Guest Post: How One Single Mom Claimed Her Own Writing Space

If you know me at all, you know why this author’s guest post spoke to me. Both THE GLASS WIVES and THE GOOD NEIGHBOR feature single mom main characters who, amidst unique and universal struggles, have heart and moxie. Just like the very real author, Tracey Scott-Townsend. 

If you think you can’t find the time or space to write, read Tracey’s guest post again. Then stop kvetching and get back to work.

I did.

Amy xo

A Room of My Own

by Tracey Scott-Townsend

Rebecca Cover ontheway frontWhen I became a single parent my sons were aged nine, seven, and four. My daughter was one. My youngest son was having difficulties and I felt guilty that the marriage breakdown might have made them worse. After an initial surge of euphoria I succumbed to depression, feeling a failure for allowing my marriage to break down and maybe damaging my children. I’d never intended to be a single parent.

Swallowing my pride, I went to the doctor. Within weeks I felt better. Spring came and my kids were brilliant, we pulled together as a team. Their father visited every weekend at first, until he moved too far away, and we often still did things together as a family.

We got used to being on our own more and I was stronger than I thought. But I lived in a crowded house with my children and it curbed my creativity. For a couple of years I had to manage making artwork (I was a visual artist prior to 2010), alongside my toddler daughter, (making sure she didn’t eat too much paint!). I kept my writerly creativity going by making up stories on a nightly basis to my two youngest as I tried to get them to sleep. I also spent hours reading stories and poems to them all when things started to get out of control. It stopped us all shouting.

We moved house and I slept in a tiny room which I had to take the door off due to lack of space. There was only a curtain to hide behind. And nowhere I could leave out work or have any thinking space.

What gave me the idea to get a shed? I don’t really know, but I remember going to view a variety of them at the shed-yard. The smell of sun-warmed wood, the soft silence within the enclosed space as I closed the door. The out-letting of relaxed breath. My own little space. I can breathe now.

My shed arrived in our garden, a superb 8ft by 14ft model with three windows along one side. Somewhere to work. When my daughter was at nursery and the boys at school I constructed and planned and produced. It was hard breaking off at 3 o’clock. I collected them from school, prepared their food, helped with homework, read with them and put them to bed. Sometimes I’d go out to the shed again in the night, a magical alone-ness. It helped me think.

I had to sell the large shed and get a smaller one for the garden of the house we moved to next. 6ft by 8ft, it was barely big enough to make art in but had enough space for a desk and a lamp and a bookshelf. Electricity was run out to the shed via an insulated wire. I had an electric radiator although the shed wasn’t insulated. But I could work out there with a blanket around my shoulders and another over my knees. The kids were slightly older, I could leave them alone in the house for longer; I now had some time to really think.

Because this is the thing: so much about being a writer is to do with thinking, and you can’t do that with a bunch of kids shouting around, fighting and bickering or having noisy fun. I just needed to get out there and insulate myself from the chaos. I started to write seriously because I’d learned by now it was all about setting targets and sticking to them, within constrained time limits.

My latest shed is my forever-shed. When I move house it will go with me. The same size as the previous one; it has an apex roof and a solid front door. I laid lino tiles on the floor and covered them with a rug. It’s insulated and I have Japanese screens and hangings on the walls, and a clock, and a radio. I have a heater and two lamps, and photos of my children, three of them now grown and left. And I do all my writing in there; I set myself deadlines and meet them. It’s a proper workplace that I take as seriously as any that I’d commute to on a train or a bus.

If you have no space in your home for a room of your own, I urge you to consider a shed, it doesn’t matter how tiny, even to get in there an hour a day will really make a difference.

signingTracey Scott-Townsend spends her writing time in her much-loved shed. It’s a world of her own making, like her stories. She says that stepping inside and closing the door behind her induces a feeling like the hushed atmosphere of a church.

She is the mother of four children, three of whom have now left home: one of them particularly far away. Still, she’s sure that Australia will provide as much inspiration for her writing as Iceland has done, (another place she was introduced to by her son). She’s really hoping to witness a full show of the Northern Lights next time she is there.

Closer to home, Tracey enjoys travelling in the bus-with-a-woodstove with her husband and their Labrador, Riley. They are always on the lookout for a scenic layby in which to sleep. Last year they spent time all over the British Isles, including the Outer Hebrides, which will be the setting for a future novel. In a few years they plan to set off on the road (by way of the sea) for an extended period of time: after all, writing can be done anywhere.

Guest Post: Author Andrea Lochen Has A New Baby AND A New Novel

IMAGINARY THINGS.9.28.14I started writing fiction when my kids were junior high and high school, therefore I marvel at the moms who write books with small kids under foot—sometimes literally. And then there’s author Andrea Lochen — who was getting ready to launch her second novel, IMAGINARY THINGS, while waiting for her first baby (I know! I know! How productive can one woman be?). 

Below, Andrea shares with us three important points to remember when you’re expecting a book baby–or honestly, this is good advice at any stage of the writing life.

I have to pay much closer attention to #2, celebrating the small moments. I don’t do it often enough. 

What about you? Share your thoughts in the comments, and please welcome Andrea Lochen to WFW!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Kathryn Craft Asks “Are Likable Characters Important In Women’s Fiction?”

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EDITED TO ADD: THERE’S A GREAT CONVERSATION GOING ON IN THE COMMENTS! CHECK IT OUT!

Today on WFW, my friend, author Kathryn Craft, poses a question that has attracted a lot of attention in recent writerly media. IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE LIKABLE CHARACTERS? Even moreso, in women’s fiction (because that’s why we’re here) is it important for you to wish you could be friends with the characters in the book? This is a question I know the answer to for me. It’s not imperative — but my favorite books always end up being the ones I wish I could step inside, that I wish didn’t end, and the ones where I wish I could have coffee with the main character. That doesn’t mean the book has to be always happy or offer an HEA ending, it just means I have to like the main character and wish I could know her better. I also have loved some books where this isn’t the case, but when I think back on old and new favorites, that’s the prevalent theme. I’ll share some of my personal list in the comments. 

Below, you’ll learn Kathryn thoughts on the subject (a little different from my own), as well as about her new, compelling book, THE FAR END OF HAPPY, which was inspired by real-life events. Kathryn is a brave and talented author. And a real advocate for her author friends (I should know). 

Please welcome Kathryn Craft to WFW—and share your thoughts and favorite women’s fiction books in the comments!

Amy xo

Do You Seek Friends in Women’s Fiction?

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Guest Post: Author Lindsey J. Palmer Writes About Living In New York City And Major Life Milestones In Her New Novel

If We Lived HereToday, author Lindsey J. Palmer poses a foreboding question: how do we—and our characters—handle major life changes? How about those milestone birthdays? (You know the ones.)In Lindsey’s newest novel, IF WE LIVED HERE, the main character, Emma, is on the cusp of turning thirty. How does Emma cope? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

I have to admit that what impressed me even more than the premise (and I love books set in NYC because I love NYC) was the fact that Lindsey was writing her second published novel before she turned thirty. 

My debut was published in 2013 when I was forty-nine. When I was thirty I had a two-year-old and lived in an early nineteen-twenties Cape Cod in New Jersey. I had the picket fence, both literally and figuratively. Times have changed. 

And I think that’s what IF WE LIVED HERE is about. Changing times. Adapting. Figuring things out along the way. Making it work. Living life. 

I can totally relate. Even if when I was thirty, there was no computer in my house, telephones were attached to walls, stamps cost twenty-nine cents—and people still used stamps.

Please welcome Lindsey J. Palmer back to WFW!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Susan Örnbratt Asks: “What is a lucky writer?”

Cover for websiteHere is a lovely reminder from author Susan Örnbratt that we should find inspiration in the everyday as well as in the extraordinary. And, that sometimes things happen just when they should. Even if it’s ten years later. Please welcome Susan to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

How a Grandmother’s Secret Words Became a Granddaughter’s Treasure 

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Author Interview: Author Holly Robinson Talks About Emotion, Mystery, and Names—Oh My!

Haven Lake_FCSometimes you just click with someone, and that’s how it was for me and my friend, author Holly Robinson. I’m not sure even how or when we first connected, likely due to her first novel with NAL, The Wishing Hill, which was published around the same time as The Glass Wives. TODAY, Holly is launching her third novel with NAL, HAVEN LAKE (and has another coming out in the Fall, OMG). The best part of interviewing an author-friend is learning new things about her, her writing, her stories. They’re not usually the kinds of things that come up in casual phone conversations, but they’re the things I want to know and the kinds of interviews I want to share here.

Actually, that’s the best part of interviewing anyone—quenching my own curiosity by getting the answers to MY questions and knowing what, how, and why those answers would be of interest to others. (Hello, Journalism Degree!!)

Holly’s novels are family dramas strewn with emotion and mystery. Family secrets are woven through each one, as well as vivid settings, and character voices that ring clear and true. You’ll see what I mean when you read the interview! 

Amy and Holly and lots of plates on a wall—September 2014

Amy and Holly and lots of plates on a wall—September 2014

Please welcome Holly Robinson back to WFW!

Amy xo

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Self-Editing for Authors—Getting Rid of the Aww and the Awe

I often question my writing, judge my prose, belittle my word choices, and doubt my plot points. Some days I love what I’ve written.

The “disbelieving me” is in awe of the time and effort it will take to get from first draft to final draft. The “believing me” might think, “Aww, this is so good it doesn’t need to be changed.

No! To both.

I must self-edit.

I also must strike a balance where I am confident in my work but know it needs work.

Whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time, self-editing can be daunting. At least it can be for me. I stare at the monitor and all this little black shapes stare back at me. Just looking at them is exhausting.

I know myself. I self-edit differently than I write. I’m a binge writer, but a bit-by-bit editor. Not that I can’t, or haven’t, edited for hours, but I can also edit a paragraph, then leave for an appointment or to do the dishes.

Oh, who am I kidding? I do not stop editing to do the dishes.

But I do stop if I’m overwhelmed.

The key here is not to get overwhelmed.

First Drafts

My first drafts are embarrassing. I write in sentence fragments and run-ons. But what I have when I’m finished, I hope, is the beginning, middle, and end of a chapter, the right idea to build upon. I write light in first drafts. That means I know I’m going to go in again to flesh out ideas. Many of my friends write 125, 000 word first drafts they edit down to 90,000 words. My finished first drafts are about 50,000 words. I edit up. No matter how you work, some of these tips might work for you to take the sting out of first draft editing.

  1. Do it quickly. Later I’ll advocate stepping away, but with a first draft I want to capitalize on my momentum. I’ll write a scene or chapter and go back and self-edit the same day. Sometimes, same hour.
  2. Don’t look back. For this draft I just go back in and change things with no mind to what was there before. I don’t want to remember the dreck, I want to revise it.
  3. Dump what doesn’t work. I elaborate on my sentence fragments and cull my run-ons. I specific “something like purple but not” and write lavender or periwinkle.
  4. Decide what does works. Or what doesn’t. This is usually the time I get a gut feeling at this time if the names I’m using really works for me. I also get a feeling about characters and if I need them. I want to move forward writing about what’s necessary.
  5. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. This is where I clean it up. No one’s cursing (well, maybe a little), but in a first draft I type so fast I don’t always use proper formatting. I want to GET IT OUT. So I go back and tidy up. Appearances are everything (you’ll see why later).
  6. Define the path. Is there a beginning, middle, and end of the chapter? If something’s missing I don’t write it, I make a note that it’s missing. Does the chapter ending leave a question or cliffhanger? If not, I consider how to make the chapter end so that the reader must turn the page. Have I buried anything in overwriting exuberance? (Who, me?)

My first draft isn’t really finished until it’s self-edited. Until I know someone else could read it and make sense of it, even with the weaknesses and holes. I call it my finished first draft. Before that, you don’t want to know what I call it.

Second Drafts (Or, to Infinity—And Beyond)

I have never counted drafts. Let’s say that with each of my novels (published, soon-to-be published, and under-the-bed) I’ve written more than two drafts and fewer than a hundred.

This, for me, is where fine-tuning begins and where I remember the best advice/joke I ever told my daughter.

“How do you eat an elephant?”

“One bite at a time.”

If I looked at a whole manuscript and imagined editing the whole thing on my own, I’d crawl under this bed I call an office and that would be that. But because I write, and edit, my novels a chapter at a time, at first, it’s more manageable to me. For the time being I pretend that’s all I need to worry about, which allows me to focus (ie: which eliminates panic).

  1. Print out pages. Whether I’ve written the whole book or not, I print out one chapter. If you’re not a paper person, this is where I’d use track changes.
  2. Get your hands dirty. Yes, I use multicolored markers. Yes, they end up on my hands. When I do Track Changes, I go into the options and make all the different kinds of changes different colors. Makes it fun.
  3. One Bite At A Time. I go paragraph by paragraph and polish so that what’s going on there makes sense to me, and is tightly written, but I don’t go overboard. This is where I’d rather have too much than too little. This is where I start my editing up.
  4. Read aloud. Especially dialogue. I tend to use characters’ names in dialogue until I edit it. I also use a lot of “Well.” Because, well, I just do.
  5. Lay it out. I look at chapters by laying the pages side by side on my dining room table. I look for visual cues. Do the paragraphs all start with the same word? (A no-no) Are the sentences and paragraphs the same lengths page after page? How long are your dialogue runs? These are things you can consider when revising, because variations make stories more interesting.

Final Drafts

Final drafts take many forms. I have final drafts for my critique partner, then for agent, and then final drafts for my editor. If you’re not hiring an editor (silent scream) and you’re self-publishing then your final draft is for your reader.

For me, this is the detail and danger zone. This is where I nit-pick and where I usually am convinced that all my time and effort and energy has resulted in a big pile of poo. Luckily, this is normal. And that’s why I start with the hardest thing of all.

  1. Step away. Unless I’m right up against a deadline, I leave the manuscript untouched for days or weeks if possible. This provides perspective. If I have an epiphany (in the shower or while driving, ‘natch) I write it down but don’t open the Word doc.
  2. Go slow. When it’s time to get back to work, I start again by tackling one chapter at a time. I read for content and clarity. I circle or highlight what I need to come back to.
  3. Be honest. I note overused words and clichés. No one is above using them. Now is the time to get rid of them. Then, I do a search for any crutch words. Every writer has them. I use “and” more times than should be legal. I also make note of lingo and colloquialisms that might not work if the publication of the book was delayed, or if someone reads the book in five years. With backlists readily available as ebooks for both traditionally and self-published authors, this is a real concern. Here’s a list of “banished words” from Lake Superior University. This is a list of overused words and phrases at Write Divas. I’m not affiliated with either site, but these lists are comprehensive and helpful (and fun to read).

The best thing about self-editing, is that it’s not the end – it’s just the beginning. This is how I get my writing ready for others to critique and edit it. Yes, at some point, it’s finished, but you shouldn’t be the only person editing your work if you want it read by others. If you want people to pay to read it.

Beta readers and critique partners, agents, and editors will not only help your story, but their feedback will bolster your ability to self-edit in the future. Self-editing is the gift that keeps on giving.

By that I mean giving us headaches, some heartache—as well as the opportunity to be the best writers we can be.

This article was first published in Write On, the magazine of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (not affiliated with my WFW blog, although I am a founding member of the WFWA organization.)  You’re not a member of WFWA? Check it out here

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