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!
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.
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.
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?
Ahh, the shiver moment. That moment in time where you read something you wrote and goosebumps. The hair stands up. You know the moment I’m talking about. It’s when you look around you, you see your family, or maybe you’re alone in your office, and realize that no one quite knows what just happened and there’s no real way to explain.
I have a feeling the shiver moment is more profound for me at times since I’m a pantser.
A pantser who is currently working really hard at not being so damn pantsy. So far it’s not going so hot. I’m definitely trying to shoot holes in the theory that there is a way to outline a book for everyone.
Anyway, that’s not what you’re here for today. Today we talk about the shiver moment. You know the one…where something you write is so great that your fingers freeze over the keyboard, forcing you to take in the words in all their glory. Or…that moment where you’re pantsing *Casey raises her rebel hand* and words fly from deep in your psyche through your arms, hands, and BOOM…they’re right there on the screen…finally telling your character’s “it” factor.
I’m a firm believer that these moments come to writers easier when they shed the confines of writing rules or what other writers say you should or shouldn’t do, and just let those rogue fingers fly.
Those are the snippets of work I go back to when insecurity tries to grip me by the throat. They drive me to tell the next story, and the next, and the next.
So this week, it’s about showing you our shiver moments.
And it’s important to note…a writer’s shiver moment isn’t necessarily the readers. It can be, but it’s really about those little glimpses that encourage a writer to believe in themselves or that moment when the pieces slide into place and you learn something about your character that makes the whole character arc come together.
So…I’m going to start with Sunset at Lake Crane. Super emotional story that had lots of shiver moments. My hero is gutted. Gutted and angry. Angry almost to the point of not being redeemable. At last, not to traditional publishing.
Grant and Erynn had a rather taboo history. He was a student teacher her senior year of high school and shortly after graduation, they run into one another again, and a hot affair ensues. Now, don’t get that face…she was 19 when she graduated after missing a year of school when her parents died in a car crash. Without saying goodbye, before summer ends, she disappears without a word.
Now, it’s 8 years later. She Grant writes under the pen name, Alex Cole, and is a big time author who has managed to conceal his true identity. Erynn is an in-depth reporter for a literary magazine who manages to snag a rare interview with…you got it…Alex Cole. This is a scene from early on in her interview.
“I don’t do serious.”
His tone invited no argument, but the reporter in her wanted to know. So did the woman. “Why?”
“I just don’t.”
It was her turn to smirk at him. “Now who’s full of it?”
“Don’t,” he bit out.
“Can’t handle it?”
With surprising speed, he spun toward her. He leaned his face within inches of hers, the muscle along his jaw jumping. “Can you, Erynn? Can you handle it?”
“Absolutely.” She stood her ground, leaning toward him with almost as much aggression as he’d leveled at her.
“I don’t do serious because—” He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again she saw more agony in their depths than she’d thought possible. “I’ll never give another woman enough of me that she has the power to gut me when she walks away. Not. Ever. Again.”
Welcome to the moment where I realized I adore angsty, tortured, growly men!
Next is from Shielding Blair. I had been writing Evan as a secondary character for three books and he was the one of the four that I hadn’t really figured out. And in chapter two, writing this scene, I was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t be able to pull this story off…until this ah-ha moment. The moment I realized he needed to unfold for me at the same time as the reader and the reason I didn’t know much about him was because of his mysterious nature that was an integral part of who he was meant to be as a character in his own book.
“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 next snippet is the shiver moment that I didn’t even realize was one until Jen read it and told me. More than six months after this was published, she still recalled it as something of mine she read where she said after, “God, I wish I could write like that.” BTW…she’s got her own shiver moments that make me wish the same! This one is the opening paragraph of Marked…a story I just got the rights back to and will be republished soon:
White-hot rage permeated every last cell of Micah Alessi’s body. His fingers curled into his palm, his fists clenching until his neatly manicured nails left crescent digs in his olive skin. In a rare show of temper, he slammed his fist down on his two-hundred-thousand-dollar Parnian desk.
This is from Bewitching Her Warlock, on standby for republishing and my first paranormal…when I was terribly insecure about attempting to write paranormal.
They say knowledge is power.
Only, knowledge in its infancy can be a deep breath of horrifying realization before the exhale of heartbreaking acceptance.
Brigid O’Rourke held the stretched skin of her now-empty belly in the palm of her hand as her life leeched out in a river of red, soaking into the damp moss and the rich earth below.
Her girls would live.
She would not.
Her first glimpse of their pink, screaming faces had been her last.
Searing sorrow pierced her ravaged heart.
And finally, my second paranormal, On the Run, also waiting for republishing, where I realized, I might actually be getting the hang of this whole writing thing…
Conceit is poison.
It’s a sinister elixir that when left unchecked, runs rampant and infects everyone it touches like a futuristic superbug with no cure.
It seeps into their pores and attaches to their cells becoming a living, breathing shield that blinds one to their faults.
It annihilates humbleness and humility and turns people into pillars of judgment.
I worked next to her for years. I gave up time with my friends and family, and devoted myself to her work.
I made it possible for her to perfect the recipes for her concoctions by doing the thankless tasks in the shadows of her success.
I forfeited glory.
I see her now, through the dingy bay window of her atrium, bustling about. Dried herbs hang from twine strung back and forth overhead. The spring in her step tells me that she’s just come up with another recipe.
A new way to tweak lives.
One more step toward perfection.
I should be there, beside her.
She told me she would teach me the ways, make me her apprentice.
She turned me into her slave, and when it came time to fulfill her obligations to me, she said I was too lazy, too emotional, and untrustworthy to learn the secrets of the craft.
Little did she know, I paid close attention.
When she wasn’t looking, I wielded my power.
And she’ll pay the price…
I solidly recommend all writers mark down those moments in their writing and revisit them when insecurity bubbles up. Or when the story isn’t flowing. And definitely when the urge strikes to beat one section to death with editing instead of moving on to the next. Seriously, there are dark days ahead for all of us, whether we’re writing book five, forty, or one hundred, when you might need to pull them out to remind yourself that yes, you really can do this!
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.
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.
Okay folks, so here comes the hard part.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.