Writing: time, the illusion of control?

My grandson, Nate, laughs at me, because when I leave the house, I always wear a watch. He’s eighteen. Time still stretches before him. He goes to school and works, but if he can get together with his friends often enough, he’s happy. For me, time flies by, and I try to squeeze in writing, marketing, friends, and family, plus my favorite TV shows and reading at the end of the night. Time keeps growing more and more precious. Somehow, no matter how organized I am, something doesn’t get done. If I write all day, I don’t weed a flower bed, dust the house, or take my daily walk. If I play 3 games of Spider Solitaire, I might not get enough time to read. Everything is about choices.

Nate laughs at me because he says my watch and the clocks that grace every single room of my house are simply illusions. Just because I watch their minute hands tick by, I can’t buy myself any more time.

I’m not the only one who frets about time. I have brilliant friends at my writers’ club. I love the work they do, and most of it has eventually found its way into e-books. But they’re so serious about the writing process that they grow impatient with marketing. After all, they could write three or four pages in the amount of time it takes to twitter, facebook, and connect. So they don’t market. In my opinion, a mistake. A person might write a mind-blowing book, but no one’s going to find it unless the author lets them know it’s there.

When the kids were little, I was happy to write one book a year. I timed the opening scene for the first week the kids went back to school and I outlined it out so that I finished the last draft before their last day of school in early June. Then I’d send out queries to agents and editors during the summer, and if nothing happened (I got enough rejections to wallpaper my entire home), I’d toss the manuscript in a drawer and start a new book the next Fall. But that was carefree, hope-for-the-best writing and marketing. I’m more serious now, and I have too many ideas to be satisfied with one book a year. I’d feel like I was doing the books I’ve finished a disservice if I didn’t promote them now and then. So these days, I spend the first hour of my work time every day, doing marketing/connecting before I write the first word. I twitter on Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays and try to hit twitter again every evening after supper for fifteen to twenty minutes. I facebook on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays–even though I’m not sure how or if Facebook works. But it might. So I don’t want to ignore it. And on Sundays, I write my blog.

I write at least three to four hours most week days. Some days, the words flow. Some days, they don’t. But if I sit there long enough and pound on them, I usually end up with something I can work with. That was NOT true when I hit periods of high stress and worry in my life. I forced msyelf to keep writing, but the results were brittle and sad. And I could only work for an hour or so. But it did keep me disciplined.

Everyone has different amounts of time to divide into chunks for the passions in their lives. But the truth is, writing is hard work. It takes time. So does marketing. And that’s why I wear a watch. I know if I skimp on my writing too many days in a row, a chapter or a scene won’t get finished. If I don’t twitter or connect, my rankings will drop. None of us has more than 24 hours in each day. So choose wisely.

Thought I’d add this. It’s a great blog on how to twitter effectively: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/5564139-the-captain-s-blog-

Also, here’s my webpage, with a new, free short story, The Pied Piper, on the last page, if you’re interested.

Last, but NOT least, I want to thank Stephanie at http://stephanieneighbour.com/ for nominating me for a Versatile Blogger Award. I love Stephanie’s blog. It makes me laugh or smile every Monday morning. There are rules that go with this nomination, so I’m going to fly through them (because I love Stephanie), but I’m not fond of rules. So here goes:

I need to list 15 bloggers that I admire:

1. http://stephanieneighbour.com/ (Stephanie has to be numero uno this time around)
2. http://www.rachelsroberts.com/ (I just love Rachel’s voice)
3. http://rachelintheoc.com/ (A very practical Rachel with great tips)
4. http://findingfaeries.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/there-is-no-lif/ (my friend, who believes in magic)
5. http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2014/05/character-reactions.html (make your writing great)
6. http://sia4215.blogspot.com/ (original and creative)
7. http://www.ilona-andrews.com/ (because she’s one of my favorite authors)
8. http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/ (This blog hits everything–writing & marketing)
9. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/04/16/ten-things-id-like-to-say-to-young-writers/ (to shock you & it’s darned good!)
10. http://www.lindsayburoker.com/ (always informative)
11. http://kriswrites.com/#sthash.KZathY2S.dpbs (because I bow before her writing skills)
12. http://www.cainer.com/yearahead/librat.html# (because everyone should read their horoscope)
13. http://lisagardner.com/writers-toolbox (honestly, awesome!)
14. http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/2012/03/character-actions.html?spref=fb (more awesome)
15. http://www.writing-world.com/romance/love.shtml (because I’m starting work on a romance novel:)

I’ll tell you 7 things about myself next time. I want you to have a nice week:) And this blog is getting long. Why bore you now?

Listening to other writers

I mention my writers’ group a lot on this blog. My husband is really supportive of my writing. So are my family and friends. I’m lucky. They all ask about what I’m working on and genuinely care. When I wax too lyrical about the nuts and bolts of plotting, pacing, or marketing, they do their best to hang in there, but no one really appreciates the nitty gritty of a job like the people who are doing it. If a group of teachers get together, they talk teaching. Nurses talk about nursing. And writers…well, we talk about writing. Getting together with my group, twice a month, is a chance to talk about craft, frustrations, and news.

The other place I enjoy talking with fellow writers is on twitter (@judypost). Twitter has writers of every genre and every level of success. It has people who specialize in marketing and the business side of writing. It has bloggers who list reviews. It’s a nice place to meet new people and keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening. And it has experts who share their advice.
If you’re not on twitter, you should be. If you are on twitter, be warned–it can become habit forming. I have to limit my time there so that I actually WRITE, not just talk about writing.

Every once in a while, I list links where I find really good information on writing or marketing. I’ve found all of these because of twitter. I think they’re good, so I thought I’d share them with you.

For marketing, I think it’s hard to beat Lindsay Buroker. http://www.lindsayburoker.com/book-marketing/newsletters-101-email-marketing-for-authors/ Her advice is practical and straightforward.

I also recommend Rachel Thompson’s tweets and links: http://rachelintheoc.com/2014/03/favorite-tools-create-visual-content/

For writing techniques, I’ve enjoyed K.M. Weiland’s posts: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2014/03/character-arcs-4.html
and on character reactions:

I also like Chuck Wendig’s blog–but he can be a bit irreverent and may swear occasionally–
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/04/16/ten-things-id-like-to-say-to-young-writers/–(probably why I like him:)

Someone on twitter sent me the link to Jim Butcher’s blogs on scene & sequence. Both good:
http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/2647.html http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/2880.html

This blog post is mostly about sharing with you. I’ve enjoyed these, hope you do, too. Happy writing!

Writing: writers’ groups

I’ve been lucky enough to be in a few different writers’ groups over the years. When our city had an active, vibrant, independent book store, two friends and I worked together to invite writers we’d met at writing conferences to do book signings and lectures there. Back then, authors were encouraged to travel to different cities for signings. Fort Wayne’s between Chicago and Indianapolis, so often we could get authors to stop at the book store as they passed through town. When we couldn’t find anyone, Dawn, Carl, and I would do panels once a month for the store. We met a lot of different, area writers that way. The experience was fun, and we learned a lot until the crowds got too big, and the store finally hired a publicist to coordinate its events.

My longest membership in a group, though, has to be Summit City Scribes. Each time we meet, three people (who’ve volunteered ahead of time) read, then we go around the table and critique their work. Our focus is on strong writing–hook, pacing, plotting, word choice, etc., but we also talk about marketing and share news with each other. I’ve read and heard almost all of the information before. We all have, but that doesn’t mean we always apply it. And it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. Scribes pushes me to write my best.

There’s a second writers’ group in town that meets once a month in the evening, from 7:00 to 8:30. This group invites a speaker each time who gives a program or a workshop. They’ve discussed Show, Don’t Tell; How To Develop Characters; Different Ways to Build Strong Plots; How To Find Agents and Sell, etc. I’ve attended some of their programs and enjoyed all of them. Plus, it’s nice to mingle with writers I don’t see very often.

Once a year, our main library offers a Fall Author’s Fair, and usually several of us volunteer to do panels with question and answer sessions. It always encourages me to get together with fellow writers and talk craft. Our approaches are different, but our goals are the same–to grow as writers and encourage each other.

Just a quick note

Wanted to say that my novella bundle, Gorgons & Gargoyles, is up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and more.

I invited some writer friends to my house yesterday for a novelcon.  We’re all working on books, and we each bring a chapter we’re fighting with or unsure about to share for feedback and brainstorming.  Inbetween readings, we yak about writing or plot points we’re struggling with, etc. and brainstorm. It was an awesome day.  My friends push me to be a better writer, and I do my best to push and encourage them.   Anyway, while we chatted away, Paula complimented me for pushing my boundaries and writing skills on my novellas.  Thank you, Paula!  That was my intention when I started these.

For the Gorgons & Gargoyles novellas, I wanted to concentrate on relationships and battles.  Every urban fantasy has action and fight scenes, so I wanted to practice on those.  I also love Greek myths and thought it would be fun to write a story about one of the sisters, who got cursed and left behind after Perseus killed Medusa.

Ally and her sister, Stheno, were Medusa’s older sisters.  Medusa was the only mortal of the three girls.  Eventually, she’d age and die.  When Athena cursed them, they fled to an island, their beauty converted into ugliness.  All three were so hideous, if a man looked at their faces, he was turned to stone.  The curse made them targets for hunters, who wanted their heads to use as weapons against their enemies.   Both Medusa and Stheno were killed.  For centuries, Ally’s fled from place to place, hiding, until she settles in the Summit City and meets Dante, a gargoyle, who swears to protect her.

cover_mockup_34       http://www.amazon.com/Gorgons-Gargoyles-Ally-Dante-Novellas-ebook/dp/B00I3KG7CY/ref=sr_1_10?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1391110606&sr=1-10&keywords=Judith+Post

Writing: when good enough, isn’t

Writing’s like Boy Scouts.  My grandson, Tyler, belonged to one of the most wonderful Boy Scout troops anyone could hope for.  He learned SO much.  But one of his leaders signed every message she sent him with “Good enough–isn’t.”  Thank you, Mrs. Dirig!  That was pretty much the motto for their troop.  Don’t just try to get by.  Excel.

I belong to a writers’ group–one of the BEST writers’ groups–and I’ve looked at pages for lots of writers who’ve joined us and stayed with us.  I’ve read writers with lots of potential who had no sense of sequence or grammar.  Those things are something a writer can learn.   Everything’s something a writer can learn, but some things are harder than others.  Using active verbs instead of passive verbs is something we yap about on a regular basis–so often, in fact, it becomes a mantra for us.  We go on and on about opening hooks and inciting incidents, about the book’s big question.  We ask about the protagonist’s outer and inner motivaton, pacing, plotting, the book’s big showdown–it had better deliver, word choice…you name it.   And we learn from each other.

The hardest thing to critique, though, is when someone reads and the words flow, everything SEEMS right, we can’t find a flaw, but none of us are excited about the story.  Clean, but boring, is harder to work with.  It’s taken me a while, but when that happens now, I know it’s not what’s THERE, but what ISN’T that’s the problem.  And that’s even harder to explain to a newer writer.

Sometimes, the yawn factor happens because the author tells, instead of showing.  We’re not living the events with the protagonist.  We’re not holding our breath when he’s in danger.  We’re not feeling heart palpitations because the guy who’s hot looks our way.  We’re kept at a distance while the author TELLS us what happened.  But even after writers master the art of Show, Don’t Tell, their stories can be flat.  Then our group has to take a harder look at what’s NOT there.

Are the stakes high enough?  Does the protagonist care enough?  Is the story too pat?  Has it been done to death?  Is there an original slant to it?   Or is it so out there, we can’t relate to it?  We ask all those questions, but when we’ve exhausted everything else, sometimes it comes down to something even harder to put a finger on.  Is the story immediate enough?  Are we connected enough to the protagonist?

I’ve said it before in this blog, but a lot of readers read for emotional impact.  They want to laugh, cry, and despair with the story’s main character.  I used to have problems with this in my own writing.  I tended to be too private.  I was more of an idea writer than an emotional one.  I started with mysteries that were plot driven instead of character driven.  When I switched to urban fantasy, it was hard to add the internal dialogue and feelings that drive those stories.  But that’s one of urban fantasy’s strong points.  The characters’ emotions are what ground the magic and supernatural action in reality.

To start the writing year off right, I’m including a list of great sites about the craft of writing and marketing.  I hope you’re inspired in 2014.  Happy writing!

Lisa Gardner offers one heck of a feast of advice on her site:  http://lisagardner.com/writers-toolbox

When Les Edgerton gets down to the nitty-gritty, I always learn something: http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/2012/03/character-actions.html?spref=fb

I don’t just use Victory Crayne’s critique advice to look at other writers’ work.  I use it when I look at my own:  http://www.crayne.com/howcrit.html

While you’re at it, why not learn from one of the best?  http://winningedits.com/neil-gaiman-on-writing

And why not finish with one of my favorites?  http://www.ilona-andrews.com/category/articles


May the Muses bless you for the year ahead.






Writing–Goals for 2014

Each writer has a different approach to his craft/skills.  And no one’s right.  And no one’s wrong.  But I work better when I give myself goals.  One of my friends at Scribes–my writers’ group–believes that a writer should give a book however long that story takes to grow into itself and be the best that he/she can make it.  He says that a writer who writes less, writes better.  And that works for him, but it’s not necessarily true for me.  If I dilly-dally over a story too long, I tend to rewrite it for no good reason, and I don’t always improve it.  I do better when I think out a story BEFORE I start writing and then make it the best that I can while I pound on the keyboard.

I do believe that a writer can rush a story, to the novel’s detriment.  Or to the writer’s.  I’ve seen people do it.  They burn out.  But I also believe that a writer can play with a story over and over again without making it better.  I’ve seen people do that, too.  This year, I am going to push myself, but I think that my goals are do-able.  This year, I want to write the third book in each of the series that I’ve started.  That means that I’ll have to write three novels in twelve months.

Like I said: do-able.  I’ve never tried the nanowrimo month of pounding out words.  50,000 words in one month would leave me with so many re-writes, it wouldn’t be worth it.  My brain doesn’t function that fast.  It would take me longer to fix the holes in my story, play with transitions, and smooth out the wrinkles of a plot on speed that I’d spend more time polishing than doing it my usual way–plodding along.  I won’t even mention how much work it would take to flesh out my characters.  I usually have to do that anyway.  In a hurry?  The reader might learn what color hair and eyes they have.

But when I plop my fanny in a chair and get serious, I can usually produce 5 to 10 pages a day.  I never work on weekends–except for writing my blog, and that doesn’t count.  It’s “talking” to friends, not writing.   And I never write on Scribes’ days, because I think and talk writing so much, I can’t write when I get home.  But even with those days scratched from use, I should still end up with twenty, good, writing days a month.  That’s 100 to 200 pages, probably somewhere in the middle.  In 2 months, I should have a rough draft.  Give me another month, and I might have a finished draft.  If I’m lucky.  That means, if nothing jostles me off track–and I am well aware that Life happens, best laid plans, and all that–but if nothing goes seriously awry, I should be able to write a book in three months.  That gives me time to think and plan about the next book before I have to start writing it.  And if I finish THAT book in three months, I have a month to do character circles and plot points before I sit down to write the third book.

It all looks good on paper.  It could work.  So why not give it a shot?  If it doesn’t happen, I won’t hang my head in shame.  I might bang my head against a wall, but that usually improves my thinking:)  Anyway, hopefully, by the end of 2014, I’ll have three books in each of my three series.

I don’t know what your writing goals are for 2014, but good luck with them!  It never hurts to plan (and maybe dream) ahead.  Here’s wishing you all the best!




Writing–Enjoy the Words

I love my writing group, Summit City Scribes.  We get together twice a month and critique each others’  manuscripts.  We mention what we find strong and wondrous in each piece and what we think might make it better.  We bully and encourage each other, and eventually, most of us end up being pretty darned good writers.

And then it’s time to figure out what to do with what we wrote.  This isn’t a how-to about selling books.  It’s not practical advice, but from the heart.  Some of us in Scribes have been writing for a long time.  I remember the days when a writer could send a query letter directly to an editor at a publishing house.  True, the editor might never look at it, but some poor underling or slush pile reader trudged through each submission, and if it was deemed worthy enough, a writer could get a reply from the editor. These were  considered “good” rejections.

A few of us at Scribes have managed to survive “almost” deals, where an editor asked for a manuscript, held it to publish, and then the deal fell through.  Twice, editors held novels I wrote for future lines their companies meant to start, and then, for whatever reason, decided against trying.   Frustrating?  Yes.  But not nearly as frustrating as today’s world of traditional publishing where no editors or slush pile readers even accept unsolicited manuscripts.  In today’s world, an author has to find an agent, and only an agent can submit manuscripts to editors.  In the “old days,” publishers had a strong stable of midlist authors who might never reach the Top Ten lists, but sold consistently.  There were lots of places to submit and sell short stories.  A new writer could “cut her teeth” and learn as she got better and better at her craft.

Things have changed.  I have a writer friend who claims that finding an agent is easy.  It is for him.  He’s well known in the publishing world.  For the rest of us?  It’s blood, pain, and tears.  I was lucky enough to get an agent who’s anything and everything that I’d ever hope for an agent to be, but I still didn’t have any luck selling my books. I have a habit of writing cross-genre that I find exhilarating, but publishers aren’t so fond of.  I also have a tendency to write for markets that are already full or starting to sag.  So I bugged Lauren to let me put my writing online.  She warned me that sticking a novel on amazon and Barnes and Noble, etc., would be no trip to overnight success.  And boy, was she right!

Before she’d even put my work online, she had a list of to-dos I had to complete.  I needed 50 followers on Twitter, I needed to start a blog and join some kind of internet group–I chose Goodreads and love it–and I needed to be on Facebook.  None of these are any best kept secrets.  There are lots of posts on how to create a “brand” as a writer these days.  But what Lauren was making sure of was that I’d at least TRY to market myself and promote my work.  No one does it for you these days, unless you’re a big name author who will make a publisher lots of money.

Writing is hard work.  So is marketing.  And what’s frustrating to me is when a new author shows tons of potential in our group, and she asks, “What should I do now?,” more often than not, the answer is, “If you want to try to find an agent and publisher, go for it.  But if it takes forever and it doesn’t look good, put your work online.”  Thankfully, Scribes has Melissa, our computer guru, who can whip up a book cover, format a book, and put it on Kindle in the blink of an eye.

The sad news, to me, is that it’s so hard to get a traditional publisher to take on a new writer these days.  The good news?  E-books have taken the place of midlist author slots and pulp fiction magazines that used to serve as practice grounds that gave writers time to learn and grow.  But going the e-book route, an author has to market and promote to get her work any attention.  The only exception that I can think of, off the top of my head, is Harlequin romance.  Editors there still welcome writers and work with them.  A writer doesn’t have to have an agent to submit to one of their lines.  More places might exist, but I can’t think of them.

In a way, it’s so easy to put a book online these days that there’s no filter to assure quality of writing.  There are so many books online that it’s hard to stand out.  So my advice to writers?  Enjoy putting words on paper (or computer screens) and write the best books you can, because that, for me, is the luxury part of the job.  The business part is necessary, and I’m not saying it’s not without its joys, but it takes a new set of skills.

What Makes You Write

This blog might meander more than most.  And be a bit longer, so be warned.  But people write for different reasons.  I belong to a writers’ group, Summit City Scribes, an eclectic mix of people whose main focus is to make our writing better.  After we discuss active and passive verbs, repetition, characterization, or pacing..etc., we might discuss a market for whatever was read.  The point is, we put writing first, marketing a dismal second.   I’ve gone to other groups that flip the two.  Selling is the major focus, and what to write that sells is the main discussion.  They talk about writing too, but it’s more about making the perfect product that will catch an editor’s eye.  And to be honest, I think more people sell in those groups than in ours.  Why?  Because they’re better writers?  No, because they’re more realistic.  They don’t just sit down and write whatever strikes their fancy.  They look at the market, study it, and write for a specific publisher.  They write smart.  Does that mean I wish our group would change?  No, because our group encourages writers, whether they’ll ever sell or not.  But if you want to sell, you should know the markets.  Study them and tailor your novel or short story or article to them.

I’ve said before in this blog that I never thought about writing until my husband enrolled me in a class called Writing For Fun and Profit.  My girls were still in diapers, and it was a gift from him (he babysat each week so that I could go), a time for me to get out of the house and away from being a Mommy.  The teacher liked one of my articles enough to encourage me to try to sell it.  She even suggested a market for it, Byline magazine.  So I sent it with a little note and didn’t expect much.  I got a letter a month later offering me $25 for it.  And I remember being thrilled and telling my husband, “I think I’ll write more.  This is easy.”  And I wrote and I wrote, and discovered that NOTHING about writing is easy.  I’d had beginner’s luck, and the rest of the process was tricky business.  But by then, I was hooked–an addict, so I wrote anyway.  Writing for some, like it was for me back then, (probably is even now), is an outlet–a spigot that offers release when too many thoughts and energies build up and gush forth on paper.  Only I couldn’t just stop at journaling or scribbling in a diary, I wanted to control those words and jostle them into stories.  And then I wanted those stories to be more powerful, and I began to take writing very seriously.

I’ve known people who read hundreds of romances, sit down and KNOW the rhythm and internal rules of romance enough, to whip off a forty, sixty, or eighty thousand word manuscript and sell it on the first, second, or third try.  I am not one of those people.  I’ve never thought of myself as a race horse or thoroughbred.  I’m more like a pack mule or a work horse–the tortoise instead of the hare.  I’m the type who dips my toes in the water, works my way up to my knees, then my shoulders before I take the plunge.  Some people dive right in.  They start by writing novels, gong to conferences, making connections.  I started with short stories, sold some to small anthologies and got paid in copies, before I sold to major magazines and anthologies.  Then I started thinking about novels.  And I had a unique knack for writing what no one wanted to buy.  “Sorry, cozies are a glutted market right now.  Good writing.  If you write something else, please keep us in mind.”  And did I take the hint?  Stop writing cozies?  No, not me.  I thought the pendulum would surely swing back, and then I’d be sitting on a treasure house of the stupid things.  See what I mean?  Marketing matters.  I was a slow learner.

A person joined our group once, came for a short while, and then quit coming because he told us, “I don’t want to waste my time writing unless I’m going to be paid big money for it.”  And we told him, “Good luck.”  If you think you’ll get rich by writing, I hope you ARE one of the lucky ones.  It still hasn’t happened for me and most of my friends.  I do have a friend, who writes romances for Harlequin, who’s selling like crazy.  But she’s also a marketing whiz, one of those rare writers who’s good at writing AND good at selling herself.  Another friend put her book on amazon and was at the right time with the right thing and sold lots of copies.  But the general rule?  It takes a lot of work and time to make a name for yourself.  The writers I know who write for money do nonfiction and are regular contributors to magazines, work for businesses, or write “how to” books, or teach classes on how to write.  They write fiction on the side.  I’d be living on the streets if I had to live off of my writing.  Right now, I’ve spent more money putting my stories online than I’ve made off of them.  My agency doesn’t pay for them, I do.  But when my agent sent out each novel, it took a year before I heard back from big publishers, all rejecting it, and my agent wasn’t interested in small publishers…and I got restless.  I wanted to try e-books.  I think of it as an investment.  Hopefully, someday, people will discover them and buy more of them.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  Many, many writers’ blogs say that it takes time to be an “overnight” sensation.  I can’t tell you.  It hasn’t happened to me yet.

Anyway, the good news is that Lauren just approved four more of my novellas that I can put online.  I love writing them.  I love urban fantasy.  I have all kinds of freedom to try new things.  I hope one or more of them strikes a chord with readers.  Once they’re up, then I need to start marketing them, because marketing IS a part of writing these days.  You need to blog.  You need to twitter.  I made an author’s Facebook page and joined Goodreads.  You should too.

I didn’t write this blog to discourage anyone.   I love writing, but a few people have asked me questions about marketing and selling, and a few new people have joined Scribes, and I can tell their expectations aren’t very realistic.  So I hope you guys are smarter than I was.  But if you’re not, I hope you enjoy every part of writing as much as I do.  And good luck to you.



If I were a new writer:

I belong to a wonderful writers’ group.  I’ve belonged to it for a long time.  The thing that makes us special, I think, is that we encourage each other.  For each meeting, three people sign up to read, and we always say what we liked about the pages we hear and what we think would make them better.  But to us, each person has potential, and we do what we can to nurture that.

Aside from having a group like Scribes, I’ve thought about what I wish I knew when I first started writing.  And the thing is, there are no magic bullets.  It’s like learning ballet.  You just have to do it and practice, practice, practice.  But there are things that will make the process easier and better.

The first is to read, read, and read more.  Read what you enjoy, but also read what you want to write.  If your dream is to write romance novels, then read as many of those as possible, and not just randomly.  Read the exact kind of romances that you want to write, so that you know the market and you sense the innate rhythms and tones that belong to that genre.

I wish I’d have read Jack Bickham’s book Scene and Structure after I wrote my first novel.  I’m not sure I would have understood it before I tried my first book.  That was a lesson in and of itself.  I started out writing short stories.  Trying to stretch an idea to 60,000 words was beyond me.  I celebrated when I reached 20,000 words.  It took blood, sweat, and tears to make it to a full-length novel.  One of the things that helped me was thinking of my book in smaller sections.  Now, I divide my plots into four parts, and that’s been a big help to me.  The first fourth is set-up: writing the inciting incident, the hook, the book’s big question, the main character’s outer and inner motivations, and introducing important minor characters, and the setting.  For 60,000 to 80,000 words, I also introduce 2 subplots that have a similar theme or are related to the main plot.

The second fourth of the book starts with the main character struggling to find a fix for his problem–the thing that he has to solve before the novel’s last page.  He comes up with a plan and works at it until the middle of the book when he realizes that what he’s doing isn’t working.

The third fourth of the novel, the protagonist comes up with a new plan, but the harder he tries to fix things, the worse things get.  Someone or something (his reputation/his future/etc.) is in jeopardy by the end of the third fourth of the  novel.

The last fourth of the novel is do or die time.  The protagonist pushes for the final fix until the novel reaches the final showdown.  I solve the smallest subplot of the novel first, then the bigger subplot, and then, near the end of the novel, the book’s big question.  All that’s left is the wrap-up or resolution.  I keep this short, because the tension of the story left when I fixed the protagonist’s problem.

Dividing a novel this way makes it so that I can start writing as soon as I know my characters and can hear them in my head.  I use character wheels for that.  Shirley Jump teaches online classes on how to do those, and her classes are worth taking.  But I draw a big circle with a little circle inside it.  Inside the small circle, I put the character’s name, hair color, eye color, physical description, and age.  From that small circle, I draw 7 “rays”–like sunbeams.  On the first, I list the character’s family–mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, anyone who’s been important while he’s growing up and what they’re like and why they were important to him.  On the second line, I list his education.  Was he a good student?  A class clown?  Or too shy to raise his hand?  On the third, his job.  Is he passionate about it, or does he just put in his time just to make money?  Is he happy there?  Does he want more?  On the fourth line, I put where he lives and what kind of car he drives.  Does he have an apartment he crashes in, but doesn’t care about, or is he fixing up an old farm house?  Does he drive a rusted pickup or a Mercedes?  On the fifth line, I list his present and past relationships.  Is he monogamous?  A player?  On the sixth, his friends (at least 2), and his relationship with them.  On the seventh line, his adversaries or enemies.    By the time I’m finished, I see what’s important to him and why.

I do a character chart for every important character in the novel, and I try to devise the characters so that they “bump” each other, so that there’s friction between them, so that they approach the world differently from each other.

Then I go back to the plot.  All I really need is the inciting incident, three plot twists, and an ending.  And I’m ready to go.  I can add details as I write.  But I know I’m heading in the right direction.

Every writer is different.  No one thing works for all of us.  This is my method, what works for me.  You’ll have to find what works for you.  These are just ideas to play with.  And as you write, you’ll find your voice–the distinctive style that makes you–you.  That’s what readers really relate to.  Your view of the world and the way you see your characters and their circumstances.  So, enjoy yourself.  Play with characters and ideas, and happy writing!

P.S.  If anyone has any specific questions for me about writing, I’ll try to answer them.  I can only tell you what I’ve learned on my journey as a writer, but I’ll be happy to share what I know.



Writer friends

I met with 7 writer friends yesterday.  We had a NovelCon–an excuse for us to get together, read a chapter each, and talk shop. It was awesome.  Not just because my friends are great writers, but because they’re terrific people.  (And Paula happens to be a near-gourmet cook.  Lucky us).  We all belong to a writers’ group, The Summit City Scribes.  We meet twice a month, have 3 readers who get 20 minutes each to share pages with us, and then we go around the table to offer critiques.  We’re so different, we zero in on different things.   And that’s the strength of our group.  Somebody will catch almost any thing that’s gone astray.

The thing is, I’m lucky to have so many good friends who are so freakin’ talented.  And it’s nice to touch bases with them outside of Scribes.  At a NovelCon, we don’t just read.  We talk shop.  We throw out plot stumbles that have turned into black holes of “what-ifs” gone wrong.  We moan about characters who don’t listen to us and middles that turn to mush.  And none of the problems are as big as they look.  There’s a plot twist or a minor fix that somebody comes up with, and kazaam!, the book’s a whole again.

We’ve been together so long, we know each others’ strengths and weaknesses.  We make suggestions before the book reaches the spot we know it will.  We push each other, enjoy each other, and take off on tangents.  The bottom line is, we all want each other to write the best book possible.  And more than that, we have one heck of a good time in the process.