The January 2011 issue of RWA’s Romance Writers Report included an article titled “The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective (Has-Been) Authors.” Although I can’t quite be a has-been when I’m still a never-was, it got me thinking about my own bad habits.

In the article, Diane Farr asks: “What bad author habits are holding you back?” The habits she deems ineffective are:

  • Greed
  • Laziness
  • Rudeness
  • Blabbing
  • Unreliability
  • Pride
  • Ingratitude

I’ve definitely been guilty of laziness, waiting for inspiration to strike. Why, I’ve gone entire years without writing because I wasn’t “inspired.” I started “Blind Date Bride” well before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and didn’t finish it until December 2009.

But that was the old me. Nowadays, I much more in tune with writing. In 2010, I completed a half-finished MS, expanded and edited two mostly finished MSs to the proper category length and wrote a 53,000-word novel during NaNo. And I did it all while putting together six issues of NARWA’s newsletter.

Yes, I still waste plenty of time online, playing on Twitter and Facebook … hanging out with my friends on their weight-loss blogs (or my writer friends on their blogs). But I no longer let that keep me from doing something writing-related.) There really are enough hours in the day, if I limit my time with Bejeweled.

As for the rest of the seven habits?

I certainly hope I’m not rude, although I haven’t attended a conference yet. I don’t know enough to be blabbing inside information.

I’m so reliable and set in my routines that you can almost set your watch by me. If I’m in town, I’ll be at Barnes & Noble on Sunday before work; I hit the Starbucks before work a couple of times a week; I stay up late when I get off work to write, blog, what have you.

Pride? Well, I am proud of the fact that I finaled in the Beacon Contest. (Still haven’t heard about final placement, though.) And if I final in the GH, I’ll be tweeting, Facebooking and blogging about the high for weeks, I’m sure.

But I don’t think my writing is the best thing since sliced bread. I know it needs work. In editing my NaNo novel, I’m finding a lot of room for improvement.

I hope I’m not guilty of ingratitude, either. I love the boost I get from my NARWA sisters and the gals at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood (whom I wouldn’t know if our president, Anne Marie Becker, wasn’t one of them). Writing friends I’ve met through NaNo, like Mallory Snow, have been invaluable, too. (Mallory helped me sprint through my 50K in November.)

If I haven’t said it lately, thanks. You all inspire me, teach me and support me every day.

It’s no secret that I hate the working title on Bree and Mike’s story, “To Catch a Wife.” I blogged about it way back in May.

Last night, inspiration struck as I drove to the grocery store. I thought I’d found a perfect replacement: “Virgin and the Tramp.” A play on “Lady and the Tramp” … a description of the heroine and hero … perfect, right?

Not so much, apparently. When I posted the suggestion in my Facebook status, it was almost universally panned. One of my friends, someone I went to high school with, said it sounded like two lesbians. I have nothing against gay romances …. however, I did not write one, so I don’t want the title to make it sound like that’s what it is. I was thinking of Mike as the tramp (at least in everyone else’s mind. He works hard to maintain that image!)

Another of my friends said she’d pick up a book with the first title, but not the second.

So “Virgin and the Tramp” doesn’t play well in the Heartland.

Knowing that, I went back to the drawing board … again. “To Catch a Wife” was a decent title for the original draft of the book, in which Mike spent a good portion trying to convince Bree he wanted to marry her (because he thinks she’s pregnant, which she’s not). That still happens, but the book’s focus has shifted a bit, focusing more on Mike’s journey from pseudo-playboy who uses his bad-boy image to push away girls he doesn’t think he deserves to guy who knows he not only deserves but needs the love of a good woman.

Again, I started toying with the words I’ve been kicking around for months: mirror, image, playboy, virgin (because the heroine is one). I’d been down this road many times before and came up dry. However, the thought crossed my mind that Mike moonlights as a stripper — and a new perfect title was born: “Moonlight Madness.”

At first, I thought, “No way.” But it quickly grew on me. I walked through the parking lot to my car thinking, “That’s not bad.”

I think I even said it aloud: “That’s pretty good, actually.”

Why? Well, Breanne has harbored a crush on Mike, a coworker, since she started working at the paper … but she’s resigned herself to being just friends. As the story opens, she and her roomates are at a bachelorette party at the local strip club. She’s enjoying the show despite herself — until she discovers Mike’s the masked man shaking his junk at her.

Madness sets in and she can’t stop fantasizing about Mike. (She’s only a virgin, not dead!) When they get snowed in on assignment with one hotel room between them, she gets drunk and screws up the courage to give him her virginity (even though she knows it’s a bad idea). Mike, who’s sworn never to get involved with another virgin, doesn’t handle it well when he discovers he’s just taken it … and they spend weeks not speaking until Mike, who has a bad habit of eavesdropping, overhears what he thinks is Bree telling her former roommates (both of whom are now married) she’s pregnant. (She’s not.) Guiltily, he flashes back to that drunken night … yep. No condom. That’s what three hours of foreplay and a six-pack’ll do to a guy. But despite the image he goes to great lengths to create, he has old-fashioned values. So he sets out to seduce Bree back into his life. (Thus the original “To Catch a Wife” title.)

You often hear writers say their story ideas come from the strangest places.

I’m not so sure that’s true. Ideas are all around us … all we have to do is open our eyes (and ears) to the possibilities.

The initial idea for “Blind Date Bride” came from a news story I heard on the radio back when I still lived in Logansport, Indiana. I first wrote its opening scene as a one-act play. I’m not sure if it ever got produced by the Logansport theater company, because I moved away before the one-act festival.

But once the idea lodged itself in my brain, the story was too good to ignore. I fleshed it out beyond the church basement, where the hero and heroine argue with their respective friends (who entered them in a wedding contest even though neither of them were in the market for a spouse ‚ even a temporary one). I put them (reluctantly) in the same apartment for 90 days, fully expecting some hairy situations to come up. I gave them pasts and a future (together).

My current WIP, “Trouble in Paradise?”, features the best friends from Kari & Damien’s story. They actually started dating at Kari & Damien’s fake wedding — and got more action on the wedding night than our hapless bride and groom. When one of the first people to read “Blind Date Bride” said, “Bethany and Cody should have their own story”, my imagination was off and running.

My first manuscript, “Operation Snag Mike Brad,” was inspired by my crush on a coworker (who became the basis for pseudo-playboy Mike James). Cassie & Dustin’s and Bree & Mike’s stories grew from that first MS, though they’ve both taken on lives of their own beyond the original story (at least I hope they have).

“Operation Snag Mike Brad” also inspired the story I plan to write for this year’s NaNoWriMo. It’s the story of Brad’s brother, Kenny, who turns up at Erin’s first Kingston family dinner with a fake fiancee in tow. (The fake-out’s his desperate attempt to get his matchmaking Ma off his back.)

I honestly can’t remember where the ideas for Meg & Matt’s or Drew & Lainy’s stories came from. (The character of Drew is loosely based on another guy I once worked with, so he probably gave me a germ of inspiration.) His story is set in a fictional high school on the other side of the (also fictional) major town in my first three manuscripts. Meg & Matt’s story is the only one set where I live now, Arizona.

On the drive through New Mexico while I was on my summer vacation I had an idea from a road sign, compounded by something I saw on the side of the road a few miles later. It’s still a nebulous, unformed idea, but I jotted it down. Maybe it’ll develop into something more … and maybe not. But at least it’s a possibility.

Heck, I even had an idea when I heard Gary Coleman had died. I haven’t done a lot of development on it, either … but it kind of fits with my other TV-related stories.

OK … that’s a little weird. Maybe story ideas DO come from the strangest places, after all.

Where’s the weirdest place you’ve gotten a story idea?

Sometimes, all it takes is a little shove to get moving again. I received one  today, courtesy of one of my NARWA sisters.

Jacqui Jacoby was a guest blogger over at Seekerville. The topic? Surviving the Abyss. In it, she told the story of her lost year of productivity, sacrificed to the health gods because of a still-unidentified virus.

Now, I’m no stranger to lost productivity. In fact, until about a year ago, I may well have been the queen of thinking “I need to write” and then doing absolutely nothing about it. But I’ve picked up my pace lately, and am now entering contests, submitting queries and — most importantly — writing almost every day.

At least I was going like gangbusters until recently. The last month or so, since I hit my goal of writing 100K words by NARWA’s November meeting, I’ve been slacking again. I’ve only written about 8,000 words through most of June and into July.

Part of it is because I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of weight loss, and for some reason, I can’t seem to strike the right balance between the healthy lifestyle and my writing life. When I’m focusing on one, the other falls by the wayside.

I’ve also been in limbo: I’m waiting for responses to queries and results from a contest I entered. I’ve started work on a brand new story (Bethany and Cody’s tale), but it hasn’t yet taken off. (I think it’ll help once I get them out of Chicago and onto the island, but before I can get them to the island, I have to do at least a little research — and I’ve been putting it off.)

But Jacqui’s post today gave me the nudge I needed to do some writing. I realized how important it is to take advantage of every opportunity. So while I was at lunch today, I handwrote about a page and a half — and now I’m raring to get back to the computer to start writing again.

Thanks, Jax. I needed that!

Again, I say, just because I haven’t been blogging doesn’t mean I’ve been slacking.

No, I’ve been busy. I had to trim a five-page synopsis to a single page for the Harlequin American Editor Pitch contest. (Amazing what becomes important and what you suddenly realize can be left out when you have to tell the story in one tiny page.) The deadline was Monday and I shipped it off late Sunday night — or early Monday morning, depending on where you live.

We had our NARWA board meeting last Friday, then plot group on Saturday. As usual, plot group was inspiring. Of course, I had to head to to day job when it was over, so I lost that charge of momentum our meetings always provide.

After work Saturday night, I stayed up reading through Bree & Mike’s story until daylight started to seep through the blinds. (Then I slept until 3:30 p.m. Sunday, so I didn’t get to put in any writing time at BN before heading to work.)

When Monday rolled around, it hit me: The NARWA newsletter had to be done. So I stayed up into the wee hours putting it together, suddenly thankful the only Diet Dr Pepper in the office vending machine was super-sized. (This was about an hour after I used my Facebook status to complain that no one needed 20 ounces of caffeine at 9 p.m.)

So even though I haven’t been doing much blogging, I’ve been a busy little writer. Today, I finished a rough draft of a query letter for “Beauty and the Ballplayer.” I also spent some time tweaking the beginning — yes, I finally settled on ditching my opening line in favor of putting Meg and Matt in the same room on Page 1.

Now that I’ve brought you up to date, I’m going to get back to Meg & Matt. After I whacked out the first two scenes, it suddenly became 500 words too short to be an American Romance. That must be fixed.

Saturday’s NARWA meeting went great, and — as usual — I came away inspired. Our guest speaker, Harlequin American author Cathy McDavid, presented talks on characterization and that bane of many writers’ existence (or at least mine), the synopsis.

I came away with some great tips, along with some worksheets that will likely prove very helpful. Among them:

  • One size synopsis does not fit all. Some publishers want a two-page one, others want a five-pager. To meet varying requirements, think of the synopsis as an accordion, expanding and contracting your description of the action.
  • When describing the action, you don’t want a chapter-by-chapter play-by-play. Pick six to eight turning points (such as their first kiss, first time to make love) and focus on those.
  • Mention more than once why they can’t be together and explain why they fall in love. Don’t forget to include how the hero and heroine have grown and/or changed.
  • Make every word count. Use power words (like scarlet instead of red) to evoke a stronger vision. For every sentence, ask, “Can I make this better? Shorter?”
  • Try to infuse your synopsis with the same tone as your book.

That last one I struggle with. (Oh, who am I kidding? I struggle with the synopsis from start to finish. If I could get by without ever writing one, I would.)  My synopses aren’t even half  as funny as the stories themselves.

Well, time to take another look at my synopsis for “Blind Date Bride.” One of the goals I set to finish before our July meeting is to submit at least two queries on “Blind Date Bride.”

The other is to write a query letter/synopsis for “Beauty and the Ballplayer.” I must be a glutton for punishment. 😉

I was out on a walk Saturday morning, listening to my iPod, when a song by my favorite band came on and it hit me: This could be Mike James’ theme song.

Mike, you might remember, is the hero in Bree & Mike’s story (the one with the crappy title). He’s the one who wants everyone to think he’s a playboy so he can avoid romantic entanglements with nice girls like my heroine … the one who doesn’t think he deserves a nice girl to love and love him.

The song that seemed to fit him to a T is Depeche Mode’s “Wrong.”

I reached the wrong ends by the wrong means

It was the wrong plan
In the wrong hands
The wrong theory for the wrong man
The wrong eyes on the wrong prize
The wrong questions with the wrong replies …

I was marching to the wrong drum
With the wrong scum
Pissing out the wrong energy
Using all the wrong lines
And the wrong signs
With the wrong intensity

When it comes to Mike, all true. Well, he does say the right things (at least the right things for an outrageous flirt), but for the wrong reasons.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Depeche Mode has been my favorite group since high school, and I often find ways to apply their lyrics to life. In college, I quoted “New Dress” (about how changing a vote can change the world) in some political science paper.

Now I’m wondering if this makes Mike more of an anti-hero. Oh, he’s definitely not as dark as Gareth, the alcoholic since age 14 who’s trying to escape his abusive father by taking refuge with my almost-as-messed-up heroine.

But Mike at least fancies himself a “bad boy,” courtesy of his past.

I love this story. I hope I can find someone who likes it as much as I do.