Do you Shift F5?

keyboard

If you use Word to write your documents, like most of the free world, Shift F5 is the best little trick ever.

I used to put symbol markers in my long writing projects. At the end of each session, I’d slip in an asterisk so I could search for it when I revisited the piece to find where I left off. But when I started to use asterisks to denote breaks in time, that got confusing. I finally settled on a percent sign, which I would never use in regular text and was easy to find. This worked great, except I’d forget to delete it, and have a sentence like, “She turned off the light and shut the door.%”

Uh. No.

So I may be the last person on the planet to discover Shift F5, but I’ll relate this news just in case you also live in a cave. Hold down these two little keys when you first open your Word document, and you will be magically spirited to the exact spot you were working on when you left off. No hidden symbols! No searching for your last entry (and invariably getting caught up reading old stuff when you should be WRITING).

Shift F5 has made this book just a little bit easier for me to work on. And it’s got me to thinking about all the things–large and small–that we struggle against as we try to squeeze in some kind of writing every day. To be able to effortlessly skim past what’s been done before and start fresh where we left off is not only convenient, it’s kinda’ breathtaking.

Because, Jay Gatsby aside, it really may not be such a hot idea to relive the past, getting lost along the way.

Gatsby

Better to look ahead to the next great thing. That won’t happen if you can’t get past your beginning pages.

So I’m going to do my 20 minutes (or more!) now. And see if I can Shift F5 my way to accomplishing something.

What keeps your writing moving forward?

–Cathy

(P.S. So psyched to have a shot of Robert Redford in a post! Didn’t see that one coming.)

Soul, Sister

So, I’m thinking a lot about “voice” these days. With the first draft of the two opening chapters of my new tome almost finished, I’m paying a lot of attention to what the writing sounds like, to what kind of world I’m inviting a reader to enter.

For me, voice—that sustainable tone and mood set by the subtle interplay of language and observation—is what makes a story. I’m a pretty charitable reader of other people’s work. I forgive the occasional narrative line bumbles and rough spots, if I feel like I’m reading something that is compelling and authentic, and it’s showing me something new about the world.

Errors and bumbles can always be fixed, and, hey, nothing’s perfect. But voice is different. I think of voice as the “soul” of a story. And without a soul, what have you got? Just a lot of noise.

Let me give a shout-out here to novelist and super-blogger Amy Sue Nathan whose forthcoming debut novel, The Glass Wives, will be published by St. Martin’s Griffin in May 2013. Amy kindly allowed us to post as guest bloggers on her terrific site, Women’s Fiction Writers. We’ve connected with a whole new bunch of cool writers as a result.

So please check out Women’s Fiction Writers and pick up The Glass Wives this spring. Keep the good vibes going round.

— Karen

Glass-Wives_final-cover_high-res

Musings

Yesterday I nearly blew it. After a day of tearing down my pitiful decorations and packing them up in my moldy old boxes, I completely forgot about my 20 minutes. Just as hubby and I were settling in at 11 pm for our nightly Lost episode (Carla, too funny that you’re watching it too!), I suddenly yelled out an expletive and slapped my forehead.

Hubby sighed, hit pause. “Go write,” he grumbled. So I did. And I got in the 20, but it was unimaginative and rushed.

(BTW, I loathe the word “hubby” but have not yet come up with a clever pseudonym for my spouse. Drawing on his stoic tendencies, his superfluous intelligence, his disregard of all that is “illogical,” I think I will now refer to him as Mr. Spock.)

What happened with the writing the day before, though, was noteworthy. I had an idea for a character and a situation, but not much more than that. I plunged in anyway, and after a few lines, this person emerged, fully formed. I heard her voice, I saw her kitchen and the food she was making, I watched as she moved around and related to others and faltered and struggled and told her story.

I LOVE it when that happens. It’s rare for me, but it usually ends up being my best stuff. Once it occurred with a short story I wrote in a mere two hours (for me that’s like lightning fast), and it ended up being one of the few pieces I’ve published. Call it inspiration, muse, whatever. When it happens, I go with it—let it completely take over the writing. Because I know I can always change it up later, although that hasn’t happened yet. When characters come to life on the page and dictate their own scenes, I figure it’s because they know best.

What do you think? Has this ever happened to you?
–Cathy