New Advice, New Deadline, (Still) No Sleep

It's crucial that before I begin, I post a HOT PICTURE of my husband. You know, before he develops the fear of me leaving him for a Hot British Actor. Or the fear of me leaving him to stalk a Hot British Actor.

Jarrod (center), looking hot

See honey? I still love you best.

Moving on . . .

So you'll NEVER EVER GUESS IN A MILLION BILLION YEARS what I'm going to talk about today. (But I'll give you three chances.)

1) Unicorns?

Not even close!

2) Turtleneck sweaters?

Not for another month!

3) That the Krebs cycle is a cycle of enzyme-catalyzed reactions in living cells that is the final series of reactions of aerobic metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fatty acids, and by which carbon dioxide is produced, oxygen is reduced, and ATP is formed?

Um . . . cough . . . what?

Give up?


Yes, I am still revising my novel. Yes, my deadline was Monday. Yes, I have a new deadline.

But I'm not as depressed as you'd think. In fact, I'm not sad at all. I didn't hit my goal, but for the first time in my life, I know there is nothing NOTHING more I could have done to reach it. I've realized the previous goal was an impossible one because:

I. Have. Worked. My. Butt. Off.

(Actually, my butt is still technically "on." Thank goodness. But it's getting lumpy from the lack of exercise. I should do something about that.)

I have never worked harder. Ever. For the last three weeks, my bedtime has been 4:00 am. My health is wrecked, my friends have forgotten what I look like, and I am totally out of underwear. Seriously. Someone needs to do the laundry. My vote? The dogs. They've been slacking.


But I've also never felt better about my work. I'm proud of myself. And now I have a reasonable idea of how much longer it'll really take to finish this draft.

I'm halfway through revisions, so I'm putting three more weeks back on the clock. So yeah. If you were looking forward to me talking about something other than writing this month, you are going to be disappointed.

I'm kind of obsessed.

My official new deadline is September 30th. Which means October 1st, my Super Awesome Writer Feedback Crew will be mailed/hand-delivered full manuscripts.

Prepare yourself Super Awesome Writer Feedback Crew! (AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.) I will be harassing you this October!

Anyway. On to the good stuff! Writing advice!

Well, it's good stuff if you're a writer. Otherwise you're skimming right now for Hot British Actors. In which case, I apologize. I'm shirking my duties.

What would you say to this?

Clive Owen. I knew you wouldn't mind.

Bit of Advice #1
-- Match Word Choice to Theme

Recently I recommended a book here called The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. One of the things that impressed me was how she took her theme of sweets and applied it directly to her word choice (without overdoing it). Take these delicious morsels from the first chapter:

the protagonist has "curly, licorice-black hair"
"a fine sheen of sugary frost" covers her windows
"If she could eat the cold air, she would. She thought cold snaps were like cookies, like gingersnaps."

I love the idea of taking the theme and/or plot of a book (or a chapter or a scene), and enhancing it via word choice. So you aren't just talking about the character's relationship with candy (this one hides it in her closet), but you're actually sweetening the text itself. Does that make sense?

Speaking of candy.

I remembered The Sugar Queen last weekend, because I was working on a scene that took place inside a p√Ętisserie in France. And I didn't want to just describe a bunch of desserts (though I did that too, and gladly), I wanted the feeling of the entire chapter to be sweet (especially since the subject matter being discussed in the shop was NOT sweet -- and I needed a balance). So what did I do?

I got out a cookbook.

Yep. I spent twenty minutes cruising through the dessert section of Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, making a list of every baking verb, adjective, and noun I could find. Then I went back into my chapter to see what AVERAGE words I could replace with my new FANCY words. Here are a few of the results:

-- chandelier crystals changed from "topaz" colored to "honey"
-- wind "whipped" (instead of "blew") through the shop
-- the glass rings on someone's fingers resembled "spun sugar"
-- a woman's glare turned from "dirty" to "frosty"

Not huge differences, but it pleased me.

On a related note, I've also heard about spicing up your prose by stealing verbs from the sports section of the newspaper. Love this idea!

And I'm also big on name-stealing. Every time I pass by a graveyard or cemetery, I can't help but jot down a few of the more unusual names inside. And I love watching movie credits, especially during foreign films -- lots of cool names hide in the those credits! Look for them.

What unusual places do you steal words from? (I'm especially interested in advice regarding the tactile and scented. I have difficulties remembering to keep these two senses in my work.)

No clever caption. Just completely unrelated Sin City hotness.

Bit of Advice #2 -- Use Your Nose

Speaking of scents . . . I have a really weird/embarrassing writing trick I'd like to share with you now. I mean it's really weird, so stick with me for a moment while I try to explain. And don't scoff too loudly, because I can hear you all the way from here.

I used to suffer from 40 Minute Warm-Up Syndrome. Meaning it took forty minutes minimum before my brain and fingers began making love on the keyboard, and words would enter my blank Word documents. FORTY MINUTES! That's a lot of wasted time. So I got to thinking about how I could -- pardon the barfy sports analogy -- "get in the zone" faster.

What would jog my memory? How could I zap myself back into my novel in less time?

Well. You know how the smell of mothballs reminds you of Grandma's church clothes? Or the smell of rotten eggs makes you think of Yellowstone National Park? Or the smell of stinky cat litter reminds you of that one friend you had growing up? The one with the really really gross house?

I made a scent for my novel. But not an icky scent. A pleasant one.

My magic formula is as follows:

Orbit Citrusmint Gum + Lychee Rose Body Creme = Novel

So in other words, every time I sit down to work, I slather on the rose-scented lotion and pop a piece of orange-flavored gum. And the amazing thing is, my warm up time has gone from forty long, excruciating, dead minutes to . . . none.



My nose goes "sniff sniff" and my brain goes "Oh, that's right. We're doing this thing now." Which doesn't mean the first bits I start writing are brilliant (they aren't), but at least I'm writing something. I plan on using this technique for, oh I dunno, THE REST OF MY LIFE. Seriously, from now on, each novel I write will have its own unique scent.

I'm thinking apple-scented lotion next. I don't know why.

"Stephanie? Are you almost done blogging? It's bedtime."

(Just one more, sweetie! Be there soon!)

Bit of Advice #3 -- Inspiration via Music

This is another trick I use when I'm stuck. Never underestimate the power of a good song.

What do I mean?

Well, say you're writing a kissing scene. (Because I like kissing scenes.) And the kissing is nice and all but . . . not anything to get hot and bothered about. In fact, right now your kiss is as chaste as an "inspirational" Amish Wanda Brunstetter novel (don't get me started -- okay, maybe a little bit -- why the heck would I want to read A LOVE STORY without any of the good bits? Is she crazy??).


So you need to up the hot factor, but you're not feeling it. Maybe you had a rough day at work. Maybe you just cleaned cat vomit off your favorite pair of shoes. Maybe -- and this is PURELY HYPOTHETICAL -- you haven't showered in three days. So what do you do?

Make a playlist.

Put together every sexy, romantic song you think of and start listening. Pretty soon, something's gonna happen to your characters. That kiss is going to start sparking. No, that kiss is going to start shooting FLAMES.

Why wasn't King Arthur more popular? Keira Knightley and Clive Owen DID THIS.

I make a playlist for every scene I write. I think about what emotion I want it to carry, and I find the music I feel best represents it. And not only that, but I have emergency playlists, for more generic needs, scenes, and situations.

Quick! Was the main character just dumped? Let's whip out the "Depressed" playlist! Is she fighting with her best friend? Put on the "Pissed!"

Eventually SOMETHING will inspire me, whether it's a pulsing rhythm carried through the guitars or a pointed lyric that packs a certain punch.

Now, I won't bore you with my playlists. "Sexy" to me probably does not equal "sexy" to you (unless we are talking about Clive Owen, obviously, who is NOT music, but if he were, would spontaneously combust your speakers).

But I do have one that's done me good this week. A flexible one, that can be used in many situations since it's instrumental -- the Atonement soundtrack. (I'm doing everything I can NOT to post a picture of James McAvoy right now. Oh, screw it. It's my blog. I can do what I like.)


If you don't remember what the music sounded like, check out the beginning of the trailer as a reminder.

Hear that cool typewriter noise? Yeah. It's on the soundtrack. I mean (nerd alert), HOW FREAKING COOL IS IT to write to TYPEWRITER music! Last weekend, I used it to kick myself out of least five different slumps. Genius.

By the way, the music was composed by the fabulous fabulous fabulous Dario Marianelli. He had previously worked with the director, Joe Wright, for the AMAZING Pride & Prejudice score. (No, Stephanie! Don't do it! ARGGHHHHH!)

This is why I should not blog late at night.

ANYWAY. What I was trying to say was that Marianelli won the Academy Award for the Atonement soundtrack, and rightfully so. That was it.

Where was I?

"Go to bed, Stephanie."

In conclusion, if you are stuck, don't be afraid to try silly things! Open up cookbooks. Spritz on cucumber body spray. Listen to music.

No one ever has to know.

(Unless you insist on blogging about it against your own better judgment.)


  1. Casablanca? That REALLY takes a long time to warm me up . . . so I settle for As Time Goes By. Sigh. (just for this WIP, set in 1950).

    Umm, do you by any chance have any more pictures of Clive Owen? Anything from Children of Men????? Anything? Huh? Huh? Oh, what about from back in the old days, like Croupier?

    I love the scent idea. I'm going to go for it.

    I am so proud of you . . . and your amazing revision advice!

    I use a lot of scents and tactile imagery and I guess I get to it through meditation. Close my eyes, breathe deeply, what DOES sand feel like . . . and not the cliche of sand . . . but a NEW take on it. Sand feels like . . . a thousand moth wings falling through your fingers.

    I love language that mirrors theme.

  2. Stephanie, you are crazy, but in a wonderful -- and certainly, fragrant lychee-y way! I love the idea of the rituals. And of course, I always love the photos. But I wonder if my mom knows that her boyfriend Clive is here, cheating on her. (My mom loves her some Clive.) Remember him as the sympathetic assassin in Bourne Identity? And Elise, Children of Men is soooooo good. I need to see that again.

    You know what? Clive would make a great Capt. Lawrence in the Temeraire movies -- but I fear Peter Jackson won't get around to making those til Clive is too old.

    Anyway, another 30 days sounds good -- much happy revising! Vite vite! I want more!

  3. Ooo yes, Children of Men! Anything Alfonso Cuaron touches is wonderful, but add in a scruffy Clive Owen? GENIUS.

    (Plus that seven-minute single-shot was astounding.)

    Elise -- I still haven't seen Croupier! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

    Laini -- And I haven't read the Temeraire books either! Gah! I just looked them up on Amazon, and now I remember you talking about them at the conference. They sound cool. Is it official that Jackson is going to make them? Or did he just buy the rights or something?

  4. Why must Britain get all the attractive men? Why?!

    When I was a kid, I'd read my mom's clothing catalogs to see what new color names they had to describe blouses and such. This effectively combined my love of words, color, and fashion.

    And I simply could not write without music. As far as soundtracks go, Finding Neverland is lovely.

  5. You had me at CANDY.

    Seriously, great revising tips. Mind if I link to this post on my blog?

  6. I keep a list of weird and interesting names from the obituary section. This town offers up an awesome, weird assortment of names.

    I love your sense-memory idea! That's pretty brilliant.

  7. Gretchen -- I don't know, but there DOES seem to be a higher percentage there. Why why why? Am I just blinded by the accents? (Um, probably.)

    lk -- I'd be honored if you linked to me! Thanks!!

    Alexa -- I should have known! You must have quite the extensive list...

  8. Thanks Laini for sending me over here - I'm just getting started in the writing process and so revisions are a long way off. But I think your tips will help in the crappy first draft process as well.

    I hate to be a heretic, but as one raised in the colonies I don't find the pasty white Brit boys terribly attractive as a rule. James McAvoy is the exception, and that's cause he's a cheeky little bugger with a lovely glint in his eye.

    You want hot? You need to check out some of our Kiwi men. And the pasty white Flight of the Conchords variety is only one of many. Maybe I should be posting them up on my blog to get more traffic.... Hmmm?

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