NaNoWriMo is here!

It’s November and NaNoWriMo is here!

Timely advice!

So this is National Novel Writing Month, a special treat for writers to challenge themselves to write a 50,000 word book manuscript in a month, on average 1600 words per day.

I admire those who can, but I could never pull it off.  When I’m not writing, I’m a busy stay-at-home wife with lots of responsibilities at home. I don’t have the time to write that much.

Writing notebook and hot beverage
New notebooks

Part of those responsibilities include cooking and baking. A fun energy had me interested in making sugar cookies, the type you roll out and might cut into shapes. These are my latest toys. Here is the result of the latest batch, thanks to a recipe I’ve been fine tuning, and food coloring I’ve been experimenting with.

New toys!

The tiny cookies are the samples. When I was a girl watching my mom and aunt bake, they’d always have the cakes they made and a sample to try out. My samples are the leftover dough when I didn’t have enough dough for using another cookie cutter. It’s just easier to roll up the pieces and have them bake on the sheet.

Right before they went into the oven

Returning to writing, although I can’t manage 50,000 words in a month, I can pull off 50,000 words in three months.

I just finished on Saturday October 30, my latest manuscript which I began on August 1, a first draft.

After this, I’ll get into the revisions, but I have another manuscript that I finished earlier this year that’s already in the first round of the revision process. I should submit the last of the chapters soon, but I really have to go back and revisit a few chapters that need not just editing but a thorough rewriting as part of the revision process.

My goal is to write two manuscripts per year. I began writing the current manuscript I’m revising sometime last December, I believe, and my goal was to have another manuscript done by then. I beat my deadline by one to two months, I’m glad to say.

I could have started the latest manuscript by September, but I wanted more leeway in case anything cropped up, so August it was.

How did I do it? Writing sprints have become my friend. My phone has a timer on it. I set it for at least one hour per day. If I have more time, I take shorter sprints of about half an hour. That can mean as much as two hours of writing spaced out during the course of the day. Each sprint is a solid stretch of uninterrupted time to write. If I need breaks, I stop the clock.

I have ideas for the next project, but I’m entering my off season of writing. That off season is for editing, revising, taking classes, and even writing in a different genre.

Another new thing I’ve started is to undertake an internet and computer fast at least one day in the week. I couldn’t believe how much more I got done. I was able to read more.

Here are some of the books I read.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

I can’t believe how long it was on my tbr pile!
I’m scheduled to review this one

Hey, October!

What’s it like when you’re in the midst of a major juggling act? That’s what September felt like for me. The second week in September was fine, Labor Day included, but by the middle of the week, I had a major distraction.

September 11 preoccupied me. I can’t say exactly why. Was it the twentieth anniversary that did it? Perhaps. Might it have also been the recent end to the conflict in Afghanistan that began a short time after the attack? Arguably yes. A twenty year war merits assessment.

So much has happened in those twenty years, but I remember where I was when I heard about what happened. I wasn’t in New York City, but I knew plenty of people who were. I could have easily been one of them, working in lower Manhattan or visiting there for any number of reasons.

A few of the people who died were people I went to school with. I’d seen them around. I didn’t learn they died until later.

Twenty years ago, I was on the phone, reaching out to people that I hoped were okay. Fortunately, the ones I knew who worked in the area and who were there, evacuated the moment they heard what happened. They didn’t stare at the carnage, but got out as soon as they could.

At the same time, I read that numbers of people who remained, and who even helped in the cleanup efforts, have gotten sick with all kinds of lung ailments and cancers. Incredibly unfortunate and sad.

So I got less writing done, even as I had my critique groups to prepare for. Then I had a writing conference, which had me thinking about how to revise what I’d been writing.

Revising while I’m currently in the middle of writing the manuscript? The tweet I posted showed a cartoon character in dismay. But there were a few tips I could implement right away, which was good.

I’m also a member of this writing group:

I’m a reader for a writing contest and I’m supposed to read a nonfiction book for a church-related book review. But it hasn’t come in yet.  What about that library book and the book on my kindle? Who knows.

In the midst of this craziness and the griping, I’m glad to be busy and to have plenty of things to do.

Halloween is coming up. I like candy corn.

Sugary yet yummy, so I ration it!

Another noteworthy day of recognition that coincides is Reformation Day. I’m a Protestant woman, so of course I’ll remember it!

I’m so thankful for being Protestant.
This is a book I managed to read.
A movie, it’s supposed to be available today!
One of these days, I will read this!

Have a great month!

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

It’s September! Welcome, Fall.

I love September and I love fall: autumn colors, Halloween, and Thanksgiving.

I think the seasons are interesting when they serve as settings for novels. Christmas is a big one. The summer works great as a setting because there’s a long standing theme in American culture about summer romances.

Summer as a lighter happier time of the year, when people are on vacation with fewer worries, and they are thus freer to pursue relationships.

What about the fall? It can be a serious time, a time to get down to business after the summer has come and gone.

I suppose I’m trying to blend both the summer and fall energies together. We’re almost in mid summer in North America, and I’ve started a new work in progress I hope to finish by the late fall, at the same time I hope to finish revising the most recent progress by late fall as well.

When I’m writing, it’s hard to read as much as I would like. But that hasn’t stopped me from collecting the covers of books I’d read if I had more time! Before I began writing, these were the most recent books I finished reading.

An Avon romance with strong inspirational elements
A TNZfiction inspirational romance

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Hey, August!

Aren’t they pretty? The new graphic I’ve made for them groups them together in order within their series, although I didn’t write them in the order they appear.

It’s funny how that happens. Characters have a mind of their own, and the creativity doesn’t always come in any type of lockstep order.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing!

Ayanna’s book was the first. She’s the character who knows each of the other heroines. They all show up as minor characters in her book. Ayanna then becomes a minor character in Suzette’s and Natasha’s.

Helena’s book came before Natasha’s, even though I wrote Natasha’s first.

So what’s new in the writing life? One of my critique groups wants to meet more often in order to encourage us to write more intensely. Beyond that, we’ve noticed that when we have a month in between meetings, we tend to forget what happened in the previous month.

This strategy would be helpful to one of our members who is under contract to submit a full manuscript by sometime early next year. Writing is a long haul project. If we read more frequently, she would get the assessments she needs before she submits.

As for me, all I need for an intense writing project is the completion of a manuscript. Completing a project creates the space for new creative energies. That space has opened up, now that Helena is out in the world and I’m revising the current work in progress with the critique groups.

Now that I’m gearing up to write a new manuscript, I spent time on the recent work in progress trying to revise the submissions for the next few months. Man was it tedious! Writing deep point of view can be a struggle.

I just started the new manuscript today. The first of the month seemed to be a good day to start writing. I’d been thinking for weeks about an opening scene. So today was the day. I have plenty of notes, so it’s now time to get going.

What else do I need? More funds for a writer’s expense account and royalties that I can contribute towards my writer’s retirement account then deduct at tax time.

Have a great month!

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Celebrating Helena’s Release Day!

Links: Amazon Spotify Pinterest

How has your July been so far? I hope you had a great 4th, since it fell on a Sunday, a perfect day for attending services in the morning and celebrating the rest of the day.

With Helena’s release, this marks the end of the four books I envisioned about three years ago. How time flies!

They can each be read as stand-alone books, or as two series of two books each: Ayanna and Suzette then Helena and Natasha.

I’m continuing with the painstaking process of revising the current work in progress, the first book in a new series.

Now that Helena has her happily ever after, I can begin to think about the next manuscript to begin writing. It will be the next book in this current series.

What have I been reading or thinking about reading? Not much has been happening on that front, but I try. Smile. These are all Christian inspirational romances.

Copyright Barbara James, All rights reserved.

This was a book I finished reading.

These are some I hope to read:

Greetings, June!

What’s with this cold weather? Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer, was cold and rainy. So that meant more time indoors, which was fine, except that I had to bundle up in a winter house dress over my sweats, just to warm up.

So what was the rest of May like?

We had the last meeting of our non-fiction food writing group the third week of May after a course of eight meetings dating back to the first week of February. Where did the time go?

I was interested to learn about an African American culinary history program on Netflix: link.

It’s based upon a book that was published sometime ago. I was even more excited to see that a woman I knew from years ago was a consultant on the program. Here’s the book.

Returning to my own food writing, I’m part of the group that will be ready to go early enough for the first publication. A number of other folks struggled to write, and I know that’s been a concern, that some of us are experienced writers, while others are totally new.

Nonfiction essay writing is so easy for me, that I didn’t have a problem with writing and getting things done on time. We’re to be done by July. I’m on my seventh draft–yes, you read that correctly! I’ll only have to tweak it here or there.

I remember taking a poetry class when I was in my early 20s. As part of a regular routine, I’d rework one poem at the start of every summer. It was a poem about the changing seasons and my favorite summer dress.

When did I first know I was a writer? It must have been junior high. I used to journal, I suppose, in my own rudimentary way.  I was a serious nerdy girl, clipping newspaper stories from my dad’s newspaper and making note of my observations. These were probably early inklings of my Meyers-Briggs INTJ type.

Nowadays, I’m likely to blog.

On the reading front, I finally catalogued all of the romance novels in my e-readers, when I’d already catalogued the other books some time ago. I merely add more books to the shelves or create new ones.

I joked in a tweet that this project was evidence, once again, of my history as a nerdy girl. I worked at the local library my senior year of high school.

But part of that project meant purging books I wasn’t likely to ever read. I had to make a decision. Whose books interest me the most nowadays?

It came down to inspirational romances and nonfiction written by mostly Anglican writers of apologetics.

So here I am with the books I’m reading nowadays. I might have mentioned one or two earlier in previous blog essays as books I hoped to read. I’m making my way through my to-be-read pile.

This isn’t what it seems. How has modern thought shaped us? He was writing in the early 20th century, but his ideas still resonate.

Copyright Barbara James, all rights reserved.

Welcome, May flowers!

How has your month been? Helena and Leon are back from the developmental editor. I’m reviewing my final round of edits in preparation for sending to the copy editor and proofreader.

Stay tuned!

My recent blog post on developing writing goals will be published in my romance writing chapter’s newsletter. I discussed developing goals based upon how many words I might write per day.

I really like revising with my critique groups. Working on twenty pages at a time makes the work manageable. I’m not even worried right now about what the second draft will look like. I have the first draft that I finished in three months. I figure that by the time I finish my critique group work, I’ll bring together all my submissions together and make them into a draft.

This type of revising is a long process, without question, in that I’m only revising twenty pages per month. But it feels very thorough. After I meet with the critique group, I revise those twenty pages then I take what I learned from that session and use the information in revising the next round of twenty pages. I’m often revising right up until the following month’s deadline, and that is a good thing. Revisions can only make the writing better.

I talked to the editor of my food writing piece. From what she said to me the last time we were in contact, she had some minor edits. Of course, I always have my own as I imagine some new thing I can include or cut.

This is the first Saturday in the month, so I have two writing group meetings, the ACFW group from 10-12 and the romance writers from 12-2. On some Saturdays, I have a third, my nonfiction food writing group from 3-5. It’s all good, spending a whole day talking about writing.

We talked about Anne Lamotte’s book in the ACFW group.

In the romance writers’ group an editor talked to us about self-editing. I worked with her last year and urged the chapter leadership to invite her and speak to us. I’m glad they followed up and she was able to join us.

I always look forward to all my writing group meetings!

Copyright Barbara James, All rights reserved.

Greetings, April!

Although Easter Sunday was the 4th, we are still in the season. It doesn’t end until Pentecost, which takes place 40 days after Easter. This year, that’s May 23.

So what has been happening?  I’m glad that Natasha and Austin are out in the world as of last month. Helena is getting ready for her turn.

I noticed something interesting when I looked at my notes file for Helena’s book. On April 3, 2018, I first imagined what hers would look like. On April 3, 2021, I was in the midst of checking the revisions from my editor.

A lot took place in the meantime: Ayanna’ book, Suzette’s, then Natasha’s. I would have finished the first draft of Helena’s book by the end of 2019 or early 2020. I decided to spend most of 2020 working with my critique group revising the manuscript.

I’ve been writing as well on the nonfiction front. Those have taken the shape of community writing projects. They all share a theme insofar as they are all related to ministry in some form, at least in my own mind. The latest is on food: cooking, baking, and grocery shopping as ministry.

The editor assigned to work with me likes it. I sent her my first draft then replied to her edits. I then submitted my second draft. Since then I’ve been revising my third draft. She would like me to present to our group the next session.

Since I’ve been focusing on revising with my critique group the latest manuscript that I finished in March, I’ve spent lots of time looking over the first twenty pages, my first submission. Did my critique partners ever have lots of suggestions! I revised it and submitted it again for us to review this month.

What have I been reading? I finished my Lenten reading on spiritual direction before the end of Lent. Then I got two books on Anglicanism, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and a selection of essays on Anglican studies. They aren’t an easy read, but I’m glad I have them.

I’m thinking that I should read two G.K. Chesterton books for the Easter season, Orthodoxy and Heretics. In addition, I’m hoping one of Andrea Lee’s will become available from the library soon, merely because I read Interesting Women years ago and it stayed with me.

As for fiction, I’ve read some romances as well as some short fiction, especially books by Danzy Senna and Andrea Lee. Their characters are memorable insofar as they speak to a certain zeitgeist of African American women who grew up and came of age in the post civil rights eras of the 1970s into the 2000s.

Take a look at these book covers:

Have a wonderful month!

Copyright Barbara James, All rights reserved.

Happy March and Hello, Spring!

We’ve had some snow storms recently, but the days have been getting longer and we’ve had some warmer days. I’m so looking forward to spring!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since we’ve been living with this pandemic. It would have been this month a year ago, in the beginning of Lent, when I last experienced normal life as I knew it: Sunday services; daily visits to the gym; and monthly writers’ group meetings.

Sunday services has become Zoom virtual services. Daily visits to the gym have become daily visits to my home exercise spaces. The monthly writers’ meeting shave gone virtual.

One blessing that has persisted is that the writers’ group meetings have become more intense and participatory for me in a way I didn’t experience before the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, I was limited to what I could attend in person. If I didn’t have the time to travel or if there were conflicts, I didn’t go.

Conflicts still persist, but they are more easily managed now. I attend one meeting but not the other. But I don’t have to worry about travel, when attending the meeting simply requires that I be in front of my computer at a specific time.

I now have the chance to work with two different critique groups. That is a pandemic blessing, I must say. I have my local RWA chapter: link and the ACFW chapter: link, that covers my geographic region of people living in the Northeastern U.S.

Even if we were to go back to normal, I don’t want to give any of that up.

So what’s happening in my writing world? I noticed something a few weeks ago. I writer I follow on Twitter uses the pomodoro method, of setting aside a specific number of minutes just to write in blocks and chunks of time: link.

That reminded me of something. I used to keep better track of my word count. I don’t know why I stopped. I became content with finishing a draft in four to five months, which was fine, in my view, reasonable progress.

But what did that mean in terms of word counts? I began a new project on December 3 of last year. By the end of January, I had almost 20,000 words. I was writing on a regular basis, I was sitting in my chair at my desk. I did the math. That amounted to 500 words per day, about a page and a half.

It occurred to me that was paltry progress. I decided to try and do better. What if I wrote 1500 words per day, about five pages? What if I wrote 3000 words per day, about ten pages? 1500 words is a scene. 3000 words is a chapter.

At 500 words, I’m either dealing with major distractions, or I have the making of a scene that I really need to flesh out. I might be struggling with something. At 1500 words, the scene looks complete. At 3000 words, I have two complete scenes.

I’m not a Nanowrimo person, but I pushed myself to write as much as I could during the month of February. I aimed to minimize distractions. At some point, I was doing even less working out. The end result was a completed first draft by March 3. I can’t remember whether I ever did that before, complete a draft in three months, and with this word count, almost 55,000 words.

I still have work to do in revising. Even now, I can think of some edits to the final chapter. It seemed complete as I could make it when I finished it yesterday, but I know there’s more I can do. But at least I’ll be able to workshop it with the critique groups. There’s a writer’s saying, you can’t revise an empty page, and that certainly applies.

So I’m doing a serious juggle. Austin is almost ready for publication. Helena is in the pipeline, visiting with the editors. Then I’ll have a nonfiction piece to work on at some point in time. The important point is that with this draft out of the way, I can focus on other things while I work with the critique groups in revising.

What about my reading? Well, if you’re writing less, there’s more opportunity to read. So I haven’t been reading as much. But I did get to finish Toni Shiloh’s book: link. Plus, I’m reading a new book for Lent: link.

I learned recently about some books that I was curious about. I borrowed them from the library. I should begin reading soon.

And here’s something from my alter ego, the stay-at-home wife in the kitchen. My husband likes tools, all kinds of guy stuff for doing all kinds of guy things. Me? These are my latest tools. Smile.

Best of wishes,


Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.