Of Writers and Prose: Writing after an illness.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxI have a very unusual factoid about myself; I went into the emergency room of the local hospital once a year for about seven years. A few times it was minor (seriously sprained ankle) a few other times it was serious (mild concussion, appendicitis), but even with the minor health problems, it still knocked the hell outta me, and put me off of my writing routine.

Getting sick can throw a writer off faster than anything. It’s a strange feeling too look at the open word file and know I wanted to write, but the words weren’t there. My mind goes silent. It’s disconcerting as my brain is constantly at work; plotting out ideas, dialogue or scenes. From the moment I wake up until I fall asleep, that’s all I think about, and not always about the same WIP. I have distractions, work, games, life and the internet, but even at night as I try to relax and fall to sleep, I play out in my mind a plot or idea for a story.

Out of all the health issues I had, the concussion was the worst. Not only did I not feel like writing, I didn’t feel like doing anything. It was a good week before I even entertained the notion to open a word file and fell into my nightmare. I stared at the words on the page and no matter how many times I read or re-read, nothing came to me. I literally had no idea what to write. This wasn’t writer’s block. This was something else and it scared the hell out of me. The idea that I may never create another story scared me so much I refused to look at any word files. My fear turned to anger and I deleted the story desktop icons on my screen. I wanted nothing to remind me of what I couldn’t do anymore. My husband was incredibly supportive. “Just leave it alone,” he said. “It’ll come back to you. Do something else.”, but that was it. I don’t know how to do anything else. I can’t paint or draw, can’t sing or play music. Writing is the only creative outlet I have and I’ve been doing it since I was seventeen. For those few weeks, I never felt so absolutely useless. I don’t’ know how else to describe it.

I focused on work and played games. I was still in a fog at work; and they gave me short shifts to help me heal. It was a good two weeks before that feeling set in. You know the one; you’re supposed to be doing something, but you don’t know what. That was my brain telling me that I hadn’t written anything for a while and I need to get my ass in gear. I was excited. It was another week before I opened a word file, but the words didn’t come easy. I found my attention drifting to other things, things that didn’t require me to think. Games mostly, but in that non-thinking mode, it would poke at me; and I’d go and look at the file again. Slowly, over the course of another week the words came, but not in the way I expected. I was writing new words, but revising the pages I already had. I re-read scenes and found countless ways to improve them. I was pleasantly surprised to find my creativity had kicked up a notch. This is part of the reason why I re-opened my zombie survival novel.

The second worst was my appendicitis. Three weeks of recovered and I had to be careful how I moved so not to rip my stitches. Any kind of pain is a creative killer for me. Game over. Done. It drains my energy and forces me to focus on being comfortable instead of creativity. The recovery was a slow process, but I did manage to get a few pages written.

I’ve told you all of this because I’ve always been a strong advocate for being in the best mindset for writing stories. I dislike the adage of a writer having to write every day, because quite fucking frankly, we’re not always up to it and forced writing to me, it worse than not writing.

If you’re sick, take care of yourself. You are the instrument in which the stories flow. If the instrument is not in proper care, the story suffers. Be good to yourself. That’s all that matters.

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A Company of Writers: First pages be damned!

companyofwritersOpenings suck. Seriously, they do. You always hear “Don’t worry about the opening, just get the story out!”, but any writer will tell you that once the story is ‘out’, the opening line of your manuscript becomes the do-or-die moment. As a matter of fact, the whole damn first paragraph, page, chapter fall into this category as well.

No pressure. Really?

This is evident in a series of tweets I recently saw. If you’re on Twitter, I suggest you save the hashtag #tenqueries. Some agents ask for a first chapter sample with your query and every so often these agents will give their first impression of the subbed chapters. Their comments can be a real eye-opener, especially when the reasons for rejection are easily fixable.

I’ve beta-read a lot of first chapters. Sometimes that’s as far as I can get, and sometimes that’s as far as I want to get because I now the author will make the same mistakes throughout the entire novel, and if I’ve picked up on that, you can bet agents and publishers have too.

Many times, first chapter problems are a result of the writer’s over-enthusiastic prose. They want to ‘set the tone’ or ‘mood’ for their story, but instead, bore the reader with info-dump and back story that drives the reader away. I once read a chapter where the author wrote three pages on the political climate of an alien race to explain the reason the MC was making a brief stop at the planet. Nothing in those three pages had anything to do with the plot. All irrelevant backstory.

Another problem I’ve come across is this need to outline the MC’s entire day. What they did, wore, ate from the moment they got up. Unless there are elements of foreshadowing, it’s pointless to keep it in your story and they you will lose the reader’s interest. I’m not telling you to throw it out, just don’t put it in your story. All this information is useful to YOU, just not always useful for the reader. Back story can be used SPARINGLY; a brief glimpse into what may be motivating your character to take the action she or he does.

The first few pages must grab the reader; make them want to know why your MC is doing what they’re doing. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of explanation, just enough to pique the readers interest. Once they’re interested, they’re all yours.

Of Writers and Prose: How NOT to Make Money Writing.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxIf you hadn’t notice, I didn’t promote any of my books for all of 2017.

Not once.

Nada.

It was an experiment to see if not promoting my work, but rather, focusing on interactions online, would have any effect on sales. While I can say that I did make money (roughly $16 per month, and considering my prices that’s saying something), the second half of my experiment goes into play this year – promoting.

I know authors that would rather crawl out of their skin than promote themselves or their work. Constant promoting can and will take a toll on the author. Plus, no one wants to be inundated with never-ending tweets or Facebook posts to buy books either. This is one reason why I decided to take a year off; to see if just having a presence online has any effect.

During last ten months I managed to post on my blog on a fairly regular basis, and not all about writing. Writers tend to huddle in groups and promote only between themselves. It makes sense; writers are avid readers as well, but we have to step outside of that bubble and find the non-writers. That’s why I blogged about things other than books or writing; hobbies that I love or things that my husband and I did together and the other things that interest me. I have just over 100 followers on my blog (awesome!) and I think a lot of that has to do with the posts that were outside the writing sphere.

Second thing I did was NOT promote on Twitter. I did help a few author friends with Thunderclaps which IMO is different. Also, when I linked blog posts to Twitter, I didn’t go nuts with hashtag links. As a matter of fact, for all of 2017 I think I barely used any when I cross-posted my blog posts. The result; I did see an uptick in followers, enough so that I finally broke 1k. For me that’s a milestone as I’ve been on since ’09. I wasn’t actively try to gain followers either. I want people to follow me for the same reason I follow others; because I’m generally interested in them or what they’re doing. Twitter is a great place to connect with other writers, especially for support and I plan on doing a blog post on it in 2018.

Lastly, I paid more attention to my Facebook Author Page. That was the hardest of the three as I had to switch accounts to post. Half way through the year I realised I could hook it up to my personal account and do things without having to sign out of one and onto another. I will be experimenting with this come the New Year. One thing I did learn, never pay for Facebook post boosts. I haven’t read a blog post on paid boosts that was positive about the program, which tells me they’re not worth the time or money, and with the way Facebook algorithms change (I swear from week to week) you’d be better off saving your money and putting it to something more useful. IMO, if you have a following that is organic, they will do what Facebook ‘claims’ their post boosts do.

So here’s to a year of good promotions! I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings.

Of Writers and Prose: I am the Muse and the Muse is me.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxYou hear a lot from writers about the Muse; that wonderfully invisible entity that bestows upon us lowly creatures the plots and creative inspiration so we can write our novels, but many tend to use them as an excuse to not write.

“My Muse isn’t talking to me today,”

or

“I wait until my Muse whispers in my ear before I write.”

Sound familiar? While that may sound like divine intervention the reality is, we are the muse. I read this article on how our mind use its synapse to co-ordinate activity across a several parts of the brain, and delves into a hypothesis of a ‘mental workshop’; a cognitive function if you will, where the brain engages several key areas to manipulate images and possibly ideas.

How Imagination Works

Our brain is a complex organ and we’ve only just begun studies on it. T act that it can take a familiar idea and rearrange them into a new concept to me is incredible.

Creative Thinking

I believe our imagination is a muscle skill. As we learn how to create new ideas, the stronger the skill becomes. I learned this first hand when I upgraded my math. At the beginning of the course, I could barely work on fractions but come the end, I could calculate an equation like Charles’ Law  in my sleep. Like those who are more skilled at singing or math, I believe that some people are more ‘hard-wired’ to be creative than others. Does that mean those who creativity doesn’t come ‘naturally’ are any less creative? No, but it may take a little longer for them to achieve the level of creatively they desire. You can’t sing opera after one lesion; so is it with writing.

Even with all this new information, I still think the notion of an invisible entity whispering in our ears is romanticised, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only when we use this this idealized fascination as an excuse for not doing something that it becomes a problem.

Remember, the Muse waits for no one.

Of Writers and Prose: The 3 F’s of Writing.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxWe’ve all seen those writers who claim their story idea is ‘a million dollar idea’, and we quietly snicker behind their back in haughty derision at their inflated egos, but I think we could all stand to take note of their self-confidence. These are people who, for better or for worse, ignore that negative voice that tells them their story isn’t as good as everyone else’s; they ignore the possibility that their novel won’t be read or that their writing is crap. Now I’m not saying get all egotistical about our work, but learning to love our writing is a hard thing to do, especially when we read other people’s books and we see such a perfect story.

F #1 – Frustration: Frustration comes when we constantly compare our work to other writers. I’ve talked about this before (as have others) how we must NOT compare our writing career with other authors. Whether it’s style, ability or even financial, they’re not us and we’re not them. I dislike hearing new writers say they want to write like Stephen King, or Anne Rice or whomever they idolize. They set lofty goals, and when it’s not achieved, they fall into depression. That’s when those nagging voices take over. You know the ones. The voice that says we’re not good enough.

F #2 – Fear: Fear comes when we’ve convinced ourselves that our work will never be as good as the author we’re trying to mimic. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t worry about my writing. I worry no one will read it or that my stories aren’t good enough. Notice the present tense? That’s because this is something that’s with me all the time, but I don’t give into that fear. I accept all the fear and the worst case scenarios. Unlike frustration, fear can be an easy thing to dispel. If you’re afraid your writing isn’t good, then do what you need to improve it. Read more or take a class on creative writing. Talk to other writers, and you’ll see you’re not alone. If you’re afraid no-one will like your book, understand that no one can write a book that relates to everyone. If you’re afraid no one will read your book, join the club. That is a fear that we all have but if you write what you would like to read and I can guarantee someone will read it.

F #3 –Fulfillment: Fulfillment is like a breath of fresh air to a writer. It can start out as a small thing, like writing for an hour a day, and slowly increasing to encompass a lofty goal like getting an agent or publishing a book. Fulfillment’s grow and change over time and we have to make sure we grow and change with them. We must push ourselves to the next level once a fulfillment is complete. We grow each time we succeed, and even if we fall back into an old pattern, we can’t let that keep us from achieving our goals. We can’t let ourselves go backward and give into our fear or frustration, otherwise we’re f*****.

A Company of Writers: Writing those first few pages.

companyofwritersOpenings suck. Seriously, they do. You always hear “Don’t worry about the opening, just get the story out!”, but any writer will tell you that once the story is ‘out’, the opening line of your manuscript becomes the do-or-die moment. As a matter of fact, the whole damn first paragraph, page, chapter fall into this category as well.

No pressure. Really?

This is evident in a series of tweets I recently saw. If you’re on Twitter, I suggest you save the hashtag #tenqueries. Some agents ask for a first chapter sample with your query and every so often these agents will give their first impression of the subbed chapters. Their comments can be a real eye-opener, especially when the reasons for rejection are easily fixable.

I’ve beta-read a lot of first chapters. Sometimes that’s as far as I can get, and sometimes that’s as far as I want to get because I now the author will make the same mistakes throughout the entire novel, and if I’ve picked up on that, you can bet agents and publishers have too.

Many times, first chapter problems are a result of the writer’s over-enthusiastic prose. They want to ‘set the tone’ or ‘mood’ for their story, but instead, bore the reader with info-dump and back story that drives the reader away. I once read a chapter where the author wrote three pages on the political climate of an alien race to explain the reason the MC was making a brief stop at the planet. Nothing in those three pages had anything to do with the plot. All irrelevant backstory.

Another problem I’ve come across is this need to outline the MC’s entire day. What they did, wore, ate from the moment they got up. Unless there are elements of foreshadowing, it’s pointless to keep it in your story and they you will lose the reader’s interest. I’m not telling you to throw it out, just don’t put it in your story. All this information is useful to YOU, just not always useful for the reader. Back story can be used SPARINGLY; a brief glimpse into what may be motivating your character to take the action she or he does.

The first few pages must grab the reader; make them want to know why your MC is doing what they’re doing. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of explanation, just enough to pique the readers interest. Once they’re interested, they’re all yours.

Of Writers and Prose: WARNING! YOU’RE LOSING MONEY BY NOT DOING THIS ONE THING!

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxDid I get your attention? Of course I did. No one can resist clickbait and if you say you don’t fall for it, I call bullshit because you just did.

Just like clickbait, writers need snappy titles on their blog posts to attract potential readers. It’s hard enough to come up with original material on topics that have been done a gazillion times before, but trying to put your personal ‘spin’ on them can be even harder. Maybe that’s why writers have let their blogs fall by the wayside over the last couple years.

When I first started blogging way back in . . . (I can’t even remember) people blogged about all sorts of things, and then someone realised you could sell more books with your blog and (I feel) it went all to hell from there. Just about every writer out there started their own blogs and wrote about writing and their books. It became more about the number of subscribers and ‘hits’ than making a connection and or discussions. Naturally, people got bored of re-reading the same stuff, stopped reading and suddenly . . .

BLOGGING IS DEAD!

It isn’t dead. It just got bored.

I’ll admit, in the early years of my blogs (at one point I had three), I was one of those people who wrote only about the industry, and then I read an article about how writers needed to expand topics and attract readers who weren’t writers. We were trapped in this bubbled known as the ‘writing sphere’ and in order to to increase your readership we needed to step OUTSIDE of the sphere.

Wait? You mean promote to ACTUAL PEOPLE?

Here is where a new age of blogging begins; a renaissance even. Blogging was once about important global conversations that had to be said; opinions that needed expressing. Now it’s personal. It’s about the smaller, but just as important events that happen in our lives. Non-writers read books too, but we need to connect with them on a different level; a more personal level but that doesn’t need to be a scary thing. You don’t have to blog about every part of your life, but we should include other aspects of our lives on our blogs. Hobbies they like, or shows/movies they watch. A multi-topic blog can (in theory) bring new readers; readers from OUTSIDE the writing sphere. This is where our audience waits for us. Let’s connect with them again.

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