Stepping out of my comfort zone

As an introvert, I like to stay tucked inside my comfort zone. But occasionally, I force myself out of it, in big or small ways. 

The other day I did something I never do: I posted some photos of myself demonstrating exercises for a writing loop I belong to. 

Now, you might think this is no big deal, but if you know me or are friends with me on Facebook, you'll see that I rarely post photos of myself. If I do, they're just parts of my face, rarely my whole face or body. If I find a photo I like, I use it for years. 

I'm a personal trainer in my day job. If you saw me in person, you might think I don't look anything like you might have expected a personal trainer to look like. I'm 50 years old, and I'm far from a size two. I'm very fit, but I'm certainly not "skinny." In fact, like many women my age, I have a few extra pounds I struggle to lose. I post a lot on Facebook and my blogs about fitness, but I've never used photos of myself demonstrating exercises, because I know what people's expectations are, and I'm just not comfortable sharing photos like that.

But the other day, I did. I was trying to explain some exercises and finally thought, "Screw it. I'll just have my hubby take some pictures. That'll make it much easier." So I did. And you know what? The world didn't end. The internet didn't blow up. In fact, nobody even commented. So basically I was worried about nothing. 

Sometimes, we just need to do it. Push aside our discomfort and do it. Whatever "it" is.

What about you? Have you done anything recently to push yourself out of your comfort zone? Let me know in the comments so I can give you a virtual high five. 

Starting From Scratch, Part II

This is an ongoing series on my process of writing a new story from start to finish. 
You'll soon see that my process is a complete mess. But it is what it is. I am working on a novella, Christmas in Stilettos (Book 4 in my Red Stilettos series) that will be part of Passionate Kisses 3: Under the Mistletoe, a boxed set with nine other authors. It will release in October.


I am two weeks into the month, and I'm supposed to have this novella written (the first draft anyway) by August 1. I took the first week to plot and plan as much as a nonplotter and nonplanner can. I tried to figure out who my characters are, what they want, what the main conflict(s) will be. I thought about the setting, what my characters look like, who they are, where they live. 

Finally, four days ago, I started to put down words... and soon learned that everything I plotted and planned means jack shit.

I'm about 4500 words into what I expect will be a 20-25,000 word novella. And it totally sucks so far. I'm so not kidding.

Here's my problem (well, one of many): As hard as I try to figure out who my characters are and where the plot is going beforehand, I can't figure those things out until I actually start writing.This is super frustrating to me, because I know I'd finish projects much faster if I could figure things out in advance. I can actually write a pretty fast first draft, but it's always such a mess, it takes forever to clean up and polish.

I've been fighting my process for years, reading every plotting book out there, attending any plotting/planning workshop I could find. I've learned a lot. If my brain actually worked like a plotter, I'd be set. But it doesn't. Yet I keep hoping. I keep trying to plot and outline before hand, hoping with one of these projects, it'll magically come together for me.

Here's how my process usually goes (despite any attempts to
tweak it): I will crank out a really, really shitty first draft (note: if you haven't read Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird where she talks about shitty first drafts, you must. In fact, click that link now and go get it. Seriously. I'll wait.). I've realized that whether I write my first draft really slowly and agonize over every word, or whip that puppy out as fast as I can, it will suck in equal measures. So I might as well write that suckage quickly, eh? [Check out these 10 Rules for Writing First Drafts]

So that's what I'm doing right now. I'm just cranking out the words. I call my first draft my discovery draft, because it's really more like a crappily written outline than a tangible first draft. I'm discovering new things about my characters and story every time I sit down to write. In fact, I often talk to myself on the page. I turn the font color red and just start "talking to myself" until I figure out what to write next. If I write total gibberish (like below), I'll just delete it when I'm done with my writing session. But if I actually come up with something useful, I cut and paste that snippet into another file to look at later during revisions.For instance, here's a snippet of Chapter One:

She shrugged and her blush deepened. Really need to figure out where home is, etc. For each of them. Where is "home" for her. Colorado? Nevada? Some small town. He grew up in Seattle. I think. #@% I just flipping can't figure out who these people are! This is so stupid. What the hell comes next. what is she thinking right now? I don't care, which means my readers won't care which means I'd rather eat chocolate than write this shit.

He knew why she hadn’t called them. It would’ve been awkward. Because she thought his family knew about their situation. “Yeah, about that…” He cleared his throat. "They assume you're coming with us.”

Anyway...that's where I am now. I just reached the first turning point of the story where everything changes. The draft is total and utter crap at this point. But I'll keep going and eventually--I hope and pray--I'll start to figure out who the characters are and what their story is. 

Until next time... keep writing!

Starting From Scratch--Part I

Part One
Along with some of my Passionate Kisses boxed set sisters, I will be doing #HoNoMo in the month of July. That means HOliday NOvel in a MOnth. In my case, it's a novella not a full-length novel. In order to meet my deadline and not get backed up on my other projects, I need to write the entire first draft in July. I thought you might find it interesting to follow my progress. I will post an update when I have progress.

Speaking of serial killers...this one sits on my desk.
Not much in this world is both more terrifying and exciting than starting a new story from scratch. (Well…serial killers, spiders and clowns are more terrifying to me, but they’re not the point of this post.)

I have a Christmas novella to write in July for a boxed set (anthology) with nine other writers that comes out in October. All I have for it is the premise I’ve come up with: “A divorcing couple pretends to be happily married when they go home for Christmas.” I also know Francesca is the heroine and the title of her story is Christmas in Stilettos. (She was a minor character in Dancing in Stilettos, my novella that releases in late July if the sun, moon and stars align.)

That’s pretty much all I know. I am not a plotter. I am not a pantser (someone who writes by the “seat of her pants” without a plan). My process is somewhere in between and it ain’t pretty. Every time I sit down to write a new book, I think it’ll be easier, especially if I’m “just” writing a novella or short story. But it’s not. Every book is harder than the last one to write. Every new book convinces me that I’ve forgotten how to write and will never, ever, EVER figure it out again.
My messy process.
If I was a big drinker, I’d be swigging tequila about now. But I’m not. I am a chocolater—and chocolate does nothing for my creativity and only makes my bum bigger. But it does make me happy.  I’m eating a Linder ball as I type this.

Back to the point of this post… Starting a project from scratch. The first thing I do when starting a new story is jot down everything I know, everything that’s been flitting around my head. In this case, it’s not much. I know the heroine’s husband has been deployed in Afghanistan and they decided before he left to split up. I know they have twin toddlers. I don’t know where they’re going “home” for Christmas or why they have to pretend to be happily married.

In my files, I have a bunch of forms I’ve saved over the years from various plotting and character classes I’ve taken. I also have a bazillion books on plotting and characterization (because reading about writing is WAY easier and much more fun than actually writing the damn book). At this point in the process, I use Story Safari and Discovering Story Magic to start figuring out who my characters are. I can’t start writing until I know their basic GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). The problem for me is that I can’t figure out the characters until I’ve written some of the story. See my dilemma? My process is a mess!
The basket I carry my process in...

But it’s my process and I’ll cry if I want to.

The goal is to get to the point where I feel I must begin to write. Once I “see” that opening scene in my head, I’ll start. I’m not there yet, but I hope to be soon, because my calendar says: July—write draft of Christmas in Stilettos.

Anyway… that’s where I am right now. I spend a lot of time staring into space, thinking about my characters.  A lot of time walking my dog, ignoring my neighbors and thinking about my story.  One of these days—I hope!!!—I’ll be ready to start the actual writing because the clock is ticking.

What’s your process? I will love you forever if it’s messier than mine, because it will make me feel slightly superior.