Writers, Don’t Be So Serious!

Why I stopped trying to prove I was a “serious” writer – and why you should too!

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I have visited this theme before in a previous post, but as my growth arc continues (hehe, you thought growth was only for fictional characters! :D) my understanding has deepened and I needed to touch on this again.

I used to have an obsession with being taken seriously as a writer. For years, I did not want to admit that I was essentially writing a romance. My current WIP is not quite formulaic, but I think it will still fit in the category. When asked what I was writing, I would reply with “fiction” or “historical fiction“. I would have rather choked than admit I was writing about, you know, two people having a relationship centuries ago and navigating around obstacles  in the way of that relationship. It was childish behavior, fueled by fear of condemnation from the “literati” who don’t consider genre “real” literature, and the knowledge that our current society often looks unfavorably upon anything that is traditionally feminine — and what is more feminine than love stories?

But, this obsession was causing me to take an overly-serious attitude towards my work. Yes, writers need discipline. Sometimes we need to force ourselves to write or finish projects after the honeymoon phase ends. And we need to devote time and energy into making a truly good, marketable product. However, an obsession with whether the majority of the reading public is going to take you seriously will only hamper your growth as a writer, not promote it. It might even stop you from telling the sorts of stories you love.

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So how have I combated this? I simply embraced what is. I like to write romances. This does not make me a silly person. This does not make my writing bad. I just enjoy writing about people and their relationships. And really, what is so wrong about that? My stories probably won’t become some monument to American literature. That’s fine. If I provide other humans with some much needed relaxation and entertainment, that’s great. If I get lots of four and five star reviews and generate some extra income, that’s awesome. All I really want is to put my creations out there. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone — and neither does any other writer.

If you’re a writer who is struggling with validation and serious-to-the-point-of-being-delirious syndrome, take my advice: lighten up. Enjoy what you write. If you do that, your best work will pour out and you’ll find it much easier to polish and sell. Some people will love your writing, some people will hate it. That’s fine. That’s life. Stop seeking validation from without. That only comes from within. Whatever sort of write you are, love that writer with all your heart!

Write on!

How Long Should Writing A Book Take?

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As you all know, I have been working on my novel for over four years now. I started this blog in 2018 during the second draft. I intend to self-publish in the first half of 2020. Since the time to send my baby out into the world is drawing close, it has me thinking (among a million other things) about how long it took, and asking a question: how long should writing a novel take from beginning to end?

This is a question not easily answered. Writing a book is certainly fun but no cake walk. There’s the first draft where you become hopelessly enamored of your story and write on pure passion, the second draft where you see the myriad flaws in your romance, and usually a third or, you know, sixteenth draft in which you reconcile the first two states and make peace with them. Then, there’s the designing and marketing phase, which isn’t writing, but is every bit as serious and important as the actual writing.

How long is all this supposed to take? There’s no real answer to that. Everyone has their opinions, of course, and everyone works at a different pace. If you have to do any significant research for your book, as I have had to, that can also slow you down. So can procrastination, perfectionism, and all the other tiny incidents that make up the game of life.

As I aim for publication in early to mid 2020, that makes five years of work for this project. I personally feel that is too long and for my next novel, I will aim to complete all drafts and publish within three years or less. The story is percolating within me now, and I intend to start outlining soon, to avoid any sort of writer’s block. Taking several years on end also heightens the possibility of burnout, another notorious writer’s enemy we all should strive to avoid.

If you are a writer, nail down exactly how long you wish to spend with your book and try to stick to your deadline. Your audience will thank you. 🙂

 

Write On!

 

 

 

Why You Must Write the Stories You Love

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I have always believed that a writer must write the sorts of stories they love to read. Writing for market trends — known as “being a hack” — was never something I could nor wanted to do. Since childhood, I created my stories from whatever my imagination seized upon. As an adult, I continue the practice. I don’t think we will ever learn completely why stories are written and where the ideas originate. Some of them are, of course, based upon personal experience, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

For those of us who craft tales about characters much different from ourselves, having experiences we have never had, in locales we have never been able to visit, there’s no explanation for writing what we do. I couldn’t explain to you in a million years why I keep circling back to eighteenth century France in my own work. Something beckons me and I have no idea what it is. I only know I have to acknowledge the call.

I grew up believing it was natural for writers to flex their imaginations in whichever direction they were drawn. That with a sharply – honed  sense of empathy combined with proper research, we could place ourselves in the shoes of a completely different person and experience life through their eyes for a while. Whenever I follow this instinct, my writing breathes in a way it never could if I did not. To me, this dedication, this passion, is what bestows life everlasting upon a book. It is, indeed, the very essence of being a writer.

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Unfortunately, I am witnessing what appears to be a slow but steady erosion of the writing spirit. There are many voices now saying that it’s not a writer’s place to craft stories too far removed from their own sphere of earthly existence. Some voices scream, others whisper or imply, but make no mistake, all speak the same message: It is inappropriate to stretch your imagination. Giving life to characters outside one’s own race, culture, gender, religion, sexual preference, state of health, or life experiences is over-reach that cannot be tolerated. It reeks of privilege and appropriation.

I have been watching these debates rage for a while now in real-life and online. I’ve withdrawn from several writing forums because of them and dedicated a lot of brain power to the subject, brain power that would have been better applied to writing stories. If these ideas are taken to the extreme that many in the publishing world wish to take them, we will be left with little more than unsatisfying memoirs as author Lionel Shriver noted. Imagine what our bookshelves would look like if writers never left the confines of their own life experiences on the page. We would be deprived of many great works and the shimmering richness that makes up the reading world we all love.

Though I can be moody (how typical) and an epic procrastinator among other things, I consider myself a basically good person. I place a high value on all life forms. I endeavor to be respectful and honest. And for years I have sought to expand my consciousness through spiritual searching. Those who know me very well would (hopefully) describe me as a good friend and a sympathetic ear. Outside of self-defense, I would never intentionally harm other human beings. But I maintain a hardline stance on unabridged freedom of artistic expression for creative as well as legal purposes. Naturally, we should strive for accuracy and excellence in all that we do, but the writer’s imagination should never be shackled by the political rhetoric du jour.

Indeed, it is the writer’s duty to portray and preserve the stories of humanity in all their beauty as well as their ugliness, to seek out the beating heart of human experience and capture it on the page for others to find. We can learn a great deal from the arts. Studies have shown that avid readers have more empathy and higher EQ than non-readers. That says a lot about the importance of honest writing.

I will continue to write what my imagination embraces, write the stories that reveal themselves to me, uncensored. I am too authentic to fake things, too in love with my trade to dumb it down. I don’t foresee my work getting a great deal of flack, but for those writers whose work will  leave them more vulnerable to criticism, I hope they are also willing to follow the siren song of the stories within that seek release.

In closing: Always write honestly. Always write what you are called to write. Refusing to do so will only strangle your voice and flood the bookstores with mediocrity.

Write on.

 

Why You Should Join A Writing Group

Five reasons every writer should belong to a critique group.

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*** Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017 . ***

The very title of this post probably has some of you cringing. Join a writing group? Where I actually have to let others read my writing, or worse yet, read my writing out loud to people who might not like it? Shiver. I could never!

Ah, but you can—and you should! I have belonged to a writing critique group for around nine years and have been moderating that group for at least four. During this time, I have learned a great deal from my fellow group members. Without further ado, here are some reasons you should seek out a critique group—and, you know, actually go to the meetings. 😀

1. It Will Hold You Accountable

We all know writers love to procrastinate. Attending a writing group will force you to produce consistently.

2. You Will Learn How to Take Criticism.

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As a writer, learning to take criticism is a must. We often don’t see the flaws in our own work, so other people need to point them out for us. Helpful group members will be respectful but honest about your work and you will grow accustomed to receiving real feedback.

3. It Will Help Keep You Inspired

Nothing fuels inspiration like reading or listening to other people’s work, which is what you will be doing in a writing group.

4. You Will Make Human Connections

Writing can be a lonely craft. Meeting other writers will get you out of your own head and you may even make new friends, or meet people who work in other fields related to writing, such as editors or publishers.

5. It Will Sharpen Your Editing Skills

Critiquing other people’s writing will help hone your own editing skills, which will make you a better writer. Win/win situation.

So where can you find a writing group? Your local library or college are usually good places to start. So get up and get going! You owe it to yourself!

 

Write On!

Cover Image Credit: Pixbay

Hemingway Was Right: The First Draft Really Is Excrement

There is no such thing as a perfect first draft.

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*** Originally written as an article for The Odyssey Online in 2017. ***

Ernest Hemingway, prolific writer of the 20th century, had some truly great writing wisdom. One of my absolute favorite Hemingway quotes appears in the 1984 memoir by Arnold Samuelson titled, “With Hemingway. A year in Key West and Cuba.” Apparently, Ernest told Samuelson that “the first draft of everything is shit.” Why do I like this snippet of dialogue so much? Because it is a simple bit of brilliance that often goes overlooked by aspiring writers.

It is the first draft that trips up many amateur writers. To be sure, it starts off on a magnificent note. All at once, you are thunderstruck by an idea. You spend weeks, months, maybe even years writing your brimming heart out with an unshakable faith that this is it, the next great American novel, your ticket to a publishing contract and a loyal fan base. At long last, your dream is in sight. When you’re finished, you reward yourself with a Malibu Bay Breeze (or four), a ridiculous-sized sundae, or a shopping spree. You take a few weeks off to bask in well-earned glory, then begin the rewrite.

And that’s when your heart sinks like a stone cast into a murky lake. The more you read, the more panic-stricken you become. Your masterpiece, your beloved, your precious, is a mess. Not a chocolate-chip-pancake-that-fell-on-the-floor-as-you-were-flipping-it mess either. Actually, it’s more of a train wreck. It is off the track at best, and twisted into only a bizarre semblance of a story at worst.

All right, not all first drafts are that atrocious, but you understand what I am getting at. Feeling helpless and ashamed, you wonder how on earth you can repair this disaster of the written word. That feeling, that “sinking feeling,” builds and builds until you start to believe the worst, that your manuscript cannot be salvaged, and it would probably be in the world’s best interest if you ceased writing now, lest you burn an unsuspecting reader’s eyeballs with your God-awful rubbish and cause them to swear off books forever.

That’s when you need to take a deep breath and remember Hemingway’s quote. It’s why you should print it out and tape it to your laptop before you even type “Chapter One.” There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. No writer has ever written one and no writer ever will. The first draft is that first coat of nail polish that is streaky and uneven. The second draft is the second coat that evens it all out, takes it from “meh” to “glam,” earns compliments, and makes the time you set aside to do it worthwhile. No real writer escapes this part of the process. None of them.

So do not hit delete. Do not set fire to your pages in a display of drama and roast marshmallows over them while you sob over your incompetence. The prospect of turning coal into a diamond is a daunting one, and it may take a third or even a fourth draft to fashion your creation into a marketable product. But rest assured, it can be done. You have as much of a chance of becoming a bestseller as any other writer.

Write on!

 

Cover Image Credit: www.pixabay.com

Three Assumptions People Make When You Write About Love

Let’s do some myth busting, shall we?

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***  This was the third article I originally wrote for The Odyssey Online in 2017, prior to my decision to self-publish. ***

If you have read my prior posts, you may recall that I am working on the second draft of a novel. It is the story of an unlikely couple trying to survive the unique social challenges and tumultuous events of the historical time period they live in. Now that sounds like what would qualify as a romance. (By romance, I am referring to defined genre stories which usually follow a formula of sorts.) Technically though, I do not think my WIP qualifies as a romance and I am not saying that to be a pretentious, literary snob. If it did qualify as a romance it would make my life a bit easier as I would then know exactly what agents and publishers to submit to. According to my own research, it seems the format would not satisfy the standard model and the time period and country are not popular with romance publishers and, I assume, their fan bases. I think that leaves me out of the game, so I will just refer to it as a love story or romantic historical fiction.
Be that as it may, there is an undeniable stigma attached to writers of romantic fiction. Maybe we are all just squeamish when it comes to emotion. Maybe it’s because it has become trendy to denounce any sort of feelings in literature (the inevitable backlash against over-the-top sentimentality). And because there are unfortunately romances out there that have earned their bad reputations. The criticisms and stereotypes of these stories also extend to the writers of them. Knowing this, I was (and still am) reluctant to admit I was writing a love story. Reluctant to share it with my family and friends and even with the devoted members of my critique group, many of whom I have had the pleasure of working with for years. While all of these people have been supportive and helpful, harsh criticisms and stereotypes abound in other corners of the world and I decided to debunk the ones that bother me the most, at least regarding me and my work. (I am not speaking for all other writers here, FYI.)

1. You Must Be An Unabashed Creator of Smut
Naturally if you are writing a romance or something closely related to it, there must be graphic sex scenes on every other page. The story is set in a distant time so that the characters will have sumptuous clothes to tear off of each other’s perfectly sculpted bodies! There’s no real love going on, just a lot of hot hanky-panky!
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 No and no. Sure, there are books like that out there, but that is not what I am doing. While physical relations are a part of it (duh), the true focus is on the building of a real partnership– affection, devotion, honesty, fidelity, trust, you know, all those particulars that make relationships work and sustain them through difficult times. The historical backdrop is integral to the plot because if I move it to modern times, the story falls apart. Move it to a peaceful time in the past, it loses the urgency and the happenings that push the characters to behave as they do, especially in the second half of the book. Assumption #1 debunked.

2. You Have Delusions of Grandeur about Relationships
Apparently, writers of romantic fiction are delusional– or so a lot of people believe. It is assumed that these individuals are hopeless twits incapable of deciphering fantasy from reality, expecting their love lives to be Disney movie knock-offs. I must spend my non-writing time waiting for some gorgeous man to speed up to my house in a new Corvette. We will fall in love on sight and he will whisk me off to his McMansion, filled with roses and chocolate-covered strawberries, where we will enjoy a life of uninterrupted passion and bliss! No arguments and no dirty laundry to do! (You can hear the snark in my tone, right?) I must also be a total diva, driving men away with my unrealistic demands for open displays of affection, expensive gifts and tearful meltdowns.              

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Survey says: Not. At. All. I am certainly old enough to realize that perfection is an unattainable ideal for neurotics, in relationships or out of them. Do I want a happy, committed relationship? Of course, who doesn’t? Do I expect to fall hopelessly in love at first sight? No, my characters don’t even do that. Do I expect a man to solve all of my problems, fulfill all of my needs, be able to read my mind and agree with me on everything? No, that is not possible and is actually kind of unattractive. I am far from perfect and I wouldn’t expect any man to be perfect either. This all makes it difficult to seek advice when you’re having a relationship issue. People will automatically assume that YOU, crowned Queen of All That is Cheesy, are the problem and instead of a helpful opinion, you will come away with a lecture on not expecting too much or a reminder that real life is not a “story”.  Result? You take a vow of silence regarding your love life. (Actually, that might be smart to do even if you are not a writer. Too many cooks spoil the soup if you get my drift.)

3. You Can’t Really Write At All
This one might be the most insulting yet.  Real writers don’t write about things as ridiculous as feelings, especially any positive ones! It’s all too obvious, too concrete, too mundane.  Thus, you must be disguising your pathetic lack of skill behind a subject as frivolous, silly, and unnecessary as love. The characters are cardboard cutouts, the conflicts are plastic, and you have no talent.
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Please get off your literati high horse. Love in all forms — romantic, platonic, filial, even agape — is an integral part of the human experience. Why shouldn’t it be brought to the page? I do not like poorly-developed characters and do my best to create ones that seem like real people and give them real conflicts to deal with. The essentials of storytelling should always be upheld and I strive to do so.

Is any of this going to deter me from writing? Not in the least. I firmly believe writers should write the sort of stories they want to read, regardless of what anyone else thinks. So if love is the focus of your work, forge ahead. Some people will adore it, some people will despise it and that’s fine. That’s the way life works. People are not obligated to like you or the art you create. Just write in the unique voice you were gifted with. Refusing to do so would be too great a loss to the literary world.

Write on!

What Writing Taught Me About Discipline and Perseverance

No one becomes a successful writer by giving up.

*** I originally wrote this article for The Odyssey Online in 2017. ***

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In mid-March of 2015, the random scenes I had kept in a notebook for two years finally came together, and I began to work on my third novel. This novel was much different than my first two though. Not only did it lack the paranormal element the others had contained, but I felt a seriousness about it, an absolute dedication to it, and a determination to work on it every day.

Though I had read plenty of articles extolling the benefits of daily writing, it was a practice I had never assumed. Keeping schedules and deadlines has never been my strong suit, but this time I set myself the task.

 

Armed with a pretty journal I could easily tuck into my purse and an abundance of pens, I began the journey. Seven days a week, I wrote anywhere, anytime I could. I wrote before work in the living room, after work at the nearest Panera, in my bed before turning out the light, and as the weather warmed, out on my sundeck. I made scene cards that I tacked to a fabric story board hanging in my bedroom, created a Pinterest where I posted pictures of period clothing and furniture, and made two different novel playlists to listen to as I typed the final product and even as I drove my car.

I was seized. I completed the first draft right around my March deadline. I had planned to give myself a week’s rest before embarking on the all-important rewrite. But there was an issue that I hesitated to confess even to myself; my passion had begun to wane.

I first noticed it around the end of January, but I was able to feed the fire long enough to type “The End” by my deadline. During my week off, I tinkered with words here and there, fearful that if I stopped entirely, I would not go back to it at all.

Over the next two months, I grappled with the frustration of the fire burning so low. It dimmed until it almost seemed hopeless. Nevertheless, I continued writing. On the days I could not muster the enthusiasm for my novel, I worked on poetry or just random “rants,” anything to keep my pen in hand.

After 14 months of faithful duty, the bubble burst at last. I had to give myself a break. My focus and motivation fizzled and I passed the next several months — much to my chagrin– writing in intermittent spurts when inspiration struck, something I had sought to get away from. Other distractions in my personal life sucked away my brain power on top of that.

Now, it is August, 17 months after the first draft was completed. I am about half-way through the rewrite and, to my delight, feeling the embers of my fascination reigniting. I have set myself a new deadline and am trying my best to work a little bit every day. Bottom line: I refuse to give up.

In the past, I was all too quick to concede defeat. I backed away from far too many challenges, sabotaging myself by flitting from unfinished project to unfinished project. The old cliché “jack of all trades, master of none” is true. No one becomes a successful writer without enforcing discipline, nor by giving up. Inspiration and skill, while essential to an accomplished writer’s repertoire, are only two pieces of a complex puzzle. It is discipline and perseverance that separate the apprentices from the masters, and that goes for everything in life, not just writing.

So if you stumbled upon this article and are considering giving up on your writing, I ask you, from one writer to another, to please have faith in yourself. I don’t care if you are 18 or 108, refuse to take no for an answer. Batten down the hatches, park your rump in a chair, and write. Ask your loved ones to cheer you on. Reward yourself with something awesome when you meet your goal. Even if you never make a dime off of what you write, do it because you love it, do it because you have to. The world needs stories and it needs people who don’t understand the meaning of quitting. It needs disciplined people who persevere.

Write on!

 

*** Update: I am nearing the end of the second draft at this time. Yes, it seems I was more turtle-like this last year and a half than I like to admit. 🙂 ***

 

Cover Image Credit: pixabay
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