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Believe in yourself, aka, fan mail

I remember my first “fan” very clearly. My good friend Eve (hope you don’t mind me mentioning your name here). I don’t want to be insulting. To me, the word “fan” conjures ridiculous idol worship with screaming and pandemonium. That’s not what I mean by the word fan. I guess the best way to describe it would be someone who likes my work, a reader if you will. She begged me for chapters, rereading them when I needed her to so I could go on. If it weren’t for her, I don’t know if I ever would have finished that first book and gone on to write more. Thanks, Eve, my gratitude is never ending for that gift you gave me.

Since then I have had other “fans”. People who have told me how much they love my books. People I have inspired to keep going with their own personal goals and challenges. People who have started writing because of me, and people who have thanked me for making a book/story they really liked.

My initial reaction was typical, confidence. I can do this. My writing is good. Keep going. People like it. Then, as more and more queries proved fruitless, and the sales flatlined, that confidence waned. I debate quitting. I’m not a quitter, so it was very very hard for me, but there comes a time when you have to decide what’s best for you. Should I keep spending time, money, and emotional muscle on a barren endeavor? Then a newer, better story pops up, and I write it; the cycle begins again.

I’m currently on another new story, my last one still in the waiting area (don’t worry-it’ll get there soon enough-see below). And by now I’ve learned depression and bouts of quitting are all part of the process. I’ve also learned something else. I was watching a video this morning of Patrick Stewart announcing a return to Star Trek. He talked about a letter written to him by a cop who needed his show to survive. Literally.

That’s when I realized. I’ve had that. I’ve actually had people write me to say how much my writing, my journey has meant to them. I’ve had people thank me for getting them back into reading when nothing else could. And this has taught me a great great lesson.

I have accomplished.

I had never, I repeat, never been one to care about what others thought, to hit some stupid standard of society. My heart was always elsewhere. But when I think hard about it, I do. I want to be traditionally published. Why? Stigma. I want to feel like I have accomplished something. I ask myself what. I have a great family, a son I couldn’t ask better for, everything I need and more, and a promised ending for my soul. What more could I ask for? But it keeps at me. But then “a fan” says or writes something to me, and I realize, that’s what matters.

If I never get an agent. If I never land a publisher. If I never make a noticeable income from my books. I have accomplished something in this life I can be proud of.

Back to my last story in the waiting area. I lost passion for it. I don’t know why. The queries had no results, and I honestly thought it would be a shelved piece. But I had several people want a copy, signed for that matter. I figured after my current WIP I would print up a few just for those people, but after today, I think I might publish it afterall. If they loved it that much, maybe someone else will too.

I hope this post has inspired you as much as that video inspired me. If you have touched one person, you have accomplished.

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Don’t be afraid to break your own rules

Pretty sure this is a common problem with most if not all writers. We write something and then insist that every single word after that correlates with those first words. That’s not how it has to be. This isn’t a perfect world, you’re not a perfect person, your writing isn’t perfect. You can use that delete key!

Just because the new something you wrote doesn’t follow previous set rules doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It could be the previous work that needs readjusting. As soon as you realize what you’ve done, sit and think. Which is best? Which will provide the best experience for the reader? Can’t decide? No problem, leave a little side note and come back to it when you’ve written more. A lot of these things take care of themselves. Right now the planned ending for my current piece is a cliffhanger. Readers don’t like that, but I’m not sweating it. I know things will change a dozen or more times before I get there, and I can worry about it then. (Of course I’m still holding out for not having to 😉 )

Can’t bear the thought of removing or changing your beautifully crafted words? No problem. Cut them out and paste them in a special section title “removed” or something like that. (If using Scrivener, be sure to paste them in the notes section instead of the actual document area to prevent an off word count.) Those words are not lost forever, and yes, I have actually gone back and used them on multiple occasions. One thing I do is before transporting my piece from Scrivener to Word, I reread all my notes, deleting the ones I’ve taken care of or are obsolete and then doing the same with the removed section. By the time I’m using Word, my piece is to the point I know what I will and will not put back in or throw away.

Good luck with your writing, and don’t be afraid to contradict your previous work! It may just be the best thing for it.

Don’t be a lazy writer

I remember reading an article where an agent mentioned, “I hate lazy writers.” This shot a fire or fear through me. Was I a lazy writer? I didn’t think so. I certainly spent enough blood, sweat, and tears on my work. But would she consider me lazy? In other words, was there something I wasn’t doing I should be and didn’t know it?

Turns out I was being lazy and didn’t know it. Maybe you’re lazy where I am too, don’t realize it, and this post will help.

So something’s not working. Your murder mystery took you to the bottom of the family well where Tommy drowned only, wait, you didn’t write it that way. You wrote Suzy poisoning him during the breakfast of their honeymoon. But you like the well so much better! Everything else works out perfectly and it’s a groovy twist (whoa-did I just say groovy?) that NO ONE would expect, and, and… You just love it, OK?

So now you have a choice. You can either go back and rewrite countless words to make it so Suzy throws him into the well instead of poisoning him, you can change it back to poisoning at the end, or you can spend countless hours struggling to make the well work.

Here’s where my lazy comes in. I had the plot and character a certain way. I get stuck. I spend the day figuring out what to do. I fix it in my head. Well crap! Now I have to fix it on paper too! GRR!! I have two choices, keep working on it in my head until what I have already written somehow works, or rewrite what’s on the computer screen to match what I spent the day formulating. The lazy writer (and me a few months ago) will do the former. I chose the latter. Which will you choose?

Don’t be a lazy writer. I know chucking and rewriting can be painful (this is your baby we’re talking about) but what it really comes down to (for some writers anyway) is the desire not to have to spend more time writing what you already wrote. Annoying, but think of it this way. You will actually spend more time putting it off and trying not to do it than just doing it. Put on your work clothes and get dirty.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pull my sleeves up and rewrite a scene.

The Most Hideous Outfit Known to Man

We went clothes shopping today, and I found this.

The most hideous outfit known to man, y’all. I mean look at it! It looks like a garbage bag left in a closet so long a giant moth tore holes into it!

After I showed it to my husband, I couldn’t help it. I had to try it on!

I took it into the dressing room and pulled it over my head, thinking it was a long shirt with super ugly powers. I had a hard time pulling the bottom down to where it needed to go. Surely my hips weren’t that big were they? Then I realized. It’s not a shirt. It’s a full outfit with shorts!

Ohmagosh!

I am now stuck in one of this thing’s leg holes trying to figure out how to get out. As I tug on the bottom end, my arms now over my head, housing my upper torso in unseemly wannabe taffeta, I contemplate asking a total stranger for help, not really caring about my potential nudity at this point. Us girls have to stick together, right?

When I finally did get it off, I stepped into it this time and then, not believing my eyes, took pictures for the world to see (because you cannot describe this level of ugly in words, people), laughing the whole time.

Then I really got into it and started posing.

I’m not going to post the rest, because they get really embarrassing. Just imagine a woman in a garbage bag mocking models while laughing uncontrollably.

And just remember, no matter what you’re wearing, it can’t be as bad as this.

Anxiety and Writing

I’m kind of writing this in hopes someone will say, “This isn’t anxiety; this is normal.” Then again, I would like the recognition of, “I have never experienced this. I can’t imagine what you must go through.” Not sure which one I want.

Anywho, so, I have anxiety, or at least I did. At any rate, it’s tapered greatly. Anxiety for me is as though I can see the future, like I have a time limit on absolutely everything I do. I’m sure you not-yet-published writers out there can understand where this leads to problems. Take this for example:

I wake, knowing I have to go to work later in the day. I have a few writing tasks to get done. I get done with part of them, possibly enough for most writers, I wouldn’t know. It’s not like I have a writing group where I ask, “Hey, how long would it take you to do XXX?” That seems silly and competitive. But that’s not enough. I can do more. I should do more. I have to do more because it’s not getting done fast enough. That’s the part that doesn’t feel normal.

And for you writers out there, you understand how looooooong the process is. Not “can take”; is. Not the writing itself, I’m talking about not-yet-published authors or indie authors who have to do 10X what the published ones do. The marketing, the writing, the editing, the querying, the cover design, the formatting, the uploading/dealing with distributors, the begging for reviews, the constant battle not to compare yourself to every single other author in the world, the networking, the trying to find cover designers/illustrators/editors, the job you work to make money until your writing takes off. I could go on, but like I said, I have work later today. The fact I get done what I do is mind boggling.

I want you to imagine this though. You have all that, but you see it all being played out in the future, not in a planner or that you have allotted false due dates for everything (trust me, that doesn’t help) but that’s it’s already overdue. You know your entire life’s track, and you should already be on the next train. So when you do your writing project of the day, no matter what it is, there is a tight feeling that starts from your upper arms and pulls into the center of your chest like an elastic spider’s web from p90X. That’s anxiety, and that’s what it feels like almost every hour of every day for me. I feel that way at work because I’m not editing my next ms. I feel that way while editing because it should have already been done. I feel that way now because I see the end of this post and want it done five minutes ago. But I have to keep going. I have to finish typing and then go back and reread it for errors. I’m sure I’ll miss a few, but I have to nonetheless 😉

Now, I could quite literally write a book on this, but I shan’t bore you with the details. Suffice it say I want to know the answer to just one question, “Is it like that for you?”

Describe your anxiety below in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Free – sale almost over!

Hey toys and squirrels, my non-fiction book, What Does Spider Poop Look Like? is now free.

Wha?

I know! You were just think about spider poop this morning over breakfast, weren’t you? Well now you can have all your poop questions answered without having to visit the local poop museum or search through endless internet articles about teddy bears and antique cars. Heck-you don’t even have to leave the house! All you have to do is visit Amazon and click buy on the Kindle edition. Don’t use Amazon? No problem for $0.00 a month, you can visit my website and go to Barnes and Noble, Playster, Apple, and other places this book is sold.

But hurry. This offer won’t last!  Get yours before it’s too late!

(This has not been a paid advertisement by yours truly.)

Oh, the dreams we have!

I rarely get those dreams we all see on TV where your spouse is wearing a bunny costume and throwing walnuts at you, and everywhere a walnut hits you grow an eye and lose a thumb (see The Dick Van Dyke Show). But last night I did. Not the bunny thing. In fact, not even the walnuts and thumbs. The eyes though…

Anyway, so last night everything that’s been haunting me came into play. Query letters flew at my face with obvious, hideous errors screaming at me with paranormal wails. I tried to reach out and correct them. Was it too late? Could I resend them? It was a heartbreaking moment of watching my future with a literary agent float away like a ghost of my past. Oh, and get this, these were actual query letters I have recently written with detailed accuracy of every word in them. Except for the errors. Those were added in by my brain demons.

I’ve always been able to control my dreams, ever since I was 10, or thereabouts, and when the next part came up, I said, “No.” Although it was more of a “NO!”. And it wasn’t me. At least not the me I’m used to in my dreaming state. See, when I take control of my dreams, it’s a surreal halfway world, often difficult to wake up from (that part requires a lot of strength and determination and is quite exhausting), and planned well in advance. This “no” came from nowhere. I had only just begun to see the dream. I was still panicking and had not yet realized I even was dreaming. But that no came with a feral voice. The next part was work related.

The supervisor I recently had a run-in with was talking to me about something, I don’t remember, and the coworker who goes out of their way (not daily, minutely-no seriously, every possible chance to be had) to make my life difficult was doing something else. I honestly think I could remember what they both did if I really wanted to, but let me remind you about that negative scream I shouted the first time in response.

So there you have it, my weird dreams. Hopefully tonight will be filled with more enjoyable visions of grandeur.

How to use your beta readers effectively

I recently finished another manuscript and needed some beta readers. This is far from my first one, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Let me share some with you now.

#1 – Give them instructions. Chances are, your beta readers are not professional editors, agents, and publishers. They don’t understand exactly what’s needed in their analysis. That’s perfectly fine, just give them a bit of instruction. For example, this manuscript I just finished is a picture book. Unless you have read the countless dozens I have, studied them as I have, read advice and articles as I have, you’re not going to realize a few things. One of those things is that the words don’t tell the story so much as the pictures do. I recently read The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket, and a prime example of this relationship. Nowhere does the writing tell what the bad mood looks like or that it’s floating around, etc. The artist does that. This is one of the instructions I gave my beta readers.

#2 – They aren’t trying to break your soul. OK, you just poured your literal soul onto a piece of paper, and someone had the audacity to criticize it?!?!?! Yup, that’s pretty much what just happened. But like our real soul, where we think we’re doing right but may be doing things very very wrong, we need a little instruction every now and again. When someone tells you something about yourself you don’t like, you probably dismiss it at first but then maybe, later, when you’ve grown a bit, you realize they might have been right all along. We don’t have that kind of time here. Take a deep breath, here it goes. Most say just keep getting critiqued over and over and you’ll get used to it, etc. Not for me. That didn’t work. What did work was to stop looking at it like the love of my life and more like a business. I’m building a car, not displaying my insides for the world to see. They’re telling me the gears don’t switch well, not that my favorite character isn’t working. What worked for me is to step back, aka strip the story away from my chest kicking and screaming, and then look at it. Once I’m in that mood, I take suggestions far more easily. It still hurts, but I’m more open to it, and that makes a better story.

#3 – Don’t take every single statement to heart. Like I said, they’re not professionals, and even if they were, each one will be different. I’ve seen countless authors, “One beta reader said this and now I have to fix it.” I’m like, “Why? Is it actually a problem? How many betas did you have?” If your answer is 6 or more, why do you care what that one said? Don’t get me wrong. That one could see something no one else did that does need to be changed. This is where you have to put your manager’s cap on and make the big decisions. Not everything they think needs changing needs changing, and you have to be the one to decide that.

#4 – Make a list and check it twice. Not everyone is cut out for beta reading. If they never get back to you, if their suggestions don’t line up right, they’re probably not the best reader for your books, just like a certain agent isn’t the best agent for you or a certain publisher, or, you know, a spouse. Everyone is different, and not everyone matches up. That’s OK.

Hope this helps you with your next manuscript. Good luck!

When your writing quits writing itself

I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve been there. A LOT. But there’s always that chapter/scene where the writing stops. It’s like, “What am I supposed to be doing now? What’s supposed to be happening?” Even with a detailed plot structure with clear instructions of what is and is not supposed to be happening, it did it again.

Then my son asked a question.

The other day I was asking for help in coming up with a title for my current WIP, and my son asked, “What is the MC’s goal?”

And he had me.

Such a simple question. THE question, and I knew it was a problem since day one. I had the goal, but I didn’t. Not really. Whenever I tried to write an elevator pitch for the blurb, it just crumbled into obscurity.

And that’s when I realized. I have been over complicating things.

This whole time I kept thinking I needed more plot, more complexity. Alas, I needed more simplicity. I kept concentrating on the villain, kept claiming that defeating him was the goal. It so wasn’t.

The goal was XXX. The villain just gets in the way. Like my mother said, “KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid.” And she was right.

Start with the simple and embellish later if you need to. Not sure I’ll ever be good at that, but at least now I know what the real goal is and that the villain has very little to do with it.

Oh yeah, the writing. See, without the correct goal, I was just spinning my wheels, my characters were passing time until the next big thing happened. NOW, my characters have a desire, a purpose, and my writing will go back to taking care of itself. Just to be clear, I did know their goal is what drove the story before this revelation. Whenever I would get stuck, I would think, “What does my character want? What would they do?” But this time, I have a clearer picture, a big picture, the right picture. Oh, and I also have an elevator pitch 🙂 Hoo yeah!

So, the next time you get stuck, ask yourself, “What would my character(s) do? What do they want?” They have to keep trying for their goal. If that doesn’t work as well as it should, reanalyze your main goal. Is it really defeating the villain, or does the villain just get in the way. Good luck with your writing!

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