creativity

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?

The One-Page Synopsis

Of all the silly, outrageous things publishers and agents ask of you when submitting your book, the most silly, outrageous request of all is the one-page synopsis. If you’ve ever had to write one before, you’re already groaning. If you don’t know what that is, let me explain:

Most agents and publishers, of course, want a synopsis of your book. Whether they want it at the initial query stage or by request once you’ve piqued their interest, most ask for one. A synopsis a summary of the events in your book–beginning to end, including the full, spoilery conclusion–in a few pages. In a few pages if you’re lucky. Some publishers and agents, more than we’d like, ask for something even more harebrained: that the synopsis be confined to one page. And usually, that means one double-spaced page.

So now you have to detail your WHOLE FRICKIN’ BOOK in one page?! The plot, the characters, the twist, the ending, the theme, all of it. In one page! What are these people thinking?

Publishers and agents will tell you they have a few key reasons for this briefest of brief summaries. Those being:

  1. They don’t have time to read a description of your book that’s almost as long as the book itself.
  2. They’re judging how good of a writer you are from your ability to be succinct and yet engaging (yes really).
  3. They’re judging how good the book is. If it can’t be summed up sufficiently by breaking it down into bare bones parts, it’s probably too rambling and disjointed.

So how do you sum up an entire book in just ONE page? That is, about five paragraphs? I’m going to give you an example here, using a story we all know: Cinderella. I’ll go paragraph by paragraph.

PARAGRAPH ONE: Introduce your main characters–that is, only the ones who really matter and move the story along. You can’t jam your main character and sixty side characters in there. Only talk about who is important. In this case, it’s Cinderella and her wicked stepfamily. Yes, she gets her Prince and she has a fairy godmother, but we’ll mention them later. Also the dancing/singing mice, if you’re going by the Disney version, are not important. You should also introduce the premise in your first paragraph.

After the death of her father, Cinderella languishes in a life of poverty and servitude at the cruel hands her wealthy, wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Forced to do their bidding, she dreams of a life free from chores and degradation, and is prone to daydreaming to escape the unfair realities of her life.

(I always wondered about Cinderella’s father–why did he marry such a nasty woman in the first place? Was it for her money? Did he work for her Dad?)

PARAGRAPH TWO: Describe the conflict. What is happening in this story that, well…makes it a story?

When the Prince of her kingdom throws a ball with the intention of finding himself a wife, Cinderella is desperate to attend. She sews her own dress and gets her hair and nails did, but her stepmother and stepsisters dash her hopes, destroy her dress, and leave her at home to wallow in despair.

(Apparently, to find a wife all you gotta do is throw a party. Was the Prince just going to pick one like you’d pick out a cantaloupe in the produce section?)

All the best plot twists come out of absolutely nowhere, with no foreshadowing. Trust me on this.

PARAGRAPH THREE: The climax. What is the pivotal moment in the story?

To Cinderella’s amazement, she learns she has a Deus ex machina fairy godmother, who conjures up a wealth of finery for her and sends her off to the ball. There, the Prince meets and falls in love with her, but Cinderella must flee the celebration prematurely–for the spell is broken at midnight. In her haste to depart, she leaves behind a glass slipper. The Prince vows he will not rest until he finds the woman whose foot fits the special shoe.

(Let’s not even get into the impracticalities of glass shoes and it being a size that only a single woman can wear. Also WHY does the spell break at midnight? You can turn a pumpkin into a coach and mice into horses, but you can’t hold a spell past 12:01?)

PARAGRAPH FOUR: The aftermath. What happens after the pivotal moment, how does the story conclude (tell this fully)?

Though her stepfamily tries to keep her from trying on the shoe, when the Prince arrives at their house, Cinderella manages the opportunity to put it on. The Prince realizes Cinderella is his dream girl, and Cinderella gets her man, and the life she’s always dreamed of. Upon leaving her stepfamily’s house, Cinderella burns it to the ground and her stepmother and stepsisters are forced to beg in the streets for the rest of their days.

(This is my version.)

PARAGRAPH FIVE: Wrap up the synopsis, with some notes on theme.

Through struggle and hardship, Cinderella finds a light in the darkness. She learns that being humble and good-hearted brings its just rewards in the end.

(And also a Prince who picks out his wives based on the size of their feet.)

There you have it. Writing a one-page synopsis is never easy, and you’re probably going to feel like you’re leaving tons of things out, but it can be done. Focus on the main characters, plot points, and theme, and you’ll keep it brief. Or, barring that, write a long synopsis and keep whittling it down until you have one page. Or use smaller font so you can get more on the page.

(Don’t do that, I’m kidding.)

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?

Fetishizing The Process

I haunt a few writer’s groups/forums online. Most of them are populated with people around my own skill/experience level, that is, people who have been in the writing game for a while and have a few things published. One of them, however, seems to be largely populated by newer writers–ones who are just starting out, or who haven’t been published yet or haven’t been at it very long. The contrast between these two types of groups is glaring.

I once saw someone coin a brilliant phrase which has stuck with me for years, though I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it. The phrase is “fetishizing the process.” This means focusing on the superficial aspects of something rather than the technical skills involved. I’m talking about wanting a picture for your Instagram of your neatly-organized desk, as you sit behind it with your scholarly glasses on, gazing out the window at a serene landscape, a bookshelf behind you (full of other people’s books), or the person who takes pictures of their expensive Macbook in a coffee shop or on the beach with an open (empty) Word document on the screen. That’s all well and good, and you might do this from time to time, but it actually has nothing to do with writing. It doesn’t matter what you write with, if it’s a paper notebook, an electronic tablet, or a laptop with some complex writing software, you can write anywhere and on anything and still be a writer.

Look how organized and perfect he is! I bet he’s writing 2,000 words right now!

We never see pictures of writers hunched over their laptops, hair wild, in their pajamas, with a quickly-cooling cup of coffee next to them; or with a pet in their lap as they write, or screeching children dancing around them. No pictures of a writer tucked in a corner, desperately trying to escape these things in order to get a few words down. No action shots of a writer trying to find a clean spot on their desk to jot a few notes while they type. And unless you live next to the beach or in some exotic vacation-type spot, most writers will tell you those are awful places to try to write, because you’re distracted by the scenery and the knowledge you could be out there having fun instead of writing.

Here’s a few things I’ve noticed new writers tend to ask on the less-experienced forum. If you’re a new writer, take heed, this may ease your anxieties a bit:

  • How many words do I need to write a day to be a writer? Stephen King says he writes 2,000 words a day! Should I write that many? Is 1,000 okay? What if I write a lot more? Or less? Here’s the truth: some days you might write a lot, and some days you might write absolutely zilch. You’re still a writer. There’s no magic number. Writers just write and set their own goals.
  • How many books about writing should I read? Should I read Stephen King’s On Writing? Is that a prerequisite? What are the best books about writing? While it’s all well and good to learn about your craft and take the advice of others, don’t procrastinate on your actual writing by reading about writing. It’s easy to get caught up in learning instead of doing. By all means, read and learn things, but again, writers write. By the way, I love Stephen King and I’ve been writing for years, and I’ve never read On Writing.
  • How soon after my first book is published can I quit my day job? Can I buy my dream house after a year? Hahahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
  • Do I really need to be good at spelling and grammar? You might think I’m joking, but I’m stunned at how many new writers don’t put a lot of weight on having a strong grasp of grammar and spelling. True enough, if you’re a brilliant writer otherwise an agent or editor might overlook it, but almost probably not. Some agents and editors won’t even read past the first page of something that’s riddled with errors, even if your pitch is amazing. Yes, you have to have a firm grasp of, if not VERY good grammar and spelling skills. Agents and editors don’t have time to teach you.
  • Should I get a Macbook? Yes. No writer has ever been published without the aid of computer that costs at least a thousand dollars. Sorry.

The truth is, writing isn’t always pretty. It’s easy to get caught up in having everything ‘perfect’ when you begin writing, but it’s not necessary. You don’t need a stack of books about writing, or Scrivener, or the exact right kind of coffee. Say it with me, kids–print it out and stick it on the wall, tattoo it on your forehead:

WRITERS WRITE.

The Role of Luck In Author Success

This post might be a little hard to swallow for some. I know when I read up on this subject it opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t thought about before.

Very recently, I stumbled upon an online discussion where the participants were talking about the role that luck plays in success. Quickly, someone pointed out a logical fallacy called Survivorship Bias. In a nutshell, humans tend to vastly underestimate the role that chance and luck plays in their individual success. We tend to focus on the ones who ‘made it’ and forget about the thousands upon thousands who didn’t. Probably because it’s much more heartening and positive to look at the few survivors instead of the scores who sank below the waves.

This happens, in part, because all our favorite celebrities, authors, and public figures like to tell us that hard work, talent, and dedication can get us to the top. If we just strive and struggle and sacrifice enough, we can be just like them. ANYONE can be President, after all! While I absolutely do believe successful people put a lot of time and effort in, it’s also easy to debunk this myth by looking around us at the people we know. For every bestselling author rolling in money and movie deals, how many authors do you know who have fought just as hard, worked just as diligently, and haven’t even gotten a book deal? Maybe you’re even one of them. How many millions of authors in history gave just as much blood, sweat, and tears to their art and never got anywhere near success?

The problem is, there’s no surefire recipe for making it. You can’t be assured to get to the top, or even to a comfortable place, if you give THIS amount of effort, or have THAT much talent. This is true of any profession, not just writing. For every celebrity chef, there’s hundreds of chefs who work just as hard, toil just as much, and are just as creative but will never have their names known. For every platinum-selling rock band who plays arenas, there are bands who sound just as good and work just as hard who will never get beyond playing their local bars. Why?

Because, most successful people will talk about their hard work and effort (and again, I do believe they give those things), but only rarely mention how some big-time author happened to read their book and give it a recommendation, or it got picked up by a well-known book critic who made the public aware of them, or they just HAPPENED to write about something that was becoming hugely popular around the time their book was released and they rode the lucky wave of zeitgeist. When a celebrity tells you “if you just work a little harder you can be me,” it’s like a lottery winner saying “if you just sell your house and use the money to buy Powerball tickets, you can be like me.” What about all the lottery winners who won because they only bought one ticket? And what if you sell your house and none of those tickets win?

This all sounds very depressing, doesn’t it? The thing about luck is that it can strike anyone, but the odds of it striking you are small. However, there is a positive side, at least the way I look at it.

Hard work, knowledge, dedication, and talent DO matter, even with the wild card of luck thrown in there. Why? Because those things shrink the betting pool and give you better odds. Those things get you into networks you didn’t have available before, they give you access to people and places you wouldn’t have otherwise, and they increase your chances of running into just the right person or situation at just the right moment that will catapult you into success. Your lucky break is out there somewhere, and work, know-how, and honing your talent will put you closer to its vicinity. The reason humans hate the idea of outcomes hanging on luck is because it’s not something we can control and we hate to feel like we’re out of control. But, you can control how close you get to luck, at least. Will someone out there blindly stumble into luck without putting in any hard work first? Of course they will, and it’s going to make you furious and frustrated. But hey, it could be you someday, too. That’s the hope in luck, at least. And that’s what people really mean when they say “make your own luck.” It actually means work hard and try to throw yourself in luck’s way.

I hope you get lucky. Or at least, you work hard enough to have a brush with luck. Here’s some (un)inspiring words from Bo Burnham to get you through. (And yes, I did steal my lottery analogy from him–sorry, Bo! Just trying to get lucky!)

No News Is Good News

If you are here for today’s letter in the A to Z Challenge, please see this post.

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 April 5 posting of the IWSG will be Chris @ Madness of a Modern Writer, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Fundy Blue, and Chrys Fey!

Most unusual for me, I don’t have a lot of insecurity this month. After the past few months complaining about lack of productivity and scarce ideas on the IWSG, I’m now writing regularly and working on a pretty big, meaty project. This is what always happens to me and I should have learned by now that the fallow times are not the end of the road. I whine and moan and complain for a bit, then I get back to work.

If anything, I’m chewing my nails as I wait for responses on some submissions I’ve sent out, so there’s that. Fingers crossed!

April 5 Question: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

Hilariously, shortly before this year’s challenge I turned my posts from last year’s challenge into a free e-book (at the request of numerous people). You can now get Pandora’s Tacklebox FREE in an assortment of different formats, through Smashwords! Hopefully, I can help folks learn a little about writing while giving them a laugh at the same time.

I haven’t used the challenge for any other marketing, though of course, it drives people to my website and social media, which can result in sales.  I just let my personality shine through during the challenge and hopefully that makes people want to buy my books!

Our Favorite Toys

I was trying to come up with a topic for today’s post, and as I sometimes do, I asked my cat what I should write about. As she always does when I ask her what I should write about, she said “me.” Well, maybe it was closer to me-ow, but I got the point. So, why not?

My cat has a flippin’ lot of toys:

Sorry, I don’t have enough to share…

I say this as though she went out and spent her own money on an exorbitant amount of cat toys. No, I bought them for her, because I spoil her. She also gets a Kitnip Box every month, adding to her collection. My son is an adult now but my apartment sometimes looks like I have a toddler because of the toys everywhere.

The thing is, as many toys as she has, a few are her favorites. Whenever she wants to play she almost always picks the same ball or plushie, and she loves to maul anything with feathers attached to it. My son sometimes engages her with the lesser-played with toys, but she always ends up going back to her favorites. I’m sure they smell like her and she finds them the most interesting and entertaining.

As writers, we have our favorite ‘toys.’ That is, plots we love to write variations of, character types we enjoy working with, and formulas we feel comfortable sketching out. Also, the genres we tend to work in. Even with a huge box of ideas to choose from, we pick our favorites. Sometimes we try out a new idea, or something we don’t usually toss around, but it’s not always as rewarding to play with as the one that squeaks, or the one that rattles, or the super squishy one that’s fun to chew on.

Is this a bad thing? No, not at all. Many authors are known for the plots and types of characters they write. Some authors even bank hugely on the fact that their readers fully and eagerly expect them to bring the same toy to play with, if in slightly different colors with different jingles and whistles on it. They want the same plot and formula, and the author knows how to build it, twist it around a bit so it’s not identical every single time, and keep readers coming back for more.

We feel comfortable with the things we like to write, the things we’re good at writing, the things we understand in our heart and can turn into stories. It’s okay to think outside the toybox too, and find something new to play with from time to time. And what if all the toys are your favorite? That’s okay too. Have a blast!

But if you just like the one with feathers, pounce on it!

Never Say Never

I’ve been writing for a lot of years. Way, way too many years (I’m old, folks). Sometimes it’s funny to look back on those years and reflect on the attitudes or ideas I had at any given time, and how that directed my work. I believe when you write, and stick to writing for a long time or maybe even your entire life, you’re always growing, learning, and evolving. New attitudes and ideas come along, your skills grow, and you try more new things than you ever imagined you would. It makes sense, because there’s very few creative and artistic people who stay stuck on one theme forever. You expand. You branch out. You give your ‘nevers’ a try.

I’ve had a lot of ‘nevers’ through the years. Things I said I would NEVER do. Things I would NEVER write, or try, or dabble in, or accomplish. Here’s a few of those things I said I would never do and then did them anyway:

  • Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Many times I said I would NEVER get published. Oh, how I languished, and despaired, and felt inadequate and overlooked. I’d never have a book published. No editor would ever want me. No one would ever read my brilliant masterpieces which were actually awful at the time. Well, check out the sidebar of my blog now.
  • I said I would NEVER write romance. This was back when I was younger and trying to be a horror author. Like way too many people, I dismissed romance as fluffy, silly writing that ‘wasn’t real,’ and was just trash and drivel. Never mind it’s the biggest-selling genre in books since…the dawn of time, possibly. I was young and full of myself and never seemed to realize I was constantly writing romance into my stories anyway.
  • At one point in my life I went through an intensely spiritual, religious phase and swore I would NEVER write horror again because it clashed with my moral point of view. I tried switching to sci-fi during this time and I was really, really bad at it. I don’t know what was going on with me, but eventually I moved on, or outgrew it, and got back to writing about vampires.
  • Hilariously, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group question for this month was about whether or not you’d ever gone back and rewritten an old piece of work. I said I hadn’t, and swore I NEVER would because I feel that looking forward is the best direction. Well, guess what I’m doing right this very moment? Revising an old story for an anthology call. D’oh!

NEVER is a block, a wall, a stone in the road that trips you up. It keeps doors closed and opportunities undiscovered. I’ve found that just because I have a writing ‘never’ today, it might be quite flexible tomorrow. And since I know I tend to dispose of those nevers eventually, I’m trying hard not to create them in the first place anymore.

What about you? What NEVER have you kicked aside and done anyway?

The Thrill Is Gone

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 March 1 posting of the IWSG will be Tamara Narayan, Patsy Collins, M.J. Fifield, and Nicohle Christopherson!

My insecurity this month revolves around the fact that the second novel in my Kentucky Haints series, White Witch Magic, came out on February 21st. Well, I’m not insecure about that actually, that was pretty awesome, and it’s gotten some nice reviews and generally been well-received.

The thing is, I wrote the first and second book one right after another, a couple years ago. The story arc definitely needs a trilogy to be complete and wrap up the loose ends I left hanging at the end of the second book. I even know how I want to tie those ends up. However, I’ve written about a chapter of the third book so far and I’m feeling kinda bleh about the whole thing, just wanting to move on to something else.

I feel like if I put myself to the task I can probably complete the third book and wrap it up nicely. But I’m also wishing I wrote it when I wrote the other two, before the fire dwindled and my passion for the story dampened. Ugh. Have you ever found yourself in this situation? What did you do? Maybe simply working on the book will bring back my interest in the series. Goodness knows when I put my fingers to the keyboard and write, instead of procrastinating and whining, magical things happen.

March 1 Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

One thing I’ve learned for myself is to let sleeping dogs lie. I’ve tried to reawaken stories a couple times and discovered that if I had really wanted the story to come to fruition, I would have completed it and made more of it at the time. Not to mention the further back in my writing I go, the worse it is and the more work it needs to be brought up to my current self-standards.

However, I have taken scenes from scrapped stories, reworked them, and put them into new stories. It’s a very patchwork quilt method of writing. That’s why we keep a scrap box!