Sunday, January 22, 2012

Writing is an Emotional Roller Coaster

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit." - RICHARD BACH

Writing is an emotional roller coaster. Name an emotion and I've probably felt it, not once but multiple times on my road to writing the first draft of my book. I'm expecting equally as many emotional responses with every step I take along the way. I've talked a little bit in the past about "Crap" syndrome and its true that nearly every writer at some point or another has felt like they weren't good enough and needed a little pat on the back. But when writers want to give up, there is often a lot more emotion involved than simply not feeling good enough.

Learning to write is a journey and we all have to start somewhere - rock bottom. The funny thing about rock bottom though, is for a writer they don't usually start there. Writers usually start with a false high. They get a great idea (or something they think is great) and they run with it. They keep writing until they A.) lose interest B.) lose their way, or the rare C.) actually finish the story. Finishing a book is rare for a lot of people. You'd think it wouldn't be but, between time management, writers block, other great ideas, or a various slew of other distractions people lose site of their stories and their goals. Those things alone can cause a slew of emotions; everything from an exciting rush to frustration, sadness and anger.

At some point in the process, writers tend to seek out some kind of feedback from friends, family, online critique groups, beta readers etc. Friends and family are great to help build you up but "buyer be ware" sometimes your friends and family don't have the heart to tell you something isn't good or they can't put their finger on what is exactly wrong with a piece. Critique groups and beta readers are great because they can usually point you to where you went wrong and all your weaknesses. This is also where the nightmare begins for new writers. It's hard to hear that the idea you created has so many things that need work. Not that the idea was bad persay or that what you did was wrong but that your execution needs work.

This is where I hit my true rock bottom.

Two things happened simultaneously.
1.) I hit my overwhelm threshold. I could not write, critique, read feedback and edit, all at the same time and the thought of doing so stressed me to no end.

2.) The realization that I had a great idea but I knew nothing about writing. Among my greatest offenses, POV jumping, passive voice, wordiness, ineffective use of dialogue... the list goes on and on. Not to mention I had an insane number of people land blast me for the use of a prologue, something to this day I refuse to give up.

Stress + feeling like a failure = my emotional breaking point.

This was a very pivotal time in my writing. If I had let everything that was happening get to me and completely consume me, I would have run screaming from the room and never looked back. It would have ended my writing career. But instead I chose to take the feedback and use it as a learning experience. I took a step back and started from the beginning, with the basics. I learned about writing. I read blogs and books, went to seminars, and took online classes. I kept pushing myself to the brink of my comfort zone and persevered through the emotional train wreck. The negative responses, and advice along the way became the fuel I needed to grow and start to climb that big scary hill. I was determined not to let this bring me down.

In all of this, I always followed my gut the whole way. I stopped when I got overwhelmed. I didn't cut things because people said I had to. I refused to give in on the prologue even though people told me prologues were a bad idea. I knew it was important to my story even if people couldn't see it. So I decided I needed to prove myself by improving my writing.

I worked and worked and worked until things started falling into place. So far I've had at least 10 revisions on my prologue alone, and finally I'm down to mostly minor revisions and suggestions. It's been a long road, and there were definitely points where I wondered why in the heck I was doing this. But I've been lucky to have a lot of cheerleaders and help along the way. If you keep at it and look for help, people are usually willing to offer you valuable advice. There are certainly people out there that are more than willing to tear you down, but you can't let them. In most cases, people just want to help show you how to transform your story into something wonderful.

With every new group I find and get involved in I learn new things and find more people willing to help me and join my every growing network of cheerleaders. Most recently its been the St. Louis Writers Guild. In the few short weeks I've been a member, they have proved to be an invaluable resource. They have welcomed me with open arms and not only offered seminars and discussions but endless support.

After a long bumpy ride, all the work is starting to pay off. The feedback has become far more positive and every new thing I write has less mistakes than the previous. In the end you have to ask yourself: are you going to let the emotional roller coaster run you over, or are you going to grab on and let it take you to new heights? Go out there and turn the negatives into positives. Never give up and never quit. We all have to start somewhere, but thankfully the roller coaster never goes backwards!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meeting Andrea Cremer, Author of Nightshade!

I love meeting authors! Especially enthusiastic, fun ya authors! I enjoy hearing their unique stories about how they got into writing and how they were published because no two experiences are alike! Andrea Cremer was no exception to the rule, and was certainly a pleasure to meet. She is energetic, bubbly, adorable and bonus I love her books!
Her story particularly resonated with me because she has a full time job as a professor and has three published books with two more on the way. I asked her how she juggled writing and a full time job, something I'm struggling with a bit with now. She replied, writing in every spare moment, dropping to part time at work and even taking time off. She also said to keep writing time sacred and make sure to stick to a schedule. So after that tip, I know I must protect my Sunday writing times. They are sacred!
Some other things from her Q&A that I enjoyed, she said she broke rules. Lots of them. As a new writer with little knowledge of the publishing world she did a lot of things new writers probably shouldn't. For instance pitching a series. Agents take gambles on new writers/clients and when they pitch a series its an even bigger gamble but I love that Andrea went for it and that it worked. A sure sign that some rules are made to be broken! I love a rebel!
When asked about where she got the idea for the series, she said she had a strong female voice in her head that was also a wolf. This was a bit problematic, the wolf part not the voices, (as a writer hearing the voices of your characters is totally normal, I swear!) because werewolves are typically seen as grotesque creatures that are always being hunted in stories. But Andrea didn't want anything like that. Especially since werewolves spend minutes experiencing the change, including a serious of bone cracking transformations that leaves them vulnerable during the shift. She wanted her characters to be able to change at will and not have to worry about having a change of clothes.
So here's the really cool part, she borrowed from physics and string theory. Using the idea that there are an infinite number of dimensions, when transformations of her wolves occurred instantaneously, the human part, clothes and all would be put into another dimension, a closet if you will, until they were ready to use it again. Therefore no crazy long vulnerable, transformations and no naked people running around! Which although can be humorous, has been done many times before. I give her major props for the physics nod, plus I'm a big geek and like that sorta stuff!
One more thing! She signed in colored sharpies! This totally made my day! I love color! And although her signature sentences are related to her series, I think its also great advice, both for aspiring writers and life!

So when I read great books and meet great authors I love to recommend them to others. If you haven't checked out the Nightshade series I highly highly recommend you do! It's a beautifully written series about werewolves, that definitely breaks the mold! Calla is a strong protagonist as an alpha wolf and the leader of her pack. She ends up torn between her destiny, Ren another alpha wolf from a rival pack who she is set to unite with to form a new pack, and Shay a mysterious human who shows up at her school and the new pack is asked to protect. After reading Nightshade I was so torn between the two boys that I didn't know who I wanted Calla to end up with more! I've never read a book and not had at least a small opinion one way or the other about a pairing. So run over to your favorite book buying spot and grab this series! The books are cool and so is the author! I definitely had a hard time putting these books down!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Do Your Homework: Research, Research, Research!

Today I attended a workshop called Editing/Proofreading: A Do it Yourself Job? presented by a St. Louis editor Mary Ward Menke and hosted by the St. Louis Writers Guild. I learned some great advice about proofreading, the power of a critique partner/beta reader, how to go about finding an editor and many other important editing tips, some of which I will share momentarily. However, the biggest thing I learned today was the importance of doing your homework.
Go out there and do the research. Take the time to learn the ins and outs of your craft. If you don't you will sound like a blundering idiot, and DO NOT make the mistake of thinking people won't notice.
And because its worth repeating I'll say it again - DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
The following are some examples of why it is so important to make sure you research.
Example one: A woman attending the workshop, who is about to self publish her book, and by about to I mean within the next month or so, asks some questions of our speaker, Mary. One question, should I be hiring my own editor, or using the editing services provided by the self publisher? Admittedly, I am no authority on self publishing, but I do know this is something she should have asked when she was first beginning to look into self publishing, not a month or so before she's about to turn over her manuscript to the self publisher. But I guess as the saying goes, better late than never.
This particular woman also said some other things that made me question her knowledge on the topic. She continued to spout one self publishing company, the one she was using, and did not make reference to any other companies out there. Statements to the effect of, x company does this or offers that, were made repeatedly. A clear sign to me that she was first not very knowledgeable about the topic and second had not done her homework. Although this woman in question was very nice, I did not have a favorable impression of her as a writer, and I've never even read a single word she has written.
Example two: Mary tells us about a book that was published in which the main characters of the book traveled to St. Louis in 1946, to see a Browns baseball game. While they were in St. Louis they took a side trip to go up in the arch. Now anyone from St. Louis, or anyone with google skills would quickly find that the arch didn't exist in 1946. Ask yourself, would you want to continue reading a book where you knew a part of the plot was completely inaccurate? Probably not. Would you read any other books published by this author in the future? Again probably not. Had the author done their homework (or their editor for that matter), they could have avoided making a mistake like this, as well as losing possible readers in the future.
Example 3: Immediately following example two, a woman in attendance raised her hand and said that in the Percy Jackson series there is a scene in the St. Louis Arch where Percy fights some monsters at the top of the arch and then punches a hole in it and dives into the Mississippi river. Again if you've been to the arch, or if you've looked it up online, you know that while the Arch is near the river it would not be physically possible to punch a hole in the arch, jump out and land in the river.
Now this example is interesting to me, because I have read the book and did think this scene was cool. But at the time I read it, I also thought it was a bit odd how this scene occurred and was not sure how it was possible unless Percy flew from the hole in the Arch to the river. Now I have a bit of an overactive imagination at times, and for some reason I shrugged it off and kept reading, even though I probably should have stopped. Even more interesting, I attended an author signing with Rick Riordan in St. Louis, and the question was asked where did you get the idea to use the St. Louis Arch in the Percy Jackson series. His answer was that when he was originally telling the stories to his sons, he was trying to use places that they had been so they could relate.
Now putting all this together, here is a man who has seemingly done his homework because he's been to the arch, yet chooses to ignore the facts. Maybe he did this for the sake of fiction or some other reason, yet many many children and adults, still continue to read his stories. This is a huge exception to the rule! Maybe in this case ignorance is bliss because a majority of his reading audience is children who may not know better and do continue to read his stories, but there are still people out there who notice, and those that do, will forever question this authors credibility.
So moral of the story do your homework!
I will end with some advice Mary gave related to editing, that relates directly to doing your research. When looking for an editor, shop around. Price will vary. Most good editors will give you a free sample edit of your first 5 or so pages. This is so you can see if you like the editors style. Not every editor is right for every person. Also know that editors can not and should not be promising you publication. If they are, you should as Mary said, "run screaming in the opposite direction." And lastly if there is something you don't want changed dialect etc. make sure you let your editor know up front. So when looking for an editor, do some research.
In whatever you do in life, whether it be writing or something else entirely, please do your homework. You could save yourself a lot of misery, heartache, and embarrassment. You want people to think of you as the intelligent person you are instead of thinking you're a complete idiot!
**steps off the soap box**