writer. I managed to stick to writing every day, even with a busy school and work schedule, and ended up with a rough draft novel by the end of November. I had chosen to continue the story I began in my novel, The Road to Hope, and it was incredible to revisit these characters I had grown to love when I first wrote the original story.

Thing is, the story wasn’t done when I finished that novel. Towards the end of the month, a whole new situation arose with these characters, and I realized I had another book in me. So when I finished that first book, I began the next. This time, I took my time in writing it. First, school dictated my pace. I entered a new semester with harder classes and more demanding homework. There were some weeks I could only write on the weekends.

img_8144This past weekend, I planted myself in a chair and spent three days completing the story. On Monday,  thanks to President’s Day and a work holiday, I completed the final hours of that manuscript and was finally able to type The End.

In my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, I encouraged all you artists on ways to work your schedule around your craft, and to place priority on being creative. And then I started school. I seriously thought my creative life was going to have to be placed on hold for the next few years, and this killed me! Not only was I sure I’d be miserable, I was also afraid of being a hypocrite. It was easy for me to tell people to make time for their craft. It’s not so easy to make that happen in real life.

Not so easy, but not impossible.

reclaim tableI stand by everything I wrote in Reclaim Your Creative Soul, especially now. We have 24 hours in each day, and there is always space to include the things we love to do. I’ve sacrificed sleep, lunch hours, mindless television, and playing on my phone in favor of writing or just being creative. Sometimes, the sacrifice is painful. But it’s always worth it because a life without creativity is worse.

Do you have anything standing in the way of your creative endeavors? You are the reason I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul. If you wish you could be more creative, but aren’t sure how you could possibly fit creativity into your busy schedule, then I hope you’ll pick up a copy of this book. It could totally change your life.

The introverted author and reading on stage

open-micThis past Saturday, I was one of the featured readers at the Redwood Writers Open Mic event at Gaia’s Garden in Santa Rosa. What’s cool about being the featured reader at this event is I get to read from my novel for 20 full minutes. What’s terrifying is I get to read from my novel for 20 full minutes.

20 minutes is a really, really long time to be on stage.

I’m no longer new to reading my books in front of a crowd. My first time reading was 3 years ago. I was reading from my very first published novel, A Symphony of Cicadas. And I was TERRIFIED. In fact, I downed a half bottle of wine before I began reading just to give me the courage to step up on that stage. It worked, somewhat. I got up there. And I read. And I hardly remember a thing about it because it went by so fast (and I was a little buzzed). One minute I opened my book to start reading. The next, I reached the very last page and people were clapping. The one thing I do remember is that they laughed at the appropriate times, and got quiet at the more serious moments. It was a relief to see that people were actually following along!

Each time I read in front of people gets a bit easier. I’ve never died from reading in public. I’ve never forgotten the words (they’re written right in front of me!). I’ve never fainted or thrown up. People have never booed me off stage. The worst that’s happened is that people are talking while I’m reading. When that happens, I’ve learned to just tune them out and keep going so that the people who are listening aren’t distracted.

When I read on Saturday, the butterflies managed to keep away. In fact, I was so excited to read from Loving the Wind, that I volunteered to go first – something I never do! But I wanted to be able to read right away, and then enjoy the other people’s readings without mulling over my own. So I barrelled forward, taking that first time slot, and stepping on to the stage to kick off the event. My nerves remained intact, and I smiled at the modest crowd of 13 listeners. And then I began to share my story.

openmic2That was the moment that my tongue decided I hadn’t had enough to drink. It dried out completely, replacing itself with a wad of cotton. I had brought a drink on stage with me, but it was just out of reach. So I powered through, licking my lips every now and then to try and turn my cotton tongue back to normal. I was aware of every word that came out of my mouth, sure that people could hear the garbled texture of my words as they spilled out over my cotton tongue.

Eventually, my normal tongue found itself. I began enjoying the words I was reading, feeding off the way the room had silenced as people listened to my words. No one was talking, which is a great sign. It means they were paying attention. A few quick glances out into the audience, and I could see it was true. It was good to be first. It meant the crowd was fresh and ready for a story.

Fifteen minutes in, and I was reaching the most dramatic point of the scene. And that’s when I felt the tickle in my throat. There was no pushing it aside. I had to pause.

“Bravo!” the MC clapped as I stopped reading and reached for my drink. She thought I was done.

“Oh, there’s more,” I promised. For a brief moment, I second guessed myself. Was the audience done listening? Were they ready for me to be done so that the next reader could come up? I banned these thoughts from my head, took a swig of my drink, then stepped back up to the microphone.

“…here’s the secret about pixie dust…” I continued, feeling all eyes light up as I went on with Tiger Lily’s story of Neverland.

The reading ended, and the crowd clapped. And the show went on.

I will probably never get over being nervous before readings. I no longer need liquid courage to get up on stage, but the butterflies or cotton tongue will likely accompany me in the spotlight. But that’s okay. It’s only because it means so much to me to stare out at a crowd of people and share stories with them that I wrote from the heart.

Cotton tongue and butterflies can’t stop me from doing it again, and again.

The book that almost never was

TigerLily tease2

I’m about to tell you about the book that almost never was. Every year I write a book for National Novel Writing Month in November. This last year, however, I was stumped. I had just written Reclaim Your Creative Soul, and that book took a lot of energy out of me. I figured I would just skip it this year. But at the eleventh hour before the eleventh month, an idea came to me—why not just have fun with it this year? I know, a novel idea for a novel.

And so, I did. Having always been a fan of Peter Pan and Neverland, I began exploring the idea of writing about a character that only got a bit role in the original story: Tiger Lily. I began to develop who she was, where she came from, the values of her people, and her likes and dislikes. Just like Peter Pan is a coming of age story, Tiger Lily’s story was much the same. She became a princess held captive by rules she didn’t appreciate, and with hopes and desires that didn’t fit the mold of her people.

Throw in some pirates, a few Never beasts, the Lost Boys, and Peter Pan, and I suddenly had a story.

To up the ante, I not only wrote the story, I LIVE wrote it. Many of you followed along as I posted each chapter to Wattpad, allowing you to see the inside process of what it’s like for a novel to be written beginning to ending. While it was just a rough draft, I was pleased with how things worked out as I wrote. Many of you expressed interest as well, anxiously waiting for me to post the next chapter.

The story was never supposed to be published. It was just something to amuse myself and a few fans, and nothing more. However, the more I wrote, the more I realized that the story was taking on a life of its own. It was more than just an amusing tale, it was a story that needed to be told.

This story became Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan, and it just published this morning!

For the next few days, I am keeping the Kindle version of this book at 99 cents so that there are no barriers for you to buy this book. This is my gift to you for sticking alongside me, cheering me on, and anticipating this very moment. Please don’t delay in buying this book now, as the price goes back up after the weekend.

Furthermore, I have a few contests on my Facebook page if you’d like a chance to win the print version of this book. Just look up #LTWgiveaways and you’ll find a bunch of contests that are going until Sunday.

Thank you for all your support, and happy reading!

Love,
Crissi

Getting personal with book selling

Crissi reading

I remember when I first started publishing my books, my marketing focus was on the whole wide world. With the internet at my disposal, it made sense to me. I could reach anyone, anywhere, and sell to hundreds of thousands of people without ever having to leave the comfort of my own home.

My first book did pretty well. I marketed to everyone in the world, which was a hard sell since no one knew of me yet. However, my family and friends knew me, and they bought wholeheartedly.

My next book didn’t do quite as well in sales. I won a small award and sold to some of my family and friends. But the rest of the world ignored me. The story was the same for my next book, as well. By the time my fourth novel was published, I was worn out and couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I questioned my career path as an author, and considered throwing in the towel. After all, I was spending thousands of dollars on this dream of mine, and had nothing to show for it except for some books that no one except a handful of people who loved me seemed to be interested in.

This was around the time that I found the inspiration for Reclaim Your Creative Soul. If you’ve kept up with this blog, you remember when I went on a personal soul retreat that changed my life. It was on this retreat when I addressed all of the dilemmas I had with my life path, conferring with God on how to move forward. I came away from that day with answers to my questions and a new purpose for life, and the seed that would become Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

With this last book, I was very clear about my message and the people I was writing to. I wanted to reach other creatives who felt pulled between their busy life and their craft. Most of us must have a day job to be able to afford our lives, especially when our art isn’t make us money. I wanted to show that it’s totally possible to have both, and I wanted to inspire people to NOT give up on their dreams just because they needed to work for a living (or whatever else was getting in the way of their craft).

With this message in mind, I let go of trying to reach the world, and instead just reached the people around me. The message started out small. I, or course, let my family and friends know. But I also started to spread the word to people I didn’t know, but on a more personal level rather than through the anonymous space of the internet. In this, I signed up for readings and read chapters aloud. I verbally shared about my book to those people who wondered how they could fit creativity in their lives. My marketing endeavors weren’t about making money or selling my book at all. Instead, they were about helping other people to make the most of their time so that they could fit more creativity in their life. That was my main objective.

Fast forward to now. A week ago, I read my book in front of a group of writers and sold a bunch of books who were affected by my message. Word about my book reached a podcaster, and our interview will publish on Monday. I’ve been asked to take part in an exclusive sales opportunity with a small group of other authors I admire. Opportunities are coming my way, and all I’ve done is to refocus my intentions and the audience I hope to reach.

Instead of trying to reach the world, I’m starting out with my own community and then going from there.

This not only takes a ton of pressure off me, it also makes things so much more natural. I am now preparing to publish my next book, Loving the Wind, and my hopes are that this book will reach the most readers I’ve ever reached with any of my books. This time, instead of pushing out ads and promoted Facebook posts to a bunch of people I don’t know, I am utilizing my friends and family to help me spread the word. As of right now, a few dozen of the people I know and love are reading this book as first readers. I contacted each of these people personally, handpicking them because I trust them and know that they like many of my books. When the book publishes on Aug. 18, many of these first readers will be key in helping me to spread news about this book because it’s something they read and enjoyed.

If you’re wondering how you can get your book into the most hands possible but coming away with disappointing results, it’s possible you’re trying to market to too many people. Rather than selling to the whole world, consider starting with your own community. Sign up for an open mic or two and read aloud from your book. See if your library is interested in a reading from a local author. Join an active writer’s group that offers events that will help you reach readers. Contact local book clubs and offer to talk with them if they decide to read your book. Think about the people that you want to reach with your book. Who would be interested? Not everyone will like what you write, but there is a group of people who will love it.

Finally, never underestimate the power of being personal. A Facebook post about your book or an advertisement on a web page are easily ignored. A mass email is a little bit better, but can also go unread. But if you talk to someone one-on-one, the power in that is huge. In this day and age, it’s super convenient to socialize on a broad scale, being impersonal through social media, texting, or the like for the sake of convenience. But if you pick up the phone or meet over coffee? That means so much more to everyone.

As much as possible, try and be personal with those people you wish to reach. If your contact has to be done over email or social media, that’s fine. But make it a personal message, and don’t just rely on your social media broadcasts to reach readers. If you take the time to care about the people you wish to connect with, they can’t help but care about you in return. Their loyalty will increase. They may even wish to help you spread the word about your book.

In connecting with a few readers on a more personal level, you have the opportunity to reach the world.