Monday, January 31, 2011

Finish the Darn Book

I wrote my first book in 1993. It did not sell. I wrote my second book in 1994. It did not sell either. Third book in 1995. It sold, but not until a decade and several revisions later.

Between 1993, my first foray into novel-writing, and 2003, when I quit dithering and dedicated myself to the goal of publication by a major publishing house, I wrote exactly...

5 books.

That's what I said. 5 books. A romantic comedy, a mystery, and three romantic suspense novels. That's an average of one book every two years.

That's no way to have a writing career.

I know great literary novelists often take that long to write their books. But I am not a literary novelist. I don't aspire to be, although I do like to think that my works are literary and moving. But I'm in it for commercial, mass-market success, which means I've got to produce at least a book a year. And since I'm writing for a category-length line, I have to produce multiple books a year to be successful.

Which brings me to the point of this blog: finishing the darn book.

I can't tell you how many books I started but never finished over that ten year period. Sweet romances, romantic suspense, mysteries, paranormals—any story that flitted through my head earned a paragraph's blurb in my little list of story ideas. When I felt the urge to write, I'd pick one of those blurbs, sit down and start writing. Many times I made it to chapter five or six with no problem, the story just flowing like water from my fingertips to the keyboard.

And then...nothing. I had no idea where the story needed to go. I might be able to see the end—happily ever after, natch—but no idea or means of getting there. The couple either refused to fall in love or fell in love but had no reason to stay apart, and I couldn't keep throwing external problems at them for 280 pages.

I know from listening to other authors that this problem is a common one. How many writers do you know who have started dozens of books but couldn't figure out how to finish them? The common reaction when you reach that point in the book is to put it away in frustration and disgust and start a new book. Am I right? Raise your hand if you've done that a time or two (or five or ten).

::raising hand::

I found my inability to finish books far more frustrating and disheartening than getting a rejection letter. A rejection letter only matters if the book being rejected is the only book you have out there. If you have other irons in the fire, you find you can bear rejection more easily. My biggest fear was not having my books refused but having nothing else to send if the editor rejected my submission but asked to see something else.

I didn't have much in the way of something else.

What I finally realized was that winging it just didn't work for me. I have a theory that, being a middle child, I'm conflict-phobic by nature. Can't we all just learn how to get along? That makes for a relatively calm and peaceful life, but it's not so great for writing a book. Conflict doesn't come naturally to me, even though I've come to appreciate the dramatic benefits of a rich and twisty conflict. It takes work and planning for me to infuse my stories with enough organic, sustainable conflict to make them work.

I can't say I was smart enough to figure out the solution to my productivity problems all by myself. It was partially a process and partially an unexpected and highly unusual stroke of luck. The process started with purchasing the books of workshop handouts available from past RWA conferences.

I found a couple of intriguing mentions of using a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel to set up a daily writing chart. Between working full time and being a professional procrastinator, I was very, very good at not writing daily. But I do have a sort of fetish for checking things off a to-do list, and what is a daily writing planner but a big old to-do list?

As it happened, my decision to try using a writing chart coincided with the aforementioned unusual stroke of luck--which was a story idea springing, fully formed, into my head during my daily commute to work. The heroine seemed to burst into my head like a real person, along with her story problem, and within two or three days, I had written a synopsis for the whole book--before I wrote a word of the story, which at the time, I had never done before.

And to add in a third element, there was a writing contest entry date coming up in a couple of months. I wanted to enter the contest, but I wanted to enter it with something brand new, not the same two books I'd been peddling around for the last couple of years. So there I had it—my goal.

I set myself up a fast-paced work schedule. I didn't like to enter contests with unfinished books—I'd done that already and lived to regret it when I received two or three editor requests for a book that was only half-finished at the time—so I was dead-set on getting the book finished or nearly finished by the time I entered the contest. To do that, however, I had to keep to my writing schedule.

Now, I'm not a robot. There were days when nothing would come, and I'd had to mark my lack of progress by changing the page numbers for that day down to zero. But I simply added pages to other days, or added days to my goal, always trying to keep within that two-month goal period if possible. And you know what?

It worked.

I finished the book in just over two months. I entered the contest, finaled and won. I wish I could say I sold the book, but I didn't.

But what I learned from writing that book was the most important lesson to date. I learned the best way for me to write. I need structure. I need a goal and I need accountability. I need to know the plot ahead of time and work out the details of the conflict so that I know I have enough story to get me through the rough spots in the middle. These are things I know about myself as a writer.

But what does that tell you about yourself as a writer? Not much, really. Every writer is an individual, with different needs and different goals. But still, you have to finish the darn book. So you're here, reading this blog, looking for a takeaway, right?

Here it is. Pay attention. Take notes.

As a writer, you have to figure out what your weak spots are and fix them.

Yeah, as far as takeaways go, I guess that's pretty obvious. But it's also true.

My weak spots were the ability to sustain a story from beginning to end and the ability to write fast enough to have the commercial career I wanted to have. Once I figured out that those were my obstacles to publication, I found ways to work past them and achieve my goal.

You may have ten weak points. If you're very, very lucky, you may have only one. But even if there's only one sticking point for you, it's still a sticking point. And you need a game plan to overcome it.

So, first, identify your weak spot. Is it motivation? Try music. Try movies. Try looking at your checkbook and thinking how much nicer it would be to have extra cash.

Ideas? Find a magazine or newspaper and read it cover to cover, taking notes on anything that catches your eyes. Try an hour of unfettered, anything-goes brainstorming with a friend. Read a type of book you've never read before. Pull out your book of fairytales and think of ways to twist them into new stories.

Procrastination? Write in smaller chunks but more times a day. Reward yourself for finishing that small chunk with something you enjoy doing, whether it's reading, watching a favorite TV show, surfing the web or going shopping. But then apply plenty of guilt by reminding yourself that the only reason you got to do that enjoyable thing was because you made yourself a promise that you'd get back to work when it was time.

Writing every day? Make yourself a schedule and stick to it.

Craft issues? Figure out what they are and ask your fellow writers what tricks they use to deal with those problems. Find books on writing that address your craft issues. Practice daily to improve your writing.

So many problems, so many ways to solve them. But first, you have to take time to be honest with yourself and figure out what's really keeping you from completing a great book in a reasonable amount of time.

The rest of the year stretches out in front of you, full of writing obstacles but also opportunities. What are you going to do about it?

What do you need to fix in order to finish the darn book?

Over the next few months, I'm planning to do an ongoing series about the challenges we face as writers in finishing the book. I may be sharing my own struggles as I attempt to write six books in one year, by far my most ambitious writing goal to date. I'll be talking about tips to increase your productivity and ways to tame your rebellious muse. And I want y'all to share with me in the comments of these posts. Most of you are planning to write at least one book this year, so let's all do it together. Tell us what problems you're having. Tell us when you learn a tip that works for you.

Let's make 2011 the year we finish the darn book.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Do you read books on writing?

A friend and I were discussing the late Blake Snyder's book Save the Cat during lunch this week, and she commented that she didn't think a lot of romance writers read books about writing.

I was surprised because it seems like someone’s always touting this book or that, and I have a shelf full of books about the craft of writing and how to stay motivated (some still TBR). But that's how I do things.

What about you? Do you read books about writing? If so, do you have a preference for craft books (e.g. Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell) or motivational books (e.g. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott)? Feel free to share your favorites.

Or do you prefer taking classes, or studying works by your favorite authors?

Or all of the above?

My inquiring mind wants to know. ;-)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

One of the most important personal beliefs I carry is that an Attitude of Gratitude and a Spirit of Encouragement will bring me greater happiness in life than all the material trappings of success. I have so many examples of successful people in my life who have taught me that it isn't the things you get, it's the way you live that counts when we are measured by a power higher than our own egos.

I have many personal favorite examples of success. My husband's Grandma Glover is one of them. She was a loving wife, mother, and grandmother who spent the majority of her life in the state of Texas. She didn't have books on shelves or make lots of money, but she had an Attitude of Gratitude and a Spirit of Encouragement. I don't think I ever heard her say an angry or spiteful thing in all the years I knew her. She was a truly humble soul. She gave of herself every day, and she met each day with joy in her heart. I often tell my husband that I want to be like Grandma Glover when I "grow up."

Grandma Glover had a wisdom that came from age, from sacrifice, from loss, and from faith. I admire that quality in my Dutch best friend's mother and father as well. They are not movie stars or celebrities, but they are amazing parents and grandparents. They shower their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with love and affection. They honor their family with their words, their acts, and their presence. They are who I want to be when I "grow up."

I often read the obituaries for name ideas. Sometimes I find more than a name. I unearth a success story. I  discover a two column spread about a person who passed away after a long life. Everything written about the person describes a humble soul, a spirit of service, and a loving heart filled with a zest and a joy for life. That this person will be missed is clear in the depth of the praise for acts as simple as being a loving Pop Pop, or a friend to all the rescue animals, or the Best Momma in the World. I want to be one of them when I "grow up."

So I practice an Attitude of Gratitude and a Spirit of Encouragement while still stumbling over my own ego at times because I really do want to "grow up."

Who do you want to be when you "grow up?" Do you have any favorite stories you'd like to share with me? Who influences your spirit and heart in a positive way?

Note: This blog first appeared on Digging Out of Distraction on January 14, 2011.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What I'm Reading

My Dear Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams, Edited by Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor

Surprised? I'm sure those who know my reading tastes are. I am usually not a reader of historical fiction, but I love historical nonfiction.

How about you? What are you reading right now? Is it for pleasure or research?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Profane Game

It's hard to miss. Profanity is everywhere: books, movies, music. Once what was unacceptable to say has now become the norm, for better or worse. Admittedly, it doesn't effect what I buy as a consumer, I think I just tune it out. Some of my favorites are loaded with profanity. Even the classics like Of Mice or Men have it.

Yet, as a writer, I hestiate to use it (and there are a couple of terms I simply refuse to write, regardless). What about you? Do you agree with the "stay true to your character" argument made in favor of profanity? Or, do you try not to use it at all?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Every Frodo Needs a Samwise Gangee

Has it ever occurred to you that the road to publication bears a strong resemblance to the road to Mordor and we're all just Frodos obsessed with our "preciouses" i.e. our manuscripts? Think about it. We know where we need to go, but there are lots of ways to get there and even more ways to get lost. Some of those ways can be injurious to our health and some of them can make us downright crazy. There are all sorts of villains and weird creatures we meet along the way. And our worst enemy on the journey, more often than not is ourself!

We all have companions on this journey to publication. None of mine are as handsome as Aragorn or as cute as Legolas. We should all BE so lucky! But I don’t think anyone can make the journey through the perils of contests, critiques, query letters, rejections, rewrites and everything else without at least being aware of our fellow travelers.

While we’d all really like a Gandalf on our side – who wouldn’t want a wizard to conjure up the perfect query letter or the perfect synopsis or heck, while he’s at it why not the perfect book? And every quest needs a Merry and Pip for a little comic relief. I see myself as a sort of Gimli for the writers I know. I’m like a bull in a china shop and when I fall off the horse I say “I meant to do that.” Not to mention the fact that I’m about the same size as a dwarf and sometimes have to stand on a box to see what is happening!

Lord knows when I get those rejection letters or really bad critiques from contest judges I would love to have an Aragorn, or Legolas, or Borimir to shoot a couple of arrows or fling a sword in those judges’ or editors’ direction – not to draw blood, just to scare them a little.

But to me, an aspiring writer might be able to make the journey without all of those people, IF said writer had a Samwise Gangee.

A writer needs someone who is going to stick with them for the entire journey, someone who won’t lose them no matter what the road throws at you. “Don’t you lose him, Samwise Gangee. And I don’t mean to, Mr. Frodo. I don’t mean to.”

A good Sam will make sure you stay on the road every time you want to turn back. Your Sam will tell you when you are making a mistake, taking on too much or going in the wrong direction. When you put your faith in the wrong person, or the wrong idea or thing, Sam will tell you so – vehemently and if you insist on going forward anyway Sam will be there even then waiting for you to figure it out. Because a Sam doesn’t insist you do it his or her way or no way. A good Sam tells you about the possibilities, warns you about the bad choices, lets you make your own mistakes and doesn’t berate you when do, but says “Okay, that didn’t work. What do you want to try next?”

A good Sam believes in you. They’ll help you with the burden, but they’ll never take it over from you. A good Sam knows the one great truth – that while you may be on this journey together, ultimately the work is yours and yours alone. Your Sam is there to help you make the journey, not to make it for you.

Most important, when you question why you’re putting yourself through this, why you don’t just turn around and go home, your Samwise Gangee won’t let you quit. He/she will tell you why you are making the journey and why anything less than completion of the quest is just not possible. He/she will remind you why you started this journey and why you have to finish it. “There is some beauty in this world and it is worth saving.” You may not think your writing is beautiful or worth saving, but your Samwise will and he/she’ll remind you of that every time you try to quit.

A Sam will hold a mirror up to your writing to make sure you see all the wrinkles, warts and gray hair without pulling any punches. And when you cry about the impossibility of fixing all of that he/she’ll say “Let’s just start by getting down the hill.” When you are crushed by the latest rejection and feel completely devastated and exposed he/she’ll say “Let’s find you something to wear. You can’t go walking about Mordor in nothing but your skin.” (In other words – Toughen up. Put on some armor and keep going!)

And when you are hanging over the lake of fire and just want to let go of your dream and let the toughness of the journey consume you, a Samwise Gangee will tell you “Don’t let go.” And if you are half as strong as Sam believes you are, you won’t. Ever. Until the quest is done.

Do you have a Samwise Gangee in your life? Do you think every writer needs one? What has your Sam done for you to keep you going on the road to publication? And is it just me or do you sometimes have dreams about some of these editors as a big all-seeing eye just waiting for you to send your manuscript into their office so they can burn it and you alive?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Project

A week ago a card came to our house from my husband's friend in California. After we married, he and his wife became my friends too. The card was opened in error by my husband who thought it was for him when he saw the sender. He sheepishly turned it over to me after reading the card. I didn't mind. His mistake was easily understandable. I would expect any card coming from one of my friends was for me. Instead, the card was addressed to me, and detailed a project our friend was taking on for the new year. He had read of someone who had taken on the task of writing one thank you a day to someone who had impacted his life.

It was a way for this person to concentrate on the positive rather than any negative that may have been present in his life. The inventor of this project went on to say, he had recently lost his job and was mired down by all the by-products that entailed. When he began concentrating on the positive things in his life, he found himself in a different mind frame, and once there, positive changes came his way.

Thankfully, our friend wasn't in the same category as the man that started this movement. He was merely intrigued by the idea of sending thank yous to people in his orbit.

I can only attest to how his card affected me. The things he thanked me for were not earth shattering things. I had done them without much thought, but it was nice to know that he appreciated our friendship, the hospitality I had extended to his family when they came to visit, the support I had given to his kids throughout their lives and the happiness I had made possible for his "homeboy" my husband. Those simple words, sincerely given, made me feel ten feet tall. Even better yet, was the fact that I was 5/365. There has to be something special in being one of the top ten.

I cried after I read his kind card. He made my day, my week and maybe my month. This spurred me to call him--something we hadn't done for some time. It turned out it was his birthday. He sounded awful; he was under the weather with a bad cold, but he said we'd made his day by remembering his birthday.

We didn't tell him we hadn't remembered the date until he mentioned it. I think we will be forgiven. It is just proof to me that paying a kindness forward results in good things for everyone.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Romance Magician Kate Lyon

Kate Lyon writes romance with a hint of the paranormal – it’s what she knows. Swept off her feet in a very weird, whirlwind romance, she learned to expect the unexpected. Now she brings that element of mystique to the printed page. Although born and raised ‘out west,’ Kate has traveled extensively and lived in six different states and overseas, which has given her a wide perspective and plenty of writing material. Her first novel, Time’s Captive—written while raising five teen-agers and working full-time—co-won the 2003 Romantic Times/Dorchester Publishing “New Voice In Romance Contest” and was a LoveSpell release in July 2004. Award winning, highly acclaimed Hope’s Captive followed in January 2006, and Kate’s third novel, Destiny’s Captive, last in The Captive series was released in November 2009.

Kate currently lives in northern Texas near the Oklahoma border and the Red River, areas that figure prominently in her books. She welcomes mail from her readers and encourages visits to her website: www.katelyon.net.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

One Word At A Time


A huge shout out to say Thank You! To the Romance Magicians for having me here today. It’s a pleasure swing through and share my writing process (sounds so professional, doesn’t it?). Mary suggested I share how I “get the book done.” Well, it’s simple...

One word at a time.

Okay, maybe not that simple. But, getting the story down, word by sometimes painful word, is an absolute must. You can research and outline and write notes and character sketches. You can hammer out turning points, black moments and internal and external goals. All of those can help get the story done.

But you still have to write the story one word at a time.

Now, remembering that everyone’s process is different, here’s how I go about getting those words written:

1. Because I write romance, I start with a hero and heroine who have a solid reason not to trust each other. In Lying Eyes, Heroine is a jeweler whose missing father is accused of stealing gems. Hero is an undercover cop portraying a petty crook who thinks she might be helping her father. Both want to find the father, but they can’t trust each other with the whole truth about themselves.

2. I identify setting, key secondary characters (including villain), and any important plot elements. In Lying Eyes, I knew I needed the Father, the sisters, the villains, the Russians, the rabbit, and I needed something unique for my stolen gems.

3. At this point, I usually try to write a few opening scenes to get a feel for the characters. Generally, I have a vision of how the hero/heroine meet. But I can easily spend a month or more hammering out the first 30-50 pages of the story, getting the right tone, figuring out what to reveal and what to hold back.

Mind you, there’s no guarantee once I’ve written these 50 pages that I know *exactly* how the rest of the story will unfold. I’m not a true plotter. So, about this time, I mull the story around in my head.

4. During the mulling process, any scenes or snippets of dialogue that come to me, I write down. This is important to my process. I have a background in acting and stage management, so I tend to hear my characters’ dialogue as if I were listening to a scene being played out. I will sometimes draft entire scenes of just the dialogue, then go back afterward to add in thoughts and actions (and smooth out the formatting!). Soon, scenes start to fall into order.

5. Once I have a few scenes in mind, I sit down and draft them. Generally, but not always, in order. No matter how stinky, I force myself through that first draft. Sometimes I have to rearrange scenes. Or cut them. Or rewrite them from a different POV. Or change the setting. That’s not a time waste; that’s revision. Occasionally, I get a scene right the first time, and I celebrate.

6. Inevitably, a few times in the process, I’ll hit a wall. This isn’t writers
block. This is me, literally, not having a clue what happens next in the story. Like I said, I’m not a true plotter. I may see scenes later in the book, but I may not know how to get there. At this point, I lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling. Or I walk around my living room muttering to myself. The most productive thing, however, is when I go back and reread however much of the story I’ve written from the beginning. Without fail, every time I faltered then went back and reread, I found I’d planted something in the story that I could now use that made perfect sense. Never doubt your subconscious.

7. I repeat this process, writing 3-5 chapters at a time until the book is done. This is not to say that I don’t have printouts of online research or descriptions of my characters, or spreadsheets with the timeline. But all those notes served to get me back in the chair writing one word at a time on the story.

Once the book or a set of scenes is drafted, I send it to my critique partners. For Lying Eyes, I used three of them. Very different reading tastes: one logical, one romance-oriented, one family-oriented. They’d get me feedback and I tweaked those scenes while I also continued to write forward.

At the end of this process, I offered the finished book out to a dozen beta readers. These were writers I asked to simply read the book and give me their general impressions. Did they get lost anywhere? Did the characters make sense? Did the story drag in spots? If three or more readers pointed to the same thing, I took a serious look at it. One beta reader recommended I change how an important secret is revealed—it was a huge improvement!

Lying Eyes took me a little over five months to write. Mind you, I’d written the first 30 pages two years before but then put the story aside to work on other projects. The structure, the plot, the flow of scenes—none of that changed after the book was contracted, except that my editor asked me to add two scenes near the end.

Of course, the hardest part about the process, is that after the final stages of revisions and edits—when you can see the whole puzzle picture of your story laid out while you fit in the final pieces—you have to move on to another story. Then you start the process all over again from conceiving the idea to writing the whole story out one word at a time.

-----
Amy Atwell worked in professional theater for 15 years before turning from the stage to the page to write fiction. She now gives her imagination free rein in both contemporary and historical stories that combine adventure and romance. Her debut romantic suspense, Lying Eyes, is now available from Carina Press, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. When not writing, Amy runs the WritingGIAM online community for goal-oriented writers. An Ohio native, Amy has lived all across the country and now resides on a barrier island in Florida with her husband and two Russian Blues. Visit her online at her http://www.amyatwell.com/blog, What’s The Story? and Magical Musings blogs, Facebook, Twitter and/or GoodReads.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Romance Magician Louisa Cornell

There are those who say romance novels are fairy tales written for grown women. I happen to like fairytales. One of my favorite Broadway musicals, Cinderella, is based on a fairytale.

Through the pages of romance novels, I have played pall mall with the Bridgertons. I have had tea with the very high-in-the-instep Bedwyns. I’ve plotted with the Desperate Duchesses and giggled with the Wallflowers.

I have loved it all so much that I decided to try my hand at writing some “fairytales” of my own.

I have wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. A career as an opera singer - a tale of adventure in itself - and the twists and turns of life have taught me that fate and love are the two most powerful forces in the universe.

I've sung opera in Salzburg. I've lived in a small English village. I've been a teacher, a veterinary technician, and a funeral home coordinator. Now I manage a bakery. I create confections to help people celebrate those moments in life that bring us all joy.

Through it all I've seen my share of villains and ogres, frogs and princes, heroes and heroines. This much I know to be true. None of life's characters are ever what they seem. Everyone is something more, and something less. Love is the one thing that lays our souls bare to each other. Love creates the only real beauty in the world.

For a long time, reading fairytales was enough for me. Then I had to write them, because there are stories in my head that simply must be told.

Pam Bolton-Holifield w/a Louisa Cornell

2008 Golden Heart Finalist
2009 Golden Heart Finalist

2007 Royal Ascot Winner
2008 Royal Ascot Winner
2009 Royal Ascot Winner

2008 Daphne du Maurier Winner
2009 Daphne du Maurier Winner

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fear of Writing

I started the year staring at a blank page. I hate this part of writing. It’s the worst. This entire book is in my head. I know it from beginning to end. I've been thinking about it for over a year, but when I sit down to write it, I freeze.

I love writing. I really do. Yet I know the minute I start typing, I’ll become so entrenched with the storyline and characters that I won’t really surface again until I finish the book. That could be four months. Maybe six. I’ll go to my day job and do my usual routine, create budgets, pay bills, ask my husband three, maybe four times a night, what he wants for dinner and finally listen when I hear that heavy sigh of impatience. I'm so mentally gone that half the time I can't remember any of it. Because I’m halfway there. At least, until the book is done.

People think because I love to write that it must be easy. Fact is, it’s exhausting. I’m not scared of writing the story. I’m scared of what it does to me. I never want to come down from that high. When I do, it isn’t pretty.

Seriously, what is the block? I promised myself I’d start this book today. I’ve set my deadline to finish it by July 1. I even told my CP today was the day. She'll probably email tomorrow to check my word count.

So just about the time I started to feel guilty about my in ability to start this book, I realized we had a half-inch of sleet and snow outside. A few hours after that, the governor declared a state of emergency in Alabama and most of the businesses in the cities are closing down for Monday.

I should be happy about this. I have another day off. Even the higher forces are making sure I start this novel.

Tomorrow I'll start, I swear. My husband said he's going to make sure of it. Meanwhile, I'm writing my friends and fellow blog readers about the most absurd fear of all time. I'm scared of disappearing into another world and not wanting to come back. I'm actually nervous about it. How ridiculous.

Have you ever loved anything this much? So much that it terrified you to lose yourself so completely? I write about characters who love like this.

I don't think I realized why until just now.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Rewriting

**Sometimes, when we are still unpublished, we think that if only we could get The Call, everything would be easier. We’d have an editor and our books would be on the shelves. And, yes, while this is true and it is a most wonderful thing, there is still work to be done. The kind of work that when you get it as an unpublished writer, you are discouraged and think you’ll never get there.

But I have to tell you that part of your life as a published author is rewriting. Successfully, regularly, and when asked. I have recently done a lot of rewriting. And right now, I’m rewriting the novella that’s due in two weeks. Why? Because my editor wanted my internal conflicts to be better. I thought they were pretty good in the 25 pages I sent to her, but she was right as always and they could be better.

So I chucked those 25 pages and started again. Now, I have only days until it’s due and a lot of pages still to write. Which means I will be scarce, but I’ll check in and report on my progress when I can.

Remember, if you’ve recently gotten a rejection with a suggestion for massive rewrites, don’t be discouraged. Published writers have to do it too. And so will you, so get used to it now and get busy.

**From Lynn's personal blog, November 2009. The deadline has been met, but there's always another one. And there's always rewriting to be done.... Chin up, keep writing. :)

Friday, January 07, 2011

It is not the critic who counts . . .

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spreads himself in a worthy cause, who  at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.  So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.


-- Theodore Roosevelt

I don't like to lose.  I hate failing.  If I am going to do something, I want to do it well, and hopefully be among the best.  Can you tell I'm an over-achiever only child?

The problem is, I'm a big old chicken.  Writing is a new world for me.  What if everyone hates what I've written?  What if everyone thinks I've lost my ever-loving mind?  What if I . . . dare I say it . . . fail?  These are the thoughts that slow my writing and make me second guess scenes and character choices.  And the thoughts are getting louder and more frequent.  I keep telling them to hush up, but darn if they aren't ignoring me.

One of my favorite podcasts repeats the mantra, "It's okay to suck."  I've put it on a sticky note next to my computer, but the words are losing their meaning.  So, I returned to my favorite Roosevelt quote (which is above) for motivation.  It's helped, a little.

What does everyone do when their confidence in their writing starts to wane?  How do you re-charge your writing batteries and write the story that it in your heart? It's a new year, and my motivation needs a big old kick in the pants.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Vying for New Award: World's Surliest Writer

Teenagers, get outta my way! You're not the only ones who need to wallow in the slough of angst. I am certain that the angst I feel today is broader and more compelling than the angst I felt at thirteen or seventeen. (And yet still marvelously self-centered.)

As a teenager, I was more confident than I am today. After all, I faced seven teachers every day whose role was to encourage me.

Today, there's my 76-year-old mother-in-law, a retired teacher who just can't stop. Last time she spent the weekend with us, she insisting on “helping” me clean the kitchen by holding the dustpan for me so that I had to take excessive care not to whisk dust particles into her face. Her enthusiastic praise? "You're such a good sweeper. Not everyone can sweep like you do."

Wow. Talk about your skill sets. The world cries out for more excellent sweepers.

Not.

Which pinpoints the source of my angst.

I wanna author fiction. I've chosen the writer's life as the path that matters to me. Some days, you just have to wonder why. I've rejected the forms of writing that come more easily to me. I've already written for a newspaper, for corporate PR, for ad agency PR campaigns. For volunteer organizations and my church.

Fiction has, so far, rejected me.

But it appears that the urge to write is terminal. As my writer friend Patti said the other day, “Wouldn’t you rather have people at your funeral say, “Wasn’t she trying to write a book?” instead of, “Didn’t she keep a clean house?”

Apparently, the answer is yes. I’m still writing.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Name Game

I'm the type of writer that needs to know everything before I start.  I've always been like this.  Even in college, I'd sit and percolate the ideas for a paper until I could see the whole thing stretched out before me, then sit down and write page after page in long, draining sessions.  I wasn't procrastinating.  Really.  I had a system.

My dissertation went about the same; I knew the whole shape of it and all of the pieces before any one of the chapters started making sense individually.  The chapters I wrote before I knew the whole shape were just long, rambling messes.

 I'm simmering a new story now.  It's going to be a love story about ghosts that aren't really ghosts and dreams that are realities.  I can see most of my characters--what they look like, even what some of them sound like.  But I just don't know what their names are.

It's insanely frustrating.

I have the name of one or two minor characters, but that's about it.  And I'm talking seriously minor.

Some might say I should just write and use XX or something for a place holder, but I just can't function like that.  Names are important.  They shape who we are and how others approach us.  For characters, they're essential parts of their existence.  J. Alfred Prufrock couldn't have been a Jones any more than a Snopes could have been anything else.  And a regency novel with a Jason or a Jessica just totally kills the mood for me.

Both of my boys had names moments after the ultrasound lady pointed the little arrow on the screen at their boy parts.  I felt like they needed to be called by a true name then, at the very beginning of their story, and I feel like my characters need their names now, before I really begin theirs. 

So I'm playing the name game.  Want to help?  Here's what I need--  Guy's name, vaguely French and a girl's name, preferably something that has a historic ring to it (her brother's name is going to be Thomas Jefferson).Should yours be picked and I become the next Stephanie Meyers, I promise to plug your name shamelessly in every interview I give.  Fame and fortune via my coattails could be yours.

Just as soon as I get the stupid manuscript started.

How do you come up with your character's names?  Did you invest in a baby name book?  Does inspiration magically come to you? Or are you one of the lucky ones that can write with holes?

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy 2011!

Wow, here I'm enjoying a beautiful morning on the first day of 2011. A lot happened last year and it flew by, and I'm now breathing in the fresh air and tasting the many possibilities of this new one.

This year I decided to keep it simple. So no long ambitious lists of resolutions, no goals with their stress-inducing deadlines for me. Instead I created a simple mantra or credo:

Live creatively, consciously, healthfully and simply.

So wishing you health, happiness and writing for 2011....I leave you with a cool New Year's quote I happened across:

We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day. ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce