Slow and Steady

If you’re an anxious sort of person who likes things to happen fast, the last thing you want to be is a writer. Writing and publishing are the slowest activities you can imagine. How anyone manages to make a stable career out of it is beyond me (I’m sure it takes a thousand years to get to that point). If you want to go fast, race stock cars. If you want to watch yourself slowly age while nothing happens, become a writer.

Every step of the writing and publishing process is slow:

  • Need an idea? If your brain is anything like mine, it’s going to take its sweet old time coming up with something for you to write. Even once you get that spark, the details need to be slowly untangled before you begin. If I try to push my brain for ideas it gets even more cranky and just goes to sleep.
  • Got an idea? Now write a book. How long do you think it will take? Weeks? Months? Years? Everyone is different. Sure, there’s some writers who can churn out a book in a few days or a week, but it probably took them a long time to get that fast, and also they probably sacrifice puppies to gain their dark magical power.
  • Now edit that book. This might take even longer than writing it, especially if it needs major rewrites.
  • Start sending it off to agents/editors. If you want to feel the true passage of endless time in all its horrifying reality, send a submission off and then keep refreshing your inbox while you wait for a reply. Stalk the agent/editor on Twitter as well if you really want to experience what eternity feels like.
  • Got an offer? Great! You think things will speed up now, don’t you? You sweet summer child. When they finally send you the contract, you’ll want to make sure you read that sucker thoroughly and consider all your options. Definitely not the time to rush.
  • Now your editor/cover artist/proofreader gets to make it into a real book. Days and weeks will go by where you’re fairly certain the publisher has forgotten they’ve taken you on board. Then, your editor will email you in the middle of the night with fifty pages of edits that they want back in two days.
  • Release day! Finally! …wait, I spent all that time waiting for this? Where is the choir of angels singing? Why isn’t Channing Tatum at my door ready to give me a lap dance? Why hasn’t Kim Kardashian called me up to take me on a shopping spree for being so clever and published? Now you get to wait for someone to care that you wrote a book.
  • Now wait to get paid. Keep waiting. Better start writing another book.

Writing is slow. Publishing is slow. But it’s all worth it in the end, right? Right?!

Finding Your Voice

You probably hear all the time about authors and their ‘voices.’ It’s a hard thing to define, though with some authors it’s plainly obvious. There are certain authors whose books you could pick up, without knowing who wrote it, and be able to figure it out from the rhythm of the prose, the world building, and the tone of the story.

Voice can be a good or bad thing, depending on how it’s executed. If the author’s voice adds a richness to the story or a tone that’s particularly appealing (at least to most of their readers), but is so artfully done as not to be intrusive–it’s just the background noise of the story–that’s a good voice. But if the author intrudes so much they’re practically a character in the story, it can be distracting, overblown, and off-putting. We must be careful as writers to stay out of the spotlight and just pull the strings from the shadows, particularly if we have an artful way of pulling those strings. Voice is like adding spices to a sauce–if you add too much, you’ll ruin the dish.

How do you figure out what your own particular voice sounds like, though? Maybe you think you don’t have one, just like some people think they don’t have accents. Maybe you’re actively trying to cultivate a voice. For a long time I thought I didn’t have one, and feared my writing would be flat because of it. However, the more I write, and the more publishable stuff I write, the more I realize it’s there. Then, after being able to hear it, I fret that using my voice over and over will make my stories seem all the same and recycled. The natural state of the writer is to always think we’re doing something wrong, isn’t it?

You find your voice by writing. And writing some more. Just like you can’t learn to play a piece of music overnight, or perfect a dance routine, you can’t locate and hear your voice until you’ve practiced it a lot. You may find it hard to isolate, but eventually you’ll start to hear it. And then, you’ll probably start to worry that it’s a terrible, off-key voice, because that’s what writers do.

You also learn to notice the ‘voice’ in writing by reading. Especially if you read a certain author a lot, you’ll start to hear their voice. You may also pick up a book that has a voice too overbearing, or one you don’t like, and put it down. Reading will help you learn to find your own voice as much as writing will.

Sing, writers, sing!

Friday Encouragement

Have you had a long, hard week of writing? Things not going so well? Maybe you need a little bit of a nudge, or a hug? I think as writers we should all be supporting and encouraging each other, so in that spirit, I’m going to devote today’s post to some cheerleading. I’ll start at the first seedling and go to the finished project and beyond, so there’s something for you no matter where you are on your journey:

  • Do you have writer’s block? Take heart, it will pass. We all get stuck sometimes. What you might need most is to give your brain a rest, or focus on something else.
  • Are you struggling through the first draft? Keep struggling! Each word you put down gets you closer to a finished manuscript, even if the words come slow.
  • Stuck in the middle? Try a few different doors, even one you wouldn’t normally consider. It just might show you the way forward.
  • Agonizing over the end? Maybe you can write several endings and see which one works best. Remember that nothing is set in stone at this stage.
  • Groaning over edits and rewrites? Take it one little bite at time. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Looking too far ahead makes you trip over what’s under your feet.
  • Not sure if your rewritten/edited manuscript is right yet? Set it aside and come back to it with fresh eyes later. It will still be there.
  • Nervous because you’re about to query? It’s okay to be nervous and anxious. Do some research on where you’re sending it. Polish your letter. Make sure you have everything ready to go. Breathe. Hit send.
  • Waiting to hear back from an editor/agent? Get to work on another project so you’ll have something to distract you and you won’t be pulling your hair out as much.
  • Rejection? It hurts, but it’s part of the writing game. Don’t give up. Keep trying.
  • Acceptance? You may be running around in frantic circles. Celebrate! Congratulations!
  • Is your editor making your life difficult? Try to look at the criticism and corrections with an objective eye and ask yourself what you can learn. Don’t take it personally, because it’s not.
  • Waiting for your book to come out? Focus on marketing and what you can do in the future to promote it. That might help the days from going by so slowly.
  • Your book just came out? Congratulations, breathe a little!
  • You got bad a review? Remember that reviews–good or bad–are one person’s opinion. Your book isn’t you and they’re not attacking you personally. Nod and move on.
  • Your book isn’t selling well? Take heart, only a comparative handful of writers are lucky enough to make a real living off writing. Give yourself career goals and work toward them. You might just end up in that handful.
  • Worrying you’re a hack? We all feel that way sometimes. You’re not a hack. Hold your chin up and look to the future–you will get better and better with time!

No matter where you are on your writing path, I hope today finds you well. May your words be abundant and clever, your ideas bottomless, and your readers plenty! If you have other words of encouragement for each other, leave them in the comments!

Organizing A Story

The other day I was sitting on the couch and looked down, and noticed my cat matches my rug. I was so amused, I had to take a picture.

I didn’t plan this, of course. I saw the rug in the store, liked it, it was a good price, and so I bought it. I wasn’t thinking about my cat at the time. It was just a funny coincidence. But, my brain happens to love organization and coordination. They’re my favorite things to do, and sorting things, putting things in order, and making things ‘go’ together gives me a sense of happiness and relaxation.

I promise this has something to do with writing!

I think that’s how I create stories too. And maybe, how many of us do. Writing is about making everything go in its place and work together. It’s about organizing ideas so they form something neat and beautiful, hopefully.

When you’re about to sit down and start a story, it’s like you have a big box of stuff that goes in all different rooms in your house. Like when you’ve moved, and you have to figure out where to put everything in your new place. You dump the box out on the floor and get to work.

New writers may be under the agonized impression that seasoned writers–those who have been at it for a long time, are very skilled, and may have tons of publications under their belts–receive this box for each new project already organized, labeled, and easy to put away. This is not true at all. We all get the same jumbled box every time, and what’s worse, some of what’s in there we may end up throwing or giving away instead of finding a place for. Which things? You won’t even know until you try to put them somewhere and they won’t fit.

As you write the story, one by one, you put the objects somewhere in your house–a character’s backstory, a plot point, some foreshadowing, a little bit of humor. You might place them somewhere only to realize later they look better on a different shelf or wall, but that’s okay. Unpack the box piece by piece, and put things where they seem right at the time.

At the end, things might looking really uncoordinated and you might need to go out and buy some new things to tie it all together, but that’s okay too. That’s what editing is. You’re going to adjust things and toss things out, and add pieces.

But one day, you’re going to look down and realize without even intending it the cat matches the rug, and you’re going to smile, because it’s all coming together.

False Starts

Since I’ve been having an issue with false starts lately, I thought it would be a good topic for today’s blog post. I recently got caught up in a frustrating series of false starts that ended up leading me around in a huge aggravating circle. Ah, creativity!

What are false starts? If you’ve been writing for any appreciable amount of time, you’ve probably had your fair share of them. If you’re just starting out on your writer’s journey, hold onto your hat, because it’s going to happen to you too. False starts are when your story grinds to a stop and no matter what you do, no matter how many times you use the jumper cables and check under the hood, the engine is dead and there’s no hope of reviving it. You may have started the story with lots of passion and enthusiasm and even a clear idea of where you were going, but something crashed it: you wrote yourself into an impossible hole, you lost the thread of the plot, your interest in the story completely faded, or it just didn’t turn out to be the story you were trying to write. You have to scrap it.

If you’ve been writing for a long time, false starts can be extra painful because you’ve probably gotten better and faster at writing. That means you wrote a lot of story and there was some pretty decent writing in there before it sputtered out. Now you spent all this time and creativity, and it just runs down the drain. All that time and all those words, wasted.

Recently, I started writing a story that I thought I had a clear vision for. I can get a lot of words down in a short period of time, so I ended up in that particular hell of having a lot of writing that amounted to nothing. I started with one idea in mind, but by about 15,000 words I realized I didn’t like the story and I didn’t’ want to tell it. I revamped it, using some of the same characters in a different situation, and got to about the 50,000 word mark on that version before I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. So, I tried some other story ideas–one got to about 12,000 words and the other to 20,000 before they were dead in the water as well. I felt like ripping my hair out.

What happened? A few days ago, I went back to the story that reached 50,000 words, felt a renewed passion for it, and now I’m happily working on finishing it and eager to see what happens next–and I know how it ends. What the hell, brain? What the hell? Maybe I just needed to give it some breathing room, and because I like torture I had to spend the time also trying to claw my face off in frustration.

False starts hurt. It sucks to have this pile of nothing that you spent so much time on. You could have been using that precious writing time working on something that you would finish and is publishable. But are false starts really just fated to sit forever in limbo, mocking us? Maybe not. Rather than torture myself with my errant children, I came up with a few ways false starts can be helpful:

  • Use them for new ideas. Maybe someday down the line you can look at one of your false starts and find some element, character, or plot idea in there that makes a great idea for another story. Maybe you weren’t telling the right story, but the right story is in there somewhere. Don’t delete your partly-done work, for later you might find a gem in it.
  • Use them for patchwork. I’ve taken pieces of fizzled-out story and put them into other stories, with some modifications. It’s like having a rag bag to work out of, and if you do the sewing right, the seams will be invisible. It’s also nice to see your word count for the day go up without even typing a word!
  • Use them for practice. When you’re not working on something and you’re in the dreaded drifting around period, waiting for inspiration to strike, keep your writing muscle strong by pulling out your old discarded pieces and writing something ridiculous into them. The exercise might fire your brain up. Were you writing a murder mystery? Have a clown on a unicycle run your detective down in the street. Writing a romance? Have your heroine princess be kidnapped by bandits and taken to an island where she’s forced to give pedicures all day. The absurdity just might get the rusty wheels turning.

There’s no way to get around the fact that false starts suck–but they’re also a part of the writing experience. Sometimes we have to write through Hell, multiple times, to get to our creative Heaven.

Dark Deliverance by Tamela Miles

Today I’m hosting Tamela Miles and her paranormal romance Dark Deliverance. Tamela is giving away a $10 Amazon or B&N gift card, so make sure to comment, check out the other stops on the tour, and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway! Tamela is also here today to talk to us about the angels in her novel.

Enter to win a $10 Amazon/B&N Gift Card

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My Earth-Bound Angels
By Tamela Miles

“For truly we are all angels temporarily hiding as humans.”
Brian L. Weiss

I spent the better part of my youth watching chick-flicks, thinking to myself how cool it was to see a group of women support, love, and respect each other through the roller coaster that is life. I had close friends but it was somehow never as magical and larger-than-life than the stories told on – screen. I grew into young womanhood, a little disappointed that I could never seem to capture that magic in my own feminine friendships.

As I got older, I began to have more deep, meaningful conversations with the girls and women in my family. My friends and I drifted in different directions, as life was calling us. I started with a big group of feminine friends and, by the time I was thirty, I remained close to only a few. I was forced to look elsewhere for that vibrant, necessary connection of womanhood and sisterhood. I finally found what I needed in the root of my family of women.

My sisters were now young adults, my Mom and stepmom sought to pass along their knowledge of the world and their wisdom. The timing was perfect, as I found joy and solace in what I call my “earth-bound angels”. They are always available – for emotionally heavy conversations or just for silly laughs. Now, I never lack for honest opinions, soulful wisdom on any topic imaginable, and light-hearted giggles with glasses of wine at midnight. Being a part of this circle is supremely fulfilling – and better than the best chick-flick!


Elle Connor’s life is as grim as she had always feared. Years of demon slaying have left her with nothing to show for her trouble. She’s convinced a “normal” life was never meant for her.

Patrick Holt wants nothing more than to be away from the holy wars and has lived quietly for years as an average human. The trouble is that he’s anything but average–he’s a fallen hybrid angel.

When Tagas the guardian angel pairs them up to investigate the brutal slayings of young women in Los Angeles, Elle wants nothing to do with Patrick. As Elle and Patrick begin to understand each other, irritation is forgotten and fiery passion ignites between them. “No ties” is how they both live, but Elle soon begins to long for much more. As they become sucked deeper into the mysterious killings, Elle fears that, in this battle, Hell will win.


EXCERPT:

She covered his phone with one hand, forcing him to look up. Her full lips curved in a gentle smile. “I see what Tagas meant by your superior wisdom and experience. I didn’t mean to come across like a badass demon hunter who knows it all. You hunted demons long before I was even born.”

“So, now I’m old? Thanks.” He clicked off the phone and set it beside him on the seat. Elle gave a chuckle.

“Let’s just agree that you have a glorious past when it comes to slaying demons that has given you certain…um, insights into it that I don’t have.”

Elle watched his expression change, his eyes focusing intently on her as he smiled. Her heart began to beat a little faster. She wasn’t prepared to deal with this other, blatantly sensual part of Patrick in such close confines and moved to make more space between them.
He moved with her until their shoulders touched. “I have insights into many other things. Would you like to hear them, Elle?”

The heat of his glance and the softness of his tone made her hyperaware, her skin tingling. She cleared her throat nervously. “Sure, go ahead.”


BUY LINKS:

Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Heart-Hunter-Heels-Tamela-Miles-ebook/dp/B01CAYGX8G
https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Deliverance-Tamela-Miles-ebook/dp/B01GAF04OK

The Wild Rose Press:
http://catalog.thewildrosepress.com/all-titles/4132-heart-of-a-hunter.html
http://catalog.thewildrosepress.com/all-titles/4425-dark-deliverance.html


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tamela Miles is a California State University San Bernardino School Psychologist graduate student with a Bachelor of Science degree in Child Development and a former flight attendant. She grew up in Altadena, California in that tumultuous time known as the 1980s. She now resides with her family in the Inland Empire, CA. She’s a horror/paranormal romance writer mainly because it feels so good having her characters do bad things and, later, pondering what makes them so bad and why they can never seem to change their wicked ways.

She enjoy emails from people who like her work. In fact, she loves emails. She can be contacted at tamelamiles@yahoo.com or her Facebook page, Tamela Miles Books. She also welcomes reader reviews and enjoys the feedback from people who love to read as much as she does. 

Ms. Miles has a current short novella 3 story series on her writing plate with The Wild Rose Press, entitled the Hell On Heels Series. #1 of the series, entitled “Heart of a Hunter”, is now available. #2 of the series, “Dark Deliverance” is coming July 2016. For those who are excited about it (yippee!), please feel free to check out the author’s soundtrack playlist for Hell On Heels on YouTube.com, listed as Hell On Heels:Songs from the Edge by Tamela Miles.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Tamela-Miles-Books-350618404965591/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jackiebrown20

 

Enter to win a $10 Amazon/B&N Gift Card

Leave a comment and visit the other stops on the tour for more chances to win!

A Little Update

I apologize for the lack of posts this week. I had an unexpected hospital stay over the weekend and didn’t have anything lined up for the blog. I’m doing fine and recovering now, but it’s going to be quiet on the blog this week. I will be hosting author Tamela Miles’ book tour on Thursday, but other than that I’m going to take a break this week and rest up.

I will resume normal blogging on Monday, I promise! Have a great week!

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When Are You Done?

Sometimes, it’s just as hard to finish a story as it is to start it. When do you wrap it up? When do you stop editing? When is it ready ‘to go?’ How do you know these things? How do I stop tearing my hair out over it?

Let’s try to answer these questions one at a time:

  • How do I know when I’m done writing a story? For me, I often ‘feel’ when a story is done, there’s no more to tell that wouldn’t be flogging a dead horse, and things have reached a natural conclusion. I may want to tell more, but I know that I would just be doing it for my own amusement and dragging things out. Sometimes it might be hard to know where this stopping point is, though. A story shouldn’t drag on too long after the climactic sequence, or else you’re going to make the reader ask what you’re trying to prove. If you want to tell the story of these character’s lives after the BIG THING happens to them, write a sequel. If you go too far past the ‘point’ of the story that point will lose its edge.
  • When are you finished editing? When your eyes start to bleed. Truly, though, no matter how much you edit, there’s still going to be an editor who edits it more. You go over it, and over it again, for content, then grammar, then over it again to see how it flows. You set it aside for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes and realize it’s trash, so you need to edit it fifty more times. All writers have their own methods of editing. Eventually though, you just have to let yourself be satisfied that you’ve mostly got it together. If you’re traditionally published, then you get an editor who shows you that it’s not good at all, you big dummy, so let’s edit this some more. You breathe a huge sigh of relief when you finally get your ARC, because that means you’re done editing at last. And then, you find a typo in the published version.
  • When is it ready ‘to go?’ By this, I mean when are you ready to send it off to an agent or editor, or self-publish it? Have you completed the above steps over and over until you’re crying and no words in the English language look like they’re spelled correctly anymore? That’s when. Honestly though, polish it until it shines and you don’t completely hate it, and you’re pretty confident about it. Then give it a shot. Get forty rejections, revise it again, and then send it out again to a new batch of agents and editors.
  • How do you know these things? Magic. Take heart, though, you’ll get more instinctual about it the more you do it.
  • How do I stop tearing my hair out over it? You won’t. Get a wig.

Being ‘done’ is a complicated state. We’re never really done, until the day the book goes on sale. And then, we get a whole new set of neurosis to deal with. Writing is a beautiful profession, isn’t it?

It Was a Dark and Bloody Night

This post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. The first Wednesday of every month is Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. The awesome co-hosts for the August 3 posting of the IWSG will be Tamara Narayan, Tonja Drecker, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Lauren @ Pensuasion, Stephen Tremp, and Julie Flanders!

AUGUST 3RD QUESTION: What was your very first piece of writing as an aspiring writer? Where is it now? Collecting dust or has it been published?

I had to really think about the answer to the first part of this question, and once it came to me, the second part of the question made me laugh. No, it’s definitely not published. But amazingly, I still have it.

I started writing my freshman year in high school. I was 14 at the time, if I remember correctly. I wanted to write horror like Stephen King, as I was a dark and morbid sort of teenager who loved horror movies and anything bleak and deep, like I imagined my soul to be. I wrote it in a spiral-bound notebook and I couldn’t tell you now what sparked the idea, or what the ‘plot,’ if there was a coherent one, was supposed to look like. I know that the characters were all thinly-veiled versions of my friends and boyfriend at the time, and that it was set in my small hometown, and there was a lot of blood and demonic possession. You always think you’re not going to grow up and shake your head at your younger self, that you’ll think you have it together throughout your entire life, but I certainly know different.

I still have the notebook, but I haven’t looked at it in years. I wrote it in pencil, so it’s probably faded to almost illegibility (I’m 41 now, the reverse numbers). Hilariously, I remember that my best friend was reading it as I wrote it (I cringe now at the idea of anyone reading my first draft) and she was eating a red popsicle at some point and got splatters on one of the pages, which I thought was cool cause, blood. She put a bit of it on her fingertip and traced red popsicle over the word ‘blood’ on one of the pages, as well.

I wish I was making any of this up.

I can laugh at my teenage self now, and at the terrible writing in that red notebook (of course it was red!) but it was the start of where I am today, all these years later. If I hadn’t been so melodramatic then, I wouldn’t be writing today, perhaps. We all have to start somewhere. Luckily at that age, I also had a lot of encouragement from my friends and peers, so I continued writing well into adulthood and sanity. Thank you, dumb teenage me.

Blood.

The Ugly First Draft

Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. You’ve probably heard this before. Trying to get everything ‘just right,’ especially on the first try, can keep you from truly exploring your ideas and coming up with something that might be even better than what you were originally aiming for. Much like children, our imagination works better when it has time to play, instead of being forced to sit and learn the proper way to do things all day long.

I had a hard time with this when I first started writing, and for many years after while I got the hang of being a writer. I was always afraid to move forward until I had everything exactly where I wanted it. The problem is, in writing you may move forward only to discover you’ve toppled the precarious tower of blocks you already built behind you, but that’s okay. You can always return and set the blocks back up, in a completely different pattern if need be…after you’ve built the rest of the structure.

The best piece of writing advice I could ever give anyone is don’t fix your writing as you go. By this, I mean during the first draft. The first draft is a messy, convoluted, disjointed piece of work and it’s supposed to be. You’re dumping your ideas out on the page and then later, in rewriting and editing, you will go back and shape it into something a little prettier. It’s important when you’re writing the first draft to just write it, and don’t stop to correct things.

As I said, when I was a new writer I had a hard time with this. I know other writers do too. There’s a temptation every day when you sit down to write to go over what you wrote the day before and fix it up before you start writing again. But if you keep going back and tinkering, you’re not gaining any forward momentum. When you stop to revise what you’ve already written, you’re not writing the rest. It’s okay to have an unwieldy piece of work on your hands when you get to the end of the first draft, but the important part is you have a piece of work now, and you can fix it up. You might find yourself chopping out whole sections, adding new ones, and rearranging things completely. That’s okay. You need something to rearrange, so get that down first.

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, says it best: Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. 

Get that first draft down, without worrying about how ugly it looks. You can always cut its hair and do its makeup later.