Write On, Wednesday: Playing with Cards

By Leslie Lindsay  (image source: www.benzinga.com 5.22.13)

Yesterday I booked a trip to Vegas, so it’s no surprise I have been in my kitchen playing cards.  And what the hell does that have to do with the price of tea in China…or writing for that matter? 

The trip is to celebrate the wedding of a childhood friend and the cards well, they have nothing to do with gambling and everything to do with something just as risky–my first novel. 

Affectionally, I refer to myself a ‘pantser,’ that is someone who writes by the seat of her pants.  I don’t plot.  I don’t like it.  I feel it stifles the creative process, rather than juicing them up (my critique partner claims plotting excites her to delve into the story).  I like to deliberate and then get hit with a burst of inspiration I can’t possibly let slip by. 

So when my completed Slippery Slope had some holes and a few too many overall words (doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron…how can a story have holes and be too long?  Beats me), my critique partner determined it was time for me to “pull out the cards.”  As in Tarot cards?  Nah…those are in my story, but not in my real life. 

I painstakenly sat at my laptop, a stack of pastel colored notecards at my side and went through my manuscript chapter by chapter, almost word-by-word.  I assigned a color to each main POV character and then other colors for backstory, section headings, etc.  Here’s how the chips fell (sorry, can’t get out of that gambling metaphor): 

  • Main POV female character is pink
  • Main POV male character is blue
  • Random tertiary character is yellow
  • Female backstory is purple
  • Male backstory is green
  • Section headings/quotes are white

This afternoon, I spread them out on my kitchen island and studied them.  In my hand, I held several cards (for note taking) and a sheet of tiny smiley face stickers. 

Soccer spring 2013 037 Soccer spring 2013 038

  • Red face = cut &/or severely revise
  • Green face = BATP (big-ass turning point)
  • Yellow face = I really like this, even if it’s not relevant.  And sometimes the yellow and green overlapped.  When that happened, I cheered!
  • But the problem is, there are a lot of cards that are left blank.  Meaning, they have plot points on them, but I am not sure if I like it, if it needs to be cut, if it’s even relevant.  Some of those cards are just transition chapters…and do they need to stay?  I don’t know yet. 

Now the big task of weeding out those chapters with the red sticker.  You’d think that would be easy, but not really.  It’s not that I don’t want to cut some of my work, it’s just that well–it impacts the flow I thought I developed. 

In the end, it working with the cards was a little madening, but it did help to be able to look at things as a big picture and then be able to manipulate them (by moving around my counter top, stopping to scrutinize) and the ones that are crud…well, they just may go to Vegas.

Write on, Wednesday!

For more information, look to the July/August 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest, specifically the article, “5 things Novelists Can Learn from Screenwriters.” I just did.  Here’s what the author, Scott Atkinson says: 

“A story can be built in scenes.  Some novelists start on page one and knock out a daily word count until they type “the end.”  But if that doesn’t work for you, don’t worry.  It doesn’t work for [screenwriter], either.  He never starts on page 1 of a screenplay.  He starts with the basic theme and overall journey–what screenwriters call controlling idea–and lets it come together, scene by scene–and not necessarily in order. 

He thinks, “What am trying to write about?….You may have some ideas for scenes and you jot them down as quickly as possible, and start to imagine where they might fall into that mauscript/screenplay.  And then gradually you start piecing tigehter a collage of those things either on cards or colored pencils, in a notebook, or on a piece of paper, and then you start figuring out what happens when.”

***Be sure to LIKE my Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/LeslieALindsay1?ref=hl***

In My Brain Today: All in 7 Days

By Leslie Lindsay In My Brain Today: Random thoughts by Leslie Lindsay

I’m so glad tomorrow’s Friday. Well, kind of. Saturday is my daughter’s BD and then Sunday is recovery day and I won’t have Caribou to do it at. : (  Because, if you are a coffee store nut like me, you’ll know that the Caribou Corporation was bought out by another company who decided to throw the baby out with the bath water.  80 stores closed their doors, leaving 800 employees job-less.  This place was my life.  I know, it sounds really cheesy, but it was a big source of community for me.  (See bullet point about a 1/3 of the way down).

And speaking of bullets, (kind of), what about the Boston bombing.  Tragic.  My heart really goes out to these folks. 

So, here’s what’s going on in this corner of the world: 

  • Huge build-up, let-down, whatever you want to call it with finishing the mss and then going right to conference.
  • Of course, I learned a ton and had fun…but
  • My head is about to explode with new information and
  • I still haven’t had a chance to go through my conference materials.
  • And then the agent I pitched to said ‘no.’
  • Not a big deal really. I will revise and pitch/query some more.
  • Upon return, the house was a mess. Well, not really. Just not up to “Leslie Standards”
  • The weather was nice, so I got inspired to do some spring cleaning. I probably took it too far : )
  • And then Caribou closed. We said 12 years worth of good-byes Sunday and brought home a chair which I plan to get a little plaque engraved “Leslie’s butt sat here for many, many, many hours toiling away on her books.”Write on, Wednesday:  Decontrusting a Novel
  • Oh, and my foot hurts due to plantar fasciatas. Really, really badly. I need a podiatrist but don’t know of anyone.  But I did place a random call to someone today.  Maybe they are good, maybe not. 
  • So I suffer and whine and can’t get to the gym. And then I get fat.
  • My hound dog has emergent eye issues. She spent a very spendy night at a pet hospital. They can’t help her.
  • We go to 1 of 300 Veterinary opthamologists in the entire US and learn she is blind in the right eye.
  • I pay more money to allievate her pain and pick up about 4 different medications I am to administer to her eyeballs 4 times a day. For always.  (Till the hound kicks the bucket, which I am really hoping doesn’t happen anytime soon.  She’s my partner in crime). 
  • Sally (the hound) doesn’t mind, as long as we remember to give her table scraps.
  • But her *vet* minds, Wow–she’s a hefty little thing!” (my eyeroll).Pups and Such 077
  • And then today, the roads are significantly flooded, obstructing nearly all routes into and out of our neighborhood.
  • Water flows like grand rapids in our back yard. We now have lakefront property. It’s muddy and brown and full of bacteria, but who cares? The kids sure as heck don’t as they pull out air mattresses and hockey sticks to go “boating.” Mine just stand around and watch–and wish–they were part of the spectacle. I cancel all evening activities so I can stay home with
  • A screaming banshee of an almost 8yo who was 100% completely disrespectful to her dad when he suggests she choose a game for family game night. “NO! I don’t *want* to.”
  • She threatens to run away from home, getting into the minivan and telling me it would now be her home.
  • Until I have to drive it.
  • When I ask if I can have her BD gifts, she comes inside.

No writing. I’ve barely touched my FB, blog, Twitter, or email. I wonder if it even matters? I think I am making all the difference in the world by sending my thoughts into the world wide web, but in reality, I wonder if it does matter?


My  home office is a mess and I don’t want to clean it. I can’t tell you how many papers are piled around me. (school registration, summer camp, special needs at school), I just want to crawl under a rock and stay there for a really long time.

Okay, I ready for Calgon to take me away. 

My hubby says it’s normal to feel like this after a big project is done. I screw my lips and stare at him like he has a third eyeball. “No, really honey…I feel like that at work. It’s hard to dive back into things. You need a break. That’s normal.”

Not me. I’m practically perfect in every way…or says Mary Poppins. I’d like to *think* I am perfect, but alas I am not. (image source: www.starpulse.com)
So, I am going to pull myself together after I’ve had a tub of cookie dough and finish reading something for pleasure. Yay—an accomplishment!!

Tomorrow will be better.

And that is what is in my mind today, Thurday April 18th 2013.

Write On, Wednesday: Planning to Pitch

By Leslie Lindsay Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

I have been toiling away on this novel of mine for some time now.  On and off for about four years now.  Geesh…you’d think I’d just give up already.  Well, in the meantime I published another book (non-fiction–see side bar) and it’s doing quite well–a finalist in the Reader’s Choice Awards (hey–we writer’s gotta toot our own horns sometimes). 

Here are some things I am grappling with as I approach ‘pitch time:’

  • I guess I think I’m good-enough to get published, which seems very um…well, conceited… overly confident?  I don’t know…I don’t like either term.  But I will tell you that there is something deep down inside of me that wants to get a book into the hands of readers.  More of a drive, a personal challenge, something I can’t help but do because I am a writer.
  • The art of writing a novel feels very self-indulgent.  Cringe.  I hate that, too.  What got inside my head and whispered, “Write a novel?”  Call a it muse, or “successful schizophernia” as Jodi Picoult refers to hearing the voices of her characters.  But for, it’s a drive.  I can’t not write.  It’s just a part of who I am and who I’ll always be.  I have these stories and these character who show themselves to me and I have to get it down. 
  • And then I wonder if I am good enough.  See number 1 above.  It’s a vicious cycle.

So, this weekend I am planning a little get-a-way to the UofW-Madison for a pitch planning session.  I’m a nervous mess.  Well, sort of.  My novel isn’t finished and so that keeps the nerves at bay.  But you see…that also increases  my anxiety.  The book.  Isn’t.  Finished.  When my husband thoughtfully asked me how I was going to pitch the book this weekend, I clammed up.  My face went white.  “I don’t have to,” I said.  “I am only going to learn how to pitch.  The actual pitch is in a month.” 

 He nodded and patted my shoulder.  “Well, honey.  I am very proud of you.” 

I smiled. 

And now I am rolling up my sleeves to crank that baby out. 

Here’s a quote I will leave you with, “Those writers who are good are constantly questioning themselves.  The ones who aren’t any good, are overly confident.”  ~ Mary Karr, American author/poet. 

Write on, Wednesday!

Coming up on “Write On”:

  • Pitch Practice Basics, a summary of my time in Madison, WI
  • Setting up your writing space, with tips from  my almost-8yo daughter
  • A review of various Bestselling Authors from the book, “Why We Write.” 

Write on, Wednesday: Being Inspired thru the Holidays

By Leslie LindsayWrite On, Wednesday:  Creating a World So Believable Your Critique Partners Think You're Having an Affair

I find that my writing time and inspiration is starting to diminish as I get more involved with the holidays.  I bet I not alone.  While my time may be limited and my talents used in other arenas (I’m  a mean gift wrapper, decorator, etc.), I am still finding time to be inspired for when I do have the time to sit down and pound out that novel. 

Here’s what I mean:

  • Can’t afford everything in those Pottery Barn catalogs that clog your mailbox?  No problem.  Clip the things you like best and use them for worldbuilding your next (or current) project.  Likewise for the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogs…so you don’t really need an ultra-sonic foot massager?  Maybe your protagonist does. 
  • Add some savory details to your work-in-progress by using descriptions from common household spices.  “Her coat was the color of crushed red pepper/ground cinnamon.” …The cold creamy spice of a glass of eggnog…how about describing the taste of those German potato pancakes? 
  • Likewise, you can tap into your natural environment:  What does it smell like when you stop at a roadside tree lot?  Take a jaunt to the Wisconsin/Michigan/Minnesota woods to chop down your Christmas tree?  Can you use that in your work?  How about describing the stench and impatience of sweaty bodies in a crowded post office? 
  • Evesdrop on anyone and everyone.  At the grocery store check-out line, at the bank, at the mall.   You will be amazed at what you can weave into your novel…here are a few of my recent favorites:  “I can feel my arteries clogging just from smelling all of the butter in this place.”  …. “Do you know that when you cry tears of sorrow, your body actually releases toxins not found in tears of joy or happiness?”…. “You may have some pent-up emotional energy in your neck or shoulders…when you get a massage, you should scream and let it all out…you may feel better emtionally and physically.” 
  • If you read children’s holiday books aloud to your children/students, take notice as to how the author works with words.  Is there a fun rhythm or cadence you can emulate in  your own work?  How does the author show emotion?  Can you borrow one of the character’s names for your own character?  Holiday songs can work in this same manner.  “Oh the weather outside is frightful…” [okay, not a good opening line for a book, but you get the idea]  Books (image source: http://www.scjohnson.com/en/family/family-economics/post.aspx?date=10-11-15&title=Christmas-Book-Collecting)
  • Really strapped for time?  Seems all you can muster at your computer is a glimpse at Facebook or Pinterest?  Keep track of what you like and find.  Today’s idea: crafting a Christmas tree out of a stack of books.  Wrap a few strings of lights around them and bingo-presto!!–a display for your bookstore-owning protagonist, whose store is aptly named after her children, Reid and Paige.  (Yep, that is an idea of mine for a future novel…just haven’t figured out the conflict yet). 
  • Watch those cheesy holiday movies, television specials, and televised events like parades and choirs.  It’s good research if you, say need a wholesome Hallmark moment to depict, or have never been to the St. Olaf Christmas Choir.  Larger view (image source: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/03/17/regional-spotlight-st-olaf-choir/)
  • Go see “The Nutcracker” or “A Christmas Carol” on the stage.   How do the characters dress?  Can you recreate something similar in your novel?  The glimmer of her pink organza tutu may show up in your mystery.  You never know.
  • When all else fails, make sure you are reading.  You may not be as voracious as usual, but keep a book with you at all times.  The good writing will park itself into your subconscious, breeding little words for when it is time to sit down at your computer and do some serious writing. 

In the meantime, Write on Wedenesday!

Write on Wednesday: Agents, Agents–Here’s my Story!

By Leslie Lindsay 

I have been busy writing today ..so busy I almost forgot to pound out a blog post!  Yesterday, I was waaay too busy volunteering in my kindergartner’s library and managing all of the day-to-day things that a 2nd grader and her little sister have going to write something for “The Teacher is Talking.”  Oops–guess I get a failing grade for that.  Alas, I am back. 

And since I am working at shaping my novel for an agent’s eyes, I thought I’d let you in a little on that process.  First of all: it’s hard.  Second of all: it’s not easy.  Redundant?  Yep. 

After I did all of my “mom duties” for the day, I told my hubby over the phone, “Yep, gonna head to Caribou to work on my novel.”  He replied, “Well, it seems like an ideal day to do that…it’s dreary and you’ll be able to hole-up in a cozy coffee shop.” He makes it sound like a vacation.  And in some sense, he’s right:  I do like to write.  And I do like coffee shops.  So, what’s to worry about? 

Turns out, a lot. 

First, there’s the synopsis, a 2-3 page complete summary of the novel, including the ending. 

Next, the back-jacket blurb.  Similar to the summary, not not nearly as long.  Look at the backjackets of your favorite books.  How are they laid out?  What do you like about them?  What makes you want to pick up that book and read it?  Make notes.  Then try your hand at crafting your own for your novel.  Not so easy.

Then, you need to sell this idea to an agent.  In a one-page letter, “the query.”  Quick, snappy, fun.  Show off all of your good writing skills and breathe life into that novel.  This is the first peek someone in the publishing industry will have of your novel.  Make it good.  No pressure.  Read these winning query letters from recently published books and be inspired.  http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/successful-query-letters

And then there’s that darn manuscript.  You know, that jumble of words and letters and chapters that make up your novel.  Well, you need to polish up that sucker and make it real purdy so when that big time New York agent is wow-ed by your query, you got it in the bag.  Because they will ask to see at least the first three chapters if interested–and sometimes the whole darn thing. 

Which begs the next question:  “what are the guidelines for formatting a manuscript?”  According to Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript (WD Books),  

  • 1″ margin on all sides
  • Add title page
  • Begin by numbering the first page of text of the book, usually introduction, prologue, or chapter 1.  But don’t number the title page. 
  • Each page should have a header that includes your name, the title of the novel IN ALL CAPS, and page number
  • Start each chapter on its own page, one-third of the way down the page
  • The chapter number and title (if you use them here) should be in ALL CAPS, separated by two hyphens or a dash.  Example:  CHAPTER 1–THE BODY
  • Begin the body of the chapter 4-6 lines below the chapter title. 
  • Indent 5 spaces for each new paragraph
  • Double-space all text
  • Use standard font (Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier), 12-point type.

Note that guidelines vary from agent to agent, market to market (genre).  Be sure to visit your intended agent’s website to make sure you have all of the guidelines in place.  Then, get on it.  But when you use the above suggestions, you are in the right ballpark.  It will ensure your manuscript (ms or mss) is clean, neat, and won’t be rejected because youwere sloppy.  And by all means, try not to be cutesy.  Funky fonts or goofy graphics rarely wow agents.

So, what are you waiting for?!  Write on, Wednesday!

Write On, Wednesday: Inspiration in all the Wrong Places

By Leslie LindsayKeep Calm Poster: Writing Inspiration (by TeddyAndTaft)(image  (by TeddyAndTaft)

We writers look for inspiration in just about everything we do–and everyplace we go.  So, it isn’t all that unusal that I am finding inspiration in all of the wrong places.  Let me explain:

Just this week, the latest Ballard Designs catalog landed in my mailbox.  I haven’t taken the time to flip through it till this morning.  There on page 8 of the catalog is a little ditty about first impressions (it has to do with your entryway/front porch).  Since my book opens with a knock on the door, this was perfect.  Also perfect is that my female character later declares that she is giving up her pharmaceutical sales rep career in favor of becoming a decorator.  I think I just may borrow and recreate a similar statement for my character as the one in the Ballard catalog.  See what I mean about inspiration?

And then last night, reading a book to my kids, I come across all kinds of great alliteration and onomatopoeias….skitter, scurry, skate, slitherthe book was sort of a t0ngue-twister about seeds and flowers no less, but hey–it stoked the ol’ creative brain/word bank. 

Finally, on the way to drop my kids off at day camp this morning, another inspiration when I looked up at the back of a home as I drove past–a tiny window on the third floor, beckoning an attic office.  I think I need to incorporate that in my prose somehow. 

You see…inspiration can come at you in all the wrong places…but it works!

Write on, Wednesday!

For more inspiration on onomatopoeias, see: