The New Normal

I’m starting to get used to the new townhouse. Most everything is in place now, and more often than not, we’re remembering where we’ve put things. The increased hours for the day job are feeling more doable, too. I’m not as tired in the evenings.

And that’s good news for the writing. I actually sat down most days last week and wrote at least a couple hundred words in each round. At that rate, the new WIP will take some time, but I’m hoping to increase the word count as I get back into the routine.

It’s a bit like starting an exercise routine. At first, we can manage only a few minutes and repetitions. But if we keep at it, we can do more for longer periods of time. And that’s what I’m hoping for with the writing.

And as I continue to write, I’m also sketching out places where the new WIP’s action takes place. You can see one of them here:

The sketch maps I draw as an archaeologist find their way into my fiction. This is a locale setting for the newest WIP.

The sketch maps I draw as an archaeologist find their way into my fiction. This is a locale setting for the newest WIP.

The new WIP opens here, where our main character assumes things will be centered. But that will change, of course, because the opening often isn’t where our characters remain. Well, sometimes it is. For those characters, the “journey” may be more metaphysical in nature rather than physical. But for this character, the story will move between physical settings. Good roads and reliable transportation make that easy in today’s world.

Of course, such ease of transportation can lead writers to slip up and introduce impossibilities into their stories. One of the big reasons why I couldn’t get into “24” was the way the writers had Jack Bauer crossing huge chunks of Los Angeles in minutes. I know that’s impossible, and I couldn’t “suspend disbelief” because it happened in nearly every episode.

I try to avoid such glitches in my fiction by using calendars and timelines for each story and researching things like travel times. I want those to be realistic and not pull knowledgeable readers out of the stories.

So if you could look over my shoulder when I’m working on a story, you might see:

The book is one I had handy to cover some of my research for the newest WIP.

The book is one I had handy to cover some of my research for the newest WIP.

If any of you have read Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering, you may notice another tool in the above photo. I want this WIP to have the proper “rising and falling” action that keeps readers turning the pages to see what happens. Brooks refers to them as Plot Points and Pinch Points. If you look again at the photo, you see parts aren’t yet filled in. This really is a Work In Progress, and I haven’t identified all the major action points yet for the story. I hope the main character will soon share them with me now that we’re writing again.

So maybe there’s hope for my writing yet. I’m still busy, and September will be a huge challenge, especially as the middle of the month hits. I guarantee I’ll have to step away from the blogosphere for a while then. But by the end of that month, I hope to be back on a calmer and steadier course. And just maybe I’ll have more progress to report on the newest story.

I hope August is treating you all well!

 

68 thoughts on “The New Normal

  1. It’s great to hear you’re back in the swing of things JM! And you’re right, it’s so important to make sure we get all the details in our stories correct – time, facts, geography. Tools like the ones you’ve pictured above help us to eliminate errors that discredit our stories.

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    • It’s baby steps, to be sure, but that’s where we all start, right? I was hoping to do some writing tonight, but my allergies are acting up, and I had a massive headache for much of the afternoon. Replying to some comments may be all I can manage this evening. My brain is too sore to handle any writing errors or discrepancies just now!

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  2. I love all of your tools. I need to do things like that, but it all seems overwhelming. I never considered myself a disorganized person, but now I question it. When I think about learning something new (Scrivener is a great example!) I quit because it’s too much for this exhausted brain.

    I do make maps of my settings, though. I find that the map will change as I write a couple of drafts, as the story dictates. Changing the map isn’t a big deal and helps me finetune all the details.

    Glad to hear the writing is going well!

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    • Why in the world did WordPress send your comment to moderation? You’ve been a regular commenter for years! That makes no sense whatsoever.

      It used to be earlier to keep all kinds of facts and ideas straight in my mind. As I’ve gotten older…not quite so much. 😉 So maps and calendars and Excel files with all the characters and their traits/looks/etc. help me keep the stories straight. I have a hard enough time with the stories without introducing inconsistencies or “flip flops” into them!

      Now, if I can get past today’s nasty allergy-driven headache and back to the writing tomorrow, I’ll be happy!

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      • How funny about the moderation. Recently, I noticed that my comments in other blogs were ending up in the “awaiting moderation” queue. I assumed a bunch of WP bloggers suddenly decided to switch over to manually approving comments. But, now that you mention it, maybe it’s just my comments that are ending up in moderation across the blogosphere.

        I must have been naughty. 😉

        Hope your headache is gone!

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  3. Love seeing your diagrams and note-taking/outlining methods. Everyone does it differently, but we can learn from each other, and having a visual is really helpful. It’s interesting how the stamina builds with new normals, isn’t it? This winter, I’m seizing the chance to work full-time for about 8-10 weeks, and I can’t wait. I reduced my hours to part-time in 2011 for a more “mom friendly” schedule, but I’ve been craving more intellectual stimulation for quite a while now. Writing and blogging will suffer when I go full-time, I’m sure. Since this stint is over a fixed period of time, I may just give it up for a couple of months. We shall see.

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    • My stamina took a hit today with a major sinus headache. August is a tough month for me allergy-wise, and when headaches like that one crop up, it’s all I can do to get off the couch sometimes. Unfortunately, I had to go to the National Archives for some research, so that was tough! Hopefully tomorrow will be better. 🙂 I’d like to be right in my analogy that building up the writing is like building up the stamina in exercise.

      Sometimes those shakeups in our routines work out for the better in unexpected ways, even though the initial stages are so hard. Your increased work this winter might just lead to some character and story ideas. Don’t be afraid to cut back on the blogging if you need to—your buddies will stay with you!

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      • My daughter suffers from hay fever, and it’s particularly bad this time of year — so I can’t even imagine what it’s like for allergy sufferers in DC’s oppressive humidity! Ugh. Hoping today’s a better day for you. 🙂

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        • Thank you, today has been better, which is a great relief. Maybe the Nasacort I started taking last weekend is beginning to help. That’s the first of the glucosteroid nasal sprays to become available over-the-counter, so I figured I’d give it a try. The directions do say it can take a week or so before all symptoms clear up, so maybe that’s why I still had a bad day yesterday. But if today is any indication, it may be helpful!

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          • My daughter uses Nostrilla, which is also available OTC. All the best, JM. It’s a allergy-miserable time of year. 🙂

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    • I hope to get back to that new schedule tomorrow. Tonight I’m exhausted from a nasty allergy headache. Ugh!

      If I didn’t keep track of those details, I’m afraid the stories would be all over the board and full of dropped plot lines and characters. And that’s not a good way to keep a reader’s attention! So you can bet that in my stories, no one’s ever going to get from DC to McLean in 30 minutes during the evening rush hour. 😀

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  4. So wonderful to hear you’re settling into your place and getting some writing done. I’m sure that is a welcome relief for you. Though I’m still in New England helping with my mother, I hope to return to a normal routine soon, too. Then again, I’m starting to think a normal routine no longer exists. Life always brings us something unexpected and new. 🙂

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    • A nasty sinus headache today has wiped out any thought of writing anything other than comment replies, but I hope I’ll be able to do some work on the new WIP tomorrow night. Even a few hundred words a day is a good start—or so I hope.

      I hope your mother is continuing to improve. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for her, and it’s wonderful that you can take some time to help take care of her. I’m sure she’s happy simply to have you there, but your profession must be a welcome addition. 😉

      Life will go its own way, and most of my problems are firmly of the minor and first-world variety. I try to remember that when I’m feeling too overwhelmed with change. 🙂

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      • Sorry about the headache. Been there. 😦

        My mother is improving though she had a set-back last week. Luckily I was there when it happened. She’s much better now though, thank you. This is when it’s handy not having a “real” job. I’m able to leave at a moment’s notice. (Well, for the most part, after I’ve sorted out kid issues and such. I suspect my kids and the hubs are eating take-out every night. Sigh.). I was just about ready to start applying for jobs in the public health sector that have come my way, but after strong encouragement from my husband to allow myself more time to see the second book published (I think he likes me at home!) and now my mom requiring another surgery in the future, it’s good I’ve kept my schedule open for the time-being. I want to be available for her when she goes back under the knife.

        Hope that headache eases up!

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        • Oh, I’m sorry to hear your mother had a setback. That’s the last thing she should have to go through. It really must help to have a supportive spouse and children who are old enough to leave with him—even if it does mean take out every night. 😉 And maybe this is an example of how an unexpected change in plans works out for the better in the long run. If you’d been working at a new job now, you might not have been able to get away as much to help your mother. If you want to go back to it once she’s back on her feet, you can always do so if you choose.

          The headache’s easing, which is a relief. Now, if the week-long sinus pressure on my right ear would just let up! I really miss the days when my allergies weren’t so bad and didn’t lead to the occasional sinus infection. Ugh. Ugh. Yuck!

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          • My husband is a big-time allergy sufferer. The poor guy hasn’t tasted much in months. He’s now trying allergy shots.

            It’s definitely easier leaving now that my sons are teenagers, and especially since the oldest can drive them to school. Major relief!

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            • Ouch, I hope I never reach the point of needing shots! I started using the OTC version of Nasalcort this weekend to see if that works better than Sudafed. The directions said it could be a week before all symptoms improve, but today was much better. I’m hoping that’s a good sign! And I hope the shots will help your husband. Allergies are just so exhausting after a while.

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  5. Hey JM! Glad to hear you are getting settled. Speaking of engineering a story, I sat down the other day and did a timeline of my manuscript and was shocked to see that the story takes place over 8 years! I was able to add seasons, holidays, and more clearly indicate the passage of time. What a helpful exercise! The whole time-space continuum thing.

    Let’s hold hands while we finish up our writing. Although, that would make it hard to type.

    See ya!

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    • It’s so easy to lose track of time in a story. So calendars and timelines are a must for me. 🙂 And mine so far all take place within the span of a few weeks. I’m not sure I could handle 8 years!

      Typing does still require hands. I know some writers use DragonSpeak, but I’ve also heard the technology still has a way to go to be really seamless and easy to use. So for now, we’ll have to go for virtual hand holding while we write.

      Great to see you back in the comments!

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  6. Glad you’re settling in to the new house and the new hours JM, which can only be good news for us! Those photos are very intriguing – the map has me wondering what type of location that is (did you blur out the words to tease us?!), then the book for research and that insight into your way of working. The plot thickens…

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    • Yes, I did blur out the words purposely. 😉 I don’t want to give away any real details about the story before I have a good draft finished. So I’m not saying anything too early about the characters or plot. This story builds on my past writing but also goes in some new directions. And that’s a bit overwhelming at times. Alas, a nasty sinus headache wiped me out for any creative writing tonight, but I hope to be back at it tomorrow. Fall allergies are taking hold, I’m afraid, and that’s never any fun for me. I hope your writing is going well!

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  7. The map reminds me of a quilt square. (I find the color choices interesting – harmonious color scheme…often people unknowingly pick different their same choices in various aspects of their lives – of course, these could just be the standard colors for your profession? )
    Glad things are leveling out a bit. Like the way you use a writing tool for general direction, but are flexible with it – everyone finds their own way ( but some drive themselves crazy to follow a system that is not quite them?)
    I watched 24 – but always forgot it was all supposed to be in a particular hour/time frame…pretty tired when sat down to watch – but if I’d had noticed that impossible travel time, it would have driven me crazy…now if it reappears, I’ll probably drive everyone else crazy pointing out the time issues! (giggles. Enjoy the end of summer hope the fall blows in lots of energy and not too much difficulties)

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    • I hadn’t really thought about it, but the colors are fairly standard for archaeological “sketch” maps—or at least standard since color printing became affordable. Blue for water, green for vegetation, brown or black for buildings…. Those of us working in the business world will often then supplement those with our “company colors” for graphs and charts and the like. I’ve also taken to color coding the calendars and timelines for each work, choosing different schemes for each story. I never would have thought I’d be so visually oriented with the writing!

      Right now, I’m really hoping fall will also blow away the allergens in the air. I had a rough day with a sinus headache that still hasn’t cleared up entirely. My fall allergies weren’t so bad back in the Midwest, but here they’re much worse. I’m not sure if that’s just a change in location or if they’re also getting worse as I get older. I’d love not to have them at all!

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      • Color coding works well to keep things organized. (There are all sorts of greens/blues…one choice of “green” over another means different things/functions/person here…some colors/shades/tones I just prefer over others)
        We’re experiencing African dust cloud arrival…and maybe early “fall” allergies. I can actually breath in CO – but until winning the lottery will have to contend with clogged sinuses and headaches.
        And now excessive heat warning…with a bored dog who is too hairy to be outside in this heat. Watching storm in Atlantic…either one of us could do with winds, but we’ll pass on the hurricane!

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        • I don’t know which is worse—my clogged sinuses and headaches or the horrendous sneezing my husband dealt with back in the Midwest. I just know both of us can be miserable when the symptoms are at their worst. We got a decent shower today, and I hope that will clean out some of the dust from the air. I know you could use something to clear out your dust and heat, but I hope it’s something milder than a hurricane or tropical storm!

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  8. So glad to hear you’re starting to find things in your new home, JM! I’m one of those readers/audience members who has difficulty suspending disbelief, so I very much appreciate the effort to not tax my suspension capabilities too much! I’m starting to get back into my picture taking groove and just realizing how much I’ve missed it, so I sympathize with your eagerness to get to some writing normalcy. Have fun! xoxoM

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    • I’m looking forward to seeing more of those photos, Margarita—you have a great eye for capturing details that so many people would walk by without noticing them. 🙂

      And if I can write this newest story the way it should be written, I shouldn’t be taxing your suspension capabilities!

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    • Thanks, Cindi! Writing about that process sometimes helps kick start the process, too. So I hope it’s a win-win situation for both writer and readers. 🙂

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  9. These are some great ideas! I definitely want to try the map and calendar. I am also blending outline strategies that work best for me and so your info on plot points is helpful as well. Thanks!

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    • Good to see you back in the blogosphere! Even when I totally pantsed my first two stories, I used a calendar to keep track of what was happening when. Now, they’re even more detailed, and I also keep a separate timeline with background information that may or may not end up in the story. Brooks’s “Story Engineering” is a tough read—as Arlene notes below, it’s a lot like a text book. But taken in small doses, I found it a good explanation of how a story needs certain elements and structure to keep the reader engaged. Different “how to” writers take different approaches, and our best success probably comes from incorporating the bits that make the most sense to each of us.

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      • Thanks so much. Yes, I’m learning to take in as much as I can from blogs and other sites and then pick and choose what works best for me to develop my own strategy. I’m sure that it will take time, but I am at least delving into the process now so I know that I have started and that comforts me in some capacity, lol.

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    • Once I get a first draft done and through the initial readers, I’ll be more talkative about the details. 😉 This time around, I want to be sure that what I describe is really what gets written!

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    • So far it’s baby steps, but I remind myself that’s better than standing still. I’m sure other “how to” authors use different terms to describe similar concepts. In Brooks’s terms, pinch points are “an example, or a reminder, of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force.” They’re scenes that are meant to remind the reader of what the protagonist is up against. And for me, they’re one of the harder parts of the story to get right!

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  10. I’ve been meaning to read that book–thanks for the reminder! This is great work JM! Writing a couple hundred words a day is fantastic when you are working full time. It’s really about finding what is doable and doing it daily. 🙂 Hugs, K

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    • It was a tough one to get through—as Arlene says, it’s very textbook like. But taken in small chunks, I got through it. And for me, it was a good introduction to the important pieces of every story and the rhythm that’s needed to keep a reader turning the pages.

      The allergies have been sapping my energy these last few days, but today has been a big improvement. I’m hoping that continues so I can get a few more good days of writing under my belt!

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      • I tend to read a chapter a day in craft books. It’s digestible and not overwhelming. Though I may go slower if he’s really textbookish.
        So sorry to hear about the allergies. 🙂

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  11. Wow, you’ve really come a long way from panster to plotter, JM. When I saw the image of the calendar and outline I immediately thought of Larry Brooks and then read the next sentence to see you were following his advice.

    I started reading his book and only got a few chapters in. I found it too Textbook-ish for me and too structured. I do like his blog posts – they are a wealth of information in smaller doses that I can digest without feeling like I’m being boxed in. As (much more of a) pantser I know I can learn from him so I’d like to try reading the book again. I’m getting better at outlining but it’s still not as structured as this.

    I’m so happy that you’ve gotten the chance to get some writing done. Hopefully you can continue to get back into the swing of it. I look forward to seeing how the sketch fits into the story. Keep up the good writing work!!! 🙂

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    • The pantser in me may be feeling a bit frustrated these days, and I’m willing to let that uber-creative side have free rein now and again. But I’ve also learned the importance of a story being on track, and a bit of organization can go a long way toward that goal. I’ve also been very organized for most things in my life for so many years that maybe it’s no surprise that it took hold in my fiction, too.

      Brooks was a tough read. And I took it in small chunks for reading and letting the ideas soak in. But I realized that my fully pantsed first two WIPs were missing some important elements of good stories, and Brooks helped me recognize that fact. A hard lesson to learn, to be sure, but one I need to if I’m going to write something that an audience beyond me will enjoy. 🙂

      If I can keep making even slow progress that’s steady, I hope 2015 will bring this particular WIP to a complete draft. And then I should have more to say about it. 🙂

      Keep at your writing, too!

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  12. I remember keeping a calendar for one story, just so I knew when the protagonist’s period would hit. LOL!
    It’s very cool to see your process here, JM: I love to see all the details you put into your work, even if it’s just for world-building. Glad to know there are other writers out there who work within the confines of reasonable suspension of disbelief, too. I say, keep doing what you’re doing. You *are* making progress coming back to the regular routine, and you are definitely making headway into this WIP. Just reading your posts about it, I can feel how excited you are for it. That’s a beautiful feeling you never should let go. 🙂

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  13. That’s one good reason to keep a calendar! 😀 For me, they just come in handy as a quick reminder when something happened, and am I allowing enough time—or spending too much time on—the following action. There comes a point when we need to stop world building and concentrate on writing, but that world building can be a good activity for those periods when the words aren’t flowing.

    Thanks so much for your encouragement! And I promise I’ll do my best not to take you out of the story with unrealistic timelines or actions! 🙂

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  14. Awesome, JM! Sounds like you’re getting into a groove.

    That’s such a good point about that show “24”! We watched the first two seasons, then we just couldn’t do it anymore. It was so hectic and definitely not ideal for a relaxing evening.

    I’m a stickler for mapping out timing as well. I use a combination of outlines and timelines to make sure everything is as realistic as possible for the reader.

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    • I like a few breathers in my adventures, which I think puts me out of step with modern television writers. I like them in my reading too, so I hope anyone who reads my stories down the line won’t mind a handful of scenes where the characters can take a few moments to think and catch their breath.

      I’ve continued to work on those timelines and outlines, so I’m hoping that pays off!

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  15. Sounds like you’re doing pretty well to me. I love that map and planning things out in such a way would have really helped me when my current WIP. I may well take a page from your book in future. It will make editing far easier I’m sure.
    Good luck! x

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    • Maps, sketches, and calendars all help me keep on top of things. And that’s always helpful for a writer—the more we can stay on top of various aspects of the story, the more we can ensure too many inconsistencies don’t creep in. With this newest WIP, I don’t want to face numerous rewrites before it’s finished!

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  16. Moving is so stressful isn’t it J?! Mine is a local move as well and it’s nearly complete. I’m going to get back into myself though you seem way more organized! I hope we can all get back into our groove. Fall, my favorite season, is nearly here and that I believe, will breathe new life into my writing and me as well! Nice to see/read you again.

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    • I’m not so sure I’m really all that organized—but I’m good at giving the appearance of it. 😉 I hope you’re getting your move wrapped up, too, and that you find your groove again soon. It’s nearly the end of August—where in the world has the year gone?! Before you know it, Christmas will be here!

      It’s great to see you back here, too, and I hope to be reading more posts from you soon.

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  17. Great toolbox! That appeals more to me -a natural pantser, – than doing a detailed start-to-finish-no-surprises outline. This approach seems to help organizing the WIP without boxing in your characters too much. Certainly worth a try, as I have struggled with various strategies, none of which seem to be exactly what I need. Glad to hear you are settled in your new home! Hope you get rid of your debilitating headache and get those nasty allergies under control.

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    • Brooks suggests that planning and pantsing can go together. Having the main points of the story figured out ahead of time can help minimize false starts and wrong turns in the story while still allowing creativity in how we get to those points. With this third manuscript, I finally see how that really can help. It’s taking longer to get going, but if I can have a more complete and logical story done in the first draft, I’ll save a lot of time in rewrites down the line.

      A bit of allergy relief these last few days, and I’m hoping that will continue!

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  18. It’s wonderful that you’re settling in nicely. I remember when we moved into the RUC and it took me days to figure out where to put things and then I’d lose them!

    I love your writing process. Best of luck with the story! 😀

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    • Thanks, Dianne! We’ll see how long we end up staying here. 😉 As a rental, it may not be more than a few years. Just about the time we get the place figured out! 😀

      Glad to see you back online and in the blogosphere!

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  19. Hi JM: So sorry we’ve been ghosts as of late. We’ve been locked away in our writing room the past two months working on our book. But we’re reaching the finish line, (Yay) & hopefully can stop these crazy hours as well as returning to our blogging buds, (like you) who we’ve missed!! You’ve been busy girl!!! Congrats on the move & the book sounds as if it’s coming together!!! Luv the map by the way. You know it’s funny. We have published several books this past year. But the very first book we wrote, “New Salem Chronicles: The 13 Reapers” is still a WIP. We have been working on this book for over three years. But it deals with time travel and like you we have approached it methodically. Time lines, era research, because it spans several generations in several families, we have 7 family trees, tracing the roots. Our writing room walls are covered in white poster boards lol ;). It’s tedious and at times can feel overwhelming but also gratifying. We’ve been following you for quite some time JM and reading about the progress of your book. And I can tell you this…we cannot wait to hold your book in our hands and read this labor of love you’ve masterfully created!!! It’s a truly unique journey to follow and watch the birth of a writers imagination come to life as we have yours!!! I really, really like what you said about the added hours!! Instead of crumbling under pressure it’s as if everything fell into place for you. It’s true, JM!! We are creatures of habit and it seems that when we add to our schedule, our mind and body adapt making room for it. Which makes you a strong-willed woman who rises to a challenge, flourishes in it really. So excited to read this book, JM and know that we’ll be first in line to grab our copy!!! 😉 xoxo ❤

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  20. I can certainly identify with that overwhelmed feeling—I’m still trying to get “Death Out of Time’s” time travel aspects right. But that one’s on the back burner as I try my hand with this third novel. And I hope this planning and organization will help make it a good story from beginning to end. The first two suffered with weak middle sections, and maybe now I have a better handle on the need to increase the tension and have important events happen when they should.

    It’s great to hear you’ve been busy making progress on your next story! And the support and encouragement you give me are very much a part of any success I have down the line. I’ve said many times that I have the best blog buddies around, and you are absolutely two of the reasons why that’s true. 🙂 Thank you so much, and I hope you’ll enjoy my first published story—whenever that might be!

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