Creating in Chaos

Hi folks,

Its been a while since I’ve posted here. I have been like many I suspect, overwhelmed. And unsure I had anything to add to the discussion of how to adjust to our lives with the specter of Covid-19 looming over us. My family has been sheltering in place for about three weeks now. It’s been an adjustment. After suffering the loss of my brother in law last year, I finally felt we had all adjusted to the new normal. And then we found ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic. 

In the past week we, (my wife, my kids and I) have snuggled on our couch, struggled with classroom technology and homeschooling, played outside, started garden, planted seeds, raged, cried, lay in our beds and stared at the ceiling, laughed at ridiculous movies, called family and friends, played games, helped each other with chores and housework, and eaten our share of our favorite snacks and desserts. We are surviving. 

I sent a new manuscript off to my editor right before all of the chaos started and I’m grateful I had competed it because I have been unable to get myself to sit down to write until today.

I have a new novella project that I need to start working on.  I know I’m not going to hit my usual word counts. I not even going to try. I’m permitting myself to go slowly, to adjust my writing pace to meet my deadline on time but not early. I’m also permitting myself to take days off when I need them for emotional and mental health. My imaginary friends have always been my go-to in any crisis, and I believe that once I get back to writing, I will feel better. How are you all doing? Are you able to create right now? Do you have any tips to share?  

Until next time, stay safe, stay well. 

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows, and yes, those are her monkeys. When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot. She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. 

You can find her on Facebook by clicking here. Sign Up for her email list and receive a free erotic short story HERE Check out more information about her upcoming releases and appearances at   www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon 

NineStar Press

Double Six

Complex Dimensions 

Knotted Legacy

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE 

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories 

Finish it.

Whatever you’re writing now, finish it. Even if it takes you two years, finish it. Why? Because every time you abandon a manuscript, it becomes that much harder when you get to the soggy/awful/sticky/why-the-hell-did-I-even-start-this point in your manuscript. This is a lesson I learned from my track and field coach in high school. I had signed up to do field events. I loved field events. I’m built for field events, and they were easy for me. But our team was short an 800-meter runner (that’s a half-miler for you metrically impaired folks), and that was how I found myself having to practice with the real runners, the people who do 400-meter sprints and enjoy running and smile when they run. And I hated it. I was sucking wind one sunny spring day as I rounded the curve having run the first 600 meters, and I stopped running 200 meters from the finish line and stepped off the track. I leaned over a few minutes to catch my breath. My coach’s shadow darkened the ground at my feet. I raised my head and met her gaze.
“Are you hurt?” She said quietly.
“No.”
“If you’re not hurt you need to finish, I don’t care if you crawl over the line, but every time you give up, you will struggle at that mark in the race. Don’t quit. It’s the worst thing for your mind.” She walked away and blew her whistle and had us all lineup and we ran again. And this time, when I hit the mark I had quit at she was standing right there. No way I was going to quit with her right there. So I pushed myself and finished. And a little fist pump from my coach, her acknowledgment of my effort.  And that is how it went for the next week, every day at practice she would be standing at the sticking point to remind me to keep going. To not quit. To push through.

My sixteen-year-old self held on to those words and the look on her face every time I ran through the sticking point and finished. Those words got me through the rest of high school, nursing school, Army basic training, and every other hard thing I’ve ever done since then. Including writing my first book.

Those of you doing NaNoWriMo right now may want to quit. Perhaps you’ve fallen behind in your word or questioned why it’s essential to finish. NaNoWriMo is not about winning, it’s about finishing. No matter what your word count on November 30, complete your NaNoWriMo project. Don’t quit. Finish your draft. Even if it’s terrible and it takes you until next November to complete it, finish it. Don’t quit. I’m cheering for you.

PS Coach K, if you’re out there, thank you for all your life lessons, but most importantly, this one.

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows and yes, those are her monkeys.  When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.  She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. 

You can find her on Facebook by clicking here.  Sign Up for her email list and receive a free erotic short story HERE Check out more information about her upcoming releases and appearances at   www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon 

NineStar Press

Complex Dimensions

Knotted Legacy

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories 

Keys to Compelling Fiction: Crafting Characters

The lovely thing about writing is, well, two things. One, writing fiction allows us to bring an order to our lives that doesn’t exist in real life. And two, it allows us to create human characters that we know better than we will ever know anyone in real life. ” Octavia Butler

I adore the above quote from Octavia Butler.  Characters are, for most readers, the most compelling reason for them to keep reading. Readers may tolerate a mediocre plot and pacing that is a bit off, but if they don’t give a rat’s patootie about the characters, they will stop reading your novel.  I know from discussions with both authors and readers I’m not the only person who misses fictional characters after we finish writing, or reading a book, in fact sometimes the only thing that pushes me to finish is a desperate desire to know how my characters’ stories unfold and because I write romance I want them to get to their happy endings.

How do you go about crafting characters that keep readers turning pages? Some writers fill out exhaustive inventories of personality questions, and character inventories, some authors write reams of backstory, and others wing it. I have one friend that draws Tarot cards and uses them to create her characters.

I have a few tools I use for character creation and thought I would share my favorites. I begin my character building by starting with generalities: what they look like, age, where they grew up, and what they do for a living. The next step is completing the Backstory Wound Profile tool developed by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman and available in their book, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma. I use The Emotional Wound Thesaurus to give depth to my characters, to provide them with reliable, understandable, and relatable reasons for their behaviors.

My next step is to complete a quick reread of Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal Motivation and Conflict. Her short book is a concise explanation of why it is essential to understand your character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts. Dixon provides a GMC sheet that I complete as well using the information from the Backstory Wound Profile tool. If you don’t read any other book on this list, read this one. The third step in creating my characters is to research their occupations and culture. I use blogs, ethnographies, and in some cases, my travel journals to add details to my characters profiles.

Developing my characters is as much a part of my writing process as much as creating an outline. If I get stuck writing a scene or if the story is not flowing, I go back to my character sheets. Story flow problems are most often issues with a character’s growth arc. After rereading my character sheets, I’m usually able to suss out why my story is not working. After I address character arc issues, I’m ready to continue writing with confidence, knowing that my characters are moving along a believable path.

Writers, what are your favorite ways to craft characters? Do you have favorite tools and techniques you use? Readers, who are your favorite characters from fiction, the ones you still think about long after you close the book?

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows and yes, those are her monkeys.  When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.  She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. You can find her on Facebook by clicking here.  Sign Up for her email list here  www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon 

NineStar Press

Knotted Legacy

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories  

Coming Soon

Complex Dimensions, book four in the Rowan House series. Preorders Available September 20, 2019

Make it Your Own

 

Tomorrow the kids are back a school and my work life is back on schedule. I moved my office over the summer and I had worked in it only a tiny bit because it just didn’t feel like my office. I couldn’t figure it out. I was restless, and edgy and not productive preferring to sit on the couch or in a coffee shop to work.

Why? My usual reason for discomfort is that change is hard for me, as it is for many folks with ADHD/ADD. Patterns and routines are what keep us moving forward, as much as we might rebel against them sometimes.

Last night as I not sleeping, because I struggle with sleep issues, I was thinking about my production schedule for the week. It occurred to me as I visualized sitting at my desk the arrangement was totally opposite from former office. Many folks would not care if their desk was on the east wall of their office or the west wall, or if the office door was to their left or right, or if they would have their back to the door while working, but it made a difference to me.

The impulse to fix my problem was so strong, only the fear of waking up the rest of my family and then trying to explain to them why three o’clock in the morning seemed like a good time to move furniture stopped me. Today with the help of my very industrious twins we completely rearranged my office in half the time it would have taken me to do it alone.

I haven’t always been this aware of my feelings of discomfort. For years when things were off, I would just ignore them or push through or abandon doing things because of my unidentified negative feelings. Because my kids both struggle with identifying their feelings and being able to articulate what is bothering them, I ask them, especially when they are acting out, or overly upset, “what is wrong?” and “how can you fix it or make it better?” I want them to know they don’t have to settle or deny their discomfort, and that their feelings are valid. Even if other people don’t understand. Especially if other people don’t understand.

Notice I don’t ask “how can I fix it?” I want them to understand what it took me years to figure out. If something is wrong or doesn’t feel right to you, stop and think, take time to check in with yourself. Fix it yourself if you can, and ask for help if you can’t or it’s overwhelming to do it alone. Such a simple lesson and yet so powerful.

Before I had the privilege of having my own office with a door  I worked while sitting on the corner of the couch, or at my dining room table. In both places, I did little things that made it mine, and comfortable,  even if it was only during the time I used them.

Are there things in your life that are making you uncomfortable or are the source of negative feelings?  Have you abandoned your writing or creative space because it didn’t feel right or you were unable to be productive? Or have you never been able to settle into a creative space? Take a moment to check in with yourself, and then take the time to make your space your own, even if it’s a corner of a room or a place at the kitchen table do what you need to do to be productive and create. Now go make/write/do something amazing.

Brenda Murphy writes erotic romance. Her novel, Knotted Legacy, made the 2018 The Lesbian Review’s Top 100 Vacation Reads list. She loves sideshows and tattoos and yes, those are her monkeys. When she is not loitering at her local library she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot. She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. You can find her on Facebook by clicking here.  Sign Up for her email list here  www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon 

NineStar Press

Knotted Legacy

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories 

Back to Work

It’s the beginning of a new school year at our house — a time of new lunch boxes and backpacks and school supplies. My kids love school, and as much as I love our lazy summer days, I crave the structure that the school calendar brings to our lives. I have taken most of the summer off to reset and recharge, including an almost two weeks long social/screen sabbatical. During part of that, I took my kids’ camping for the first time, and it went well. The best part was the campground had no cell or internet connection, true freedom from 24/7 overload, and a fantastic digital detox. I am energized and well-rested and finally out of the blender.

What is the blender? It’s those times in your life when, just as you are getting settled, starting to get used to the new normal, something else occurs which requires you to change your plans, to find a new way to accomplish the five million and two things on your to-do list. And for those of us who struggle with our ADHD on a good day, and schedule disruption can send us right off the rails and destroy our ability to focus. The unstructured time of summer is both marvelous on one hand because I do like spending time with my kids, but I also struggle because I crave alone time to create. I coped this summer by using my bits of time to research and outline three projects.

Are things going to settle down now? Nope. There will be all the craziness that fall brings. But my kids will be busy at school, and I will have uninterrupted time for writing, or as I like to think of it, playing with my imaginary friends on paper. Now that my kids can read, and read very well, it is hard for me to work with them around and I can’t sneak in the time I used to when they were younger. The fall and winter are my most productive time, and last year, I managed to write two novels and a novella between September and March. I cheat a bit by doing NaNoWriMo every year, and that pushes me to complete a novel in a month.

This year my goal is to complete all three of the books I outlined by May of next year. Can I do it? I don’t know, but I’m sure as hell going to give it a good go, and having the framework in place makes me feel like I can. Not writing over the summer was super hard. Writing is essential for my mental health. Blogging, one of my favorite things to do, and the one thing I try to keep with, no matter what, has been hit or miss the last few months and that has made it much more difficult for me stay on an even keel. Writing, art journaling, and telling stories are my touchstones. The past four months have made that clear to me that no matter what I need to provide time for myself to create. Going forward, I’m getting back to work, knowing that when everything is wacky, and I’m in the blender, the one thing I can do to anchor myself, is writing. My advice, if you are a creator and you’re struggling, set aside a few minutes to create. Even fifteen minutes of writing/drawing/painting or whatever is your creative outlet, can make a difference, make time and create.  

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows and yes, those are her monkeys.  When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.  She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. You can find her on Facebook by clicking hereSign Up for her email list here  www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon 

NineStar Press

Knotted Legacy

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories 

 

Hitting the Reset Button

 

If you follow my blog, you know that this spring was a difficult one. We lost my brother-in-law to depression in March. To say we’ve been on a spinning wheel of emotions is not an exaggeration. We are in the process of organizing a celebration of his life, and dealing with all of the feelings that accompany that: sadness, grief, anger, overwhelm, frustration, and disbelief to name the most often occurring ones.

In spite of everything I managed to finish and submit a novella I had been working on, and now have no deadlines to meet which feels odd at the moment. I’ve worked steadily since last September and was able to write and submit two novels, and a novella.  I have to remind myself that it’s okay to take a break. That it’s enough for now. The photo at the top of this blog post also reminds me that writing is not a race and that maintaining a constant state of production is not healthy for anyone. It’s okay to sit and think for a while, to take time to plan and daydream and watch a storm from your porch. Slow progress is still making progress toward your goals.

My way of hitting the reset button and filling my creative well is home repairs and improvement projects. I have two rooms to strip wallpaper from, patch and repair and then paint.   It may seem odd that home improvement projects are one of my favorite forms of self-care, but it is very relaxing for me to spend hours solely focusing on avoiding brush strokes and roller marks. I also keep a notebook nearby because more than once I have had to stop painting and write down story ideas that pop up while my focus is elsewhere. Never be afraid to hit the reset button and give yourself the time you need to fill your creative well. For you writers and creatives out there how do you hit the reset button? 

 

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows and yes, those are her monkeys.  When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.  She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. You can find her on Facebook by clicking here.  Sign Up for sneak peeks, information on new releases, appearances, and occasional recipes here   www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon 

NineStar Press

Knotted Legacy

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories 

 

Return of the Spiral Notebook

If you have followed this blog from the beginning, you might remember one of my first posts was about the simple spiral notebook. At that time I was a mostly stay-home parent with young children. I kept a spiral notebook at hand to jot down ideas, and storylines, and thoughts that I wanted to explore as blog posts, and short stories. Then my kids went to pre-school, and I had much more time to devote to my writing, and I dedicated two hours and forty-five minutes to my writing Monday through Friday (the time I had between when I arrived home from dropping them off and when I had to leave to pick them up). It was miraculous, and I managed to get a collection of short stories written and published, and then wonder of wonders they went to kindergarten and later on to grade school, and I had much more time to devote to writing. I focused on writing novels and managed to write four books in two years, not a prodigious sum but for me, but it was doable and not overwhelming.

And then we bought the house next to ours to renovate as a rental and future home for any family member that might need to live close enough for us to care for them. I have done ninety percent of the renovation myself. I was sick and had surgery in December of this year. And then my mom and dad had some health issues that required me to make the eight-hour drive to their house on a regular basis. And then my sweet dog passed away suddenly in the Spring, leaving me short one office companion, and melancholy. 

All of this means that this year, I’m not sure that I will manage to produce two manuscripts to submit to my editor. It also means that I have been carting around my faithful spiral notebook so that when I’m in the middle of painting, or plumbing, or laying floor tiles, and come up with a new thought/idea/storyline/blog post I have a place to capture it. I know that some people use their phone for these types of things but let us say a cheap notebook and pen is more forgiving of paint-stained fingers.

At this point, you may be asking what my point is, and it is this: Never be afraid of adjusting your goals to fit your life, don’t feel bad about it, do what you need to do, and hold tight to those ideas for future projects. Life is full of seasons, don’t give up, be willing to bend, and ready to snap back when the storm has passed. 

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows and yes, those are her monkeys.  When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.  She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted.    You can find her on Facebook by clicking here. Or if Twitter is your thing follow me @BMurphySideshow 

Website: www.brendalmurphy.com

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Writing-While-Distracted

Books available at

Amazon

NineStar Press

Knotted Legacy

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Writing: Job or Business?

I was reading a thread a few weeks ago about writing, specifically about the need to write every day and the idea that if you didn’t, you weren’t serious about being published. One of the you-must-write-everyday proponents wrote, “I treat writing like my job and show up every day.” As I turned that thought over it occurred to me “Is writing my job or my business?”
Now, in case I have been unclear in the past,  I’m am firmly in the camp that recommends writing when you can, making use of whatever time you have to write. Working this way has seen me through four published books with another novel set to release in September. A job usually has set hours and an expectation of working a set time. As a small business owner, in addition to being an author, I can tell you that working on your business is a matter of finding/making time to do what needs to be done. Owning a business involves thinking and dreaming, strategic planning, cash flow management, and setting goals.

Just showing up every day and putting words on paper does nothing if you don’t have a plan for what to do with those words. If having your book traditionally published or indie publishing is your goal you have to have a plan, and then you must take advantage of every second you have to work your plan.
As someone with a day job, who is also a spouse, a parent, and a daughter with older parents and in-laws this is the only way I’ve been able to get any writing done with the goal of publication. I’ve researched publisher sites and calls for submission databases sitting on the couch while my kid with a fever dozed next to me. I’ve written in hospital waiting rooms while various family members were having surgery, and in medical offices and occupational therapy waiting rooms, and very late at night when the house is quiet, and I can’t sleep.
When my kids were little, I had exactly 2 hours and 45 minutes to write between when I dropped them off at pre-school and when I picked them up. I wrote like a fiend during that time, unless I need to grocery shop, or had to run some other errand that would have been incredibly stressful with three-year-old twins in tow. Writing every day does not make you a writer or indicate the level of your seriousness. The things that indicate a serious approach to publishing your work are writing, editing, submitting your work, finding ways to improve your craft, and working steadily towards what you want. Writing for publication is not just about writing, it is about learning your craft, striving to make the next book better than the last, and most of all it is about not listening to people say you have to do X, Y, or Z to be considered serious writer. You do you. Find your way. Don’t listen to people who insist there is only one way to do anything, even me.

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows and yes, those are her monkeys.  When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.  She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. You can find her on Facebook by clicking here.

 

Website: www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon

NineStar Press

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories

 

The Four Stages of Submission

 

No. Not that kind of submission. I’m talking about hitting the send button after I’ve polished my manuscript to hell and back and send it off to my editor. That kind of submission. With all due apologies to my friends who have to deal with me between the time I send a manuscript out and hear back from my editor, this is what I experience every time I send a book off for evaluation.

  1. Elation. The highest high, I’ve finally sent it off. Woo hoo I am done. Now I can start on that awesome idea I had for a book in the middle of this book.
  2. Anxiety. Oh hell, what was I thinking? It wasn’t ready. I should have spent more time editing it. Damn it’s too late. They’ll hate it. I better get to work on the next book.
  3. Anger. The hell with it. What do I care if they don’t accept it? I have other stories. So many  other stories to write. Let me channel my anger into this scene.
  4. Relief. The editor has responded. No more wondering. No more obsessively checking my email fifteen times a day.
    Substages: *1. They accepted it. Woohoo. Time to celebrate and then get to work on the next book. 2. They rejected it. Damn. Time to wallow in sadness for a bit, soothe myself with old movies, and bourbon. Then I let it go and get to work on the next book.

The key to surviving as a writer is to always get back to work. Feel the feels and then sit down and write. 

What are your stages of submission?

 

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Creativity: Habit or Gift?


One of the questions writers hear over and over is: Where do you get your ideas?, often followed by the statement: I’m just not creative. I don’t have a hard time answering the first. I get my ideas from everything I see, read, experience, and bits of the world I discover, often while looking for something else. Like this picture of my grandmother and her best friend.

One day I will tell a story about this photo. I found it looking through a photo album at my mother’s house.  I made a copy of the photo and added it to my flat file where I keep bits and pieces of ideas until I have enough to put together a project. 

The second statement is so hard to hear. I detest the idea that creativity is a gift. I don’t think it is, because there are so many ways to be creative. It is not only writing, drawing, or painting or any of traditional ideas of what being creative means. Being creative is allowing yourself time to think, to do something only you could produce with your thoughts, and hands, and time.

Lack of time is the greatest barrier to creativity. If you want to create you have to set time aside to think, to plan, to play with your ideas, and to experiment. If you want to create make a plan, schedule it into your life. Set aside time to think and discover. Anyone can create. Fine arts are only one aspect of creativity. Do you like to make changes and adapt recipes? That is being creative. Do you spend time decorating your home or planting a garden? That is being creative. Creativity is what happens when you stop and let yourself imagine, and dream. Give yourself permission to look at life sideways. Take the walk, visit the museum, read, and absorb the world around you. Creativity is a habit. It is work. Rewarding, delightful, soul filling work. Do the work. 

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