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Author: C.D. Watson

How I Wrote My First Novel in Seven Weeks

How I Wrote My First Novel in Seven Weeks

Note: Most of this post was originally published in January 2014 on a now-defunct blog. My process hasn’t changed significantly since then, only now I have the experience to understand exactly how hard it is to write when I deviate too much from this process. Lessons learned!

Yesterday*, I promised to share the techniques I used to plot and write my first novel, in the hopes of helping another would-be author who’s having similar problems. I didn’t expect for that post to come today, but that’s the idea I woke up with this morning, so here goes.

First, a little background. I’m a professional genealogist. As part of my “job” (I’m self-employed, so defining my work duties is entirely up to me) I write non-fiction genealogy-oriented articles and edit a small genealogical society newsletter. I also have a genealogy blog, where I share whatever comes to mind related to genealogy. Sometimes that’s information about my ancestors; other times, it’s thoughts on genealogy as a profession. My blogs suffer when my mind is focused elsewhere, it’s true, but the way I write posts is similar to the way I write other non-fiction. Since that’s important to the process I used to write my first novel, I want to take just a moment to provide an explanation. This reads a bit like one of those stupid infomercials, and I apologize for that. I did try to cut some of the you won’t believe what happens next crap out, but there’s only so much you can do with a this is how I did that story. Please bear with me while I explain.

Writing Non-Fiction Begins with an Outline

Yes, the dreaded non-fiction outline, the bane of school children everywhere. Or, at least, it was in my day. Report-writing is so uncommon in schools now that the lack draws criticism from educators everywhere, including Will Fitzhugh, editor of The Concord Review, the only academic journal devoted to publishing original historical research papers written by high school students. If you think students shouldn’t write non-fiction in high school, I’m about to change your mind because understanding how I write non-fiction was KEY to discovering my fiction-writing process, and that all begins with outlining…which I learned how to do in school, thanks to all the report-writing I was required to do back then.

I’ll spare you the grisly details of all that and jump right to the good stuff: outlining the non-fiction I write today. When I write a non-fiction article, the first thing I do is jot down ideas about the content. I then refine those ideas, adding or deleting where needed, and arrange the ideas into a logical order. This forms the basis of my outline.

For example, this morning, I jotted down ideas for an article I’ll likely publish in the newsletter I edit. The working title is “Researching Hidden Ancestors” and is based on four ideas I brainstormed this morning (right before I brainstormed this blog post): analyzing every record; expanding research; reading records rather than relying on indexes; and researching the FAN Club. From there, I developed an (informal) outline that looks like this:

  • Introduction
  • Defining “hidden” ancestors
  1. Focus on using records as much as finding them
  2. Techniques described can be used for any ancestor
  • Thoroughly analyze every record
  • Deep record analysis
  1. Example: ?
  • Expand the search
  1. Using non-typical records; going beyond Federal censuses and “low-hanging” fruit
  2. Example: Fletcher brothers (no land; tax records explain)
  • Be prepared to read
  1. Hidden ancestors hidden because records aren’t necessarily in their name
  2. Indexes therefore useless; read every record if no reliable abstract available
  3. Example: Sally Hemphill’s deceased child
  • Research the FAN Club
  1. Many hidden ancestors can be found through their Friends/Family Associates and Neighbors (i.e. FAN Club)
  2. Example: Amy (Nichols) Ledford
  • Conclusion

None of this means anything to non-genealogy readers, but it will mean something to its intended audience (none of whom will ever read this, so there’s no worry of spoilers). Now, I’ll use that outline to write the article, which will probably end up being around four pages long. Not bad for half an hour of brainstorming, eh?

What does outlining non-fiction have to do with writing fiction? Simple. My main problem with writing fiction was not with character development or world-building or lack of ideas, but with plot. I always ran out of plot a few pages into the story. One day, I realized that a non-fiction outline serves the same purpose as plot in fiction. The outline is simply a list of things discussed; plot is what happens in the story, i.e. the things you “discuss” while building the story. Same thing, different application. I already knew how to build an outline thanks to writing non-fiction. Applying it to writing fiction was really very easy, once I made that connection.

That was just the first step. Now, I had to figure out how to actually develop the plot in a fictional work, and for that, I had to figure out why I was having such a hard time getting from great beginnings to great endings. I don’t know why, but it hit me that I needed to actually see the story’s outline. Fictional stories have too many plot points to fit handily into a one- or two-page outline. So I brainstormed, did some research into how others handle the same problem, and came up with the next two keys.

Visual Plotting with Index Cards

Because I needed to “see” the story, I had to figure out a way to get the story into a larger format. I already knew a computer screen was too small because my favorite method of outlining non-fiction involves my computer. Handily enough, I have a free wall in my home, down a hallway, that was just large enough to use as a story board of sorts. I also remembered another technique I learned back in high school: using index cards to jot down research notes. I combined the two and came up with a workable system for visual plotting by pinning index cards, with ideas jotted on them, to my big wall. I pinned cards from left to right as to where I thought they would go in the story, with “uncertains” off to the side or pinned above the main story. If I had idea cards that were too vague and needed more definition, I pinned them to the side as well.

For example, one of my “big idea” cards read something like “Hero and Heroine fall in love.” That idea needed a lot of defining, but it was something that had to happen in the story, so I pinned it to the side and kept that in mind as I worked. Once I finished putting all my ideas on index cards and arranged them into a logical order, I began developing the plot, something I’ll describe in the next section.

When I was finished, I pulled every single card down, keeping them in order, and put the “outline” into a file in OneNote. I rubberbanded the cards and pulled them out when I got ready to write for the evening. Between this, a spiral-bound notebook (for jotting down ideas about what I want to write that night, a la Rachel Aaron), and things like character files (also in OneNote), I had everything I needed to actually finish the story.

The great thing about using this system is that I could move the cards around, and I did. A lot. As my idea of how the story should go developed, I did a lot of rearranging. I could also “see” that the story fell into three distinct “acts” and could plan accordingly. This helped develop the flow of the story, the ups and downs that naturally occur and thus make the story interesting.

Visual plotting is not by any means a new technique, nor is using index cards to plot, so this isn’t some unique idea I developed. Use your favorite search engine and you’ll see what I mean. What is unique about this is how it fit into my brain. That’s it.

Still, my process wasn’t quite complete. I took Rachel Aaron’s advice and wrote down every single thing I could think of in my story when I first pinned cards to the wall, but still had a lot of holes. That’s where the next key comes in.

Plot Points vs. Scenes

I’ve read a lot (and I do mean a lot) of books and articles on writing fiction, and nearly every single one of them emphasizes plotting using scenes. Holly Lisle, for example, describes a way to plot under pressure by writing down scenes on index cards. It wasn’t until after I’d unpinned and collated all my index cards that I realized I wasn’t jotting down scenes per se but plot points, and there’s a whole world of difference. When plotting via scenes, you have to think of every single element that goes into the scene. That means that the author has to know who’s going to be in a scene, where it’s going to take place, and what’s going to happen before figuring out the entire story. That absolutely doesn’t work for me, for a reason I’ll explain in a moment.

With plot points, on the other hand, you don’t have to figure out how to integrate them into a scene until you actually hit that point in the story. That leaves a lot of leeway for character and story development that wouldn’t necessarily take place with a rigid scene-by-scene outline.

Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t have ideas for scenes as I was plotting, because I did, and when I did, I made sure to jot down enough information on the pertinent index card that I could recreate the scene when it came time to write it. Honestly, though, a lot of my index cards looked like these examples (I removed spoilers):

  • Thwarted sex #1
  • Confrontation between Hero and Heroine over (specific underlying theme)
  • (This character) tells (that character) about (problem in story)
  • (Other character) gets upset because of XYZ

And so forth.

To develop the plot, I began with my initial ideas, written down and scattered across my wall, then identified holes in the story and filled those in, working back and forth using logic and basic story formulae (e.g. the first kiss, internal/external conflict, reactions from other characters, set-ups for additional stories, etc.) until I had a workable book-length plot. But I didn’t focus on scenes. I focused on things that had to happen to make the story logical. Having those plot points allowed me to move rather quickly through writing the story, in spite of the fact that I didn’t know exactly how I was going to integrate the PPs into the story, which brings me to my next point.

Plotters vs. Pantsers

I’ve known for a while that I prefer writing fiction by the seat of my pants (Pantser) rather than following a fully developed, rigid outline (Plotter); technically, I consider myself a hybrid because I combine the two for a very organic approach to writing. Even in non-fiction, my outlines are rather loose. I only developed the example above as much as I did to give you an idea of how I outline and then write non-fiction. Normally, I’d take my basic ideas and begin writing, but here I wanted to show you my thought process because it’s important to how I learned to plot fiction.

Now, being a hybrid Plotter-Pantser doesn’t mean I hadn’t put a lot of thought into the story because I had. I’ve been developing this story world for about two years and I had already made a rough outline of the seven-book story arc (titles plus one or two sentences on what happens in each story, but no detailed notes as to characters, etc.).

So, I already had a good idea of where I wanted the story to go. I just needed to develop that idea better and that’s what I did with the visual-index-card-plotting system I described above. As I wrote, I used the story’s plot points to pull myself through from one scene to the next, developing the characters, adding back story (often unexpected revelations), and deepening story lines as I went. I often found myself adding plot twists and characters, too, such as three men I dreamed up when I realized my Hero needed male friends. I hadn’t planned those characters at all in my initial plotting and planning. When I sat down to write one night, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t showing enough interaction between my main characters and the rest of the community. (One of my favorite sayings in genealogy is, “No ancestor is an island unto himself.” This applies very well to fictional characters as well.) It turns out that those three characters all have critical roles to play in upcoming story lines, although only one (probably) will actually have his own story written out (Book 4).

When I finished the first draft, I discovered not one superfluous scene. Not. One. In fact, I had to add a scene, one that I had down as a plot point but accounted for in another way in the first draft. When I looked over my scenes list, I realized the story would really benefit from having that plot point expanded and explained in its own scene. The organic approach does have its advantages!

Writing Speed**

One of the big concerns people have with systems that produce first drafts quickly is that the writing quality suffers. I did not find that to be the case at all. In fact, the changes I made to my first draft were minor: typos, grammatical errors, tightening phrases, and adding small (and I really do mean small) fixes for plot holes or, more often, for stories yet to come in this series. Here’s the breakdown on time spent writing the first draft:

  • 33 days total writing, 68895 final word count (for the first draft)
  • 77.02 hours total writing time, or 2.33 hours per day
  • 2087.73 words per day, or 894.51 words per hour

Now, I did my math late at night after putting in a 4540 word day, so it might be a little off, but you get the idea. This is nowhere near Rachel Aaron’s 10K-word days, but I did manage to write an entire novel in a little over a month’s time by putting in 2 1/3 hours per day on average. To be fair, I did revise a little as I went, so my first draft was more like a first-second draft. But, it was really solid work, and I credit that to the plotting and writing system I used.

And Other Stuff

Each night when I sat down to write, I didn’t set a time limit or a word count goal. Instead, I focused on producing at least one well-written scene per night, and sometimes even managed two scenes, if I had enough time. I know, I didn’t plot based on scenes, but the one-scene-per-writing-session was a goal that helped me focus well enough to get from one night’s writing to the next. Many, many times when I finished writing, I would have ideas for the next scene, which I would write in my notebook or on the pertinent index card. Or I would wake up in the morning with an idea for the next scene, or I would brainstorm it during the day while doing something else, or…

Another key factor was enthusiasm. I know I keep referring to Rachel Aaron, but here’s where her system really made a difference for me. My enthusiasm ran pretty high during that first draft, in part because I was finally writing the way I always wanted to. I’m pacing myself a bit more with the second book, but my enthusiasm is still pretty high. I love my characters, I love the story, and I love the story’s world. I’m having a fantastic time writing about the people who’ve been hanging out in my head for a couple of years now. And in February, you’re going to have the chance to meet them because that’s when I plan to release the first book. Anyway, that’s it. That’s how I plotted and wrote the first draft of my first novel in seven weeks. I hope this overview is useful.

* Addendum: 18 April 2015

I wrote the above in January 2014, just a couple of weeks after completing the first draft of my first novel, The Prophecy. Since then, I’ve refined my writing process even more and learned an awful lot about what constitutes good writing. I learned so much, in fact, that I completely revised The Prophecy. The story didn’t change. That was always solid, but the way I told it changed a lot. I’ll eventually discuss how I revised The Prophecy elsewhere, possibly as part of how my writing (and the way I look at it) changed over time.

I’m also no longer a professional genealogist. Believe it or not, I’m making more money as a writer than I did doing research-for-hire. I’m still fairly well-known for it, among certain circles, and hope to one day return to the field and complete the many methodological articles I’d like to write.

** Regarding Writing Speed vs. Writing Quality

There’s a huge debate going on in the writing community juxtaposing the speed with which the first draft is written vs. the quality of the finished product. Other people combat those misconceptions far better than I could, including such heavy hitters as Russell Blake and Dean Wesley Smith.

The longer I write fiction, the more I realize that I have a comfortable, natural pace, usually around two to four thousand words per day (I still try to write complete scenes, so that’s about two to three scenes), five to six days per week, or about two to four hours a day. Sometimes I write longer. Occasionally, I don’t write at all, but even then, I’m doing something writing related. This system has allowed me to publish (as of April 2015) nine novels and one novella as well as a spattering of short stories.

I’m sure someday I’ll discuss my exact writing process, but the biggest point I want to hammer home is that the quality of the first draft has nothing to do with the quality of the finished product. All good writers edit and revise their first drafts at least once, all of them. I revise as I go along, refining ideas and story, developing characters and the story world. etc. Once the first draft is completed, I go over the entire thing twice, send it to my editor for a good look-see, then go over it again at least once prior to publication.

Almost everything I do after finishing the first draft is refining the writing. That’s what works for me. Other writers may do something different, and that’s fine. It’s great, even. What works for one person isn’t going to work for everyone else. That was the most important lesson I learned while writing my first novel. After years (decades, even) of reading writing how-to books, I realized that the rigid structure-first, story-last formula didn’t work for me. In fact, nothing about my writing process is rigid except that I devote time each day to my writing business, whether it’s writing (and I do try to write every day), editing and revising, formatting books for publication, blogging, learning (yes, I’m still learning; hope I always am), marketing, creating my own covers and teasers… I usually put in ten to twelve hour days, all totaled, but that’s part of being self-employed. I love what I do, love it so much, I hope I never have to stop. How many people can truly say that about the work they do?

Book and Author News

Book and Author News

It's been a crazy hectic month here. Lots going on, which translates to lots of book news, starting with brand new audiobooks.

As promised, Rebecca Winder finished narrating "Death Omen" (the Sunshine Walkingstick short story available exclusively to newsletter subscribers) and it is absolutely awesome. Rebecca has a smooth, pleasant speaking voice and does an incredible job rendering Sunny's deep woods accent. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the audio version to upload to my mailing list host. Until I decide what to do with it, anyone subscribed to the Celia Roman newsletter who wants a copy can email me (celia@celiaroman.com) with a request.

The Deep Wood by Celia Roman, available in audiobook format.

Rebecca should also soon be turning in the audio files for The Deep Wood, the second Sunshine Walkingstick novel. It will take me about ten to fourteen days to review them, plus another ten to fourteen days for ACX to do a quality control check, so look for the finalized audiobook to be available to listeners around the end of July or possibly the first of August.

If you haven't listened to Greenwood Cove yet and would like to try it, simply email me and I'll send you a download code. I only have a few left, so if you're interested, email me as soon as you can. So far, most of the people who've heard it have enjoyed it. It's hard not to with a narrator as great as Rebecca!

Work is progressing slowly but steadily on the third (and possibly final) novel in the Sunshine Walkingstick series, Cemetery Hill. I hit a point where the story felt unwieldy. When I laid out my plot cards and gave them a good "look see," as Sunny would say, I realized why: There was too much going on in the story; I had too much planned.

So I cut a few things, moved a few others to the (potential) next book, and rearranged the timeline for what was left. I'm now about 35,000 words into what should be a 55,000 to 60,000 word story. I sincerely hope to have the first draft finished in the next couple of weeks, after which I will do a light edit myself, then send it off to my editor. I'm aiming for an August release, but it may be September by the time Cemetery Hill makes it through the editorial process and is ready for readers.

As to other novels in the series, if a fourth book is published, then there will also be a fifth (and possibly a sixth) as a major turning point happens in the fourth book that will need to be resolved in a subsequent one.

Cemetery Hill by Celia Roman

I'm not sure yet if I want to write two to three more novels in this series. Sunny is incredibly difficult to write. While some critics call her a stereotype, I assure you she's not; I grew up around many, many people like her, including members of my own family. Even still, writing the local dialect is time consuming in a way that writing more standard English, even when slang is included, is not. If you're interested in seeing the series continue, shoot me an email and let me know. Sometimes, knowing that readers really love a series helps me decide which direction I want to take. 

The Gathering Storm by Lucy Varna

Regardless of what I decide to do with the Sunshine Walkingstick Series, the next book on my list to write is The Gathering Storm, officially book six of the Daughters of the People Series. It's been almost two years since the release of Sanctuary, the last installment, and readers are chomping at the bit for more. 

I am, too, to be honest. The Prophecy, the series' starter, was my first novel and a culmination of a lifelong dream to write fiction, and so, the story world is very dear to me. 

To prepare for working on The Gathering Storm, I'm reading The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science that Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry by Bryan Sykes. If that isn't a big clue as to part of what's going to happen in The Gathering Storm, I don't know what is!

On the short story front, I turned "Intersections," the first story in the Romancing the Weird anthology (written under the name Isobel Fletcher), in to my editor last week. What I thought was going to be a 3000 to 5000 word story ended up being a whopping 10,000 words. Normally, Richard reads each story as it's written, but with this one, I waited until the first draft was finished before turning it in. He contacted me a couple of days later and told me parts of it confused him.

Back to the drawing board. Hey, folks. This is why writers have editors.

He's going over "Intersections" a second time before he turns it back over to me. There may be a little more back and forth, but I'm looking to release this one to newsletter subscribers in July. 

In the meantime, I finished a second short story titled "Such a Good Wife" that I have started sending out to short story magazines. Selling to a magazine is a much slower process than releasing self-published titles. It's also something of an experiment for me. I've never tried to publish fiction through more traditional routes, so we'll see how this goes. 

While brainstorming what to include in this post, I realized it had been a good, long while since I'd done anything with the Cullowhee Heritage Series, released under my first pen name, Lucy Varna. A Higher Purpose, the first entry in the series, was my first novella. 

It was also my first fail as a writer. I completely missed the mark with readers on this one, and fully intended to rectify that by revising it and releasing a second edition. After completing second editions of my first two novels, however, I simply had no energy left for the kind of intensive revisions A Higher Purpose needed, so I put it on the back burner, fully intending to come back to it as soon as I could.

A Higher Purpose by Lucy Varna

As soon as I could turned out to be longer than I expected by about eighteen months. I've added revisions for A Higher Purpose to my schedule and will try to slowly work on it over the next few months. Until then, I'm gearing up for a big sale on its successor, A Wicked Love, which can be read as a stand alone. Not sure if I'll announce the sale here or not, but if you're a newsletter subscriber or follow me on Facebook, you'll get a notice. 

The Cullowhee Heritage Series was supposed to be four stories long, one focusing on a different descendant of the same witch. After the poor reception the series received from readers, I decided to drop it, simply because I had other stories readers enjoyed more. I may revive the series at a later date, but don't hold your breath (that includes you, Aunt Liz) as I haven't set my writing schedule beyond the stories I've already committed to finishing, which are: Cemetery Hill; The Gathering Storm, Redemption, and War's Last Refuge (the final novels in the Daughters of the People Series); The Master Vampire (the final novel in the Vampyr Series); Sweet Surrender (the final novel in the Pruxnae Series); and the stories for the Romancing the Weird anthology.

Notice a pattern? Yup, I'm finishing a lot of series up before I commit to anything else. Ideally, I'd like to finish all those stories by the end of 2017, but I'm not counting on it as I have a lot of other items on my plate at the moment.

For example, I'm getting the house ready for an influx of visitors for August's solar eclipse. As it happens, my house sits within the band of the full shadow, so we'll have a front row seat to the event of the year. It should be an interesting show!

The Mummy (2017) and Double Mumbo Jumbo

The Mummy (2017) and Double Mumbo Jumbo

We went to see The Mummy yesterday and, to no one’s surprise, three out of three people in our crowd disliked it, including the person who wanted to see it most. For me, the biggest fails came through the multiple times my suspension of disbelief was tested. As screenwriter Blake Snyder says in Save the Cat: The Last Book On Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need, “…audiences will only accept one piece of magic per movie.” (Emphasis in the original.)

There were way more than that in The Mummy.

The original premise is, of course, that the Hero Nick Morton wakes up an ancient Egyptian mummy. Everyone walks into the movie understanding this. It’s the movie’s one piece of magic.

Almost right off the bat, moviegoers are asked to believe another piece of magic: That Tom Cruise is young enough to play a soldier in an action movie. Ok, that’s not magic, but I promise you, it cracks my suspension of disbelief. At 54, Cruise is entirely too old to be playing a sergeant in the Army. The character was meant for a late-’20s, early-’30s guy, and while Cruise almost manages to pull off the look, those of us who watched him in Legend, Risky Business, and the like (way back in the ’80s!) know better.

Not long after the mummy’s sarcophagus is found, Cruise’s comedic sidekick Chris Vail is turned into a zombie controlled by the Villain, Ahmanet. This isn’t too much of a stretch. We later learn that Ahmanet can control the dead, which falls neatly in line with previous iterations of the character.

But wait! There’s more!

When our Valiant Hero and his Love Interest make it back to London, he’s introduced to Dr. Henry Jekyll. Yes, that Jekyll. And, of course, we get to see Jekyll’s alter ego, Eddie Hyde.

This strained my patience no end, but it wasn’t the kicker. What really blew it for me was when Morton (aka Cruise) was turned into a god.

No kidding.

So in this one movie, we have at least five pieces of magic, four past what audiences are willing to tolerate without having their suspension of disbelief completely broken. By the end of the movie and the obligatory setup for Movies Yet To Come, I was more than ready to go home.

The ending, by the way, felt more like a superhero, League of Legends type ending, where Dr. Jekyll and Love Interest are going to form a team of evil fighters around Cruise the God.

There’s a telling metaphor in there somewhere, I’m sure.

All in all, this is not a movie I can recommend, even to diehard fans of previous Mummy movies. See it at your own risk, but don’t forget I told you so.

Scarecrows and Rain Dances

Scarecrows and Rain Dances

Growing up, I must’ve had the strongest female role models of any woman alive, except maybe my sister, who was blessed with the same set.

Nanny, our paternal grandmother, lost her first husband to Nazi gunners during World War II, her eldest daughter at a tender age to a tragic accident, and her second husband to drink. She developed rheumatoid arthritis in her late thirties, the most severe case her specialists had seen at the time, and eventually died due to complications thereof, but not before seeing her remaining five children and umpteen grandchildren reared proper like.

Her faith and a lively sense of humor shored up her strength, traits she passed on to the better part of her progeny, usually in equal measures. We’re the Bible-thumpin’est, laugh-out-loudest bunch of yehaws never seen outside the South.

MawMaw, our maternal grandmother, married a man whose first wife had died upon the birth of their third child. As soon as the deed was done, he volunteered for the Navy (presumably out of patriotic duty during World War II), and when he returned, gifted my grandmother with ten additional children.

If that doesn’t speak to her strength, nothing ever will.

Then there are the aunts, a quirky bunch of women born and bred in the fine mountain arts of making hushpuppies, smiles, and mischief, not necessarily in that order.

None beat Mama for sheer obstinance. If it had to be done, by golly, she made sure it was done, and done right the first time. Or else. I was on the receiving end of or else enough to know she meant it when she said it.

Mama was a bundle of energy, not frenetic or obtrusive, but the kind of energy that sticks with a task from start to finish and doesn’t let a whole lot get in the way in between. That energy was expended on a number of endeavors over her too-short life, not least of which was a penchant for helping the people around her in ways they least expected.

She started sewing at a young age and later won the local 4H contest for a skirt she made with her own two hands. (I was never straight on whether she did that at age nine or in the ninth grade.) Alas, PawPaw thought Raleigh was a road too far for one of his daughters to travel, and so, she stayed home while her peers tarried on.

That minor setback might’ve kept Mama from showing her skill to a bunch of city judges, but it didn’t stop her from sewing. Over the next few decades she progressed from sewing for herself to sewing for others, and eventually wound up sewing wedding dresses for local brides, then organizing their weddings.

Mama had a good hand for getting people where she wanted ‘em to be and a fine eye for crafting pretty out of humdrum.

Her needlework was rarely confined to garment making. The first house I remember living in was out on Wolffork Road. The Tanner House, we called it, a one-story white farmhouse with red shutters and trim. It had wood floors and a fireplace, and an old, gray barn out back. Mama salvaged a chair from that barn, refinished it from top to bottom, then embroidered flowers on black velvet for a seat cushion.

The leftover velvet went into a vest for a costume she made for me when I was in first grade, or maybe the seat cushion was made out of scraps from the vest.

Either way, I still have the whole outfit tucked away in my closet, a tiny gypsy shirt and colorful skirt, and that black velvet vest, embroidered with musical notes and a butterfly in Mama’s fine, even hand. One day, I’ll sit her great-grandchildren down and show them that vest, but not for a good, long while as my son is only nineteen and not nearly ready to settle down yet.

Or so he tells me.

The sewing and quilting and refinishing morphed into a part-time career redecorating rooms and whole houses in partnership with Mama’s youngest sister, Debi. The two of them squeezed the extra work in around full-time jobs and full-time children. I swear, I think they must’ve redone every second house in a one hundred mile radius during those days, judging by the number of trips they took to the wallpaper outlet.

When it came time to paint or wallpaper or refinish for me and my sister, Mama headed the project from start to finish. My sister and her husband built a house when their kids were little. Mama was the one sorting through paint chips and fabric samples, matching one to the other for best effect, and that’s exactly the way my sister wanted it. Neither one of us inherited that talent, more’s the pity.

Mama always took an active role in our lives, even when her disapproval of said lives ran high. In elementary school, she was that mother. You know the one I’m talking about. If there was a school function, Mama was there with bells on and then some. One year she came to an event as a scarecrow and the next as Peter Pan. Nobody blinked an eye, especially us kids.

‘Course, that could’ve been because we didn’t recognize her as the scarecrow until we got home. She was still wearing the autumn striped, toed socks she’d worn to school that day. Otherwise, we might never have cottoned on to her guise.

Not a thing changed when me, my brother, and my sister grew into extracurricular activities. Mama still didn’t approve of the decisions we made, but she still volunteered for nigh on everything. If the Athletic Boosters or the Band Boosters needed an extra chaperone, up her hand went. She was score keeper and fund raiser, and all around morale booster, and I mean that quite literally. There wasn’t a thing Mama wouldn’t do for the people around her, nor any dare she’d refuse.

One memorable baseball game, she promised Little S. she’d do a rain dance on the pitcher’s mound if he hit a homerun on his first at bat. Danged if he didn’t hit one over the fence on his first swing. As soon as he rounded home, Mama handed her score book and pencil over to another mama, walked out onto the field, and in the tradition of the finest shaman this side of the Great Mississipp’, proceeded to whoop and holler her way through a rain dance on the pitcher’s mound.

My hand to God, y’all, that’s exactly the way it happened, or the way I remember it, which amounts to the same thing.

Mama was also the one sitting in the back of the bus with the kids, laughing up a storm to a tape of Bill Cosby while the other chaperoning parent sat in the front behind the bus driver, none of which should come as a surprise to anyone.

The years rolled on, aging as they do, and so did we. Mama wasn’t shy of expressing her dislike of my budding flirtation with music during high school. She wanted me to be a cheerleader and hang with the popular crowd. I wanted to bury my nose in a book and leave socializing where it belonged, with someone else’s crowd. Anyone else’s. I wasn’t picky.

In spite of our difference of opinion, she made my costume when I was chosen as the marching band’s assistant drum major (it now hangs in my closet beside the black velvet vest outfit), and she dutifully fulfilled her role as the Band Boosters’ secretary. I found some of the cassette tapes of the minutes a few years ago, after she died, and haven’t the courage to listen to them, knowing darn good and well her voice is recorded on there.

Maybe someday, but not until the heartache of losing her far too soon fades a mite.

Mama’s energy was seldom confined to costuming and decorating and keeping an eye on her young’uns, which often included any child foolish enough to stand still long enough for her and Daddy to claim ‘em.

As the offspring of farmers, Mama knew a fair bit about growing and preserving. She collected daylilies of every size and color, and planted them up and down the rock wall behind the house she and Dad built when we kids were teenagers. Shoots of her mother’s favorite roses were nestled into their own spots at the bottom of the yard, along with a sprig or two of roses salvaged from Nanny’s house before she died.

Try her best, but Mama couldn’t hardly get thrift to grow below the roses. In the eight years since her passing, it still hasn’t taken off good, but like Mama, it’s hanging in there, too stubborn to wither away.

Mama was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease about a decade before her death. That didn’t stop her from doing a blasted thing she wanted to do, though it did slow her down a bit. She still found time to piece quilts for all the grandkids, attend all their games, home and away, and mix up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when the occasion called for it.

Which happened to be quite often. Of course, it was. What are grandchildren and rainy days for besides PBJs, the Little Rascals, and a good cuddle with MeMom?

To a mountain-bred woman, cooking means preserving your own food. Daddy never wanted a garden (he’d had enough of that growing up, thank you very much), so Mama helped with MawMaw’s garden or bought fruits and vegetables in bulk from local farmers. Spring time brought strawberries for shortcake and jams. In summer, she rounded us up in the cool, early morning hours and herded us into overgrown fields to help her pick blackberries. Our fingers were purple by the end of the humid mornings, and we were covered in sweat and ticks, like every young’un should be in the endless days between one school year and the next.

Fall was for vegetable soup and slaughtering hogs, not usually at the same time, and everywhere in between, we canned. Younger kids with small hands were responsible for washing the jars while the grown ups boiled down fruit and peeled, chopped, sliced, and strung all manner of homegrown vegetables.

I was roped into both for a good long while, along with my sister and cousins, just as we were charged with clean up after meals and such. It was a fair trade for a hot breakfast on a cold winter morning. Canned sausage, refried on the stove, served with fresh-from-the-oven, scratch biscuits and piping hot applesauce seasoned with sugar and butter. I miss those days.

Mama continued canning and preserving throughout her life. The summer before she died, she put by enough food to do her family for half a decade after, at least. She never got a chance to cook from a single jar. One cloud-swept October day, Daddy took her to the hospital yet again for the endless pain her doctors never found a way to control. He came home for the night, thinking, as we all did, that they’d fix her up as best they could (again) and send her back home, if not better, then at least not suffering such debilitating pain.

I wish to God we’d been right that time.

Mama never came home. Her body was sent from the hospital to the funeral home, and we were left to wear the shoes not one of us could possibly fill alone.

Family and friends flooded into Dad’s home, sharing with us the love Mama had so freely given them. The visitation lasted more than an hour after the time set aside for it. So many people came by, I only remember them as a blur of teary smiles and commiserating handshakes.

After the memorial service, Mrs. Gillespie, my third grade teacher, pulled me aside and said, “I will never forget the time your Mama…” Sadly, we were interrupted before she could finish the thought, and I will never know what Mama did to embed that particular remembrance in Mrs. Gillespie’s head.

Though I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if it had something to do with scarecrows and rain dances and a good woman living life, and loving.

This month would’ve marked my mother’s 69th birthday. Happy birthday, Mom.

Book and Author News

Book and Author News

I'm very close to releasing my first story under Isobel Fletcher, a new pen name which will focus on stories falling under the Speculative Fiction umbrella.

Romancing the Weird by Isobel Fletcher

The first story will be part of an anthology called Romancing the Weird, which will be available exclusively to newsletter subscribers. I've planned five stories for the collection, although there will probably be more. Each story will be released as it becomes available, but again, only to newsletter subscribers.

Romancing the Weird is part of my long-term plan to ease out of writing romantic fiction into fiction in which a love story is not the central plot. Some of the stories in RtW end with a Happy Ever After, but some may not. Each, however, will have a strong romantic subplot.

I'm kicking the Isobel Fletcher pen name off in a very gradual manner, since I'm working around phasing out my other pen names. One of the things I'm trying to do for Izzy is get back into blogging, which I have dearly missed over the past eighteen months or so as I rearranged my priorities and focus.

As part of that, I'm planning a roundup sort of post that I'll do every one to four weeks, depending on what kind of material I can find to include within it. My first post of that sort ended with a discussion of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and women's rights in the US. 

I'm really excited about writing under the Isobel Fletcher name and hope to have a growing number of news items about that work over the next couple of years as I slowly morph from a Romance writer into a SpecFic writer.

Speaking of short stories, I just completed one for readers of the Sunshine Walkingstick Series, written under the name Celia Roman. "Death Omen" predates Greenwood Cove by a year or so, and takes place on a MARTA train traveling through the Greater Atlanta area, making it a true Urban Fantasy. 

Like the stories written for Romancing the Weird, "Death Omen" is currently exclusive to newsletter subscribers. I've already released it to existing subscribers, and the feedback has been quite positive.

Work on the third book in the Sunshine Walkingstick Series was interrupted by the RT Booklovers Convention, which I attended earlier this month, but it is coming soon. In the meantime, readers of the series will be pleased to hear that the audio edition of Greenwood Cove is almost in stores. The narrator, Rebecca Winder, is doing such a fantastic job with the series that before I'd even finished reviewing Greenwood Cove, I asked her to narrate The Deep Wood. She agreed and is already hard at work on the latter.

Additionally, I asked her to do an audio version of "Death Omen" for newsletter subscribers. It should be available soon. I cannot wait until y'all hear her rendition of Sunny!

In other news, L.J. Anderson of Mayhem Cover Creations has finished crafting the final two covers for the Daughters of the People Series, Redemption and War's Last Refuge. The next book out (technically Book 6, but, in reality, the seventh book) is The Gathering Storm. I have lots of surprises planned for these final three books. Some of them will completely turn readers' notions of the series upside down, so stay tuned.

I will likely post a deeper discussion of my time at the RT Booklovers Convention at a later date. It was such a hectic week, I lost track of all the people and events. But, it was a great time, I made a lot of connections, and I walked away with a ton of ideas on everything from story creation to marketing to connecting with readers. Keep an eye on my Facebook page, where I hope to at least do an occasional shout out to some of the authors I met. 

Horror in Romance at the 2017 RT Booklovers Convention

Horror in Romance at the 2017 RT Booklovers Convention

A few months ago, fellow author Rebekah R. Ganiere put out the call to a chapter of the Romance Writers of America searching for authors to participate in a Horror in Romance panel at the upcoming RT Booklovers Convention taking place 2-7 May 2017 in Atlanta.

I jumped at the opportunity. Several of my published stories, and a few planned ones, can be classified as both Horror and Romance. The obvious ones, of course, are those within The Vampyr Series: The Vampire's Pet, The Vampire's Favorite, The New Vampire, and the final installment, The Master Vampire. While I've categorized them as Paranormal Romance at online retailers (so the target audience can find them), they're technically Erotic Dark Fantasy, or Horror with supernatural elements and a satisfying romance over the four-book story arc.

Later (planned) stories in the Sunshine Walkingstick Series could also be classified as Dark Fantasy, although the earlier ones, while containing an ever increasing amount of monsters, are very well placed in the Contemporary Fantasy and Urban Fantasy categories. The strong romantic subplot between Sunny and Riley qualifies it as a Romance in many folks' minds (not always by the Romance Writers of America, ironically enough, since it requires a central love story and a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now in a single book), especially when the romance is viewed over the entire series.

And then there are the stories planned for Isobel Fletcher, my newest pen name, some of which will most definitely combine the two genres into Romantic Horror. Or should it be called Horrific Romance? Either way, stories falling under this subgenre are bound to thrill and delight.

All in all, I'm super excited to be on the Horror in Romance panel at #RT17, and I'm ecstatic about being able to hear other authors discuss their experiences successfully merging the two genres. I'm not sure what questions or topics Rebekah has planned, but I hope we cover lots of ground, like defining Horror and Dark Fantasy, and incorporating elements of the macabre, scary, and downright gross into a strong Romance.

The panel is scheduled for the afternoon of March 3rd. If you're planning on attending the con, drop by and listen in. And if you're not, attendance information is available online at RT Booklovers Convention 2017. See you there!

 

Book and Author News

Book and Author News

I know everyone's anxious to learn the names of the winners of the "Three Years Published" giveaway I ran last month for readers of books published under all my current pen names, Lucy Varna, V.R. Cumming, and Celia Roman. For the sake of fairness, I divided the giveaway into two sections, one for US residents and the other for International readers. The US prize consisted of a Kindle Paperwhite and an ebook of the winner's choosing. The International prize consisted of a $25 Amazon.com gift card and an ebook of the winner's choosing. 

And now, here are the winners: Tashia J. (US) and Bruce O. (UK).

Many thanks to everyone who entered! I really appreciate the show of support and the chance to get these prizes into the hands of my readers.

The Deep Wood, the second book in the Sunshine Walkingstick Series (written under the name Celia Roman), is now available as an ebook at Amazon and as a paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and CreateSpace. The retail prices are, respectively, $2.99 and $11.99. It's also available through Kindle Unlimited.

I've teamed up with a wonderful narrator to produce audiobooks for this series. She just finished the first fifteen minutes of Greenwood Cove, the first book, and got it to me a few days ago, and I approved it right away. Look for the finished audiobook to be available in stores around late April 2017.

I'm hard at work on Cemetery Hill, the third book in the Sunshine Walkingstick Series, which I hope to get out next month as well. While the cover for a fourth book is already finished, I haven't decided yet whether or not I'll continue the series beyond the first three books. Greenwood Cove is taking some heat because it's written in Sunny's native dialect; apparently some folks are intolerant of the way mountain folk talk. Oddly enough, when it was in the early stages of being developed, I ran the first few chapters by some Australian friends and they had no problems understanding the slang or the story.

At any rate, I'm working on a blog post discussing why I wrote Sunny the way I did (short answer: she came to me that way) and the value of the local speech, in part to spread a little tolerance and in part because readers always seem to be curious about the decisions authors make.

Here's the (tentative) order of stories I'll be working on this year, barring any additions to the Celia Roman pen name:

Of course, I usually work on several manuscripts at once so the order isn't exact. For example, right now I'm working on several short stories (including one set in Sunny's world), Cemetery Hill, and The Gathering Storm. While I'm not actively working on The Master Vampire on a regular basis, I do bring it out and fiddle with it once a month or so, and I'm starting to do some serious development on Sweet Surrender and Redemption as well as future stories.

Hey, it's a weird process, but it works for me.

The audio edition of Alien Mine (The Pruxnae, Book 3), written under the name Lucy Varna, is now available at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. This series is now all caught up on all the formats I intend to publish through the fourth book, except for any bundling (e.g. an omnibus edition). Sweet Surrender will be the final book in the series. I currently have no plans to continue the story world beyond that, although I do have plenty of ideas should readers wish for more stories.

A Giveaway Celebrating Three Years as a Published Author

A Giveaway Celebrating Three Years as a Published Author

Three years ago this month, I published my first novel, The Prophecy. It was a huge step for me. I’d always wanted to write fiction, but could never get past the initial idea and first few scenes of a story.

That changed in November 2013, when I had a huge epiphany: writing fiction wasn’t all that different from writing non-fiction, something I’d been doing for a while. All I had to do was translate the outlining and other skills I’d developed as a genealogist, first as an amateur and later as a professional, into stories.

Seven weeks later, I’d completed the first draft of The Prophecy. I’m not going to pretend it was easy. It most certainly was not, but it was one of the most satisfying feats I’ve ever accomplished.

Over the past three years, I’ve published a total of eighteen novels and novellas as well as more than half a dozen shorter stories under three pen names, Lucy Varna, V.R. Cumming, and Celia Roman. None of that would’ve been possible without you, the reader.

To celebrate my three year anniversary as an author, I’m holding two very special giveaways for all my newsletter subscribers, one for readers living in the United States and another for readers outside the US. One grand prize is available for each set of subscribers:

  • For US residents (you must have a US mailing address and a valid email address): One Kindle Paperwhite, plus one ebook edition of any of my currently available novels or novellas, your choice.
  • For non-US residents (you must have a valid email address): A $25 Amazon.com gift certificate, plus one ebook edition of any of my currently available novels or novellas, your choice.

Rules: The giveaway ends at midnight EST on February 28, 2017. To be eligible, you must subscribe to one (not all!) of the newsletters for any of my pen names (Lucy Varna, V.R. Cumming, Celia Roman). To enter, comment below using the email address used to subscribe to said newsletter. In the comments, include your state (if you’re a US resident) or your country (if you’re a non-US resident) and the name of the pen name whose books you read (e.g. Canada, Celia Roman) so that I can verify each entrant’s status as a newsletter subscriber. Additional comments are welcome. Winners will be chosen at random within one calendar week of the entry period’s closing and notified shortly thereafter by email. I reserve the right to choose another winner should the initial winner(s) not respond to the notifying email within three days of it being sent. The notifying email will come from cd [at] cdwatsonauthor [dot] com, so add that addy to your list of safe email addresses. Winners will be probably announced in various places online (this blog and the blogs of my pen names, social media sites, and my various fiction newsletters), so be prepared to have your first name or initials and country of origin shared.

That’s pretty much it.

I know you’re wondering why I’m not opening this giveaway up to non-subscribers, and the answer is simple. My newsletter subscribers are my most loyal readers. They’re the ones who’ve helped me build my writing career by buying, reading, and reviewing my books. Without them, I would’ve failed a long time ago, so it’s only appropriate that this giveaway be centered on my biggest fans.

If you know of someone who would be interested in this giveaway, please encourage them to read one of my books first (The Prophecy and The Vampire’s Pet are free, and the others are not expensive). If they enjoy those, then they are free to subscribe to the pertinent newsletter and comment below to enter the giveaway.

To be honest, though, if I were looking to attract new readers with this giveaway, I would’ve set it up differently. So share or don’t; I won’t be offended either way. This is simply my way of expressing gratitude for three wonderful years writing and publishing stories.

Thank you, my friends, and good luck. Here’s to three more years!

P.S. I get a lot of spam on this blog, so comments are held in moderation until approved. All comments that aren’t spam are approved, but it may take me a few hours to sort through everything. Thanks for your patience! I should’ve mentioned this at the start. 🙂

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

I released the first edition of my first novel, The Prophecy, a little more than three years ago today. Since then, I’ve worked hard to refine my writing process, increase my writing and story crafting skills, and fulfill my ultimate long-term goal as a writer: To earn a full-time living writing fiction.

About a year and a half ago, a series of events interrupted what had previously been a well-oiled writing process. I’ve spoken about those before in other places, so I’m not going to go over them again here. Suffice it to say that the consequences were devastating, as is evidenced by the diminished number of new releases (directly caused by a lack of writing productivity) in the ensuing months.

This breakdown in my process has hindered the achievement of my short- and long-term goals, on both a business and a personal level. Moving to Cashiers (July 2016) helped, but it wasn’t enough. The breakdown in my process was just that, a complete breakdown of everything from my brainstorming techniques to the actual act of writing. The peace and quiet I’ve found here in my ancestral home wasn’t enough. I needed to rebuild my writing schedule.

To that end, I gifted myself with a copy of the Dragontree Dreambook and Planner for Christmas. Make no mistake. This nifty book helped me realize and articulate the many short- and long-term goals I’ve only vaguely wished for in the past. The main drawback? Once you’ve completed the goals-setting sections, the goals are pretty much out of sight.

Additionally, there’s simply not enough room in the day-to-day planning section for me to write out exactly what needs doing each day. I ended up abandoning the planner in favor of an already established ARC calendaring system, although I used the goals mind-mapping sections to create visualizations tools. More on that in a minute.

The Miracle Morning

The DDP didn’t help me plan and stick to a schedule nearly as much as I had hoped. I realized I needed something more. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8 AM) by Hal Elrod. It wasn’t a life-changing read, but I can honestly say that the author provided a stark reminder of exactly why I’ve had so many problems fixing my writing schedule and returning to the level of productivity I enjoyed during the first eighteen months of my writing career.

The premise of TMM is simple: Wake up early (regardless of what your waking time is, morning, afternoon, or night) and devote one hour to personal growth through six key areas Elrod coins “Life S.A.V.E.R.S.”: Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing (i.e. journaling), in whatever order works best for the practitioner.

Many highly successful people use two or three of these waking rituals to center their minds and focus their activities. Elrod and many others who have incorporated the Life S.A.V.E.R.S. ritual into their days have used them in exactly the same way, most especially to increase motivation, self-discipline, and productivity.

The ultimate outcome is, of course, to use that self-discipline to reach goals, a point Elrod hammers into the ground. Unfortunately, The Miracle Morning contains no overview of how to set realistic, achievable goals, a glaring lack in an otherwise well-rounded narrative. To be fair, the journal (sold separately) provides a brief overview of goal-setting and achievement, but I didn’t purchase the journal as I’m already overloaded with organizers. For the interested, a sample journal is available on the TMM website; the link is included in the book.

The tone of TMM is half-motivational, half-guideline to creating and maintaining a personalized morning ritual. It’s a deceptively breezy read for the depth of the ideas presented, and really needs one’s full attention (and possibly a second or third read) to truly grasp how and why the waking ritual works.

Applying the Principles

I was already rehydrating (a practice Elrod encourages) and exercising for 30-45 minutes upon waking nearly every day. When I stumbled on The Miracle Morning (via Jeff Goins’ podcast “The Portfolio Life“), I immediately incorporated reading self-improvement books into my exercise time.

Hey, I’m on a FitDesk. Checking my e-mail only takes so long, so I start with reading and when I’ve read the scheduled two or three chapters, I move on to e-mail and so on. I started out trying to complete Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering, which I pick up and put down on a regular basis because of the author’s *ahem* less than flexible mindset.

Thanks to Elrod’s suggestion to focus on personal growth and development, I’m now dividing my waking exercise/reading time between SE and Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach. The latter aligns neatly with one of my long-term goals (Achieving Financial Security), so it’s a two birds, one stone kind of thing.

It took me a few days after completing The Miracle Morning to actually incorporate the remainder of the ritual into my waking routine. One of the biggest obstacles was figuring out when I needed to wake up in order to fit Life S.A.V.E.R.S. into my routine and have time to complete all my writing related activities. For the visualization and affirmation elements, I wanted to have a physical reminder of my goals to focus on, so I had to figure out how to do that in a way that would be functional without occupying too much space.

Following Through

This morning was the first time I attempted to incorporate all six elements into a morning ritual. I set my alarm for 8:30, which is a ridiculously early hour for me. (Lights out was about 2:30 a.m.) I figured I would need an hour and a half at the most, even while breaking my exercise into two parts, yoga first thing to help me achieve one aspect of my Health and Fitness Goal (flexibility), and my usual 30-45 minutes on the FitDesk to round out the ritual and complete my reading.

Eh. It didn’t quite work out that way.

I’ve never practiced yoga before, so I had to search for an appropriate video on YouTube. (I waited until this morning to do it. Not purposefully. I simply forgot to do it last night.) The first video I tried was supposed to be for complete beginners, but I promise you, it was not.

The second try, 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene – Day 1, was much better, but it took up more time than I had originally thought I would need. No worries. Affirmations, meditation, and visualizations took fifteen minutes tops. It didn’t put me back on schedule, but when I moved on to the FitDesk and reading, I didn’t feel rushed or pressured.

I rounded the ritual out with a shower, then sat down to journal while my brunch was cooking. (Two strips of bacon and two fried eggs, per my Paleo-friendly diet, another aspect of my Health and Fitness Goal.) My plan was to complete the morning ritual, then focus on business related activities until about noon, run some errands, and write during the afternoon. I ended up taking a fifteen to twenty minute nap halfway through my writing time because I was simply too groggy to focus.

In spite of that, I was quite pleased with my morning of mindful ritual. I’m still more tense than I would like (I’m under quite a bit of stress right now, not all of it self-imposed), but my sense of purpose is clearer and the focus on visualization and affirmations shored up my self-discipline, allowing me to focus on important activities.

The Miracle Morning and Writing

For me, the biggest takeaway from The Miracle Morning was the reminder to use visualization as a tool of empowerment and otherwise. See yourself taking the steps needed to achieve your goals. See the rewards of working hard for the things that are important to you. Don’t just think about them; actually walk yourself through them.

Having my goals mind-mapped in excruciating, color-coordinated detail (thanks to the Dragontree Dreambook and Planner) and laid out on a corkboard where I can see what I’m working toward was a huge help. I faced the day with a clear picture of why I’m focusing on the particular work I’m doing right now, which really does help tremendously, especially when I’m working on a story that isn’t flowing well.

Visualization helps with that, as well. Back in the good ol’ days of high productivity, the characters populating my story worlds spent a great deal of time walking around in my head. They’ve been missing for quite some time now, and I promise you, their absence has been felt.

I’ve struggled for the past eighteen months or so to recapture the same spark I had prior to that, but it wasn’t until I read the transcript of the previously mentioned podcast episode that it hit me: Visualization was a key part of my writing process, one I haven’t used in months. I’m now deliberately inviting the characters back into my mind, deliberately prodding them through the scene, deliberately coaxing them into opening up for me, all through visualization.

Visualizing the Story Another Way

That lack of character interaction has led to another problem: My inability to hold the overarching story in my head and heart, the two parts of my creative self from which stories emerge.

I ended up going back down the mountain and buying another corkboard, this one for my story cards. I use index cards to lay out the plot points I want to cover in each story. When I first started writing, I pinned the index cards to a wall and worked back and forth along the plot points until I had enough for a full-length novel. I still outline that way, as much as I ever outline (never to the point of a complete, rigid outline, as I work better when I discover the characters and story as I write), but as soon as I was satisfied with the plot points I’d captured, I would unpin the cards and collate them into a rubberbanded stack, which I then referenced as I wrote the first draft.

Since the breaking point of my routine, I’ve really struggled to translate those plot points into story, in part, I sincerely believe, because I no longer have a complete overview of the story internalized where I can draw from it as I write. Laying those cards out so I can “see” the entire story all at once will, I hope, allow me to pull the characters back into my head, right where they belong.

Final Thoughts

I’m not entirely convinced that The Miracle Morning is the greatest motivational book ever, nor that it’s going to be useful for everyone. That said, I hope to use the waking rituals laid out within it to hone my self-discipline so that I can meet the goals I’ve set for myself, get my writing back on track (a continuing struggle over the past year and a half), and ensure not only a productive work schedule, but a calmer, happier, more focused life.

Recommended for anyone who wants to achieve a balanced, successful life, in whatever way one defines success.