Would You Read This?

So, I finally have a passable “back cover synopsis” of my current work-in-progress. What do you think?

Try as she might to ignore it, Avery Callahan is an oracle.

She isn’t able to see the future, she can’t read minds, and she certainly doesn’t use Tarot cards. Her gift gives her other peoples’ memories of the past – whether she wants them or not.

Most of the time, the mental walls that Avery has built over the past decade are enough to keep the memories from overwhelming her. However, her control has been slipping lately as her carefully constructed life in Chicago begins to fall apart, so she decides that it’s time to move back home to Boise, Idaho to try to get things back to normal again.

But when a killer starts leaving the heads of missing college students in Boise’s public parks, Avery finds herself the unwilling recipient of the perpetrator’s memories of the murders. Propelled by guilt from her past and insider knowledge of the crimes, Avery goes on a hunt to find the killer.

Now time is running out as more students go missing, and Avery must break down the walls that have kept her gift at a safe distance if she wants to save them. Even if the consequence of doing so may change her life forever…

Finding Inspiration in Authors’ Journeys

One of the things that I’ve found myself doing over the past year is looking into the authors of each of the books I read. I’ve found it inspirational to learn about the paths that writers have taken to get to where they are now. It’s way too easy for me to get frustrated and want to take a break or – heaven forbid – throw in the towel. But when I can look at published authors who were successful despite their writing challenges, it makes it all seem a little more within my reach.

Some people write many different manuscripts before getting lucky: Jim Butcher wrote something like five complete stories before getting a publishing contract. Some people have to try a completely different genre before it clicks for them: Dan Wells wrote an epic fantasy before trying his hand at supernatural horror in the I Am Not a Serial Killer series. Some people write for many years before someone accepts their work: Brandon Sanderson, I believe, spent about 10 years writing before he finally became a published author.

All of their stories give me hope and push me to keep going. Their stories boil down to the same message: don’t give up.

The latest writing journey that inspired me came from Jeff Wheeler, the author of the shockingly engrossing Legends of Muirwood series that I am currently reading.

MuirwoodTrilogy

When I looked up Jeff’s publishing story – which you can find here – I was amazed. Basically, after writing a handful of manuscripts over a span of years and eventually self-publishing paperbacks, he used Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing to create e-books of his work. After having the e-books of the Legends of Muirwood trilogy floating out there for only about six months (and being pretty successful), he was contacted out of the blue by the head of Amazon’s sci-fi/fantasy publishing imprint, 47North and offered a sweet contract deal for not only Legends of Muirwood, but also a deal for a whole new trilogy.

After learning this, my mind was blown. The editor contacted him? Amazing. Now, I should add that my shock was a bit tempered by the fact that I know of one or two other authors who have self-published, been successful, and then been offered contracts with the big publishing houses. However, every time I read about it, I am just as amazed.

There are many different routes that a writer can take that all lead to published books. Each success story that I read makes me that much more hopeful that, someday, I will get there, too, no matter how long it takes or how many manuscripts I write.

I just have to keep writing.

The Top Ten Things I’ve Learned About Writing…So Far

Now, I will admit that I’m cheating a little bit with this blog post. It’s taken in part from my first post for the new Compendia site that is now up and running. However, I worked so hard on it, and, if I do say so myself, it has content that bears repeating – or, at least, reposting.

Throughout my journey on this novel-writing adventure, I’ve gotten a lot of advice that has helped make me a better writer. Some of it has been earth-shaking, some less so, but all of it has given me something to think about. So, without further ado, the following are the most important things I’ve learned about writing so far:

  1. BICFOK. It stands for “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard”. There are days when I don’t feel like writing. It seems easier to watch tv for an hour or find housework to busy myself with. I can sometimes convince myself that I’ll get to writing after I finish doing _____. However, if I sit myself down at my desk and start typing something – a free write, blog post, anything – I eventually find myself feeling creative, reinvigorated, and ready to get down to business. Works every time.
  2. Write down every idea you have. No matter how zany or seemingly insignificant, I write down every story idea I ever have. I have notes in my phone, scraps of paper in my purse, and documents on my computer that contain every idea I’ve had in the past year. When I first decided to start writing, I really struggled to come up with ideas. Now that I’ve gotten used to plucking ideas from newspaper headlines, conversations at work, and random musings, I see interesting ideas everywhere and can look back on them whenever I feel stuck.
  3. Be prepared to make hard decisions regarding your free time. For those of us who have full-time jobs and write in our spare time, good time-management is essential. But even the best time-management cannot hide the fact that there are a limited number of hours in the day. If you plan to write for 30 minutes each evening, those are 30 minutes you aren’t spending with your children, pets, spouse, friends, etc. There are times when I have to choose between spending time with my husband and writing. I’ve heard from and read about enough published authors to know that this is far from unusual. Now, my husband is my biggest fan and supports my writing dreams, which makes it easier. Still, it’s important to know what you are getting into.
  4. Most first drafts by most authors are mostly crap. I think this line was in the first book I ever read on writing. I wrote it on a notecard, and I taped it to my desk where I could see it every time I sat down to write. Creative writing is a hard field. When we read, all we see are the finished drafts, the polished manuscripts that have undergone seven layers of revisions. Comparing a first draft to a published book is enough to make anyone want to throw in the towel then and there. However, no one’s first draft is perfect – yours doesn’t have to be either.
  5. Having support is important. There is some part of society that seems to believe that writing is something private, something you do by yourself. I couldn’t disagree more. Writing is, as I’ve said, hard. Doing hard things mean that having support is invaluable for your mental health and well-being. I couldn’t have written an 115,000 word manuscript without my husband’s cheerleading. I couldn’t have taken it to the next level without the honest reviews from my family and friends. And I couldn’t have understood how it still needs to change and grow without the intensive critique of another writer who took the time to read my manuscript in full, sharing his insights with me as he went. It takes a village to write a novel.
  6. Read. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this. Read, read, read! There are a multitude of books on writing that can help a beginning writer, but it’s just as important to read non-instructional texts. Reading a variety of genres and authors helps you see what resonates with you as the reader – what works and what doesn’t. It can help you pinpoint your style and the sorts of things that you want to write about. Reading novels within the genre in which you want to write lets you know what has been done before and what hasn’t. It shows you what is trending and informs your plot ideas. Constantly reading also keeps you abreast of how writing and publishing are changing. Which leads right into…
  7. Do your homework. It’s not enough to know the subject you are writing about. You also need to learn which books are selling right now, who their target audience is, what their genres are – everything. There are a lot of trends in writing. Twilight kicked off a paranormal romance spree that spanned across age groups and genres and is STILL thriving, and Harry Potter revolutionized Young Adult books and opened the door for the genre to explode with vibrant narratives (so long, Catcher in the Rye!). Now, I’m not saying that you should only write best-seller lookalikes. In fact, I strongly urge you not to. You do, however, need to understand how different markets are doing, what different publishers and agents are looking for in a manuscript, how ebooks are affecting royalty payments and publishing house monopolies, and how your story fits into all this. The more you know, the better your chances at being published are.
  8. Set goals. Because you don’t have all day to write (unless you do), setting goals becomes an invaluable motivation. You can set a goal of completing your outline by a certain date, set a word count goal (say, 2,000 words a day, for example), set a goal of submitting your second draft to your critique partner by next week, etc. The type of goal changes for each stage of writing, but I have found that they never stop being effective. Without goals, it’s easy to put off writing, dragging it out until the passion has faded and been forgotten. Writing needs to be a priority! You owe it to yourself to set goals!
  9. Don’t give up. So much of writing is perseverance. Many good writers – possibly even great writers – give up, their unfinished works never seeing the light of day. If I’ve said nothing else, I’ll repeat this: writing is hard. There are times when I have gotten exasperated or dejected and wanted to quit and give up on my dream. It’s hard to come up with material, hard to put words on a page day after day, hard to accept criticism, and hard to let yourself believe that your writing is, actually, pretty good for a new writer. But every single published author out there will tell you the same thing: don’t give up. If you stop writing, you will never get published; your chances of success increase every time you push through all that doubt and frustration. I’ll take those odds.
  10. Have fun. This is your passion, after all. Take time to enjoy it.

Anyone have anything that belongs on this list? Anything that helped shape you and your writing? I’d love to hear about it – as #5 says, it’s all about community!

The Work-Writing Balance

10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

I stumbled upon this infographic last week when working on some content for the Compendia (a blog I’m co-writing that goes live this Valentine’s Day), and it couldn’t come at a more apt time.

I’m at that researching/brainstorming stage in novel writing where it’s easy for me to make excuses that put off that actual writing part. I’m still reading about plot, I tell myself. I haven’t completely figured out her magical gift, I add. And then there’s the fact that the police haven’t responded to my e-mail requesting a few answers to some logistical and jurisdictional questions. Oh, and of course I also still need to actually write out my outline in detail.

So many reasons that I simply cannot begin writing! Riiiight…

It’s way too easy – since I’m at work or en route for 13 hours each weekday and tired when I get home – to procrastinate. I am great at convincing myself that I’ll do it tomorrow, this weekend, during my lunch break… But I usually don’t get to it – or, at least, I don’t get as much done as I’d needed or wanted to.

But this little image reminds me that writing gets easier once you start. I simply need to sit down in front of my laptop, place my hands on the keyboard, and begin – even if I am still in the ideas stage. Wish me luck!

Since I’m not at the point of word-count goals, anyone have any tips or tricks of the trade that help them push through their particular procrastination demons during this part of the process?

Characters

So, with a pet emergency landing me at the vet’s office for 3 hours and causing way too much worry, I completely missed posting this past weekend. Luckily, my dog is doing better – therefore I am doing better – and I can finally write my post.

I finished reading Orson Scott Card’s book on characters and viewpoint last week. It was really informative, even though most things were more or less obvious when I thought about them. I found the most helpful sections were those that broke stories down into four main types, each type dominated by a certain one of these four factors more than the others:

  1. Milieu – a story that focuses on the world surrounding the characters (ex. The Lord of the Rings, believe it or not)
  2. Idea – a story that focuses on the idea or information the reader is supposed to discover or learn in the process of the story (ex. any murder mystery)
  3. Character – a story that focuses on a person who is trying to change his/her role in life (ex. Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult)
  4. Event – a story in which the events are of central concern, usually because something of the world is out of order (ex. The Count of Monte Cristo)

Thinking about books in this context made me see them in a whole new light. I realized that I truly love idea stories above all, but my perfect mix would be an idea story that also plays to the character factor as a close second.

My first manuscript was weak on character. They sounded alike, they weren’t deep enough, and they simply didn’t make an impression. This book has completely changed how I think about characters (and viewpoint – can’t forget that!). I really recommend it to anyone at any stage in their writing. Now, I’m on to a book on plot. I’m excited to see what it has in store!