Wrapping Up ROW80 & Looking Ahead to 2015

I hope your Hanukkah, Christmas, or other holidays were peaceful and enjoyable. For those who struggled with the holidays this year due to hardships in their lives, my heart goes out to you. I pray that everyone faces a hopeful year in 2015.

But here at year’s end, I’m doing a little wrapping up and looking ahead for me, my writing, and my blog.

ROW80LogocopyFinal ROW80 Check-in

It’s been years now that I’ve been involved in A Round of Words in 80 Days. I’m aware of other writing challenges, but I like this one particularly because it’s flexible to the participant and the season. Writers set their own goals for a round that last 80 days, and then report their progress and receive encouragement from others.

I haven’t been quite as on top of ROW80 this time as I like to be. But I did participate once again, and here’s my final report.

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I edited both, but I need more feedback from critique partners before polishing and publishing. Thus, these releases will happen after the first of the year.

2. Read 12 books. I read 10 books. And I’m still trying to get through Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Honestly, if this one hadn’t tripped me up, I’d have made my goal. I feel bad about my slow progress, but Mansfield Park is often named as Austen’s least engaging novel and it involves a lot of telling and dialogue — more than I recall in her other works. Yes, yes, that’s all rationalizing, but I have sworn to myself that I will finish this book and I plan to make it through before the end of this year.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. I completed Immersion, made necessary edits based on what I learned there, and have only a couple of scenes to fix to be completely done. In addition, at the encouragement of Immersion mates and others, I entered my manuscript in the Golden Heart contest.

2015Looking Ahead to 2015

It’s good to take a look back and where you’ve been and what you can improve, but I don’t believe in dwelling there. Take stock, sure, but then look ahead to what’s next.

So here’s my overall list of writing goals for the New Year:

1. Revamp my website. Yes, I’ve done this before, but I’ve never been supremely happy with how it’s all going here. In fact, I wrote not that long ago on Blogging: What’s the Point? I’ve had some ideas stirring around in my head for months, but I haven’t had time to get to them. I’m planning to change that in 2015 and reboot the blog.

2. Publish three paranormal short stories. I have three more short stories to put out for my Paranormal Playground series. I’ll be releasing those, hopefully in the first half of 2015.

3. Publish “Color Me Happy.” This young adult contemporary short story was published in an anthology, but I’d like to publish it as a single as well. I’m aiming for perhaps a summer release.

4. Query Sharing Hunter. This contemporary young adult novel has been my heart’s work in 2014, and I believe it’s ready to go out to agents and publishers. It’s already been sent out a few times, but it’s in better shape now and I’m eager to query my manuscript.

5. Edit The Year of Firsts (working title). I wrote this middle grade novel a couple of years ago, then let the draft sit. I like the story and the characters, but after much thought, I’ve decided to edit it into a young adult novel. Of course, that means more like rewrite than edit, but I think this will be a great follow-up project. (And yeah, I no longer like that title, so I’ll be trying out new ones.)

6. Serve as RWA chapter officer. Next year, I am the vice president of special events for my RWA chapter. Some moments, I think I was crazy to agree to add another item to my already full plate, and other moments, I’m really excited to get to do this job. Wish me luck!

Perhaps I’ll get even more done in 2015. But I’m keeping my list right there for now.

What have you accomplished this past year? What are you looking forward to doing in the New Year?

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5 Questions to Ask before Querying

WRITERS IN THE STORM
WRITERS IN THE STORM

Today, I’m over at the fabulous Writers in the Storm blog with Are You Ready to Query?

I’ve come to enjoy pitching my story to agents. Not because I’ve landed a seven-book, multi-million-dollar deal, but because I relish the opportunity to talk about my book and learn how to better present my story. The feedback I’ve received has helped me hone the answer to “Am I ready to query?” Here are five questions you should ask before sending out a query. Read More.

ROW80 Update

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I edited both, and I’m waiting on a critique partner’s comments on one. Realistically, these releases will happen after the first of the year.

2. Read 12 books. Read The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, which puts me at 10 books. And I’m really trying to read Mansfield Park, one of the few Jane Austen novels I haven’t read, but I am dragging through it. I’ve even thought about skipping the book and watching whatever BBC series there is on the story. Is that lame?

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. I completed Immersion, and I’m still plugging through edits on Sharing Hunter. Make really good progress! Oh, and I entered the Golden Heart contest, which opened up on December 2.

Now how’s your week been? What have you been up to?

Lucky 7 & An Unlucky Fairy Godmother

One of my very favorite indie authors, Kait Nolan, tagged me for the Lucky 7 challenge. The rules?

Go to page 7 or 77 in your current WIP.

  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 sentence or 7 lines — as they are!
  • Tag 7 people and do the same

A Little Fairy Dust coverSo here’s my entry from page 7 of A Little Fairy Dust, the next short story coming out (hopefully) in August! Faye is a fairy godmother in training, Jet is her ex, and she gets caught working a little magic.

“What is it, Faye?”

“Why should I tell you?” I dropped my caught-off-guard tone and moved to my he’s-still-a-liar tone. He’d hid plenty from me, so whatever I was up to was none of his business.

“Because you might be doing something else to sabotage the team.”

“Something else? What did I do before?”

Jet tilted his head and held up his casted hand, like it was a smoking gun.

“I didn’t do that,” I answered. “You punched the wall.”

[Now imagine a serious, booming voice.] “Why did Jet punch the wall? Why is he blaming Faye? Is Faye sabotaging the football team? Why is this guy named after a plane?

“Find out when you read A Little Fairy Dust — coming soon!” 🙂

ROW80 Goals

It’s time again to announce my goals for the next round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Last round, I set only five goals and did reasonably well reaching them. I’m going to keep it streamlined once again.

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. I’m already making better progress on this, by the way.

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. Release dates will probably be mid-August and late September.

3. Read 12 books. This remains a good number for me, and my reading will include both fiction and nonfiction.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. The conference is July 23-26.

That’s it! A few specific goals that are do-able, yet stretch me all the same.

I am forgoing sponsor duty this time around, since summers are kind of crazy for me, but I’m glad to stay involved. ROW80 has been a boost to my work productivity and a great chance to support other authors. If you’re a writer looking for some inspiration, motivation, and/or accountability, check it out here.

How’s your writing or your week gone? What goals have you set for yourself? And, just for fun, who’s your favorite fairy in fiction?

Editing Tips I Learned the Hard Way

Red PenMy writing goals this year include quite a bit of editing, since I have several novels and short stories written but not yet ready for query or publication. Having wrestled with manuscripts in the past, I’m sharing a few editing tips I’ve learned. The hard way.

Don’t edit words you’re going to throw out. I’ve made the mistake of going chapter by chapter in an early manuscript and polishing my words to a shine. And then, in the third or fourth pass, I look at a passage or a chapter and think, “What the heck is this doing for the story?” I suddenly realize that these words don’t move the story along and need to go. It’s hard to throw away pages and pages that you’ve written, but even harder to throw away those hours you spend editing the pages until they glistened like Christmas.

Of course, you should still throw them away if they don’t add to the story. But editing experts suggest you first read a draft and look for plot holes, character issues, story structure, etc. — deleting unnecessary sentences, paragraphs, passages, and chapters — and then move to the sentence-by-sentence editing. 

Know your weaknesses. Through the marvelous Deep EDITS system taught by writing coach Margie Lawson, I learned that I tend to skimp on setting. If I’d written The Lord of the Rings (a particularly descriptive novel), my setting passages might have been: “Hobbit. Green Shire. Underground home.” ACTION!  That’s not enough, y’all. Since I now know this weakness, I check each scene for at least enough setting to orient the reader and character descriptions when a new person arrives in the story.

I’m also given to overuse of certain words and phrases, like “just,” “that,” and “I wondered.” So I hunt those down and mercilessly prune.

Early on, I missed these personal shortcomings. But through deep editing, listening to quality beta readers and critique partners, and reading up on common manuscript issues, I’ve discovered and accepted my weaknesses. Now I can be on the lookout as I edit.

Read it aloud. Without a doubt, this is one of the best editing tips I’ve ever received. I ignored it at first, though, wondering how much of a difference there could be between reading in your head and through your mouth.

When I finally tried it, I was amazed at the difference. Reading and hearing the words at the same time, a writer can catch problems not otherwise revealed.

At the very least, you should read your dialogue aloud to check for authenticity, rhythm, and flow. It can reveal such issues as stilted dialogue, losing track of who’s saying what, and unrealistic phrasing (like characters calling each other by name every other paragraph, when no one does that in real life). I always read the dialogue now, but I try to read the whole manuscript aloud at some point.

Believe it: Every word matters. I just finished reading the last of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy by Maggie Steifvater. Some people ask if learning a lot about writing ruins the read for you (like knowing how sausage is made makes you less likely to eat it). I don’t find that at all. Indeed, I’m in awe of how beautifully and seamlessly Maggie’s writing lifts off the page and captures my attention. Now and then, I do pause long enough to say, “Well done, Maggie.” But mostly, I’m sucked into the story so deep my gut twists every time a main character emotes. Why is her writing so compelling? Why is any excellent writing so compelling?

It’s the attention to every sentence, every phrase, every word. Choosing this word instead of that one changes the rhythm, the cadence, the mood. Describing a character one way instead of another reveals something about the narrator. Ensuring that every sentence pulls its weight removes the burden from the reader and allows her to get caught up in the story itself.

Dig deep. Work hard. Every word matters.

ROW80 Update

Every inch of progress matters as well — whether it’s personal development or professional goals. Our lives should be journeys of improving ourselves and the world around us.

I don’t know how much good I did the world this last week — I don’t think I harmed anything — but I definitely made some progress on my ROW80 writing goals.

1. Read 12 books. This week I read Happy Wives Club by Fawn Weaver (nonfiction) and Forever by Maggie Stiefvater (fiction). Check.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. I edited two short stories this week and wrote one scene for another. Check.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. So happy to take on this delightful role again! Indeed, I checked in on my people and saw some great goals and enthusiasm for this Round of Words in 80 Days. I also drafted my sponsor post. Check.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery. Edited (at that bigger-issue level) 118 pages, my goal being to cover at least 30 pages each day. Check.

So what editing tips do you have? What have you learned from others or learned the hard way? And how was your week?

Wrapping Up the Year and ROW80

2013 Year in ReviewWelcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I share something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. This particular post is about what I’ve learned this year as a writer — my accomplishments, my setbacks, and my ongoing challenges and goals.

Throughout the year, I’ve signed up for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life from Kait Nolan. Each 80-day round allows writers to set their own goals, check in once or twice a week, and share their achievements and struggles. Fellow participants provide encouragement and accountability.

Following are my particular goals this round and what I accomplished. I didn’t complete all of the goals, but I want to focus on what I did get done.

1. Finish YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, by completing three chapters each week.

  • Replotted Sharing Hunter with a better plot points and a synopsis.
  • Wrote/rewrote several chapters in Sharing Hunter, in line with the replot (and loved how it was finally coming together!).
  • Revisited and researched archetypes to make sure all of my characters have a darn good purpose in this novel. Streamlined the character list and introduced one new character.

2. Take Short Stories 101 course from Young Adult RWA.

  • Took the short story course and wrote a young adult paranormal short.
  • Wrote two more YA paranormal short stories.
  • Edited one of those stories thoroughly.
  • Edited the other two stories somewhat.
  • Laid out a publication schedule for the stories in 2014 and consulted with a potential illustrator about book covers.

3. 10 fiction books and 2 nonfiction books. 

  • Read 9 fiction books: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer; A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers; Dangerous and Unseemly by K.B. Owen; Taking Chances by S.J. Maylee; Haunted Spouse by Heather MacAllister; Real Vampires Have Curves by Gerry Bartlett; Shiver and Linger by Maggie Stiefvater; and Scandal in the Night by Elizabeth Essex.
  • Read 3 nonfiction books: Breasts by Florence Williams; Competability: Solving Problems in Your Multi-Cat Household by Amy Shojai; Grace-Filled Marriage by Tim Kimmel.

What else did I accomplish this past year?

  • Took an Internet Security for Writers course from WANA International
  • Attended DFW Writers’ Conference
  • Participated in Immersion Class from Lawson Academy (Margie Lawson, writing coach)
  • Wrestled with Sharing Hunter several times over, but on the right track now
  • Found a fabulous critique partner in my area
  • Wrote a paranormal short story; edited and polished it to publication-ready (not one mentioned above)
  • Visited three Houston-area chapters of Romance Writers of America
  • Joined the Houston Bay Area RWA
  • Took a short story course from the Young Adult RWA chapter
  • Wrote 116 blog posts
  • Read 42 Books (my list on Goodreads)
  • Copy edited a few projects
  • And the plot bunnies (yeah, I started a few, but maybe these aren’t exactly accomplishments)

My kids put real perspective on all of this, however, when they say, “Where’s your published book?” 😀 I simply reply, “Working on it!”

Yet, I can see that I truly am. What doesn’t show in the numbers is that my writing ability and confidence have vastly improved in the past few years. When I first began writing, I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t. Not really.

Now when I write, and read back over my output, I know it’s better — much closer to the good stuff on bookstore shelves — and I don’t wish to merely write books, but rather to write engaging books.

Also, what doesn’t show here are the successes of fellow authors whom I’ve been happy to cheer on! Congratulations for the debut releases of fellow author friends and the ongoing success of the multi-published. The writing community has been a serendipitous discovery along my journey! I couldn’t ask for better people in my corner.

My current goals for 2014 include:

  • Finish, edit, polish, and query Sharing Hunter, young-adult contemporary with romance
  • Edit, polish, and query Good & Guilty, young-adult mystery
  • Enter at least three RWA contests
  • Attend RWA Conference in San Antonio in July
  • Complete and self-publish 4-6 young adult paranormal short stories
  • Read 50 books
  • Post at least once a week on blog
  • Draft sequel to Good & Guilty

And that’s it: my year in review and looking forward. I hope it didn’t bore you to hear what I’ve been up to. Personally, I often find inspiration in what others have done and are doing.

How was your year? What do you have planned for 2014?

Top 10 Christmas Movies

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I share something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

Last night, I did something I’d never done: I watched A Christmas Story (1983). Yep, the movie where Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.

Since its release, I’ve had numerous people tell me that it’s a must-see, a classic! Yet somehow I managed to make it 30 years without seeing A Christmas Story. And now, here’s my summary of the experience:

Didn’t like it.

Before you start throwing tomatoes and insisting I get my head checked: (1) I’m thrilled others enjoyed it. Hey, different strokes for different folks, right? (2) I was not alone, as my whole family was unimpressed.

But that got me to thinking about people’s favorite Christmas movies — how they run the gamut from sweet tales to quirky comedy to action-packed. Below is my Top 10 list, and hope you’ll share your favorites in the comments.

10. Die Hard (1988). Hostage-taking at the office Christmas party isn’t a typical holiday theme. Yet this film does not disappoint with its action-packed story of New York cop John McClane fending off terrorists to save his estranged wife and her coworkers — through smart strategy and sheer grit. And like any good Christmas story, the naughty get their “lumps of coal” in the end.

9. The Santa Clause (1994). I was prepared not to like this movie, since Tim Allen seems to fare better on television than film. But for me, this was a winsome tale of a man stuck with the unenviable job of substituting for Santa. In the process, he learns a lot about his family and himself.

8. Gremlins (1984). Released just one year after A Christmas Story, I definitely caught this one on screen when it came out and at least twice since. A teenage son gets an unusual Christmas present from his father, a “gremlin,” along with three instructions for its care: Don’t expose the gremlin to bright light, don’t get it wet, and never, ever feed it after midnight. All three rules eventually get broken, and chaos ensues. The film is less scary than fun, but a classic in my book.

7. White Christmas (1954). I’m a sucker for musicals. While I also love Holiday Inn (1942), this musical seems to address Christmas more specifically. Also, I have a real fondness for Danny Kaye and adore hearing Rosemary Clooney sing. What’s the plot? Song-and-dance men, sister act, they get together, blah, blah. Really, it’s not so much the story as the engaging characters and the wonderful music.

6. The Family Man (2000). Single and successful Jack Campbell wakes up on Christmas morning to find himself married with children. It’s the classic alternate-timeline story, where Jack gets to see what his life would have been if he’d made different decisions along the way. Starring Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni, this film is a heartwarming tale about what really matters.

5. The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Haven’t heard of The Shop Around the Corner? Sure, you have. It was called You’ve Got Mail (1998) — in the popular, updated remake. The original stars Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as gift shop employees who can’t stand one another at work, but fall in love as pen pals. The twosome get together during the Christmas holidays.

4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Miracle on 34th Street is the quintessential Christmas movie. Doris Walker needs a Santa to fill in for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and recruits a man who calls himself Kris Kringle. Walker thinks the whole Santa deal is a lot of hooey and won’t allow her daughter Susan to believe such nonsense. But when Kris Kringle claims to the be the real Santa Claus, Walker must decide what she really believes about Christmas.

3. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). From the interesting mind of Tim Burton comes an animated Christmas movie unlike any other I’ve seen. I loved it! Jack Skellington, king of Halloweentown, is tired of being all about his holiday and decides to hijack Christmas instead. He’s sure he can pull it off and enlists the help of other Halloweentown residents, but Christmas isn’t quite the same that year.

2. While You Were Sleeping (1995). Lucy is tired of being alone, even on holidays. Unbeknownst to him, she’s in love with one of her toll booth customers. When he slips into a coma, she’s mistaken for his fiancée and welcomed with open arms into his family and their holiday plans. But there’s this brother . . . Anyway, the story unfolds all around Christmastime, and Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullham are the couple to root for throughout.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Yes, I know it’s cliché, but I don’t care. There’s a reason this film tops many Christmas movie lists — because it’s terrific. With the help of an angel, George Bailey gets his Christmas Eve wish: to have never been born. When he gets a glimpse of life in Bedford Falls without him, George realizes how great his life really is and how much he wants to live it. I’ve watched this movie more times than I can count and smile like a dope every single time that bell ornament rings because the angel got his wings.

To be fair about my list, I’ve never seen National Lampoon: Christmas Vacation, Elf, Polar Express, Love Actually, Home Alone, Scrooged, or Bad Santa. And I’m sure there are a few others I’ve missed.

Now for my second-to-last update for A Round of Words in 80 Days.

ROW80 Update

1. Finish YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, by completing three chapters each week. In my final update next week, I’ll be focusing on my progress, not banging myself over the head for not getting this one done. There are reasons — some even good reasons — why this hasn’t happened.

2. Take Short Stories 101 course from Young Adult RWA. Took the course, wrote two short stories, and now in the midst of a third. I’ll be self-publishing these young adult paranormal stories in 2014.

3. 10 1 1/2 fiction books and 2 -1 nonfiction books. I’m halfway through Linger by Maggie Stiefvalter, the second in her Wolves of Mercy Falls series.

How is your holiday season going? What have you accomplished lately? And what are your favorite Christmas movies?

Should You Gift These Books for the Holidays?

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I share something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

Well, my recent labyrinth has been Christmas shopping, and I’ve gotten lost somewhere among the hedges. Yoo-hoo! Do you see me?! Somehow or other, I’ll get out of here. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share a few gifts ideas that I came across while online shopping at ThinkGeek.com (which is a really cool site, by the way). I wonder if anyone you know could use one of these books:

Cookbook cover The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook: From Lamb Stew to “Groosling”–More than 150 Recipes Inspired by the Hunger Games Trilogy by Emily Ansara Baines. Before now, I was simply worried about being able to actually kill anything with my bow and arrow that I didn’t consider how to make my prey taste good when I got it home. Now I realize what an important step I overlooked.

Babies cover Experimenting with Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid by Shaun Gallagher. I thought that’s what YouTube was for. But apparently, there are real science experiments you can use to “test your baby’s ability to understand and interact with the world around them.” Ah, now that sounds so much better.

Hungry Zombie cover The Very Hungry Zombie: A Parody by Michael Teitelbaum. In case you’re getting tired of reading and re-reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to your kids, you can always switch over to this book. Same principle really. The zombie eats and eats and never feels full. I wonder what the punchline is, though. What is this zombie’s “leaf”?

And speaking of things you can do to your kids . . . 

Traumatize cover How to Traumatize Your Children: 7 Proven Methods to Help You Screw Up Your Kids Deliberately and With Skill by Bradley R. Hughes. I’m glad he included the subtitle, because I wouldn’t be interested if the methods weren’t proven or didn’t require skill. Actually, this book is a warning to not be those parents who totally screw up their kids. I’m personally okay with embarrassing my children, but not traumatizing them for life.

And now speaking of books . . . 

Here’s this writer’s weekly progress report for A Round of Words in 80 Days.

ROW80 Update

1. Finish YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, by completing three chapters each week. Wrote. Not enough.

2. Take Short Stories 101 course from Young Adult RWA. Took the course and wrote two short stories. They each need some editing and polish, but I plan to publish them in 2014.

3. 10 2 fiction books and 2 -1 nonfiction books. I read Scandal in the Night by Elizabeth Essex, the third in her Reckless Brides series.

Also read this round: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers, Dangerous and Unseemly by K.B. Owen, Taking Chances by S.J. Maylee, Haunted Spouse by Heather MacAllister, Real Vampires Have Curves by Gerry Bartlett, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (all fiction), and Breasts by Florence Williams and Competability: Solving Problems in Your Multi-Cat Household by Amy Shojai; and Grace-Filled Marriage by Tim Kimmel (nonfiction).

Honestly, this isn’t nearly enough progress for me this week. If I explained how much I got done on some other needed projects, maybe it wouldn’t sound so bad. Yet we have less than two weeks left in this round, and I want to get a lot more done this coming week and finish strong.

So what odd books have you seen on the shelves this holiday season? Would you like any of the books above? And how has your week gone?

Getting into the Christmas Spirit, or Fighting My Inner Grinch

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I share something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

Here’s a doozy I’ve learned: Not everyone really likes the holiday season.

Say, for instance, me.

I do eventually get excited about Christmas, but it’s often about a week before the holiday arrives. Meanwhile, there has been a flurry of activity around me for weeks — what with decorations and displays, Christmas cards, Santa in the mall, well-wishes of “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!” from store employees and Salvation Army bell ringers, holiday-themed shows and movies, everyone‘s renditions of Christmas carols playing on the radio, and invitations to holiday parties. Compared to people who adore these long weeks of holiday cheer, I’m like the Grinch.

Grinch

Every Who
Down in Who-ville
Liked Christmas a lot…

But the Grinch,
Who lived just North of Who-ville,
Did NOT!

I’m pretty sure I live South of Who-ville, but still . . . I struggle to get all that excited about Christmas.

So this year, I have a plan! After all, I don’t want to be in the same camp with creatures whose hearts are “two sizes too small.” I’m really a nice person — just not a holiday person. Anyway, here’s my strategy for getting into the Christmas spirit, or fighting my Inner Grinch:

Only Christmas music I like. Rather than groaning at Johnny Mathis songs or wondering why the latest one-hit pop wonder must record their own (bad) version of “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” I will find and play holiday music that I love. I’ll load up my iPod with a Christmas playlist that puts a smile on my face and a skip in my feet. I’ll collect the best of the best and download songs guaranteed to infuse me with holiday happiness.

Simple decorations. My pre-lit tree will go up today, and I will hang decorations on the tree and around the house that are simple and pretty. My husband already put up the outside lights (what a guy!), so we’re good on that front. But anything that doesn’t really add to the holiday spirit of my house can stay in the storage box this year.

Less mall, more Etsy. All too often, I get sucked into hunting down the perfect gift for someone in the overcrowded mall where I spent 20 minutes just finding a parking space. Or I end up standing at the gift card kiosk in the grocery store, trying to decide whether the restaurant card or the clothing store card would be better for someone on my list.

I want more personal, well-considered gifts for my loved ones. So while I’ve done a little shopping in regular stores or popular online retailers, I’ve been looking for different gifts this year, items that are unusual or customized or exactly the kind of thing I can see X falling in love with. Even the gift cards are based on the location and personality of the recipient (like from a local business where they live).

Quality time with my favorite people. Thankfully, I have a lot of favorite people, so I shouldn’t have a hard time filling my dance card, so to speak. But the holidays always seem to end up as a long to-do list to check off with me focusing on tasks rather than people. Instead, I want to carve out time to hang out with those I enjoy and let them know how much I enjoy them.

This may involve fewer gifts purchased and more family drives to look at lights or hosting people in my home (and not worrying about the mess) or watching holiday movies with friends and family. But it’s a season of blessings, and I want to savor the blessings of the wonderful people I have in my life.

Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas early this year. It never fails. Just when I think I’m going to push right through December 25 with my Inner Grinch intact, A Charlie Brown Christmas airs and I’m knocked from naysayer to caroler in less than a half hour. “Hark the herald angels sing!” So this year, I won’t wait. I’ll start the season with the Peanuts gang and get in the holiday mood.

Now let’s get into the A Round of Words in 80 Days mood. Here’s this Sunday’s progress report.

ROW80 Update

1. Finish YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, by completing three chapters each week. I did work on this, though not all three chapters. I spent a while researching archetypes, a la Christopher Vogler, to get more clarity for a specific character, which took me off track from the writing but is likely to beef up the story and save me time in the long run.

2. Take Short Stories 101 course from Young Adult RWA. Not only did I take the course and then write, edit, and polish a young adult short story, I wrote another. Yep, this past week I completed the first draft of another teen paranormal short. I took an idea I’d had for a novel a couple of years ago and switched it to a short story plot. I absolutely love how it came together! So, 13,000+ words on that front.

3. 10 3 fiction books and 2 -1 nonfiction books. I finished Grace-Filled Marriage by Tim Kimmel, the third nonfiction book I’ve read this round. I also read Real Vampires Have Curves by Gerry Bartlett and then Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.

Also read this round: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers, Dangerous and Unseemly by K.B. Owen, Taking Chances by S.J. Maylee, Haunted Spouse by Heather MacAllister (all fiction), and Breasts by Florence Williams and Competability: Solving Problems in Your Multi-Cat Household by Amy Shojai (nonfiction).

Do you battle “Inner Grinch” syndrome? What do you do to get into the holiday spirit? And how was your first week of December?

If the holidays really are a difficult time for you (and they are for many), author Kassandra Lamb has some great suggestions in her recent blog post, Bah Hambug Deux.

How Fast Do You Type?

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. Today the subject is how fast you type.

As a writer, it’s helpful to be able to type quickly. One’s thoughts usually flow faster than one’s fingers across a keyboard, and when you get that right sentence in your head, you want to slap it on the page as quickly as possible.

I first took typing in 9th grade, when it was offered as a high school course. (Do they do that now?) We sat at IBM Selectrics typing jjjj, ffff, other letters, and then short paragraphs, and finally one-page documents. I got all the way up to 45 words per minute (wpm).

Not very fast.

But enough for me to get my first secretary job while in college. In fact, I worked several secretary jobs in college and as a legal assistant after I graduated. While some of me (okay, a lot of me) wishes I’d started writing at age 20, I look back and think it wasn’t such a waste to have all those years of typing, typing, typing.

Because my best typing test score, many years ago, was a whopping 104 wpm.

On an IBM Selectric.

Selectric typewriter
IBM Selectric
Pic by Oliver Kurmis Quelle
via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been wondering how fast I type now. Perhaps I’ve dropped in speed, or maybe I’ve gotten faster. Maybe I could even approach my mother’s amazing 120 wpm. (It’s a sight to behold.) So I went hunting for good typing tests on the web.

I tried several out for y’all, and here’s the one I liked the best: TypingTest.com. Head over there and see how you do.

As for me, I’m slower now. But not by much.

Still, you’d think as fast as I type, I’d have eight books out by now! 😉

ROW80

Speaking of those books, here are my goals for the upcoming A Round of Words in 80 Days:

  • Edit/rewrite SHARING HUNTER, a YA contemporary novel.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit.
  • Read 10 fiction books.
  • Finish craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. (I read the first half last round.)
  • Visit and comment on five ROW80 blog posts per week.
  • Attend at least one RWA meeting.

So how’s your typing these days? Do you think you’re faster or slower than before? If you’re willing to share, what was your typing speed?

Words that Begin with F for 2013 and #ROW80

I teach children’s Bible classes. One year I drafted a curriculum for 9-11 year olds with principles for dealing with the bombardment of inappropriate messages to kids: Foundation, Fortress, Filter, Focus, Friends. While explaining the course to a fellow teacher, I said that I was using F-words for each lesson.

She flinched, and I immediately caught my error. Thenceforth, I made certain at all times to refer to the list as “words that begin with F.”

I had a similar realization when I was thinking about resolutions for the New Year. Several other writers (Kait Nolan and Raelyn Barclay among them) have mentioned adopting a single word as an inspiration for what they hope to achieve in 2013.

The word that appealed to me was FORWARD. I want to keep moving forward with my goals in 2013 and not stagnate (like I did somewhat in 2012).

But other words began to crop up in my head too. Words like FOCUS–keeping my mind, time, and resources on what is most important–and FAMILY–recognizing how few years I really have left with my children at home.

I kept going with the letter F theme, and here is my list of “Words that Begin with F” for 2013.

FORWARD. No looking back. No standing still. Keep moving forward.

FOCUS. No caving to distractions. No time-suck on details. Stay focused on what matters.

FAMILY. Spend more time with my fabulous family.

FAITH. Invest more time in Bible study and prayer. God has done so much for me. I want to know Him better.

FICTION. Write, write, write. Edit, edit, edit. Publish, publish,… You get the point.

FIT. Get healthy. Eat better. Exercise regularly. Drink more water. Sure I’m not 20 anymore, but I want to be healthy in my 40+ years.

FORTY. Check off “bucket list” activities. A few years back, I made a 40 After 40 List with forty items to accomplish in my life after I hit that big 4-0. I have let that list languish. It’s time to go back to my 40 items and start living out what I want to do.

And finally, here’s a phrase beginning with F: Fess Up. Yes, it’s time to fess up on how I did with A Round of Words in 80 Days this past week.

ROW Update

Editing

  • Complete full rewrite of SHARING HUNTER. In the hands of a Beta reader.
  • Work with editors on short story for Orange Karen Anthology. Waiting for the call.
  • Revisit GRACE & FIRE (1st novel) and run through one more round of edits. Made it through 10 chapters, so I’m up to chapter 14 of 29.

Writing

  • Write one full short story.
  • Write blog posts for Sundays (including ROW80 updates) and Wednesdays. Done. Posted on Christmas Gifts and #ROW80 on Sunday, If Da Vinci Tweeted on Wednesday, and Bond-ing with the Family on Friday.
  • Start plotting sequel to GRACE & FIRE (working title: HOPE & ASHES). Researching fire, arson, and–saddens my heart–burned bodies.

Reading

Non-writing goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Zumba on Monday and Thursday.
  • Take a true Sabbath–no working and time with God and family one day a week. You won’t see me today online. I’ll be back in full swing on Monday.

What would be your word for 2013? Do you have any other great words that begin with F to add to my list?

Make sure you cheer on my fellow ROWers! You can find them HERE.