I’ve always loved reading books where the hero or heroine has a pet. Robert Dugani’s Tracy Crosswhite series where a secondary character (and love interest) is a pair of dogs and I just loved them. They really added to the story as well helped developed the hero’s personality. I loved it so much that I decided I needed a book with pet.
Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows they have their own distinct personality. I’ve owned three dogs and they were each very different. One was just crazy. Every time you let her out of the house, she ran around the house ten times like wild animal. She’d stop to pee and poop, then do it again. It was like she was chasing her tail…around the house. Tucker was just a spaz. Shasta was kind of like Tucker because Shasta was pretty high strung. Hyper. Even as a grown ass dog, she was like a big puppy. But she listened. Tucker never listened. And there was our nervous nilly Casey. Smart dog, but afraid of her own shadow. But her fear didn’t come out in cowering away, no, she barked and growled and made for a great watch dog. She was pretty mellow and often got annoyed by Shasta’s need to play all the time.
The first time I used a pet as a character was in TO PROTECT HIS OWN. My hero has a horse named Boots. Only my hero, Jake, left the farm ten years ago, and left his beloved horse behind.
Boots didn’t take that too well and became a moody horse. The heroine was left to tend to the Boots, who often acted like a child, pouting, or acting out, or being stubborn. Surprisingly, I received a lot of emails from fans who LOVED Boots. I got more feedback on that horse than I did anything else regarding the book.
But Boots never had a point-of-view. I showed his personality through his actions when around people, which was fun to write. So when one of my best friends, Laura Benedict, recommended me to join the wonderful world of the great cat detective, Trouble.
Besides the Trouble series being a cozy mystery (something I’ve never written before), Trouble has to participate in solving the mystery. He has his own Point-of-View. I thought that would make it easier to write him. I thought the only challenge would be make sure his voice matched all the other books in the series. Ha! Wrong!
It took a few tries of writing Trouble to get his voice right. He’s a black cat who watches a lot of Sherlock Holmes. Trouble is a tad pretentious, a bit full of himself, and he sort thinks he’s British…AND he truly believes he’s pretty much the best detective around. That part was easy. I too watched a lot of Sherlock Holmes. I had no problem dropping myself into that character. I got his voice down quickly. What became a struggle was his actions. I mean, I had to show him in the bushes, basking in the sun, or slinking around looking for clues. It was the cat action I had trouble with. I think it was because I don’t have a cat. My only real experience with cats was when I was a teenager and my dad had three cats. I’ve had a few friends with cats, but they weren’t my pet of choice.
Now, you ask how is this different from writing a horse (I’ve never owned a horse) and writing a cat? The difference was mixing the voice with the actions. Boots didn’t have a voice. He wasn’t talking to the audience. While he occasionally reacted to situations to help clue in my heroine or hero on approaching danger, he wasn’t doing things to solve the mystery. He was just reacting to snakes on the side of the barn! Any horse would freak out.
As a writer, I believe it’s important to stretch our skills. Stepping out of our comfort zone can only make us better writers. I often do writing prompts that are so far from my writing style or genre. Doing this has made me a better writer. It makes us focusing on learning new things. It helps us keep things fresh, new, and exciting. It’s easy to get into ruts.
I strongly suggest every writer try writing a different genre. Not necessarily for publication. Not even writing anything more than a couple of pages. But take some time and write different. Take a writing prompt and instead of going in the direction you normally would, take it to the complete opposite. Try it. It’s a lot of fun. I dare you!
Oh, yes it most certainly can!
Every single book I’ve ever written has a nugget of my life or the lives of people around me. Sometimes that comes in a form of a character’s behavior, a hobby, their career, but often in my books, it comes in the form of an incident.
An incident of the accidental and mortifying variety…
So let’s take a look at a couple of my favorites!
Falling in Fiji:
He shifted to cover his growing problem. A glance at Corrine confirmed that she was fully engrossed in an article in her magazine. Everett did a double take when he read the title. “You Did What?—Most Embarrassing Blunders from Loyal Readers.”
“What are you doing?” she asked as she folded the magazine in half.
He shrugged. “It seemed like an interesting article.” He leaned over and whispered, “What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done, Corrine?” He didn’t miss the goosebumps rising on her skin as he whispered low into her ear.
Her face turned beet red. With jerky movements, she shoved the magazine into her large purse. “I don’t even know you, and you want me to talk about my most embarrassing moment.”
“What better way to get to get acquainted?”
She turned in her seat as much as she could and crossed her arms. “Fine. You first!”
He’d gone and done it this time. He had a few embarrassing stories, but one stuck out in his mind. He’d never told anyone. “It just has to be an embarrassing story, right? Not my most embarrassing?”
Her eyes flashed, and the sly grin from last night spread across her face. “Oh no. You asked me about my most embarrassing moment. You want it? Give me yours.”
“And what if, Corrine Anderson, I give you mine and you choose to hold out once you have what you want?”
“That’s a chance you’ll have to take, Mr. Harden.”
Oh, the way she said his name like that. Formal, but not formal at all. Just to unnerve him, the way he unnerved her every time he used her full name. He liked it. He liked her. “All right, but I expect you to pretend you never heard this.”
“Oh, this is going to be good.”
“I got suction-cupped to my bathtub and couldn’t get out.” He gave her credit for not making a sound, although her mouth twitched.
“And how did you get out? Since you’re not still in said bathtub today.”
She let loose then, her light laugh dancing between them. Since she was already laughing, might as well go for broke. “And my sister.”
She laughed with her whole body. She slapped her hand down on his thigh and dropped her forehead to his shoulder. Damned if he didn’t have a stupid grin on his face. “Your laughter is detrimental to my ego.”
She wiped the tears coming from her eyes. “How old were you?”
He cringed. “Sixteen.”
“Oh my God! Wait, you still took baths at sixteen?”
“Often. I wrestled. My reoccurring shoulder injury made baths an almost daily practice.”
Her eyes roamed him up and down. “So they saw you?”
“Saw me what, Corrine Anderson?”
“You know what I’m asking.”
“I do. I just want to hear you to say it.” He smiled, unwilling to answer until she asked him the right question. He cocked a brow at her.
“Oh for the love of God. Did they see you…uh…your—?”
“Dick, okay! Did they see your dick?”
It seemed as though every eye on the plane locked on them. Corrine’s eyes widened. She slammed a hand over her mouth. A couple rows over, a girl asked her mother, “Mommy, what’s a dick?”
“Shhh. Don’t say that word, it’s naughty!” her mother replied.
“Thanks, lady!” the guy next to her yelled.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” She buried her face against his chest. When he started to laugh, she slapped his arm. “Don’t laugh!” she whispered furiously. “They all heard me!”
“Yes. They did.”
Her face went scarlet. “How much longer until we get there?”
He looked down at his watch. “Eleven hours.”
“I’m sleeping. For all of it!” She grabbed a sweatshirt out of her bag, balled it up, and tucked it next to her face as she turned to him and closed her eyes.
He pulled the sweatshirt away. “Oh…I don’t think so.”
“Give me that!”
He wedged the sweatshirt behind him against the window. “I didn’t get your most embarrassing moment.”
“Really? This didn’t qualify?”
“Well, that depends. Is this really your most embarrassing moment?”
Her eyes slid away. No. Not her most embarrassing moment.
“Now this I have to hear.”
“This is so unfair. Now you’ll have two stories.”
“It’s not my fault you couldn’t control yourself. Don’t worry. Something tells me I’ll make a fool out of myself somehow over the next week. Then we’ll be even.”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“That’s supposed to make you feel less alone.” He tipped her chin up when she ducked her head. “Tell me. Our little secret.”
She bit her lip and glanced around.
Everyone had gone back to their business. They sat silent, eyes roaming over one another. Until the guy next to Corrine started to snore like a buzz saw. They glanced over simultaneously to find drool running out of the corner of his mouth, down his neck, and under his collar.
Corrine shivered and leaned a little closer. “God, that’s vile.”
“Kind of makes you wonder what his most embarrassing moment is, doesn’t it?”
She gave him a small smile. “Okay. Let’s get this over with. I was on a field trip with my school to a water park. I went down their steepest slide. When I got up”—she closed her eyes—”I didn’t know I’d lost my bikini top on the way down. I stood there, not a care in the world, with everything hanging out. Well, what little I have, anyway.”
He glanced briefly at the soft swell of her breasts. “You have just the right amount.”
“Oh…well. I—” Her throat worked. He’d surprised her. Hell, he’d surprised himself. He was a flesh and blood male, though. Her curves had grabbed his attention from the first minute, but he hadn’t been bold enough to call attention to it.
Embarrassing Moment: For my brother who actually did get suction-cupped to the tub!
Sunset at Lake Crane:
The players took their positions. The team split into two. Half wore their current jerseys, while the other half wore their old jerseys to distinguish between the mock teams. They used scrimmages to keep their skills fresh. Everyone fielded balls, and everyone took several opportunities to bat. Grant noted any minor issues that needed tweaking before Saturday. This was the time to correct any bad habits, distractions, or physical weaknesses, and adjust them as necessary.
Wyatt favored his left leg after a rough slide into third over a week before. He could play, but not at a hundred percent. Eric maintained his stellar pitching arm even to this day. Kent goofed off in left field a little more than usual. Grant would have to speak with him. Dallas, their catcher, preserved his natural energy. So much so that he couldn’t keep his horny, wandering eyes off any girl walking past the baseball field. It was only a matter of time before his luck ran out. Grant hoped to get him through the season without an injury from something as lame as his thinking with his little head.
“Dallas. Get your head in the game or your ass will be in the dugout.”
Dallas’s head snapped back to his coach, a wicked grin splitting his face. “Yes, sir.” He saluted with his catcher’s mitt.
When Grant glanced up to the bleachers, there was Erynn, reaching toward her feet to retrieve what, he didn’t know. Her breasts pressed tight against the V-neck opening of her dress, drawing Grant’s gaze like a magnet. No matter how she strained, she couldn’t grasp the object and ended up knocking it to the ground inside the bleachers. She clutched the sides of her flowing skirt, lifting it a bit as she made her way down, one metal bench at a time.
At the bottom, she knelt on the lowest metal seat, reaching for the grassy area behind the first row of the bleachers. Her dress stretched across the most edible, round ass he’d ever seen. Thanks to a little clumsiness on her part, his eyes got the full tour of all her delectable parts.
The breeze lifted the back of her skirt, giving him a creamy expanse of thigh before she slapped her hand down to stop it. His mind flashed to a time when he nipped at those thighs and soothed the sting with his tongue. He adjusted his waistband as his pants grew tight.
Grant was so focused on his perusal of Erynn’s body that the sound of the bat making contact with the ball didn’t register. Only when Marcus yelled, “Grant, watch out!” did Grant realize Dallas, their best hitter, had swung early, sending the ball just outside the third base line where Grant stood as base coach.
He didn’t feel the pain as the baseball caught his left cheekbone. His vision faded to black as he dropped flat on his back. He opened his eyes a few seconds later. At least, it only seemed like a few, but that couldn’t be right. He looked up to the brilliant blue sky ringed by his players’ faces. The muffled sound of Marcus talking sounded far away. Erynn knelt in the red clay dirt, running her hands over him. He could have told her that if she wanted to help him, she could move those hands a bit lower. Yeah, that would be sweet relief.
He blinked a few more times and sat up. Red clay dust clouded the air from the accumulation of feet stirring up the third base line. The clashing voices of his team rang in his ears, as did Marcus’s authoritative voice and Erynn’s anxious questions. He ran a knuckle down Erynn’s damp cheek.
“I’m okay. Don’t cry.”
She smacked his hand away. “I’m not crying, you big jerk. Why the hell weren’t you paying attention?”
“Man, Coach, I could have killed you,” Dallas said.
“Nah, Coach is indestructible,” Josh said.
“Really? The way I see it, he chewed my ass for checkin’ out Carmen and Daniella. Then he went on to do the same thing and got himself knocked out.”
“Yeah, I saw him. He was checking out, uh, I don’t know your name. What’s your name?” Mike asked Erynn.
“Oh, I’m Erynn.” She reached out to shake Mike’s hand.
“Nice to meet you,” Mike said.
“Ouch, son of a—”
Marcus held the towel and ice steadily on Grant’s face. “Easy, you’re going to need stitches.”
“I’m fine.” Grant started to get up, but Marcus shoved him back down on his ass.
“Sit still for a minute. You’re not bleeding out in my new car.”
“My car is here,” Grant said.
“No. You’re not driving.”
“I can take you,” Erynn offered.
“Erynn can take me.”
“No can do. I have to fill out paperwork on the incident for the school anyway. Go ahead and take Grant’s car back to his house. I’ll bring him home when we finish.”
“Wait, are you staying with Coach?”
“She’s staying with me for the duration of her interview of our creative writing program. Get your mind out of the gutter.”
“My mind? You’re the one watching the wind blow her skirt up.”
“Apparently you didn’t miss it either, Mike.”
“Well, yeah, look at her.”
“Practice is over. I expect everyone back here right after school on Thursday,” Marcus said. The guys finally got the point and filed into the dugout.
Erynn clasped Grant’s arm. “Can you stand up?”
“Yeah.” He levered himself up to his knees and the world spun. Erynn held his elbow and waited. He took a few deep breaths before he tried again. He wobbled at first, but recovered and stood. He reached for his cheek where Erynn’s hand held the towel to his face. She peeked under the terrycloth and frowned.
He hissed at the sting and slid his hand up under hers to take the towel from her. They stood like that, just staring, her soft, warm hand cradling his, on the towel.
“Okay, guy, let’s do this,” Marcus interrupted. The intimate bubble burst, and Erynn looked away toward the stuff she’d left on the bleachers.
“I’ll see you at home later, I guess.”
He didn’t miss the hitch in her voice on the word ‘home’. “Yeah,” he rasped.
“Okay, well—um, good luck.” She marched away, muttering to herself.
“Come on, Romeo. Let’s get that ugly mug of yours put back together,” Marcus said.
Real Life Moment: Getting grazed in the cheek…happened to a guy I know 😉
Fun Fact: The above moment with the hit to the face…well, a hugely famous author read this book and actually told me that this injury couldn’t happen and not be bruised and awful looking a week later when I reference the injury later in the story. She said this happened at her nephew’s game and she knew for a fact that my account is inaccurate. What she didn’t consider is that I also had this experience and I knew for a fact that a week later it can almost look as if nothing happened. That’s the difference between a direct hit and a graze along a cheekbone that can slice the skin open.
This is a prime example of how writers write what they know. We observe. Sometimes at a distance with strangers. Sometimes we pull old memories from our memory banks. Everything we see shapes us and flows into our narrative making our characters come alive.
And often, in talking to readers, family, and friends, we borrow their memories and experiences for inspiration, too!
Sometimes, when I look back over my life, I think I got more done when I was running around with my head cut off like a chicken managing 3 kids in travel hockey, 2 on the golf team, 1 doing dance competition while working two part-time jobs and volunteering for the local hockey association and the PTA.
I am woman hear me roar!
That seems like a life time ago. Back then, I’d sneak in 500 words between putting kids on the bus 3 different schools, each bus coming about an hour after the other) before doing dishes, morning chores, and heading off to one of my part-time jobs. I’d then sneak in as many words as I could sitting, usually from 4pm – 10pm at the hockey rink. My kids at sandwiches, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and cucumbers that I packed most nights so they didn’t eat chicken fingers and french fries every night (though there were some of those nights). I stayed up late cleaning and doing laundry, then started the cycle all over again. Weekends were just as bad as my family split up because one kid had games in Canada, the other in Boston, and the other in Buffalo. Yeah, see how that works. But I’d sneak in my words sitting at rinks before the game started and sitting in hotel rooms.
Back then I was considered a fast writer.
Not sure I felt like I was, but I was an effective writer.
I still am. Only I get to write a lot more and it’s often uninterrupted writing (unless one of the 3 kids has returned for a visit). Even when our middle boy moved back home for a year, I wasn’t running the rat race. Oh. I’m still busy. Just doing other things.
So, what is my day like now?
It’s different every day. But what has remained the same, is I have a calendar, with deadlines, goals, and appointments. I spend Sunday planning out my week. That includes finding out if the man is going to be home and if he’s going to need to be fed. It includes planning time for my walks, bike rides, grocery store trips, and anything else that might need to be done that week (also based on weather). At the end of every day, I carry over what wasn’t done the day before, and rearrange my schedule as necessary.
When I was busy being a hockey mom, I kept my sanity by having a color coded calendar. Now that I’m in a different phase of my life, I keep busy by having a color coded calendar. Ha!
Honestly, one of the reasons why I think it’s good to do a day in the life…in your life…is to see where you’re not using your time effectively and efficiently. I do laundry while watching my shows. That way I’m folding while I catch up. If I have to go out for an appointment, I get everything else that needs doing outside of the house on that day. When I make my grocery list, I make it in the order in which the items are shelved. I hate it when my grocery store changes the isles up!
It’s not really about multitasking, as it is planning.
Hi. I’m a planner. I like organization, structure, and please don’t change my well laid plans with a snap of your finger. That really stresses me out. Seriously. If my calendar says that I’m going to Costco on Wednesday, and something happens, I’m like, shit. That fucks up my whole day! Not really, but then I have to regroup. And I can, but it takes me a minute or two.
It’s worse when something like my printer isn’t working and I spend all day figuring that out and at the end of the day, I feel like I lost a day. Or when I’m sick. That sucks.
But my point is, as a planner, I can see what I’m actually getting done, and how my day really works. My mind is always playing tricks on me, like telling my body I’m still 25 and can do a cartwheel. Yeah. Not really a good idea.
Understanding self is one of the major keys to success. But if you don’t spend at least a full week writing down everything you do as you do it, you won’t really see where you’re either spinning your wheels, or where if you just things up a little bit, you’d have more energy. After that, I think its important to re-evaluate every so often. To me, this is like looking at a map before you get in a car and taking a long trip.
Or writing some kind of outline, synopsis, and/or character sheet, for your book. You pantsers are cringing right now, but you have your own ways of keeping track of story…and keeping your day on track. That’s what this is all about. Setting goals, and setting yourself up for success.
That’s not me.
I know, shocker right?
I’m not that thin, hell if I can get my hair to grow back that long, and it’s definitely not that sleek.
And seriously, heels while doing a hundred different things at once. Fuck that shit.
Oh…and I don’t iron.
I’m the cook, cleaner, errand runner, babysitter, mom, grandmother, bill payer, knower of where the scissors are, and the keeper of the all things that hold this household together. And to be fair, my husband is a big help on a few of those fronts.
And to escape all of the things my life needs me to be, I hide behind my computer screen in my leggings and sweaters, coffee to my right, scribbled notes to my left, writing happily ever after that is light on all of the above lady-boner killers that come with real life.
My day starts at 7 a.m. when my husband gets up and gets in the shower. My lay there in bed, lazy as fuck, wishing I could just go back to sleep, my phone coming off sleep mode and buzzing next to me. God, how I wish I had never started bringing that thing to bed. Seriously, I only recently started doing it and now I can say goodbye to all peace.
He comes out at about 7:10, my cue to pull my blankets over my head because, without fail, he’s going to bend over to dig through a laundry basket full of clean clothes for underwear with no concern about whether or not his chocolate Cheerio is winking or his balls are waving at me.
That’s romance in the real world folks!
And yes, we’re those people who have clean clothes in at least one basket at any given time because we’re balls-to-the-wall busy and neither of us has the time we need in order to do all the things.
He goes down to grind the coffee beans and get the coffee going while I muddle through brushing my teeth, putting in my contacts, taming my hair, and getting dressed. By the time I make it down, he’s poured a huge cup for me in the biggest mug I’ve got.
Most mornings I head right for my office. I go through emails, burn some brain cells scrolling the book of face, and scan the news…which BTW is never good these days. And it kills my creativity if I linger too long in the shit.
Since my computer is always on, I have multiple projects open already from the night before. Too many projects. Stuff for me, other things because I’m not good at saying no. And I get to work.
My life is a series of open tabs all screaming for my attention!
Around 8:30…I hear my granddaughter running around the kitchen so I go down to grab some food and love on her. Her latest thing is throwing her hands in the air and screaming, “Wooo!” So, yeah, that’s what I do the minute I hit the hardwood floor. Monday through Thursday I babysit her at various times during the day while Bronwyn goes to class. We eat Cheerios and baby goldfish, drink water, and sing and dance with Baby First TV.
Ask me how many versions of Baby Shark I know? LOL
I write in spurts while working other projects in. It used to be that I wrote best first thing in the morning, then I was better at night. I seem to have shifted back and my best words come out in the morning.
I have a backlist to republish and I usually have one of those projects going at all times. It’s pressure, but it’s also nice to have a lot of things going so when I need a break from one, I can switch off. That’s why I also always have my Photoshop open. Working on cover art gets me motivated and gives me a break to be creative in a different way.
On any given day, my time is interrupted with trips to the grocery store and frequent visits to the allergy doctor, because I’m living the glamorous life y’all!
Some afternoons I take a nap. Yup, I’m selfish and take care of me for a few minutes. If I don’t, my eyes don’t hold up for the multiple hours in front of the screen.
I return to my office after, with a fresh cup of coffee, and Dr. Phil. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but I need the reassurance that other’s have more fucked up families than I do…and that’s a story for a whole other blog topic. And every time he says, “When we come back, I’m going to put some verbs in my sentences” I want to strangle him.
At 3:45 p.m. I’m walking out on Phil before he can get to home plate so I can watch that squealing bucket of awesome while her mother gets ready for work.
At 4 p.m. I hear the thump of Jim’s feet coming up from his basement office to take over the babysitting so I can squeeze in one more hour of work before I have to start worrying about dinner. Yes, that’s right, he’s worked a full day and now he’s taking over with the baby until her head hits the pillow. So seriously, if the laundry doesn’t get folded (something he does), I don’t care.
The three of us eat together, usually something I’ve pulled off of Pinterest. I do a mean cashew chicken! I do dishes, because let’s face it, I’m faster at cleanup, and then I hightail it to the bathtub where I soak for at least and hour. When deadlines are breathing down my neck, I take a shower instead.
After bath time, I’m back in this office until bedtime…sometimes eleven. Sometimes later. With the worst of my deadlines, I’ve been up as late as 6 a.m. the next morning.
There’s a laundry list of non surprise things that happen on any given day. Phone calls and texts with Jen, calls from my middle child, my wondering if my oldest is ever going to call, lol. People knocking on our door which I have to tell you, usually makes me hide.
And then there’s the serious life shit. Mom getting sick and hopping on a plane to take care of her for eight days. A kid ending up in the hospital. Family evacuating for hurricanes. You name it, we all have it.
Like you, life lobs the unexpected at me at a pace that threatens to bury me at times. And I take the hits. I bitch about it. I vent. And when I’m done, I put one foot in front of the other and get shit done.
And I work seven days a week. I used to be great about getting away on my own. At least once a week I would take an afternoon to walk, get fresh air, explore the area around me. I need to get back to that.
And you know what this all showed me? My day is a long line of interruptions. I don’t get to just worry about my eating and drinking schedule. The house does not stay picked up because others are not nearly as careful about cleaning up after themselves as I am. I, despite having grown children, have to worry about everyone else’s needs. I have to dance around everyone else’s schedule.
So the one thing that is going on my list and is never negotiable…taking better care of me!
Every writer gets stuck, no matter how experienced they are, or how many books they have. Every writer has doubts about whether or not they’ve got another book in them. Or is this book really any good. Will this be the end of my career? The more we focus on those negative things, the harder it is to get unstuck. If we start comparing our progress or success to others than we are in self-sabotage mode. We are giving ourself a reason to stay stuck.
So what is a writer to do?
My advice is basically the same. Take a breath. Step away. Go for a walk. Clean the kitchen. Bake cookies. Doesn’t matter if you’re stuck with an idea, a scene, the plot, a character, the entire manuscript, or your career, if you are stuck, it’s time to go back to the basics.
Let’s start with being stuck in book. Much of this is a repeat of my last blog because no matter how many books you have, sometimes we have to step down and look at the simple things. The things we might take for granted.
If you’re a plotter, go look at your spreadsheets. Your narrative structure outline. Your synopsis. Notecards. Whatever you use to keep track of your story and your progress. You might find where you took a wrong turn. If you didn’t follow your normal process, then go back to the step you skipped. If you did everything exactly like you always do, try something different.
If you’re a pantser, print out your manuscript, or send it to your kindle, and read it. Make notes, but don’t change anything. Not yet. You might find that seed that you misplaced that will help you get unstuck.
If those things don’t work, call a writer friend, or a crit partner. Talk it out. And then listen. Whoever is on the other end isn’t married to your idea. They don’t have the same emotional attachment. They can look at it from a different angle.
Have someone read your work. Tell them why you feel stuck. You’re so close to your work that you might not see what is right in front of your face.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a writer is accept that sometimes I just don’t have a good idea. That’s a different kind of a problem and I’ve, more than once, have abandoned a project because it’s just not strong enough. At the same time, I have found that setting it aside, working on something else often gives me just enough space to find the weak spot and fix it.
Now. Let’s talk career.
There is so much in this business we don’t control. Even in self-publishing. We have to focus on what we can do and that’s keep writing and following our passion. We’re going to feel like a fraud. Imposter Syndrome is a real thing. I mean, wow, cool, I get paid to write about people who don’t exist. How weird is that? We’re going to come across people who are going to be snarky and say things like, “well, I’ve never heard of you.” We’re going to have moments where we question, is it all worth it? That’s normal and it happens in other careers, not just in the entertainment business.
So, when I feel these things creeping up on me, I do crazy things like, go to my Amazon page and remind myself of what I have done and how it makes me feel. I’ve done this since I published my very first book. And when my first publisher went bankrupt just days after my book came out, I cried. Then I reminded myself of how far I had come. This is a tough business and I’ve seen many talented writers walk away. There are only 100 spots in the top 100. But if I tell myself, I’m not going to get there, then I won’t.
I always think: The little engine that could…
You have five, ten, fifteen, fifty books under your belt, and it seems like it’s only getting harder.
I hate to break it to you…to be the bearer of bad news…to confirm what you already suspected, but it feels that way because it IS only getting harder.
New characters every time. New story lines. Books of the past blurring with what you’re currently writing…yup, it’s a lot harder.
And then there’s the niggling thought with every new project—is this the book where everyone is going to figure out I’m a fraud? I’m a hack. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’ve been cleverly faking it this whole time.
You go on Facebook and it seems like everyone is writing a new book every week, they’re bringing out fabulous covers, putting up pre-orders, meanwhile you’ve been struggling to outline for the past two weeks let alone finding time to get a single word actually down for chapter one.
Everyone seems to have forty hours in their one day while you have the standard twenty-four and your facing burnout.
This one is announcing a book deal. That one is announcing that they’ve finally given up their day job and can support themselves on their writing alone. Another became a best seller. And that one over to your left, she’s writing two at a time. She has super-secret projects she’s going to reveal to you soon. Oh, and she’s mastered how to effectively utilize Instagram while she was writing those two books and prepping that super-secret project.
And the whole time, they all seem to be making tracks across the country and overseas, attending fabulous conferences, hanging out with revered writers, and drinking glamorous drinks. You wonder from the pictures if everyone has a personal stylist and an unlimited bank account.
Some are acquaintances, others your closest friends, and in that moment you’re reminded that no matter how tight your bonds with people in the industry, you’re very much alone. And there’s a plan in your mind, in your heart, that you haven’t revealed to a single soul that you’re striving for, and it’s all sitting under the weight of how you see yourself in the shadow of everyone else’s success.
I’m here to tell you that shit is not real. Social media is where we put out our best side. We don’t share the pile of cat puke on the floor that appears to have dried days ago despite the fact that we’ve been off and on sitting next to it for the past twenty-four hours. We don’t share that we might have actually taken a whiff of our bra to make sure we can get by one more day of wearing the super soft awesomeness of no underwire, worn to the point of being dotted with fabric balls, and stretchiness that while comfortable, gives us uni-boob with some of our mammary gingerbread squeezing out the top in uneven lumps. We don’t share the pics where we’ve gone to the store in our favorite hoodie, the one with the big bleach blotch on the boob and our scraggly hair, not short, but not long either, hitched up in a crumbling ponytail. We don’t tell you that in aisle four we run our tongue over the back of our bottom teeth to make sure we brushed more than just the few in the front in our haste to get out the door. When that doesn’t tell us, you can find us in the accessories section of Walmart, squinting into those cheap, finger grease smeared mirrors at the top of the sunglasses rack trying to make sure we got all the plaque. We make awkward eye contact with a woman wearing pajama bottoms that say “Juicy” on the ass and she’s giving us that judgmental stare despite having just chosen to go shopping in her PJ’s.
We’ve hit rock bottom.
And why? Because every last moment we’re working on the next project. We’re balancing family, friends, and working seven days a week. We don’t know what it’s like to take a vacation and actually…you know…vacation.
We have fans. We have momentum. And now we have the pressure to keep that momentum going while the pressure to build even more momentum hovers over our shoulder breathing its stink breath in our ear. Fans are voracious and wanting the next story, now, now, now. In our political climate, trolls are coming out in full force, even in the romance world. Everyone is ready to fight, to confront, to call people out for having so much as an opinion about anything. Gasp! I can’t talk about fly swatters or Skittles without it turning into a political confrontation. Don’t believe me? I literally watched a post about tacos turn political from the very first comment while the author kept saying, “Guys, it really was just about tacos.”
We’re buried under the limited scope of success that other writers are projecting through social media. Despite telling ourselves not to measure our success against others, we are. My first piece of advice… cut out as much social media as possible. We’re authors, we have to be there, but we don’t have to dwell there. We don’t have to hop on Facebook every single time we take a break from writing. I’ve recently begun taking the weekends off from social media and it’s been incredibly freeing. Sure, I hop on, but I don’t scroll for long. Sometimes I post, sometimes I don’t. And I don’t worry about my ratios – you know the ones, for every book post you should post four personal posts not book related.
Every time we take a break from writing and hop on social media, we’re asking to have that strain heaped on us making it harder and harder to get back into a creative mindset. It’s affecting our stories, affecting our health, and affecting our happiness.
And nothing kills my creativity faster than that.
The other thing that might be holding you back…are you writing what you want to write? Right now, I can tell you I’m not. Okay, that might be too harsh, but I miss big books and I’m working my way back there after I take care of a couple of commitments. Not that I won’t continue with novellas, I absolutely will, but I miss really delving into a character and it’s nearly impossible in a novella. We have to do it shorter. You wanna talk killing your darlings. There’s almost no room for darlings at all. Novellas are more about the writer telling you who their character is and then letting the action play out. I want to show the reader. I want to let my character dwell in their thoughts and show the reader that they do understand the things they ponder and worry about—you know, the things they never say allowed. It’s actually one of the things that Jen gets annoyed with when she critiques for me. It’s also the one thing, despite what she says in her comments, that I barely dial back because my fans love it and write me fan mail based on it.
But what does it really tell me, I need to get back to books like Sunset at Lake Crane. I need to get back to the super emotional. I can write either, but the super emotional, longer books are where my heart is.
So… what’s holding you back? Unrealistic expectations, flirting with burnout, and not writing what your heart loves…
And very likely, impostor syndrome which is a much larger component of everything I’ve just discussed.
Almost every single writer on the planet suffers from impostor syndrome in one or more of its various forms. It lays in wait in the recesses of your mind, ready to cut off your wordy progress at the knees.
So, does any of this sound like you???
You’re a perfectionist – You set extremely high expectations for yourself and even when you nail almost every goal, you focus on the one little thing you missed and then feel like a complete failure. You will hang your ability to succeed on that one mistake and view all successes through that one failure.
You absolutely need to be an expert from the onset – Do you feel like you need to know every single aspect of writing or indie publishing before you start? Do you have to have every detail of your new story laid out right down to what color sneakers your hero wore to his high school graduation fifteen years earlier.
It’s all come easy to you, until now – You’ve never had to work very hard at achieving your goals. Until now. And because you all of a sudden do, you convince yourself that you’re not good enough.
Solitary existence – You feel like you have to tackle everything on your own. No asking for help because if you do, you failed.
Superhuman drive and need – You push yourself to work harder than everyone around you. And why do you do that? To prove that you’re not an impostor. You do it in your professional life and personal life, constantly chasing that high that comes with accomplishment.
Still not sure… well, if you dare, you can go HERE and take a test on Dr. Valerie Young’s site to find out.
As my career has progressed, I’ve found that what holds me back is less about the actual craft, and more about the weight of the pace and having a front row seat to only success stories of my peers. In order to preserve my sanity and keep my creative juices flowing, I need to take a step back, and remember that what I’m seeing is not the whole picture and that we’re all just showing our good side.
We’re all battling. Most of us just aren’t choosing to do it publicly.
Go for a walk. Clean the kitchen floor. Scrub the toilet. Paint. Anything that gets your body moving and exercises your brain a different way.
I’m not kidding. Doing something tactile will unclog your brain. It will give you a chance to breath and think while not staring at your computer.
When we’re new writers we start out all excited and we love our work and think it’s the best thing ever written. Then we go to a writer’s group, or RWA meeting, and we learn all sorts of things about writing. We hear terms like GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). Passive versus active voice. Point of View. Word counts for different publishers and their lines. Do’s and don’ts when querying editors and agents.
The more I learned about writing, the harder it got. It’s like the old saying, it gets worse before it gets better. My brain filled with so much information, and often conflicting, that I could barely write. I literally had to take a step back. I had lost what excited me to write in the first place.
I liken it to the kid who loves hockey, until he has to practice every day and it becomes work.
I felt as though I was being bombarded by rules that were tying my hands. I really had to learn to consider the source and understand that their opinion comes from their experiences and who they write for, ie: a big publisher, a small niche publisher, indie, or any other publishing option.
I think the number one thing a writer needs to do is figure out what their goal is. What is it that you want from your writing? One thing I’ve always wanted was to hit a list and last week that happened. I hit the USA Today Bestseller list in a Christmas anthology. Woot Woot! But guess what. I had to do certain things to get there, so I made sure what I was writing was helping me achieve that goal.
As you can tell, I’m a goal oriented person. And that isn’t my only goal. I want to get to a certain point financially. I want to have a paperback shelved in Barnes and Noble. These are some of my goals. So, one thing I’m doing is querying editors and agents again. This means I need to look at some of the rules in involved in this type of publishing and it’s different depending on the line.
But this path might not be what another writer wants, so their decisions will be very different from mine.
And that’s okay.
Here’s thing. It’s important to know the rules and understand them. It’s important to learn about all these different things so we can make informed decisions about our careers. We have to do our research in both the industry and in the process. It’s important to try different writing programs. Different processes. And it will fuck with your writing.
For a short period of time until you really understand yourself and what you REALLY want.
Once you remember what put you in a room, alone, to write a novel about people who don’t exist, things will start to click again. You’ll learn that while spreadsheets works for one, it doesn’t for another. While Scrivener is a great program, it might not be the one for you. Point of View, Narrative structure, GMC, and other things necessary in making a book good, will become second nature. You will know if you want traditional publishing, indie publishing, or be a hybrid author (and remember, every couple of years, assess your goals, because they could change).
And most important, you’ll find your own voice and then can decide what rules to break. Bob Mayer always talks about the three rules of rule breaking:
- Know the Rule
- Have a reason for breaking the Rule
- Accept the consequences for breaking the Rule
If you don’t know the rule, how can you have a good reason for breaking it? I think the why is always important in anything. I was on the phone last night with a writer friend who asked me to read something. I asked her why she did something and her response was: I don’t know.
You have to know. No matter what rule you are breaking, know why and understand there could be a consequence to breaking that rule.
Treat writing rules as guidelines. Parameters that you might step outside when necessary.
You can also treat publishing rules the same way depending on your goals.
So, as a new writer, if you find yourself at the point where you feel stuck, whether it be in your manuscript, or your career, take a step back. Take a walk. Find that one thing that excited you. Find that goal. What is your pot at the end of the rainbow? Then, sit back down, push out all the advice, and write YOUR book.
Every step of the way, whether novice or seasoned author, whether this is a hobby or career, we all have those roadblocks that drag their concrete asses over and plop themselves right in front of our creative highway.
The ones I had in the beginning are far different than the ones I have now.
You might see a bit of you in what’s to come…
You might be sitting in the center of what I’m about to describe…
You’re a new writer. You’ve been an avid reader for years. Essentially, through the process of devouring books, deep in that voracious brain of yours, you already know everything you need to in order to write your own book. No, it won’t be pretty. It will need heavy editing. But the pieces are essentially there in your mind just waiting for you to use them if you wish.
So, one day you sit down at the computer. You start paying attention to your favorites, what they do, what they talk about, events they travel to. You start to piece together the nuts and bolts of an author’s life beyond the final product that hits your kindle on release day. You see they’re going to RWA Nationals, or other small conferences. You see them talking about filling up their creative well.
So you start joining writer groups. You take some online classes. You one click thirty million books about saving cats, hooks, and writer tool kits.
You are pummeled by information about the “right way” to write.
The writer word starts screaming at you, sometime their advice solicited…often their advice unsolicited…
Other writer 1: “You have to outline.”
Other writer 2: “If you pants it you’ll never finish.”
Other writer 3: “First kiss by the 25% mark, sex by the 50% mark, black moment/climax at 75%.”
Other writer 4: “This trope is overdone.”
Other writer 4 (That chatty shit): “That trope is overdone, too.”
Other writer 6: “Write to market.”
Other writer 2 (Yeah, that asshole is back): “Incorporate high concept.”
You: Wait, what? What the hell is high concept?
Other writer 7: “Write what you know.”
Other writer 7 again after you show him/her your idea: “Wait—not that. Write something else you know.”
Other writer 3 again (The one writing formula romance only): “Oh, that’s not allowed.”
Other writer 8: “Don’t make it too gritty.”
Other writer 8 again driving his/her point home: “That’s not safe.”
Other writer 9 who is in the same writing group as other writer 8 and often wants to smack that uppity ass upside her bland head: “Don’t make it too sterile.”
Other writer 10 (This one is likely traditionally published and will offer to read your first 50 pages for you): “Don’t make your conflict a simple misunderstanding solved by a conversation.”
Blah, blah, blah, freaking blah.
See that utter bullshit up there? That’s what a beginner writer’s problem is.
Right. Freaking. There.
You’ve decided to write a book. Your family is patting you on the head and saying, “Oh, hey, that’s great” and rolling their eyes the minute you’re not looking. Classes are introducing aspects of writing you’ve never thought about. You’ve always loved the sausage, you understand it’s not just pork, but this is the first time you’re seeing the recipe to make the sausage. You are seeking information and getting bombarded with a bunch of unsolicited advice. You’ve convinced yourself that what you write has to be perfect before anyone can see it.
And you’re letting a writing world, one with old school veterans and breakout indies tell you there is a certain way to do it that’s the only right way.
I’m here to tell you, that’s utter bullshit.
When I started, conflict was a big deal. Conflict had to be strong. Now that our real life climate has become so divisive, romance is changing and becoming conflict light. As for that conflict that other writers might dismiss as not strong enough since it can be cleared up by a simple conversation…you have to ask yourself why the characters don’t have that conversation. If your characters are closed off, avoid confrontation, or maybe are young enough that they aren’t that forward yet, it’s understandable that the conversation would not unfold. A young adult is going to be less likely to lay it all on the line than an experience adult who has a serious relationship or two in their history.
Rules change all the time. They evolve. Traditional publishing is careful about what they publish. They take less risks. Indies are all risk. They don’t conform. They are the divergents of the writer world.
As a new writer, you’re worrying about being perfect, about following formula while finding your voice…about being accepted. Not just by readers, but by fellow writers. That’s the pressure that sits on the chest of a new writer.
Once you shed those confines, make connections, build confidence, you start to shed those roadblocks.
Which opens up room for roadblocks of a whole different variety…but more about that another day!
Write fearlessly. Right now that story belongs to you. Make it larger than life. Write something that makes you laugh, get mad, and cry. Even better, write something that makes you do all three at once.
Worry about the rest later.
I always say I’m the idea lady. You don’t like that idea, I’ve got another one. You don’t like that one? Let me reach in my back pocket and toss out another one.
It’s easier for me to come up with ideas for other writers because I really don’t have that much invested in it other than I want my friends book to be the best that it can be.
The only problem is that I can be seriously overwhelming. Brainstorming with me is not for the weak of heart. Casey has learned hone me in by asking me questions, which forces me to pull things in nice and tight. We enjoy brainstorming both in person/on phone, or in email. The nice thing about email is that you have a record of the conversation.
But it’s time consuming.
The nice thing about in person or on phone, you get to see the shiver moment.
But unless you record it, you might forget it.
As my friend Stacey Wilk learned, when you brainstorm with me, you need to say, “Jen. Just be quiet for one minute.”
Brainstorming is a talent. Really it is. I’m good at ideas. I’ve got a million of them, but that can be a weakness because I can take a story and toss it off in a million directions, getting lost in the details…because its not my story. My mind doesn’t see it any certain way.
The key to a good brainstorming session is to tell the other writer your expectations AND to always remember it’s YOUR story. Just like with critique, you need to find the nuggets that make sense for your vision and goal for your book.
If your the one giving ideas, remember, your job is to help the other author find that sweet spot. Help them muddle through all the unanswered questions that they need the answers for before they can start writing.
Brainstorming…the perfect storm!
We’ve all seen the articles for the various kinds of brainstorming: mind mapping, word clouds, lists/bullets, cubing, free writing, and umpteen others, and there’s nothing wrong with those, nothing about all, I mean, they are a huge help if you’re exploring your project or especially if you’re working alone. And we all know writing is almost solely a solitary journey.
But what I want to talk about is good, old-fashioned locking yourself in a room with a writing buddy and tossing ideas back and forth until you’ve forgotten to eat anything beyond cheese and crackers and at least one of you starts to smell like onions.
Okay, so maybe not that bad, but you get my drift.
No cell phone interruption, no social media, no drinking, LOL.
Just tossing out ideas. Ho-hum ideas. Laughable ideas. Often ridiculous ideas. Taking the nugget of a plan and asking a million “what ifs” and discarding them just as fast.
Two people, maybe three or four, the more minds the better unless, of course, you’ve got them all trying to yell over one another to be heard…all pinging off of one another with different life experiences, different tastes in books, shows, movies, different stories that each of them love to read, and all of them bringing a story, characters, and theme to fruition.
Recently, Jen and I were holed up in a hotel room, cheese and crackers at the ready, minus the onion smell, and pinging off of one another for hours. We tossed my novella into the ring for scrutiny, the mediocre story I had pieced together with dry-rotted, dollar store thread and threw every damn what if at it possible until only the characters and their careers stayed the same.
The mission, the character arc, the story arc all shifted based on our perceptions and our experiences. Every time we said, “What if he did this? What if she did that?” The other called into question why. Why would they do that? Why wouldn’t they just do A or B? Our life situations come into play. Maybe we’ve been in a similar situation and we know for a fact that the natural reaction is not what everyone believes it would be.
No ideas are bad. Ideas that don’t work still shape the character and the story by setting limits for where it won’t go. Those perspectives unlock avenues that you’ve blocked off in your mind. It’s like pulling in the lines of a massive circle, narrowing the space down at every turn until your character, your story, your arc, takes shape and flow in the direction of growth and resolution.
It doesn’t work with just anybody.
I firmly believe this. You need like-minded people. You need creative people who understand how solitary this whole writing process is. You need people who feed your creative soul. When you have that, you unlock something inside you that can’t be unlocked any other way.
How long has it been since you fed your creative soul?
What are you waiting for?