Monday, June 15, 2015

End of an Era

It's June 2015, and I'm afraid we've come to the end of Writing in the 'Loo.

I started this writing group with a small band of merry women, and it grew to include some wonderful people. This has been a very difficult decision for me, but I'm at a point in my writing/career where I have to refocus my energy, and change what it means to move forward. That means doubling down on my alone-time efforts.

I know that we'll all stay in touch, and most of us were friends before the group was created. Every now and then a second set of eyes will be needed, and I'm sure we'll still be there for each other. However, the official monthly meetings will come to an end after our next/last get together.

In the future there is a chance that events/readings will be hosted under this name, and I'll post details on this little website. I'd also like to keep the previous posts by our members as there's some good stuff here, too.

I'd like to thank all of the Writing in the 'Loo members for the years of learning and fun, EDITING FACE and controlled anger, and for all the emotional and editorial support throughout our time together.

And, never forget where you usually come up with your best ideas. ;)

With love,

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Quit Writing

That’s it. I quit.

I quit writing. I suck. Who am I kidding? Nobody is going to want to read my work. Outside of my family and polite friends, not one person will miss my writing if I stop right now. I’m under no contract, no deadlines, no series to hand in. I’m not financially dependent on my writing. (Because that last $3.24 cheque will only cover my coffee.) I’ve been working so hard at improving, honing my craft, making corrections and editing, editing, EDITING and I still suck.

I quit writing.


I’ve been down this road before. I’m shedding a skin. Each time I quit, back away for a while, I learn something new about this insane life as a writer – for whatever that means. This is not a mature, calm decision to take a break for a few weeks. Instead, I come to a screeching-halt conclusion that I just cannot do this anymore, life would be so much easier without it, and I throw the writing life to the ground and stomp on it like a giant, ugly, stag beetle, panting and sweating before walking away from the splat-mess I’ve made.

A few days later I decide to ONLY write poetry and ONLY when I’m in the mood. As much as I want to deny it, the stag beetle wriggles back to life. But during this stage, I will still tell you that I have definitely quit writing…as I keep half an eye on Market listings.


Why do I subject myself to this punishment? This solitary exercise in frustration, this head against a wall and nose to the grindstone insanity must have a purpose in my life. So I ponder. And, write about it.

I write because I need to communicate in ways that are linear, clear, and with purpose. I write to make sense of things in my life. I write because, usually, what comes out of my hands is more intelligent than what comes out of my mouth. I write to share my thoughts and experiences with others, because none of us is truly alone. Sometimes I write to entertain.

The last two reasons bring it to the “business level.” Sell yer stuff. Get it out there. Face the music, make it good, you ain’t writin’ for your mama no more. The amount of pressure writers put on themselves varies for each individual. (Until a publisher/editor/agent takes some of that burden.) I fall under the immense-pressure category. I know I am a very driven creature, and although this trait usually serves me well, it can also be my downfall. I run myself into the ground.

For (at least) the last year and a half, I’ve constantly felt like I was not writing enough. I worked on a horror novel, finished a sci-fi novel, wrote the first half of part two, wrote short stories, and sent them to markets. I used any spare time I could find, squeezed it in, cancelled other things, let stuff slide, and lost my sense of balance more and more with each month that went by. Work harder, longer, faster, learn more, fix more?

The rejections hurt more.

In January and February I edited the horror novel with a sense of frenzy I’d never felt before. I dove in fully and determined to keep the novel succinct, without continuity errors, following all the rules of grammar and spelling, and show-don’t-tell, and plot, and characterization, and OH MY GOD how many rules am I STILL breaking and I am still going to SUCK.

Then I crashed.

It’s April, and I’m writing this in spurts because I have a job, twin boys, I like to read, exercise, and I need an hour of Sons of Anarchy before bed. I have to clean the house and do laundry. I want to listen and be fully present when spending time with my family, and not always pulling my brain out of my work in order to function. When I quit writing, it is not all-consuming. It’s almost pleasant, or fun to come up with ideas.

This past weekend we went to a conference and met up with writers, editors, publishers, and many other friends in the biz. I couldn’t help but look at everyone in a new way – I started seeing them as the accumulation of the hours they’ve spent on their own work. I spoke on panels where new writers took notes on the things we said. I like helping, I CAN help, because I’ve learned a lot in the last decade. It occurred to me that I need to know my worth, understand my value, and be honest about where I really am in this vast mess. I got all, Atreyu walking through the Sphinxes, man. The right story at the right time with the right person, kumbaya.

I am shedding a skin, letting the frenzy fall away from me with a new understanding that it will get done. Maybe all I need is a decent schedule with limits and concrete blocks of time that won’t leak or flood into the rest of my day/week/month. But the writing won’t ever stop. I will continue to improve, and I will always, on some level, suck. And when the “I-suck” gets to be too much and I quit again, I will shed another skin and learn from it once more.

The stag beetle lives to scurry across my deck while I drink my coffee, perhaps with a harder shell.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Time to Write!

I often get asked how I find the time to do all the writing I do, and I think it’s worth saying that I don’t find the time, I make it. It’s a small distinction, yeah, but I think it has a lot to do with mindset.

Writing is a priority for me and so I’ve learned to stuff it into an already packed schedule. I am a typically busy person, working part-time, parenting full-time, keeping active, having other hobbies, and volunteering with multiple organizations. How do I make time to write? Glad you asked! The short answer is that I prioritize and make sacrifices. Now, to the long answer!

I don’t want to be discouraging, but writing does have to be a priority. Maybe not the number one – things like family and paid work need to take precedence – but it’s got to be near the top of your list or you’re unlikely to make the time.

There are some things that absolutely need to happen in your day, and if these things occupy all your hours, trying to fit in writing probably isn’t realistic. That doesn’t mean your priorities aren’t subject to change. Maybe a promotion or a child starting school will give you that bit of time you need. I barely wrote during university, but once I graduated, oh how the words flowed!

I stopped watching TV almost in its entirety, cutting it down to only one show a week (Doctor Who, in case you’re wondering). I don’t watch any TV in the off-season. We don’t even have cable anymore. There wasn’t enough value in television for me to give up writing for it. So out it went. I also actively try to minimize my time on social media.

By staying off the internet as much as possible without losing all of my friends, I have freed up scads of time to work on my novels. So take a look at your leisure activities. What can you cut back on?

Get Organized
I have an old-fashioned paper day planner that my life absolutely revolves around. I plan my days with military precision (note, I didn’t say that I execute them with the same precision, but I try) and it helps me to streamline all of my chores and my to-dos. Knowing what I need to do and when helps keep me focused.

I don’t have a smartphone (no, really) but I’m sure there are all kinds of wonderful apps and features that can help you plan out your day to make you more efficient, freeing up precious moments you could use writing.

Location, Location, Location!
Find a good place to write. This is almost as important as making the time. Maybe you just need a cozy corner in your living room. Maybe you need to get dressed and out of your house to be productive, so trek to a coffee shop or your local library. Experiment and see where you work best.

Take it With You
I have notebooks stashed around my house, in my coat pocket, and in my purse so that I never have to worry about an idea getting away. I also bought a purse big enough to fit my laptop (Kelley Armstrong gets credit for that one, she’s fabulous!). I’ve written in the car, at tables at festivals, jotted notes in restaurants and even worked on my writing in waiting rooms. I never get much done this way, but it really does add up.

Enlist Your Family
I generally write after my daughter goes to bed, but I have some “me-time” hours on the weekend when my husband fully takes over the parenting, giving me more time for writing. He and my daughter know not to bother me.

Make sure your family understands how important your writing time is. If you don’t have the same time every day, find a system you can use to signal to them that it is your time to write, and only dire emergencies are acceptable interruptions.

Get a Little Crazy
Join a writing group that holds you accountable. There are so many of them out there! If you think you might have the time, but are a little fearful, check out writing events like NaNoWriMo. I’ve participated in it for years. Get swept up in the sea of literary insanity, throw your internal editor and your fears overboard, and write.

Remember, you can do this! And your story matters. Now go forth and write. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

PiBoIdMo is here!

As a writer of children's picture books, this is exciting news! Picture Book Idea Month is the NaNoWriMo for picture book writers! The challenge, put forth by founder and picture book author, Tara Lazar, is to generate 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.

Just as with NaNoWriMo, the challenge is not to have something ready for publication in 30 days. I should hope not, as chances are 30 days would hardly give any writing a chance to ripen. The challenge is simply to have a rough draft, and in the picture book world, an rough idea is almost the same thing.

Now, to be fair, this sounds a whole lot easier than NaNoWriMo's challenge to write an entire novel in a month. Or at least, one would think so. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Many picture book ideas have already been done ad nauseum so it can be challenging to say the least to come up with something new, fresh, fun and interesting to kids.

Picture books are short, naturally. They get to the point quickly. So an idea can often be the whole skeleton on which the meat of the story hangs. For a novel, an idea is just the first bone, or sometimes barely the ghost of a novel yet to be. Both still need "fleshing out", but one is a lot closer to the end result than the other. At least, there are fewer words to tinker with in the editing process. But you still need at least a bone to work with, and many bones have already been chewed down to the marrow!

Just like a novel, there has to be enough substance to write about. Unlike a novel, there can't be too much. With longer works, if there isn't enough material for a novel it may end up as a novella, short story or even flash fiction. You can scale back until it fits. If there isn't even enough for flash fiction, you haven't got a story. Picture books are flash fiction for the youngest of audiences. That said, an idea is an idea and that's all that counts for PiBoIdMo. The time will come, later, for participants to develop and explore the suitability of each. Some will bear fruit, some will wither on the vine. PiBoIdMo is all about planting seeds. In the end, the writer may end up with 3-10 concepts that will eventually become manuscripts. That's not too shabby for a month's work!

But now I face a dilemma. I write children’s books but I write in other genres as well. Last year was my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. I was not successful so I would like to try again this year, but since discovering PiBoIdMo, I have been dying to participate in this as well! Maybe I’ll get brave and bold and try both in the same month! Or maybe that's a bit too ambitious! I may have to alternate venues and just do PiBoIdMo.

 If you have ever wished to delve into the world of picture books, this might just be a way to dive on in! Registration is only open until Nov 3, so click on over and sign up!

Sign up for PiBoIdMo 2014! 

Catherine Warren (aka C.C. Monroe)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Embracing the Critique

It is, pardon the phrasing, a critical skill for any profession. And it is a skill. It is not about toughening up, it is not about having no ego (or being all ego), it is a skill you can learn. Painfully, usually, but you can learn it.

Once you have it, the pain of critique dulls down to a bruise you keep poking from its initial screaming skin-peeling horror. After you hone the skill, you will start craving the critique, seeking out more and more sharp, incisive critiques across everything you create.

The key skill is being able to objectify the input so you can see the underlying truths in it instead of reacting to the tone, the person, or the ever-present internal monologue that says you're not a good writer.

Separate You From Your Work

In all cases, you have to divorce yourself rapidly from believing that a critique of your skills or writing is somehow a judgement on your value as a human being. This is by far the greatest hurdle you will have to overcome in order to develop the skill of embracing a critique. 

You are not your work. Your work, is, however, a part of you. So is your poop. And your snot. And the hairs that shed through the day. Your urine, and other excretions. Not everything you produce is awesome. You do not, I am certain, save every hair, every tear, every ejaculation (verbal or otherwise) and hold them sacred and untouchable, so do not hold every word that way either.

As you evaluate your poop to determine if your diet is balanced and health is good, so too should you evaluate your writing -- with clinical and objective distance. 

Understand the Source

Like in many things, the critique says more about the critique-er than you or your writing. Some people focus on the nitty-gritty, the details, the layout, the structure of your writing. Others, the arc, the meaning, the overall effect. Some get hung up on their own pet peeves (I would wager that is actually most, if not all of us), and some of those pet peeves come from years of valuable experience. 

Understand who is offering the critique, and you will know what the highest value will be within it.

Neutralize the Input

There is, of course, a world of difference between "I didn't like it" and "It sucks", and accepting that is one of the tougher parts of accepting a critique.

Like separating yourself from your work, separating what is said from what is meant is a vital skill. There will be people, possibly many people, who will not bother differentiating. If they don't like it, it therefore sucks. The question becomes how do you know whether they dislike it because of personal preference or because there is something wrong with the writing that you can fix?

Dig deeper! You're always seeking the underlying issue, and to see if it's something that you can adjust in your writing, a continual panning for critique gold. Ask what they feel sucks, where they didn't like it, where they fell out of the story.

You are looking for the truths, not how they are stated, no matter who offers you the critique.

Sometimes You Will Miss the Mark

It is an unfortunate truth; sometimes the writing misses the mark. Sometimes you don't communicate what you think you're communicating. Critiques, or feedback, help you see what is still stuck in your head, what isn't making it across that barrier clearly.

Accepting that missing the mark is just one moment in a long line of moments -- not a prediction of all futures, nor a measure of all pasts -- makes the whole process of writing and getting critiques easier to handle.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

What do you want from the critique? Focus on that and let the rest of it fall away until you can use it. You may want to know:
  • Did you succeed in communicating what you intended to communicate?
  • What is the trend across all of the critique/feedback? 
  • What was hidden to you before the critiques about your writing?
  • Where do you need to focus your growth? 
  • Is the story arc clear?
  • Are the characters believable?
  • Is the format ready to send to a publisher?
Ready? Go get 'em!

(And in the spirit of bravely inviting critique, please let loose the feedback in the comments to let me know if this post met its goals of making critique less painful (more desirable). What could I fix? What did I get right? All types of critique are welcome!)