Just Write: Career-minded authors, take note

My writing is going well, and this is no accident. I’ve been working feverishly on several projects, and I’ve signed four contracts over the past few months. How do you do that? You stomp on discouragement, and kick fear to the curb. Those sensations don’t serve you any longer.

Just write. It sounds easy, of course. Like anything that’s worth doing, it’s not easy. Today, I was thinking about the things that hold me back, and I managed to pinpoint the number one barrier that causes any so-called writer’s block, regardless of how long the block lasts.

HESITATION. Any kind of hesitation seems to throw a wrench into my timing chain. If I spend more than a brief second thinking about writing, it’s less likely to happen. That is because another sinful voice pops in to say hello.

DOUBT. Doubt is never welcome, but it whispers in my ear when I sit down to write. Doubt usually translates into, “Eh, I’m not really feeling it today,” or “I just don’t think anything I write at this moment will be any good.” How do we tackle doubt and hesitancy?

JUST WRITE. It takes a long time to learn to shuck off these horrid voices; it takes some of us longer than it takes others. National Novel Writing Month—coming up in November—was very helpful for me in this regard. I learned to write until I was finished, not back track, not think too much—just write. I apply everything I learned in NaNoWriMo to any writing I do the rest of the year.

If you intend to make money off your writing, I’d say the best thing to do is just write. Maybe the first draft will be terrible, but that’s okay. Worry about it when you’re done. Don’t waste your time thinking about it when you should be writing instead.

And most importantly, if you aren’t having fun, your approach needs to change. After all, what’s the point in doing anything if it isn’t fun? Wait, don’t answer that.

Just write.

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Workshop: Writing for publication

writing for publication flier

 

I am so excited about this workshop! I look forward to sharing what I know with fellow writers. We all have a lot to learn, including me. It’ll be a great experience. Be there or be square!

Feeling rejuvenated

Last week, I had a dream about someone I’d never met. The very next day, I met the person in real life. My dreams have been very powerful, prophetic, and telling lately, providing insight, ideas for stories, and even brief escapes from reality. The nightmares haven’t ended, of course, but I’m grateful for even a short reprieve from those.

I’m filled with creative energy, bursting at the seams, and when I was able to change my perspective about the novel I’m currently working on, a few pieces fell into place, and I realized where I’d gone wrong. I ended up deleting at least three chapters, and removing the entire first section.

As I drove home in the pouring rain, I felt as if my father was sitting in the seat behind me, guiding me.

And I began a steady mantra to myself, a soft whisper in the back of my mind:

I will get an agent. I will sell a book to a big publisher. I will do it.

Because half the battle is the mindset. I’ve known this for many years, but it’s taken all that time to break out of the mold created for me when I was little, to shed the negative thinking I was brought up with.

I see where I made my mistake. I made my mistake when I believed the Voices I heard as a child, the ones that said I would never succeed. I made my mistake when I believed the people who scoffed at my dreams, crushing them like smoldering cigarette butts under their shoes. I see where I made my mistake.

Now I’m going to correct it.

New York Times Best Seller list, here I come.

Two Oceans
Two Oceans

Write what scares you

At a support group meeting this evening, I discussed my childhood fantasies with complete strangers. It was both terrifying, and relieving. I told them I couldn’t remember much of my childhood, because I spent most of the time escaping into worlds of my own creation. I knew I was being bullied, I knew I was miserable. So I made a decision.

I just won’t be here. I will be somewhere else.

Rosa Sophia in 1991
Rosa Sophia in 1991

I became quite good at leaving my body and drifting away into a story. It was a ritual. I would arrive at school, go through the motions, sit at my desk– and then depart.

A good friend of mine often mentions people we went to school with, but I never remember any of them, and if I do it’s like a shadow, a distant familiarity I can’t put my finger on. But I remember the stories I told myself. I remember those very well.

In every story, it was dark. I would walk through my house and realize my mother and brother were gone. They had been kidnapped by malevolent entities, bent on murdering them and coming for me next. Because I was such a brave girl, I would leave the house to save them, heading straight for an abandoned mansion on a hill, knowing my family was trapped there, and it was only a matter of time before I lost them. Deftly, I would sneak into the derelict building, destroy the enemy, and rescue my family. At the same time, I would inadvertently free the ghost of a boy who’d been imprisoned there for many years, and he would fall in love with me. Meanwhile, my mother and brother would gush over me, telling me how wonderful I was, and how grateful they were that I’d saved their lives.

My brother Miles and I in June, 1991.
My brother Miles and I in June, 1991.

I was reading a book the other day that recommended write what scares you the most. I told the group I’ve been trying to do just that, but something is eluding me. I’m on page 225 of a novel unlike anything I’ve ever written, and much of the topic frightens me. The story involves alcoholism, love, betrayal, and coping with psychological problems rooted in childhood. I spend a lot of time crying when I’m writing this book.

But there’s something in there I can’t quite grasp. Maybe it’s hidden in the shadows in that derelict mansion, or perhaps those amorphous entities are keeping the secret from me. And so I endeavor to write what scares me the most, because I figure it’s not only a way to write a darned good story, but it’s also a way for me to escape the shackles that bind me.

What scares you the most? How do you incorporate it into your writing?

Sometimes I’m too afraid of what other people will think to write what truly frightens me and expose it to the masses.

How about you? 

Wacky Word Wednesday: Snooze and you lose

Last week, my alarm started buzzing and I hit the snooze button. I saw it as if I was seeing it for the first time–

Snooze.

This has got to be one of the strangest words I’ve ever seen. According to Merriam Webster, snooze is “a nap” or “to doze”. As I search for the origin of this word, I cannot find it.

Apparently, the first known use of the word “snooze” was in 1793. Some think it’s merely a word that’s supposed to mimic the sound of a snore. I don’t know how I feel about that.

What do you think? This is one wacky word.

In fact, it’s making me want to take a catnap, drowse, take forty winks, kip, nap . . . You get the idea.

Understanding PoV

Point of view in a story or a novel can be tricky.  Chances are, if you are writing a novel, then you have come across some kind of problem with point of view in the past.  Point of view (or PoV) is the perspective from which you are writing.

Before we delve deeper into this topic, allow me to present a brief overview of PoV.  This article will concentrate on the three most common points of view– First person, second person, and third person.

First person can be very difficult to write in, although many authors manage it well.  My first short story, “For I have Sinned“, was written in first person.  This PoV was essential for the atmosphere that I wanted to create.

In first person point of view, we write directly from the main character’s perspective.  This PoV is obviously very limiting.

Here is an example of first person point of view, taken directly from my short story, “For I Have Sinned“:

I touch the tender area around my eye and feel the scratch on my cheek; David’s cheap wedding band had sliced my skin the night before.

Note that this story is also written in present tense.  I will touch on present, past, and future tense in another article.  For now, before I get you thoroughly confused, we’ll continue with PoV.

In second person point of view, it is as though the author is speaking directly to the reader.  This PoV reminds me of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that I used to read when I was a kid.  This PoV is seldom used.

Here is an example of second person point of view:

You walk down the dark corridor, reaching for the gun in your holster.  You hear a strange noise and you startle, your heart pounding in your chest. 

In third person point of view, multiple characters can tell the story.  This PoV is much less limiting than the other two, and is the most common.  Most problems enter the picture when one point of view changes too quickly to another point of view.  I’ll explain that in a moment.

Here is an example of third person point of view, taken from my novel, Check Out Time:

Naomi stared down at her feet.  She wasn’t really listening to the pastor.  She couldn’t help but think that it was a little silly that someone who didn’t really know her mother was leading the ceremony.

The biggest mistake that writers make is suddenly switching from one PoV to another.  I personally made this mistake because I was thinking of how I was seeing the story in my head.  I was thinking of it as though it were a movie, and I wasn’t considering how it would come across to the reader.  I had this problem with Check Out Time.

I had one chapter toward the end of the novel where the PoV switched several times between Naomi and two or three other characters.  I did this because I wanted the reader to see how everything that was occurring was interrelated.  Instead, I only succeeded in confusing my editor, who would become engrossed in one point of view, only to be suddenly ripped away, and thrown into a completely different point of view.

Here is an example of a confusing switch from one point of view to another:

Robert looked lovingly at Alice and took her hand.  “I love you,” he said.  She smiled and kissed him, being a woman of action, rather than words.  They strolled across the lawn and toward the sidewalk.

He looked on with pride, content to see his son so happy.  It was a beautiful day, and they were a beautiful couple.  Ned walked back inside, and shut the door. 

Imagine that Ned had absolutely nothing to do with the entire chapter, other than the fact that he was standing in the front yard surveying this romantic scene.  I think it’s an issue of atmosphere.  The writer wants to paint a full picture of what is going on, and they want to include everything, thinking that it will draw the reader in.  This can also be an issue of patience; the author may be trying to show the reader too much at once.  For whatever reason, the author wants the reader to know that Ned is proud of his son, Robert.

On the contrary, this confuses the reader.    Suddenly, we are left wondering, “Wait, I didn’t realize Robert had a son!” A split second later, we are thinking, “Okay, um . . . Ned was standing there.  But where did he come from? Everything was from Robert’s perspective, and now all of a sudden we are looking at everything from Ned’s point of view.  Huh?”

There are more subtle mistakes to be made, of course.  Regardless of how the mistake is made, it often involves the author writing from one character’s point of view, and then doing one of two things:

a.)  We are suddenly and without warning seeing everything from another character’s point of view, such as in the above example.

b.) The story shifts to another point of view very briefly, perhaps for only one sentence or one paragraph.

For example, in one scene, we are with Don and Lacy while they are having dinner at Duffy’s, and all of a sudden there is this brief interlude that is something along the lines of, “Uncle Bob picked up his phone and called Lacy, but he was disappointed when no one picked up.”  End chapter.

You don’t even need to bring Uncle Bob’s perspective into it.  Maybe Lacy picks up her phone at some point during dinner and says, “Oh, dear, Uncle Bob called.  He must be trying to figure out how to use the DVD player again.”

Basically, point of view can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be.  Your first step in mastering the art of PoV is merely understanding it.

The best advice I can give any writer when they are struggling with their story is:

Put it down and give it a rest.  Walk away for a while.  Let it go for as long as you need to.  Come back to it when you’re ready, and re-read your work from a subjective point of view.  This can take a long time, but it is worth it.  If you think you’re having a problem with point of view, be sure to look for the common signs: frequent shifting between perspectives, short scenes set in another location and from another point of view, and confusing switches of any kind.  Ask someone else to read it, and see if they spot anything that indicates an issue with point of view.

Further reading:

Writing Advice– Point of View

The Literary Lab– A mid-distance point of view

Novel Writing Advice– Point of View

Writers: What’s the most annoying question you’ve ever been asked about your work?

For me, the most annoying question is, “How much of your novel is autobiographical?”

If Taking 1960 were autobiographical, I would be a tormented artist with psychotic relatives, and an apparent talent for solving decade-old serial murder cases.

If Check Out Time were autobiographical, I would be a somewhat homely girl with admirably large biceps, grease stains under her fingernails, steel-toed boots, and a dog named Diesel.

I am not either of these characters, and it grows tiresome when people continually confuse my life with my fiction. I know this happens to other authors. I attended a book talk once where the author was discussing her stories, which were loosely based on events in her childhood. In the book, the character’s father was a negligent drunkard (or something to that effect) and people in the author’s family were wondering if she was slyly revealing long-kept family secrets.

In a way, the confusion can be a compliment. Perhaps I have created such a believable world that people can’t help but think it’s an expression of my own life.

It does cause problems, though. When my mother first read the book, she was very upset, and wanted to know why I had killed her off. It took a lot of explaining to make her realize that Naomi is not me, and Naomi’s mother is not my mother. I pointed out some very large differences: Naomi’s mother is curvaceous, short-haired, and enjoys baking cookies. My mother is none of these things.

How much of Check Out Time is real?

Well, mostly just my experiences. Initially, I came up with the concept when I was working overnight in a grocery store, and when I had just met my dad again in 2008. I made up Naomi, gave her some of my interests, and gave her a few situations that I was familiar with.

To me, “write what you know” means “write the sorts of things that you’re familiar with.” I think some people take the phrase too seriously. Especially with fiction, people wonder if the author experienced the same things as the main character, or if the main character is based on them.

For example, the latest gossip centers around E.L. James and Fifty Shades of Grey. Everyone keeps whispering, “You’d have to know a lot about that stuff in order to write it.”

So, does E.L. James have a BDSM dungeon in her basement? Maybe.

Did anything in Check Out Time really happen? Most of it didn’t.

Writers: What’s the most annoying question you’ve ever been asked about your work? 

Have you ever written anything with a particular goal in mind, only to have readers interpret it completely differently? How did this affect you? 

Leave a comment: I would love to hear your thoughts!

Advice to aspiring authors

This is from an interview that I took part in six years ago, when my first short story, “For I Have Sinned”, was published by Wild River Review.  Looking back on it, I really liked what I had to say.  Feeling discouraged about your own writing? Read on.

Don’t give up. Learn how to take a lot of criticism. You won’t become a better writer unless you’re willing to have your work ripped to shreds. I also have a good technique for writing stories and novels and I’ll try to explain it the best I can. Remember that everything progresses in big circles. Experiences that change you will continue to do so for many years. The same thing goes with a story. When I write a novel, I try to visualize the story as a giant circle. Eventually, the main character thinks about something that occurred many pages back because they’ve been affected by it. Your writing has to flow. A river never stops for the rocks; it just tumbles right over them. I don’t know how better to explain it. That everything circulates and goes back to the beginning, I think, is the most important aspect of writing a story. Otherwise, you’ve just got this endless yarn wiggling around and looking for a place to ground itself.