November 1st is almost here…and that means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month. For a category romance writer or a children’s book writer, you may end up with the first draft of your whole novel. For everyone else, you’ll have 50,000 words at the end of the month.  So, if you’ve ever wanted to write a book, or you’re a writer who needs a kick in the pants to get more words on the page, this is the month to do it!

If you’re thinking, “A novel in one month?! That’s impossible!,” just look to the thousands of past “winners” for encouragement (there’s no prize at the end, but the writers who complete the challenge are winners!). If they can do it, so can you! I have a friend who is a 5th grade teacher and her students win NaNoWriMo every year. So, my personal goal this year is to write with the reckless abandon of a child–turn off my inner editor and get words slung onto the page. You can’t revise what you haven’t written!

I’m moving on to a new project for NaNoWriMo and will be writing a young adult romance. I think I’m going to also switch it up a bit and write in first person present tense. I’ll be writing without a plot; I only know the two main characters at this point. It’s going to be a challenge, but NaNoWriMo is the time to experiment and try new things.

So, join me! Start writing. You can do it!

“Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar, all right?” — Michelle Obama


Openings #2

It’s time for another opening scene! This potential opening came from a prompt on Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write blog. Would you want to read about Liz and Mark (and Bianca, the frenemy)?

Liz frowned at the jars in front of her, debating which toppings to add to her frozen yogurt. Fresh berries or chocolate chips? M&M’s or graham crackers? Gummy bears or crushed Oreo’s? Bianca pushed her aside, diving straight for the rainbow sprinkles. For all Bianca’s faults, Liz had to give her friend credit for always knowing exactly what she wanted–and how to get it.

“So,” Bianca said, waving her spoon with a dramatic flourish. “I sent Mark a friend request yesterday.”

Mark? Her Mark? Surely, she wasn’t taking about the man who’d shared a cubicle with Liz for nearly a year. The man who’d brought her coffee every morning, but hadn’t asked her out on a date–yet. Dread settled like an anchor in her gut.

Bianca’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t mind, do you?”

Liz choked down rising bile and struggled to speak. “But you’ve never even met Mark.”

“So?” Bianca scooped out a bite of her fro-yo and licked it with enough gusto to be obscene. “As much as you talk about him, I’m pretty sure he’s not an axe-murderer. Hope not, since I’m meeting him for drinks tomorrow night.”

Liz resisted the urge to shove the spoon down Bianca’s throat–but silently prayed she’d choke on it.

“She’s a jellyfisher: You have a conversation with her that seems all nice and friendly, then you suddenly feel like you’ve been stung and you don’t know where it came from.” ― Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

10 Tips for Working with a Critique Group

Critique groups and beta readers are wonderful for growing your craft, whipping your book into shape before submission, and networking with other writers. But there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Take what makes sense to you–leave the rest. Don’t edit your book to suit someone’s opinion if you don’t share their opinion. It’s YOUR book.
  2. Not all critiques are created equal. For example, the advice of someone who reads widely in your genre may be better than the advice of someone who doesn’t.
  3. Not everyone will like you–or your writing. Taste is subjective. If the criticism is constructive and helpful in some way, fantastic. If not, don’t give it another thought. There are people who think John Green is long-winded, Stephen King is boring, and J.K. Rowling is unimaginative. TLDR: People be crazy.
  4. If you have more than one critique partner, you’ll receive conflicting advice. See #1. However, if more than one person shares the same opinion, listen up! You can still reject their advice if you disagree with it, but don’t disregard it without considering it.
  5. Don’t take it personally. It’s hard to see your work torn apart, but even the harshest criticism is rarely intended to hurt you.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Never argue with a critique partner or try to change their opinion, but if something is confusing–or you need suggestions for how to fix the issue–ask.
  7. Choose a group that suits your needs. Maybe you need accountability, and sharing one chapter at a time as it’s written will work best for you. Or perhaps you’re not ready to share your work until the book is finished. Your needs may even require more than one group. I have a critique group for children’s books and another for romance.
  8.  It’s okay to walk away. If a critique group isn’t working for you, leave (politely, of course). Find the people who motivate and encourage you.
  9. Don’t discount online groups or forums. My critique group for children’s books is comprised of writers I know in real life, but my romance group is made up of women I haven’t met in person–yet. Note: Inked Voices is a great resource for critique groups that “meet” online.
  10. Reciprocate. Users are losers.

“Don’t take criticism personally; take from it what’s useful. Apply it and move on to something better.” — Catherine Tate

October Mood

October is the best, isn’t it? The temperatures drop, the leaves start to change, the air smells like a pumpkin spice latte. And, of course, Halloween! It’s my favorite holiday, by far. I love the costumes, though I’ll confess I look for reasons to dress up the rest of the year too (I’ll totally be rocking a Hufflepuff uniform to every Fantastic Beasts movie, for example). And I live for the spooky films, haunted houses, and creepy stories — but only this time of year. Don’t try to get me to go to a scary movie in April. It ain’t happening.

Last year, I even took a stab at writing horror. YARN (the Young Adult Review Network) had a contest around Halloween. My story At the End of the World received an honorable mention and was chosen for publication.

This story is very different from my usual writing style. It’s a different genre (horror), category (YA), tense (present), and point of view (first person). It was an exercise in writing something outside my comfort zone. I may never write anything like it again, but I’m proud of it.

If you’re in an October mood, check it out.

Image may contain: Ashley Shouse Storm

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
― L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Coffee Injection, Stat

Finding time to write can be challenging. I’ve been stealing moments here and there when I can, usually in the evenings after work. There are lots of distractions, though. Stopping by the grocery, laundry, dinner, quality time with my husband, playing with the cats, making sure the chickens go to bed in their coop (instead of on top of it, or in a tree, or on the porch). Not to mention that I’m often mentally exhausted by the time I get around to turning on my laptop.

So, I’ve decided to try writing in the morning before work. I am not a morning person, so it hasn’t been easy. My friend Gail Nall is a talented Middle Grade author who gets up to write at 5:00 a.m. She’s been doing it for years and has several published novels to show for her hard work. I’m not quite ready to get up at 5:00 a.m., but for about a week now, I’ve been getting up every morning by 6:00 a.m.

I set an alarm and when it goes off, I pop up, ready to write!

Okay, you know that’s a lie. I hit the snooze button once — sometimes twice. Then I punch the start button on the electric kettle and pour 3 scoops of coffee into the French press. Less than 10 minutes later, I’m settled into my writing space with a warm cup of coffee and my laptop, ready to write. Right now, I’m getting in around 45 minutes of uninterrupted writing time. Eventually, I’d like to wake up earlier and write longer, but for now, the routine is working for me. I’ve written every morning.

And if I can do it, you can do it. Seriously. I fought to get out of a mandatory class in college because it was at 8:00 a.m. — and succeeded. I’m ready to go to battle for those few precious hours of sleep. But we make time for what’s important to us, right?

So, what do you say, writer friends? Would early-morning writing sessions work for you? Non-writer friends, is there something you’re willing to get up early for?

“Some people dream of success, while other people get up every morning and make it happen.” — Wayne Huizenga

Flash Fiction #1

I occasionally play around with different writing techniques. I find these exercises useful in honing my narrative voice. So, when the mood strikes to try something new, I usually do so in the form of flash fiction (stories under 1,000 words). My flash fiction is often weird and quite different from my typical writing style, but I’ll post them here every now and then.

Trigger warning: drunk driving, death.

College Application Essay #1

Name: Amy Sanderson

Question 1. If you could meet with any person, alive or dead, who would you choose? What would you say to them?

Any person? That’s easy. My brother. Jake.

He’s dead, but I’d prefer to speak to him alive, since you’re giving me the choice. And a person can’t speak to a dead guy anyway, no matter what my crazy mother thinks. Every day, rain or shine, she visits a little white cross beside the highway, just before the county line. It marks the place Jake stopped being Jake, a constant reminder that drunk driving kills. She sometimes asks me to go with her. I tell her no. When she’s sober enough to care, she gets angry. I try to walk away, but she always follows, yelling that I’m ugly and hateful and she can’t believe I don’t want to feel the presence of my brother in the place where his soul crossed over. I ask if his soul crossed over where they found his body or where they found his head. She pops another pill and becomes a K-pin zombie again.

If I could talk to my brother, I’d tell him he has a stupid roadside memorial but Jess doesn’t. She died in the crash, too, but her parents think it’s gross to memorialize the spot where they died, same as me. They went to court to try to get Jake’s cross removed. They said it was an illegal taking of public space for personal use and a distraction to drivers. They even made a Constitutional argument, something about church and state. They lost the case and left town. I wish they had appealed.

I’d yell at him for driving drunk and leaving me behind and making Mom a junkie. I’d beg him to tell me he died instantly, with no pain, like the coroner said. I’d ask if we really have souls, and whether Mom was right about his crossing over. Or was death just the end? Finito? Jake no more?

I’d tell him he’s become a cautionary tale, a name invoked by parents and teachers to scare kids straight. Jake Sanderson was going places, they say. He’d have won a soccer scholarship, or an academic scholarship, or been given an honorary doctorate without ever attending a class. Because he was that great. But he threw it all away for a case of beer. Don’t be like Jake.

I’d remind him of the family selfie we took the day before he died. Back when Jake and Mom and I called ourselves the Sanderson team and thought nothing could touch us. The three of us were all squished together on a porch swing for two, laughing our heads off. A few seconds after the picture was taken, the swing fell and we landed in a heap on the ground. We laughed even harder, until I was gasping for air and Jake and Mom were clutching their sides. It was the last time I heard Jake laugh. The last time I heard Mom laugh, too. I printed a copy and asked the funeral director to put it in the pocket of Jake’s blue suit – the one he hated but was forced to wear to Aunt Jackie’s wedding and then for eternity. Is it still in his pocket?

I’d ask him why he was heading out of town in the first place. Where was he going? Would he have come back? I’m going to leave and never come back. I’d tell him that. I want to go to college where it snows more than anywhere else in the country. Maybe there I’ll be able to associate the color white with something other than his little white cross and Mom’s little white pills. Maybe there I can blame the numbness on the cold.

I’d show him my college application and ask for advice on this essay. The school counselor, Mrs. Adams, said we should answer the questions truthfully and from the heart (and don’t forget to proofread for spelling and grammar!). Jake would say Mrs. Adams is a moron and I should have written about meeting with someone famous or influential. Someone like Amelia Earhart. I could ask her if she was running away too.

But she’s dead and my brother’s dead and the dead don’t speak.

Lessons from Chickens #1

If you had told me a few years ago that I would have chickens in my backyard, I’d have laughed in your face. I was a busy trial attorney who barely had time for a cat. I certainly wouldn’t have farm animals.

But here we are. I love having chickens. I have four laying hens and each have their own personalities. One is bossy, one is lazy, one is sassy, and one is really, really dumb. But I love the little dinosaurs — and not just because they each lay an egg a day; that’s just a bonus!

It’s amazing how much I learn by watching the silly creatures. So, I’ve decided to have a regular blog topic called Lessons from Chickens.

(Seriously, if twenty-something Ash traveled to the future and saw me (us?) now, she’d think I (we?) had been abducted by aliens.)

One of my hens is broody. She wants to sit on her clutch of eggs until they hatch. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize how babies are made. No rooster, no babies. Every day I take her out of the nest box and remove the eggs. Still, she won’t give up. She’s the Scarlett O’Hara of chickens. There will be more eggs to sit on tomorrow.

Lesson #1: Give it your best shot, but if/when it doesn’t happen, move on. Know when to walk away. As a writer, that may mean admitting that the opening to your novel just isn’t working. Perhaps it’s time to scrap a secondary character that you absolutely love but isn’t doing anything to further the story. It may even mean shelving your book entirely. Maybe you’ll come back to it in the future. Maybe not.

So, what do you think, friends? Is it time for you to let something go?

“Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.” Aesop