Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Leah Hultenschmidt blogs

My editor at Dorchester, Leah Hultenschmidt, is blogging at Ninc today. Good questions about submitting, getting published, the industry today.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Writer's Block... Excuse me, Writer's Attitude

I've been promising a long time I would write about writer's block.

I've procrastinated by finding many other things to write about, and besides, I've been busy.

Or maybe I just had writer's block about it. :-)

This is what happened to me in 2007. In the spring, I turned in a ms. (Immortals: The Gathering, if anyone wants to know), and then

I. Burned. Out.

I didn't want to write anything. For any reason. I turned to reading, went to conferences, got check-ups, cleaned out my house, taught other people how to get published.

This wasn't just procrastination. I had another book due that summer, but any time I sat down to do it... I had nothing.

One big empty blank.

And I didn't care.

I told myself I was watching my career slip away. I told myself I was a wimp. I promised myself all nice kinds of things if I would just get the next ms. done.

I still couldn't write. Oh, I'd might get an idea and sit down and type a page or two, then the computer would be idle for days.

If I had two or three years to write a book, this wouldn't be a problem. I had three months.

And I couldn't be paid to care.

(Actually, I was being paid to care... I'd gotten an advance for signing the contract. But I didn't care.)

By the way, I never call it Writer's Block. I call it Writer's Attitude. If I can trick it, you see, I might be able to conquer it.

Exciting things happened while I had my Writer's Attitude. I made the USA Today Bestseller list for the first time. I was nominated for a Rita. I WON the Rita.

It was wonderful! The stress of the excitement also added to my burnout.

And then... my deadline was less than a month away. Panic set in. What did that do? Yes, made things worse.

It was horrible. Some days I hated myself. Other days, I just didn't care.

My deadline was looming. And guess what I got to reward myself with after that book was done? Yes, another book. In fact, I had deadlines all the way up to Sept. of 2008 by that time.

Don't think that didn't add another stone to the big weight around my neck.

Obviously, I got through it, because the book I blocked, Highlander Ever After, did get finished, turned in, published. The next book, which also terrified me, got finished, turned in, published (it came out last month).

I'm sure what everyone wants to know is how I got through the block.

I'm not blocked now (knock on wood). The joy came back. It's still here. I'm booked solid until mid-2010 with writing now. Yay!

How I Got Through Writer's Attitude without Losing My Job or My Mind

1. I know: I should have stopped beating myself up and started giving myself positive messages (it's ok to be blocked, relax, if you don't want to write, don't stop yourself doing something else.)

I flunked Positive Messaging. I beat myself up the whole ride.

2. I couldn't trick my muse (or give it positive messages). So I tricked the left side of my brain, the non-creative one.

Tricks that worked:

Taking laptop (without Internet) to a coffee house or library, and making myself write X number of pages. No leaving until they were done. I could write anything, as long as it had something to do with the novel that needed to get done.

Getting plenty of sleep. Stress is exhausting, and you can't write when you're exhausted.

Exercising. See sleep.

Cutting back on committments that have nothing to do with writing (conference appearances, volunteering, speaking). I like to "give back", but I was doing so at the cost of my own creativity.

Tricking the Right Brain

I still had to get my muse going so I had something to say when I was rested, in shape, and had freed up my time.

1. I let myself be a bad writer. I never believe that what I write is brilliant; I always believe it's crap. I feared that now I was a "bestseller" and a "RITA winner," had to be brilliant. People told me that all this meant I was already wonderful, but I had sold the books/won the prize for books I'd written nearly two years before. Who says I could do it again?

I allowed myself to be bad--or actually neutral--until I got the words on a page. To paraphrase Nora Roberts: you can fix bad writing, but you can't fix a blank page.

2. I fed my muse. I indulged in books I loved, watched DVDs, did non-writing creative things like music and art.

3. I looked for wisdom from other authors. One author (and I'm sorry, I can't now recall who it was), suggested this exercise:

Write a scene that you won't turn in, that you won't show anyone. Make it as erotic or dramatic, or whatever, as you want. Let yourself go. Never, ever show this scene to anyone! No one will judge it; no one will see it. Do whatever you feel, without inhibition.

This one helped me a lot. As I wrote my scene (which nooooo one gets to read, evah), I felt the walls I had built between myself and my stories crumble and fall.

I read it back--it was good! It had that heart-squeezing, gut wrenching emotion I had completely blocked from myself. (But no, no one gets to see it.)

I realized how inhibited I had gotten: I thought I had to be briliant all the time. Result: I second-guessed every word, every scene, every line. I worried so much about everything I wrote that I couldn't write anything.

When I wrote that scene I wasn't going to turn in, would never be published, would never be seen even by my husband . . . suddenly it was all about the story, the characters in that room, and the feeling.

The head shut up, and the heart came back.

So, I'm hoping that sharing these thoughts might help someone else break through.

The happy ending for me was: When I was halfway through the book after the burnout book, the joy of writing came back. I just went for it, let my heart tell the story. My editor loved it, RT gave it a fantastic review, and it's selling well.

If anyone else wants to share how they got through writer's block, please do!!!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Writing Lean (gacked from my editor)

My editor runs a terrific and informative blog over at She had a good post the other day about slimming your writing:

A couple spoke to me especially (Leah in quotes; my comments in brackets):

"--Avoid explanatory dialogue – characters shouldn’t explain things they would obviously know just for the sake of the reader. Find another way to include the information."

[This drives me nuts. I see this on TV a lot too--the characters discussing what happened between the climactic scene and the denoument: "Wasn't it lucky that so-and-so happened by in his truck to pick us all up so we didn't have to walk home after killing the bad guy? Especially since it was raining."]

"--Be wary of a lot of gazing. It’s not very action-oriented. Most readers will follow the story without it." [OK, I DO THIS!!! I try to trim it out in the final draft.]

"--Simplify as much as possible. I can’t tell you many times I’ve changed “She moved her head up and down in agreement” to “She nodded.”"

[And I think we don't need as many nods and head shakes as we put in. I know I delete many!]

"--Avoid dialogue tags that repeat the words just said. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. Or “I agree,” he concurred. Really, “said” is just fine."

[I sweat A LOT over dialog tags--most aren't necessary at all. The action and the dialog itself should tell you who's speaking. But then, sometimes you do have to keep the reader clued in to who just said what (esp. if there are many people in the scene.) It's a tricky balance.

My favorite solution is {Short action sentence. "Dialog."} or {"Dialog." Short action sentence. "Dialog."} Again, if you do that every time, it's clunky. I read my dialogs over and over again, fine tuning until I find the right balance of tags.]

Another quirk that bugs me is the overuse of name-calling in dialog--as in this imaginary conversation between me and my sweetie:

How are you today, Jennifer?
Not too bad, Forrest.
So, Jennifer, do you want to go out to dinner tonight?
Forrest, I thought you'd never ask.
Great, Jennifer, what time do you want to go?

I'm exaggerating a little, but I have seen things very close to this in published novels. No one speaks to each other in this fashion. You say a person's name to get their attention or for emphasis, then you talk without names. Same with endearments--they're sweet, but if the hero says it every time he opens his mouth, it's a bit much.

Check out Leah's blog for more slimming tips. (Scroll down to the entry; it was a couple of days ago.)