Manic Monday: It’s harder than it looks

Get your mind out of the gutter because I’m talking about my class project. I promised on Friday (I did promise, didn’t I?) I’d have a photo today of the story board as well as any old truths I’ve remembered while building it. In addition to those listed in Friday’s blog, I’ve remembered I love markers and stickers and scissors but I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. I wish I had a sixth grader I could say helped, but I don’t. Oh, well.

The purpose of the storyboard was to lay out the scenes of the manuscript into four acts. This way we can easily see them, axe lovingly remove ones that don’t work, move them to other chapters or otherwise manipulate them. Each act has an anchor scene to kick it off thus the A1, A2, and so on to A7. Finding the 7 anchor scenes was our first task and, though it seemed simple it wasn’t. First of all the protagonist has to be in each anchor scene. Okay, I can deal with that. My protagonist is pretty much everywhere. But there’s other junk criteria she has to be doing and she wasn’t always doing it. Therefore I had to find the scene where she was doing it because that was the real anchor scene. Clear as mud? I thought so.

Well, it is supposed to work out so about 30% of your scenes are in your first act, 35% in your second act with an anchor in the middle of Act two, 25% in Act three and 10% in Act four. I’m good on Act three and four. I might could use a few more scenes in Act one, but Act two — it’s busting at the seams…and midpoint–you can forget that. About 80% of the scenes are before the midpoint which makes it closer to the 3/4 point (I know not even that, but I’m giving myself a + or – 5%).

And the other thing–some of my anchor scene are in the middle of chapters with scenes before them which means, as written I have a chapter in two different acts. I’m thinking not cool. But I promised pictures today (damn it) and pictures I will deliver. Here is a shot of the finished product and a couple from an earlier blog of where I started. At least I write better than I do arts and crafts.

Wednesday I’ll share how I’ll do my story board differently in the future.


The Finished Project (well the board–not the book)

Oh, the possibilities

with a blank slate

Friday Favorites: Class Project—Top10 things I once knew but forgot

10.    Measure twice, cut (or draw) once.

9.     There’s always a need for a compass or . . . a glass bottom will do.

8.     Precut sticky notes work as well as circles cut from construction paper and glue. Squares are the new round.

7.     Glue is not for adults!!!

6.     Uncapped markers mark … on skin … on carpet … on projects.

5.     Fifteen-year-old white-out doesn’t work. It’s nasty . . . all six bottles of it. (More drawer space. Yeah!)

4.     I’m not meant to watch some movies. Nightmares are scary. I don’t need them. I don’t write horror. Seriously.

3.     Online classes are a great place to meet new friends from around the world. Quirky friends. Funny friends. Intense friends. Writer friends. Friends who will distract you from writing through chats, Facebook and Forums. Forever friends? (Maybe.)

2.     Take migraine medicine when the first inkling of a headache begins. Don’t wait. It’s not going anywhere. It’s gonna stay with you for the rest of your day life. Could someone turn off those blasted lights???

1.     Always, always, always build your document (7 anchors, 2nd round) in your word processing program then cut and paste it into the forum, even if you have to reformat it. Otherwise, after you’ve finished it, proofed it twice and are about to post it to the forum, it will disappear…into thin air…poof…gone…  Oh well, I have my anchors and turning points. They can’t take that away from me.

Look for photo(s) of how I did my project (all of my scenes) on Monday . . . unless I forget some more things I once knew.

Happy weekend.


Wildcard Wednesday: Overcoming Writer’s Block

I heard a Podcast recently by Lani Diane Rich, the teacher of the Revisions class I’m currently taking. This is my own interpretation of the podcast so Lani can’t be held responsible for my (mis)understanding.

All writers get writer’s block. We also have times when we are in the zone—when we write for hours and it seems like minutes. We forget to eat, forget to pick the kids up from school, forget … you get the idea. This is where a writer wants to be. (Except maybe the part about picking the kids up from school, then an alarm or neighbors come in handy.)

Sidebar: We have a rule at our house. When I’m using the computer (for anything because it could always morph into writing) I’m not allowed to use the stove. This came about when I wasn’t in my writing nook (I was in the room next to kitchen). I’d put on dinner. I was going to quickly do something, probably check e-mail but got distracted with a writing idea. Hubby came home and well . . . let’s just say I no longer multitask while cooking.

I digressed, back to staying in the zone. Here’s what Lani suggested. Light a candle (always same scent for same project). If you’re afraid you might burn your house down spray some air freshener or do something else fragrant near your work space. Wear the same clothes every time you write—something comfortable, something you love. Pick a CD for each manuscript you write and when you work on that manuscript, play that CD. Make yourself a cup of hot tea (or whatever you like to drink, though alcohol might not be the best choice.) Sip it as you work. Always work at the same spot, with the same objects surrounding you.

See a pattern here? Yep. You’re triggering your five senses. If you activate your five senses when you’re in your writing zone, your body will remember how it felt and bring you back to to the zone.

Until Friday,


Manic Monday: Is help always helpful?

When I first started sharing my writing (and asking for feedback) I thought I had to take every suggestion made. Soon the stories were no longer mine. They didn’t resonate with me. I no longer knew what they were about. For example, if I had a character who was a clean-cut all-American boy with freckles and braces and the suggestion was to make him a troubled kid with piercings and tattoos, you can see how that would change the story.

Therefore I had to learn which suggestions worked best for the story and, as the writer, make the right call. That was my job.

I’m learning so much about this wonderful world of writing. There are writing partners, critique groups, beta groups and I’m sure many more I’ve not yet encountered. Each has its function and each functions differently depending on the people in it. Therefore all I can tell you about are how mine work.

Writing partner — as we write, we exchange chapters, read them, make suggestions, bat ideas back and forth, ask why, brainstorm — pretty much anything goes. The best part about a writing partner, in my opinion, is accountability. If I’m slacking off my partner will call me on it. It’s a one-on-one relationship that comes with responsibilities.

Critique group — a lot like a writing partner except it is a group. I love my writing group. It’s awesome how quickly a group can bond and become intimate. My group is online and has eight people. Four of us post each week, so we are posting a chapter (or around ten pages every other week) and we are reading around forty pages every week. It gets interesting when two people in the group disagree. The group is set up so the writer can ask “Why did you think this?” or “How would you have done it differently?” We are all writers. We want to help each other be the best we can be. We invest time in the craft of others because others are investing time in our craft.  The more we give, the more we get. An interesting side note — To keep the critique group on task, i.e. about the chapters we are critiquing, my group has set up a separate group where we can go to brain-storm, work through a problems or ideas, really hone in on a problem more so than in a general critique.

Beta groups — These are kind people who agree to read your finished book and give their opinion. When they are finished, no matter what their opinion, the writer’s response is, “Thank you.” They have taken time from their schedule to critically read and give feedback, the writer does not debate with them; she only thanks them. My beta group readers will be a mixture of writers and readers who don’t write. Writers tend to be overly analytical, which I want, but not at the sake of the story. I want readers who will be honest and tell me if they liked it–what they liked, what they didn’t like, where the pace was too slow, etc.

Obviously if I get the same negative feedback from multiple readers, it is valid and has to be addressed. An example is the beginning of MURDER ON MUSIC ROW. I loved the first three chapters. They were cute, snappy, fun…but nothing happened. Finally, just a few weeks ago, I cut them and, you know what? The book is stronger. I can still use bits and pieces, but a complete plot-line is nixed and I realize it was a weak plot-line that was dragging the book down. It wasn’t needed.  I should have listened!!!

I’m starting my second week of my Transitions class. My first writing sample was evaluated by my teacher last week. She said my structure was good (yeah) and mostly I was pleased with her feedback. She gave some great ideas of how to make the book stronger and I can’t type fast enough to implement these changes.

One thing she suggested was something I’ve not heard before but I knew in my bones she was on to something. My three main characters’ names are Nancy (Nan), Katrina (Kat), and Loralee (Lor). About 99% of the time I use their nicknames. She said using three, three-letter names would confuse the readers. Light Bulb Moment! This resonated with me. I couldn’t change Nan’s name. I could use Loralee instead of Lor, but Katrina didn’t do it for me instead of Kat. In trying names I discovered I’d have the same problem lyrically (as 3 letters) if her name ended in the “ee” sound like Nancy and Loralee.

I played with that for hours trying different names.I slept on this. Her name has to fit her personality. This is what I’ve decided. We’ll keep Katrina as her middle name. Her first name is Emily (Emma) and I’ll have to figure out a reason why she starts using Emma since she’s been blogging as Kat. It won’t matter for the book. I’ve got to get creative. Maybe she will reinvent herself. Other ideas how we can pull off the switch-a-roo out there in cyberland?  I’ll use it (if it resonates with me).

Until Wednesday,


Friday Favorites: One week down—five to go

I’ve (almost) finished week one of my Revisions class. I still have to post my homework on the class Forum board to be shredded like mozzarella cheese and I’ll do that right after I finish this post.

We are also assigned a movie to watch each week. During the next week’s podcast our mighty leader will compare and contrast it to the topic of that week. When Hubby learned this tidbit he declared my class “progressive” and immediately volunteered to “help” as he’d already seen the first week’s selection and couldn’t wait for my reaction. I think it disappointed him that I enjoyed the humor and was in no way offended by the movie. It was Dodgeball, by the way. This week it’s the original Die Hard. I’m not so sure about this one.

I wrote on Monday I wouldn’t be telling what’s taught in the class for ethical reasons, but I have to share what I’m doing. If you’ve followed me very long at all (over a week) you know there is probably no correlation at all.

This week I’m playing doctor (no, not with Hubby). I’ve been dissecting my manuscript scene by scene and dividing it into four acts. I’d previously separated all of the chapters so I could move them around at will, but the scenes??? All eighty-five of them??? Every time there is a change of time or location that’s a new scene and gets a new slip of paper.

I struggled how best to do this. You know me—it has to make since organizationally or I can’t start. I got a tri-fold cardboard display unit for my completed work.  First I used colored sticky notes, one color for each act. But that didn’t make sense, because what happened if I needed to change a scene from Act I to Act II and so on? They went back to Staples.* Revised Plan: Yellow sticky notes with colored dots like you use at garage sales…much easier to put another dot over an old one than to change the color of a sticky note. Once I started writing out the scenes, in long hand, on the yellow sticky notes, I knew that wouldn’t work either. I think I wrote eight notes before they became illegible. I type. I don’t write. Remember eight-five scenes. Twist my arm—back to Staples.

This time I got colored push pins. I already have my scenes on an Excel spread sheet. (No surprise there, right?) I can just print out the spread sheet, cut out the scenes, arrange them into the acts, put them on the board with the colored push pins and wa-la—I have a story-board. (I think. No one has said that’s what it is but it just makes sense it would be called that.) I can then move scenes from chapter to chapter, act to act as needed. Pretty nifty, huh? This surgery stuff wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it’d be. I guess I’m a transplant surgeon since I’m moving things around, or maybe plastic surgeon …oh, I don’t know, doesn’t matter. When I get the storyboard put together I’ll post it for you see. There are a couple of pictures of my supplies below. (Remember I returned some–and will be returning more.)

I’ve still got to go back and note my strengths, weaknesses, passages I love and hate (and try to figure how why), find scenes that don’t move the story forward, and start thinking about killing off scenes and characters other than the ones who are supposed to die in the plot. That’s gonna be the hard part. No surgeon wants to lose a patient. Don’t tell anyone but I’ve already killed off at least half a dozen characters and cut six chapters. Ouch. They’re buried in the back yard and it looks like I’ll be getting the shovel out again.

It’s time to get back to it. I’ve still got to post the cheese part of my homework and finish the rest.

Have a safe, great weekend.


* Staples is the office supply store closest to my home. I equally like (and have frequent shoppers cards for) Office Depot and Office Max. I’d prefer these stores to clothing stores any day of the week. Usually I have supervision when I go.

The board, the supplies, Storywonk

Already returned colored sticky notes. Some of this will be returned too.

Wildcard Wednesday: Revisions

I told you Monday I’m taking an online writing class, but I didn’t tell you about it. The name of it is Revisions and it’s taught by the brilliant Lani Diane Rich. She also does cool daily podcasts you may access either through her website or via iTunes. There’s also an option to subscribe to it through iTunes. The best part? It’s free!

What’s the class about? Revising a novel. I know I’ve told you I’ve revised MURDER ON MUSIC ROW before and I have, but it has never felt quite right. When I found this class I decided, this is it! It’s going to be a tremendous amount of work. But I’ve found the things I appreciate the most in my life are the things that have required the most work.

I finished MOMR last year. It turns out writing it was the easy part. Editing it, rewriting it, editing it, rewriting it, polishing it, rewriting it . . . you get the picture … that’s been the real work.  However, this is it. After this rewrite I’m done. I have my query and synopsis ready to go. I’ll send those out and get back to other writing projects. If no one bites on MOMR it will stay on the shelf—like a lot of best selling authors’ first novels. This is it.

The next six weeks are going to be extremely busy and like it or not, you’re in there with me. You get to sit back, relax, have a glass of wine and read about it while I do all of the work. Actually, I get to have a glass of wine too. Really, I do. It was on the Syllabus.

Until Friday…


Manic Monday: A new class

I’m taking an online online writing class for the next six weeks. Yesterday was the first session and my first reaction was “What have I gotten myself into?”

There are twenty-eight participants from all over the world: Australia, England, China, France, Israel, Wisconsin–oh, wait! That’s in the US. It’s a diverse group with a good mix of genres and the discussion boards have already been lively.

The class is done via web cast. We can see and hear our teacher. She can’t see and hear us but we can type in questions (or snide remarks) real time. If we have to miss the class, or if we want to watch it again, it is available for us to review later through our super, duper password protected web site.

I’m sure I’ll get plenty of inspiration for blogs during the next six weeks. I won’t be sharing what she teaches–that wouldn’t be ethical, but things that happen or ideas evoked–that’s fair game.

Until Wednesday,


Friday Favorites: Why Leave a Comment?

I’ve spent the day catching up on my Blog reading. It doesn’t take long to get behind. If I go a couple of days without reading the 150+ blogs I subscribe to via  Google Reader I could easily have over 300 posts to read. While some people post a few times a week (like me), others post daily and some several times a day. On the other end of the scale there are those who post once a month or even less frequently, but I tend to delete them from my list. I want to follow active bloggers.

I have my Google Reader set up into subcategories such as agents, editors, publishers, writers, friends, random, etc. This way if I have a large number to read I can go in, read one category, leave my comments, and know I’ve knocked out a whole category.

Wait a minute! Leave a comment. Why do that?

Until last summer I’d never left a comment or done an online review in my life. Visit a forum? What the heck was that? If you’d told me a year ago I would dare leave daily comments on multiple blogs or be an active participant in several forums (including my awesome critique group) I’d have called you a liar … to your face. But I have learned comments matter. They matter to the author, they matter to other readers, they just matter.

Have you seen the movie Julie and Julia. It’s about a young woman who at 29 is in a funk. She decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s cookbook and about it blog daily. Yesterday I caught the movie after it had already started (but I’d seen it before). I watched as she joyfully told her husband she’d gotten twelve comments. Twelve comments! That was something to celebrate. Her readers became a community as is true with several blogs I read. Obviously you can’t do this with all blogs–who has the time–but it is fun to see a name you recognize every once in a while.

Spoiler Alert (if you’ve not seen the movie): She goes on to get lots and lots of comments, to have followers, to become the third most popular blog in a major blogging community and to be featured in the New York Times. After that, the rest is history. Her answering machine is filled with messages from agents, editors and publishers who want to talk to her, television producers who want her on their shows … and it all started with some comments.

Bloggers want to make a difference in your life–to make you think or make you angry or make you laugh. We want to evoke some emotion or somehow tell you something you didn’t already know. And we’d like to know from time to time we did make that difference. Writing is a lonely world.

So how do you leave a comment? Forgive me if this is too elementary to you, but some of MY friends don’t know this so indulge me: If you’re reading a web-based blog it’s pretty easy to figure out. But if  the post comes to you as a subscription in your e-mail or via a web feed like Google Reader, it may take one extra step. Depending on the format it’s delivered, you may or may not have the opportunity to leave a comment directly. If not, all you have to do is double click on the title and it will take you to Kay Elam Writes.  Click on the Comments button at the bottom of the post. You can take it from there.

Bloggers don’t want pretty words. We want real. And while we’re wanting, we’d like for you to say something more than “good post.” If you think my post is garbage, then tell me. But tell my why. I can take it. It you think it it’s good you may leave those pretty words just tell me what you liked. Was it funny? Thought-provoking? Educational?

I will tell you I have the ability to delete comments. I won’t delete legitimate negative or controversial comments but neither will I allow personal attacks on other readers, X-rated profanity or slurs. This is a PG Blog. Other than that, anything goes. Your first comment has to be approved. Then it will post right away.

If I do a post that makes you think of someone else, please forward it to them. Feel free to tweet it, or post it on Facebook . . . Okay, now I’m begging. Way past time to stop.

Thanks to the handful of readers who have been commenting all along (Aileen, Karen, Sue, Brenda, Tanya, Nancy … ) and to those of you who e-mail me your comments (Rod, Rob, Angela …).My stats tell me my blog is being read by lots more of you. Either that or a bunch of people are opening it before they go wash their hair. Surely some of you have an opinion.

Now my job is to write blogs worth reading. Have a great weekend. Stay warm.


© 2011 Kay Elam

Wildcard Wednesday: Winter Wonderland

Writing to a scenic backdrop may not be easier, but it’s certainly more pleasant.

Those of you not from the south might wonder why I’m making such a big deal about a little snow… our white Christmas…now this our third snowfall of the winter. It’s because some winters we get absolutely no snow. None. Nada. Zip.

Driving in it is so not a southern’s forte. If I had to get out, I might not think it so lovely. But since I have the luxury of sitting on my tush in my own home I’ll enjoy it while I can. Actually it’s such a novelity, it’s a bit of a distraction.

Even though most of the country is buried in the white stuff, here are some pictures just in case you don’t have snow where you are.  Enjoy!

My workspace is above the garage

from the cul-de-sac

View from my workspace window

I'd never get any work done if I could see our back woods from my workspace.

Until Friday . . .

~ Kay

Manic Monday: Where are my books?

I told you Friday how much I love books and what a difficult time I have letting go of them. I still have a copy of THE ILIAD from high school.  One night I dropped it outside our back door when I was trying to get in out of the rain. The next morning it was soaked and had swelled to about three times its original size. Eventually it dried out. I couldn’t read it for a week or so, but I can now.

When I analyze why I want to hang on to my books it’s usually because I think I may want to go back and reread them, reference them or find a passage or quote. Some I do love to touch and smell, but most I save “just in case.” Logically then, my e-reader should be a clutter-free solution to my book-hoarding. I can mark passages and make notes in my e-reader which I’d never do (except with a sticky note) in a real book.

But what about the kazillion books we already have? Well, nothing will be done with them until they are read, that’s for sure. But logistically??? The ones on our short lists and our very favorites are in our bedroom. I put all of the books we are reading or plan to read soon in baskets and drawers—easy to find; we know what we have. Hey! It’s better than having them stacked in the floor against the wall. You know who you are.

Hubby's night stand

My nightstand

Baskets of books and magazines

What about the books we’ve already read? The ones we’re finding it difficult to part with . . .

A good place to dump store them is in guest rooms. We have two upstairs and an assortment of books is in each to please even the most discerning reader. Tip: We’ve found providing reading glasses and a good lamp helps insure WE aren’t awakened for a middle-of-the-night chat.

One upstairs bedroom

Other upstairs bedroom. There's another book-filled night stand on other side of bed too!

We’ve turned our basement into a downstairs suite where  we usually house families who visit. This is the home of all of my “non-active” cookbooks including  the one with well-aged samples of my debut recipes. Children’s books (toys, games, etc.) are on basement bookshelves as well as some top shelf picks for the grown-ups.

Most of our non-fiction books are in the bonus room upstairs. The side walls are under the eaves of the roof where the ceiling slopes downward. We found some cubes to stack as bookcases and lined the room with them. Because these are books we’d most likely want to look for something specific (quote, how to, etc.) I labeled each cube as a category–spirituality, relationships, self-help, etc. To prove I’m not obsessive I didn’t alphabetize the categories nor the books.

Categorized books

If you look closely you can see the labels

Some books are sprinkled in nooks and  while others flop where ever they land


So this is a sampling of what we did with the “left-over” books after our last de-cluttering attempt. Below are the ones I need to take to the second-hand store–when I get around to it. More in the garage . . . and in the unfinished part of the basement . . . and . . . wherever.

Guest room closet

Keep reading,

~ Kay