Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Staying Focused and the Power of Multi-Tasking
by Hope White

 As a writer, mother and cat herder, I often find myself pressed for time.  That’s why I’ve developed two important practices:  staying focused and multi-tasking, and I don’t just mean cooking dinner while talking on the phone.   I’ve challenged myself to come up with other ways to maximize my time so I can effectively meet deadlines.

 The Magical Timer

You’d be shocked by how much you can get done if you hit a timer for 60 minutes.  I don’t know about you, but if I give myself three hours to complete a task, it can take four. But if I set a time limit by gosh I’m going to finish that project no matter what!  That’s just me. 

 Merry Maid

Cleaning the house has never been one of my favorite chores, so I decided to pair that productive task with something fun:  listening to music, or workshops.  Music energizes me, and if I listen to great music while cleaning the house, I end up feeling charged up and ready to take on my next project, especially a writing project.  I also download podcasts and workshops about writing and the movie business (I’m a novelist and screenwriter) so I’m learning as I dust under the sofa for pet hair.
Ivy Therapy

Things grow like crazy in the Pacific Northwest thanks to the rain.  I didn’t realize how determined ivy could be until it had practically taken over the driveway!  It’s no fun to get into a battle with ivy because most of the time you feel like you pull and tug and somehow the roots grow deeper.  So I created Ivy Therapy.  For me, it’s a great way to get fresh air, exercise, and catch up with old friends!  I bought a high quality earpiece for my cell phone and chat with friends and family while ripping and tugging.  I practice “talking and tasking” all the time.  In other words, if I’m talking on the phone I’ll also be completing a task (dusting, cleaning bathrooms, scooping cat litter). 

Sneaking in Exercise

I’m not a huge fan of exercise (read:  I hate to exercise!), but I can appreciate how good it is for my body.  Like a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down, I pair exercise with other activities I enjoy: walking outside and talking to a best friend on my cell phone; walking while listening to music; reading an engaging book while riding the exercycle.   Maybe it seems obvious, but it’s not easy getting me on the stationary bike, and if I can tempt myself with a fabulous read I stand a better chance of clocking much-needed minutes.

In essence, I like to combine the “have to’s” with the “want to’s.”  That way I get a lot accomplished, but I’m still having a good time.  And that’s what I strive to do -- appreciate every moment as much as possible.

Do you multi-task on a regular basis?  If so, what kinds of activities do you combine for maximum productivity?

Thanks to Michelle at Prima by Design for hosting me today on her blog.  I’ve learned so much about organizing and productivity from reading her words of wisdom. 

Take care!

Hope White

Hope writes romantic fiction for Love Inspired Suspense.  Her fourth book, “Small Town Protector” will hit shelves July 1.   It received a 4-star review from RT Bookclub Magazine.  (

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Writer Wednesday

This is sometimes the most difficult part of a writer's project—the beginning.  Where to start?  If you were Charles Dickens, you might start with an overview of the setting, then give a character sketch for each primary character.  Then after the backstory, the current story would start. 

But contemporary fiction isn't like that.  Readers want to get right to the story.  They want to be dropped into the action as its happening.  So where is it best to start your story?  Select a scene that will draw the reader in immediately.  What action happened that will change the hero/heroine's life forever?

Most often, this is well into your first chapter.  Writers often make the mistake of telling all the backstory first, thinking that the reader won't be able to understand what is going on if they don't give them the character's background.  But this isn't necessary.  You can always add the backstory slowly as flashbacks or through conversations. 

If you still aren't sure where to start, try this exercise.  Pick up some of the books on your "Keeper" shelf.  Read the first lines/paragraphs.  What drew you in that made you want to read more? 

One of my favorite beginnings is from Ken Follett's Code to Zero.  "He woke up scared. Worse than that, he was terrified."  In the first few paragraphs, you learn that the protagonist is dressed like a bum, and doesn't recognize himself in the mirror. 

Why was he terrified?  He can't even remember who he was?  Something must have happened to him to drop him into his situation.  Did I mention he woke up on the floor of a public bathroom?  Just think of all the questions your readers will have just from reading those first few paragraphs. 

Immerse your reader immediately.  Make them want to find out more.  THAT is where you should begin. 

What are some of your favorite first lines?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Preparing for a Workshop

Writer Wednesday

As a writer, you have many skills and talents.  You've learned the craft, and honed it to the point you are published, or very close to publishing.  You are considered an expert on writing because of the quality of your work. 

Not everyone excels in every area, however.  Some writers are great at creating sympathetic characters.  Some can bring an historical setting to life on the pages of a book.  Some can work humor into a serious relationship.  Whatever their strength, they can further their career by holding seminars or workshops. 

In order to hold a successful workshop, and be in demand at other groups, you should be prepared.

The first thing to do is decide on a topic and format.  What is your strength?  Is it promotion?  Is it research?  Select a topic—broad enough to appeal to a wider audience, but focused enough for attendees to learn something useful.  After choosing a topic, select a format.  Would your topic be best presented as a one or two hour presentation?  Or would it be better to hold it over the span of a few weeks?  If you are teaching a craft, sometimes homework and feedback are important, so holding it over several weeks is beneficial. 

After deciding on a format, find a place to hold your workshop.  Also decide whether or not you will charge the attendees a fee.  If you have to pay for your meeting space, consider a reasonable fee to help cover the cost of the room.  If you don't have to pay for the space, you may still consider charging a nominal fee to cover the cost of your handouts.  In some instances, your venue will pay you to give a workshop (libraries or women's groups).  In this case, you can't charge for admittance.

Next, create the curriculum.  Write your outline and presentation, keeping in mind your audience.  Will you be teaching beginners or advanced writers?  Will you be speaking to the general public or other writers?  Make your presentation basic or advanced, depending on the group.

Once your presentation is fine-tuned, prepare handouts for the attendees.  Give them useful tips and information without giving away your entire presentation.  You are the expert.  Have them come to you for advice, rather than giving it all away.

Start early publicizing your workshop.  Use the internet (newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), place fliers in appropriate places, contact your local newspaper, or place ads in writer's magazines.  The earlier you get the word out, the more people you will reach directly and indirectly.

Create a checklist for everything you need to bring with you the day of the workshop.  This will probably include handouts, contact information (for booking more talks), your laptop or flash drive with your files, a sign-up sheet for your newsletter (check with the venue for permission first), display items (books, posters), door prizes, evaluations and pens. 

Finally, after your workshop, thank your audience for attending.  Send them an email or note.  Remind them you are available to give workshops, and offer a list of topics. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to Write it When You Can't Be There

Guest post by Blythe Gifford

We’ve all heard the advice: You must visit the places you write about. Theoretically, I agree with that, but from a practical point of view, I’m not in the position to fly abroad every time I start a book. And since I write history, a trip to the place would still not be a trip to the time. I would still have to create a world I’ve never seen.
How do you do that with an eye to authenticity? I have a few tips.
First, choose your setting mindfully. A familiar location will make it easier to gather information. An obscure one may make it difficult to find enough detail to bring it to life.
The flip side of using a well known location is that it’s tough to fudge facts. Any mistake will surely be found by an expert reader.
Be aware of the connotation of the setting you select and decide whether to play to it or against it. Some locations, New Orleans, for example, are so strong that using them is almost like adding a character to your story.
When I say “setting,” I mean time as well as place. For example, I have a manuscript set in Philadelphia. Originally, the date was 1872, but I changed it to 1876. Why? Because the Centennial Exposition was in Philadelphia in 1876. Even though my book did not revolve around the exposition, it meant I could find everything from train schedules to photographs to first person accounts of the city in that year.
Next, ground yourself and your characters. Gather a detailed map, a calendar, and a guidebook or two. Even if you create an imaginary town, know which direction the sun rises and sets. Know the time and date and day of each scene. This will help keep you, and your characters, in a real world, one in which Sunday comes every week, the seasons follow their course, and you can trace how long it will take to walk from one end of town to the other.
Again, as historical writers, this is harder than it sounds. A current map has roads and buildings that did not exist when your story is set. Even rivers have changed course over time. Search used book fairs for older guidebooks and travel books. Often, they include maps, detailed descriptions, photos, and first person narratives.
Third, a picture is worth a thousand words. Along with my calendar, guidebook, and map, I always buy a good picture book or two. One will be of the physical landscape. That way, I am not dependent on another writer’s words. I can look at the picture as my hero or heroine would and let them describe the scene.
Authentic images, photographs, engravings, or paintings, will give you detail no guidebook or official history will include. In THE KNAVE AND THE MAIDEN, I had a scene set in the Cathedral at Exeter. When the Cathedral’s official website gave me a virtual tour, I discovered that the Cathedral was under construction at the time of my story. With that fact, I created a vivid, unique setting that supported the emotional theme of the scene.
The Internet is a gold mine for images. With a search engine, you can find everything from professional photography of historic buildings in all seasons to engravings of street scenes. In addition, many vacationers now post photos and travelogs. Not only are those a source of pictures, they can provide first person descriptions of how hot it can be on the Thames in August.
Finally, the devil is in the details. Instead of descriptions of panoramic views, select one small sensory detail, preferably a sound or a scent. (There’s nothing wrong with a visual detail, but using the other senses brings it closer to the character.) Then, make sure it has emotional resonance for your character. No matter how good your research, it exists only to make your characters move easily in their world. It should be inserted only when the character recognizes and reacts to it for a reason directly related to the storyline.
With these techniques, you can build a world that’s real to your characters and to your readers, even without getting on an airplane---or in a time machine.
Blythe Gifford’s next release, RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, is a Harlequin Historicals November 2012 release.  This is the first book in her Brunson Clan Trilogy.

To learn more about Blythe and her upcoming releases, visit her web site at