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Conference Tip # 373

Pack light. Why, you ask? Free books. Tons of free books. And goodies. And other tokens. Make sure you have either a large tote bag you can fold flat and tuck in your suitcase, or do my trick: the suitcase inside the suitcase. Yes, you see that correctly. I pack the smaller suitcase with my clothes, tuck it inside another suitcase and then when I come home, voila, I have two suitcases. If that seems to be too much trouble or you aren’t a fan of lugging some really heavy bags through DFW, then consider taking a USPS Priority Mail box, the kind that have a preset postage, already stamped and ready to mail home. Fold it flat in your suitcase, then when you get to conference, fill ‘er up. The hotel’s business office will take it off your hands and see that it gets to the mailman. Oh, the tricks of conference! What are your favorite packing light, coming home loaded tricks?

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Two weeks???

I’m off to conference in less than two weeks and I’m completely unprepared. I haven’t done any of the essentials (that is if you believe all the conference chatter going around) that go into conference preparation: primarily shopping for an entire new wardrobe. You might understand my supposed panic if you could see my “business casual.” In my office, that consists primarly of Target t-shirts and sweatpants. Sorry to burst the bubble, but no, I don’t wear designer clothes to write. I can’t even get myself into something cool and hip, say like Lucy sweats. No, I’m a Hanes girl. So to go somewhere and have to “dress” for four days straight is a bit intimidating to this stay-at-home mom, who happens to work a bit when the kids aren’t looking.

I probably wouldn’t care in the least, but I’m rooming with Jane Porter, the Medina style maven, who will be changing outfits three times a day and putting us all to shame with her perfectly coordinated separates and jewelry. I love Jane, but trying to keep up with Jane would be like putting me in the 100 yard Butterfly when I’m more of a 25 yard Freestyle gal. I’ll take my Fifth Place ribbon up front, and make the best of what I’ve got.

Yes, I know I could go shopping, but I inherited my mother’s sensibilities over all this and I see no sense in spending good money to buy outfits I will wear only a few times. (But of course, there is that wicked little voice in the back of my head saying: but you could wear them again at New Jersey, Emerald City and New York.) But I just don’t have the time. Or the inclination.

So this weekend I’ll start digging through the closet, rather akin to dumpster diving, searching for something to wear to my various funtions. Tea on Thursday, Avon Meetings Friday, the Booksigning, more meetings, a reception, the Avon Dinner, Saturday day just hanging out, Saturday night at the Ritas. Not to mention something to travel in that is comfortable and doesn’t immediately slate me for a TSA strip search. Oh, and don’t forget, shoes for all this. Arrgh.

This alone is enough to have me throw in the towel and say, “fuh-get-about-it.” But happily I’ve been to enough conferences to know that it really isn’t what you wear that matters. It is what you say and what you make of the opportunities that come your way that really counts. But we’ll get to that next week.

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My weekend with Henry the VIIIth

Here is the great thing about a healthy TBR. When you need a book, there is always one nearby. I finally got a chance to settle in and read this over the weekend. I’ve had it for ages and glanced at it often, not having the time to commit because it is so long. But the DH was out of town, I was sick, my mom (bless her heart!) took the oldest of the little heroes, left me with the one that doesn’t chatter and has suddenly taken to playing quietly by himself, and I settled into a comfortable chair with a pot of tea and read nonstop.

No surprise that I love reading historical anything. Fiction, research, mysteries, whatever. And I have a real love of the Tudor era, so this was a double treat. I knew very little about Mary Boleyn (Anne Boleyn’s younger sister) but it was an interesting take on of her life, her time as Henry’s mistress and Anne’s subsequent rise and fall from Mary’s point of view. The last time I was in London, I went on a walking tour that started near the Tower of London right at dusk, and the entire area held such an eeirie sense of forboding and history, that as I read the portions of the book set around the Tower, the scenes came vividly alive for me. There is just something about that time period, the reigns of Henry through Elizabeth that must have been a wonder to see or live through (or survive!).

So that was my weekend at Henry’s court. So what’s been in your TBR for awhile that you’ve been looking for the right weekend to dive in?

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History Tidbits . . . Captain Slash

Captain Slash, the infamous highwayman of Northampton, died this day in 1826. He’d been terrorizing vendors at a horse fair in Boughton when he was apprehended and subsequently hung. To get the better of his mother, who had predicted “he would die with his boots on”, he kicked them off just before he was hanged. It is said that the highwayman (that obviously not even a mother could love) now haunts Boughton Church, especially at Christmas. Now there’s a guy you’d really like to sing carols with, eh?

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Next Question: How Are You Going to Change Them?

When you start a book there are two things that are going to happen. You have a story to tell and two people to live with for the next 6-9 months. Two people that you have to like, then you have to turn their lives upside down, torture them a bit and then finally give them the pay off of the happily ever after–but only after they’ve changed.

Yes, changed. Now anyone who’s tried to nudge a man toward leaving the toilet seat down at night can relate to this. It just ain’t easy. No one likes to change. None of us do. We are hardwired with our own self-definition, that idea of who and what we are, and it takes a huge catalyst to get us to shake that self-definition. But what makes good fiction great is watching a character in the process of change, or a re-definition of their self-definition.

So while we make like our characters to begin with, change them we must.

Now here is what I want you to do. Take your hero and heroine and jot down their self-definition. Who do they think they are? What is their deep down definition of who they are? What are the guiding principals of their life? This doesn’t have to be long winded or pages long. Just a sentence or two that defines this character. For LOVE LETTERS FROM A DUKE, Felicity’s begining self-definition was something like this:

I have trained to be a duchess all my life, and I will marry no one less than a duke.

Now here is something to consider: a self-definition is not necessarily true. Don’t we all tell lies to ourselves about ourselves all the time? Felicity is a good example. While she lives her entire life with only the goal of becoming a duchess, the hero will show her that she’s missing the rest of her life by living by such a narrow definition.

Think of the wallflower who daydreams of being the Original. While she sees herself as tongue-tied and clumsy, perhaps the hero discovers her sense of humor, her passionate side, her kindness to others and through his love, she discovers the strength to overcome her former self-definition.

So write down those self-definitions and see how you can change them through the course of your story. Blend these changes into your brainstorming and see if you don’t come up with more ideas for your plot.

And remember, this is the week you start writing. 10 new pages by the end of the week. Nothing to stress over, just 10 pages.

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Levenger, thy name is Temptress


Oh, yeah. Be warned, ye who is tempted by stationery stores, fancy pens and other writing doodads. This is writer crack. Worse than Godiva. When this comes out of the mailbox, my Visa groans. And why wouldn’t it when it holds little wonders like this:

And who wouldn’t be enticed by a leather box. But wait, there is more. You plug the box in the wall. Inside is a little power strip where you can plug in all your assorted charging codes and then your cell phone, PDA, iPod, etc, all rest happily atop it while they get their little power fix. Oh, what will these smart folks at Levenger think of next??

But say you don’t want all your charging cords neatly stored (but then again, if you didn’t you probably wouldn’t have read this far, having decided I am completely off my rocker, or medication, or having inhaled just a few too many paint fumes lately) then you would probably just love this:

Hello! It spins.

Yeah, I had you at hello. Can you imagine all your reference books right there beside you and with a simple spin you have your Roget, your dictionary, your Titles and Forms of Address, or London A to Z. Sigh. Why don’t they just set aside a UPS truck for me.

“Yes, hello. My customer number is . . . ”

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Let's Get This Party Started

Yesterday I started the new book. Of course I made my latte first. Two shots of espresso and steamed nonfat milk go a long way toward getting the muse rolling. Then I grabbed the composition book I’ve been jotting notes in for months, my favorite pencil and a red pen, and got to work. For an entire hour. Because that was all the time I had.

Now the last thing I did was dive right into writing pages. Chapter 1 isn’t even on my mind. And even though I know the basic story, since I had to write a proposal for my editor, I’m not ready yet to start writing. Because when I start writing, I don’t want to spend too much time fussing over the plot or the storyline. And since my proposal was only four paragraphs long, and just the barest of outlines–more query letter than nitty gritty plot–the first task at hand is to sketch out some semblance of plot.

So how do you go from a blank page in a composition notebook to the barebones framework of a book in an hour? With my favorite brainstorming exercise: 20 Things.

And just to make sure I don’t cheat, I make a numbered list, 1-20 and then ask myself, “What are twenty things that could happen in this book?” Then I don’t let myself off the hook until I have ALL 20.

The real benefit of using a List of Twenty doesn’t start to show itself until you get to about 15-18. Those are usually gems. It takes that long to sort through the boring cord wood ideas your mind offers up when you get started. By the time you get to 15, the story is starting to churn to life. The character’s voices rise above that safe and dull editor who writes things like:

  • They kiss
  • They make love
  • They argue

    (By the way, you are allowed to use those in your brainstorming if you need some filler at about 12-14.)

    Now over the next few days, I’ll let those ideas sink in. I’ll tinker with them. I’ll make another List of Twenty, and then another one. All the while building my story bit by bit. And alongside this brainstorming, I’ll start working on my characters. More on that later in the week, as well as getting your research done up front. For now, just think of scenes. What would happen. Don’t dismiss any idea–write them all down. You never know what might work later. We’ll be storyboarding this all out by the end of the week, so get going!

    Time to drive through all those roadblocks, move them out of the way now, so we can get down to the business of writing this book. Even if you are in the middle of a project, consider setting aside the keyboard and working out your own List of 20 for the rest of your book so you can focus entirely on the writing between now and December 1st.

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    Come on, let's all get happy!

    My friend Christina had this tag on her blog for a song that always makes us happy whenever we hear it. And because happiness should always be shared, I tag anyone else who wants to play!

    These are the rules:

    1. Post about the one song that makes your heart sing, and uplifts your spirit every time you hear it. If you can provide a link to lyrics and/or audio that would be fabulous. But, it’s not essential, so don’t worry about it if you can’t.

    2. Include a track back to this post.

    So what is my song? I Can See Clearly Now sung by Jimmy Cliff.

    I suppose living all my life in Seattle has made me a bit of a connoisseur of rain, so when it does give way to sun and if you are lucky, a rainbow, it always make me smile. Any time I hear this song, I just want to get up, dance and celebrate. It fills my heart and makes whatever is making me cranky go away. We should all have songs like this, a personal anthem that gives you a lift. Here is mine:

    I Can See Clearly Now by Jimmy Cliff
    I can see clearly now the rain is gone
    I can see all obstacles in my way
    Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
    It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin’ day
    It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin’ day

    Oh yes, I can make it now the pain is gone
    All of the bad feelings have disappeared
    Here is the rainbow I’ve been praying for
    It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin’ day

    Look all around, there’s nothing but blue skies
    Look straight ahead, there’s nothing but blue skies

    I can see clearly now the rain is gone
    I can see all obstacles in my way
    Here’s the rainbow I’ve been praying for
    It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin’ day
    It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin’ day
    Real, real, real, real bright, bright sunshinin’ day
    Yeah, hey, it’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin’ day

    Want to hear it? Click on Jimmy.

    Now what is yours? Tag someone and make them share as well.

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    Oh, What Was I Thinking??

    So between books, I had this very good plan. Clean out my office–I mean clean it–files, books, old papers, old manuscripts, notes, office supplies–well you get the point.

    And then once I had streamlined the operation, I would move the kids out of their small bedroom into the larger room that was my office. They’d outgrown their shared space, and I was willing to downsize to accomodate them. It all was so magnanamous of me. (Mostly because to go down to the smaller room I would have to get new office furniture. Oh, poor me. Have to go shopping.)

    So I dumped a recycle bin full of old notes and handouts and papers. I got rid of probably 100 books. Cleaned out old office supplies. The mismatched envelopes, the jumble of papers, the odd power cords, the broken scanner. And I was feeling so good about it. Downsizing was good! Packed up the rest, painted the office, and moved the kids in.

    Then all I had to tackle was cleaning their room, paint it and move in. Sounds easy, huh? After all, I’d just knocked out painting a room for the kids in a Saturday… Then I met my Waterloo. Their room proved to be my Chapter 7. I had to clean and clean the walls. Patch the walls. Remember, room that once housed 2 boys. The paint slid all over the walls, necessitating 2 gallons of Raspberry, not the one I’d planned. Another trip to Home Depot. Another coat of paint. Then another. Another trip to Home Depot for primer for the rest of the room, having learned my lesson from Walls A and B. C and D are going to be Pineapple Fizz and I wasn’t going to let this Fruit filled haven of mine turn into my own personal Smoothie from Hell.

    My two days of cleaning and painting have turned into 5. And here I sit, with a half painted office, no furniture and working on the dining room table, surrounded by boxes. And last night, as I was peeling back the blue painter’s tape and the paint was also peeling like a banana up the walls, I wondered at my sanity. I mean, what was I thinking? All this hard work, and I was behind schedule, the Behr paint was being a real bear to get up on the walls (and to get it to stay there) and I just wanted my old office back. My old life. Change was not the golden ticket that I thought it was going to be.

    Right then and there I realized how much I have learned by writing books. Books take months to write. They take planning, they take inspiration, they take sweat equity to get through the tough parts. AS I said above, I’d hit Chapter 7. The smack middle of the book where the story stops looking appealing, the characters annoying and the story nothing but a pile of jumbled ideas that make no sense.

    And so I did what every writer does when they hit that point. I got up this morning, took a deep breath, and remembered why I’d wanted to do this so badly. Because the boys needed the space. Because I wanted to clean out and have a smaller haven. A spot in this house that was my girlie bit of heaven in this land of men that I live in. I remembered that bit of inspiration I had in April, and that wonderful feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you know you are on to something. So with a roller in hand, I put up the primer I hadn’t planned on, and continued to say good things to my new office.

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    The Plan

    Ah yes, the infamous Plan. Be prepared to be dazzled, awed, shake with fear in your creative boots. I know I did when I committed to doing this. And now it is your turn.

    I suppose you might like some background on “The Plan.” Well, I’d write my books and my husband would ask, “When is it going to be done?” As in, are you going to make your deadline, OR how much longer do I have to spend the weekends with kids in tow so you can finish that $#%^$ thing. You get the idea. And worst of all, my books would be late. Weeks late. Not a good thing. Never a good thing in publishing.

    So last fall while the Dh and I were out at dinner and I was fussing about the tight deadlines Avon wanted from me, he offered to help, because this is what he does for a living. Big project management. How hard could getting me on course be? If ever a writer felt the cold hand of death on her shoulder it was me. I mean how could this go well? The last thing I wanted was my writing to be was managed by my husband. But in the interest of marital well being, I agreed. Oh, his project management heart sang with joy. And thus was born The Plan.

    And I have to admit, it works.

    So without any further ado, let’s get started.

    1) Get out your calendar. All of your calenders. Work, kids, family, domestic slug who interferes. And then print out a blank calendar from Outlook. Or get yourself your own writing diary. Take a good, honest look at everything. When do the kids have school holidays? When are going comitted to going to your cousin’s wedding? Vacation? Work projects that will keep you at work longer hours. Now mark off every day you WON’T be writing. This is were you really need to be honest. And no “I’ll make up the time in October.” Believe me, you won’t have the time.

    2) Now count up the days and approximate hours you’ll have to write. Again, be honest. Even though I “write full time,” that never means a 40 hour week. More like a 10-25 hour week. Because I have small kids who need to be chauffered. Constantly. So you have to be very honest about the time commitment you can make.

    3) Now factor in how many pages you know you can write in an hour. Now this is where it will get tricky. Because last fall I told Terry, without any hesitation, I could write 5-7 pages an hour. And I can. When it is all mapped out and I am rolling along. On a good day. What I failed to factor in, and had failed for years to consider, was the time I spend pre-writing. Sitting down with what I have written and my outline for the story and mapping out the next 20 pages, the next 10 pages, the next scene. Oh, yeah. That time. After five months on The Plan, I made the wretching discovery that my actual page production was 2.8 pages per hour. Not even a full three pages. Remember that cold hand? Feel it now?

    I know, I know. Honesty in writing. Such a novel concept. But you have to be very honest about your process to make this all work. And I’d been kidding myself for years because I never counted the plotting and planning and prewriting time as “real writing.” But it is as much of my process as the time I spend tapping away on my Alphasmart.

    Since you probably can’t get as accurate as I finally did–the only way to start off is to give it your best guess, and then track all your time and pages in the next few months and you’ll have you per hour rate.

    4) With all that in mind, consider how you write. I burn though a first draft, and then, on average spend 8-10 weeks revising and reworking those pages. Going through about three full edits before I am satisfied with the book. Some people like to write along and edit as they go, so that when they get to The End, they are truly done. So when I look at the calendar and start to map out the time I need, I start in December and start counting back. So I need to be done with the draft by the end of September. Between now and September 30th, I need to get about 300 pages written. Not perfect pages, just get the story down and written in a cohesive fashion.

    4) Now, let’s put it all together. Open up a spreadsheet, or draw yourself a chart. In the first column, (DATE) put every Sunday between now and December 1st (or whatever deadline you prefer). In the second column, (HOURS) using your calendar, commit to the number of writing hours you can make for that week, and in the third column, (PAGES). Now make three more columns, under the heading ACTUAL. This is your check in. You have to log in what you actually got that week, and the moment you start to fall off, you have to catch up. That next week. No ifs, ands, or buts. I make myself get up an hour earlier until I am caught up. Believe me, that alarm going off at 5 will really motivate the pages out of you so you can sleep in the next week.

    And there it is. The Plan. Simple, straightforward, yet horribly daunting. But be not afraid. Just get your Plan together. And share here what are the things (or people) that keep you from writing. What obstacles stand in your way over the next 6 months? Come on, be honest here. Unload your excuses so we all can myth bust them together and get focused on writing.

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