I’m cheating today because I’m in the middle of a writing spree and couldn’t take time to write a blog. But here are a couple of things you might be interested in:
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I’m cheating today because I’m in the middle of a writing spree and couldn’t take time to write a blog. But here are a couple of things you might be interested in:
I joined Romance Writers of America in early 2003 when an acquaintance brought me as her guest to a Sacramento Valley Rose meeting. It was the January meeting, a panel of category romance writers who also wrote single-title length romance in all different sub-genres. Even though I don’t write category romance, I was stunned at the wealth of information I’d never imagined would be so readily available to those who just ask.
I never regretted joining RWA. It’s one of the few professional writers organization that was also open to aspiring writers. I joined the Kiss of Death chapter in March of 2003 — they are the online chapter for those of us writing romantic suspense. I jumped into the myriad of writers loops and commented daily, sometimes multiple times a day, making connections with people who, like me, were writing stories they hoped to one day sell. I’m an extrovert by nature (those far less extroverted now than I was before I was published–but that’s a topic for another blog) and writing is a solitary profession. The online loops were my lifeline to real people, especially when I quit my day job in 2005, shortly after I signed my first contract.
When I first joined RWA, I already had two books completed and was working on my third. I hadn’t sold any, but had found an agent (who I terminated six months later for a variety of reasons) and felt that I was getting closer. While I believe I would have published with or without my RWA membership, I know that it would have taken me longer. I absorbed all the information, entered a boatload of contests (finaled in many, but never came in first), and forged friendships, many that have withstood the test of time.
In all this, in nearly ten years of being an RWA member and joining and unjoining many groups, participating in writers loops in and out of RWA, joining Mystery Writers of America, then International Thriller Writers, and more recently the Horror Writers Association, I’ve been amazed at the wealth of information shared by published authors, agents, editors, publishers, and booksellers. All with the stated goal of helping aspiring writers get published, or published authors grow their audience, or all writers to improve their craft.
So much information that it can be stifling. And much of it contradicts itself.
I’ve thought a lot about why that is, and I’ve realized it’s because people give advice on things that have worked for them. Sometimes, this well-meaning advice gets laid down as the law, and “rules” are forged in steel about what can and can not be done in writing a book. Especially if the advice comes from a published author, or an editor, or an agent.
Good people can disagree about what it takes to publish a book. Good people can disagree about issues of craft, the definition of a romance, the level of sexuality, the level of violence, the necessity of historical accuracy, and everything else that goes into writing a good book.
I think one reason I love Chuck Wendig’s blog is because he’s blunt, honest, and funny. In fact, I should just send you all to Chuck’s blog from Tuesday and tell you to read it because it’s pretty much what I would have loved to have said 🙂
But I’m going to take Chuck Writing Rule #24 and stress it to the millionth power:
Writing advice is neither good nor bad. It just is. It either works for you or it doesn’t. No one piece of advice is truly golden (with the exception of maybe Finish your shit and Don’t be a dick) — it’s all just that. Advice. It’s no better or worse than someone telling you what route to take to get to the zoo or what shirt to wear to that trailer park wedding. Like with every tool, pick it up, test its heft, give it a whirl. It works? Keep it. It fails? Fucking ditch it. Give writing advice no more importance than it is due.
A million times yes!
All the advice we get from cyberspace, from friends, from family, from experts and amateurs, works — if it works for us. If fails if it doesn’t work for us. And to expand on that, don’t tell other people they’re wrong because they did something/are doing something that didn’t work for you.
In 2002, I was writing romantic suspense. I love romantic suspense. I’d read Lisa Gardner’s THE THIRD VICTIM and Iris Johansen’s THE SEARCH and said to myself These are the kinds of stories I want to write. It was a revelation because romantic suspense was on the outs in publishing and I hadn’t read a lot of it. I was reading mostly mysteries, which I love, but when you combine mystery with a romance I felt like I’d discovered gold. That’s what I wanted to write.
I was told early on by well-meaning writers in RWA (both published and unpublished) that if I wanted to write romantic suspense, I needed to start at Harlequin because all the best single title romantic suspense and thriller authors started there (including some of my favorites — Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Gardner, Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Lisa Jackson, etc.) On the surface it sounds like great advice–I mean if it was good enough for Lisa Gardner, dammit, it’s more than good enough for me.
Except … writing for category is NOT EASY and for someone like me, IMPOSSIBLE. Rejection after rejection poured in. No surprise–I wasn’t writing category romantic suspense. But I didn’t want to change what I was writing to fit their requirements.
Yet, the advice I was given was essentially just that–change my writing to get published.
And I decided I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the drive simply to be published; I had the drive to publish what I loved to write.
I know some people who modified their voice, their genre, their style in order to fit a specific line or requirement, and that worked for them. It might work for you. It doesn’t work for all.
I love how the writing community is so open to sharing with each other–we’re truly one big usually happy creative family. But no ones advice is all good or all bad. Like Chuck says, try it, if if works, keep it, if it doesn’t, toss it.
I have my own writing “rules” that work for me. They may not work for everyone. They may not work for anyone else. And confession: I break all my rules, anyway. They’re really just guidelines 🙂
So my “advice” to you is: write what you love, write with passion, rewrite with a critical eye, read often, and keep learning. No one is so good that they can’t benefit by improving their craft.
Deb and I were planning on writing an exchange for today’s blog because our dear and darling Sophie is stuck, but between my trip to the Desert Dreams conference and my deadline in 48 hours, I completely forgot. And Deb herself is writing and promoting her Colby series (see yesterday’s post!) and she probably forgot, too. So we’re late this morning … apologies all around.
ANYWAY, one thing I definitely want to share is how much I love regional conferences. I’ve spoken to several, all between 200-300 people, and I think that number is perfect. Big enough to have a lot of workshops and conversations, and small enough to have a really hands-on workshop, intimate and casual conversations, and more time. Also, there are usually 4-8 editors and agents in attendance, and they are VERY accessible. Even though RWA National and Thrillerfest, the two conferences I attend every year, are fun, they are definitely high-stress. If you have never been to a conference and want something smaller than the 2500 people who usually go to RWA, definitely check out a regional conference like Desert Dreams or Emerald City or a host of others across the country.After the conference, I signed at the Poisoned Pen, a fabulous mystery bookstore in Scottsdale. (I’ll be at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego this Saturday!) I signed with Christopher Farnsworth, who writes about a vampire who protects the president. All I can say is WOW. He read an excerpt and I’m sold. I don’t even like vampires (I like how his vampire is not a nice guy, he’s just nicer than the monsters he kills to protect the president.)
SILENCED is out, and I was thrilled to see it at the Phoenix Airport right next to one of my favorite people, James Rollins:
But it’s not just about me today! Our own Laura has some fabulous reviews on TWISTED and she hit the USA Today list (yeah Laura!) … Rocki’s BAREFOOT IN THE SAND has also some amazing reviews. Sylvia’s BARED TO YOU which I have been hearing tons of buzz about. And if you just look at the side bar, you can see how prolific and busy us gals at MSW have been.
I also want to share one of my favorite blogs with you all — it’s geared more for writers, but I think readers would get a kick out of some of the entries as well. Terrible Minds, penned by the Penmonkey himself Chuck Wendig, is full of great advice and kick-you-in-the-ass motivation. Yesterday’s blog — 25 Realizations Writers Need to Have — really hit home to me because I feel exactly the same way and have spoken about these topics often. Particularly this about the need for stories:
Stop. Breathe. Refocus. Media companies will rise and fall. Technologies come and go. The story remains constant. More to the point, our need for stories remain constant. Storytellers and writers aren’t going anywhere. They may need to bend with the wind. They may need to find new ways to thrive. But they — we — will always have a place. The audience will be there. We just have to find them.
Story is what separates humans from all the other mammals in the world. Stories, and thumbs. 🙂
Go read, go write, go do something today you feel good about. If you loved a book, write a review and share the love, or email the author and let her know! And if it’s a bad day? Hug someone you love. Works for me every time.
The last few months have been particularly difficult for me as a writer. The Doubt Demons invaded.
Self-doubt is rooted in fear, and an author’s worst enemy. I’ve always been critical of my writing, I’ve always been afraid that what I’m writing isn’t good enough, that I’ll never get better, but I never doubted that I could write. I don’t believe in writer’s block as an insurmountable wall, but instead an excuse not to write.
Doubt isn’t writer’s block. Doubt is much, much worse.
“You let self-doubt get a hold of you, it’ll kill your work dead. You’ll stop in the middle of a project, then print the manuscript out for the sole purpose of urinating on its pages before glumly eating them.” – Chuck Wendig
I can attest to the truth of that statement. Every writer doubts. It’s par for the course, not just of writers but most artists. Not just of artists, but most human beings. We are creatures of doubt. The Doubt Demons landed on both shoulders and I listened. I knew I shouldn’t—I could tell myself anything trying to make me feel better. Read motivational books like THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield. Remind myself that I am not alone, that every writer experiences bumps on the road, that some books are going to be harder than others, that if I just sit at the computer every day and write, I’ll finish the book.
But seeking confirmation that I’m not alone in self-doubt is another form of Resistance that Pressfield talks about so much. It’s justification for fear.
Chuck Wendig said on his blog:
“And doubt needs to go suck a pipe. Doubt needs to take a dirt-nap. And the way you do that is by finding your own way. By fostering your own confidence.
Because just as doubt is one of the writer’s greatest enemies … confidence is one of the writer’s most powerful friends.”
Great. Where do I go to regain my confidence?
I had to accept that I’m not the same person I was seven years ago when I sold my first book. Every book has changed me to some degree, some books more drastically than others. It’s the entire process—from writing to production to publication – that is another stepping stone in my career, and some of them are harder steps than others.
It’s easy for me to tell others to be confident and bold in their writing. It’s easy for me to say that self-doubt is evil, you can’t let it in, you have to work through the fear and keep writing.
Easy to say. Much, much harder to do.
“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. … The real [innovator] is scared to death.” – Steven Pressfield, THE WAR OF ART.
Yep, that’s me, scared to death. But self-doubt as an ally? No effing way. I can’t do this again.
I had to understand why I was listening to the Doubt Demons. Because nothing I did to silence them was helping.
The last eighteen months have been a series of changes in my career. I changed agents, leaving one I had been with from the beginning of my career. My supernatural thriller series failed in a pretty big way. Then, I saw the writing on the wall with my publisher—my gut told me I needed to leave. I changed houses—fortunately on my own terms—landing with an editor who has a fabulous reputation and I was excited to be working with.
Except. After seventeen books with the same editorial team, I didn’t know if I could write for someone else. I had developed some lazy habits—such as sending off my rough draft, confident that I’d have time for revisions. I realized I shouldn’t do this to my new editor, that I needed to write a clean, perfect book. I desperately wanted to hit the book out of the ballpark. I wanted it to be the best book I’d ever written. I knew it had to be—and that’s when I killed my creativity.
Every scene was agony. I wrote and rewrote the opening dozens of times and hated every word. Not only was the story imperfect, it was total and complete garbage.
Delete. Start over. Again, and again, and again.
As my deadline neared, the story suffered. I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know how I was going to tie up all these threads, even in a crappy draft. I’d resigned myself into submitting a rough draft because I no longer had time finish and edit before I sent the book to my editor. I wrote every day, and night, for hours—sometimes staring at the computer so long I lost track of time. I easily wrote 5,000 words a day, but most of them I deleted the next day or a week later. I edited as I went, thinking my book would be clean. I ended up scrapping most of it. If I added up every word I wrote, I wouldn’t be surprised if I wrote over a million words to create this 100,000 word novel.
No one can write a clean, perfect book. Convinced that I had to, I had put an impossible goal in front of me.
Revisions were just as hard—if not harder. My editor gave me fantastic notes, but it was still a change in process. I was adjusting to a new style and I desperately wanted to please her. And again, even when I thought the story was working, my writing was sub-par. And every time she told me she liked it, I feared she was just being nice because we were crunched for time. I second-guessed every story decision I made.
In addition, I had the complications of writing a continuing series. How much backstory is too much? Not enough? Will series fans like the direction? Will new readers be lost? Are my characters growing? Is the conflict real? Why do I want to blow up the city and kill them all?
When I turned in the revisions—late—I was not happy with the book. I couldn’t see it. All my self-doubt weighed on me as I considered that maybe I had lost the touch.
Before I sold, I remember writing for the sheer joy of writing. I loved telling stories, and didn’t care whether they sounded good or whether scenes worked, I just wrote the stories as they came to me. My first four books never sold, nor should they have, but each one gave me many hours of pleasure in just their creation.
I had somehow lost that. The doubt, the panic, the fear had landed, and no inspirational motivator could bring it back. I wanted to throttle Steven Pressfield or burn my dog-eared copy of his book.
I forgot when I originally posted this blog in the wee hours of the morning, that there was one other big thing going on while I was writing SILENCED. My last book with Random House came out on 11.22. It was orphaned, they printed far less, didn’t print a burst on the cover to inform readers there was a bonus novella printed inside, it didn’t get on the shelves in stores when it was supposed to, and sales dipped because it wasn’t widely available. I couldn’t write anything worth saving during release week.
“That’s the horrible thing about self-doubt: it convinces us that our own failure is inevitable, an unavoidable recourse based on our own screaming lack of talent. But failure isn’t inevitable, and in fact failure is created by a fear of failure and by our certain uncertainty we possess about our own ability to succeed. Writers engineer their own failure with such grace and elegance it’s almost impressive. Remember: failure is not a foregone conclusion.” – Chuck Wendig
When I got the copyedits back, my worst fears were realized. The book was full of holes, shitty writing, and doubt. The doubt was spilled all over the page like zombie guts. Fortunately, the copyeditor was diligent in her queries and I painstakingly went through every page and edited extensively on paper. I deleted chunks, added scenes, cut repetition, and reworked sentences. This was my last chance—once these changes were made, the book would be going to reviewers and others, and I didn’t have time to wallow in self-doubt and self-pity.
I was so stressed about the copyedits, that after I overnighted the manuscript to New York, I made all the changes in my master copy and sent additional changes to my editor—problems that I hadn’t noticed the first time through.
I’m pretty certain the production people hate me by now. The copyedited manuscript was so marked up in green pencil (my preferred editing color) that they might have thought an alien had pissed all over it.
So I sent chocolate covered strawberries to buy their forgiveness.
I’m nervous about getting back the page proofs, my one last change to fix problems, but I can’t make major changes. I begged Toni to read the book because I honestly couldn’t see anything good—I had spent so much time writing this book, more hours than any other book I’ve written, I was sick of it.
After reading, Toni assured me it didn’t suck.
As Pressfield says in THE WAR OF ART:
“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.”
If being a dread-filled artist is a good thing, then I’m probably the best damn artist out there.
Laurie Halse Anderson said on her blog:
“The Demons of Doubt will always sit on your shoulders. Sorry. It’s a law of writing physics. You cannot banish them, but you can defang them.”
Which goes perfectly with Chuck Wendig’s advice on how to defang the Doubt Demons:
“You mustn’t be seduced by the callous whispers of the doubting monster at your back. To survive as a writer you must wheel on the beast, your sharpened pen at hand. Then you must spear him to the earth.”
I don’t know if understanding why the Doubt Demons invaded my muse is going to fix the problem, but I’m starting my next book. The doubt is still there, but I figure nothing can be worse than writing the last book.
Several years ago, I bought the audio book of ON WRITING. I don’t particularly like audio books, but Stephen King himself narrated it, and I listened to it while driving. It was like having the master himself sit in the passenger seat and talk to me. I’m a life-long King fan since reading THE STAND when I was 13. He, too, has doubts. He, too, almost gave up.
“Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, … I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”
I used to write like that—getting the story out as fast as my fingers could type, with great enthusiasm and an underlying joy.
With this book, I’m going to outrun the self-doubt. If I can’t? I’ll spear the monster dead.
I’m pretty certain he’ll come back to life.
I’m going to sharpen some more pencils.
Okay, so when I posted a comment about my son playing football, I had to post this picture showing the courage he had going up against bigger kids. He’s in purple on the right, the other little guy on the team is on the left. If they can face real monsters (and to them, I’m sure these kids looked like monsters!) I can face doubt demons.
Allison Brennan is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of nearly three dozen romantic thrillers and mysteries, including the Lucy Kincaid series and the Max Revere series. She lives in Northern California with her husband, five children, and assorted pets.Read more
FBI Agent Lucy Kincaid tackles her most dangerous case yet ... while her fiance Sean Rogan receives life-changing news.