• Business of Writing,  Writing Process

    What does an experienced writer do when they get stuck?

    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…

  • Business of Writing

    Ahhhh, You Experienced Writer You…What’s Holding You Back?

     

    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.

  • Brainstorming

    The Art of Brainstorming: Knowing how to find the nugget!

    I love to brainstorm OTHER writer’s work!

    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.

  • Critique

    I want a divorce! I can’t critique with you anymore!

     

    First off, there are ways to help prevent a critique situation from getting to the point you’re walking away angry.

    It’s called communication.

    And communication is a two-way street of talking and listening. In my last post, I mentioned some critique situations that, while they were good for a while, wound up ending with hurt feelings, or anger, or in some extreme cases, loss of friendships.

    Why?

    Lack of communication and misconceptions regarding perception and reality.

    In a critique situation, you’re responsible for clearly stating your needs. And your needs, from critique to critique can be different. I have asked Casey to read just for plot. Or to look at one character in particular. I’ve asked to only look for when I’m being lazy with passive voice. I’ve asked her to look at all three.

    It’s Casey’s responsibility to tell me if she can do that or not. And in the time frame I need.

    It’s my responsibility to tell Casey if something is bothering me in her critique. Or to ask questions about something I don’t understand. Or even go back to her and ask for more suggestions. It’s up to me to tell Casey if I’m feeling neglected. Or if I don’t feel like she’s giving my work the attention it needs. I can’t expect her to read my mind.

    Casey and I have a unique critique situation because it’s not just about reading each other’s work. It’s about helping the other at all levels of our writing career. It’s about brainstorming plot. Character. Discussing career decisions. Conferences. This blog. The Boxset. Future writing projects together. It’s not one-demential. That said, I still need to make sure I’m telling her how I feel about the critique part of the relationship.

    But there are times to call it quits and to me it’s pretty simple.

    When you either no longer can give your partner what she needs/wants or you are no longer getting what you need/want AFTER you’ve discussed the issues.

    But you HAVE to know the issues because wants/needs go back to my rule about perception and reality. I could really think I’m giving Casey exactly what she wants and she could be sitting on the other end going, bitch, don’t you ever listen to me? I told you I wanted it this way!

    Then the question becomes: Did she tell me? Did I choose to ignore? Did I misunderstand? How long has this been going on?

    No relationship is without it’s disagreements, fights, and problems. But you have to decide how important is that relationship and what can you do to fix it? If anything.

    There is a fundamental problem with critique relationships. Writers are notoriously filled with ego on the one hand and horrible insecurity on the other. I often worry Casey will get mad at me when I’m so brutally honest about something. And, I’d be a liar if I didn’t think damn, I’m smart, now take that correction!

    When I think either of those things, I need to step back and adjust my thinking. A tall glass of wine usually helps. LOL. But I’m being serious. Not about the wine. When either ego or insecurity is ruling your critique process, it becomes toxic…to the other person.

    So, when I’m contemplating pulling back my thoughts, I have to think to myself, is this going to help Casey? If, I’m thinking I’m right and she should listen to me, then I need to pull back and again, ask myself, is this going to help Casey?

    Because it’s not all about me. Actually, it is but only when she’s reading my work.

    So, when do you call it quits?

    When you’ve done everything you can, but you still feel like shit every time you see an email from your critique partner.

    Actually, call it quits before that. That way you can remain friends. It’s like a TV show. Go out on top. LOL.

     

     

  • Critique

    It’s Not You, It’s Me. No, Really…It’s You.

    Okay folks, so here comes the hard part.

    Breaking up.

    Or knowing when to break up.

    Then actually following through.

    No one likes having to end a relationship. Whether it’s with a friend, partner, family member, and that’s no different for a business relationship. Actually, the stakes might be higher for a business relationship…because all of your mutual colleagues and acquaintances in your business world could be watching.

    So…are you ready to break up?

    There are a few signs that it’s time to call it quits with your critique partner.

    1. They’ve become complacent and their advice is no longer helpful leaving you still feeling stuck – Remember when I talked about making sure you don’t become complacent? If you missed it, you can find it HERE. We talked about those issues that you will see over and over in your partner’s writing that you might glaze over because they’ve become familiar. I suggested you make a list of those things so you can continually check yourself to make sure you’re not missing them in critique. Think of it as upkeep. Keeping your tools of the trade at their optimum level. Would a chef go into a kitchen with a dull knife? Nope. Keep your brain sharp. Keep your critique fresh.

     

    1. You’re starting to see too much of your books or ideas in their work – This is a touchy one. And seriously, it happens. It happens often without the writer even realizing it. So don’t rush out there assuming your critique partner is a thief. Life usually isn’t that dramatic, despite the fiction we write. Hell, for Jen and I, I’ve gone and written a story line similar to hers without having ever read her story beforehand. There are no real new ideas in this industry. There’s individual voice and creative spin. Fact of the matter is, if you give a group of authors a handful of elements they must use in a story, they will all come up with wildly different stories despite the common elements. Also, if you’re writing fast like Jen and I do, you may forget you saw a detail in your partner’s story and it can creep into your words. If it’s a super important idea or a unique element to your voice that creeps in…mention it. I can’t reiterate enough, especially if it’s voice. Especially voice. Because you’re their critique partner and if your voice is creeping into their work, muddying up their unique voice, it’s going to cause a problem with their readers. This is part of what you should be doing as a critique partner. And yes, I know approaching this is awkward. You know how easy it is for ideas to bleed into writing? Jen and I had a conversation on the phone where she used the term passive/aggressive…and no, I’m not going to tell you who we were discussing, lol. Next thing you know, passive/aggressive is in her next chapter…two or three times. Nope.

     

    1. There’s no more give and take and one side is feeling resentful for always critiquing and never getting anything in return – Okay, I think Jen is trying not to swallow her tongue reading this. Why? Because she turns over a lot more to me than I do to her. Well, right now I’ve had some other life stuff slow me down so that’s to be expected…and no, I’m not resentful. After all, I just sent two chapters to her to work on as she’s flying to Greece. Yup, I’m poaching on the 30th anniversary trip overseas…and I’m not ashamed! Sorry Mike!

     

    1. They steal your idea or work – I don’t mean mistakenly drifting into your voice or that little nugget of something I spoke about above. I’m talking you’ve plotted with them or you’ve told them about a golden idea you have for a book or series and next thing you know, they’re writing it. Or you see full blown lines that are almost identical to lines you’ve written. That’s betrayal. There’s no talking this one out and moving past it. Be done. But tread carefully with the breakup in this case. Keep it private. See advice on how to do that below!

     

    1. If you’ve let things about your critique partner irritate you without speaking up to the point where you spend more time thinking about those irritations than doing your own work – Jen, stop it. Again…not you, lol. If you’re someone who avoids confrontation, this is likely going to happen to you. And confrontation is too strong of a word in my opinion. Confrontation to me is often stern and hostile. But if you have a hard time speaking up, it’s likely because you view difference of opinion, or any discussion addressing something that’s bothering you to the offender as confrontation. If you’re at this point, you’ve done this to yourself. I would advise you to try to address it first in case you can move past the hurdle. If you can’t, it’s time to end it because anything weighing that heavy on your mind that it’s bleeding into your life is no good.

     

    1. If you’re nurturing seeds of resentment and are unwilling to address them or have let them fester too long to save the relationship – This really goes with the above…only this is for those of you who have fiery tempers, you know how you are, *Casey raises her hand* and you planned to address something, didn’t get to it in a timely manner, and now you feel like the time to address it has passed and instead it festers. Just like above, you’ve done this to yourself.

     

    1. If your partner has begun lashing out at you in critique or is displaying signs of jealousy and you are unable to talk it out – And let’s be honest here…if they are behaving like this, it’s going to be really tough to talk out. Maybe impossible. You should still give it a shot, but tread carefully. This is a sign that ego has drifted into a relationship where it has no place. I’ve been in a relationship like this with writing partner in the past and I let her have it. I mean, I thought we were both adults and I was blindsided by the venom she unleashed and the way she twisted my words. In that moment, any trust I had for her vanished. Just gone. And there was no way to get it back. In that case, there was no salvaging the relationship. More about how this breakup in just a minute!

     

    If you’re having issues with any of the above, it’s imperative that you address them when they crop up. The first order of business in this relationship is to always discuss anything bothering you or that’s not working for you. If you don’t address those issues and they fester causing you to break up with your critique partner, don’t think you can place the blame solely on their shoulders. You have a responsibility to the relationship/partnership to use your words and address issues before they have a chance to explode and take the relationship/partnership with it.

    So, you’ve done all you can, but it’s time to go your separate ways…so what do you do?

    Remember what you like about each other – You’re both going to be navigating this writing world. There’s no reason why ending the critique relationship has to end the friendship or cause bad feelings…well, within reason. As long as you’ve addressed issues honestly, in a timely manner, even if they don’t work out, there should be no ill will. The book world may seem huge, but I assure it’s not. You’d be amazed by how many people know who you are and how many people have talked about you. Give your former good partner some good things to say about you.

    If you sabotaged your own critique relationship by avoiding confrontation or harboring feelings of resentment, learn from it – Don’t hold it against your partner and end things amicably. Take a hard look at yourself and the part you played in the breakup so you can make sure you don’t make the same mistake with the next partner since good critique partners can be incredibly hard to find. Maybe it’s not like finding something as unique as a unicorn, but it’s definitely up there with finding a bra so comfortable you can sleep in it while it also props up your girls so they look great in everything, including a V-neck.

    And finally, a few things to consider if your partner’s behavior is so heinous that it torpedoes any chance of maintaining a friendship – Ahh, yes, we are back to my situation. Yes, I found her behavior heinous, I’m sure she would disagree. Did I handle things badly? Yup, there were things I could have done way better. Unfortunately in my situation, I thought we were close enough that I knew what would be okay with her. Without going into detail, I can tell you I based what I did off of what we had done in the past, not realizing that she would have a problem with it since she hadn’t thus far. Should I have asked? Absolutely. I just didn’t realize because we had never set the parameters and were applying the rules of our friendship which came first, to our writing relationship. Colossally bad idea BTW! Even if you’ve been friends for years, set the parameters of the business relationship. Agree how you are going to approach the relationship so neither of you can accidentally step out of bounds and ruin the underlying friendship.

    I can offer you one last tip to think about in the event that you break up in a way that permanently ruins the friendship…remember when I mentioned that the writing world although big, is small? People know who you are even if you don’t realize it? I’m sure you are friends on Facebook with your critique partner. I’m sure you follow each other on Instagram, Twitter, etc. DO NOT RUSH TO UNFRIEND OR UNFOLLOW YOUR FORMER PARTNER/FRIEND.

    Yes, it warrants shouting at you. I can’t stress this enough. It’s most important in terms of Facebook where it’s so easy to see mutual friends. My former partner unfriended me on FB unbeknownst to me right away. How did I find out? I got four emails the first day.

    Four. Freaking. Emails.

    Four people noticed on the very first day I was unfriended that we were no longer connected on FB. Actually, more than four, unless it just so happened that the only four who noticed happened to also have no qualms about nosing in on the situation and sending an email.

    What does that tell you?

    It should be telling you that people are watching. They either are brave enough to contact you and ask, or they’ll speculate behind our back. Hell, maybe both. So always consider how you handle your breakup and make sure you do it in such a way that both sides can continue on quietly without having others intrude.

  • Critique

    The misconception of misconception…or lions and tigers and bears, OH, MY!

     

    One day, long ago, in a round hotel, by a casino, in town not so far away, Casey and I sat eating cheese and drinking Diet Coke contemplated the topics we might cover here in the world of the Crafty Word Slingers. I sat with a yellow pad in my lap and created a schedule as we brainstormed our ideas. Ha! Brainstorming will be a topic in the coming weeks!

    As you can see, I’m a very tactile person. I like to hand write things. I have an iPad and an Apple Pencil now and I love it. But I digress.

    I’ve always tried to live by the idea that perception is reality. While we each might experience the same event our realities could be vastly different. I hate rollercoasters. They terrify me. So the few times I’ve gotten on one, it’s been hell. But my husband loves them, so for him, the same exact event is spectacular!

    So, while Casey and I shared the same space for a great weekend (this I know she’d agree on), the ideas we settled on for this blog, our perception of what we decided might be different.

    Why am I bringing that up? Because this can often lead to a misconception and misunderstanding.

    I’m going to state flat out, that I agree with Casey’s post, especially that critique is not a shortcut past all the other steps to polishing your work, whatever those steps might be for you.

    I remember my very first critique group. It was four authors. One published. Three unpublished. It was a great group. We meet up once a month, though we often tried to do it 2x a month. We sent each other a few chapters to read and when we got together, we openly discussed the work. I’ll never forget one author saying to me, “Molly, you in danger, girl!” Essentially telling my character was behaving like she was too stupid to live! We had one rule. The person being critiqued couldn’t talk until after all the other authors had their say. I love critiquing like this. It was like sitting back and listening to reader discuss your work, only it was your peers. At the end, we all gave each other the notes we’d made on the manuscript. This often had other mark-ups, like line-edits, tense issue fixes, typo corrections. If someone didn’t have anything for us to read, but wanted to brainstorm, then their time was used on that. I really feel like my storytelling really improved during my time with these women. They helped me develop three-dimensional characters and compelling plots.

    But as things often happen, things changed and the group stopped meeting for a variety of reasons, one of which it didn’t work the same way it had in the beginning. Some of us were doing more work than others. Some of us were doing different things. It eventually became a grind, and not a positive.

    I was devastated, but found another group. Five writers. All unpublished. We did chapter by chapter. I also loved critiquing this way. I got a wide range of opinions, but what was interesting about this group is that each one of us tended to focus on different things. Two of us (not me) did mostly line-edits. Very little story or character. Just line-edits. Let me tell you, I leaned a lot from those two women. It strengthened my writing in a different way. There were two of us (yes me) who focused more on plot. We were always asking them: what’s the conflict? Or, why are these people doing this? Does this matter? Is this driving the story forward? The 5th woman tended to only focus on character. And damn, could she write some really creative characters. I loved her characters and she helped us all with ours.

    But this group had its own set of flaws and it created misunderstandings. Hurt feelings and eventually, it too collapsed.

    I’ve been in some bad critique situations where every time I got a critique back, I had to go take a long walk before I opened it, knowing that it was going to make me feel like shit. As Casey said, critiques can tear us to shreds. This is why I always suggest you take baby steps into any critique situation.

    But more importantly, not only do you have to take care of what you have, you have to take care of what you give.

    I believe there are many misconceptions about critique, but it all starts with self and our perceptions of what we give and what we want to take. I talked about some of my critique situations because honestly, at the time, my expectations of critique were different ten years ago then they are now. My needs are different. My perception is different, therefore so, is my reality.

    As a critique partner, you have to realize that you’re reading with a bias. Not necessarily for the writer, but for yourself. You come in with your own judgments and personality. Your ideology about story and writing. You’re own process. You have strengths and weaknesses. You have blindspots.

    And so does your partner.

    The misconception is that these things don’t affect how you give advice and how you take it. I believe it is very important to understand your own process in writing. The more you do, the better a critique partner you will be, because it will no longer be about you and your perceptions, but about your critique partners.

    Next week. When to call it quits! Oh boy. I’m going to have fun with that one!

     

     

     

     

     

  • Critique

    I Don’t Have a Magic Wand So Don’t Expect Miracles…

     

     

    This isn’t me. I know, you’re shocked, right? LOL. My stomach has not been this flat since I was 8. And I’m definitely not rolling in enough money to have an office that looks like that. If I did, not gonna lie, I wouldn’t be getting much writing done. I’d be sniffing all the book interiors like a child of the 90’s huffing White Out.

    This week we’re going to talk about common misconceptions about critique… for me, this is short and sweet. It comes down to one essential fact.

    There are limits to a critique partner’s abilities!

    Critique has the unique ability to both tear an author to shreds and build up their ego to mass proportions…often at the same time. It temps an author with a false sense of security.

    It’s a misleading seductress…don’t fall for that shit!

    Are you expecting miracles with the critique process? You think this means you can short change editing, skip beta reading, eschew a final read through with your own eyes?

    Don’t tell yourself that lie.

    1. Critique is not a copy edit or a replacement for copy editing.
    2. Critique is not set in stone. It’s not all the right answers to the final exam.
    3. Critique is not a full reader perspective. Critique is not a replacement for a team of readers with different thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and life experiences.
    4. Critique is not a shortcut past all the other steps to polishing your work.

    Critique is not line or copy editing. My focus as Jen’s critique partner is first and foremost story. We’re essentially developmental editors for one another and since we are, our focus is character and plot. We’re focused on wordsmithing the hell out of each chapter. In that process, we can’t also be focused on the technical aspects. After all, there’s a reason why there are different types of editors and why it’s always a good idea to hire different editors to do different types of editing. Fresh eyes for every level of correction. Don’t look for this from your critique partner. They make catch a few things here and there, but there’s no way in hell they’re catching everything. Hell, I have a BA in English Literature and still can’t master commas or proper dialogue punctuation. My verb tenses? A bloody nightmare. At this point, I would need rigorous training in order to even consider editing either punctuation or verb tense.

    Critique is not set in stone. Jen’s opinion and commentary on my work, and mine on hers, is not the be all end all. It’s subjective. You take what advice resonates and leave the rest. If a comment resonates to a degree, but you don’t like your critique partner’s suggestion for how to fix it or change it, talk it out. It’s possible that the solution is somewhere in the back of your mind and by picking it apart together you’ll come up with a solution that fixes the issue, but is also a solution you’re comfortable with. It’s all pliable.

    Critique is not the reaction all readers will have. Being an author changes how you read. Period. This colors our reaction to one another’s work. In order to get a true reader reaction…before publishing, of course, the story has to land in the hands of beta readers. Beta readers who are straight up readers and fans of the genre…in other words, don’t hand your chick lit or contemporary romance rom-com to an avid thriller reader. You won’t like the way it all turns out.

    Critique is not a replacement for your own final read through. This really goes along with the editing. You have to read through your story one final time…after critique, after beta reading, after editing, and even after proofreading. There are no shortcuts in this. You’re the one who has it all riding on reader reaction. You’re the one with a fan base you don’t want to lose or maybe a fan base you’re trying to build. Don’t take shortcuts. Readers will notice. They’ll tell their friends. They’ll post it on social media. Worse, they’ll put down your book and never pick up another one you write. Can you afford to lose a loyal reader or a potential new one? No. None of us can.

    Stay tuned for Jen’s take on the misconceptions of critique coming Monday!

  • Blurbs,  Writing Process

    A blurb isn’t a blurb until you’ve finished the book…Or is it?

    Everyone has a different writing process and this is one place where Casey and I really differ. Really, really, really differ.

    I don’t love writing blurbs, but without that as the foundation of my story, I’d be totally lost when I tried to get past the first sentence. I always know when I struggle with the first chapter, it’s because the blurb isn’t right.

    Or I didn’t write one. Bad me!

    First, I want to address the blurb must be 150 words. This is something I had never heard of being a hard and fast rule. I know there has always been debate on how long they should be, what they should cover, etc etc. I do know that not all blurbs are created equal. Kind of like bios. I have three different bios I used for different things in writing depending on the audience. I think back in the day, the same was true. A writer need something similar to an elevator pitch. A short blurb covering perhaps just the story idea. And the long blurb.

    I spent a lot of time back in 2004-2007 before I got my first book deal, writing query letters and approached a query letter as the back cover copy of the book.

    That is how I approach my pre-writing blurb.

    I believe a blurb must cover the theme and tone of the story, along with the central story question at the very base level. I think it should touch on the goals, motivations, and conflicts of the main character. I also think the more specific detail you give in a blurb, the more you’re either giving too much, or making the blurb flat and for me, if I wait until after I’ve finished the book, I tend to be focused on the details and it then reads something like, than this happened, than this happened and then OMG read to find out what happens in the end.

    I’m a plotter who pants her way from point A to point B. I have to know where I’m going. I need a map.

    Casey mentioned needing to know her characters first, and she got to know hers in chapter 2. Well, if I don’t know them from the get go, I’m screwed. I wouldn’t be able to write the first paragraph.

    I don’t need to know all about them, but I do have to know their core personality. I also need to know where the story is going, otherwise I will get lost. Below are my notes for BURNING BED. I wrote those before I wrote the blurb. Then I wrote the blurb.

    And remember, the blurb is subject to change!

    So, what did I need to know?

    The Story Idea: What if someone murdered your brother to cover up corruption in the local police department?

    The Heroine: Tabitha Nelson. Age 28. Driven. She a real estate agent. Parents died 2 years ago in a car accident. Brother killed 2 weeks ago in a house fire. She thinks her brother was murdered because he was on to possible major corruption in the local police department, leading all the way to the District Attorney. She believes that the local fire inspector covered up evidence.

    The Heroine’s Goal: Prove her brother was murdered.

    Her Motivation: Clear her brother’s name (he was linked to a drug ring AFTER his death).

    Her Conflict: Someone is trying to kill her.

    The Hero: Garret Pierce. Age 30. Youngest of three kids. A bit shy with the ladies. Was called the Jolly Green Giant his entire life because he’d been so tall and it affected his self-esteem when it came to asking women out. Dry sense of humor. Sarcastic at times. But a really big heart.

    The Hero’s Goal: Help keep his neighbor safe.

    The Hero’s Motivation: He’s falling in love, but also, as they uncover evidence, he believes her brother was murdered.

    The Hero’s Conflict: the man who maybe the mastermind is an old family acquaintance.

    Now here is the thing. There is a lot I didn’t know about this story when I started. But as Bob Mayer always says, story can change, Ideas can’t. This why I try to keep the blurb I’m writing to share with the world free of specific details, but gives the reader a little tickle in their brain that says, read me!

    Now, here is the blurb I ended up with, BEFORE I started the story based on the above.

    Tabitha Nelson knows her brother’s death was no accident, regardless of what the local fire inspector and police department says. Having found her brother’s computer and all his notes regarding a local news story he’d been working on corruption, she makes it her personal mission to find out who killed her brother. Why they killed him. And to make them pay, even if that means pointing the finger to the first responders.

    Only the louder she gets, the more strange and dangerous things begin to happen to her. This forces her to turn to her neighbor for help.

    For two months, Air Force Fire Protection Specialist, Garret Pierce, has been admiring his sexy neighbor from a distance, trying to get up the nerve to ask her out. Now he tries to ignore her all together. He had nothing to do with fighting the local fire that claimed her brother, or the subsequent inspection of the cause. However, if looks could kill, he would have spontaneous combusted every single time they crossed paths.

    So, when she comes banging on his doors at two in the morning, begging him for help because someone tried to set her house on fire, he’s more the skeptical. That is until she steps into her bedroom.

    Together, the unravel a trail of corruption and a sinister plot that puts them both in the line of fire.

    The real detail I have is the two in the morning. I added that in when I wrote it because it’s a key element in their romance.

    For me, the blurb is my foundation. It’s my rock. It keeps me focused and whenever I’m struggling, I go back to this and see where I might have derailed. I’m not married to it and I can tweak it. That said, this is the IDEA for the story. NOT the story.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

  • Blurbs,  Critique

    Blurbs: A Necessary Evil…but When? Before or After?

     

    I hate blurbs.

    I hate them with the searing heat of a thousand suns.

    When I started writing, there was a rigid notion that blurbs should be no longer than 150 words, if you were a rebel and willing to push it, 200, and they had to conform to a three paragraph format. Her, him, them. Or Him, her, them…whichever worked. Quite literally the only real freedom was in whether or not to feature the hero or heroine first.

    Then, as I tore my hair out while trying to conform to that style, I noticed an up-rise of fearless indies throwing caution to the wind and flipping their figurative middle fingers to the accepted conventions and going for it.

    Suddenly dynamic blurbs of all varieties inundated the book world. We had short blurbs, long blurbs, fragments, first person, third person, one word declarations…wow!

    It was literally the one stop candy shop of blurbs. It didn’t matter what your taste was, there was something out there for you from bitter dark chocolate to tart sour patch candies and everything in between.

    I tried to break out of the mold. Dammit, I wanted longer blurbs, but everyone in my author groups, my tight circle of friends, those who had traditionally published or were currently traditionally published gasped at the idea. “You can’t do that!” they said.

    Well, why the hell not?

    I thumbed my nose at anyone who told me I can’t and instead did what I wanted. And it was incredibly freeing.

    You know, as long as I could write them AFTER I wrote the story.

    And then I was writing so fast I needed to have blurbs ready before the story was finished.

    *blink—blink—blink*

    What do you mean I need to have them first? I’m a pantser. I don’t even know how it ends, hell, I’ve written stories where I’ve forgotten to give my hero and heroine last names until the very end. Now you want me to wrap up the basics of their story in a neat little bow?

    No.

    *Stomps foot—flips the bird*

    It’s just not the way my brain works. Oh, I can write the blurb first, but it’s going to be a steaming pile of poo and my story is going to go on so many different tangents that the underlying premise no longer resembles what I’ve been forced to put down on paper.

    This goes back to my having the perfect first chapter. Look, logically I know I can go back and edit the first chapter. But it’s my framework. And the thought of building something on a foundation that’s not set, with rotting boards, rusted nails, and leaking windows is enough to set my heart racing while panic floods me from head to toe.

    Since I don’t know my story, even condensing a story idea in 250 words is nearly impossible. It’s like trying to plot a whole book in a just a few words when I still don’t know my characters. I get to know them as I write. I start to think about their life situations and put together how based on who they were raised to be and who they choose to be influence the here and now.

    I sometimes don’t know a whole lot about my characters until I’m a chapter or two in. I work them out on paper. Here’s an example:

     

    “Well, well, well, now who is that?” Lavinia asked, an appreciative grin forming on her 1980’s red lips.

    Blair followed her gaze, and her lungs seized on a gulp. “What’s he doing here?”

    Lavinia’s drawn-on eyebrows disappeared under a poof of bleach-blond hair dropping low over her forehead. “You know him?”

    He pushed away from the hood of his sleek, black, luxury whatever the heck it was car that might actually be just as mysterious and exotic as the man now walking toward her.

    And so far out of her price range, it made her heart pinch.

    “I’m not sure anyone really knows Evan,” she murmured as her mouth ran dry at the sight of him.

    Black dress pants, probably designer from the sheen and quality cut, hugged his thighs as he strode toward her with one hand in his pocket and the other flexing at his side.

    Tension radiated from him, but Lord help her, she didn’t care. She’d known from the first moment they’d met when she’d spilled her cup of spiced tea at her favorite coffee shop that he was something different.

    He’d been polite, with those Clark Kent, square-jawed looks and dark-framed glasses designed to make the wearer look scholarly, but in his case, they only made her fingers itch to slip them from his face so she could get lost in the warm, amber depths behind them.

    Fire and ice.

    Cool and detached on the outside, but those eyes—God, those eyes told a whole different story.

    An elusive tale likely no one would get to the bottom of.

     

    This is chapter 2, page 17. Chapter 1 was in his POV and still I didn’t know who he was. Evan had already been in three other novellas as a side character. When the time came to write him, I hadn’t a clue who he really was, or what made him tick. I knew with all of the others even when they were still secondary characters.

    The scene above was my “aha” moment. The reason I didn’t know who he was went right to the basis of who he was as a character so his being a mystery, even to me, worked!

    So, how on earth am I supposed to write a blurb before I do the above?

    Wanna see what happens when I try?

     

     

     

    See…a hot mess! It’s okay, you can agree with me. I already know.

    I struggle to narrow it all down. I find halfway through writing the actual book that my characters do not look anything like what I’ve outlined in my blurb. And worst of all, as a pantser, I find I’ve boxed myself into conformity and I struggle to let my characters drive the story because I’ve already committed them to a certain reality.

    What I have learned, if I figure out how to do a rough outline, I might have a chance…but who are we kidding? I’m probably not going to learn hot to do a rough outline.

    Because I’m stubborn.

  • Critique

    A day late and a dollar short…Does critique make us a better writer?

    I was sick yesterday and couldn’t get my brain to function properly. I apologize for being a day late in this post!

    Let me ask the question again: Does critique make us a better writer?

    My answer: Yes OR/AND No.

    Casey made a comment a while back about taking care of what she has when it comes to her critique partner. Well, you have to do the same thing when it comes to your writing. If you don’t use it, stretch it, keep learning and growing, you’ll become a very stagnant writer. (Casey’s eyes are twitching. I used the word VERY and I left it there just to make her cringe. I’m so mean!)

    So, what does this have to do with critiquing and becoming a better writer?

    It goes back to finding the right critique partner or group. The wrong one can be detrimental to your writing. You want to work with writers that want to lift you up while they tear you down. KIDDING, sort of. We’ve said it before, but it’s worth reporting, you want writer’s who will check their ego at the door and focus on helping, not picking.

    But there are other problems with critique groups that can injure your writing.

    I remember back in the day when I was a contest junkie. I entered two manuscripts in an unpublished contest. They both finaled! Go me! So, I got the same final judge who wrote me an interesting note. Oh, and no, I didn’t win that contest. But it was more than worth the entry based on what this judge, who was an editor at HQN, said to me.

    In a nutshell, she told me in one book she felt like my unique voice had been stripped. She said it was well written and blah blah blah, but it was the blah that got to her. There was nothing different about it and it was almost as if it had been critiqued to death. Where the other book was raw and full of powerful characters that popped right off the page. Of course, she told me that one had a few different kind of writing mistakes that as I learned my craft, I’d learn how to fix.

    What I had done was taken in EVERY stitch of advice and changed that book based on probably 15 different opinions (including judges from contests) as I rewrote and rewrote until it became a clump of perfectly strung together sentences (stop laughing Casey, it does happen sometimes), but had no meat. No substance. It didn’t have that special something that made it a Jen Talty book. Flatter than a crepe.

    To this day, that comment has stuck with me. It’s why I don’t have a ton of readers. I have Casey. I have Beta Readers, and I have an editor. And I change up the beta readers, not having the same one read all the time.

    That wasn’t on my critique partners/group/others. That was on me. And frankly, not all advice is created equal, especially since I had gotten contradicting advice on one particular element of the book.

    Another thing to consider is while you can pick up good habits from being critiqued and critiquing, you can also pick up bad habits. And this isn’t something you obviously do subconsciously. It’s why Casey and I both agree, you need to pick partners that are close to your level and have the same goals. You also want to make sure that the person critiquing your book isn’t projecting their own writing and ideas into yours. Meaning, they’re honed in on how THEY write and not how YOU write (though below you will see how it can be done in a way that shows it’s an opinion).

    It works the same in reverse. Whenever someone makes a comment that makes me immediately shake my head, nope. You’re wrong. Screw you. I need to consider why I had such a strong reaction. Usually means that there is at the very least, a hint of truth in the comment.

    One thing that Casey and I will do in a comment is write: I would do or if this were me. That’s qualifies the opinion. We only do this when we KNOW we’re projecting. That is key: Understanding the difference between suggesting something based on an analysis of the writing and telling a writer an opinion.

    Here is an example of making a suggestion based on analysis:

    This is based on analysis of my writing, specifically of my character development and is the character behaving as I have crafted. It took some fineness for me to change this in a way that really worked, but the comment really made me think about what my possessed character was doing and how she was changing.

    Here is an example of a comment made based on an opinion:

    The reason I wanted to show these in a wrap about critiquing is that I truly believe it’s important to understand we all have different perspective and realities. This is Casey’s opinion and she states it clearly. It’s not about the writing. It’s not about how to make the scene better. It’s an opinion and trust me, I’ve given her my fair share of opinions on things I absolutely would not do or would not want to read. It doesn’t make what I did wrong. Or right. And to be frank, I left the reference in. Did I take a risk? Sure. But I also took a risk in another book by dealing with religion and how it can affect relationships.

    But here is the deal. I’m glad she made the comment, giving me her opinion. I trust and value her critiques. It doesn’t mean that I think she’s the be all end all. But I left that comment bubble in the book until the very end and went back to it and decided it went to a point I had made later on in the book.

    I have found that when I’m in the right situation, I find myself pushing to be a better writer because as I read my partners material, I’m thinking, damn that was good. I want to be able to write like that. Or as I read their comments and analysis, I think, wow, that’s interesting. I never looked at it that way. It’s why Casey and I are good together. Her strengths are very different from mine, so we’re constantly learning from each other.

    Being critiqued is as important as critiquing. It only works when each person takes responsibility for their own writing and their own comments and analysis of one’s work.

    So, yes. Critiquing can absolutely make us better writers, but we have to be aware of the built in pitfalls and constantly question both yourself, and you’re partner.