Getting by With a Little Help

Louis janmot pub domHi.  Joanna here.  For this week the Ask-a-Wench question is:

You all belong to Word Wenches, obviously.  Is there another writers' group or organization in your life that gives you support and enjoyment?  Or is there another, perhaps altogether different, formal or informal group that influences your writing or help you in your writing life?

Mary Jo says:

There are so many valuable writing groups that it belies the idea that writing is a solitary profession!  Most writers love to get together and talk about writing, the business, and, of course, our work sin progress.  My first group was the Maryland Romance Writers, the local chapter of the Romance Writers of America.  There were only ten members, but they knew a lot more about writing and publishing than I did.  I'm still a member of MRW, it's grown much larger, and it's still very supportive.


typical frantic scene at RWA National Conference


All RWA groups, both regional and national, have been great places where I've learned and met lifelong friends, including most of the Word Wenches.  I have a special fondness for Novelists, Inc. which is for popular fiction authors from all genres.  It's always offered terrific support for the business of writing, and it's become a leader in helping writers master the emerging world of independent publishing.

Yet the Word Wenches are unique.  We all write and love historical novels, and there is structure because we've all committed to posting regularly on this blog.  That's business, but we've gone beyond that to become a sisterhood.  We share information and laughter and offer sympathy for life's downs as well as congratulations on the ups.  Not to mention sharing pet pictures and stories. <G>  We like each other, we cheer each other on, and there is no queen bee.  Which is why we're still here, doing what we do and enjoying it.

Anne says:

I second what Mary Jo said about writing no longer being the solitary occupation it used to be. Email and affordable phone calls has changed all that. I have writing friends all over the world, with whom I can talk over a writing problem or brainstorm Mjputney s fraser pricejobourne use okcropan idea or share a piece of writing.

The Word Wenches have become a friendship group, not only a blogging group, even though we only see each other very occasionally. I have another group of writer friends with whom I go away each year for a week of writing, brainstorming, discussion and friendship. We've been doing it for seven years so far, and we support each other throuAnne jo and andrea at berkleyPrty2011gh life's ups and downs, as well as the writing and publishing adventure. This was our first retreat.
(Joanna slipping in with a comment.  That link above, about Anne's writer group, is just chock full of tips on How To Build Your Own Writer Group With A Great Retreat.  I mean, that link is gold.)

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy … Oh, and Finish the Book

Joanna here, asking the Wenches the somewhat harrowing question —

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"Do you get angsty and anxious at any part of the writing process? And, if you do, does it make you more productive?"

Mary Jo Putney says:  Writing always makes me angsty!

I think it’s part of my creative process to have to fret and chew at the story and wonder if the current work is a career ender.  Luckily, I’ve been in this business long enough that I recognize angst as part of the process, which spares me the worst of the feeling.  But it doesn’t make the angst go away, alas.


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Creative work comes from internal fires.

Pat Rice says: I don’t handle stress well. No one in my family does, so It’s apparently genetic. As a result, we aim for a laidback attitude and careers that don’t create tension.  

In writing, stress has to come from inside the writer because no one else gives a dang what you do. I’ve set up time frames and work schedules that don’t require that I freak out on a regular basis. And if a book isn’t going well, I’ve developed methods of looking at it from a fresh perspective and beta readers who can sometimes point out problems.

The only time I angst is when someone else doesn’t step up when they’re supposed to, and I’m learning to ignore that as much as possible. I might chew a few nails and fire off a few e-mails until I annoy the devil out of the slacker, but otherwise, I try not to angst over the delay.

This is probably not a formula for fame and riches, but I’d only stress over those anyway!

Joanna: Fame and riches. Y'know, I wouldn't mind stressing over that.


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Jo Beverley, when I ask if she gets angsty at any part of the writing process, says:
About half way. My husband calls it the time of the book.

One of the aspects is a conviction that it will be too short. I always end up too long and cutting.

I don't believe any kind of stress helps me. It can be tempting to think it does so as to avoid the additional stress of guilt over feeling stressed!

Nicola Cornick says: I'm not usually anxious at the start of the book because at that point the excitement of starting something new taken together with the misguided belief that *this book* will be plain sailing usually helps me get going ok.
Hit twenty thousand words, though, and I am busy re-appraising the conflict, the characters, the plot development…

This is when paralysing angst usually starts to hit, I start to question myself, I change what I have already written, I become convinced I will never finish this book, nay never write another book again…
This phase sometimes lasts until the end of the book. If I'm lucky I come out of it before then and actually start enjoying myself again.

When I ask if writer's angst makes her more productive, she says:
No. It paralyses me. When I'm in the throes of writer's angst I find the process is like dragging words from treacle.

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Anne Gracie says: At some stage in every novel I am completely certain I can't make it work and that the novel will be a terrible failure.
My friends say, "Oh, Anne you always say that," as if I'm fussing over nothing, or making it up, but it's completely genuine and heartfelt every time.  

I suspect that by wrestling with whatever it is that's not working (because it's different in each book) the book is improved. But it's not a fun way to work.

And does writer's angst make her more productive?
It probably reduces the number of books I write in a year. It might make those I produce better — I hope so, but I have no way of testing the theory.


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Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose
Writerly angst always seems to rear its ugly head at around three quarters of the way through a manuscript. The characters appear to become bored with my company (Moi? Who has done her best to amuse them with bon mots, gorgeous clothes, not to speak of inviting them to all the interesting places in Town?)

I, in turn, become sulky and am tempted to abandon them in the slums of Southwark and find new friends. For a time, we don’t speak to each other. . . 

I fret, I whine. I eat chocolate. The Muse gets annoyed because the chocolate is supposed to be for HER. She starts whispering in my ear that all relationships have their ups and downs and I can’t very well leave these people abandoned in a strange place The is appeal to my conscience usually works and no matter how awful the walk home feels, I try to make polite conversation until we reach the end.

Strangely enough, when we sit down for a last glass of wine together, I usually realize that they not so annoying after all and we part bosom bows.
I must be a difficult person to get along with, for this keeps repeating itself. I need to either change my personality. Or buy a lot more chocolate.

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Joanna:  My own writerly anxiety clutches at my mind till I can barely work.  Messes with my head.  Makes me miserable.

But once I get going, once I get into the story, it goes away.  The only cure for the pain of writing  is writing.  (I think I've just described addiction, maybe.)


I put out one final question.  Sometimes I see 'writer's anxiety' as a chittering monkey, clinging to my back, chattering in my ear, distracting me from writing. So I asked what animal folks think of when they think of writerly angst.

Jo Beverley says, "Preferably a bug I'd feel okay about stamping on." For Nicola Cornick, ". . . it would be a pacing tiger. It's quite fierce, it feels frustrated and it just wants to break out of the confines and roar." And Anne Gracie says it's like a "Rat on a spinning wheel, round and round and round, over and over the same thing. And only stopping to gnaw thoughtfully at the bars from time to time."

I think folks who do any sort of creative or important work under a deadline suffer from this same 'angst'. This performance anxiety.

What's your own particular anxiety for the work you do?

When Wenches Wed

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

As the Wench newsletter said, in April the Mayhem Consultant and I finally got around to getting married.  Since there was so much interest, I hijacked this date so I could tell you a bit more and show you some pictures.

Our aim was to have a ceremony that was classy but relaxed.  I have a friend who broke up with her fiancé three times between engagement and wedding.  She was an artist and a perfectionist, and I’m sure the wedding was perfect (I didn’t know her then, so I didn’t get to see).  But who needs that much stress?  Besides, they ended up getting divorced—those three break-ups must have meant something.  <g>

Our philosophy was that there are many good choices and no perfect ones, so once we found something we liked, we went for it. 


Finding the venue was easy—just a few miles away is a gorgeous building designed as an English manor house, with some elements copied from Warwick Castle.  The MC says it was built by a bootlegger who later gave it to an order of nuns in an attempt to expiate some of his many sins.  I am not sure about this—the official history of the building is much tamer. 

But whatever its past, the Castle at Maryvale, on the campus of a private Catholic girls’ school, is stunning, and so very, very right for a historical romance writer!

Picture 377

Despite my being a romance author, I’m not all of that romantic day to day.  But who could resist the image of floating down this staircase in something glamorous?

Winegwen8Even as a little girl, I never fantasized getting married in a sumptuous white gown—white was never my color.  But I love dark reds and burgundies, so I thought it would be fun to have a medieval style gown made in that color range.   So—I did.  I also went for the matching cape, which swept gracefully behind me.  (The result if either The Scarlet Woman or Little Red Riding Hood. <G>)

Another reason to have a proper wedding is because my two nieces had been hoping for someone in the family to get married so they could be flower girls.  By the time we got around to it, the older was junior bridesmaid size.  Aren’t Marielle and Caroline gorgeous?  Caroline looks just like my heroine, Lady Victoria Mansfield, aka “Tory.”

(All three of our gowns were made by Belinda Berry of Romantic Threads.  She specializes in marvelous historical garments.  She also made my necklace.)

 We wanted music to match the setting–baroque and classical works like Bach and Handel and Pachelbel and Mouret.  We were lucky to find the Raphael Flute and Strings Trio, which was perfect for this occasion.  Picture 124

Food matters, too.  Good food and good company make an occasion.  The good company was the friends we've accumulated over the years. 

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For the food, Maryvale had only two approved caterers, both very good, so we went with the one that really blew us away.  Chief regret: not enough leftovers. <G>

20--Cake close-upCakes, like gowns, are the subject of much interest.  Our local gourmet grocer is considered one of the top bakers in Central Maryland, so we hopped over for a tasting (by the way, this tasting business in GREAT!  I never heard of it before planning this wedding), and made the mistake of starting with samples of their famous buttercream on pound cake.  Everything after that, both at this store and the other bakery we sampled, paled by comparison.  The taste was rich and yes, sumptuous, but not too sweet. 

We tossed in a bit of medieval looking design, and the caterer served the slices with real whipped cream and fresh berries.  Yummmmmmmmm!


Needless to say, all the Wenches and Whipmistress Sherrie were invited, but given the vast distances ("the sun never sets on the Wench Empire!" <g>), not everyone could come.  Pat and Susan were my bridesmaids, and Joanna was able to come, along with several of my non-Wench writer friends.  Note that the Elusive Susan managed to be least in sight when this picture was taken. <g> Pat, MJP, and Joanna are in the middle:


It really was a lovely time, and friends from many different parts of our lives mingled wonderfully even though they'd never met.  In the end, we got what we wanted–a wonderful party with friends and family where everyone seemed to be having a good time.  (Photographs taken by Shantel Mitchell and Edward Hawkins.)

Leaving the hall

When we were in Australia several years ago, a Ozzie writer suggested a line from "Gigi" that she thought suited us.  I liked it so much that I had it printed on the back of the program:

"Some people get married at first.

Others get married at last."

Toast!And a good time was had by all!  If you'd like to share some of your own wedding memories, please do. 

Mary Jo, not feeling all that different for being married.  And no, I am not changing my name!

Wenches on Wheels . . . and Wings . . . and Paws

Cara /Andrea here . . .well, er, actually, I’m NOT here, I’m on the road heading to the New Jersey for NJRW “Put Your Heart In A Book” Conference. I’m a tad nervous, as this is my first time giving a solo worshop, but hopefully the butterflies will settle in my stomach, and I I’ll manage to say something halfway coherent about “How to Make Your Historicals Come Alive.” The nervousness, however, is more than offset by the fun of getting to hang out with old friends and make new ones. Listening to the various other presentations is always inspiring. And kicking back with buddies and talking shop not only provides a chance to catch up on industry scuttlebutt—and vent to people who understand what you’re talking about—but it also affords the opportunities to share marketing strategies and bounce ideas around. What better way to spend a weekend!

Me,-Lauren-at-NAL-2My good friend Lauren Willig will also be there giving a workshop, (here we are at this year’s RWA) and we’re going to have dinner tonight with her good buddy, Tasha Alexander, who writes the wonderful Lady Emily historical mystery series. I’ve been a huge fan of Tasha’s books, and I’m having a “fangirl” moment of squeeing with delight that I’m going to meet her.

4-Wenches-at-NALWork AND play—these conferences really are a wonderful change of pace from the solitary writer cave where I spend so much time. Frenetic though they are, I always come home feeling revved up and inspired to get back to work on the WIP. (Here are Anne, me, Joanna and Jo at this year’s RWA)

Now, funnily enough, it turns out that this weekend is filled with Writerly travels for many of the other Wenches too, so we thought it might be fun to share what we’re all up to!

Andrea, MJP, me, crabI'm an introvert and my career goal is to be a hermit (with a large library), but the one conference I never miss (as Mary Jo tells us) is the Novelists Inc conference. It's relatively small, as conferences go, but the quality of the attendees and panels is so top notch that I figure I get a year's worth of conferences packed into one–just look at all the wench attendees if you need verification! Not only that, Evilgenius133x200it isn't just romance writers. Since I'm interested in mystery and urban fantasy (out next July) as well as romance, and because so many of my writer friends have migrated from romance to other genres, this has to be my go-to conference. (here's a pic of Pat Mary Jo and me at the 2008 RWA in San Francisco)

Besides, it's in Florida. In October. On the beach. Need I say more?

Mary Jo
Wenches Away! October is a great season for traveling and conferences, so I’m traveling to a conference: specifically Novelists, Inc.,  which is in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida this year. The organization is for career popular fiction writers, and the conferences are small, relaxed, and very professional. 

PatUp until last year, Pat Rice (looking happy to be on the beach!) and I were the only Ninc members to have attended all the conferences. Then I fell off the wagon by booking a Dalmatian coast cruise, so Pat stands alone as Best Ninc Attender. (She’s a former president and treasurer of the organization.  I avoid becoming an officer, always.  I’m a faithful minion instead.)

Beach2The conference has an amazing line up of publishing professionals who will be sharing their knowledge, and this year’s theme is “New Rules, New Tools: Writers in Charge.”  There will be much talk about e-booking backlists and other amazing new opportunities available to authors.

But truthfully?  I go to hang out with friends. To make new ones, too. It was at a Ninc conference in San Diego that I first met Anne Gracie, and look how well that has turned out! (Note—Mary Jo, Pat and Jo will be soaking up the sun and literary light together this weekend, so St. Pete will be aglow with Wenches!) (Here are some pictures from last year’s conference)

Great_keppel_island-1678niqI’m feeling very sad that I'm not able to come to the NINC conference and waving wistfully to Mary Jo and Pat and so many of the other NINCsters. I've had such good times with NINC. I'm also sad not to be in London for the launch of Jennifer Kloester's biography of Georgette Heyer and the RNA celebrations with Nicola and Jo. I would also love to be with Andrea at the NJ Romance Writers Conference. I've never been to any of the smaller US romance writers' conferences — many of which are larger than the entire Australian one.

But I can't complain — the reason I'm not at any of these events is because I was booked, more than a year ago, to give two one-day writing workshops in Queensland, Australia's favorite holiday destination and a gorgeous part of the world. I really enjoy writing workshops  – it's great seeing different writers voices emerging on the page, and I've met so many lovely people this way. And though I'll be working, there's also time to catch up with some of my writer friends from that part of the world. On Friday I'll be leaving Surfers Paradise and heading up to Brisbane for the first workshop, and on Saturday evening I'll land in Rockhampton. I'm hoping, when the workshops are done, I might even get to visit beautiful Great Keppel Island.

Nicola-in-Scotland Nicola1aOctober really does seem to be the month for reading and writing conferences and events, with the Wenches out and about doing very interesting things! I had a wonderful time meeting up with Wench Jo in London for the Romantic Novelists Association Regency Day. It was a fabulous occasion packed full of talks, walks around St James's, and lessons in Regency dancing, parlour games and how to make Regency perfume! You can read all about it here, complete with photographs. (Jo took this shot of Nicola with a regiment of admirers!)
This coming weekend there is also the UK's first ever Festival of Romance taking place at Hunton Park in Hertfordshire.  It promises to be lots of fun!
Unfortunately I'll be missing out as I shall be playing truant for a well earned holiday and research trip in Scotland. I am planning a new Scottish-set series and am visiting Skye and the West Highlands. You'll find me at Eilean Donan Castle, Dunvegan Castle, Armadale Castle… You get the idea! Here is a photo of me on a previous trip!

For me, October is turning out to be a stay-home-and-write sort of month. I'm emptying my mind and getting ready to start on the next book.  This involves a lot of walking around in a contemplative mood with the dog wandering off, investigating the bushes and annoying the wild life.

Britt-and-joBrittany, my canine sidekick, flushes a deer now and then.  She's herder dog mostly, in that general melange of ancestry.  She doesn't 'hunt'.  She doesn't 'retrieve'.  No good with balls and sticks at all.  She doesn't 'point'.  When she wakes up a deer, she just just lets it bound off and wanders back in my direction, looking pleased with herself.

You're going to ask — "How does this help you clean all the feathers and old lumber out of your mind and let the story in?" I dunnoh.  It just does.  I have a zen dog, probably.

And lastly, Susan reports that she is very happy to be hunkered down at home, relaxing in the comforts of her own cozy abode while we scuttle through airports and along highways.

So what about you? What are your plans for the weekend? Any fun travel plans, or are you hanging around the homefront, carving pumpkins for Halloween? Is there any special place or gathering that you look forward to as way to recharge your batteries?