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.