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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wasted Days & Wasted Nights by Mary Connealy, Guest Blogger

Mary Connealy is an author, journalist and a teacher. She releases three books with Barbour this year, is a columnist for the Lyons Mirror-Sun, and an occasional book reviewer for the Sioux City Journal. She lives on a farm in Nebraska with her husband, Ivan and their four daughters, Joslyn, Wendy, Shelly and Katy.

Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

I’m better now, but time was I wrote for a long time before I got to the beginning of a book.

I’m going to talk today about how to pick your beginning, but also how to not let it drive you nuts when you get told, often by a contest judge, that your book hasn’t started yet on page fifteen.

I’ve heard this called an ‘inciting incident’ and I like that. Incite is a word you hear attached to riot. Incited a riot.

That’s what you want for your beginning. Something big and fast paced and high stakes. But I used to write along telling my story and at some point it would all sort of click and, especially when it came to characters, I’d suddenly find a key to them and it would all be real. It wasn’t uncommon for that CLICK to come at around page ONE HUNDRED.

So, I’d go back and rewrite. Often throwing out huge chunks of the story to recreate the character as I now knew he really was.

It was painful to do, toss away all that work, cut thousands of words. I am a Nebraska ranch wife and as such I’m pretty conservative in many ways. No one needs to tell me to shut the light off when I leave a room, or turn the thermostat down and put on a sweater, or buy a car that gets high gas mileage. That’s something I’ve been doing from birth and not because I’m a ecology freak trying to save the planet. It’s because I’m cheap and because waste bothers me.

So wasting all those hours, throwing away all those words, it’s like just tossing out the mushy apples in the fridge when it would be so easy to just make apple sauce. It’s like throwing out three stale slices of bread instead of making bread pudding or stuffing for a roast chicken.

It is not natural.

And then I got a hold of a mindset that helped me handle it better.

I’ve read a lot about character charts or ‘interviewing your characters’ or creating background sheets for your characters. And I realized that’s what I was doing. All that writing that had to be tossed out was NOT wasteful, it was necessary. It was an exercise I needed to do to create my story.

So the next time someone in a contest critique tells you ‘your story doesn’t start until page nineteen” (that happened to me once—and she was right—but it took me a few years to figure that out) don’t get upset, don’t feel like your time was wasted. Just pick a new spot to start, farther on down the road of your story.

What you’ve written becomes back story and chances are it’s all important—it’s just not FIRST.

You need it. Now you’ll weave it into your story, bits at a time, in dialogue and sentence tags.
My book Wrangler in Petticoats released this month.



Wrangler in Petticoats

Ride into the Rockies where love peaks between a tough Texas tomboy and a passionate artist. On her way to Montana, Sally McClellan’s party is attacked and robbed. But then artist Logan McKenzie saves the badly wounded cowgirl who has been left for dead. Can this landscape painter tame the tomboy without breaking her spirit? Sally doesn’t know much about ribbons and lace, but Logan’s presence makes her want to connect with her feminine side. Will this fractured female discover a way to capture the artist’s love—or find herself captured and killed by outlaws?

In honor of that I am giving away one free copy to one commenter here on Novel Journey, so this is no time to lurk.

Petticoats & Pistols


  1. I loved Mary's post! Wow, three books a year as well as work as a journalist! That's impressive!
    It is exciting to be included in the giveaway of her latest book!

  2. Mary, that's a very helpful post. I think everything about writing is hard for my challenged brain, but I especially find beginnings very difficult. It's hard to figure out where the story begins. Hard to figure out if you should write it and whether you have more than one book idea in all that story.

    I often end up writing many, many pages and, as you said, end up tossing them out. I have tried to sit down and do those character charts but I just haven't succeeded. Somehow, writing it down in a scene is the only thing that moves my brain forward.

    It's still fun though, even if my head does sometimes get bloody from beating it on the desk.

  3. I love your books! Pick me, pick me, pick me! :-)

  4. Hi, Mary. Great to bump into you here today. :-)

    Thanks for the timely post. Just yesterday I started on the first page of a new book. Having come straight off of rewrites for a previous book where I knew my characters so well, I just plunged in, expecting to sail forward. However, after writing no more than two sentences, I realized that I didn't even know what color hair my heroine had. I had a synopsis, but I didn't know my characters on a personal level. So even though I was mentally ready to write, I wasn't emotionally ready.

    After some character therapy, I'm back on track and looking forward to getting to know these new people from the inside out.

  5. Charlotte, I'm out of the journalism game now, but I still teach, not as a traditional teacher though. I'm a GED Instructor. I can multiply and divide fractions like nobodies business. And believe me math is NOT my favorite thing.

    BK, sorry about your head. Been there.

    Hi, Linda, you're in the drawing! It's nice to see you. Well, not SEE exactly.

    Karen, HI! I've got your name book here in my house. It sounds so great. Head in the Clouds. I love the back cover blurb. I can't wait to get to it.

  6. Karen, I mean I've got your NEW book. These blogger comments need an edit least when I'm writing them.

  7. In ref to the title of this post, I haven't heard Freddie Fender's song is EONS and now I can't get his voice out of my head singing that refrain! LOL!

  8. Thanks for the post, and congrats on your latest release.

    In my WIP, I had the opposite problem with the beginning. It started out with a downer. Now it's worked in as backstory to reveal why the villain is so, well, villainy.

    Another beginning I tried was exciting but didn't win any votes in the "will they read on?" workshop. That's worked into the story as well.

    Still can't figure out how to start this thriller with a dead body . . .

  9. Ha! The name thing did throw me for a minute.

  10. When I first started writing, I had something similiar happen to me on a frequent basis. I would start a story in a certain spot, someone would come along and say..."You should start it here because..." They would proceed to tell me their reasons. So, I would rework it. Then someone else would come along and say, "You should start it here." Yeppers. You guessed it. Where I had it in the first place. I've since learned to trust my instints. I listen to the advice, pray about what was said, and then do what I feel God is leading me to do. And of course, listening to my editor's advice helps bunches. *smiling*

    Please add my name to your drawing, Mary. And if you don't pick my name, I may have to come to Nebrasky, hogtie you, and put you in a room full of mice until you say you've made a mistake and that it was my name that should have been drawn. hehe

    Okay, now it's my turn to go and chop off a bunch of scenes on WIP.

    Have a great day!

    Debra Ullrick, your Colorado pest. Hmmm pest. Would that be as in little meeces pest? Mwwwwaaahhhhaaaaa. **evil sinister laugh** I know how much you luuuvvveeee mice. NOT! hehe

  11. Thanks for the post - it's always encouraging to know that I'm not the only one cutting thousands (and thousands) of words.

    And I'd love to win your book :)


  12. Agreed - nice to know that it happens to all of us. :p

    Thanks for the opportunity!

    Carol at carolmoncado dot com

  13. @Mary, Congrats with your latest!

    You made me chuckle stating you're not an ecology freak, but just cheap. My Dutch parents raised me with similar values to yours and started as pioneers from the West (Amsterdam) in the at the time "unconnected" northern provinces of the Netherlands. My mother did come off as an ecology freak while trying to become a council member (who could influence ecological decisions), but reading your admonition I now wonder... Especially since one could consider me cheap as well.

    As for "back story" I feel I've been writing 70,000 words on a memoir that won't go to waste, but find their way into the novel I'm writing now.

    The covers of your books are truly wonderful. Such clever designs, all with basic information that gives away location, profession or passion and a strong attitude, no matter the portrayed are in skirts.

    My book is about an independent woman in post-WWII Europe, who insists the man she loves becomes an artist.

    Curious to find out what role art plays in Sally's interest in Logan!

  14. Please include me in the giveaway. Wrangler in Petticoats looks like a good one! gasweetheart211[at]netscape[dot]net

  15. Congratulations on your recent publications. That has to feel AMAZING!

    Thank you for sharing your insight. What you learned the hard way, we get to learn the easy way, by reading and applying. Thank you for your generosity.

  16. I always love Mary's blogs and books. she is awlsome


  17. I love Mary's books and would love to win a copy of this one. Please enter me in the drawing.

  18. Debra descended to a truly evil place.

    I may not be able to go on.

  19. Good luck in the drawing everyone.

    I really do hope it encourages you when the time comes to cut, cut, cut.

    Those words are NOT wasted. You needed to write them. You needed to learn these things about your characters. Even if you never use them, it was part of the process that is necessary.

  20. I didn't realize you were mom to FOUR AND a teacher, plus your prolific writing. Do you sleep??!!


  21. I hear so many wonderful things about Mary's books and would love to read them. Thank you for the opportunity to win a copy.

    Cindy W.


  22. I am now incited to read anything you've written! Yes, please do enter me in the drawing to win a copy of your latest book. I have experienced just a taste of what you're talking about when it comes to finding that crystaline moment that defines a character. Keep writing so that I can keep reading.

    Best wishes on all your endeavors. It was great fun to read the post.

    Cup o' joy and a fresh taste of the bread of heaven...

    Lynne A. Hasuly

  23. What a woman to be writing so much! :)

    Sure would love the opportunity to win. I've looked for Mary's new book at Wal-Mart and Lifeway but haven't seen it yet.

    Jodie Wolfe

  24. An amazing post! Even though I was an English major, I don't remember ever discussing the specific symbolisms you mentioned. I find metaphors difficult, let alone symbolism! But this certainly is an idea to ruminate -- even for my non-fiction writing! Thanks!

  25. Thanks, Mary your post comes at a time where I am desperately trying to fins the right place to start my first book.

    Lyndie B.

  26. I had people tell my one of my stories didn't start until halfway though Chapter 1! It was hard to hear at first, but my beginning was much better once I changed it! :)
    I don't know if the draw is still on or not, but if it is, count me in please! :)

  27. love this posting...please count me in...if it's not too late

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com


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