I Wrote Today!

After more than five weeks, I finally wrote today.

Between moving across the country and starting a new job, I have recently found myself with absolutely no time to write – and no real interest in it. Until tonight. Before now, I was just too tired.

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Sure, there were moments when I wistfully thought about my WIP, or jotted down new story ideas, but most of me was consumed with unpacking and work. Every now and then, though, I’d get frustrated. How was I going to be a best-selling author by 30 if I didn’t make time to write? When was I going to stop making excuses and just do it?

These thoughts weren’t helpful. If anything, they just made me feel worse about being too preoccupied to write.

I could completely relate to Elena Greene‘s Writer Unboxed post when she wrote:

I used to sit down to work and just churn with resentment that I’d missed so many planned writing sessions and despairing that I’d ever finish anything again. Sometimes I felt guilty for taking time for myself. None of that was helping.

[…]

So I ended up having to accept that I would deal with starts and stops. I also knew that once the story was done, I’d spend extra time going through it to make sure it flowed as a whole.

Brilliant! I thought.

So, I let go of my internal critic who assumed I was doomed to failure if I didn’t get x number of words written a week and just decided to write when I was able. And tonight, I turned off the tv, sat down at my computer, dusted off my WIP, and got to work.

And, darn it all, it felt good.

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Love It: “7 Reasons Writing a Book Makes You a Badass”

Just a quick link to a Writer’s Digest article by Brian A. Klems called “7 Reasons Writing a Book Makes You a Badass” that’s sure to boost your writerly spirits – it certainly improved my mood! 🙂

Tempus Fugit or: How Hard It Is To Stop Goofing Off and Make Time to Write

I admit it: I’m easily distracted. And, right now, there’s so much to distract myself with. From work to television shows, husband time to exercise – and, of course, youtube videos, facebook, and other internet black holes.

With all that going on, I continue to struggle to find time to write. Or, perhaps more accurately, to make time. And I know that I’m not the only one with this issue. However, I am getting better. For instance, this weekend, I wrote about 4,000 words in my Avery Bennett manuscript.

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I was blown away while, in the midst of making excuses, I learned that the writer Jeff Wheeler – the author of the Muirwood trilogy that I praised so highly a few months ago – only writes from 7PM to 10PM Wednesday evenings.

That’s it. That’s all. But during those three hours, he gets those words typed up and ends up writing about a book a year. A-mazing.

We all have ways to deal with motivating ourselves to write. Some people bribe themselves with treats (whether culinary, retail, or otherwise). Others turn off their wireless internet to avoid temptation. Others have strict word count goals. And – one of my favorite tactics – others pour themselves a glass of wine before they sit down at the computer. Another thing that works like a charm for me is free-writing to get the creative juices flowing. That’s how I came up with this post for the Compendia, the other blog I’m a part of.

But I think that the most impactful thing I’ve heard about time management while writing goes something like this: how you spend your time reflects your priorities. So, along with word count goals, I’ve decided to set aside specific times each week to write. I won’t watch tv, go grocery shopping, walk to Starbucks with my husband – nothing. I’ll simply write. Because if I want others to take it seriously, I have to, too.

So, go do what you love and make your passion a priority!

I Forgot How Hard This Part Is…

So, I started writing the first Avery Jacobs novel this evening, and, boy, I forgot how hard it is to write that beginning and like it enough to move on. I keep tweaking and changing and haven’t gotten more than 730 words on the page. Ugh. I feel like it is somehow harder now that I know more about this process than it was when I wrote my first manuscript. Shouldn’t it be easier?

In other news, I started reading the third Alex Craft novel, Grave Memory, by Kalayna Price. So far, I love it.

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However, I honestly expected nothing less because I love this series. The voice is amazing, the characters are fully-developed, and the love triangle is done amazingly well – I don’t want to smack the main character repeatedly until she chooses one of them, which is my normal reaction to these things. Instead, my knees get wobbly right there with her. Go check this series out! It’s definitely become one of my favorites!

10 Endings

A month or so ago, I finished reading Plot & Structure: Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish by James Scott Bell.

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While I highly recommend this book to any aspiring writer, the most helpful part – for me – was an exercise that can be used to brainstorm a really good ending. Now, for those of you who don’t know, I struggle with endings. That was one of the weakest parts of my first manuscript, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. Mr. Bell suggests that you come up with 10 different endings for your story, each more unique than the last. At first, I had a hard time breaking with the ending I’d already thought up. After all, it seemed good enough. However, when I really started to think about all the different things that truly could happen at that point in the story, I was suddenly able to break through mental blocks that I hadn’t even realize existed.

I started thinking about all the possible outcomes of the final battle scene, no matter how bizarre or anticlimactic. What if the antagonist escaped and was never apprehended? What if the protagonist was captured? What if she wasn’t captured but was framed instead? What if the cost of her survival is the loss of her gift? What if the cost is the loss of her sanity? What if her gift can be used as a weapon? What if she kills the antagonist? And so on.

Thinking of Orson Scott Card’s advice (in his book on characters) to take your story ideas and give everything a little twist, I twisted different pieces in different directions as I brainstormed. And you know what? It worked. I came up with a much better – and much less cliched – ending than I started with.

Now it’s your turn! Let me know if you find this technique as helpful as I did, or if you use a completely different method. I’d love to hear about it.

Comparing the Tone of Two Urban Fantasy Novels

Although it started months ago, my tour de urban fantasy has continued. I read two very different novels over the past week – both urban fantasy, both with strong female protagonists, both with love triangles, both with magic… But both had very different tones. By “tone”, I mean a combination of both the writer’s voice and the “feel” of the narrative.

The first book that I read was Grave Witch, by Kalayna Price.

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The second book I read was Dead Spots, by Melissa F. Olson.
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The first few lines of Grave Witch are:

The first time I encountered Death, I hurled my mother’s medical chart at him. As far as first impressions went, I blew it, but I was five at the time, so he eventually forgave me. Some days I wished he hadn’t – particularly when we cross paths on the job.

It’s catchy, intriguing, and light enough that you can tell that this novel will be a bit tongue-in-cheek. And it was. The tone helped balance out the darkness inherent in a world with open magic.

Dead Spots has an entirely different tone. It opens with a prologue that slowly builds to a crime; then, the first chapter introduces us to the main character, and it doesn’t take us long to learn that she sees herself as “broken”. It’s a dark story, and it only gets darker – but that’s the world that the author has created.

Now, let me say here that I don’t think that one book is “better” than the other. Both were well-developed and well-written. However, I noticed that I responded differently to each. After Grave Witch, I immediately looked up the second book in the series on Amazon. I went back and forth for a few days, but, in the end, I bought the expensive thing. I couldn’t stop wondering what would happen next. When I finished Dead Spots, I felt rather sad. Honestly, this is probably a combination of all the, well, sad things that happen in her world and her serious tone. Dead Spots doesn’t use a lighter, tongue-in-cheek tone to help balance the dark themes in the plot. And, as a reader, I realized that I need that.

So, what’s the point?

The point is that tone makes a difference. My reaction to each authors’ tone told me something important about what kind of book I not only like reading, but, moreover, the kind of book I want to write and the reaction I want to create in the reader. In the end, I want to write a story with a tone that makes the reader smile – even when dark things happen. This is an important thing to realize for someone about to begin the actual writing of her own urban fantasy novel. Now I just have to stop reading and start writing.

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.

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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
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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?