Saturday, August 15, 2020

Writers' Routines: Mary Balogh

 Lately, I've been obsessed with learning more about writers and how they create their works. How many words do they aim for each day? What kinds of rituals do they have? Mason Curry's Daily Rituals: How Artists Work has been very insightful in terms of understanding how writers and other creators approached the process. However, many of the artists profiled here do not create commercial fiction, and I became intensely curious about how romance writers, for instance, establish goals and writing routines for themselves.

Recently, the Smart Bitches, Trashy Novels website had a fascinating and revealing interview with Mary Balogh. I highly recommend that you listen/read to the entire interview. Balogh has been a favorite of mine for years, and I've been working through her Westcott series. I really enjoyed what Balogh said about how she writes, especially when she's immersed in a project: "when I work on a book, I work mornings every day, seven days a week." I think that's valuable advice since as she mentions, it's harder to jump back into a work in progress once a few days have passed. As she states, when she's actively writing, she aims for 2000 words a day. She notes that this adds up:  "I try to write about thirty thousand words a month so that I can finish a book in just a little over three months and finish it completely within four months." Balogh also states she prefers writing outdoors during summer mornings and has a lovely area set aside for her writing. Those of us who live in the hot Southern states might find this a bit challenging! I live in southwest Florida, and after 9 a.m., it becomes nearly unbearable to be outdoors. However, I like the idea of having a separate little writing retreat set up in the backyard, perhaps on the lanai.

My reaction to her routine is that I like the idea of writing 2000 words a day (and I think this is what Stephen King recommends). However, so much depends on individual writers and their unique circumstances. I do write every day, but the reality of being a single mom with a full-time job means that sometimes I'm lucky to log 250 words a day. However, I write every day, and I've found that the words really do add up.

She also keeps it simple with her writing supplies: "I just have my little laptop and my day calendar beside me and my yellow pad where, on which I list names and place names of characters and, and places as I go, and that’s about it." 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Regency Fashion and Writers' Routines

As the pandemic has dragged on, one of the bright spots has been finding a new focus with my writing. Although it's been a challenge managing my child's elearning schedule (so hard!) and also keeping up with work, I found some time to think about what's really important and what important dreams I've set aside. It's been easy to make excuses about why I can't write, but I realized it's a choice. So, I've set aside at least 30 minutes each day to write, and to my surprise, I now have 35,000 words (this after writing 0 words for the previous 6 months).

I also decided to make an investment in my romance writing by taking a class on Regency fashion. I've been re-reading Jennifer Kloester's excellent reference book on Regency England (see image below), and it's provided valuable information on specific details, such as food and carriages.

Over the next few months, therefore, I'll be focusing my posts on writers and their routines, especially their environment and their daily word count goals. I'll also be sharing helpful tidbits from the Regency class. Today, I'm learning about corsets and chemises, which will definitely be helpful with writing love scenes in my Regency romances!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Creativity Exercises (1)

Over the last two months, I've begun exploring some creativity exercises to jog my Muse. I always wanted to learn artistic techniques and dabbled on and off years, but now that my writing is back on a regular schedule, I'm finding that sketching or playing with pastels before writing helps me to feel more relaxed when I approach the page. Artist Lisa Congdon's lessons on Creativebug have been very helpful in that regard. I'm working on her class "Creative Boot Camp: Reinventing the Basics with Lines and Circles" and have had so much fun playing with colors. As Lisa says, "You're allowing yourself to loose up like a  kid and free up and not worry about being super accurate or perfect." We should think about "creating a balance"- good advice for the sketch pad and also good for life/writing in general. At the end of the process, "go back and add any detail that might need to be added." This is also a great revision tips for writers. We should check for scenes that could be more developed and for the little details that can make a scene more true to life.

I didn't spend a lot of money on materials. I found some good sketch pads at the Dollar Store and bought a few inexpensive oil pastel sticks at Michaels and some watercolors at Michaels. Doing these exercises has helped not only with the creative process but also with alleviating stress- just allow yourself to play and have fun! As you can see from my exercise below, based on Lisa's instructional module on creating a sketched oil stick village, I just had fun and played with color and overall the process and the results made me smile.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Brainstorming the WIP

I'm about halfway through my current work-in-progress (WIP), a Regency romance novel set in Shropshire, and kept forgetting key details (it used to be easier when I was writing drafts in my 20s). I had attended the Philadelphia Writers Conference this past summer (a topic for another post in the future; I'm so sad that this was the last conference), and particularly enjoyed Terri Brisbin's presentation on romance writing. In one of her handouts, she mentioned Jami Gold's website as a resource for writers (seriously, check out her wonderful worksheets- I'm working on filling out one of her beat sheets), and I became happily lost in sorting through all of Gold's marvelous posts for a few hours.

This weekend I especially focused on the article "Complex Story? Use a Crime Wall" written by guest editor Kitty the Retro-Writer. I've had a corkboard for years that I had been planning to use to organize my writing, but it's been gathering dust in my closet. Well, I dragged it out this weekend, rearranged some of the pins I had already placed, and began working on my wall. Since it's a romance, I'm mostly focused on the hero and heroine, and in the future will be adding other key characters plus setting details. It's so handy to have the corkboard perched close to me when I'm working- no more forgetting pesky little details like the heroine's eye color! As for the other material, I love the image of the man and woman dancing at the foot of the stairs - I tore it out of one of my old Victoria magazines a few years ago. I also have some inspiring quotes up, like Nora Roberts' classic "I can fix a bad page but I can't fix a blank one." To make the planning a bit more fun, I use my glitter gel pens. Like my novel WIP, my corkboard is also a WIP. I'd love to hear from other writers how they organize their information and keep track of all those details.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Eighteenth-Century Writer

I've been reading John Brewer's comprehensive and insightful review of eighteenth century cultural life for the past week: The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century. As I was reading the chapter entitled "Authors, Publishers and Literature Culture," I was struck by the similarities to the publishing culture of the 21st century. Celebrities such as aristocrats had a much easier time getting published (think of the numerous celebrities today receiving book contracts), though unlike today's celebrity authors, the 18th century celebrity author shunned monetary compensation (Brewer 145). Writers such as Samuel Richardson and Jane Austen struggled to get into print. In fact, as I was re-reading the Broadview edition of Northanger Abbey, I was appalled at the terse communication she received from Crosby & Co., the first publishing house she submitted her manuscript to (I remember hearing this story in a Jane Austen course years ago and even then thinking it was very shabbily done). Crosby & Co. paid 10 pounds for the manuscript but then declined to publish it, and when Austen announced her intent to market her work elsewhere, they replied "there was not any time stipulated for its publication, neither are we bound to publish it. Should you or any one else we shall take proceedings to stop the sale. The MS. shall be yours for the same as we paid for it" (cited in Claire Grogan's Appendix A of Northanger Abbey).

Much like self-published authors today, writers such as Samuel Johnson had to get creative to make it in the restrictive publishing world of the eighteenth century. Johnson was both a printer and a publisher, and he used these avenues to have his first novel published (Brewer 125-27). The following line will also sound familiar to authors pursuing publication in this modern age: "The world of eighteenth-century publishing is best understood as an expanding maze or labyrinth, and it offered the potential author many entrances and numerous routes to eventual publication, each full of hazards, pitfalls and dead ends" (Brewer 140). The booksellers had  a monopoly on the marketplace, and writers such as Oliver Goldsmith labored long and hard to succeed and achieve publication. As Brewer wryly remarks, when writers applied to booksellers to publish their works, "the author's reception was rarely warm, occasionally tepid and often cold" (Brewer 155). Eighteenth century authors pursued two strategies, both of which could be helpful today. First, they could make sure to target a publisher they knew was interested in their subject matter (Brewer 156). Second, they could seek the help of  published author, whose connections could help the aspiring writer (Brewer 158).

One thing that Brewer mentions and that I wish still existed in the 21st century is the literary salon. The opportunity to socialize with other writers and to discuss politics, literature, society, etc. must have been incredibly stimulating. Although writer's conferences do reproduce this experience to an extent, they can be expensive to attend; in most cases, it's difficult to find active groups of writers in some communities, so I would champion the introduction of salons.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Regency Fashion: Walking Dresses

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Victoria & Albert Museum has a wonderful collection of fashion plates available. This print was originally published in the June 1808 edition of La Belle Assemblee. The description provided is as follows: "Engraving with hand-colouring, showing three women in white high-waisted dresses walking together. The woman in the foreground wears yellow gloves and shoes, and has a fob hanging from her waist, and is wearing a flat straw hat tied on with a yellow scarf with a face veil. She holds a blue parasol by its ferule with the cover at the top. To the left is a woman in a puce spencer jacket with military-style braid details and matching puce turban, carrying a green parasol or reticule. To the right is a woman wearing a pale blue short-sleeved coat with a wrap front and short, cutaway skirt over her white dress. She wears elbow length white gloves, a straw hat and a long yellow scarf."

The slim lines of the dresses accentuate the women's movements, which were governed by strict rules of etiquette. Promenading in public parks- dressed in the latest fashions, of course- was a  popular pastime during the Regency era.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Elizabeth Hancock

A few years ago, I took a graduate seminar on Jane Austen's novels. As I was reading several biographies of her life, one family member, in particular, stood out: Elizabeth Hancock.

Elizabeth Hancock was a key figure in Jane Austen's life. Born in 1761, she was one of Austen's favorite (and certainly most glamorous) cousins. Over the past ten years, Elizabeth has gained more recognition as Deirdre le Faye published a biography of her in 2002. In 2010, Jill Pitkeathley published a fictional account of Elizabeth's life, entitled Dearest Cousin Jane. Claire Tomalin also devotes a number of pages to Elizabeth and her mother, Philadelphia, in Jane Austen: A Life (I highly recommend this book, which will appeal both to scholars and casual readers).

From the beginning of her life, Eliza, as she was known by her family, was associated with controversy. Some debate rages over whether Eliza was the product of an adulterous relationship between her mother and Warren Hastings, her godfather. In 1779, Eliza married the French count Jean-Francois Capot de Feuillide. Eliza was able to escape France before the worst atrocities of the French Revolution emerged, but her husband was not so lucky and was guillotined in 1794.

Eliza and her mother settled in England during the mid 1790s, and Eliza ultimately married Jane's brother, Henry.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

On Friday, I was shocked to learn of the violation of the Duchess's privacy. Yes, Duchess Catherine is a member of the royal family, and yes, she is in an incredibly privileged position. However, every human being deserves privacy during intimate moments, and the photographer's actions were a gross violation of the duke and duchess's private space. I have always admired the Duchess's grace and dignity, especially in a world dominated by crass and glitzy media figures such as Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, and like much of the world, was thrilled to watch her fairy tale wedding last year (it seemed like something out of a Regency novel). She and her prince conduct their lives with decorum, and the actions of the magazines in France, Italy, and Ireland, where the photos are now published, are inexcusable.

 The French editor's protest that "the photos are not in the least shocking" seems weak, and even more offensive is the Irish Daily Star's editor's comments: "The duchess would be no different to any other celeb pics we would get in, for example Rihanna or Lady Gaga."Actually, sir, she is different. Rihanna and Lady Gaga crave the media spotlight and deliberately wear provocative outfits to titillate their audiences. Duchess Catherine, in great contrast, works hard to maintain some measure of privacy as she enjoys newlywed life, and her outfits reflect a tasteful and conservative style. Moreover, she was staying in a private residence when the photos were taken; how many of us would appreciate having cameras spying on us if we were vacationing with our families in a secluded location? Now, if she and the prince were frolicking on one of the public beaches in France, that would be an entirely different matter, but they were taking a break from the media frenzy usually surrounding them and enjoying a private time between husband and wife, and the photographer deliberately invaded that privacy.

I just saw the Chi editor's comments, and I am amazed at the ignorance expressed in his statement: ""Chi pays attention to respecting people's dignity. I don't think they hurt Kate's image." Oh, really? If it were your wife or mother or daughter being displayed on the pages of your magazine, you would still think their dignity is intact? Especially if the photos were taken without those women's consent? And that is the most disturbing element to me: these photos feel like a violation of not only privacy but also of the duchess's body.

I dislike dwelling on such a distasteful topic, so I'm ending this post with a picture of happier times. I hope the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge find some comfort in their happy memories of their wedding and of their life together.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bed and Breakfast: Sweetwater Branch Inn

Whenever I visit Gainesville, FL, I always stay at the Sweetwater Branch Inn, a bed and breakfast housed in a two beautiful Victorian buildings. Over the past ten years, I've had the pleasure of staying in most of the rooms and cottages on the property, and I recommend any of the rooms, though two I especially like are the Blue Moon Room, which is small and cozy and boasts a snug reading nook, and the cheerful Piccadilly Room, with its view of the fountain and garden outside.

My favorite room, though, is the Isadora, which is in the McKenzie Home's attic. The room boasts a separate sitting room with a window seat, so you can daydream as you look down from your turret-room.

The grounds are beautifully maintained, and you can find many peaceful places to sit and enjoy your favorite cup of tea.

Bonus: If you have time, you should visit the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History and observe the variety of butterflies and subtropical plants.

Monday, July 30, 2012

For Writers: Club 100

I first heard about Club 100 through Beth Pattillo's website; Pattillo runs a Yahoo Group to encourage writers who decide to take the Club 100 challenge. Created by Avis Hester, Club 100 has writers commit to writing a minimum of 100 words for 100 days. For writers with challenging schedules, and for those who just can't commit to an enormous challenge such as NaNoWriMo, Club 100 provides a low-pressure way to immerse oneself in writing.

Douglas Cootey has issued a 100 Words a Day Challenge, and you can find badges like the one below at his website. Like Cootey, I find the whole NaNoWriMo overwhelming; as an educator, I dislike that it falls during the busiest part of the semester, when I'm usually buried under piles of student essays. Selfishly, I often wish they would move the entire challenge to the summertime, when I have a break from grading demands. For now, I'm happy that writers such as Pattillo, Cootey, and Debbie Ohi (see my post on her word count challenge below) provide alternatives for writers.