Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Writing Your Book: Setting Your Tempo to the End

with guest Helen Gray

Speedbo is about writing FAST.

 I am not fast.     (Interpret that any way you wish.)

When I was in school I loved ciphering matches and spelldowns, and had only a couple of serious competitors among my classmates. But that speed doesn't apply to my writing. I am in awe of those of you who can produce a book in a month. But I can’t do it!

I have two passions—writing and music. I love gospel and sacred music, cantatas, octavos, and a good concert or marching band. Oom pah pah!!!  I also love a well written book. And I see parallels between writing and music.

In deference to Speedbo month, the specific parallel I’m addressing today is tempo, the fastness or slowness of the rhythms.

Presto        -    very fast
Allegro    -    fast, but not as fast as presto
Allegretto    -    a little faster than moderato
Moderato    -    medium
Andante    -    moderately slow
Adagio        -    slow
Largo        -    very slow & broad

I read somewhere that most good writers think faster than they can type, and most bad writers type faster than they can think. Oops! I’m in trouble. My tempo falls somewhere between moderato and snail's pace—with frequent fermatas (pauses) and rests. 

Here's my typical tempo through a book.

1.    I begin with a basic idea, setting and time period. Then I I develop the beginning of a basic story line.

2.    I write a chapter, at largo tempo,which is slow and broad. It means a more intense application of energy, a slow pace that can be a pace of wisdom. I allow myself as much time and revisions as needed. Once I’m satisfied that I’ve covered all the necessary elements—GMC, who, what, when, where, why, and established the setting and main characters—I move on. I don’t edit any more until I have a complete first draft, but I keep a check list for when that time arrives.

3.    I write two more chapters. By now my tempo is adagio, which means at ease. It implies not only a tempo but a quality of movement. A correct balance and flow of energy and crativity can be achieved here. I set myself a quota, typically a chapter a week. Yes, I realize that you speedsters will find that very modest, but it works for me. If done consistently, it will result in a Heartsong length book within 3-4 months. And it’s doable without stressing the joy out of writing for me. 

4.    When I have three chapters, I stop and develop a skeleton outline for the rest of the book. Then I set my sights on the complete story and continue writing.

5.    About the time I reach the mid-point, I start building speed poco a poco (little by little).  Andante is moderately slow but flowing, at a walking tempo. Walking is the means of going from one point to another, placing one foot before the other and ultimately completing a journey. So is the walk of writing. Place one word after another, and you will eventually have a book.

6.    Moderato. Allegretto. Allegro, which means cheerful. I’m picking up speed. I have my characters firmly in mind now, and I'm like the cows on the way to water. When they smell it, they begin to run. When I "smell" the end, I hit allegro, then presto. I crank out multiple chapters a week.

When the first draft is finished, I draw a deep breath, put it aside and tackle a major task totally unrelated to writing—like cleaning my house. Then I move back to snail’s pace and start editing. But a snail’s pace is not necessarily bad. Although a snail moves at a “sluggish” pace, it has the virtue of perseverance. According to the apostle Paul, perseverance is a key component in character development. He explained that “tribulations produces perseverance” in Romans 5:3. And upon that building block go character and hope. The original Greek word “perseverance” means “steadfastness, constancy, and endurance.” God doesn’t ask for a fast finish, only persevering progress.

We all have different methods and tempos, and that’s fine. The thing that’s important is that, as Christian writers, we write so that our works will glorify our Father in heaven.

Set a tempo that’s reachable so you won’t develop a pattern of failure that will discourage you. But make it a tempo that will challenge you.

Be consistent. Persevere and finish! Finished projects result in submissions.

My debut release, Ozark Sweetheart, took about six months to complete. Of course, it was written to fit the LIH guidelines, and the completed manuscript was 73,500 words. Cutting it to 50,000 was such fun. (touch of sarcasm there) The book is dedicated to my mother, whose notes about her experiences growing up in the depression provided the inspiration for the series.

The sequels took about four months each, but by that time I had the incentive of writing to the instructions of an editor. And I find writing sequels faster because I already have so
much backstory and setting researched and established.

What tempo works best for you? Share with us.


She's too busy helping her family survive the Depression. When she returns home to their Missouri farm, she sees her childhood crush, Trace Gentry, and it stirs up old dreams she tries hard to ignore. Trace is kind, handsome and wealthy. He'd never be interested in a poor girl like her—would he?

Successful businessman Trace is crazy about Callie, and he knows she thinks she's not good enough for him. But he's clueless how to woo her. Until he devises a plan that will prove his love to Callie and make all her dreams come true.

Ozark Sweetheart can be found here.

Bio: Helen Gray lives in SE Missouri with her pastor husband of 49 3/4 years. A retired business teacher and church music director, she happily spends her time making up stories--which makes her three grown children think she's slightly nuts. But that's all right. She's growing old graysfully.

You can find her at

Today Helen is giving away a print copy of her debut release, Ozark Sweetheart to one commenter. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition!



Helen Gray said...

Yep, coffee's brewing round the clock this month. And Coke on ice for me.

Marianne Barkman said...

Helen...just remember, this is not a race! And I LOVE sequels. I have all of Karen Kingsbury Baxter series, I have Debbie Macombers Cedar Cove series, and would love a series of Helen Grey's too! Thanks for the coffee. It's citrus season here in the Valley of the Sun, so making lemon squares!

Wilani Wahl said...

Enjoyed your post. I am definitely being slow but I am enjoying the process and know it will be full of learning curves. My word count for today is 1,103 and the total for the month so far is 2,538.

Helen Gray said...


I'm sure Tina has your name in the hat. :)

Nancy J Farrier said...

Thanks, Helen. I love the music references. Now if I can only pick up the tempo of my writing. :)

Helen Gray said...


Your count for the month is higher than mine at this point. I played all weekend. But now I'm settling into the snail's pace.

Helen Gray said...


I'm waving my director baton and picking up the tempo.

Jon and Vicki Marney said...

I loved the music references as well, and I enjoyed how you shared the tempo changes as you proceed through the 'song'. since I am new, I am still at the pretty slow part, but I'm looking forward to seeing the tempo pick up. Although I set my goal at 500 words 5x a week, I did more than double that yesterday and hoping for even better today so I can be well above my weekly goal, since Thurs. may be a bit slower, since it is a fly-day for us (we will be flying home from Boston, MA to Oregon). May we all have a productive day today.

Helen Gray said...


You should be able to pick up the pace as you get more acquainted with your characters. Persistence is the key. Oom pah pah!

Carol Garvin said...

I should have known you'd have the coffee on, Helen. You're so dependable! I've been drinking Diet Coke all day, so about now a coffee sounds perfect.

Your analogy works for me -- I directed a choir for 19 years. I'd have to say my writing most closely resembles a cantata with its multi-movements and various solos and instrumental sections. I write at various speeds, averaging out at Moderato. :)

I'm not a plotter, but I do some initial pre-planning and then jump right in. Since my destination isn't all that clear at first, I start rather tentatively, and that's where I'm at right now. I started a new WIP on Saturday. For me, Speedbo isn't so much about the tempo as it is about not stopping to edit. I'm forcing myself to keep moving ahead on this first rough draft. I'm trying not to get stuck between the repeat signs, constantly going back over the same sections to revise.

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Hi Helen!! So fun to see you out of the role of coffee provider... but wait... you just put on the coffee anyway! We're supposed to be treating you!

I've got some chai tea and sliced strawberries, fresh blackberries, and crisp lemon wafers.

"I read somewhere that most good writers think faster than they can type, and most bad writers type faster than they can think." That line made me laugh. I really, really hope I'm in the former group but I fear I'm in the latter.

And speed may be relative to what sort of book it is. It takes me 3X as long to write a historical as it does to write a contemporary romance. Even if it's a year/city I'm already familiar with, I still need a lot of poco a poco writing space.

Great post and from one musician to another, keep playing!

Cindy W. said...

Good morning Helen! I love the cover of your debut novel!

Thank you for the insight on how you write your novels. I like the way you write your first chapter and then edit it before moving on but then you don't edit until completion. It's like you are giving your work a firm foundation before creating the walls around your work. Love it.

I would love to win a copy of your debut novel. I love debuts and series.

Have a wonderful day everyone...I'm afraid it's more snow for us today. I will be so happy to see Spring. We've had the same foot of snow on the ground for two months now, it melts down a little and more comes to join it.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Kav said...

Good morning Helen! There's something wrong with you making coffee on the day you are playing hostess with the moistest! You need minions hovering around you, catering to your every whim today!

I read Ozark Sweetheart and LOVED it. Beautiful story that really captured the heart of the depression era. I'm curious to know how it ended up in the Heartsong Presents line when you were aiming for Love Inspired Historical. Just thinking about you having to cut all those lovely words makes me want to cry!

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, HELEN! Like you, I linger over that first chapter (actually, the first 3 that make up the proposal) to ensure I have everything in there that I need as far as GMC, empathetic characterization, etc. When I finish those 3 chapters, I feel I know my characters well enough to move on to the synopsis. (After my first few books for Love Inspired, I now sell on proposal.) Then things start rolling along a somewhat faster clip.

But I'm NOT a fast writer, mostly because I only have 60-90 minutes on week days to write and don't have a single second to even think about my story during the rest of the day--but I pick up speed on weekends!

I'm really looking forward to reading "Ozark Sweetheart!" Congratulations!

Jackie said...

Good morning Helen!

You blog and provide coffee! I love the cover of your book, and congratulations!

Thanks for sharing today.

My word count for the month is 4272. Something has interfered every day this week with my writing time. Hubby out of town was supposed to be a good thing but the worst winter storm of the year hit. Driving home from work Monday I blew my tire out and had to be towed. Yesterday I had to babysit after work (which was a joy) because the babysitter had a sick child. I'm hoping for a "boring" day after work. We'll see.

Have a great day.

Glynna Kaye said...

Congrats to all on the growing word counts--and we're just starting Day 5 of Speedbo!

Pamela Mason said...

1. YAY! A romance set in the Depression era! Not that I'm cheering about the Depression, but it's a setting that's woefully unexplored and I'm glad to see your book about it.
2. SIGH...I start off Allegro... progress to Adagio... and then I hit the dreaded... L a r g oooo. More like a Finito. Until I get another idea for the plot - I combine pantsing with plotting - and I'm thinking Presto! but then my inner editor halts me to Allegro again.
Fun post! Thanks for putting a musical spin on it.
And I love cantatas and sacred music too.

Rose said...


Wonderful post and analogy. I actually write faster when I listen to music. I must be following the tempo. However, I listen to country music so I'm probably doing two steps forward and one step back!

As you know, my progress is slow on my Speedbo goal. I'm just not getting into my groove yet.

Count me out on the giveaway. I've bought two of your books. One for me and one for a charity auction prize!

Jennifer Smith said...

I can write a rough draft relatively quickly, but going back and cleaning it all up takes me forever!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Happy Book Launch, Helen!!!

What a wonderful feeling. Our persistent, Helen, is a debut, multi published author.


Tina Radcliffe said...

On to Speedbo with all 163 of us.

It's a little crowded in here, but so much fun.

Are those lemon squares ready, Marianne??

Audra Harders said...

Good morning, Helen! I brought coffeecake to go with the coffee. No frosting drizzle on it...a modest consession to Ash Wednesday...

Nice correlation between writing and music. Tempo is such a dicey issue with me. Most of the time it's Presto in order to use any spare time available. That's during the draft phase. I do slow down for revisions, but it's still hit and miss...

Ozark Sweetheart is calling to me -- it's smack on time of my TBR pile, which means it's next!!!!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Good morning HELEN and welcome to Seekerville. With the coffee. yum

I always love your sense of humor. I bet it sparkles in your books.

Great tips. Have fun today.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

IT'S ON MY KINDLE!!!!! IT'S ON MY KINDLE!!!! IT'S ON MY KINDLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Helen, I'm so stinkin' excited to have your debut novel... when I think of how much fun.... and some not so fun moments.... over the years, to have this happen, to have met you and hugged you and sat around, feet up, talking to you!!!! I love this so much.

I cannot restrain my excitement over this.


And look at you, metaphoring writing to musical tempo, a subject you know so well. Brava!!!!

I'm bringing FRESH COFFEE because Helen's far too busy!

Jeanne T said...

It's fun to get to know a little more about you, Helen. And your writing patterns.

I find that I can put out a quick fast-draft. I don't usually go back and edit while I'm writing the fast draft. Revisions tend to take me longer. I get caught up in trying to do too much on each pass through the book rather than focusing on more specific areas. Then I get overwhelmed. I'm working on this though. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Wilani, good for you!

I don't see yours as slow.... but steady.

And I'm a steady writer as well, so we can go steady together!!!!

In writing mode, that is! :)

I might need more coffee.

Liz Flaherty said...

I think I'm adagio all the time after the first chapter, but I loved the parallel you drew. I love your cover, too!

Mary Hicks said...

Helen Gray... I loved your post! I loved it! You give a clear picture of a good, solid way to get started, work through the middle and wrap up the finish of a novel.

I liked the musical analogy. I remember the music terms from when my daughter took music lessons.

I'm slow too—I choose to believe that we ( you & I ) are slow in the very best sense of the word. :-)

Like Paul says, finishing the race is what counts.

I've already shared this info with another writer friend. :-) And I'm printing a copy to keep by my computer.

I would love to have a copy of your book!

Helen Gray said...

Carol Garvin,


Manuscripts and musicals flow along from movement to movement. I should have included that.

I'm a mixture of plotter/pantser. I "pants" for the first three chapters and then lay out a road map to help me with pacing.

Sounds like we're on a similar track with new projects.

Carol Moncado said...


SOMEONE sent me my very own paper copy of Ozark Sweethearts last week :D. Autographed even!!! I, uh, haven't had a chance to read it yet ;).

I think everyone can guess what speed I write when I do my first draft. And half the time I do think faster than I can type. Whether that means I'm any good or not remains to be seen ;).

Today would have been my mother's 68th birthday. I'll make a cake. I posted a smidge about her and more about SpeedBo today - I Heart SpeedBo and I got my Fun WIP Progress Meters posted today too.

March 4 word count: 3021
Total: 12056

Helen Gray said...


Great point about the type of book making a difference in speed. I agree!!!

With the historicals I'll write a scene or bit of dialogue and then second guess myself as to whether it's historically accurate for the time period. Always double checking--which slows the speed.

I'm in awe of how much you produce while home schooling and all that goes into caring for six kiddos--twice the number I had.

Mary Hicks said...

Helen, take my name out of the prize pot. I treated myself to a copy! :-)

Can't wait to read your book!!! :-)

Helen Gray said...


That first chapter is my "get acquainted" period. In the beginning I have an idea for a story and characters, but I don't know their personalities, etc. yet. Once I spend some time getting them clearer in my mind I can move along faster.

We have ice. There's been no school here yet this week--and have missed three full weeks prior to this.

Connie Queen said...

Fast and slow is all relative. To me, you're not slow, you're consistent=book in 4 months.

I love the idea for your book. I watched a PBS special on the dust bowl a few months ago. I was so upset, I couldn't sleep. It was such a bigger moment our history than I realized. Of course, then my mind tried finding ways I could make a good romance from what I learned.

I can't wait to read your series.
Oh, and I did I mention I love the cover?

Helen Gray said...


Thank you SOOOOOOO much for the lovely review on Amazon.

Okay, here's a condensed version of the story. I had a complete (contemporary) with Heartsong when Barbour shut down the line. As soon as Harlequin bought it and announced their new editor, I queried that editor. And ended up with an entire series under consideration.
Days later I went to conference to pitch the historical I had just completed--and ended up with an appointment with the new editor's boss. I told her I had a series under consideration with Kathy, and we agreed that I would follow through with that line. Kathy then read the historical--and wanted it!!

Helen Gray said...


You're absolutely right. It takes those first three chapters to REALLY get anchored in the story and thoroughly acquainted with the characters. Which is why I will be satisfied if I can get three chapters and an outline for the rest of the book done for Speedbo. In a sense that's a complete book in a month, isn't it???

I'm amazed at how fast you produce while working full time.

Connie Queen said...

I'm at 4224 through yesterday on my Speedbo. My goal is only 1k per day so I'm right where I need to be.

Not only am I a slow writer, but after 2-3 days of writing, my creative mind normally demands a week vacation. I'm refusing all requests this month.

Helen Gray said...


I'm pleased that you and others like my cover. Too bad I can't take credit for creating it.

Clearing the hurdles of life can certainly interfere with writing time--but it sounds like you have the ability to persevere.

The one good thing about these ice storms (for retirees like me) is that it means hibernating--which means writing time!

Helen Gray said...


It hasn't been too long since publisher guidelines for historicals expanded to include stories past the turn of the century, so I felt the time was right for me to attempt a story in the time period. I enjoyed the research, and the opportunity to use the notes Mom made for me years ago about growing up in the depression.

Music has been such a big part of my life. Don't know what I would have done without it.

Melony Teague said...

Thank you so much for this fantastic post. Being a musician I really appreciated your use of music lingo to explain the process!

Helen Gray said...


I'm weird. I love, love, love music, but I don't listen to it a lot when I write. Those late night hours of total silence are when I produce best.

You writers with day jobs make me feel lazy. On the other hand, thinking back, I recall keeping my trusty notebook in my book satchel and jotting down bits and dabs during breaks at work.

Helen Gray said...


I admire those who can do a rough draft quickly.

Helen Gray said...


Thanks to you and all the seekers for all the encouragement you've dished out over the years.

Years? Yeah, years!!!

Ah, a new term for me. I had just reached the point of thinking of myself as published. Not you're adding multi-published. Mmmm, sounds good.

Piper Huguley said...

A great post Helen! Thank you so much! I love to hear about the process from other writers. We work in a very similar way with the mixture of plotting and panstering. I am fast, but I don't know if I can say it "works" since I haven't sold a three book series. Maybe I need to slow down, but in the meantime--yay you!

I want to hear, though about the pain of cutting that man words. How did you do it?

Lyndee H said...

HI Helen,
Great analogy. I'm a drum corps nut and marching band geek, but I enjoy most music.

I played flute from sixth grade until I had kids. Playing Leonard Bernstein's Candide Overture was the most fun I've ever had in performance. Fast, fast, fast. And not thinking about it fast. The fingers have to be so confident about the notes that they just travel like they are writing the music as it is being played. Exhilarating!

I'm not a fast writer. More of an Allegretto - Moderato although I have moments of Pesto!

I have your new book on my Kindle, so don't put me in the drawing. Congrats!

Helen Gray said...


I LOVE coffee cake!!

Hope you make it to St. Louis again this year. Would love to hike around the streets with you again!

Honored to have you read my book.

Lyndee H said...

HA! Correction - Moments of Presto, not Pesto...although I do like pesto on my pasta.

Duh... Now you know why I don't write fast all the time. Typos slow me down.

Tina Pinson said...

Thanks Helen,

Writing is like a song.

Of late though, it mine might sound more like a dirge.

My tempo for writing has changed considerably over time. When my children were younger I wrote at a snail's pace, with several starts and few finishes.

When my children were in school, my speed picked up and wrote and finished several books.

I maintained a decent speed for a few years, then we started a business and that changed my timing all over again.

Add to that moves and health issues and I'm trying to find a rhythm that works with my life right now.

And you're right, we each have our own. I never was an early morning writer. I was one that could stay up late and plug away. Then sleep in the next day.

But I find myself getting up early more often, (not always mind you) and getting something done.

Makes me feel pretty good to get something accomplished.

Helen Gray said...


Yep, I'm on the fun wagon today.

Appreciate you guys having me here.

Helen Gray said...


I'm so relieved that coffee pot help has arrived. Thank you, thank you!!

With all the writing you do, I don't see how in the world you'll find time to read my itty bitty book. But do it, girl. Do it!!!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Helen,

So excited for you and congratulations on your debut! I will definitely be buying this one and in print!

The cover reminds me fondly of the Waltons. I LOVED that show with all the family drama and the wonderful setting. Don't ask me if the Ozarks are anywhere close. In my mind, they are! LOL.

Have a wonderful release day! Wishing you many good reviews and lots of sales!


Helen Gray said...


Good for you for not spending too much time on the fast draft. Another reason I see for that is that things tend to happen/change in the course of the complete book that affect earlier scenes. So I like to keep my "edit" list and incorporate those tweaks later. Too much time lost if you go back to fix things all the time.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I don't write fast. I am capable of writing fast but it usually results in massive hair loss.

Mary Connealy said...

Helen it's just pure fun to read about YOUR system.

And never forget there is no RIGHT way. You found something that works for you and TADA you've got a book published!!!!!

Love it.

I should also save the musical definitions. I can't ever remember those words. (sez the woman with seven years of piano lessons!)

Mary Connealy said...

AND (I thought this merited it's own comment box)


Susan Anne Mason said...

P.S. Glad to know I'm not the only one who struggles with speed!

Although I have had a couple of times where the story just flowed out onto the page, most times I plow through the plot and do lots of research and rewriting. But just think about the Tortoise and the Hare and we'll all feel better!

Mary Connealy said...

I mean Ozark Sweetheart, not Ozark Mountain Sweetheart.


Mary Connealy said...

And you know I don't really consider myself a fast writer. Slow and steady.
It's the steady that makes things add up.

Helen Gray said...


There's nothing wrong with being adagio. The important thing is consistency. And thanks for complimenting the cover.

Helen Gray said...

Mary Hicks,

I'm tedious and methodical, but it gets the job done.

Not only did I direct church choirs for a lot of years, but I taught high school music a couple of years. Rat a tat tat!! So music analogies work for me.

Your name is in the band director's tassled hat!!

Crystal Ridgway said...

Well, I either write at presto or allegro, I don't feel like I've made good progress until I hit 5K a day. I just hope that means my writing isn't bad.
Over 6K yesterday, and I haven't turned on the laptop yet today. (Commenting from my smartphone)
Please drop my name in the hat!

Chill N said...

Lovely post, Helen! And again the wonderful message that whatever works for each of us, works.

I especially appreciate this: "I write a chapter, at largo tempo,which is slow and broad. It means a more intense application of energy, a slow pace that can be a pace of wisdom."

Don't enter me in the drawing. I already have your book. It was one of the books I downloaded with a gift card Ruthy gave away a few weeks ago. So, actually, I guess Ruthy bought your book for me :-)

Nancy C

Helen Gray said...


For those who don't know, Carol is my road trippin' pal. And she teaches at the same school as my daughter.

Carol, you put me in the shade when it comes to speed. I make no effort whatsoever to complete with you. I think I'll just start calling you Mrs. Presto.

Relish sweet remembrances of your mother.

And write on, girl!!!

Helen Gray said...


If we don't produce but one or two pages a day, that adds up to a complete book faster than you would have thought. Baby steps. That's all it takes. But just keep them coming.

It didn't take long for me to get caught up in the research when I started this project. I think the biggest thing it generates is an appreciation for the ease of our lives in comparison to those times.

The reaction to the cover has been wonderful. I think cover art for book two is should show up soon. Can't wait to see what I get with this one.

Helen Gray said...


Thank you. I find it easy to relate to music.

Helen Gray said...


It's great that we relate in our methods. The big difference in us I suspect is the number of years we've been at it. I've been scribbling for over 25 years. But I didn't have support groups like this--or a computer--or Internet--during the first 20 or so.

You're making such great progress. I expect to hear an announcement from you any time.

Yes, cutting that many words was painful. The first thing to go was historical details. Then I had to cut a couple of complete scenes. And then I started tightening. You'd be amazed at how many things you can tighten when you put your mind to it.

Helen Gray said...


Percussion is not my strength. I'm brassy, played trumpet in band. My oldest boy played alto sax, the youngest one trombone. I learned to play each of those a little bit, but never mastered the flute. My daughter learned enough piano that we used to play special music for church once in awhile.

Loved meeting you at conference!

Helen Gray said...

Tina P,

Yes, writing is like a song. It has to flow.

No matter our speed, that feeling of accomplishment is the payoff.

Helen Gray said...

Susan Mason,

I think the Waltons were was set in Virginia. I watched some episodes while working on this series--for the time period.

Meeting you in Indy was great!

Helen Gray said...


I hear you. If I try to push myself to write fast, disaster can result.

Wilani Wahl said...

I have a question. I am thinking that I may not be writing enough detail in each section. should I go back and expand or should I keep writing and then go back and add more detail when I start editing?

Perhaps it will help if you know what my book is about. I gave it a title of Gleanna's Journal. The book is written in journal form so I have not set it up in chapters. Gleanna is a CNA working in the ER nights and she also teaches Sunday School and Children's Church and is in a camera club. She is single and is struggling with being single. by the end of the book I want to have it end with contentment with being single and waiting on the Lord for her contentment and then just maybe she will meet a guy.

Another question do you think there would be an audience for this type of book. It is so different from what is out there.

DebH said...

I am a music illiterate and soooooooooo appreciate how you spelled everything out in your post. Perfecto! I'm just working towards putting something on the screen, a little each day and get in the habit. As has been said before: one can't edit what doesn't exist.

SPEEDBO count: 2150 words, yes - extremely meager, but I AM getting a little written each day. Baby steps... (and I did enter a contest... panic mode won't set in unless I actually get past the first round)

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your cover Helen. I read an exerpt over on the eHarl pages and now really want to get a copy. It is SO COOL to see your book posted there, btw. I saw it and thought, "hey, it's the Seekerville coffee lady!!! Sweet!"

How about some hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles for the peeps in uber cold areas of the country?

Helen Gray said...


Trial and error. Trial and error. That's how we arrive at works--and doesn't work--for us.

I'm linear. I have to have a system. I now have one. Rah, Rah!

You've already read chapter one of Ozark Sweetheart. So you can just start at chapter two. :)

kaybee said...

I have 920 so far, but this is the first day I've counted.
Kathy Bailey

kaybee said...

Marianne, I adore lemon squares.
Just as well, done with chocolate for Lent.
Kathy Bailey

Helen Gray said...


I refrained from mentioning that there's no 'Mountain' in the title.

Slow and steady. Yep, that's it.

Helen Gray said...


You make me feel really slow. I only do about 1K a day.

You're in the hat.

I mean YOUR NAME is in the hat.

kaybee said...

I love marching bands. They make me cry.
Please put me in the drawing. Would love to read your book.
Kathy Bailey

Helen Gray said...

Nancy C,

Yes, slow can mean taking time to infuse wisdom into our writing.

I know, I know. Slow doesn't sounds like SPEEDBO. But it keeps my brain from exploding.

THANK YOU RUTHIE!!! for buying my book for Nancy.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Seekerville welcomes participant, #164 Sara E Larson.

We're going to open the banquet room. No worries.

Pizza for lunch!!!

Helen Gray said...


I can only tell you what I do.

Rather than keep going back and adding detail, I keep an "edit" list as I go. When I finish the first draft, I go back and add those details. It keeps me from getting sidetracked.

As for an audience for your type of book, why don't you read as many publisher guidelines as you can find and see if they fit. The ACFW web site has a list of publishers, with links to them, that they recognize.

Crystal Ridgway said...

Nope, Tina...
Pizza for DINNER! At least in my house. And it's made from scratch.

Helen Gray said...


I'll have some of that hot chocolate. We live on a hill, and it's coated in ice.

Little by little works. Just keep at it, and those daily words will soon be impressive.

My only contribution to the cover is making that particular scene the first one listed in my art fact sheet. But love that so many seem to like it.

Myra Johnson said...

Excellent analogies, Helen, and your debut novel sounds delightful!

I totally relate to the slower tempo of writing as the story kicks off. It takes time to get to know the characters and where they're headed. Things begin moving faster for me once the story gets rolling.

Then sometimes I slow down again just past the middle as I'm figuring out the best way to approach the black moment and conclusion.

But, um, the part about putting the finished draft aside to do something different??? Does it HAVE to be cleaning house?????

Helen Gray said...

Kathy Bailey,

Small amounts, done often, add to big amounts. Keep'em coming.

Helen Gray said...


I'm with you all the way there. Certain points in the story require more deliberation.

I HATE housework, but's about as different from writing as it gets!!!

Natalie Monk said...

The music and writing parallel makes brilliant sense!

I've been reading about other authors' writing processes so I can try something new with the next MS.

Thanks for sharing your process, Helen!

Jan Drexler said...


I love seeing you here! I remember thinking when I met you, "it won't be long until she's published!" :)

Ozark Sweetheart is in my Amazon cart - I'm waiting to see if our local Walmart puts it on the shelf first.

(Walmart is the only place in town where we can buy Heartsong or Love Inspired, so I buy from them whenever I can to keep the sales up.)

Have fun today!

Elaine Manders said...


You're such an encouragement to us who are slow but steady. No need to put me in the drawing since I have and am enjoying Ozark Sweetheart now. Love your writing style.

Linnette R Mullin said...

Helen!!! Congratulations!!! I'm so excited for you! And, yes! Please enter me into the drawing for a copy of your book! That debut novel is so exciting, isn't it?

I loved this post! I REALLY needed this reminder to set a tempo that's actually do-able so I don't wear myself out or grow discouraged.

As to my SpeedBo update - I'm working on some guest blog posts I have coming up the next two months, as well as working on novel #2 - Loving Tiffany. I'm hoping to knock these blog posts out of the way so I can build this tempo with Tiffany's story. I'm more than halfway through the first draft and I'd love to finish it!

Thanks so much for these encouraging words, Helen!!!

Helen Gray said...


Learning never stops. It sounds like you're on track.

chris granville said...

Loved your article!
God bless you
Chris Granville
Please have a terrific,wonderful,God-blessed day

Helen Gray said...


That's interesting. I always figured I was perceived as someone who hung around consistently but didn't inspire much in the way of expectations. Nice to know you didn't.

Do you find Heartsongs at Wal Mart? I wasn't sure they had made the cut in the competition for shelf space.

Our little local Wal Mart doesn't carry ANY category book. But the manager has ordered copies of my book and scheduled a book signing for me next Saturday.

Helen Gray said...


Slow and steady works!

Happy reading.

Meghan Carver said...

Helen, I love your music analogies. Takes me back to my viola section in the high school and college orchestras.

Thank you so much for your honesty today. It's encouraging to a newbie like me who's always chastizing herself that she ought to write faster. Of course, I'm my own worst critic. I'm thankful for my husband and children who encourage me and spur me on by asking how many words I wrote in a given day. I'm happy when it's 1,000 and ecstatic when it's more.

Have a great day, and Coke on ice sounds good to me! :-)

Helen Gray said...



Setting goals is necessary. But making them achievable is also important. As you said, let's don't set ourselves up for failure and discouragement.

If you're ever back here visiting, look me up.

Helen Gray said...

Chris G,

Thanks for your nice comments.

Olivia said...

Thank you for the rich analogy to music in writing. Do you have a section on the types of "rests". 1500 words in 2 days and I have halted to "rest" at the end of the measure! My characters have been circling and so I have fled my home to go to the local bookstore to outline the book and finish character sketches. Now I have 2 hours before picking up my grandson. Thanks for the pacing!

Cindy Regnier said...

Please let someone else win this fantastic book as I already read it, but just wanted to say, it's WONDERFUL. Thanks for sharing your writing process, Helen. Although I think you left out your daily Step one. That making coffee for Seekerville every morning thing. I couldn't get going without that!

Helen Gray said...


I have a flat top and an electric guitar, but I don't play them very well and haven't had them out in a long time. Admire your ability with strings!

Don't chastise yourself for not writing faster. Set a pace that you can manage--and make it CONSISTENT.

Raising my Coke to you!

Helen Gray said...


Even a whole rest has only a set amount of time. :)

Then it's time to move on.
If fleeing to the bookstore gets you back in motion, go for it!!!

Helen Gray said...


Thank you SO MUCH for the beautiful review you posted on Amazon. And you did it with writing skills that truly impressed me.

Note: I always loved to read, but I hated writing book reports. Apparently you did well at that.

Linnette R Mullin said...

Absolutely, Helen! Eeek! I'm so excited for you! And I was thinking the same thing! :D I don't know when I'll be in the area next. My health and family limit me, but I'll let you know if I come your way! :D

Linnette R Mullin said...

PS - I got up to over 1200 words, but I'm having to cut to 700. That's always so much fun! LOL

Tina Radcliffe said...

DebH entered a contest????? WooHoo!!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hey, Helen! I am feeling like you right about now. I've only gotten 1,258 words so far this SpeedBo! Yikes. Too much going on. Actually, March is never a good month for me. Spring Break and having kids is a big part of that. But that's okay. I'll get as much done as I can! And because I know it's SpeedBo month, it will motivate me to work a little harder than I normally would have. :-) Sometimes slow and steady wins the race. Right, Helen? :-)

Helen Gray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen Gray said...

Right Melanie!!

It's always surprising how much the words add up if we DO THEM DAILY.

This has been a busy week for me, so I'm not doing that very well. In addition to blogging this week, I have a book signing next Saturday at Wal Mart, and another the following Thursday at the local library.

I'm counting on doing much better word count wise the second half of the month.

How well I remember how the kids' schedules dominated when they were in school.

Debby Giusti said...

Helen, love your post and how you've related writing to music.

I'm a bit like you...start out slow to get those first three chapters down, then moderate pace through the middle. At the end, I speed up. Then do a slow rewrite!

I recall John Updike saying he knew a book was finished and ready to go to the publisher when he could "hear the music" as he reread the pages. That made an impression on me.

I always try to "hear the music."

Helen Gray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen Gray said...


Hear the music. Yes.

I don't have to have a tape, radio, or TV playing to do that. And there will always be points throughout the book when the music is heard softer or louder. But for the most part it's heard best at the end.

Helen Gray said...


Sorry about the deletes, but I'm making way too many typos.

fictionthatfeedsyourfaith said...

"Be consistent. Persevere and finish! Finished projects result in submissions."
YES! to this... Wonder if hubby would mind if I got this tattooed on my arm?
Jenna Victoria

Helen Gray said...


How about putting it on a tee shirt??

Linnette R Mullin said...

I finished my first blog post! I'll have to come back to proof it, but it's done!!! Goal #1 met! :D

Clari Dees said...

I love this post, Helen! What a great and encouraging way to look at our individual writing speeds. Instead of comparing (beating myself up) to others that are faster than I am, I can concentrate on how musical I'm being. :-) Thank you! And many congratulations on your debut!

Helen Gray said...


Hope your writing goals are going well.

Crystal Ridgway said...

Well, I'm just now getting started on the day's writing, because I spent the morning formatting and submitting two mss to the Genesis. That makes six entries total. I doubt I'll be getting any more in, unless I can finish and edit my speedbo ms before the fifteenth. I just don't think I can do that in ten days. Oh well. I just hope and pray that I get somewhere with the ones already entered.

Helen Gray said...

Sounds like a very productive day to me, Crystal.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Helen! I felt the logic and calm of your method and loved the parallels between music and writing.

You're part tortoise, part hare. I find writing the ending faster than the rest of the book. Still, I don't have a hare bone in my body. :-)

Looking forward to reading Ozark Sweetheart! I love that your mother's notes inspired the book!

Thanks for the coffee.


Pat W said...

Helen, congrats on your new book. I enjoyed reading your post. I am always interested to read different authors writing processes. Everyone is different so there is almost always a new idea to try. Thanks for sharing yours. Please put me in the drawing. I can't wait to read your new book!

I write slow. I think this is mostly due to the fact that I haven't finished planning and plotting yet. I am not a panster. I need a plan. Well, except on vacation :))

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...


Adore the cover. So excited to read about your book (yes please, would love to be entered for the drawing) and about pacing.

So interesting how there are similarities but vast differences.

My pace? Stop/Start/Stop/ Start... Staccato?!

But look out, once I get going - Katie bar the door. I get after it...

Thanks for a good glimpse into your life and for teaching me a bit more about music today too! Thanks for the coffee. Afternoon shift is here!

Sherida Stewart said...

Helen! The non-coffee-drinker-who-provides-coffee-for-all-of-us-each-morning Helen! I'm trumpeting your success during your debut week! Fun!

Your "tempo" method of writing sounds like a good one....and works very well for a three-book-a-year pace. Nice! I'm still searching for my tempo, but I'll give your plan a try. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

Blessings to you as you celebrate a lovely book birthday!

Helen Gray said...


Surely we all have at least a wee of both the tortoise and the hare in us. You admit that you go faster at the end.

I think I'm more of a PLODDER.

Will I see you in St. Louis?

Helen Gray said...

Pat W,

Plotting in increments can work. What works for me is to plot those first chapters and write them. Then, having gotten acquainted with your characters, I can plot the rest of the book.

I'm sure Tina has your name in the hat.

Helen Gray said...

KC and May,

Thanks for picking up the slack on coffee provisions.

We all have to find our tempo and make it work for us.

Piper Huguley said...

Thanks for your kind words of encouragement Helen. I'm looking forward to reading your book. I think I shared with you before that I write early 20th century too, so you are paving the way for others too. Thank you for your example of perseverance.

Congrats to you and Happy book Birthday!

Helen Gray said...

Yes, Piper, I do remember that.
Immigration, right?
Any chance of you being at ACFW conference this year?

Helen Gray said...

I had planned to check out after awhile to go to church. But I just got a call saying that church is cancelled.

So I'll stick around.

Missy Tippens said...

Helen, what. Great post!! I'm a music liver as well so could appreciate your pacing. I think I'm similar, although I'm trying to speed up some on the proposal stage. :)

Missy Tippens said...

I'm also typing on my phone so spelled lover as liver! LOL!!!

Helen Gray said...

Missy, I'm crawling along with a proposal as well.

Interesting visual.


Missy Tippens said...

Virginia, it may take you longer, but I sure do LOVE your historical voice!

Helen Gray said...


Thanks for stopping by.

Give my plan a try--and then tweak it to fit you!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Liz Flaherty Can I just say how happy I am to see you here!!!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Wilani, I agree with Helen.

I keep my "edit" list/ideas/thoughts at the end of the manuscript. As I get a thought of how I should change or deepen something, I add it to that last page, then when I have the first draft done, I go back and add those things in where they fit best, and I don't delete them until they're settled into the manuscript.

That way I can keep the "flow" going and fix it later.

You know, Wilani, you never know what will sell... Chick Lit was nothing, then it was everything, then it was nothing again.

First person was something, then nothing, then something, then nothing....

If it catches and editor's eye and they love, love, love, love it, it's got a shot. BUT....

And this isn't to be mean, it's just reality....

The highest selling stories have romance in them. I saw a great, fun movie at Christmas about a girl hunting up a husband/date/fiance while getting ready for her cousin's wedding... and it was so funny and pathetic... and then she ended up stag at the wedding and spent the night dancing with the guy she kept spurning whenever her aunt suggested they date... And it was a perfect turn of events on what could have been a downer.... but God's perfect timing worked!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I love Helen's daily "Step One" monitoring the coffee in Seekerville!

When Helen loses electric, we all suffer sorely. :(

I'm going to agree with Connealy (I know: SHOCKER!!!!!) You don't have to be a fast writer. It's really got nothing to do with speed and everything to do with discipline/love/tenacity. So if you love what you do, do it for 1000 words/day.

360,000 in a YEAR.

That's a lot of books.

Persistence. Write, write, write. No one buys and empty page.

LoRee Peery said...

I am so thankful Mary said Speedbo is not writing fast... I think I am a slow writer compared to others But who is comparing? I have to "live" my story life through the eyes of my heroine at least a couple days before I can really start the fingers flying. My life is one of chaos -- interruptions and someone always in crisis in my large family. Sometimes I call it a good day if I record 500 words on my goal sheet, or editing a couple chapters. Thanks for guest blogging and giving away a book, Helen.

Helen Gray said...


Glad you came by. If you only get a few words a day, they still add up.

Your name's in the hat.

Pam Hillman said...

Helen, you write beautiful music regardless of the pace.

Brava! :)

Pam Hillman said...

Whoa, Helen, you're having a book signing at your WalMart????

Now, that is COOL!!! :)

Congrats, lady!

Helen Gray said...


Yep, at Wal Mart. What really blew me away was when he told me he ordered 100 copies.

Tina Radcliffe said...



Helen Gray said...


All I did was ask the manager if he would stock some copies of my book for locals to buy. He suggested the signing.

And the local newspaper has done two stories. (Hubby married the owner & his wife--I played and sang for the wedding.)

Linda Marie Finn said...

Hi Helen
I guess I am a moderato. Taking things quickly but not to quick and not too slow. This is my first time being on speedbo and well as of today , Day 5 I have a word count of 6,472 ! So I guess am doing ok to some's standards. I still say I love that cover on your book, so sweet and speaks to me big time. I cannot wait to read it and see what you have shared.
Linda Finn

Helen Gray said...

Linda Marie,

Congratulations on what seems to me a pretty good word count for a moderato.

Linda Marie Finn said...

Thanks Helen, had to come back and admit to not resisting temptation ! My kindle now holds your book on it... Now to get it away from the kids... I had to be impatient like Ruthy...
Ruth...Its On My KINDLE !!!!
But Helen, I would be honored to win a signed copy to cherish !!!!

Chill N said...

Yes! I edited and revised scenes but did not delete any!! Life is good.

Go Speedboers -- whatever your goal and however you approach it.

Nancy C

Walt Mussell said...

You've been married nearly 50 years. That alone is impressive and worth a standing ovation.

As someone who grew up a music geek, this is a post I could at least understand from start to finish.

Helen Gray said...


My 50th wedding anniversary coincides with the release of my second book. Anniversary May 31, Release June 1.

Glad you understood. I love to find other music geeks, 'cause they GET me.

Jamie Adams said...

Helen, Conrats on the Wal mart book signing! How awesome is that?

Speedbo check in: it's a good thing I did double the words yesterday because today stunk. I'm hoping to add some words this evening.

Dr. Jana Vanderslice said...

I can't wait to read your book! My grandmother talked a lot about the depression.
I don't know what music term would apply, but I write best with a deadline. Pressure is a good motivator for me to sit down & stay at it. I just finished "Fierce Faith: A 40 Day Prayer Adventure". It was a crazy, wonderful, God filled experience! I had to have a chapter done each week because our 40 day team met every Sunday.

CatMom said...

Loved this, Helen!
And I especially like your reminders about perseverance---SO important.
Thanks for having round-the-clock coffee this month---I sure need it.
No need to put me in the drawing, as I have Ozark Sweetheart on my TBR stack (at the TOP!) and can't wait to read it.
Hugs, Patti Jo

Helen Gray said...


Good job on Speedbo. Sometimes we have to vary our output.

Helen Gray said...


I work ahead as much as I can in order to avoid deadline stress.

And thanks for the anniversary wishes.

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

Helen, your book sounds interesting! I can't wait to read it! And congratulations again on getting it published! Right now I'm editing a ms at a snail's pace, but it's what's needed to make this novel shine :) Thanks for your encouraging post!

Kathryn said...

Thanks for a delightful look at your writing how you relate it to music.

I'm anxious to read your story...My mother grew up in the Missouri Ozarks during the depression. We still visit relatives there. One of my very favorite places!!

Still plodding along on my story...I think I'm NOT meeting my goals, but refuse to be discouraged.

Helen Gray said...

Patti Jo,

Delighted that you have Ozark Sweetheart.

You might think that reading about the Great Depression would be depressing. But the more I read about it, the more I admire how people worked together to survive.

Terri said...

Helen - you've wowed me on several accounts today. 50 years of marriage is amazing! A multi-book contract. A book signing at your local Walmart - wow! And an amazing blog post.

I play in the hand bell choir. Sometimes we plunk and some days that is how my writing goes. LOL

Actually, sometimes I write really fast and others I don't. Not sure why. Like you I'm a mixture of a panster and plotter. Very loose, probably too much, on the plotting end.

Helen Gray said...

Eva Marie,

Thank you.

Editing is something that I can't rush. Take your time and be thorough. Then take pride if what you've done.

Helen Gray said...


That's right, don't let yourself be discouraged.

Where in the MO Ozarks did your mother grow up?

Helen Gray said...


So you're a "ding-a-ling." My daughter plays bells at her church.

I guess our creative juices flow differently from day to day. Just make sure you produce regularly.

Terri said...

More people then I like to admit would agree about the "ding-a-ling!"

Jenny Blake said...

sorry so late had issues yesterday. my microwave is no more and several phone calls later including the office of fair trading what I should do is all to hard! If I wasn't in pain maybe. but I digress.

the line about not being a good writer if you think faster than you type thats me! I use to think faster than I write as a kid too. I still do my brain is often ahead of what I am putting down. But then I am not a writer.

Would love to read your book.

ok back to my self pity day! I miss my heat pack. I am going to try a hot water bag to see if that helps the neck.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hey, I'm guesting in Seekerville in a couple of hours! I better get to bed so I can get up early! Great post, Helen! ;-)

Wilani Wahl said...

Helen and Ruth,

Thank you for your helpful answers to my questions.

I am enjoying this so much.

Helen Gray said...


Did you have a funeral for your microwave? Just wondering.

Sorry you're have such a rough time.

Your name's in the hat.

Helen Gray said...

Night, night, Melanie.

Helen Gray said...

You're welcome, Wilani.

Narelle Atkins said...

Helen, great post! It's so exciting to see your debut book in print - congratulations :)

Mary Preston said...

I don't write, but I find that in most things I'm better to settle for a middling pace.

Fiction Writer said...


Love your pace ideas and your debut novel sounds terrific. Made me start thinking about my mom, growing up in northern Wisconsin and how she met my dad.

Best wishes with the book!


Edwina said...

Helen, Loved the post!I, too, love writing/reading and music so your post really resonated with me. And it was great to read how you bring your books to life. Thanks for the coffee - desperately need it this morning!

jubileewriter said...

Helen, I brought my own tea bags, put the kettle on. Loved the music metaphors. Depending on how in the zone I am determines my pace. Kinda like driving on a long trip with no cruise control. Speedup, slow down, speed up, nod my head, slow down and take a break. My life is pretty full so your slower pace comments were an encouragement.
Cindy Huff

Julie Lessman said...

HELEN!! Please forgive me for being late, but yesterday was colonoscopy day for hubby and edits from my editor to be completed by Monday, so both my day and Speedbo were pretty much blown out of the water. Sigh.

You said: Speedbo is about writing FAST.I am not fast. (Interpret that any way you wish.)"

LOL!!! Well, I AM fast, Helen, in EVERYTHING except writing. Double sigh.

You also said, "And it’s doable without stressing the joy out of writing for me."

For me, THIS IS KEY!! No, I am not a Ruthy or Mary who can crank out excellent books like link sausage ... when it comes to writing, I am S-L-O-W, and I used to beat myself up over it. Not anymore. For me, "slow" is where I truly enjoy writing, so I've had to learn to accept that, which is what I'm trying to do now. Step away from the deadlines and contracts and just write for the joy of writing. Triple sigh.

Great blog, my friend, and I cannot wait to read your series!!


Kathryn said...

Helen, I'm sorry I didn't get back to you yesterday with an answer to your question about where my mother grew up. She lived in Humansville, about an hour from Springfield. My Dad grew up in Texas, but his family spent time in Fairplay and his relatives are from Ava and Souder (my grandmother's maiden name). We still have a family reunion every three years in Springfield...on my father's side!

Jennifer said...

Nice post. I'm still keeping my slow 500 word count going...

Emily Neyer said...

I wish I was slow and steady. I am slow and stop and go. I started this story 4 years ago and I am just now starting to get motivated to make it go somewhere. I finally feel like I can go somewhere with the story. I am hoping that reading these posts will keep moving along.


Angel Moore said...

I love the way you relate the pace to music. The beginning, for me is a slow pace while I build the characters. It definitely picks up speed as the story progresses. I'm counting on it, so I can finish Speedbo with a complete manuscript. :)Thanks for sharing.


Michelle F. said...

Sounds like a good book and different from others. Please put my name in the cat dish.