Down the Rabbit Hole

Welcome to my attempt this month to start posting regularly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday! We’ll see how it goes.

I have a blog writing itch that is hard to scratch since I left Cupid’s Pulse last month. And as much as I didn’t want to leave, it has been a blessing, because my boyfriend is encouraging me to write like CRAZY. If you want to see any of the articles I wrote, some might still publish for a while. You can find them on Cupid Pulse’s website. Just type in “Mara Miller” since my name is a tag for the website as one of their editorial interns. If you are a student and need a good internship for college credit, I highly recommend Cupid’s Pulse, and I’ll gladly pass on the information to apply. I think they’re covered for this semester with interns but they’re always looking.

I’ve recently turned into more of a plotter than a plantser (a pantser who plots a little). I need to write an 80,000 word novel for my thesis as an MFA student at Southern New Hampshire University.

But with signing on with Kingston Publishing and working on books outside of a book I can’t even think about publishing until I graduate around December of 2020, I still need to produce other novels for my series since I am dying to finish the Cheap Series. I also have a few secret projects I have been plotting but I’m not quite ready to announce yet even though I plan on diving into them after Cheaper Sunglasses and Cheap Promises are finished.

The crazy thing to me is how plotting the thesis has made it come out much easier than with any of the books I ever wrote in the Cheap series. Nevermind how seven chapters in, I decided the entire book needed to be written in the third person. One of the requirements for my thesis program is that we must have 15,000 words before we take the first thesis course and have already fulfilled that requirement. I’m looking at my writing planner right now. I’m wondering if my goal if hitting 20k before the glass begins is feasible because I want to get my novella and other novels out of the way before my course begins in a few months.

So, for one, if you’re a pantser like I was and you’re on a pretty serious deadline like I am, I suggest Take off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker. She broke down how to plot a book. You’ll get down the main key events in the novel, and this has actually helped me narrow down what a few of my plot holes were with Cheap Promises. I’m still working on it to a degree and Mae and Dan decided they needed another story before that novel so more things would make sense (and I could finally close up their story) so now I’m plotting that one completely half-assed, but I’m still outlining because if I don’t, I know I’ll write myself into a corner. Have you ever done that if you’re a pantser? You’ll start off super strong. You’ll know where the story is going…until you don’t and you hit a major writer’s block until the next New Shiny Idea draws your attention away from your current WIP.

I don’t have time for this anymore!

So, I’m mentioning everything I use to plot. I’m writing this in hopes that it will help someone else… and maybe to confirm to myself that I’m mostly just organized and I’m not a complete nut.

Neon colored index cards: I have neon green and neon pink for points of views I’m writing in a scene. Pink is obviously for my main female protagonist and green for my male. I use white to indicate which act my scenes need to go under or some other essential notes. With the school season currently, I got over 200 index cards from Walmart for decent prices. I’m set for a while.

Jami Gold’s Beat Sheets: Seriously. They’re amazing. You can find them here. I also like her scene list because I can check off everything I need in a scene.

Scrapple: Made by the people who created Scrivener, Scrapple is a brainstorming tool. It’s a great place for me to dump all of my ideas so I can get a big-picture vision of whatever I’m planning on writing, whether it be a stand-alone or a series. And the best part? I can import whatever I create into Scrivener so I have it right there to look at when I’m working.

Happy Planner: I LOVE Happy Planner’s Products. I have the Rong Rong productivity pages planner where I keep track of things like writing goals for the month, what I want to post in my blog, top priorities, and words counts. I also keep track of Instagram or Twitter challenges for the #amwriting community I want to participate in for the month. I have my Erin Condren that I use for everyday life stuff, but Happy Planner is great because I added pink expander discs to the planner and now I can keep any plotting notes I need in the back of it, as well as know exactly what projects I need to work on. It’s fabulous. I’m also planning on getting the social media expansion eventually so I can keep better track of Twitter and Instagram and figure out what I want to post during the month. Being organized like this helps me see how much time I actually have to write outside of life stuff (and it’s quite a bit now, which I love). I’m actually about to handwrite all of my thesis plot points and put them into this planner.

Speaking of planners: Why Planners Should be Crucial to Your Writing Process

An A, B, C format: It looks like this (I’m using a watered-down version of my thesis):

A. Joey moves home. His uncle guilts him into picking up a surprise for his aunt even though he doesn’t want to see Patience.

B. Patience goes to work. Her sister is causing trouble.

C. Something happens to Martha, Patience’s grandma, after Brenna gets into a fight with Joey.

I don’t want to go into what happens to Grandma Martha, but you get the general gist of how that kind of thing works. I didn’t like this aspect of plotting for the class. I would have much-rathered index cards or my beat sheets from Jami Gold, but it forced me to look at everything from flashbacks to when my romantic couple kisses for the first time. I struggled with this format during my Romance Writing II course, but my professor wouldn’t let me give up and made me stick to this story, and I will be forever grateful to her for it.

Do you have any plotting must haves? Let me know! I’m always trying to figure out ways to plot better. 

Why Planners Should be Crucial to Your Writing Process

Want to manage your time better as a writer? Follow this writing advice for tips with using a paper planner!

My internship course, MFA 607, is coming to a close soon and I’ve been on a huge YouTube binge. Erin Condren just released her 2019-2020 line of planners, my personal favorite planner brand. I can’t help but die over the Kaleidoscope pattern every time I see it. I’m taking a glance over of what’s in my cart right now, and good god, when did I get so excited about planners that I have decided I need one for business planning and personal planning? This has eaten into some writing time, but I don’t mind it a bit. I’m buying two planners for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020.

I didn’t use to be a “planner girl”.

I remember when I started writing in middle school and they would try to force us to use a planner to keep up with all of our assignments in school. I hated it. I would write the bare minimum for my teachers to accept it. I would toss it in my locker and refused to look at it for the rest of the week. I remember getting frustrated with the planner because it was too small, and my pen ink ghosted on the paper. Pen ghosting is the worst. It not only messes with my dyslexia and confuses me if it’s bad enough, but it also looks horrible on the page. As someone who likes to handwrite her chapters occasionally, that has always been a problem. I didn’t even bother in high school. I played a little with a planner in college, but it still didn’t serve much of a purpose.

YouTube is to blame for my obsession with finding something that could keep me organized as an independent romance author when I found a video from JaaackJack (I love her make up reviews and her dog, Zoey!) about her back to school giveaway a couple of years ago. I don’t think I could juggle as much as I do–writing, growing my author network on social media, school, or my internship–without my Lifeplanner and Monthly Deluxe Planners. And if I still don’t have you convinced, I’ve come up with a list of reasons why you should use a paper planner:

Before you read this list: You don’t need to buy something from Erin Condren in order to help yourself organize as a writer (although you can go here if you want $10 off one of those pretty new planners–or notebooks–and I’ll get $10 to feed my addiction). Plum Paper Planner is completely customizable (I’m eyeing their notebooks because you can add an extra 100 pages) or Happy Planner (a disc-bound system that is completely customizable).

1. It will help you write faster: I know this is a strange concept. How in the world can a paper planner help you write faster? It helps me to see how fast I’m writing at the end of the week when I have jotted down my word counts for the day. It also helps me keep track of the scenes I’ve written for the day, so I know what to tackle the next.

2. Time management: I could write a freaking book on time management. I have an hourly Lifeplanner I’ve been using since January. Trust me, when you look at your planner and see how much time you have to write, going down the rabbit hole of researching the Jacobite family line on YouTube because you’ve been on a Reign and Outlander binge will seem less worthy of your time than working on your novel, you’ll thank me.

3. Word tracker: Obviously, you can count how much you wrote at the end of the day and which scenes you worked on. I find this important especially because I have been bouncing around while I’m working on my thesis. This is the one novel I have not written in chronological order and it’s been throwing me for a loop. It also helps me feel better to see how much progress I have made on my work every day. I’m checking my Lifeplanner right now, and my biggest writing day was last month on April 11th when I hit 5,000 words.

4. Plan ahead: How many novels do you want to write in a year if you’re planning to go the Indie route? Two? Three? Six? It helps to know what days you won’t be able to write in advance, so you won’t set yourself up for disappointment later. My goal is two this year: My thesis and Cheap Promises. I’m in a graduate program, no way will I manage more than that right now. Being realistic with yourself and your writing progress will stop a nasty block later!

5. Budget Ads: Again, if you’re self-publishing, you’ll want to have space where you can figure out your budget when it comes to releasing your books. A lot of planners have a dashboard or notes page at the beginning of the month that are perfect for this (or if you use the Happy Planner or another planner that has a binder or disc system, you can add an extra page yourself).

6. Author Platform: I’ve been tracking my Twitter follower count since last year, and man, has it grown. I’m so thankful to the great #WritingCommunity who have been supportive since I found them a couple years ago. I find that it’s important to track social media so you can see how large your platform is when you start to think it might not grow at all. Networking with other writers is a great way to not only get support when you do publish your book, but to find the next great read or group of friends that you may not have come across before by isolating yourself from the world (shout out to K.N., M.R., Gloria, Paula, Jayne, Jenn, Dan, Lonormi, Mason, and Anne!).

Have I convinced you to get a planner yet?

I’m notoriously evil amongst my writing tribe for showing them all of the pretty paper and pen things. Let me know if you’re a planner user!

The End of an Era: Should My Thesis be the Start of a New Series?

I keep telling everyone that Cheap Promises is the last book in my first series. I need to move on. Focusing on my thesis, Heart Be Still, must take precedence over letting characters who I love and know well sway me into another book because the ideas will not stop coming, no matter how many times I try to ignore them. I worry that by continuing the Cheap series, and only the Cheap series, I’m stunting my growth as a writer.

Since the Cheap series was my first, I worry a second will be riddled with errors. But to be honest…if I add more books after I finish my thesis, it will be the fourth series I’ve officially started writing (and I must finish this book because I’ll have wasted a lot of money if I don’t receive my Master of Fine Arts degree from Southern New Hampshire University…and I won’t have a chance in hell of teaching creative writing classes in a university).

That paralyzing, teeth-grinding fear of worrying I’m a not good enough writer if I can’t get away from my first book’s characters is what propelled me to add another story to my Over series. It is ultimately also why I have not written Cyn’s story yet.

I’ve found that one of your strongest tools as a self-published author is a series. A standalone has its own merits—it’s a full story that allows you to wrap up all plot points with little question of what has happened to the characters, especially if it’s a love story and they have gotten their Happily Ever After and you want to query agents. The problem with a standalone is that you might not get buy-throughs from readers. I know this for a fact as a reader myself—I am DYING to finish Jasinda Wilder’s Badd Brothers series but decided to be a responsible-ish adult and pay three months ahead of rent instead. Buy-through in a series keep readers coming back for more. They become as invested in your characters as you did when you created them.

So, am I going to write a standalone with my series or turn it into a standalone novel? Honestly, I think it’s slowly turning into a series. I’m not promising it will because I also might query agents and try to get it traditionally published (GASP). I also have a four-book mini-series that I’m planning to write in alongside my thesis after I publish Cheap Promises because I want to produce work while I’m still working on my degree. I figure if I finish the first book—the thesis—and then start the next right after then I might have a decent start to a longer series like the Cheap series.

And say what? Am I’m working on a four-book mini-series? Maybe. As well as a longer seven-book series that I’ve been plotting in Scrivener.

That’s another benefit of pre-planning a series—you have everything you need to write the books fast. I’m going to try writing all four of them before I ever release the first one so I can see how my sales do when I finish them. Honestly, I think I’m a series-writing girl. Everyone jokes with me that Cheap Promises really ISN’T my last book in that series. I have a title and a storyline for Amy that I’m not sure about writing yet. I have at least four titles to books that I don’t plan on publishing.

With that being said, my books are all on sale this weekend from May 11th-May 12th. You can purchase them on Amazon here. Every single one is .99 cents! It’s a good chance to catch up on the Cheap series before Cheap Promises releases. 

Plotting Relapse

Recently, I’ve become a planner girl. I’m not joking about this either—not only have I turned two friends onto the Erin Condren website (you can go here if you want to check it out! She just came out with an eighteen month planner, and get a $10 dollars off if you use my link.) because the planners are fantastic, but I spent an exorbitant amount of money on three planners from the website. They hold up well, the paper does well with my fountain pen ink, and they’re customizable.

And yes, I use every single one.

As horrible as it may sound, I have used most of my loans from excess funds with SNHU to purchase/fees my new EC obsession. My Lifeplanners have two separate purposes—one of them is for every day life stuff so I can keep track of important dates, like when Hank needs his Heartguard or to keep track of my boyfriend’s work schedule, or my book-related goals. The second is my academic planner, where I have the classes my advisor has lined up, so I can keep track of my assignments, my grades, and my progress on my thesis. The “academic” Lifeplanner is useful especially to keep track of assignments for my final project, which is usually a combination of all “milestones” in my classes. Yes, I realize EC has actual academic planners, but I usually only take one class and figured it would be a waste.

And my Monthly Deluxe Planner… this thing is amazing. I bought the oversized one with 80 pages so I would have a more detailed place to make notes. I find I’m more likely to make a blog post, too (I wrote the first draft of this in the planner).

And it’s that very reason that I’m annoyed with myself. I can’t seem to make myself plot out my WIP for anything. I created a beat sheet but I’ve already gone off task with it before I can even finish the first chapter. I’m not too worried about it yet—I’m trying to be easy on myself. This story will be my first stand-alone. This WIP will not turn into a series and I’m sticking to it since I can be stubborn. I’m giving the Cheap series a break because I don’t want it to spawn seven more stories when I’m trying to end it. The series WILL end with Kat and Charlie. I’m not working on it since my ideas tend to get too big before I have to rein it all in, and end up getting frustrated. Really, it’s that I’m struggling ever-so-slightly with controlling my creativity, and that’s causing a writer’s block.

Bah.

But I’m reading Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, so maybe that will help me finally beat my plot into submission (no pun intended!). I’m also going to do something o rarely do—and that is to create character sheets for everyone in my WIP. I had a lot of work done on it, but that was when I thought I was going to make it the first in a rocker romance series. The characters don’t fit that mold, and never have. I also think I have a copy of Plot Your Work somewhere, but that means digging around in my unpacked things, and it could be either at my Mom’s house or my boyfriend’s mother’s house. Things tend to travel with me and get left occasionally…oops.

And oh—yeah.

I moved in with my boyfriend. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that yet!

I partly attribute my block to moving and the general craziness of not having an office space to write in, but I can’t blame all of that on it.

This block is only temporary. I keep telling myself that because I know it is. A stand-alone is a different beast than a series, so I just need to be a bit more strategic in how I’m writing it.

I do have a question for those of you reading—do you have anything you do when you outline? Certain character sheets that work best? Scene/chapter outlining methods? I think I’m going to try Kim Chance’s character sheet she just released the other day. But anyway, share with me! And if I don’t use it, maybe it will help someone else who is struggling like I am.

The hilarious part about this is that I’ve been plotting my MFA thesis, and that is going wonderfully. Those methods just aren’t working for my other WIP.

7 Ways to Survive NaNoWriMo

I realized I did the math wrong in figuring out how many years I have participated in National Novel Writing Month. It isn’t my tenth year…it’s my eleventh!!!

So, with that said, I am writing this to try to help those who are participating this year. Out of the ten years of NaNoWriMo that have passed, I lost three of them…but I also won seven times. It’s been a wild ride. I will never publish some of the stories I’ve written because they weren’t that good. I cringe now whenever I look at them. It’s one of those things where you have to sit back and laugh at yourself.

1.) Back Up Your Novel

This should be a given, shouldn’t it? I don’t rely on Microsoft word or it’s “auto-save” anymore. It’s a pain in the ass to click “save” every five minutes (and it lost 5,000 fucking words in the Author’s Extended Edition of Cheap Guitars–sorry, not sorry, for my language there) I don’t live in an area with the most reliable electricity when Kentucky decides it will give us all four seasons in the span of a week (yesterday it was chilly but nice, and today it’s pouring and I saw my breath when I let my dog go potty).

Yes, I do use a Word document, however. I have decided Goddess of Blood and Winter will have a hardback edition so I’m planning to use Ingram Spark for the first time. Formatting it in a document I’ll upload later makes it easier on me. I have a lot to do so that I can make sure it’s published by my personal deadline. It might sound like more work, but this year I’m writing in Scrivener and backing up/formatting in Microsoft Word. Yes, I’m also aware that you can format books through Scrivener but in my experience, it always does something weird, and I’m still learning how to use Scrivener even though I’ve used it on and off for about six years. I trust Microsoft Word when it comes to formatting my work–and hello, drop caps!–but not for saving my work regularly because my dog is a butthead (he has slapped my keyboard and closed documents on me) and I don’t trust Kentucky weather.

2.) Don’t Box Yourself

It’s easy to say that we want to write our novels in order. That seems logical, right? I know I used to think I had to write everything in order when I created my document for Haunted Desperation. And I did write in chronological order in 2007 and a few after that, but it was when I started really working on my New Adult romances that I started breaking my usual writing mode and wrote out of order.

I can’t stand reading HD anymore. But my romances?

Cheap Tricks and Cheap Sunglasses are some of my best work to-date. The rewrite of Cheap Guitars is still going strong, and I’m not exactly writing that in order, either. It’s also my side-project while I work on The Goddess of Blood and Winter this month.

This is what I suggest to NaNoers: write the scene that speaks to you the most that day. Get it out–write those 1667 words. This is where writing with Scrivener comes in handy because you can write the scene and toss it in a “To Be Added Later” (or whatever you want to title it) folder while you work on the scenes that need to be finished in whatever chapter you paused in writing to get that scene out of your head… if that made sense. I’m in a rambling mood right now, I think. Happens every November 1st!

Also, I think one of the perks this month to participating in NaNo is that we can get trials/discounts on Scrivner. I already own the program but I highly recommend it if you have never used it.

Screenshot 2017-11-01 13.26.21.png

3.) When in Doubt, Longhand

Huh? What do I mean by this?

We’re writing every day–sometimes more than those 1,667 words. My word count–right now–is 5119 words–although I’m not finished with chapter one yet. I’m going to try to keep it to 5,000 a day because that’s usually how long my chapters are. They might get longer since I’m working on fantasy/horror/romance. I’m not sure yet because I haven’t done in in almost ten-fifteen years? I’m not sure anymore.

I have a problem where the computer cursor taunts me, like, Ha! you imposter! You’ll never finish this novel! Give up now!

Writing longhand on paper does something to my brain. It’s like I can think clearer and characters and descriptions pop off the page. I love writing with my fountain pens. My favorite ink is Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Rose. It’s a purple-pinkish black that is bulletproof, meaning that the paper will disintegrate before the ink will fade completely. Useful when you have an English Mastiff, trust me.

Don’t panic if you get stuck. Pull out a pen or pencil and some paper and see where your thoughts take you. Write the scene that can’t be put in chapter two yet but would work great in another chapter. Type up everything you’ve written at the end of the day since you can’t count it on the website unless they have the document at the end of the month.

Also: free first draft. Take that, evil blinky cursor.

Check out this article I found on writing on paper. It validates everything I just said, but more eloquently.

4.) Don’t Edit

This might seem contradictory when I said, “don’t edit if you’ve written a chapter on paper,” but I don’t count handwritten pages in the no-editing rule. I have dyslexia so I do weird things on paper. For some reason, I also stumble over words like necessary (I had to ask Siri how to spell it) and it doesn’t make sense. I have to watch letters that dyslexics have trouble with when they are trying to read or write but I don’t need a special font either (I’m fond of Palatino or Fanwood when I’m working). I chalk it up to not being so severe because Mom wouldn’t let me give up when I was a kid (she was told I’d never read or write and she told the therapist to fuck off–I think I wrote a post about being dyslexic once). The quicker I catch weird mistakes, the easier it is for my editors later.

I mean this–don’t edit the main manuscript. Whether you’re doing it like I am or simply writing in Word, don’t let yourself edit. Editing is the next stage in the writing process, as well as rewriting, and rewriting some more. I covet those Indies who can bang a book out in a month and hit a best seller’s list on Amazon (I see it all the time) but I’m not, and probably will never, be one of them. I need at least four months (I type close to 120 wpm and have amazing editors and a solid beta team, so when I’m getting a book ready, it goes fast–also, Grammarly, I love you).

I might sound like I’m repeating what it says on the official National Novel Writing Month website, but December is for editing. You might get stuck if you try to write your first draft perfectly and it can make the entire book fall flat from stifled creativity.

5.) Keep Everything You Write

I’m suggesting this mainly to the newbies.

Maybe you start your novel, and then you realize your POV isn’t working. Or maybe you get ten pages into the book and realize maybe that side character you really love would work better as the main character.

I take November as a time to explore who you are as a writer. 50,000 words in a month is a large task for someone who has never written a book before. Back in 2015, I think Cheap Sunglasses was close to 70,000 words when I finished writing it and my editor widdled it down to 60,000 on me before I realized I had a lot of writing fluff in it from writing during the November NaNo and Camp NaNoWriMo (but I also had a lower word count set since they allow us a little wiggle room in April and July). I might feel like a pro at winning this challenge now, but I’m still coming out of my comfort zone and setting my next New Adult rockstar romance to the side so I can reconnect with characters that have been in my head since I was a teenager.

If you don’t think that first person present POV is working, try writing it in the third person. See what it looks like after 2,000 words and then set it aside. In this case, I recommend reading both what you wrote in the first person and the third person the next day (okay–maybe I’m breaking my editing rule again–but I have a valid reason for this).

It’s not easy converting an entire 63,000-word novel from the third person to first (trust me, doing this with the Author’s Extended Edition of Cheap Guitars). Keeping everything will give you wiggle room for Thanksgiving (if you’re in the US) or for a day where you really need a break.

Also, it could give you the start of the next book where the main character that isn’t working will work. That happened to me–Cheap Sunglasses was going to be the fourth book, but I hadn’t figured out how I wanted to write Cheap Tricks yet, so I switched them around, started writing in the first person, and now I’m editing/rewriting Cheap Guitars. 

*headdesk*

Let me amend this, however, by saying that I was still figuring out who I was as a writer when I wrote the first two novels and the novella in the series.

6.) Have Some Sort of Plot

This doesn’t have to mean you have to give every character special colored eyes or a peg leg or a deep dark past.

I’m a plantser, by nature. I like my beat sheets and my bullet journals…but I also tend to go off-course, so to speak. Even if it’s just making notes at the end of the day, I suggest keeping track of what you’re working on. If you don’t, you can get lost really quick, and you’ll end up doing something like this:

Screenshot 2017-11-01 13.08.44

Yes, this is an actual screenshot from Haunted Desperation. I cringe every time I look at it.

7.) But Don’t Forget to Have Fun

I’m reserving a scene for Goddess of Blood and Winter when I’m stuck and need a laugh: my main character, Adara, is going to force Evander into a dress so they can cross the sea to safety.

A scene inspired straight up out of Final Fantasy VII (with obvious differences because I’m not writing fanfiction, here).

I get to pay homage to my favorite game and laugh hysterically at how uncomfortable my character will be when he has to cross-dress, but also have a poignant moment to address how much danger my main character and her lover are in.

Cloudette.png

I googled this image and died laughing. I think it’s a perfect depiction of Cloud and Don Corneo.

I wanted to try to make it to ten things to remember during NaNo, but I’m going to end it at seven since this is long. If you enjoyed this post and want another list this month of things to remember, I’ll gladly post another. Or, better, tweet me, and we can talk through your crisis! I’m not opposed to sound-boarding with a writer who needs help!

If you would like to add me on Nano’s website, my name is Angelic_Demon. We can talk there, as well!

Happy writing!!!