Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Five years and giving back

I am working on a post about what I've learned during my 5-year career, but it's taking me a while. I've learned a lot! I want to tighten up my thoughts before posting.

Meanwhile, I was reflecting on "giving back" on my other blog, so feel free to read that as a substitute for this week's OnWriting post.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Just Writing

I've been pondering writing posts on getting back to pure creativity, or not worrying about how you plot your books (heavy outlining vs. seat of the pants), but I realized that one of the hardest roadblocks authors face is this one:

Writing pages.

This is what separates the wheat from the chaff, the women from the girls. You can go to all the workshops on plotting you want; read all the books on conflict you can get your hands on; and chart, outline, and plot your book to the smallest minutiae, but eventually one thing has to happen:

You have to write scenes.

For many people, that's enough to send them running back into the world of workshop tapes, meditation exercises, or serious closet cleaning.

I think this is where writer's block (or as I call it "writer's attitude") sets in. The realization that OMG, I actually have to write sentences, and they have to be good AND fill 400 pages.

You're panting heavily just to make it to 15K, and you have 85K more to go.

I've been there on every single book I write.

There are some days I simply can't write sentences. I don't know why, but my brain refuses to put words together that make any sense. On those days, I go back and lightly revise what I have written, brainstorm future books, or clean out my closet, whichever I think will benefit me most.

But because I have deadlines, I don't always have a choice (i.e., I have messy closets). I've devised the folowing methods to get myself to write pages:

1. Get rid of the idea that the pages have to be good. Allow yourself to be bad. You'll have time later to fix the stilted dialog, wooden description, boring introspection.

2. Don't worry about writing the book linearly (page 1 to page 400 in order). If a scene from the climax of the book is burning up your brain, write it. You'll have to write it eventually anyway; it's not wasted effort.

3. No writing is wasted. Even if you trash half of what you write; you might be able to use some of it in another book. Copy and paste it into a "saved" file instead of just erasing it. Also, any writing flexes your writing muscles and keeps your brain in practice.

4. Trick yourself to get words on paper (or computer screen). What works for me is:
  • Going to a coffee house or similar place to write for X amount of time. I am not allowed to do anything during that X amount of time but write. No games, no reading the newspaper, no chatting, no Internet. I can't leave until that time is over. (I am allowed to use the bathroom, but only if it's desperate.)
  • Writing on a computer that isn't configured for Internet. When I got my last laptop, I deliberately never activated the Internet connections. I love cruising the Net, posting on blogs, chatting on email loops, and other HUGE time wasters! I stymie myself by having to use a different computer for Internet.
  • Note: If you're on a budget and can't afford two computers, get an Alpha Smart--a text editor that's lightweight, has a battery that lasts forever, holds a ton of copy, and is easily uploaded to your computer so you can edit it.
  • Taking the computer games off the computer. I love that darned Spider game. I rock at the hardest level. I finally had to disable it on my laptop. (It's still on my desktop; I'm not that strong.)
  • Rewarding myself for X number of words. I tell myself that I have to sit down and write 1000 words (or to the end of the scene or end of the chapter), and then I can do something for myself. Indulge in my hobby, go out to lunch, write scenes for the story I'd much rather be working on, or play that darned Spider game.

I can get four thousand words a day out of myself using these techniques, and since I write so many books a year, I have to.

Now, happily, I don't always have to trick myself into writing. Often the story and characters take hold and just pour out of my head. I don't want to stop writing (not for dinner, a tv show, chatting on the Internet, calling my friends, spending time with my husband). I love it when the fire is hot!!

But realistically, the fire isn't always hot, and you can waste tons of time waiting for it to burn again. During that time, you aren't getting down the mechanics of the book, the pieces that hold it together when the fire finally returns.

Having to get words on paper, having to fill 400 pages with productive copy is truly what keeps many people with fantastic ideas and giant leaps of creativity from becoming recognized, published, paid authors.

Now that I've indulged myself in writing a blog, time to go do that next 1000 words!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Yes, you can write your own book and get it published

I was cruising the net a couple weeks ago, always alert for writer's tips to pass on. I ran across a site that had a list of tips that were at first pretty good (keep trying, shop for a good agent, etc.)

But then the list suddenly said that you should never send in a query letter that a professional writer hasn't written or edited for you. Huh?

Warming to the theme--the author of this list went on to say that the only authors who succeed are ones who have professional writers, editors, and book doctors help them! Double huh??

This list went so far as to suggest that an author who didn't hire a professional writer/editor was doomed to failure, and that's the way the business worked.

Triple huh???

That's when I realized, of course, that this "tips" list linked to the site of a book doctor. Ok, it was a sales pitch.

But jeeeeeezzzz. This site purported to "help" authors with good advice--I can imagine an aspiring author with a pile of rejections thinking--oh, maybe that's why I'm not published--I didn't spend thousands on a book doctor or ghost writer!



Hundreds of authors every day send in their query letters and partials and full manuscripts, and get picked. I write for several publishers and am on private email loops for their authors. Brand new and excited authors log in all the time, happy to be there, having sold their books via query letters (that they wrote themselves), or conference meetings, or through an agent.

It happens all the time.

This does not mean I have anything against ghost writers. I have a friend who ghosts and does well with it. Ghost writers are often used for auto-bios ("as told to") books by celebrities or government leaders who have a story to tell but know they can't put sentences together. Ghost writers can fix a manuscript that has come in to a publisher in shoddy condition but it's too late to cancel the book (the ghost writer's fee comes out of the author's royalties; and note, this is not a common occurrence). They can also work on screenplays that need to be rewritten and the original author wasn't contracted to work on the rewrites.

But for the most part, most authors, even the big, big name authors, write their own stuff (a few notable exceptions aside).

I got published by doing the following: Writing a book. Writing a query letter and polishing the heck out of it. Sending out query letters to agents and editors. Sending out partials and full mss when requested. Piling up rejections. Writing second book.

Repeating procedure until one of those mss. got bought. I did this for three years.

I got an agent via a query letter, then sending in a partial, then sending in a requested full. I made my first sale to a publisher who had requested my full manuscript via snail mail. That was in 2002.

I now have, or will have next month, twenty published books in the marketplace. I wrote every word of every dang one of them myself. My editors might have suggested changes on some of them, but I decided whether those changes helped or hurt the book, and made them myself.

I didn't hire anyone to help me (trust me, I got the tendonitis on my own).

Writing is just damn hard work. Many aspiring authors don't want to face that. They want instant success, instant riches, instant fame.

Well, guess what. I guarantee that every author out there you consider successful (bestselling or award winning or whatever), worked their little fannies off to get where they did.

I might seem easy on the outside because you weren't there for the months and months and years and years of stealing moments to finish a scene or polish a chapter, the anguish when it wasn't right, the heartbreak of rejections.

Getting published is the most delayed gratification you'll ever experience.

Your book is a gift you give the world, a piece of yourself. You want it to be the best piece of yourself you can give. Don't rush it.

You just have to keep on going, and believing. You'll get there!