What Printing My Own Stickers Teaches Me About Writing

Not the catchiest title, but it’s one of those days, which is not a bad thing. We had a snow day yesterday, with everybody home. Today, I had planned to take care of a few other things, but plans changed (everybody is fine) and well, low hanging fruit is printing stickers.

When I say “my own,” I don’t mean my own design, though I am splashing around in the shallows with that, but stickers I purchased, or downloaded, digitally, and printed on my home printer, for my own use.

I am all about the black/white/blush aesthetic right now, with strong elegant gothy leanings, and that’s not necessarily something one finds every day in things readily available in brick and mortar stores. Which is okay. I( am obviously not the only person in the world with my sort of aesthetic, needs, and preference, and it’s all about finding who makes what I want, and what I will actually use. Kind of like writing and reading, hm?

Of course this is also kind of like writing the sort of book I would like to read -which I hope is what I am doing- because it involves a bunch of research, typing odd combinations of words into search engines, until something pretty appears on the screen. Since I have a visual impairment, this kind of DIY stuff does make me ask “how badly do I want this unique thing?” on a regular basis.

For some things, like printing double sided pages, I will be going to the pros. March right in there with a flash drive full of clearly labeled files, and notes on numbers of copies, color or black and white, paper weight (the weight of each sheet, not a paperweight in hand to throw at annoying people and/or people who misprint my order) and one or two sided printing. Probably some other things, but I’m not looking at those notes right now. Ah. Paper cutting. That’s another one. I do have a slicer type paper cutter, which works pretty good, if I make dark pencil lines where the light cut lines are printed, but there are certain things best left to the professionals. That also applies to things like editing, formatting, cover design, etc, whether with a traditional publisher or on the indie route.

If I hand over the raw materials, go do something else for a while, and tender coin of the realm, I will get back a nifty bundle of very useful items. From there, it’s up to me to apply those in the right way. With what I printed today, I have stickers to pop into my planners and tell me when I need to blog, outline, revise, edit, keep track of progress by word/page/scene or whatever else makes sense for me at the time.

Some of the printables I’ve purchased, or downloaded for free, are going to require that professional attention, and though I can and do print stickers at home, I do not have a Cricut or Shilouette machine to do the individual cutting for me, which means I get to do the old scissors thing, and figure out whether I want to deal with the fussy cutting around each image, or go for a less labor-intensive method of cutting on the spaces between images, so I’m basically going for white squares around everything. Those don’t actually look too sloppy if I draw a black (or other color) frame around with a fineliner.

\One thing that bothered me a lot when I started printing my own inserts and printables was waste. Not toxic as such, but the way things are laid out on letter size paper, there are going to be big areas of white, that doesn’t get anything printed on it, especially for those that are sized to cut down into smaller pages that will fit into planner folders. Sticker paper is not cheap, so throwing away any of it unused is annoying. Except, I figured out, that it doesn’t have to be:

behold, the rubber stamps

Those scraps get a date with my rubber stamps. These aren’t all of them, but they do fit with the way I want things to look, and I love handling them. Doing things with visual arts actually does quite a lot to get the idea hamster running, so this is a good thing. Stamp on the scraps, peel off the backing, et viola, we have new stickers. That thing I thought I had to throw out, I don’t have to throw out at all, only make it into something else.

Which is a very good thing to keep in mind about those scenes, phrases, characters, ideas, etc, that we have to cut from a story during the revision and editing process. Could be that bit doesn’t die, but only becomes a seed to grow something new. Not exactly the same thing, but something with the same flavor, something that fits in with the rest, but has its own special voice and appearance. Considering that I have a couple of stalled stories that need to be transported to other eras, or seem to be me stuffing a ten pound cat into a two pound bag, which I often do tend to do when starting a thing. Sometimes it’s both. What I end up with something other than what I first intended, but I’ve learned a new thing, and that means I have more tools going in to the next project.

Better Writing Through Computer Games?

Wednesday’s post is here on Thursday this week, because A) I came down with a rotten winter bug, last week’s “cold” actually the first stage of ick, and B ) Real Life Romance Hero’s laptop, less than a year old, abruptly stopped working, so we have had to share the single desktop. Not a lot of writing done this week, which is understandable because all power to shield, and better living through pharmaceuticals. One of the first things I want to do when I am climbing out of this stuff, is play Sims. Right now, that means Sims 4, and by playing, I mean largely refining my custom content to a fare-thee-well.

How does that relate to writing? Glad you asked (because somebody is probably asking. If not, you get my input anyway.) There’s no “right” way to play a life simulation game, and the methods of playing such are infinite, the same as telling a story, which is basically what I like to do with my games. It’s all storytelling. There are times when I blithely ignore what the game wants, er, suggests I do, and wander off the path to do my own thing, focusing on the aesthetics and letting my story brain take the wheel.

Everybody starts with the same basic stuff: the base game. It looks like this:

Now here’s one of my recent screenshots:

what I’m doing now

What’s the difference? Well, a boatload of custom content, for one. I think the only things in this picture that aren’t custom are the archway, the window, and the washing machine that’s almost in frame. Jacqueline, a Sim I have made in Sims 2, 3, and 4 versions, (yes, she is kind of probably going to show up as a heroine in a future novel, but she will have a different name, and will likely be historical) has custom skin, eyes, hair, makeup, eyebrows, and I spent longer than I would care to admit tweaking her facial features with not only the in-game options but custom presets. This picture is her taking a selfie, which she can do with her smartphone, a game feature, further tweaked by an in-game filter option, and ReShade, which adds post-processing to create some serious mood. Or vintage mood, or bright, cartoony mood, or, or, or, or…yeah.

Right now, my current neighborhood is all British New Build houses made by other players, which I download and decorate down to the tiniest bits of clutter, to best reflect the residents. It’s all character and worldbuilding, and I love it. Next float in this parade is to take one of my screenshots and edit it further in a photo editing program, maybe add some design elements and/or text. Now that I have a ne printer, this might turn into stickers that I can put into my planners and notebooks, etc. There aren’t a lot of words involved in creating Sims and their environments, but here’s one thing that does happen when I spend a good chunk of time playing around with this: I want to write more fiction.

I didn’t expect it to be like that, but maybe it’s not such a surprising thing. As above, it’s character building and worldbuilding. Sims have their own wants, which I can fulfill or not, and deal with the consequences. I can override all of that and make whatever I want happen, within reason. Sometimes without it; Sims actually have things called “whims” that affect their moods, which affects how likely they are to do what the player wants them to do. This isn’t entirely unlike how it goes with writing. There’s also the times when things will just…stop, due to a glitch. Possibly a bad piece of custom content that doesn’t belong in this version of the game, or got shafted due to incompatibility with a patch, or I forgot to tdownload a mesh, or any one of a few dozen things. Maybe my aesthetic has changed, and so the custom content or even dfaults that I ha been playing with for years aren’t going to work anymore.

That means diving deep into my files and ripping out what doesn’t fit with my current methods/desires and replacing it with stuff that does. Trying new things, rising perhaps to a few challenges, or knocking it down and starting from scratch, though I am setting myself the goal of sticking with a single save for a certain number of generations, which is not unlike oh, say, finishing a book.

Right now, Melva and I are focusing on finishing Drama King, and I am loving that. Still, I have my notebook for Her Last First Kiss set up and that’s probably going to be next, because I miss historical romance like I would miss my own right arm. The only way to stop missing that is to get back to it, and, like searching for Sims content, this is going to mean reading a lot and poking around and seeing what I love, love, love, now, and if that means changing a few things that I have already done, so that I absolutely cannot wait to get to that keyboard and get to Bern and Ruby’s HEA, breathless, worn out, but still with enough energy to pump my fist in the air because we did it, fates be danged.

Not at all a bad way to wind up one year and start another, the way I see it.

Raiding The Lost Archives

Low key Monday, my background sounds a crackling hearth ambient sound thingamaboodle, tea in my favorite mug at hand, and a loose list of things to get done in the first half of the week at the ready. So far, so good.

I can’t believe it’s already going to be December tomorrow. We are, as a family, in a much better place, both mentally and physically, than we were last year, and it’s still in the getting used to it phase. The longer away, the farther the road back, some may say. In a lot of ways, that’s true. There are also times when it’s an instant transition like a Star Trek transporter. That happens, without warning, when one makes frequent trips to the storage units when settling into new digs after a long time away.

My keeper historical romance novels are still in the unit somewhere, but we will be retrieving them hopefully soon, as A) I want to read them, and B ) I have some plans for both Buried Under Romance and my return to vlogging, and I am pretty excited about both A and B. Pens and paper and various stationery items are steadily coming home to roost, and falling organically (I love when that happens) into their own patterns and methods of use. When asked if I am a pantser or a plotter, my answer is “puzzler,” which has elements of both. To put in Dr. Who terms, it’s a wibbly wobbly time wimey flying into the mist, picking up breadcrumbs as I go sort of thing. That means frequent ambushes of hibernating ideas, ninja memories, not only launch surprise attacks when I think I am doing things as mundane as unpacking dishes, but they gang with things I didn’t think I had any interest in before, but when they are hanging out with Thing I Already Like or Thing I Forgot I Like (or both) well, that’s a different story.

Playing (highly customized) Sims 4, listening to commentary on The Last of Us
(adult content warning for scary things)

Story, of course, being the key word. There’s the feeling of a glimmer of…something when one least expects it, a “hmm, that’s interesting,” and then, before one knows it, one is cannonballing into a rabbit hole, five tabs open at once, listening to commentary on video games one has never played on in the background, looking for custom content in a game one does play, to capture the same mood and/or aesthetic, but make it romance, and…yeah. A writer’s mind is a messy but beautiful place, and in this season of gratitude, I am very thankful I have one.

It happens in a moment, listening to ambient sounds, playing a game with the sound off because the other sounds are better, and one looks away from a moment, and one’s instinctive “noooooo!” turns to “hm, what if…?” I like those moments. They move quite naturally, when all aligns, from screen to pen and paper, to keyboard and back to screen. To readers, one day. Getting to that place, it would seem is not such a long road back at all.

Meat Loaf, Muscle Memory, and Writing Romance (Also Sims)

Most importantly, the Meat Loaf of which I speak is the singer, not the food. I did get to meet Meat for about five seconds, at an autograph signing. I blurted out that he broke my creative block. He immediately lit up like a Golden Retriever at hearing “who’s a good boy?” and asked which song, and how, and what genre did I write, which was when his handler gently apologized to both of us and said he had to move the line along. That stuck with me, though, and cemented my love of the Loaf. Which brings me to last night.

I was not listening to Meat Loaf last night. I was listening to a Sims 4 Let’s Play video, which is probably my current favorite viewing material. Even so, I had no intention of writing-writing (cue amused chuckles) as I listened, and managed custom content, and fiddled with my Sims journal, shown here in the charge of my co-worker:

That thing is packed full of altered index cards, because a) they are sturdier, and b) with my vision, dot grid only works if it’s about an inch from my face, and crooked writing is a big no. Every card is a Sim, their aspirations, goals, traits, spouses, children, and ultimately, when they move to the “graveyard” section, causes of death. No overthinking on this stuff, because it’s a game. So, there I am, thinking that I’m going to have to cut down and punch more cards, because we’re moving into the next generation, and then I’m grabbing one of those discarded dot grid pages, to make notes for the cards I’m going to want to make for the Sims 2 and 5 versions of what I’m doing.

Still no Meat Loaf. There was, though, at some point, a frantic pat through the dark (ah, the joys of motel writing when Real Life Romance Hero is asleep) for my writing-writing notebook. After that, a lot of ink came out of the pen in my hand, as notes on a long-overdue scene from Drama King filled the formerly empty pages. Pages. Plural. When I am done with this post, I will transcribe and send the scene off to my long-suffering contemporary writing partner, Melva.

Still not listening to Meat Loaf while I wrote that, but as soon as I set down notebook and pen to try and get some sleep (my brain throws slumberless parties on a regular basis) the first notes of this song trickled into my subconscious:

this song is relevant to my interstes

One thing that has stuck with me was a tidbit from an interview, where Meat talked about his songwriter, Jim Steinman. He said that what audiences need to remember is that everything Jim writes is part of a universe in his head, that is basically an epic vampire opera. I believe some of it was produced as an opera, in Germany. Possibly in German, which does not sound out of the realm of possibility.

What does this all have to do with muscle memory or romance writing? Actually, a lot. In the midst of custom content and screenshots and Let’s Plays and other things that are still creative but not focused on producing pages, my brain gets to free-float and do its story stuff wihout me getting in its way. Ad the facilitator of a long-ago writer’s group often said, once we put pen or pencil to paper, we were not allowed to stop it moving. The process would beget the product.

With things like this, my brain goes “storystorystorystorystory” and “atttttmosssspheeeeeeereeeee” until I am darned near besotted with it. When that happens, oh look, how did all that writing get on the page? I better get more paper. Not just for one book, because while I was furiously scratching out dialogue for Drama King, Bern and Ruby, from Her Last First Kiss were at the edge of my vision, tapping their feet, and next to them, Cornelis and Lydia from Plunder. All of them with lists grievances….uh, adjustments I need to make so that they look the say they do on the page as they do in my head. Not only physically, but you get the drift.

One of my Sims notes is to set aside time (after writing) to learn Reshade (lighting editor…ish?) and fine tuning presets I didn’t even know could be fine-tuned but make all the difference from bright and cartoony (which is fun, too, when I have the taste for it) to…my people. It is like that with reading and writing, too, as recent conversations with bookish friends have confirmed. Keep at it, when it’s possible. Put the pen on the paper. Keep it there. Sooner or later the muscle memory will kick in, and therein likes the tale. Literally.

Anna

December Planner Post – Non-Planner Edition

The view from the motel lobby

Yesterday, I busted some old friends out of jail. Still dealing with adult-y things, which is progressing, and also demanded that I go to a sure-fire mood booster; stationery. Housemate and I swung by the storage unit, so I could get my Papermate Flair pens all in one place.

Pretty, but lonely. I think they need friends, aka colors I don’t have yet. Not bothered with having a few duplicates, as that means readily available backup. All the fun of pen shopping, without the sticker shock, because they are already mine. Some days, a pen lover needs a fix. Yesterday was such a day. I have not yet had a chance to actually play with these pens since their jailbreak, but they are meeting up with my planners later on, as we are now in a new month.

I also busted out Big Pink (standard size Websters Pages traveler’s notebook) and Spinebreaker (B6 size Pen + Gear traveler’s notebook) both of which I have used as planners in the past. Neither of them are planners right now. I didn’t know if I had any concrete plans (hah) when I grabbed them, but I did know I couldn’t see them and leave them there. I’m using mini and classic size Happy Planners for actual planning, but I could not in all good conscience leave the girls alone

First thing I did when I got back to the motel was to ensconce myself on the bed, and rip everything out of each cover. Everything. Every insert, every accecssory, pouch, piece of deco, etc. Everything. Doing that, one finds that one has a heck of a lot of…stuff. Stuff one may not remember what it was doing there in the first place. Clear the decks, and then start adding.

I knew right away that Spinebreaker was for the B6 notebook I received from N and Mr. N. I use that for morning pages.

The green covered insert was there when I put Spinebreaker away, and could not have gone better with the other book, so it stays. This one is dot grid, and will be used for trackers. That will probably let me play some with my Flairs, or maybe some other pens. We’ll see.

I’m liking the UK theme for the pocket deco, so we’ll see how that develops. No pen in the pen loop yet, but it will probably be a basic black ballpoint or gel pen, unless I go with a multipen, but that’s for another post.

Big pink was where I had the biggest “huh” moment, because she had been my main planner, but I am using the Happy Planners for that now, and redundant calendars make me itchy. Also, I had mis-numbered December anyway, so no calendar insert for her this time. I also have a dedicated Happy Notes set up for writing stuff, so she wasn’t going to be for that, either. :drums fingers on desk:

Since the pink elastic I had for her closure had stretched out, and my only options for replacement (on hand) were turquoise and purple, I figured this would be a great time to dive in and make her a pastel Christmas themed sort of thing. Second thought was to make her gothy. Couldn’t decide, so now she’s both.

No lined paper in this TN at all, as of this point, which surprises me, but it does give me the chance to try some different art-y journal things, the kind with paint and fancy lettering and :waves hands vaguely: special stuff that isn’t only bare bones handwriting. I have pockets filled with stencils and stickers and ephemera, a washi tape sampler, and we will see what this actually turns into, but it feels right for now.

Sometimes, when “real life” gets chaotic, a little creative chaos can help put things back into focus. Play matters. There will probably be another insert or notebook section for Sims games, as I want to plot out all of my households I want to play, and in which iteration, before I actually play them, or it gets to be too muddley. There may also be a reading schedule/tracker put in place, but we will see how that develops organically as I mess about with these girls. The process is part of the fun.

See you next time!

One Week Into One Book July

This is the closest I am going to get, this Monday, to having all of my ducks in a row. This weekend just past was a weekend of three (count them, three) flea bombs, over the course of two days. Judging from the peaceful night’s sleep we all had, presumably free of microscopic vampire bugs, that should mean a peaceful Monday morning, but au contraire, it meant a Monday morning of shaking out bedding, moving things back where they go, rescuing things-that-touch-food from their cabinet bunkers, and hauling trash and recyclables to the refuse room down the hall. (For new readers, we live in an apartment building, and this is a magic place where gallant maintenance workers whisk away our rubbish on a daily basis, not that we have a room full of trash in a private residence. Nobody wants that.)

Okay. Focus, Anna. While work continues on Camp NaNo and Plunder, with notes on researching Catholicism in the Caribbean, in the late seventeenth century (yes, that is important for the romance, Karen. (Metaphorical vernacular “Karen,” not any specific person named Karen, even if she does want to see the manager.) because a certain part of the story will be a whole lot easier for me, if not my characters, if I can plop a fictional convent where I want to plop a fictional convent. So far, the answer should be yes, especially in non-British-held islands, and my hero is Dutch, sooooooo……

:deep breath: What was that I said about focus? Right. Okay. One Book July, as it applies to planning, has no official rules, but the commonly accepted guidelines are to use one planner/bullet journal for everything during the month of July. Some participants add other challenges, like using only one pen. That one, I would normally have a hard time doing, but that pen in the picture below? I get two of them for about seventy cents, and they are comparable to Pilot G2s, so yeah, this is the pen I am using as everyday carry for this month.

Webster’s Pages, pocket size, blush cover

Please note, (pun unintended) that I have fallen in love with that flower-crowned vixen (saving that line for a future hero’s lexicon) and, when I fill the insert she graces, I am taking the cover off and putting it on the next one. I know a good thing when I see it. That particular insert comes from a national chain craft store, in packs of three, for about two dollars (less, if there is a sale) and I am already stockpiling them, because, although I was hesitant about A) passport size, which is even smaller than pocket, and B) white pages, when I strongly prefer ivory, these guys are absolute perfection for my daily pages. Bullet point tasks on the right hand side of the spread (please insert my mother’s voice here, clarifying that it is my right, not the viewer’s right. Thanks, Mom.) and then the left/facing side is for notes.

I didn’t mean to set up my daily insert like that. It happened, on its own, as did finding the perfect balance for Li’l Pink (yes, I name my planners, and yes, they have genders) is three passport size inserts, and then I don’t know how to count the pocket sized inserts, because we have some buddy bands in there, and printables and covers I ripped off and covers I made, and it works, okay, does it really need a label, Karen? Ooh, labels.

My name is Anna, and I am a notebook addict.

Even though it is One Book July, it is also the time when I finally caved in to my curiosity about the B6 size of insert/notebook, above. Same company that makes the fox insert (ooh, do they make a B6 version of the fox? Now I have to go in search of; if I don’t return, I love you all.) makes B6 inserts, same paper -plus lined, plus graph (which I did not get, but will, this weekend) – and they were on sale for a mere dollar apiece, so of course I had to indulge, and, well, I love them.

I do not, however, own a B6 traveler’s notebook, so now I will need to start looking in that direction, but, in the meantime, these inserts are looking happy enough in my spare regular size Webster’s Pages, that I was wondering how I was going to use, so that will work out fine until I can settle the cover issue. I didn’t even have to think about what I’m going to use these inserts for, because they presented themselves. I now do have a notebook-notebook, to keep track of all things stationery (if anyone is taking bets on when that would finally happen, whoever had July 5th, 2019, gets the prize.) There will be another insert for household information, one for sketches/doodles/etc, and one for random brain dumps. I know exactly what pens I want to use with it, and it’s rather satisfying to have a whole endeavor land in my lap like that, a single bloop, and there it is.

Writing is like that, sometimes, and when it is, it is wonderful. More often, it’s like that pocket notebook that is my everyday carry/my one book for July. Trial and error. Will this work? No? Well how about that? Oh no, that’s worse. Rip that out, hide the evidence, try this weird thing because why the heck not? Well, look at that. That actually works. Okay, then. Onward we go.

No deep wisdom on writing today, Karen (or is there?) but I do learn a lot, about myself, about visual arts, about creativity in general, and other things, from my notebook adventures, which is why I do see them as part of the writing process.

Oh wait, there is one practical tip. If you see an oddly placed sticker in my July planner pages, there is probably the evidence of a dead bug under it. This gal does not tear out pages from a sewn binding. I’m not a monster. (usually)

State of the Planners March 2019

Monday’s post on Tuesday this week, because that’s how the week is starting out, but Tudor offers two red roses (filing that one away for a future novella title, maybe a second chance at love sort of historical thing) to welcome the new month:

Tudor has brought you roses…

First Monday post of the month now belongs to a dedicated post on planners and/or planning, so let’s have a look at what’s doing it for me this month:

Pouch, sticky notes, and notepad by Papaya Art
Binder and Traveler’s Notebook covers by Webster’s Pages

One thing I have come to learn about myself, and this applies to planning, reading, and writing, alike, is that, if a page is not working for me, that means there is probably not enough on it. This all coalesced earlier this week, while I was turning over my dissatisfaction with the current everyday carry…or everyday not-carry, because what I had thought was going to be smooth and streamlined, and all of the stuff that I go through periods of thinking stripped down is going to be easier than giving in to my natural maximalist tendencies. One would think I would have learned by now, but apparently not.

I like the idea of traveling light, and there is a practicality to that, but, for me, it’s not enough. I like to have a lot to look at, which carries over into my preference, especially in historical romance, both reading and writing, to have lots and lots of details, and lots and lots of layers. Give me lots and lots of colors and lots and lots of layers, and I will stay on that page, and the ones that come after it, all the livelong day, which is kind of the thing we want to have happen when writing, or planning for writing. . This is where I am currently learning that I need to bottle this kind of thing, or stick a (literal) sticky note on it, and add it to the metaphorical toolbox.

Right now, the picure below is the setup I have for the weekly section of my writing planner. I am fast coming to the end of the stickers that came with the planner kit, which means time to hunt down some more stickers and ephemera that have the same aesthetic. This part of the hunt also serves as some delicious nibbly treats for my idea hamster. Links to or recommendations for Etsy shops, Instagram accounts, etc, where I might find unusual, pretty things for my planners, are greatly appreciated, so drop them in the comments.

Planner kit by Heidi Swapp

While I love having one binder dedicated to writing schedules and writing schedules only, having a separate notebook for more in-detail writing notes, as in actual writing about writing, listmaking and such, does not have the same appeal. What feels much  more natural, though, is putting the blank monthly and weekly pages, and pages from months past, in some other sort of storage, and using that space for abovementioned notes.

This means that I have some work to do. First, I need to decide how I am going to divide that space. Fortunately, that was easy. I need four categories:

  1. Historical Romance
  2. Contemporary Romance
  3. Future Projects
  4. Blogging

Incidentally, Li’l Pink happens to have four inserts right the heck now. Hm, could this be an answer to my question above, even if it isn’t in the same binder? Only one way to tell on that front, and that is to jump right in, throw things at the page, and see how it goes. Which is kind of like writing, which is very often a sign that I am headed in the right direction.

TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) version: The most-most natural way for me to go about planning, and about writing, and about keeping track of how things are going with both planning and writing (reading, as well) is to notice to what areas/themes/flavors/etc I find myself naturally drawn, and then go toward that in the way that feels most natural at the moment. Of course, this is also where discipline comes into play, which, again, is a lot less tedious when the page has lovely things on it already. Maybe the first layer isn’t enough on its own, and that is okay. Let’s add something else, and see where that takes us. Soon enough, it’s less thinking and more instinct, and hey, look how far we came. How’d that happen?

How do you figure out what sort of planning suits your individual purpose? What’s working for you right now?

Jazz Buds and Cover Art Questions

Originally, I had two meetings planned with writer friends, but both had to reschedule, due to domestic tornadoes, which means I have the morning, unimpeded, for writing. There is snow outside, and Tudor Rose Hart-Bowling (aka Liar McLyingplant) is showing off his jazz buds, as the first roses of not-quite-spring tease with a flash of red petals, still tightly furled. My nails are in need of a fresh coat of polish, and currently bear a fresh coat of acrylic paint, as I finally took the plunge and spread some paint in one of the art journals I was saving for…I’m not sure exactly what, but the way I learn best is to take a running leap of the metaphorical dock, shout “Ronkonkoma” (yes, I know it’s a real place, no, I have never been there, and it’s a family version of shouting “Geronimo.”) cannonball into the metaphorical water, and then splash about until I end up swimming.

Almost open!

Once I get to that point, I go straight into meticulous planning mode. Took a while to get to this point, but it seems to be working, so I plan on sticking to it for the foreseeable future. That future is taking more of a shape as things writing-related coalesce into shape. Last night, Melva and I worked through the cover art form for Chasing Prince Charming, our upcoming release from The Wild Rose Press.  My first four books, all historical romance, from Awe-Struck E-books, and Uncial Press, had different processes for developing cover art. For my books with Awe-Struck, I was able to work with artists I personally selected, and have strong input on every element of the design. With Uncial, the publisher knew exactly what to do, and even hand-wrote a line from Never Too Late, to shoot a perfect image.

The process for creating Chasing Prince Charming’s cover is yet another new adventure. Melva and I may or may not have had a few deer in the headlights moments when we went over the requested information. Which of The Wild Rose Press cover artists would we like to use? What is the general feel of this cover? Can we find an existing cover that has a similar look to the cover that we envision. Wait a minute. What are we envisioning for this cover? That…there…should…be…one?

Umm, yes, there should be, but there are a few other things involved. One of the best things about being half of a writing partnership is the ability to pass the metaphorical ball back and forth (aka “shove it at your partner, and run away, whimpering.”} In this case, since Melva has been an utter rock star, handling editorial communications, the task of perusing the wide world of cover art fell to me. This is not a wholly unpleasant task, as I have long been enamored of the wide world of romance cover art. Historical romance cover art, to be specific, so peeping around at the contemporary version has been an eye opening experience. There are a lot of tattooed and shirtless contemporary romance heroes out there. Dominic from Chasing Prince Charming does not have any tattoos, and he will be keeping his shirt on for this cover, as Melva and I have requested that he be depicted in a suit. We presume that he and Meg will both have heads, as there were spaces to indicate hair and eye colors, and having at least one particular shoe, somewhere on the cover, would be super great, but, really, we’re going to be excited for whatever the art people come up with for this one. Expect me to flash that puppy around like baby pictures.

Having cover art makes Meg and Dominic’s story feel very much more in Real Book territory, though, of course, it always was that, right from the start. If at least one of us is already saving pictures and keywords for the day we get to this stage with Drama King, well, that’s not entirely unexpected. Her Last First Kiss will be at this stage one day, as well, and that one, I’ve been able to see quite clearly in my head, for a while now. Now all I have to do is get the book to the end of a second draft and start sending it places. Mere trifles, am I right?

What’s your idea of a great romance novel cover? Drop links in the comments, and I’ll weigh in on each.

Writing Lessons From My Art Journal

Happy Halloween, and/or day before National Novel Writing Month, to all who participate. The extrovert in me loves the community of NaNo, and the competitive side of me loves the pounding toward a goal, hell-bent for leather, as my Aunt S used to say, but anxiety is not as thrilled about the pressure, so, for me, doing the slow and steady thing works better, so I will cheer on all who are participating from the sidelines, and keep on going at my own pace..

Once again, we have Monday’s blog on Wednesday, and I am okay with that. Domestic Tornado Season is, hopefully, winding down, fingers crossed. In the meantime, butt in chair, fingers on keyboard and/or pen to paper whenever possible.

Lately, I’ve been using my art journals to destress, and, as usual, they’ve taught me a few things about the writing life. I don’t know how I settled on it, but, in the middle of one of the bigger tornado surges, I took out the nearest art journal to hand, and turned to a fresh page.

First of all, I did not draw anything on these pages. Both pages are stencils, by Jane Davenport, whose art supplies I love, love, love. The notebook cover and insert are both from her collection, as well. No compensation here, just a fan, sharing what works for me.

I’ve tried to start this blog entry many times, and I always get in my own way, so I am going to go ahead and throw whatever is in my head onto the page, which is generally how the best stuff happens, anyway.

Earlier, this week, I grabbed the art journal, pictured above, some face stencils, and a Pitt artist pen, and started throwing stuff down. These stencils have options as to what features I can put, and where. Usually, I start off placing the eyes too high. Moving them around before I actually set down any ink helps, and keeping a small notepad next to my art journal also helps, because working with art stuff is a great way to get my story brain on the back burner, which is when my imaginary friends often do some of their best stuff, while I’m looking at lines and shapes and colors.

Right now, it’s already after 3PM, which means that the ideal posting times have passed for the day, and I could call myself now two entries behind and promise that I’d take care of it tomorrow. I know this is bull, because tomorrow is already booked (no pun intended) and a post written after the ideal posting times is going to get more hits and reach more readers than the post I’m going to write, eh, sometime. This is also the first thing that my recent art journal experience has taught me about writing:

* Put Some Stuff On The Page. 

This is important, because, without that, nothing gets done. The idea stays in my head, and, no matter how many people I tell about it, nobody will get the full experience. Including me. As long as the idea stays in my head, it stays perfect, and I can’t fail. Once I commit ink to paper (or the digital equivalent) the ball is actually in play. If I don’t like what I made, A) nobody has to ever see it, and B) I can open to a new page and start again.

*Use What You Already Have. 

I love going to art or craft stores, looking at all the pretty stuff, imagining what I can do with it, and petting the packaging. Sometimes, some of it even comes home with me, which means I can actually use it. I can also actually let it sit there and taunt me with its un-touched-ness, but I don’t get to find out what it can really do, unless I bust it out of the packaging and put it on the page. See first point, above. Those craft store displays and online adverts are very tempting, buuut know what? That box of stuff is right here, and everything in there was the shiny new thing once. It came home for a reason. Time to actually let it fulfill its purpose, or, at the very least, see what it can do.

*Experiments Are Good

When I first started using the traveler’s notebook system of covers and inserts, I was very adamant that I only wanted one particular size, about five by eight inches, because that was the size of notebook I already liked. Two sizes, if we count pocket. Then, I had to have this particular cover, which came with this particular insert, which is standard size, eight inches square, folded in half (my brain is not going to do the math) but this was the insert that came with the cover, and it was marker paper, and I have markers, and what’s the worst that can happen?

In this case, I can fill the entire thing in a record amount of time (I am one spread away from filling the whole insert) and then start making my own, from paper I already have on hand, because I love what my brain does when I am art-ing, which leads to the next point.

*Take Notes

This one, I cannot stress highly enough. My story brain works best in a fertile environment. If I’m making art, I have a pen in my hand already, so, if there is a pretty piece of paper (or the back of an old envelope) nearby, it’s ready to catch any thoughts that pop into my head. I am also usually listening to something while I art, and, recently, that’s included a lot of You Tube videos on writing and/or reading.

This is normally where I want to wrap the post together and relate it directly to writing, but I’m not going to do that right now. I’m going to leave it where it is, hit “post,” and grab a notebook or two.

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Fifty-Nine

That’s how many pens I now carry with me on a daily basis. Fifty-nine pens. No, you may not borrow one. I probably need to keep a couple of decoy pens on hand for when the question inevitably arises. It always does. Real Life Romance Hero knows to come to me first when it comes to office supplies, before heading to Staples or Office Max. He knows well enough not to ask, “do you have an X?” but “do you have a spare X?” Smart man. For those wondering if this is a post about pens, the answer is: partly.

To give some context, this is the latest addition to my daily carry:

01pencasecover

 

The first time I saw it, I thought it was a planner. Easy mistake. It was in with a bunch of planners, the only pen case of its kind in the entire display. It even had a bunch of assorted gel pens already inside, in case the rows of pink elastic loops inside were not indicator enough. Three compartments. Ten loops on each side of each compartment. I did some quick math. If I played my cards right, I could carry sixty pens with me, every single day. Um, yes, please. Sixty pens, literally wrapped in motivational soundbytes? Double yes, please. Triple yes, please, because it coordinates with Big Pink.

Immediately, my mind swam. Sixty pens, yes, but what sixty pens? That’s the important question. Pencils? No, not in here. I love the pale pink interior too much. Pencil smudges would be a distraction. Pens, then. Also highlighters. Ooh. I have that set of pastel highlighters that has been, so far, hiding in a pouch, along with some fineliners. The workhorse pens, the ones I reach for the most, those could go in there, too, but what about the rest of the spaces?

01pencaseworkhorse

There were a lot of attempts at filling those slots before I finally figured out that the highlighters were more substantial than regular pens, and an empty loop is not going to be the end of the world. Originally, the highlighters and workhorse pens were going to be on the side where the Stabilo fineliners (yellow barrels and colorful caps) now sit, because it took me a while to decide what had to go where.

Not what I wanted to go where; there’s a difference. My initial idea was that all twenty slots in the first compartment would be for workhorse pens/highlighters, the second for a set of markers, and the third would be my special pens that people who are not me better not even think about borrowing. The problem there was that I do not have twenty workhorse pens/highlighters. I’m not using bright highlighters right now, and I very rarely use ballpoints. (Purple Hannah Howell promo9tional pen, excepted) and I like to have pens next to each other look like they belong together.

The markers were the easy part. I had twenty Crayola Supertips, and twenty spaces in each compartment. Bam. Not too difficult at all.

01pencasecrayola

(Mostly) rainbow order, like with like, as my mother would say (that phrase drove me bonkers when I was a kiddo, but I now see its use) and everything where I need it. This is a color coder’s dream. Never mind that I had to move everything over into the third compartment a few minutes later.

Part of that was because A) I didn’t want to carry twenty of my favorite pens around where anything could happen to them, and B) I counted my Stabilo fineliners, sitting next to my desk, in their original packaging, which I love, but rarely use (the pens, not the packaging, though that, too.) There are thirty of them. Hm. If I moved a few things around, I could have thirty spaces available, and then I could have them with me, literally all the time.  Cue image of me shuffling pens around (also of dropping package of fineliners between chair and wall, then crawling around, searching for them, and counting to make sure they’re all there) and then slipping thirty pens into thirty slots.

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“Um, Anna,” I hear some of you saying, “this post is literally all about pens. Or pen cases. Kind of a niche. That stationery blog might be something to think about, mkay?” I hear you, and I get it. Thing is, getting these pens in order, while simultaneously gearing up for Camp NaNo helped me notice that organizing writing implements and organizing writing have more than a few things in common.

What’s most important to me? What do I want to carry with me on a daily basis? Does it all flow together in a way that feels comfortable to navigate? Does what I want to fit in this space, actually fit in this space? Exactly what do I need to accomplish what I want to accomplish? Do I know how I want to use what I already have? Do I need anything that I do not currently have, and, if so, how and when do I intend to obtain it?

This case is for pens, and pens only (I count markers as pens.) I also love pencils, but those go in pencil cases, not a pen case. I also love sticky notes, but there’s no place for sticky notes in this case. No place for gummi bears, either,  no matter how much I love them, so stuffing them in there would make no sense (and result in gross pen case and potentially inedible gummi bears; nobody wants that.) Maybe this is merely an excuse for me to play with  art/office supplies, but maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s all part of getting closer to being the writer I want to be.