Writing Resolutions for 2018 and Tips to Achieve Them

2018 crept up on me this year, and I haven’t made any writing resolutions yet. I was on the home stretch of my latest book through the last few months of 2017, and I was completely focused on finishing that. I did (yay!) and now I’m sure revisions will have to go on my writing goals list, when I get around to making it! I’ve been seeing a lot of 2018 writing goals on Twitter, and it got me thinking about my best tips for some of the most common ones. And so, voila!

Goal: Write a book / Finish a Work-In-Progress

Maybe you’re always working on something, but some of your projects are stuck in limbo, half-finished but not forgotten. Or perhaps you’re a seasoned writer with a few completed books, but this particular WIP is dragging, or you have an ambitious deadline. These three tips might be helpful for either scenario.

Dedicate time to work on it

You know your schedule, so pick the best time for you to be productive and focused. It doesn’t need to be a long stretch; you might do better with 3 fifteen-minute sessions through the day than a single, long one. And yes, fifteen minutes is acceptable if it’s all you can do – every bit counts. I get the bulk of my writing done right before bed, because I like writing at night and I can focus better when everything else for the day is done. Mornings or lunch breaks might be better for you. Whatever time it is that you choose, focus on writing for that time. Even if you only write ten words, it’s still progress.

Get competitive

I joined a NaNoWriMo group last year, for the first time, and it was an amazing experience. We were more of a supportive than competitive group, but I loved it when I could share that I’d made my goal, rather than admitting I hadn’t. I had a fair share of both days, but overall November became an extremely productive month for me. It was comforting knowing that I wasn’t alone with my word count struggles.

If this appeals to you, join a year-round writing group – even a casual one, like Twitter’s #5AMWritersClub – or see if a couple of writing friends want to join. If your schedules match up, sometimes it’s fun to pair up with a friend and each focus intensely on writing for the same amount of time (probably just a half hour stretch) and see how many words you can get out. Then you can congratulate or commiserate with one another.

Set specific goals

It’s a lot easier to focus on a goal like, ‘draft cat disaster scene’ than it is to stay on track with one like, ‘finish the entire book before year end’. Plus, if you’re like me, you love checking things off your to-do list, and having a greater number of shorter goals means more of that great feeling of marking them complete. (I write my weekly writing goals on a white board behind my desk, mostly for the pure joy of checking them off). Keep them reasonable, too. Maybe you can only edit one chapter this week because of other ‘real life’ commitments, but the next week you can spare a bit more time for an extra 1,000 words.

If you’ve got multiple projects on the go, having specific goals can also help you keep track of them so you aren’t surprised by a half-forgotten deadline.

I’d like to write at this desk! Or just daydream for hours…Photo by antonychammond on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Goal: Challenge yourself to grow as a writer / Write something new or scary

No, I don’t mean you have to write a horror – although that could be fun! Maybe you’ve been writing secretly for years, but you never show your words to anyone. What if you changed that, at least once? Perhaps you’re safely ensconced in a writing routine with your favourite genre, and you’ve pretty much become an expert in it. What if you tried something new, even if it’s just a piece of flash fiction or a personal essay? I’d been writing so much historical that I fell in love with flash fiction last year – partly because of the challenge of keeping it short, but also because for some reason my flash fictions are almost never historical.

One of my writing challenges this year is to let go, at least partially, of my beloved first-person narrative and try something with third person. I also haven’t used multiple POV very much, and I think it’s about time I did.

To be honest, this post is a actually bit of a challenge. Even though I’ve been doing this blog for almost five years (!) and I’ve got a book published, I still sometimes feel like a fraud when I give writing advice. Imposter Syndrome is real, but also silly. If you write, you’re writer. There’s not a 17-step initiation full of dangerous trials (although that might be an interesting plot for a taut but nerdy thriller…)

Photo on VisualHunt.com

Goal: Get published

This is a big goal for lots of writers, and there are lots of roads to success. Getting a book deal with a traditional publisher can take a while, especially if you need to find an agent first, but that makes it a perfect goal to break down into specific steps. And there are lots of roads to publication. Maybe you want to submit a short story to some fiction contests, or submit an article to your favourite online magazine. It doesn’t have to be straight to having a full-length book published.

Goal: Get rejected

This could be controversial as a goal and I have not seen anyone list this, but I think it’s important, especially for writers who are new to sharing their work. First, it ties into challenging yourself. It’s scary entering a contest – or what if that favourite online magazine passes on your pitch? The last one happened to me. It was fine. I’m still here, still writing. Having an editor or agent pass on your project, no matter what it is, is an unavoidable part of publishing that will happen to everyone more than once. It just proves that you’re trying new things and challenging yourself. Plus, this is probably the easiest goal on the list to achieve! Then you can pat yourself on the back and have a drink.

Lastly, this Writer Unboxed post has some more great writing lessons for 2018 if you’re feeling inspired or looking for writing ideas. Happy Writing in 2018!

 

Physicality in Fiction

Recently, I read a thought-provoking and helpful article on Writer’s Digest on using physicality to bring your characters to life. There’s some great advice here. Incorporating different senses and the physical signs of emotion can help immerse the reader in the setting, even in the mind of the protagonist. Being grounded in the story world makes it feel that much more real – and exciting – as a reader.

 

I think this can be especially important in historical fiction. The genre brings its own unique challenge of trying to recreate a time long past, and sometimes, as a writer, it feels like grasping at echoes. Of course, one of the joys of historical fiction – both as a reader and writer – is that once the details and story click into place, you do slip into another world entirely. I love the way being drawn into a historical world feels like new, uncharted territory, but history has left just enough imprints on the present for it to feel a little bit familiar. You might know the bare bones of the time period, but not what happens to the protagonist, or maybe you find comforting kernels of ‘sameness’ in the characters. People haven’t changed so much, really. Three hundred years ago, they still wanted to find love, or worried about their children, or struggled under the weight of family pressures.

Trying to capture the sounds and textures and the smells of the story’s setting bring it to life. For me, while I’m writing, trying to show those things end up helping me connect more strongly to the world, help me to better polish it for the reader. It makes the setting more vivid, so a reader can easily imagine the acrid black smoke from the burning Réveillon wallpaper factory, or airy softness of one of Marie Antoinette’s muslin gowns, or picture the scum of half-congealed blood tarnishing the Tuileries after it was violently mobbed, to use examples from my novel The Wardrobe Mistress.

That last one was a little dark. Sensory depictions can be delightful, too, especially if they’re food related. I still think fondly of the way Crystal King’s description of kitchens and food in her Roman historical novel Feast of Sorrow made me clearly imagine I could smell the mouth-watering aromas of Parthian chicken or the tang of mustard beets. Sounds and music can pull readers into the world, too. I can still remember the rebellious thrum of music in the Prohibition ‘juice joints’ that Bonnie (of Clyde and Bonnie fame) frequented in Jenni Walsh’s novel Becoming Bonnie.

A story or character can also be deepened by plot, as the Writer’s Digest article that sparked this whole post suggests. The article mentions a Stephen King novel where the narrator is diagnosed with cancer. Another example I can think of that I particularly enjoyed is Julia Heaberlin’s novel Lie Still, where the protagonist is heavily pregnant throughout the story. It added an extra layer of tension. As danger escalated all around her, I feared not only for her, but for her soon-to-be-born child.

Habitual gestures or nervous tics can strengthen characterization, too. Outlander fans know that Jamie Fraser often taps his two stiff fingers (from being broken) against his thigh when thinking. In Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network, her character Eve struggles with a stammer, which sometimes intensifies during moments of high stress. While reading, it makes you ache with sympathy for her – especially because the high stakes WWI environment makes everything extra scary and intense.

What physical description or sensory element has really stood out to you in a book? Please share!

 

The Best Conference Ever

Last week, I got to check an exciting writer’s goal from my list – I attended the Historical Novel Society conference. I’d been dreaming of going for quite a long time, and it was amazing to finally make it to the event. I realize this sounds incredibly nerdy, but whatever, I love history and I love novels, so it’s the perfect combination as far as I’m concerned.

#HNS2017 (check the link for various fun tweets from the conference) was held in Portland, Oregon. I arrived the afternoon before the conference started, which gave me time to explore the city a bit. I went to a history museum (of course), saw some beautiful roses, and met some very nice people in a cool little wine bar.

The museum had many great exhibits, but I was particularly drawn to these hats. Definitely lingering research excitement from writing The Wardrobe Mistress

Special sessions and workshops made up the first day of the conference, and I took a copious amount of notes and got ink all over my fingers because apparently I can hardly write by hand anymore. My first workshop was about pacing in a story, and since I’m at the 80K word count on my latest novel, it was perfect timing for me to work all of the smart and creative tips I learned into my edits. As part of the workshop, we read a paragraph from book with gripping pacing, and then read the same paragraph, only rewritten in a way that made it fall flat. Conference chair and author/actress extraordinaire Leslie Carroll read the pieces aloud, and she’s so utterly compelling that even the poor example paragraph sounded good.

I also went to a workshop on historical firearms, hosted by Gordon Frye who also has a podcast called Gordon’s Gun Closet. It was fascinating to be able to see – and touch – these historical firearms. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out muskets are quite heavy, especially with bayonets. The French style was considered to be a little more technologically advanced at the time (and seemed to take a bit more practice to handle than the British one), which I think would have appealed to a few of my characters in The Wardrobe Mistress, who can be a tad smug about the superiority of their country and its revolutionary ideals.

I’m trying to avoid the temptation to over-describe every wonderful little nugget of wisdom, each enlightening conversation I had, every time I turned into a complete fangirl because I spotted one of my literary heroes. There would just be so much if I recapped it all! A lot of highlights stand out in my mind, though. Inspiring keynote speaker Geraldine Brooks talking about the sparks that flare a story to life are the most exciting, but that ‘bum glue’ (gluing yourself to the chair and just writing) is the only way to truly get a book done. I remember glancing around, and seeing other authors nodding just as hard as I was. David Ebershoff, also a keynote speaker, mesmerized the crowd with the moving story of his journey to tell the story of Lili Elbe, which became his acclaimed novel The Danish Girl. Kate Forsyth raised goosebumps on my arms with her enthralling performance of Tam Lin. I’ve never before seen such a large group of people become so silent; I’m convinced she’s as magical as the faerie queen of the story (although much less nefarious, of course). There were so many fun, unique moments, too; sitting in on an impromptu tarot reading (using Kris Waldherr’s beautiful goddess deck), playing Cards Against Humanity near a group of mask-wearing quadrille dancers, staying up far too late because going to bed seems absurd when you’ve made new friends that you might not see again until the next conference, two years away.

So now I’m back home, mostly caught up on sleep, feeling refreshed to get back to work on my writing. I’ve only got about 15K more words before my work-in-project is ready for edits (she says blithely, as if edits won’t be substantial), and there’s a new kernel of an idea unfurling in my mind, something that sparked to life after an evening of socializing and trying absinthe for the first time. Is that cliché? Oh well.

 

A Quick Update

I must confess, I don’t have a blog post prepared for this week, but since I haven’t missed a post in a long time (it might even be over a year), I didn’t want to skip it completely.

Since I don’t really have anything planned, here’s a picture of my dog, Logan. He’s a good boy.

 

As for real updates, I’ve been writing like crazy, working on my WIP. After some research and plot-timing hiccups, I have now made it to 60K words, so I can happily say that the 40K Slump is over. Whew!

I’m also now into the three month countdown to publication day for The Wardrobe Mistress on August 15th, so I’m working on some special Marie Antoinette/French Revolution themed stuff to be posted soon!

Oh, and I’m on Instagram now –  @meghan_m_author. Come find me there!

 

Further Writer’s Conference Reflections

Recently, I attended an amazing conference called When Words Collide, held in my hometown of Calgary during August. It was the first time I’ve gone to a conference that big (it was sold out with about 700 guests), and it was also the first time I’ve presented at a conference. I didn’t do any solo presentations just yet, but I participated in several panels and also some ‘Blue Pencil Café’ sessions where I read the first thousand words of a few different manuscripts and offered my constructive feedback to the writers. It was really fun to get a peek at some of the amazing stories other writers are working on.

The whole event was such a positive, inspiring experience, and I was left feeling refreshed to tackle my own projects again. I’ve been a little drained after a pretty intense bout of revisions on The Wardrobe Mistress. Having the chance to interact with so many different readers and writers was really great as well. If there’s one thing book people love, it’s other book people because you can talk about books to your heart’s content. If you are going to be in the Calgary area next August, or you can make it out here, I highly recommend When Words Collide. I’ll be going back for sure. A huge thanks to the organizers and all the volunteers who made it such a fabulous event!

Thank you cardIn the near future, I’ll probably put up a couple of blog posts on some of the topics. I learned so much from a variety of panel discussions that I just can’t resist.

And in the meantime, I finally feel like writing something new. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster for me in the last few months. I had just finished a brand new manuscript and finished a round of revisions on it, readying for submissions, when The Wardrobe Mistress got picked up by St. Martin’s. Obviously that was (and still is) a hugely exciting moment for me, and for a long time I was wrapped up in that, and then the subsequent revisions. My other manuscript kind of got forgotten. But now it’s knocking around in my head again, wanting a sequel, and I have a story set in Venice swirling around, too. It’s feels like time to be writing something new, and it feels so free, like the world is opening up all around me, and my bones are feather-light, my mind clear but distant… You see what happens to me when I’m not writing something new? I get terribly sentimental. Time to go back to work.

inspiration

Reflections on My First Writers’ Conference

I recently went to my first writer’s conference, something that I’ve had the best intentions to do for a long time, but never have. In my defense, I do also have a full time job separate from my writing, so that takes a lot of time, but I finally got organized and went to a conference and I’m so glad I did.  Hosted by the Writer’s Guild of Alberta, the conference was held in my hometown and featured some excellent presentations and workshops. I also got a decent haul of books, and managed to get all of them signed.

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With such a great selection of books by Alberta authors, it took a valiant effort to stick to my budget.

One of the best parts of the conference was having the opportunity to mingle with other writers. As the saying goes, and it’s a true one, writing can often be a solitary business. Getting the chance to chat with other writers was fascinating and fun and inspiring. In general, only other writers are interested in discussing the writing process at length, and I enjoyed hearing all the different things people had to say. For instance, one young writer sitting at the same lunch table as me posed a question to the group: when starting a new project, which comes first, the character or the setting? My answer was both, since it varies from project to project, and everyone else had different answers. It sparked such a great conversation that I skipped dessert!

I think my favourite part of the conference was watching the way writers blossomed when talking about their work. At first, we all seemed a bit shy about talking about our work. I was, for sure. When someone asked me about my upcoming book, The Wardrobe Mistress, I delivered my pre-prepared blurb, but I felt too shy to elaborate much, burdened by an awkward modesty and a worry that they’d find it boring. Fortunately, this feeling eased once it really struck me that I was surrounded by other writers and all of us loved talking about stories and books. I think a few others must have had a similar realization. As the day went on, I noticed people stopped giving quick summaries of their books, almost shrugging them off, and instead launched into bright-eyed, animated discussions of settings, inspirations, the difficulties of choosing a character’s name, or plot points they struggled with. All that creative energy and enthusiasm felt infectious.

During a conversation about character, I found myself describing the way Giselle (my protagonist in The Wardrobe Mistress) and her entire family burst to life inside my head as soon as I stumbled upon a bit of research about Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, who was a watchmaker and an ex-member of a spy ring called the secret du roi for King Louis XV. Beaumarchais had several sisters, none of which who seem to be prominent in history, so I invented a fictional life for one of them as Giselle’s mother. With that connection established, dark family secrets and internal rivalries started cropping up all over the place, and it hugely affected my plot, as well as Giselle’s character.

Aside from the bright enthusiasm for writing and for individual projects, there were also a lot of other highlights. After his dauntingly intelligent keynote presentation on the way literary artists engage with the world, and the particular kind of happiness that writers know, I chatted with Greg Hollingshead about all the fantastic quotations he used in his speech. I laughed continuously  at Will Ferguson’s hilarious and outrageous anecdotes, but I also took some notes on his very good advice. I participated in a workshop on character development with Marina Endicott, and was unashamedly thrilled that she remembered working with me fifteen years ago (!) when I was a high school student and she was Writer-in-Residence at the local library. I made some local writer friends and now I have more books on my to-buy list, and their readings at local bookstores to look forward to.

Pictured: an approximately of my 'To Be Read' pile. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Pictured: an approximation of my ‘To Be Read’ pile. But I wouldn’t have it any other way!

And it’s a good thing I enjoyed this conference so thoroughly, because I’m actually going to another one in August, a three day event called When Words Collide. I’m participating in six panels and two ‘Blue Pencil Cafe’ sessions, where I’m going to help provide feedback on the first pages of a few manuscripts. I guess this means my newbie conference days really are over. If you’re in the Calgary area in August, come see me at this conference!

 

 

Manuscript Completed!

A very brief post to say…I finished my French Revolution novel! At least the main draft. There will be revisions – there are always revisions.

I’m very excited, and the fact that I finished it on a Friday night makes it even better for me. Now I have the whole weekend to relax and do crazy things.

Crazy things will probably be household chores that have been terribly neglected in the past week while I was working extra hard on the final push to get the book done.

I shared an excerpt of the book once, but I didn’t have a title at that point. I’m now calling it Lady of the Revolution, which may change, I don’t know for sure. I’ll post another excerpt soon.

To close, I shall illustrate how I feel with images of kittens:

 

happy kitten 2

 

happy kitten 3

kitten yawning

 

kitten asleep in food

 

I’m pretty happy, but also really tired.