Behind The Scenes

Brief Hiatus

Just a heads up, I’m taking a break from the blog this week. I have a friend–whom I haven’t seen in YEARS–coming in from out of town to stay with me, and we’re going to see U2 on Saturday! I’m very excited. So, I’ll be off the blog this week, and scarce on social media, but if you need to get in contact with me for any reason, feel free to email me.

I’ll be back to regularly scheduled blogging next week. Everyone have a great week!

The Gift

Here’s an interesting topic for discussion: what is creativity? And, more importantly, where does creativity come from?

For the sake of this discussion, I’ll clarify that I mean “artistic creativity.” There are many forms of creativity in the world, and they manifest in different ways. Being able to think fast and in complex ways is a form of creativity. Being able to make plants grow is a form of creativity. Having a knack for certain pursuits that aren’t necessarily artistic but provide a service to the world is a kind of creativity. But, for right now I’m talking about the kind most people reading this post are familiar with–be it writing, painting, singing, dancing, acting, or photography (to name a few), I’m talking about the ‘entertainment’ creativities, if they can be called that.

First of all, from where does the artistic drive spring? All humans are driven to create things, if even in small ways. Just decorating your home or putting on makeup and doing your hair is an expression of creativity. We like to show off our inner selves for others, and we also like to make things for the world to enjoy or use. Probably because we’re reproductive creatures biologically, we also tend to reproduce with our minds.

But where does the ability–and mostly, the desire–to write, paint, draw, or sing come from? Is it learned? Are we born with it? Of course, studies will probably show you that growing up in a nurturing environment that supports and encourages creative pursuits will have better results. However, this detail is far from necessary. There are plenty of creative people who had no support growing up, who did their own thing because they felt driven and didn’t need, or want, anyone’s approval–or, they may have followed their dreams despite others disapproval. So it’s not entirely accurate to say that one’s environment is an indicator of creative success.

So, are we born with it?

A lot of creative people feel they have a gift, and by that, they don’t mean in some holier-than-thou, I’m-better-than-you sort of way. They often feel this gift is a great and fragile blessing, and they have a terrible anxiety not to screw it up or fritter it away. There’s tension that comes with getting this gift, and that’s the implication behind it that in receiving it, you’re expected to do something with it. If not, you get labeled with those two awful words that no creative person ever wants to hear: wasted talent.

To complicate things further, one can ask if it’s something you’re born with, or it’s something that’s planted in you through outside forces (or a combination of the two), BUT how exactly is the method of creativity chosen? Why does one person sing and another draw? Why do I write but I couldn’t play a musical instrument to save my life? Still other people get a multitude of creative abilities but tend to prefer one over the others. Think of how many actors are also good musicians and vice-versa. What is this lottery we play, and how exactly do we end up with the numbers we get?

Biologically, I’m sure there’s identifiable ways creative people’s brains are wired and some amount of physiology accounts for leaning toward these pursuits. You could look it up and read all about it. Other people tend to think it’s some gift of the spirit, or something that comes from beyond us, something we can’t control, and it either hits you or it doesn’t. There’s a difference between ‘talent’ and ‘passion,’ though. I believe talent is something that can be learned, but passion is either there or it isn’t. Passion is what drives us to make our tiny, poorly-wrapped gift into something shining and magnificent, adorned in gold paper with a big silver bow. Without passion we never turn that gift into what it has the potential to be.

This post is mostly just rambling narrative, as I don’t have any answers for you. I wonder at this thing I’ve had all my life, this thing that makes me write, the thing that makes me go back to it again and again no matter how may disappointments or rejections I received. It’s part of me. It’s who I am. I would not be myself without this gift in my life, and I know that with my whole heart. Taking it away would fundamentally change who I am.

What do you think? Where do you think creativity comes from, and why?

The Long and Short Of It

Let me ask you a question: how long is a book?

I’m asking this as a writer. Most readers think of books in terms of pages, but most writers think of books in terms of word count. So, how long is a book? How many words?

Of course, the answer is based on various factors: the genre of the book, if the book is in a series, if so which number, and even who the author is, as some authors are known for the length of their books. On top of that, publishers set their own guidelines for how long they want their books to be. As a romance author, most romances are between 70,000-90,000 words, BUT some romance publishers want works much shorter than that and specify so.

Once you figure out how many words make up a book in the genre you’re writing in, for the publisher you want to be published with, then comes the hard part–you have to write that many words.

I’ve recently seen a big shift in how I make my word count. This is why I never say never, because as I grow and evolve as a writer, I try new things (and sometimes I like them). Here’s my before and after:

(BEFORE) OVER-WRITING

I used to write too much. If I was plotting an 80,000 word book, I’d write 100,000 to 120,000 words. Then, in editing and rewriting, I’d chop, chop, chop until I slimmed it down to that mark. I’ve been doing this for a LONG time, I can’t specifically say how long, but for as long as I can remember. I thought of my work as a sculptor thinks of their work–you heave out a huge block of marble, then you get to work chiseling and cutting until it’s a beautiful work of art. Here are some pros and cons of writing this way:

PROS:

  • You have a lot of material to play with. You start with a big basket of apples and gradually pluck out all the rotten ones, or the ones that are about to go bad. There’s a nice fat body of work you can shape and mold.
  • It’s easier sometimes to get rid of stuff than to try to find something to add.
  • There’s a huge sense of accomplishment that comes with writing this much–and it keeps your writer brain occupied so you don’t spend so much time looking at yourself in the mirror yelling “I’m a hack!”

CONS:

  • Sometimes it’s very hard to cut out stuff you love, even if it’s a really bad apple. It might look shiny and sweet on the outside, but you know, deep inside, it’s black and mushy.
  • It takes longer to over-write.
  • When you write something that’s too long, you might do a lot of rambling and going off plot.

This was the way I’d always written. I never thought I’d change. However, this past year, I’ve seen a shift in my writing style. Now I’m doing this…

(AFTER) UNDER-WRITING

I’ve started hammering out books in a more basic format. I under-write, and then go back and fill things in and fatten up the story. By this, I don’t mean I write 5,000 words when I’m aiming for 70,000, but more like I write 50,000, bringing myself up short in the same amount I used to overshoot. In editing, I flesh out the characters more, expand plot points, and generally decorate things and liven it up. Since this is still new and exciting to me, I enjoy it. In this case, I’m more like an artist painting–I get the contour and colors down first, then go back and add in fine details. The pros and cons of this are:

PROS:

  • You’ve already written the story, so you know what it’s about, what you want to convey, and what the tone is. Adding to that enhances those things.
  • It takes less time to write the first draft.
  • Sometimes having the bones down first makes you a lot more creative when it comes to building the flesh–you can also manipulate the story to go in a different direction if you don’t like what you wrote the first time around.

CONS:

  • Adding things can be more difficult than taking them away. What you have might already be so clean that adding to it just makes it bulky (in this case, there’s a huge market for novellas out there, embrace it).
  • Editing and rewriting isn’t as simple as when you’re plucking bad apples: you have to go find more good apples.
  • It’s much harder to write succinctly than to over-write. You have to start with a clean, simple plot in mind, and not be afraid to move from point to point without filling in all the pomp and circumstance–remind yourself that comes later.

However you write, over, under, or somewhere in the middle, you figure out eventually how to reach your desired word count. The more I write, the more I’m willing to experiment. Funny enough, editing used to be the bane of my existence, but now I love it. Maybe that’s why I’ve started under-writing, because I get to spend more time in the editing phase.

How do you get your words?

Making It In the Writing World

This past March, I celebrated the second anniversary of my first book being published. It’s not the first thing I had published, but it was my first full-length book and the ‘big deal’ that kicked off my career as a published writer. Of course, I use the word career in the literal sense, because I’m by no means making a living off it, which is an entirely different thing.

In those two-plus years, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned things I never thought about before I got published. I’m still learning, trust me. I don’t think there’s an end to this education, no matter how many books you publish or how long you’ve been around–that’s largely because the industry is always changing. Not even the biggest, most bestselling authors you’ve ever heard of can just sit back and dust their hands off because they’ve learned everything there is to know.

Today, I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve learned, give you some advice, and no matter where you are on your publishing journey, maybe you can take some wisdom from it.

Here’s some of the things I’ve done/learned since I’ve gotten published:

DIVERSIFY

My Siren Song series is published with Kensington Books’ Lyrical line, which is by far my biggest publisher, but it’s not my only publisher. Kensington isn’t one of the Big Five (which used to be the Big Six), but it’s the largest and oldest independent publishing house in the US and definitely considered a prestigious New York publishing house. I make more money off my books published with them than all my other publishers combined. This is, of course, because they are a big publishing house and therefore their publicity and promotion efforts are huge, they have a vast reader base built in, and they have high visibility. I should want to publish all my stuff with them, right?

Except, I decided early in my career that I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. I’m also published with five other, smaller publishing houses. Those being Tirgearr, Muse It UP, Siren-Bookstrand, House of Erotica, and most recently, Evernight Publishing. There’s three key reasons why I would diversify like this:

One is that it keeps my options open. If I write something and one publishing house rejects it, I have other publishers I can send it to. Also, I might want to write something that doesn’t fit in a certain publisher’s catalog. That’s all right. I have other options. Also, once you’re an in-house author it’s much easier to get other works accepted by them.

Two is that it increases my luck. I wrote a post about the role of luck in author success a few weeks ago, in which I discussed ways to get ‘closer’ to luck. One of those ways is to get yourself into as many circles as you can so luck has a higher chance of finding you. Being involved with different publishing houses expands my chances of running into the right person or big break that I need. Maybe I’ll catch the eye of a huge reviewer who likes to read things from one particular publishing house, or I’ll come across an industry professional who can promote my career. It’s always good to try to meet and mingle with as many opportunities as you can.

Three is for the simple fact that I want to test the waters. Not all publishing houses are created equal. Some have a huge base of readers who might love your book, some are very involved in your promotion and some aren’t, and they all treat you a little differently, give you different levels of editing and creative and practical support, and have a unique brand that appeals to different audiences. Myself, I want to try as many flavors as I can at the buffet and then decide which ones I like best. If a publisher doesn’t work out for me, I simply won’t submit anything to them in the future.

LEARN TO PLAY THE GAME

Make no doubt about it, at the end of the day, publishing is a business. That means if you want to be part of the publishing world, you have to treat it like a business. Be professional, follow the rules, and always put your best face forward. You might not agree with the processes you run into, but they’re in place for a reason and bucking the system won’t get you far.

I’m constantly dismayed at new writers who think they’re going to ignore guidelines, do want they want, and still be so awesome and special they get a publishing contract. I blame this on the fact that in all industries, we tend to focus on the ‘trail blazers’ and people who ‘didn’t follow the rules’ and still became successful. The thing is, once again, these people ran into some luck. They also aren’t telling you about all the times their deviant behavior didn’t work out for them or set them back. Also, even ‘innovators’ followed the rules to a certain extent, they just found new, unique, and more creative ways to do things that made sense.

There is a game you have to play in publishing, and that’s figuring out where and when you can jump in the mix and have it work out for you. I can’t fully explain it, but after you’ve done it for a while you’ll start to recognize it and you’ll develop a knack for it. You’ll start to see opportunities and know how to do the backflips and cartwheels that will land you in the right spot. You’ll figure out how to work things to your advantage, where you have the best shot at succeeding, and the right things to say to get the appropriate attention.

But remember, it’s still a business, and you need to be a business person.

NETWORKING

No writer is an island, and you don’t want to get stranded on one, either. You have to make connections in the publishing world, even if only superficial and strictly business. This opens up doors you didn’t have the keys to previously.

Let’s be clear on this, though: you need to have realistic expectations about networking. Telling a publisher “I’m friends will Big Time Author,” will never get you a publishing contract on its own. Even if Big Time Author gives you a glowing recommendation, that’s not an automatic in. Publishers will judge your work based on the merits of your writing alone, and decide if they want you on their team. Even if JK Rowling descends from Heaven with your manuscript clutched to her breast and delivers it directly into the publisher’s hands, this will still not get you a publishing contract if your writing isn’t up to snuff.

However, Big Time Author might give you a guest spot on their blog, or a shoutout in their newsletter, or recommend your books to their readers. That’s something.

There ARE people who can help you get published though, people who have actually had their hands on your manuscript–an editor you worked with before, an agent who found your work appealing but couldn’t represent you for various reasons. These are the sort of people you want to get a rapport with too. Networking is part of playing the game.

These are a few of the things I’ve learned in the past two-ish years. There’s a lot more, of course. Maybe this advice will be helpful to you. Have you learned some things you’d like to share?

Hello There!

So, the Blogging From A to Z Challenge is OVER for another year! This was my third year and it’s always exciting leading up to it, and fun starting off, but I always seem to forget as the challenge drags on it can become daunting and tiresome. Even with all my posts ready well in advance (I usually write them in February), there’s a lot of communication and promotion to maintain. I didn’t really care for posting our links on the daily blog posts this year instead of using the LinkyList, but I understand the organizer’s need for a change. HOWEVER, all this yammering will be for the A to Z Reflections post, so for now I’m just going to take a deep breath and say goodbye to another year of the challenge!

Now, for those of you who started following me during the challenge, I hope you’ll stick around, and I’ll fill you in a little bit about my blog:

I’m primarily a romance author and about 90% of my blog content is about writing. I tend not to focus on any one genre, more the mechanics and ins and outs of writing in general, so it’s friendly and identifiable to everyone, no matter what you write. I try to be entertaining and funny as much as possible. I TRY, anyway…

I’m also a tour host for Goddess Fish Promotions. I host tour stops primarily for romance and urban fantasy authors, so you’ll see those from time to time. Every one of them includes a gift card giveaway, and you might find some new reading, so it’s lots of fun! I am also quite willing to host a promotion/giveaway for anyone else, if you write romance/urban fantasy or something with romantic elements. This is mostly because, of course, I’m a romance author and my main fan base is romance readers, so something of a completely different genre probably won’t get much traction on my blog. Also, please note: I am not a reviewer and I don’t review books. If you’re interested in a guest spot, contact me!

I’m part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which does their blog hop on the first Wednesday of every month (also run by some of the same people who run the A to Z Challenge). Join us!

On more personal notes, I recently (and finally!) created a ‘wall of fame’ for myself in my bedroom. I left lots of space for more covers! Here’s hoping I’ll fill them in. I had posters made at Vistaprint for super cheap:

Anyone know this ‘Megan Morgan’ person?

I also got glasses for the first time in my life this past week. Truth be told, I needed them LONG ago, but I was stubborn and just used to the world being fuzzy. Now I’m freaking out because I can see blades of grass and individual leaves on trees. IT’S CRAZY.

I really like pink.

I also have a cat that needs constant attention or she will combust:

SLEEP? No sleep, ADORE ME.

So, that’s that! Welcome to my blog. Another hilarious thing you should know about me is that I’m addicted to watching Mountain Monsters on Destination America. It’s ridiculous and overblown and so very, very fake, but I can’t stop laughing at it.

Tell me about yourself!

The Gang’s All Here

For most of the first part of this week, I was down with the flu. Ick. I always seem to fall prey to the flu or a cold in late February/early March. I don’t know why, it’s a strange cycle for me. Even if I do my best to avoid sick people during that time frame, it finds me. Anyway, being sick meant lots of down time, and I thought to myself since being sick frees you of all obligations, maybe I’d get some writing done. Ha!

Instead, I binge-watched the first two seasons of Shameless on Netflix. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s a dark comedy about a seasoned, neglectful (and wholly irredeemable) alcoholic and his six children (ranging in ages from 21 to 2) who are left to fend for themselves since he and his ex-wife have essentially abandoned them. The oldest, 21 year-old Fiona, becomes her siblings’ surrogate mother and fights hard to make ends meet and keep them from ending up in the foster system. And the show is, in a word, hypnotic. It’s also very, very adult, if you’re considering watching it, so be warned!

The thing is, I LOVE ensemble casts. Whether it’s in TV, movies, or books, I like a big, robust roster of characters who interact with each other but also have their own storylines. From the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, to heck, Star Trek, I love a world populated with fleshed-out characters, not just background and side characters. My own Siren Song series is pretty much an ensemble cast, but I wish I had written it in third person omniscient, so I could have followed the lives of some of the other characters more closely. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll re-write it that way.

That’s not to say I don’t like stories that focus more tightly on just several characters, because I do. But a huge cast of characters feels like I get more bang for my buck, that I get many stories instead of just one.

How about you? Do you like lots of characters with lots of stories, or would you rather write/read a more tightly-focused character study?

Have a great weekend!

A Wild Week

Apologies for the lack of meaty posts on the blog this week. White Witch Magic came out this past Tuesday and I’ve been wrapped up in new release stuff and promotion. I promise next week it will be back to your regularly scheduled blogging, starting with a guest tour and giveaway! Until Monday…

The Evolution Of Writing Tools

I’ve had a lot of writing tools over the years. I started out in high school writing in notebooks. I got a manual Brother typewriter for Christmas when I was 12 or 13, but even by the standards of the day (goodness I’m dating myself, but 1989? 1990?) it was archaic, clunky, and hard to use, and the keys always stuck. The only way to correct typos was with white out paper (remember that stuff?), though you could buy ink cartridges with a correction ribbon as well. Nevertheless, I did type out a short story on it and sent it to a magazine. Hilariously, they sent it back unread because the typesetting was so bad as to be nearly unreadable. I was 14 and more optimistic than smart, what can I say?

My first ‘technological’ writing tool was a Brother word processor. MUCH better than a manual typewriter, but by today’s standards still a cumbersome, difficult piece of equipment. They keyboard part (which was also a typewriter) weighed about seven hundred pounds, and the cables to hook it up to the monitor were plentiful. Despite it being a huge advancement over a typewriter, its technological capabilities were limited. Printing anything took years, as it printed by literally typing out everything on the screen (and to print out an entire book took about six ink cartridges). It did take 3.5 disks though, which I saved tons and tons of stories on. I can no longer access those disks because the files on them can’t be read by newer technology. Nevertheless, I wrote many stories and books on it and submitted them to magazines and contests. I even got a short story published. I also had a ‘laptop’ word processor, but I didn’t have a printer to hook it up to so I mostly wrote fan fiction on it.

And then, in 2000, we got our first desktop computer. Oh, the ease of writing! The technology! The mountains of stories and books I wrote and submitted and had rejected! Truly astounding. The internet also enabled me to become a hugely popular fan fiction author, which is where I cut my writing teeth to full sharpness (I won’t tell you the fandom or my screen name, to spare my dignity, but there’s a few friends who read this whom I actually met through that writing).

And then on to laptops, eventually. With each new machine came better technology and a better version of Word. Just recently, I replaced my old laptop because I’d had it nearly four years and it was getting to the point it was usable, but not very efficient. Kind of like that one light switch in your house that’s wired backwards so you have to turn it off to turn it on, or the toilet handle you always have to jiggle. It’s comfortable and you know the workaround by heart, but why not fix the issue and do it without the unnecessary jumping through hoops and voodoo spells you have to cast to make it work right?

My new laptop types beautifully, has more memory, better graphics, more storage, and Word 2016 runs as smooth as butter, the words just flowing from my fingertips onto the screen like the technology is right inside my head. I’ve come all this way from pounding sticky keys and cramping my hand with a pen and notebook. Do I miss the old ways? No, not at all. But nostalgia isn’t always about wishing you could do something the hard way again.

How have your writing tools evolved?

Multitasking For The Creative Author

For most of my writing life, I’ve been a pretty single-minded author; that is, I only work on one project at a time. Writing a book is a task that takes focus. Every day you go back to the keyboard, pick up where you left off, and continue the story. It’s a lot of mental work that can sometimes be difficult and stressful. At other times it’s a joy, of course, and that’s why we still do it. This has usually been my method: keep plodding forward on the same trail until I get to flatter, clearer ground and the going gets easier.

Lately though, I’ve decided to start trying to work on multiple projects at once. I had an idea for an interconnected series–the books aren’t dependent on each other but set in the same world–and each book is a different story. I figured I’d try writing all three at once. Well, not really at once, but at least simultaneously. My reasoning is that if I get stuck on one, or I’m not feeling a story on a certain day, I have the other stories I can work on and I’m still writing.

Is it working? Sorta.

There’s pros and cons to working on multiple things at once, and of course, those pros and cons are also based on your own writing style, the way your creativity works, and what you’ve trained your brain to do. Here’s the bad and good I’ve found so far:

Pros:

  • Keeps your brain from getting burnt out on any one idea.
  • You can remain creative even when you’re not feeling like working on something–you can still write, just switch to another project.
  • Working on one project may give you ideas to break through a block on another project.
  • It feels really productive to have so many things going at once.

Cons:

  • All the projects take longer to finish.
  • It’s harder to keep focus, since you’re often changing subjects.
  • You start to feel guilty if you pay too much attention to one project and not enough to another.
  • You need to produce more ideas.

I’m still experimenting with this, and I also know I’m working against the way my brain has always functioned when it comes to writing. Still, it gives me options when I come to the keyboard and just can’t muster the energy for a certain project. I can switch to another one I’m feeling instead, and I’m still writing. I’m still producing content.

How about you? Do you work on multiple projects at once, or can you only focus on one thing at a time?

That’s A Lot Of Stuff

I’ve been writing since I was 13-14. I have tons of written work that is lost to the ravages of time and technological advancement. Notebooks full of stuff I wrote when I was younger, the ink and pencil now faded, and tons of 3.5 disks which can no longer be accessed because the technology I wrote them on is archaic (ah, my first Brother word processor!). I’m mostly okay with that because my writing back in those days was unwieldy and unpracticed and truly awful, and if I read any of it today I’d cringe. But I remember writing it, and so it still exists in a metaphorical way.

There’s also tons of writing I can still access: uncountable stories, books, half written things, chunks of unused work, abandoned writings, and writings that were finished but never followed through on. Those are on my laptop, or in a cloud, and I can still go look at them any time I want. Many of them will eventually end up on some lost trail behind me as I keep on writing and producing more things, but they exist too.

The point is, I’ve probably literally written millions of words in my writing life. Millions as in plural. Two million? Three million? Maybe more. I’ve written a lot. There’s no way to know how much. Even if I counted up what I have access to, there’s still all that stuff lost in the past. Sometimes I’m quietly impressed by it and give myself a little pat on the back. Most of the time, I don’t even think about it. Churning out all those words is just who I am.

If you’ve been writing for a long time, you probably have just as much in storage, be it literal or theoretical. If you haven’t been writing long, you probably still have more words behind you than you realize. Most of us writers have a half-formed, clunky body of work that follows us around forever, most of which will never be seen by eyes other than our own. That’s okay, because that’s what being a writer is.

I’m using this as an inspiration today, and you may need it too, because right now I feel like I’m in a dry, bitter, fallow period with my writing. I feel like I can’t get anything down on the page and I’ll never produce anything of worth again. I’m having one of those dramatic, hubris moments of I WILL NEVER BE A REAL WRITER. The well is giving up just a few ounces of muddy water and I will never write much again.

But, if you’re feeling this way too, here’s what you should do along with me: look at that big, ugly, misshapen pile of work behind you and ask yourself, do you really think you’ll never be able to write again? Do you really think you’re not capable of producing more words? All those words in the past seem to disagree.

Now, get back to work, self. And you too.

Have a great weekend!