All Hail the Glorious Outline!

This week brought about an excellent opportunity to break out my Happy Dance Shoes and kick up my heels in ecstatic, delirious, over-the-moon-with-elation joy because The Outline is complete.

Advanced Happy Dancing

Advanced Happy Dancing

As you may remember, several weeks ago I had to break the sad news that Book Three of my fantasy series will not be published this year as promised. Okay, this was only sad news to the three people who read my books, but still we don’t need any more sadness heaped on this world, do we?

The problem was that after Book Two I only had a vague notion of where the rest of the series was headed. Vague as in, “I know how it ends but I don’t know how to get to the ending.” I wanted to cover several story lines but had no clue of how they would tie together, which could end up making the series just a mish mash of re-imagined myths, not a well-rounded story.

I thought I could push through and continue cobbling together Book Three hoping everything would fall into place, but it just wasn’t. I realized, with some advice from my social media world, I needed to set everything aside and get things sorted out. I needed an outline, and not just the half-page outline per book that I had, but a full outline from beginning to end.


First Steps in a Looonnnnnngggg Process

The first course of action was to create a timeline for myself. This was going to be a lot of tedious work. Work that couldn’t be done in a single day, or even in a week, but work that I wanted to complete prior to The Vacation. So, I created an eight-week plan listing each step that HAD to be done.

Ugh again.

The next step? Conduct a little interview…with myself. Part of my problem was that I had oodles of unanswered questions and plot lines that needed addressed. So, like any good journalist, I wrote out every hard-hitting question I could think of and then didn’t let my interviewee relent until all those questions had been answered in depth. The result was twelve handwritten pages of answers…I felt like I was back in school doing an essay test.

The hard-hitting questions waiting for answers!

The hard-hitting questions waiting for answers!

However, I left my exam/interview feeling much more aware of where my series needed to go and what the characters needed to do to get themselves there. Yay!!

Who Are You And What Are You Doing Here?

To create a complete outline, I knew I needed to understand what my characters would be up to over the course of the series. So, next on the to-do list was to list every single character I could think of (from gods to humans, and monsters to titans). I ended up with over 80 characters…all of whom would get their own outline.

Triple ugh.

There was no way around it; I jumped in with a plan to complete the outline of four characters each day. Amazingly, I stuck to this plan and managed to finish this “pre-outline” in a few weeks.

Oh No, Now What?

I was now down to the scary part. I had to turn all those character outlines into The Big Outline. To be honest, I had no idea how to do it. I knew I had to figure out what should happen in each book (there’s four more to write), but I had 45 pages of character outlines to organize. Impossible, right?

For a while my brain simply shut down.

Suddenly, my brain started working again (could have been the three cups of coffee) and I started jotting down mini-outlines for each of a few major story lines. I then meshed together these mini-outlines to figure out an overall sequences of events.

Licketty split, I had the events that needed to happen in each book sorted out. I then broke out my trusty set of colored pens, assigned each remaining book a color and set about to put a color-coded check mark next to every line in my character outlines. All this in a single day’s work!

Colored pens, vital for any project.

Colored pens, vital for any project.

Why, Why Was I So Thorough?!!

Unfortunately, to have something that would be easier to work from, I needed to convert those 45 pages of outline into something more user-friendly. So, line by line, page by page, I transcribed everything onto notecards.

I ended up with a two and a half inch-thick stack of cards and the whole time I was cursing myself for being so thorough with those damn character outlines! I now thoroughly appreciate all the monks in the Dark Ages who transcribed giant tomes in an effort to preserve and share knowledge. Thank you monks.

That's a lot of notecards. Sorry trees :((

That’s a lot of notecards. Sorry trees :((

The best news, though? I finished everything a week ahead of schedule!!! Talk about a reason for a Happy Dance!

Next Steps

Besides going out and planting a few dozen trees to make up for all the paper I’ve used, my next step is to simply put everything aside. I know from experience that I will not get any writing done on vacation (believe me, I’ve tried), so the cards will have to stew until I get back. Then, hopefully my efforts will be worth it and the next four books will fall into place a bit more smoothly.

Any major accomplishments for you this week? How do you approach a huge and scary task? Go ahead and share in a comment or simply join me and this YouTube kitten in a Happy Dance!



Creative Writing 101 With Kurt Vonnegut

Ever since I decided to read Breakfast of Champions in high school literature class instead of whatever bland tome the teacher had assigned, I have loved reading anything by Kurt Vonnegut. (By the way, the teacher, a Vonnegut fan himself, let me get away with – and even encouraged – my little protest.) From Slaughterhouse Five to Sirens of Titan to Galapagos, Vonnegut’s work has shown up repeatedly on my to-read (and to-read-again) lists.

Writing Class with Vonnegut? Sign me up!

Among many other jobs Vonnegut held before jumping into and struggling with writing full time, was a short bit as an English teacher. Can you imagine?! Unfortunately, Vonnegut died in 2007, so unless we can get a modern-age Dr. Frankenstein to reanimate Kurt, there’s no longer an opportunity for him to teach us his writerly ways.

Or is there? Continue reading

Papa’s Writing Advice

I hadn’t planned on doing much of a writing post for this week’s Writing Wednesday, but sometimes the blog gods play nice and toss me a bit of blog-o-rific inspiration to share with you. And that little doggy bone of inspiration showed up in the pages of Hemingway as I was doing a bit of reading this morning.

Writers on Writing

If you do a quick web search for “writing advice” you’ll come across millions (643 million came up just now) of results and many of those results will be from writers offering up their own advice on how they approach their work (I’ve been known to do this myself).

Still, do you want to take advice from some nobody who needs to fill up free blog space to stay active on Google’s search results, or do you want to take advice from successful, well-known writers whose writing skills have proven themselves? I usually go with the successful folks, and so do many other writers.

Image from

Image from

One of the most popular books on writing is Stephen King’s not-so-cleverly book titled On Writing. In writing surveys and forums, On Writing often takes the cake for its easy-to-understand tips. And I have to agree, of the writing advice books I would recommend, On Writing is definitely at the top of my list.

But even though On Writing is a short, perhaps you don’t want to read a whole book. Perhaps you just want to get down to the nitty-gritty of what it takes to write.

Leave it to the master of being concise to give you just that.

Ernest Hemingway’s Writing Advice

Whether you like him or hate him as a person, it’s hard to get away from the fact that Hemingway is an amazing writer with a gift for dropping you into a world without wasting a word. In A Moveable Feast, he has a single paragraph brimming with writing advice that any writer should heed.

And while I call this “advice” I kind of picture Papa Hemingway gruffly stating these words then adding, “This is how it is, don’t argue with me.”

“…I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.”

This is excellent advice. Don’t stop until you’ve written something (anything) for the day and don’t finish a scene. Instead, stop work for the day at a point where you know how the rest of a scene will play out. That way you’ll have a catalyst for your next writing session. Okay, but what if you’re working on something new? Well…

Image from

Image from

“…sometimes when I was starting a new story and could not get it going…I would stand and look out over the rooftops of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say….”

Can’t argue with that. But what is “one true sentence”? What if you’re writing fiction? Well, then that one true sentence should be a “true” sentence about your character, your plot, or your setting. A true sentence is simple; it’s a statement and little more. Hemingway goes on to explain that when he tries to start out with a elaborate or complex he basically ends up scrapping that work.

Because really, once you get that first sentence out, somehow the ink manages to keep on flowing. And often just getting the words onto the paper is the hardest part of writing. Once you have your story down, then you can go back to the lengthier bits of advice and hone what you have before you, but writing advice won’t do you any good if you have nothing written.

Image from notable

Image from notable

Vonnegut also has some excellent and concise writing advice, perhaps that will be the inspiration for next week’s writing post! See you then.

What’s your favorite tidbit of writing advice? On the flip side, got any terrible writing tips you’ve received? 

* * *


The Forgotten Query That Must Be Remembered

No, that’s not the title of a new fantasy novel, although it does have a nice Lord-of-the-Rings-You-Shall-Not-Pass ring to it. Instead, the Forgotten Query That Must Be Remembered was my most recent writing dilemma and one I hope to never have again.

The Backstory

Last March I was asked to do a presentation on my book Going Native: Small Steps to a Healthy Garden. I am NOT a public speaker, but I am also not one to turn down a chance to market my book. I managed to get through the speech without throwing up and, thanks to my note cards, without sounding (too much) like a raving idiot. Continue reading

6 SEO Tips for the SEOblivious Blogger

While I really enjoy my gadgets, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge techie. I can sort out a little HTML coding to create a link or add a Paypal button, and I often get the privilege of having a computer handed over to me as my husband says, “What am I doing wrong?” when it doesn’t do what he expects. When it comes to SEO, I have a fair grasp of the basics and I figured I might as well share them you since I have no writing woes to throw at you this week.

What Makes Me the Expert?

Okay, I’m no expert. Let’s just clear that up right away. However, like my obsessive habit of tracking packages whenever I’m emailed a tracking number for something I’ve ordered, I love tracking my website stats. And those stats show an interesting thing: The majority of my visitors come from search engines.

Yes, despite wasting gobs of time on Twitter and Facebook (and Google+ and LinkedIn to a lesser extent), most people who stumble their way into my website have tripped over something left on the floor of a Google or Yahoo search. And since SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, clearly I’ve done something to optimize my website for search engines….which is kind of cool, but makes me wonder what I could be achieving if I didn’t waste so much time on social media.

A Bit About SEO

Continue reading