Wednesday, February 28, 2007

More on Finishing Plus Guest Blogger Bonnie Vanak

Adding to last week’s entry—

I hear people say they cannot get motivated to work on a project they’ve been working on for a while. If you dread your writing session or completely avoid it, it’s clear you don’t want to work on that particular project.

My advice in that case is to put it aside and start another story, one that’s been hammering away at you. If you’ve been beating a story to death and it’s just not right (you know when it’s right, it feels right), then you are probably better off abandoning it.

Other authors might smack me for giving such advice, but I say why punish yourself? Writing is a grueling job. You need to love your characters and love what you write or you’re not going to be able to do it. If you hate the story you’re working on, will you be willing to write twenty more just like it once you’re published?

Ask yourself: Are you writing the story because it sings to you and you can’t get it out of your head? Or because “everyone” says paranormal romance is the only thing selling?

I have news, publishers like to round out their lists with things other than the “hot” trend of the day. In fact, said trend might tank any moment; you never know.

Work on what you believe in, what you want, and what you need. I guarantee it’s much easier to sit down and write something you love than try to write what everyone says you are supposed to write.

Now, I want to turn to Bonnie Vanak, guest blogger, who has some great writing tips. Read on!!

Bonnie Vanak sprang onto the historical romance scene in 2002 with her first Egyptian-set historical, The Falcon and the Dove. Since then she's written five connected novels set in Victorian and Edwardian-era Egypt, will do a couple more in the series, plus has sold two contemporary paranormals to Harlequin Nocturne.

J: Bonnie, you work at a day job which also requires a lot of travel. How do you juggle writing with working and traveling?

B.V.: Good question. Right now I'm juggling very fast and frantically with my first Nocturne deadline and a trip to Guatemala. Are there any sexy Alpha werewolves in Guatemala? LOL!

Usually I take the laptop with me on my travels and try to write at night in the hotel after a day in the field. Writing romance gives me a much-needed break from writing about poverty. I love writing romance because it's an escape into my imagination, whereas the day job deals with the grinding reality of poverty.

J: Your historicals are rich with detail about Egypt in the nineteenth century. Can you offer readers advice on how to get started researching the historical (or any other) novel?

B.V. Thank you! I like to start with basic research first on the internet when I'm starting a book, then narrow down the research with books and periodicals. Pick out interesting facts and tidbits, and for more detailed information, you can get library books and periodicals.

If you can, choose a time period that works well with your characters. For example, The Sword & the Sheath is set in 1919 Egypt. I chose that time frame because it's the period of Egypt's first revolution against the British occupation and it was a perfect backdrop for my heroine, Fatima.

Just as everyday Egyptians rebelled against the British, Fatima rebels against Tarik's arrogant attitude that women cannot be warriors. I used the actual women's march against the British occupation. Organized by Hoda Sha'rawi, the historic march of upper class Egyptian women set the stage for Sha'rawi to pioneer the Egyptian feminist movement.

Just as Sha'rawi courageously challenges British authority, Fatima does the same within her own tribe.

J: You made your first sale unagented, and then acquired an agent. What did you like about being unagented and what do you like about being agented? What are the disadvantages of either route?

B.V. What I liked about being unagented was it forced me to learn more about the business. The disadvantage was I had so much I had to learn and I made mistakes a good agent would catch. I'm still learning.

Having a great agent, like I have now, can open doors you've never dreamed of before... but it takes a while to find the right one. The personalities have to mesh, and it has to be a right fit. I'd advise anyone looking for an agent to find an agent who is passionate about your writing, NOT just the story you submit. Because that story might get rejected in NY, but if the agent loves your writing style, the enthusiasm will be passed on when s/he pitches the book to editors.

I'd advise aspiring authors to go the agent route, but don't stay only on that particular path. Submit to agents and editors and enter contests to grab their attention. Finish the book and start another. The next book you write may be the one that seals the deal.

J: Thank you! and congratulations on your new release The Sword and the Sheath. Visit the very cool series MySpace page for information and the book trailer:

and her blog at

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Intro and How to Finish Your Ms.

Welcome to Jennifer On Writing!

I hope to make this a teaching blog for aspiring and newly published authors, as well as a place for multi-published authors to share their experience.

I want to reach all writers in all genres, so please bookmark the page and feel free to forward the blog entries or the link to any aspiring authors you know. All I ask is that you credit the author who writes the post.

Next week I’ll post a guest blog by a brand new author, Farrah Rochon, whose first novel debuts in March.

This week let me kick things off by

1. Introducing myself and
2. Posting a short article about how to get the &()*) manuscript written.

1. Who are you and why are you doing this blog?

I sold my first novel in 2002 (got The Call). After that followed a whirlwind of sales: a contract for a mystery series at Berkley, another contract for romances at Dorchester, a contract for a mainstream historical novel, and then more contracts. In all, I’ve sold and written 23 books and six novellas. Six of these works are forthcoming in 2007; the rest have been published.

With all that crammed into five years, I’ve learned a lot very fast about the publishing business, marketing, readers, booksellers, and what people buy and don’t buy and why.

I am agented, have been since 2002, though this is my second agent. I’ve also learned a lot about agents, what they will and won’t do, and how a good agent can really help you (and a bad agent can hurt you).

If you want to know what books I’ve published see:,, and or look me up on Amazon or B&N.

2. Get It Done

I’m going to kick things off with something innocuous, but a problem area for many aspiring authors: How to get the darn ms. done.

You have an idea, you’re excited about it, it keeps you awake at night, you write notes on scrap paper at work and email yourself with thoughts about the book. And then you get a couple hours free time on the weekend and you try to start or continue working you’ve already done.

And you can’t.

Why not? What happened to the enthusiasm?

Thinking about writing, the burn of creativity, is a completely different thing from sitting down and typing sentences. Typing the sentences (400+ double-spaced pages of them) is Work.

It’s physical labor that stresses the joints and strains the eyes. It’s tiring, the words never come out right, and you face a million distractions.

I’ve written 23 books and 6 novellas. And still there are plenty of days I sit down and think, crap, I’m never going to get to page 200.

Here are some tricks I’ve learned to keep writing:

1. Don’t edit as you go along.

Your sentence isn’t going to be perfect the first time. Probably not even the second time. Just keep typing and don’t look.

My rule is No one gets to see my first draft. Not even my critique partner. It’s complete crud. I write the first draft without looking, then I go back through and fix it before I allow anyone to look at it. Get the story figured out first, then polish.

2. Set a fixed time and place to write.

Pick a time of day (early morning, late at night, lunch hour, whatever), and set aside that time to write. Once you get into the habit of always writing at that time, your brain will kick into writing gear (usually) when you sit down to start.

3. Get an Alpha Smart

An Alpha Smart ( is a writer’s dream. It’s a lightweight text-only computer in which you type (on a regular sized keyboard) your rough draft. It saves each keystroke automatically and then you upload what you’ve done into your computer.

Bonus, it’s very difficult to edit what you’ve written on it. You’re forced to stick to typing out your rough draft (see #1).

4. Set a word count goal, not a time goal.

If you set a goal of writing for two hours, you could sit and stare out the window for two hours and write one sentence. If you set a goal of 1000 words in your writing session, you sit on your butt until you have those 1000 words done.

A word goal is better than a page goal because pages vary depending on how much short dialogue you write vs. long description. 1000 words is always 1000 words.

5. Trick yourself

I’m sorry to say I have to do this often. Go out to a coffee house or library or someplace by yourself, taking alphasmart or your laptop without Internet access.

Do not allow yourself to leave that place or look at anything else (no newspapers or books) until you’ve written a set number of words. When writing my story becomes the only entertainment available, you do it.

6. No Internet!

The Internet is a fun place. Gobs of news, pictures, movies, entertainment, not to mention all those chat loops and blogs where you can express your brilliant opinions to the masses.

Very distracting for the writer.

I’m an Internet junkie. But for me, checking the Internet or my email takes me out of the story, and I lose my momentum. I’ve forced myself to not allow myself Internet or email until after I’ve reached a certain number of words.

7. Reward yourself for success

If you make your daily word count goal for a week or get past page 300, reward yourself with dinner out, or buying something you’ve always wanted, or just taking a day off! (Or, if you’re me, getting on the Internet.)


I know I have not addressed issues such as family and friends. But each person knows their own personal situation best. You need to decide how to ask your friends and family to understand that this is important to you.

I got published just by writing books and submitting them. I didn’t know anyone in the business, I had no connections, no networks, no breaks, and I wasn’t a celebrity or prominent political figure.

I just wrote and wrote and finally I sold a book. People gave me the “what makes you think you can be a writer?” looks, but I ignored them and kept on plugging.

It’s not an impossible dream. It’s reachable reality.