Mary Aalgaard: Thinkology

Last week, my friend Guy Kelm and I taught a writing class for kids, ages 8-12, called Kids and the Art of Writing. One of our favorite activities of the week was to visit the Q Gallery, an art gallery in the same building, featuring local artists. As the saying goes, “Art inspires Art,” and the kids came up with some beautiful pairings for some of the pieces.


Guy Kelm and a student, studying the visual artwork, using Thinkology to process the piece.
For the kids, this is a day camp experience where they get to concentrate on their writing for two hours every day, get feedback and encouragement from teachers and other writers, and let that creative energy flow.
We grown-ups don’t often get those camp experiences. Sometimes, we pay good money to attend writer’s workshops, conferences, or spend a week at a secluded writing retreat. Most of the time, we have to scrape and claw for an extra minute to do anything of the creative bend. So, how do we keep our creative stories growing without having a lovely camp? We can use Thinkology.
Yes, folks, we can use this grand philosophy right her in river city! (Are you getting flashbacks to the musical The Music Man?) In the musical, Professor Harold Hill swoops in to milk out a little money from the towns folks in the guise of forming a local band for kids. After the uniforms and instruments arrive, the grown-ups are waiting for the sound of “76 Trombones” and all the rest of the instruments. They get a lot of air, and a few squeeks. Professor Hill says something like, “You have to start out with Thinkology.” You need time to think it through, to hear the music before you begin to play, then, when the moment is right, you will have the sound you desire.
He wasn’t all full of air. I find myself using Thinkology while I do the dishes, take walks, drive the kids to their activities, wait to pick them up again, even sitting in church (don’t tell my pastor). We need think time as well as writing time. This is also comforting news to busy moms like me! We can use that think time to imagine, jot notes, listen, and then when we have that spare minute, the story is ready to appear on the page.
After a morning of watching and listening to the kids create, I would drive home (sometimes humming Professor Hill’s la da da de da de da and wiggling my finger like a conductor) I had visions of the next play that I’m writing, visions I’ve been waiting for, and soon, I’ll be on my retreat week where kitchen and laundry duties don’t exist, and I’ll let the words flow.
Go. Create. Inspire!

 I use a lot of Thinkology while riding on the back of the bike on rides with The Biker Chef!

Mary Aalgaard is a freelance writer and blogger. Her words stretch across the globe through her blogs on www.playoffthepage.com, which include Play off the Page, inspiration and entertainment reviews; Ride off the Page, a travelog about riding adventures on a Harley-Davidson with The Biker Chef; and Dine off the Page, for chef’s tips, recipes, and restaurant reviews. Mary is also a playwright. Her original drama Coffee Shop Confessions was performed in coffee shops around the Brainerd, MN area in 2012. She works with both children and adults to create original dramas, and is offering theatre classes for kids where they write their own plays and create the set. Contact her at Mary(AT)playoffthepage(DOT)com

Thanks so much for stopping by, Mary! 

Anyone else who wants to be featured on my blog? Please see here for details. 

Where are your favorite places to use Thinkology? 
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Update Day!

Wow. I can’t believe it’s the last Friday of June. As far as my blog hop goes, this is half-way through the year, baby!

For those of you who missed the previous times, me and Beth Fred host a blog hop for people with insane or insanely important goals. Every last Friday of the month, we update on how we’re getting along. Want to join? You’re more than welcome. Click here for more details and the linky list. 
So, since it’s June, I decided to review my goals. But because I was incredibly optimistic last year, the list was long and I decided to post the review on my other blog so I can focus on the blog hop here. Go ahead and read it. You’ll probably find that your goal failures don’t quite look as depressing as mine. 
Anyway, doing the review was good because it made me realize again that sometimes, life sucks. Sometimes, we don’t achieve what we set out to do. Sometimes, just finishing some portion of the things we wanted is still good enough. 

A lot of people have commented on previous posts that I should change my goals, and I basically have. However I will still be using my old list (as seen on the review) for my goal review at year end. Why? Because if I do something for most of those things on the list, I’m still going to be one proud writer. Because ANYTHING I manage to do writing/editing/publishing wise will bring me closer to my big goal.
In the interests of that, this is what I’ve achieved (in no particular order): 
Started a book on writing craft on Wattpad and got 500 reads without marketing in less than two weeks. (and it’s damned good, if I say so myself.) In case you’re wondering, I’m not putting it on my timeline since it’s really just something I do to get my writing juices going.
Wrote a total of 13k words in rough drafting. (Hoping to get another 5k done by the end of the month.) 
Fully revised The Heir’s Choice and sent it to crit partners. 
Goals for July: 

I’ve shifted some things around on my timeline because my priorities changed. Most of it isn’t really important right now, except for the fact that I now have to draft Wo6C3 again. (See the previous post for an explanation why.) 
Good thing, then, that Camp NaNo is in July. And Camp NaNo is what my goals will center around. 
1) To gather a month’s worth of writing prompts to get going every day. (Planning to do this over the weekend.) 
2) To edit my two War of Six Crowns books. Book 1 is obviously pretty much done. After all, it was published already. That said, in editing book 2, I noticed some things I should have mentioned in book 1, which is why editing both is on the plan. 
For those of you who don’t know, Camp NaNo has a provision where you can convert editing hours into words. 1 hour = 1000 words, 30 minutes = 500 words and so on. I’m going to use it, since I will need to edit and draft in July. 
3) To draft 75000 words, including editing. By my calculation, it means that I’ll actually be writing about 50k new words. My priority will be Wo6C3 and the mystery project (MP), but I’ll be trying to work on some of my other in progress drafts as well. And… those writing prompts I mentioned. 
4) Reading my drafts in progress. I have five projects in progress except for MP and Wo6C3. Four of them, I haven’t touched since November last year. So this weekend I’ll be re-reading to catch myself back up. 
How are you doing on your goals? Anyone else doing Camp NaNo? I’m iceangel, if you want to buddy up. 🙂

Back to the drawing board…

If you’ve been reading some of my more recent posts, you’ll know I’ve been shifting information from later books in my War of Six Crowns series to the second book. Not info dumping, mind you. Just… enough to make things more interesting all round. 

But. 
Okay before I get into that, I should explain to the readers who recently joined. Once upon a time I wrote a book called Doorways. While querying and submitting Doorways, I contemplated (and possibly should have followed through on) self publishing it. As a result, I wrote the sequel while Doorways was out being queried, since I saw value in having the sequel ready to edit after publishing the first book. 
However, the publisher I sold Doorways to insisted I split the book in two, effectively turning a four book series into a five book one. Doorways became The Vanished Knight and The Heir’s Choice. 

But. (And now we’re all on the same frequency)
Splitting Doorways means adding information and changing focus and all sorts of things to its two halves in order to make them books that could stand alone. 
Which has put a bit of a wrinkle in my plan. I like TVK and THC like they are now. And honestly, I think they’re much stronger books than Doorways was. What I didn’t expect was that I’d go to the sequel to THC with the view to rewriting it, and discovering that I’d have to draft it again from scratch. 
Again… let me explain. I always write two drafts to a story. The rough draft, where I form the foundation of what the story again, and the rewrite, where I take what I’d learned in the draft, form a plan, and write the story around the plan a second time. (Main reason being that all my roughs are hand written. So I always have to rewrite in order to get the story onto the computer in order to edit.) 
What all this means is that basically, nothing that I’d written in the sequel (let’s call it Wo6C3 because it has no name yet) can be used in the rewrite, because none of the major things originating in TVK and THC are being addressed. Which means I’ve had to put three months of rough drafting into my publishing plan for Wo6C3 when I thought the rough draft was done. 
Which, if you know what my plan for the next five years looks like… is just annoying. Oh well… a writer has to do what a writer has to do. And sometimes, I just can’t plan for these things. 
So… at this moment, drafting Wo6C3 will be my priority for Camp NaNo. (All while editing THC.)
Anyone else find that editing one story makes the sequel you wrote obsolete? 

Terry W. Ervin on Five Strategies for Self-Editing

Editing, especially self-editing, is an important component in the writing process. Realizing there are different layers of editing, ranging from structural concerns down to catching typos, effective strategies are important to a novel’s potential success.
One of the banes of an author self-editing is failing to catch what would be easily identified in the work of another writer. The author’s mind knows what was intended. The character voices and narrative are playing out in the author’s head, masking mistakes. Below are five methods an author might employ to overcome this, especially as a manuscript nears the end of the editing process.

Time Between Edits. 

Time away from a manuscript, hopefully working on another project, allows an author to return with fresh eyes and a mindset more attuned to catch errors at all levels. The distance of time, be it several weeks or months, offers a better perspective. 

Reading Orally. 

An author reading their work out loud, while slower than reading silently, will enable the catching of errors, especially missing words or dialogue that just doesn’t sound right. The author may not need to vocalize. Often just moving the mouth and engaging the voice box is enough. 

Changing Font. 

Many authors have a favorite font to write and even edit in. Switching fonts is a trick that makes the manuscript appear a bit foreign and new. It also resets the end of lines at the margins where mistakes are often overlooked as the eye shifts down to the next line. 

Using Text Speak Programs. 

Again, this is a time-consuming process, but the programs are free and improving. While they lack inflection and occasionally mangle pronunciation, it’s like having someone read a novel back to the author. It may even be more effective than reading orally in catching missing words, switched tense or subject/verb agreement, or dialogue that is somehow off. 

Print out the Manuscript. 

Probably the last step, and a costly one in paper and ink. This tactic steps up the changing of font, as it adds a new medium, even a tactile sense that alters the reading experience and engages the critical eye from a new angle. It’s more like ‘reading a book’ old school. 
Yes, having someone else edit and proof a manuscript is invaluable. And the better prepared the manuscript is ahead of time, the better the end product, as the editor won’t be distracted by what the author could’ve addressed.

Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction. 

His First Civilization’s Legacy Series includes FLANK HAWK, BLOOD SWORD and SOUL FORGE, his newest release from Gryphonwood Press. Terry’s debut science fiction novel RELIC TECH is the first in the Crax War Chronicles and his short stories have appeared in over a dozen anthologies and magazines. The genres range from SF and mystery to horror and inspirational. GENRE SHOTGUN is a collection containing all of his previously published short stories.

To contact Terry or learn more about his writing endeavors, visit his website or his blog, Up Around the Corner

Soul Forge: 

Young Enchantress Thereese lays stricken and silent, her vital essence sapped by the Shard Staff, edging ever closer toward death. Supreme Enchantress Thulease refuses to allow her daughter to fade beyond recovery.

To that end, Enchantress Thulease recruits Mercenary Flank Hawk to accompany her as she seeks the legendary Sleeping Sage, and confronts the secretive Svartálfar, known only for their magical prowess and for their menacing cruelty. 
But first, the mercenary and enchantress, and their stalwart company, must survive brutal beasts and ruthless nomads roaming the Southern Continent’s harsh desert. Then, the untamed wilds of the Northern Mountains must be traversed in a final bid to reach their ultimate goal—the Soul Forge.
Even if Flank Hawk and Thulease reach the mythical forge in time, can its magic revive the ailing young enchantress, the one whose life is somehow tied to the Kingdom of Keesee’s ultimate fate?

Mark Murata on Using Excel in Writing

Hey all! Welcome to another Monday Feature. Today, Mark Murata is visiting to show us how he uses Excel in writing. 

If anyone else wants to sign up for a guest post feature, please click here for more information. 
And now, let’s see what Mark has to say. 

Excel in Writing

Get the pun in this entry’s title? For the first time, I’m using an Excel workbook as part of my writing. In my mashup of The War of the Worlds, I have the cylinders from Mars landing near different cities around the world, not just London, so their invasion has to advance consistently on each day. 

I also have three groups of characters in three locations. Their actions have to be coordinated, so I need to track who is doing what on each day. 
I’ll also have to track the positions of Mars and Venus, as well as phases of the moon. J.R.R. Tolkien once remarked something to the effect that he could not have Aragorn look up one night and see a full moon, then have Gimli look up a couple nights later and also see a full moon. He kept charts on phases of the moon, and also the speed of Gandalf’s horse Shadowfax.

Learn from the greatest.

Anyone else use Excel when you’re writing? 

Thoughts on editing The Heir’s Choice

As some of you may know, I’m busy editing The Heir’s Choice at the moment. I haven’t really said much about how I’m doing, but let me just say this:

Editing a sequel is hard. 

Especially because the sequel and the first book were two halves (literally) of the same book. See originally, I had this awesome 107k word book that I had to split.

And the approximate split was as follows:

The Vanished Knight: 65k words.
The Heir’s Choice: 65k words.

“Hey wait!” you might exclaim. (It’s all very dramatic in my brain, I promise you.) “That doesn’t add up!”

No. Because in order to make TVK into a book on its own, I’ve had to add about 15k words to the first half of the original book. Which is great.

Except for the bit where every single one of those changes has to be worked into THC. Which is most of what its extra 15k words consists of.

And then I’m not even getting into the real challenge.

As you might know, I’m going to re-publish TVK and publish THC at the same time. There is a very very good reason for this, but I’m not going to go into it. First, I want to see if my plan works.

But if it does work, most of the people reading THC will be doing so immediately after finishing TVK.

So what’s the challenge? (Aside from marketing.)

If I assume that my plan will work, no one will want constant reminders of what happened in TVK. If my plan doesn’t work, everyone will want a TON of reminders. Which leaves me with the unique challenge of striking the right balance between too much information and not enough.

While making sure that all the main strings I left hanging at the end of TVK gets picked up in THC.

Simple.

Except…. TVK has a lot of strings.

How are you doing? What are you doing at the moment?

C.M. Keller on Writing Time Travel Stories


Hey all! We have another guest here today. C.M. Keller is here as part of her newest book release. So before I hand things over to her, I thought I’d share a bit more information on Screwing Up Alexandria:

Time traveling has never brought Mark Montgomery anything but grief. And then, things get worse.

When Mark comes home from Babylon with a coded tablet, he never dreams someone would be willing to kill to get it. But they are. So Mark and Miranda kidnap an ancient cryptographer named Nin and take her to the Library of Alexandria to decipher it.

The search for the truth of the tablet takes all of them to the most dangerous time on earth. And when Nin ends up on an altar surrounded by blood-thirsty crowds, only Mark can save her. But he’s blind.

Sounds awesome, right?

And now, I’m handing over to Connie to tell us a bit more about writing time travel stories.

As a writer of historical and time travel fiction, one of the greatest ironies I’ve discovered is that as radically different as other times and cultures are, people aren’t that different than we are.

The trick to writing time travel is to remember that while the character’s hopes, desires, and problems are similar to ours, they must be shaped by the time they are set in. The culture of the time period must become a character and drives the narrative. In other words, what happens to the characters in Alexandria should be so defined by the time and place that the plot could never unfold like it does anywhere else.

When I pick a time period, I research the culture and history, immersing myself in the significant people, places, foods, etc. I use small details like food, drink, clothing, and superstitions to convey a sense of the exotic and add verisimilitude.

However, the places, people, and culture must propel the plot. For example, in Screwing Up Babylon, I needed a chase scene, and I knew it had to take place in the Hanging Gardens. So I envisioned myself as Mark trapped in the gardens and wondered, How can I escape? The answer was easy—by way of a man-made river that watered the garden. I ended up with a very authentic “waterslide” adventure inside Babylon’s Hanging Gardens.

One of the great things setting the novels in Babylon, British Middle Ages, Alexandria, Mongolia, etc., is that it helps to keep a series fresh. There are always new characters and experiences, so creative options are endless.

The hardest thing about time travel fiction is the language barrier. There is no way to give your characters facility in various languages. My main character Mark, who is seventeen when the series starts, does not/cannot know ancient Greek, Akkadian, Sumerian, etc. So, I’ve had to find ways to allow him to communicate and establish relationships with other characters without knowing the languages.

One way I did this was through the use of other time travelers, people with more language abilities. But I wanted to be very careful with this and not use it as a deus-ex-machina answer to Mark’s problem. So I gave the other time travelers their own agendas, and they are at least as unhelpful as they are helpful, which made them wonderful to write. (I have a soft spot for tough, witty characters.) Another way I dealt with the language problem was by realizing it wasn’t really a problem. The places where Mark travels are not backwaters. These cities are cosmopolitan, cultural crossroads. It wouldn’t be unusual for people without a common language to encounter each other. So I spent a lot of time figuring out how to communicate without words.

A reader once commented that it wasn’t until after she finished the book that she realized that Mark had never once spoken directly to the Babylonians. So I guess it worked.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, questions, or ideas.

Thanks, Misha, for this opportunity to talk about time travel writing!

About MeC. M. Keller is an award-winning novelist and the author of the SCREWING UP TIME series. She loves old movies and poison rings. In her spare time, she searches for that elusive unicorn horn. She’s currently hard at work on her next YA novel, the fourth book in Mark and Miranda’s story.
 

Thanks so much for stopping by, Connie!