Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Writing in Chunks!

I'm sure you guys have noticed that I've been spending a lot of time lately discussing my muse and how hard it is to keep it in line.  My muse often comes and goes when it feels like it and I am always looking for a way to force it to stick around for a little while.

Well this week I attended a workshop taught by the AMAZING Allie Pleiter about her book "The Chunky Method Handbook".

The workshop seriously blew me away.  I was able to discover what kind of writer I was (according to the "Chunky Method") and how best to maximize by productivity.  Part of the method involved learning how to actually give your muse "marching orders".  Imagine me actually being able to tell my muse when I wanted to work and how long!

I won't give away too much about the workshop, but I will say, BUY THE BOOK! (  And then after you've bought the book, join her newsletter and access her resource library.  There are so many amazing author tools in there that I am seriously starting to put into use.  

Thank you Allie for the workshop that I really needed.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Tips for Productivity (When It Won't Come)

When you have a big job to do, how do you get in the right headspace to do it?  Does it come naturally to you or are you easily distractible (like me!) and need to have a set, quiet place to do your work?

There are so many things that decide what is and isn’t productive at any moment of the day, and I usually don’t care whether my productivity is writing based or not.  Until it needs to be and I can’t get myself into a headspace to actually write.

Luckily I have several ways that help me out (and most of them work in the end):

1)     Start diffusing Peppermint or Lemon Oils to get my head clear and happy.  There isn’t anything magical per se about these two oils beyond the fact that they are my favorite smells, but Lemon is known for its relaxing properties and help with memory loss.

2)      I open a window and let fresh air in.  Yes, I do this while diffusing, too.  It drives my husband crazy, but the smells and presence of fresh air relaxes me.

3)      I put on noise cancelling ear buds.  No music.  No audio at all.  Just blessed silence…or the sound of me talking to myself as a work my way through a scene.

4)      I start word vomiting.  It isn’t my favorite method of writing, but sometimes I just need to get my fingers moving.  I’ll pick a scene that isn’t connected to the last thing that I wrote and give myself ten minutes to just write as many words as I can on that scene.  Afterward I’ll go back and look at the place I was before and see if I’ve got my writer’s block out of my system.

5)      I use Freedom.  It’s an App that Julia Quinn turned me on to a few years ago.  It turns off all or some of your internet accessibility for a set amount of time so you can just focus on writing.  I have found that this comes in handy for solo word sprints as it uses a hidden timer function that only pops up when the timer goes off.

Now that you all know my secrets, I am off to use a few of them to coax my muse out of hiding.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Finish the Sentence!!!

Continuing on with the theme of "Writing While Distracted"...

Have you ever been so in the zone that the words seem to be flowing out of your fingers rather than your brain?  This is how I get on Monday's when I participate in my Virtual Writing Social.  For thirty minutes I forget about where I am and what happened during the day and simply write whatever I am working on that week.  It is a glorious feeling and rarely do I fail in getting at least 500 words clocked of during these sessions.

The down side?  When the thirty minutes is up and we are called away from our writing, it can be disappointing to walk away from your muse.  My muse is pretty finicky and doesn't really like to be "called upon" on a whim.  They (yes my muse is non-binary) is either ready to write, or they're not.  

This past Monday I was super into my writing.  I had a bumpy start, but my muse decided about 5 minutes in that they were willing to do their work and had me pumping out 700 words by the end of the 30 (really 25) minutes.  When the music to end out writing popped up I was shocked out of my writing and my muse fled in fear that I would chain them to my computer or something.  

I reported my words, made my goals for the next week and then shut my computer for the night.  Since my muse was gone, I wasn't going to sit around banging my head against the desk for any longer.  The next day, when I went to open my laptop and continue on when I left off I realized that I had made the biggest mistake a writer could make.


And it wasn't even a very telling sentence either.  Just the words "It sounded a lot"...  What the heck was I supposed to do with that?  I went back and read the previous paragraph, and then the one before that.  I read the whole chapter up until that point, but still nothing occurred to me as to what I could have been thinking about at the time.

Currently my muse is playing hide and seek with me and has yet to give me a glimmer of inspiration as to how to fix this problem, so I am now forced to do the unthinkable...  I am going to have to delete that half a sentence and come at it from a new angle.  (It was the Mailman's idea, so blame him!)

I'm sure I'll be able to coax my muse out of hiding at some point today or tomorrow...hopefully...because seriously I have like 4.5k words left toward my weekly goal!  Until then I just be over here throwing words at the paper until something sticks.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Writing Through Distractions (I.E. COVID Life)

Many of you know that I am an educator at the elementary level.  Right now, work looks a lot different for me that it typically would.  The bonus side to this "different" is that I have more flexible hours to spend writing and editing.  The downside is that I am not the only one with more flexible hours.

I am the mom to two boys who have been having mixed reactions to this quarantine.  On the one hand they love all of the free time to spend on games and with the neighbors (socially distanced), but on the other hand they hate the lack of actual structure to school.  Since we have started we have "forgotten" more classes than we've actually attended, and there is little drive to do the work since it isn't being "graded".

What this means for me is that I have a bored teen and pre-teen on my hands for the foreseeable future who are starting to get on each other's nerves and/or looking for things to entertain themselves that may involve Mom needing to oversee...or at least check out the cool stuff.

Case in point, this morning we found snake eggs!  At least I am pretty sure they are snake eggs as they were found in the bare dirt, no where near a nest and in a spot that couldn't really be explained by them falling from somewhere.  When they were found I was getting ready to sit down and write for a couple of hours, but I wanted to check on a project The Mailman has been working on in the front yard.  I stopped for a minute to look at a rose bush that was finally starting to produce when low and behold I noticed a scattering of eggs.

So yes!  I was the one who found the eggs, but the Youngest took off like a shot to show every flipping neighbor kid we have.  And then after I post about it on Facebook, I get distracted again reading all of the hilarious comments.  Then - when I finally think I am in the clear and can write - one of the eggs break and I NEED to inspect the remains to see if it's a snake or a bird (like I'm an expert in this field or something).

I did eventually get back to my writing and managed to get quite a bit done, but this cycle has been pretty consistent since the beginning of this mess.  Either "cool stuff" happens or "melt downs" happen.  There is very little peace in between.

 One cool way I did learn to combat distraction, or at least keep to a set of achievable goals is creating a really cool tool called a "Kanban Board".  I was able to sit in on a presentation with Asa Maria Bradley recently as she walked us through the elements and uses of Kanban Boards.  At first I was a little hesitant because I would be able to stick to the structure, but then it dawned on me that I wasn't getting graded for presentation.  If I modified it for my own purposes no one was going to come to my house and say "Take that down!"  I was wholly free to put up the board however best worked for me.

So I created one major goal (Increase My Backlist) with two projects and a side goal (Build My Social Media Presence).  With that in mind I built my board on my bathroom door with Washi Tape and Super Sticky Notes.  In the nearly two weeks since I've had it up I've written over 10,000 words on a project I was thoroughly stuck on, and I've managed to create a social media schedule that works with my life.

Now if I could only find something to fix the kids' boredom...

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A New Adventure with Lots of Promise

Sometimes you don't know when life is going to throw something in your lap that  A couple years ago I wrote an Erotic Romance on a sort of Challenge/Dare with one of my writer friends.  I was having difficulty with intimate scenes and she pretty much challenged me to write an entire book that contained a sex scene in every chapter.  I wrote it as part of Nanowrimo 2018, but then I just left it.  No edits.  No going back.  I figured I would publish it one day when I was ready.  But I wasn't in a space that I could think about it right then.

Fast forward to March 2020.  So many things happened all at once that even a couple of months removed it is hard to make sense of it all.  Of course the biggest event was the Covid-19 Pandemic that has shut down all schools in the U.S., forcing me to work from home on top of making sure my two less than focused boys got their own education.  

In the middle of all of this the tragic news came that my Grandmother was dying.  My family called in the troops and we all came marching like good little soldiers to the bedside of our beloved matriarch.  We all took turns sitting with her and making sure she was never alone during this difficult time, but as happens at all sickbeds, there is a lot of down time when the patient is sleeping.

It was during this down time that I clicked on the Erotic Romance and decided that the time had finally come.  I started editing.  And editing.  And editing.  For hours at a time I sat pouring over this story and making it what I figured it should be.

Then on March 27th, near midnight, I pressed publish.  The next day, on March 28, 2020  I Know You, my very first title under Christina McGaughey came into the world, and my darling Grandma left it.

I chose the name because that was my Grandmother's maiden name.  She was one of my very first readers when I first started publishing, so I wanted to honor her.  I told her before she got too sick what I was going to do, and she laughed, saying "You should probably spell it correctly," referencing the fact that her grandfather had changed the spelling of their name after a family dispute.  At her request I returned the name to its original spelling.

In the days following, I started creating logos and thinking along the lines of rebranding.  I figured all of that would be in the future though.  This was just a way to mourn and get through some tough times.  This was all about me grieving.  

Except, something else happened.  I Know You started selling.  People started reading it, and enjoying it, and recommending it.  I even got a 5-star review!  Suddenly I was faced with the idea of having two brands to juggle and no clear path to promote both.  Thus my decision to combine them under the "Chris Mac Romance" brand.

I will still be writing books under Chris McFarland, in fact I am currently working on Jenny and Aidan's book, but hopefully, if you like your romance spicy and a little bit different, you will give my Christina McGaughey books a try.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Release Day Reflections - Building On A Promise

I finally did it!  I finally earned my seventh bird.  

The story behind the bird is, when I got my tattoo in July 2017, the artist accidentally put one too many birds on my arm.  I didn't catch the mistake until I was already home, but the birds signify how many books I have published.  At the time I had only published six, but since I was working on number seven, I didn't think it would be much of a problem.

And that was where I was wrong!

Sometimes, the hardest part about writing is giving yourself enough room to fail without actually giving up.  Unfortunately, I miscalculated that balance last year...BIG TIME!  I was frustrated with how hard the story was coming, and how quiet the characters were being.  I had a lot on my plate personally, so I decided that giving myself a break would be the right thing to do.

But then I didn't come back.

I made excuses as to why I needed more time away.  I set other priorities and busied myself with trivial matters that led to unhealthy habits.  Sadly, it wasn't just my writing that started to suffer, it was my own identity.  I started to question who I really was and what I wanted out of life.  I was in a full blown depression spiral.

Now a couple things about me personally really quick. 1) I have major anxiety.  2) I am probably on the Autism Spectrum, though I am not interested in being diagnosed. (Both my kids have been diagnosed, so it really wouldn't change my life)  These two elements combined means that I don't do well with chaos.  And that was exactly what my life had become.

Then in June I got the kick in the pants I needed.  A long time writer friend, Jane Charles (whom I had only met a handful of times, but had become a kindred spirit over the years), visited Oregon and we went on a self-guided Winery Tour.

During this tour Jane asked the very blunt question I needed to be asked.

"Why haven't you written anything new in over a year?"

I had no good answer.  So her response to my mutterings was, "Finish the damn book!"

So that was the commitment I made.  I was going to finish the "damn" book.  But first I had to figure out why I stopped writing it to begin with.

And the answer was actually pretty simple.  I HATED my outline.  I felt confined by it and it was exhausting thinking about how to go about fixing that.  But as I had made a commitment, so I was going to fix the problem whether I liked it or not.

So I set aside all of my previous work and started from scratch.  I tweaked a couple of plot holes and reconstructed a road I had originally wanted to take with my story, and pretty soon, the words were flowing again.  The outline had been a dam, and tearing it down was the difference I needed.

By the time Nanowrimo rolled around I knew that I had an outline I was going to conquer.  This year for Nanowrimo I made my goal less about reaching my 50,000 words and more about just finishing this work in progress.

And I did it!

Granted, I was far from done, but the largest hurdle was behind me.  It took me a couple more months to get through my edits and get it out to my Beta Reader, but in the end the results were encouraging.  I was back where I wanted to be and reinvigorated to write more.  My Beta Reader even told me that I couldn't wait as long as I did to finish the next books (there was something about my health being at risk...but I think she was joking...I hope.)

Either way, book number seven is out there for the world to see, and book number eight is in progress.

Thank you all for your support through all of this, and don't forget to leave a review if you pick up a copy of my book!

Amazon | Kobo | B&N | Smashwords

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Art of Switching Computers (and What That Does To Your Writing Groove)

I got a new computer!!!!

There was nothing wrong with my old laptop.  It wasn't bogging down, or crashing, or dropping my work left right and center.  The screen wasn't cracked (as my previous laptop was), nor was the mouse jumping all over the screen like a crackhead on the first.  In fact I still loved it and probably would have been happy with it for years to come.

So why did I need to get a new one, you may be asking?

Well, here's the thing.  I wasn't the one who needed a new laptop.  I wasn't the one who's cracked their screen by placing an earbud on the keyboard, forgetting about it, and then slamming it shut.  I wasn't the one running an outdated operating system that barely supported Minecraft and crashed every time Roblox was loaded.

Are you starting to guess who the biggest benefactor of this new computer is?

That's right.  The Spare.  My adorably brilliant youngest son will be inheriting my old laptop, which DOES support Minecraft and DOESN'T crash on Roblox.  He'll now be able to watch videos, play games, and do his homework on his own dedicated machine instead of having to share time with an older brother that sometimes likes to play the dictator over everything that he sees as HIS.

Don't worry, Mr. Postman is getting a new machine, too.  So the Heir is actually getting a gaming laptop for his personal use.  No feelings will be hurt in this upgrading of technology.

Now the downside to getting a new laptop is setting it up.  You have to meticulously go through your old laptop, find all of the programs that you use, set them up on the new laptop, and hope to God that you remember the password to that one program you use religiously, but haven't actually used the password in three years.

And then we've come to the real productivity killer...file transfers.  You start combing through all of your old pictures and documents, making sure you actually need them all, and suddenly you are sucked into a time vacuum where all you do is re-read story ideas you haven't thought about in five years, or look at baby pictures from that time your oldest peed all over your mother's new sofa after a bath (yes, I took pictures...don't judge me!).

After you've finally gotten all of that done, you've flashed your old laptop to factory default, and you've set up your browser to exactly how you want it, the time has come to actually write something.  So you sit down at your desk...


I serious spent ten minutes looking at the keyboard like it was a foreign entity.  It wasn't like I bought the computer sight unseen.  I actually sat down at the store and typed out a hundred words on three different laptops before settling on this one.  I researched everything I could understand and then had Mr. Postman research everything else.  I spent two days looking at laptops in the store after extensively looking for them online for over a week.  We still spent over an hour before making the final decision.  So this laptop was not supposed to be foreign to me.

Yet, it was always going to be.  This was not my old, familiar laptop that I had written nearly all of my books on.  It didn't have the familiar feel or the B-button that sticks.  It didn't make the familiar whirring sound or have the overly worn-out click pad.

But I only gave myself ten minutes.  Then I got to work.  This post is actually the first thing I've written on this computer, and I've found it a good introduction.  So...yay for new technology, boo for distractions, and woo hoo for getting back to work!