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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 September 5 posting of the IWSG are Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler!

September has arrived! That means here in the northern hemisphere fall is just around the corner–my favorite season. It’s still pretty hot and summery here, so I’m trying not to get ahead of myself, but I can’t wait to break out the fall decor.

So, any insecurities for me as the seasons change? Why, of course! Those of you who follow me might remember I recently had another book accepted for publication–my lucky 13th! I’m working on the sequel right now and it’s an interesting writing experience. I kind of dragged my feet on it for a long time and was writing it slowly, but lately I’ve been working hard on it. My day job schedule is often erratic and cuts into my writing time, so I’m snatching time here and there where I can. Which means I go a couple of days without writing anything and then binge-write 5,000 words at a time. So far, it seems to be working for me. Even though I have the story kind of plotted out I’m surprising myself with where the emotional twists and turns are happening.

But, what if my fire dies out?! What if I get into another slump like my job was putting me in this summer? I really want to keep up the momentum on this series. I want to work on my OTHER series too and get the next book in that one out. Often I paralyze myself by thinking about all the things I want to do–and then not doing any of them.

Why did I become a writer again?

September 5 question – What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

I went the traditional route, though I did self-publish two books just to see what it was like. I probably didn’t do things the way most self-published people do, because I didn’t spend any money on publishing them outside of the stock photos I bought for the covers. I’m blessed that I have graphic design skills and could do my own. I’m also a pretty damn good self-editor. The books have sold well and gotten some rave reviews so…I guess I did good?

The thing is though, I don’t think I’d do it again (apart from self-pubbing the last book in the series, which I’m working on). Only because while I CAN do the work to get them out in the world, I don’t WANT to. I’d rather leave it to the publishing house. Self-publishing is a job in itself and I’d rather just write and hand it to someone else to turn into a book. Am I lazy? Probably. If I was making money hand over fist self-pubbing I’d probably feel different, but I’m not.

Happy September, everyone!

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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Finding Your Way By the Stars, or With a Map?

First, I want to apologize for missing the hop last month–life and work have been stressful and chaotic. I’m hoping to get back on a regular blogging (and writing) schedule at long last, now that work isn’t so rough. We all go through tough times as writers, don’t we? Times that try us and tear us away from our creativity. I think the important thing is to not give up and hope for the best. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, anyway!

Today, I’m going to talk about outlining, or, in my case ‘loose outlining.’ You’ve probably heard the terms “plotter” and “pantser” in reference to writers. If not, a “plotter” is the type of writer who works out the story before writing it–whether it be in notes, an outline, or by creating a structure for the story in some other way before actually getting down to business. A “pantser” is a writer who just dives in and makes up the story as they go along, aka they’re writing by the seat of their pants. Both camps tend to have their own way of doing things and often view the other as some kind of aliens. I know I did for a long time! 😀

Here’s the thing: for most of my writing life, I was a pantser. It was just how my brain worked. I would come up with ideas, and have some kind of vague direction I was going, but I just got in the water and swam, and let the current take me where it would. This probably wasn’t a good idea when I FIRST started writing, as you can tell a lot of my early stuff suffers badly from ‘wandering writer’ syndrome. But over time I perfected it and got better and better at just following the story–and making it follow me, which was more important. You wouldn’t catch me writing no outline, no sir! I liked my freedom! I liked my open, creative flow. Down with plotting!

Then…something happened, and I can’t even tell you when or how. I started writing down notes, and then before you knew it, I started plotting out the whole story beforehand. Something I swore I’d never do. I always thought working like that would stifle my creativity, but instead it gave me a framework to play on, and most importantly, it helped me keep the story on the right path as I navigated from beginning to end. I knew what I was aiming toward and that actually HELPED my creativity. When I knew what was coming, I could plant the seeds of it way beforehand, which made the story richer.

Now, I’m definitely not a super-ridgid, detailed outliner type. My ‘outlines’ tend to be one to one and a half pages of general plotting from the start to finish. There’s still a lot of gaps and places to fill stuff in. I don’t and probably can’t plot out detailed scenes ahead of time, but I can make a summary of the story, kind of like a synopsis, and that gives me something to work with. Still, for this old pantser, that’s quite a leap into different territory!

Do you think you can teach an old writer new tricks? Have you ever changed something about your writing style? And are you plotter or panster? Could you be the opposite?

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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 1 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, Sandra Hoover, Susan Gourley, and Lee Lowery!

Hoo boy, this is my first post on the blog in WEEKS and I simply must apologize to my followers and readers. Offline life was wild in July. The good: I went on an AMAZING vacation to Iceland (which I will talk about in another blog post this week). The suck: my ‘day job’ has increased in hours, responsibilities, and the demand for my attention, so I’ve had a hard time being around on here even when I’m not on vacation. Real life bites, doesn’t it? Except when it nibbles.

That’s where my insecurity comes from this month, of course–all the outside demands for my attention means my writing, and certainly my blogging, is suffering. Some nights I literally come home from work, sleep, and go right back in the morning. In theory, this situation is only temporary due to various factors at work, but it leaves me no time or energy for writing right now. I can barely maintain my house and run errands let alone find time to be creative.

But, I’m going to try to fit it in, chaos be damned. Because I have fit it in, all my life, no matter what was happening. I’ve always MADE the time and I’m going to have to do that again until things get smoother. I just have to find the focus. Hey, at least I made it for the IWSG this month!

August 1 question – What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

One thing that took me a long time to realize is not to rush things. Though it hurts to admit, not everything you write is gold. Especially when you’re a fairly new writer. In fact, you write a lot of crap that you think is brilliant but is really, well, crap. When I was younger I tended to think I was some kind of magician with words and was quick to send all my fine masterpieces off to publishers way ahead of them actually being ready for publication–and I received an ever-growing steaming pile of rejections as a result.

Writing and perfecting a work takes time–a lot of time, and a lot of patience. And even when you do shape and mold it carefully and get it all pretty and shiny, it might still be a dud and never get published. But if us writers are anything, it’s gluttons for punishment. So try, try again!

Thank you to all my readers for sticking around during this time. I’m going to try to get more posts up this month!

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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Building Character

Creating characters is much like meeting someone new in real life: when you first meet them, you know nothing about them–their personality, what they like, what they hate, what they do for a living, who their friends and family are. You only know what you can immediately observe, like their appearance, the sound of their voice, and their mannerisms. And even then, most of those things can be misleading because people act differently around new people and they cultivate what they look like. It takes time to get to know someone and start to understand them. It takes time for your readers to get to know your characters too, but most importantly, it takes you, the writer, time to get to know them as well. And you’re the person who’s going to have to know them inside and out by the end of the book.

Some authors build characters before they even begin to write, working out their entire life story on paper first, but I’ve never been like this. I also feel that even though this gives you a sketch, it doesn’t fill in all the details until you actually start working with that character. Just as a potential employee can give you a detailed resume, you still learn new things when you interview them. I’m the type of writer who likes to learn my characters as I write them. Sometimes they really surprise me. Of course you go in with an idea of who they are, but you let them really start to express it in the framework of the story.

What are some important ways for you–and the reader–to get to know your characters? It can be a bit like peeling an onion, going down layer after layer until you get to the core. Then again, some characters will never show you their core–because that’s who they are as people.

  • Physical. As I said, the first thing we take in about a person is how they look. But most people also build their appearance. They choose clothes they like, do their hair the way they prefer, and decorate and adorn themselves to show off their personality. The way your character looks says a lot about them. Are they a wholesome, clean-cut type or a wild and rebellious type with neon green hair and piercings? This can say a lot about them with a single glance–and it can say deeper things about them, too. For example, in my Siren Song series, my main character, June, has spent her life being ashamed of and terrified by her supernatural powers, and of how other people react to them. As such, she’s covered in tattoos, to distract other people from that fact about herself and to give them something else to focus on. Sometimes we use our looks to direct attention elsewhere.
  • Their preferences. As you get to know a character better, you’ll find out what they like and dislike. Their favorite foods, movies, music, and color can say a lot about them, especially if the information is delivered at the relevant time. Maybe your character hates the color pink because her mother decorated her entire bedroom in it as a child. This not only says something about the character, but about her family dynamic and feelings toward her mother.
  • Emotions. Now we’re getting deeper. As we see the emotions your character goes through, it tells us a lot about their personality. Especially negative emotions–what frightens them, stresses them out, or makes them angry. This can say a lot about how they handle the world around them and what sort of emotional and mental constitution they have.
  • Reactions. How your characters react to things that happen to and around them is a very important key to their personality. It shows their level of resilience, morality, perseverance, and empathy. How a character reacts to a dramatic or important situation can say more about them than any other character trait you give them–and it tells the reader a lot, too.
  • How other people react to them. It’s also equally important how your characters react toward each other. How people react reflects their personalities, but it also shows how the other person projects a personality that people respond to. Even if that projected personality is all a sham, the fact that other people react to it tells us how well or poorly constructed it is.

Those are just a few tips for getting to know a character. Sometimes the best part about writing is the little things you discover along the way, things you couldn’t have worked out beforehand. It’s like getting to know a new friend. How do you get to know your characters?

9

Last week, the IWSG question of the month was about coming up with titles–and boy, does it hit close to home right now!

Titles are something I struggle with, except when I don’t. Sometimes, wonderfully, the title comes to me along with the story. I start getting an idea for the plot and my brain says “and by the way, this would be a perfect title.” That’s always an amazing thing and I bless whatever muses decided to bestow such a gift upon me. But, that only happens about half the time. The other half, it’s like the muses forgot I exist and lost my phone number.

I was struggling to come up with a title for the book I’m looking to submit soon, and I think I found one, but…it might change before I actually go through with the submission. I’m not sure I’m satisfied with it. Ugh! Why does it have to be so difficult? I wrote an entire book, surely I can come up with one measly little title!

The problem is, titles are a BIG DEAL, even if they’re the smallest thing about the book. They have to do a lot of things: be catchy, be interesting, encapsulate the book, and be appropriate to the story, genre, and the feeling you want to convey. No pressure! It’s only a huge marketing tool, after all. And we’re supposed to be creative, right? We should be able to do this. Well, as I said, sometimes we can, and sometimes it’s a struggle. Also, sometimes my own personal feelings about the story make it so I don’t think anything I come up with is worthy of the book. I need something grand and perfect, but I just can’t find it.

Here’s a few suggestions that might help you come up with titles. Feel free to also use the “pulling your hair out and screaming into the night” method, although I’ve used this somewhere between ten and five hundred times, and it doesn’t really seem to help.

  • Brainstorm. Sometimes it helps to just throw anything out there that comes to mind, in the hope that while you’re dumping the trash you come across the diamond earring you lost. Let it all flow no matter how bad it is, putting random words and phrases together, testing ideas. Something might pop out that works. It doesn’t have to be practical, either–just throwing anything out there, including silly stuff, can really jog your brain. And who knows, ‘The Story About That One Thing That Happened That One Time’ might turn out to be a bestseller.
  • List your themes. Make a list of major themes and plot points in your story–things that are important, including people, objects, ideas, places, and emotions. Something might be hidden there that will spawn a title. And dammit, we’re writers, we should be able to connect things and make metaphors work on multiple levels, right? So looking at what our story is ABOUT should help us tell readers what it’s about in one catchy, amazing phrase, CORRECT? Please let me know if this works for you or if it’s just me that has a brain that immediately goes on vacation the second I type the last word of the book…
  • Look at other titles. Browse other titles in your genre with similar themes or plots, and see what they’ve come up with. Unfortunately, this may lead you to discover someone else already stole THE PERFECT TITLE and more tearing of your hair. The good thing is, multiple books can and do have the same titles, but if there’s a popular book already named that you’ll probably want to try something else.
  • Title generators. There’s lots of book title generators on the internet, but I’ve never honestly come up with a title from one. I have, however, amused myself with the ridiculous titles they come up with sometimes, so if you need a break from the stress and a good laugh, these are a fitting place to look.

TITLES are HARD. May your muse be kind and give you plenty of good ideas. And while they’re at it, tell them to stop by and visit me, huh?