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.

The freelancer’s nightmare

I have been freelancing full-time for three months, but I’ve been doing it part time for the past eight years or so. When I started doing odd freelancing jobs, I wasn’t confident enough in myself, and I felt safe sub-contracting for small presses, editing for magazines, because it meant I wasn’t yet in the position where I’d have to quote a price or answer a client’s heavy questions. For now, the client was dictating the price, and I did what I was told. I wasn’t ready for full-time freelancing, and I knew it.

I’m grateful I’ve had the chance to step into it willingly; I haven’t been forced into freelancing by suddenly losing a full-time job. Over the course of many years, beginning when I was a small child, I knew I wanted to be my own boss, so I worked carefully toward that goal, learning as much as I could, observing others.

I remember my mother quipping, “If it were up to her, she’d stay in bed and write all day.” Well, here I am, living proof that a person can stay in her pajamas if she wishes, recline in her bed, getting paid to read and write all day.

But I’ve hit some bumps in the road, which is inevitable and expected. I’d like to share those with you.

Learning when to say no:

For quite a while, the people I worked for were either writers I knew well in person, or small presses who hired me over the internet. So, my first ever in-person total-stranger client was a very large, imposing, somewhat batty man, who had a penchant for telling wild tales and claiming they were true. No, this didn’t end well.

We made an appointment to meet, and talked for a while in a café. I walked away with a heavy paper copy of his book, because at that point I still preferred my red pen. I’d been warned he was a tad off-kilter, and I should’ve stayed away from him. But I needed the money.

Woah, stop right there.

Sorry, my friend. Never say yes to a client who gives you the willies just because you need money. The writing was terrible, the client was creepy, I quoted too low of a price, and then the author grew anxious, demanded we end our collaboration, and I returned his manuscript and was never paid.

If you want to be a freelancer, especially full-time, learn when to say no during an uncomfortable situation. It’ll save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run.

Undercutting:

The word along the grapevine is there aren’t enough good editors to go around. And I’ve heard too many horror stories from my clients that make me think, yeah, they’re probably right. When you’re first starting out, you may be tempted to do anything for just about any amount.

“Wait, what, too much? Okay, okay, how about fifty bucks?”

Hey there, buddy. Not good!

Have confidence in your abilities.

Some people can’t afford good services. Others can afford them, but don’t want to pay. Whatever you do, don’t become the desperate freelancer who is more anxious about getting paid something, anything, than providing good, honest services for a reasonable price. Being on the bottom of the barrel means you’ll be treated that way; you won’t be respected by clients, when in fact you deserve respect. Be proud of your skills, and make sure you get paid fairly. Don’t engage other freelancers in a game of dirty pool; it isn’t fair and it won’t help your reputation.

Organize your life:

Recently, my business has been getting hectic. I don’t mind; it’s a good thing. My client base is increasing, and things are going well. Maybe this has happened to you.

One day, you check your inbox, and you have an email from a client that says, hey, what happened? I haven’t heard from you in a week.

Ouch!

You never want to be that freelancer. We all make mistakes, but remember to learn from them. I am learning every day from my mistakes. When something like this happens, step back, re-examine things, and ask yourself where you can organize to keep things like this from happening.

I printed out two check-lists, daily and monthly, and put various copies around and on my desk. Every day, I train myself to look at those check-lists so I don’t miss anything. Other than my editing clients, I also have marketing clients, and I have to keep up with them on a regular basis. The check-lists help.

I also utilize Microsoft Outlook’s notifications and task manager to keep track of projects, as well as Excel.

There will always be bumps in the road. But rather than pretending they aren’t there, it makes more sense to fix the path. Make your mistakes, and move on. The freelancer’s nightmare doesn’t have to be reoccurring.

Using Track Changes in Microsoft Word

I often ask clients if they are familiar with Track Changes in Microsoft Word, especially if I suspect they aren’t particularly computer savvy. Usually, they have no problem, but sometimes during a second round of editing I see evidence that the client had difficulty with something but never asked me about it. Remember, it never hurts to ask.

When you receive an edited document from your editor, open it up and take a look at the red marks.

track changes 1
Ye gods, who wrote this? Oh dear, it was me.

When I am working with an author on another round of editing, I always prefer they leave Track Changes turned on so I can see any new changes they make to the document. This way, nothing is missed. When you review your document, you might be accepting and rejecting changes, or just reviewing it to return it to your editor and give her the go-ahead.
The only thing you need to worry about is the Review tab, pictured below.

Don't let all the other tabs in Word confuse you. Zero in on this little baby and you'll do fine.
Don’t let all the other tabs in Word confuse you. Zero in on this little baby and you’ll do fine.

When you are accepting and rejecting changes, you have a few options. You can manually go through each change, or you can use the previous and next buttons so the program will take you through each change. Whatever you do, don’t go too quickly because you may miss something. I find that rushing through a task is often the easiest way to make a mistake. And you certainly don’t want that mistake to go to print if you’re preparing to publish.

Just the other day, I was proofreading a manuscript that had odd mistakes in it—errors I attributed to Track Changes. Of course, we can’t blame the program. As long as you take your time, and make sure you review each change carefully, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Begin at the top of the manuscript and go through each change individually by clicking the next button. Clicking either accept or reject will take you to the next suggested change.
If you make any changes, you’ll notice your changes will come up in a different color than your editor’s changes. If you hover over each change, it should also tell you who made that change.

If your editor left comments in the margin, you can review the comments by clicking next or previous under the comments box. After you finish with the comment, you can either delete it by right-clicking on the comment and clicking delete, or you can reply by adding your own comment box below it. In the past, I’ve had a lot of fun with clients who’ve become good friends; we joke back and forth using the comments box, and each round becomes more amusing. Of course, we still retain a modicum of professionalism—usually!

The most important thing to remember about Track Changes in Word is that, like anything else, it is fallible. It’s a wonderful tool as long as you know how to use it properly. Take your time, and if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask someone. There are also plenty of fantastic tutorials you can find online, and You Tube is a great resource.

If you’re almost ready to publish your manuscript, I congratulate you! I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Readers: I would like to know more about what you’re interested in. What would you like me to blog about? Comment and let me know.

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!

The little editor that could

I’m happy to say that I’ve taken a leap and submitted some poems to a magazine. I’ve also made a spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions, and I intend to fill it. The blank page gives me incentive. While I absolutely adore helping others with their writing, I must also give myself a swift kick in the butt now and then, and try to get more of my own work out there.

After my day job at the library, I tied up a couple things, and worked on a rather involved editing project for a while. I’m finishing up for the day, and looking forward to a nice, restful sleep.

For now, click here to check out the Backwords Writer, my personal blog about poetry, writing, and life. I’d appreciate if you follow me there as well. I’ve been creatively inspired lately, and it’s making every day brighter!

I hope everyone had a lovely day. Enjoy your night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

The Backwords Writer without my name

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? 

A writer’s perspective on running

HighwayAs I sit here covered in sweat after my run, I’m thinking about all the things that led me to running, and how it corresponds with my number one passion in life– writing. I’ve been very depressed lately. I won’t say why, because I don’t discuss things like that in a public forum. I will say what’s helping. Running. Writing. Then repeating the process all over again.

I stopped running for maybe a month or two, and I have definitely been feeling it. Whenever I take a break from running, it reminds me how much I depend on it. In a sense, running has saved my life– or at least saved me from myself. I loved running right away because it made me feel child-like again, and that’s something even my childhood was lacking. I had to grow up fast. Running lets me let loose and regress a little bit. It feels good.

I’m going through a lot of pain right now. I’ve lost my appetite and I’m sad a lot, but I tend not to let it show. I went for a run today thinking I would just head down the street and turn around. Instead, my feet took me into the woods. I think I needed to be around the trees and water.

Next 1500 Feet

Running helped me deal with my father’s death. During the days prior to and following his death, I ran mostly at Carlin Park in Jupiter. When I slowed to a walk, I felt the tears coming. I wanted to scream or roll up into a ball on the path and sob. Instead, I picked up the pace and ran. I felt like he was running beside me. And I remembered a time when I was very little and my dad and my brother and I were in the field behind our house nestled in the woods. Dad said, “Come on, I’ll race you!” I ran, but my legs were short and I wasn’t fast enough. I saw the grass in front of me and Daddy’s tan work boots pounding against the dirt. I lost that race.

The Walkway

I think of stories when I run. Entire novels. Intricate plot lines. I have conversations with the characters and I imagine the yarns taking place all around me, playing themselves out in the woods. Recently, it’s been Meet Me in the Garden, my latest novel. I’ve never written anything so emotionally charged. There’s a lot of pain in those words. I think about it when I run.

I’m facing a lot right now. A lot of choices. I’m forging my own path, certain that I can make money doing what I love. I remember when I was a kid and someone asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“An author,” I said.

“Oh, you want to be a writer?” the man asked.

I gritted my teeth. “No,” I said. “I am a writer. I am going to be an author.”

He laughed snidely and said, “A little full of yourself, aren’t you?”

That was my mother’s ex boyfriend. You can see why he’s an ex.

Anyone who’s depressed should go outside. No, I don’t mean to tell you what to do, but at least try it. When I first started going to a chiropractor for my neck problems, I was deeply entrenched in depression and had just started running maybe a year or six months before. I didn’t expect it at all, but this chiropractor asked me about my problems and reminded me of how to pay attention to my body. “Exercise and eating right will make you feel better.” This should be an obvious fact, but when you’re depressed, the obvious becomes more elusive.

rosa in juneI started doing a 5k every other month. There’s not as much going on in south Florida in the summer, so I haven’t been scheduling any races recently. Florida seems to be the mecca for running, I’m not sure why. It’s one of the reasons I love it here.

I run because I love to run, because it keeps me from going crazy. I used to run in a figurative sense. Now I run in a literal sense. And I think of words while I run, stories. There’s nothing better for me than running. I don’t know how I’m going to get through what I’m going through, and I often wonder if I will. But one thing is for certain, whatever it is I’m going to do, I’ll do it on my feet, in my sneakers, running and breathing deep.

RUN

Photographs are copyright to me, Rosa Sophia, and may not be distributed.

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

The Hero Blog Hop: Alexis Nevid tells it like it is

Meet Alexis Nevid, private detective, and somewhat reluctant hero. Here she is, sitting at the Coral Reef Tavern, enjoying her favorite refreshment, whiskey on the rocks.

Alexis is a loner, but she has one good friend: Frank Gibson of the Witchfire Police Department. In Check Out Time, she is introduced as a somewhat mysterious woman of Native American descent, with a penchant for Cuban cigars.

She spends a lot of time in her little rented office, her feet propped up on the scratched surface of her desk, amid stacks of papers and piles of books. This is where she is introduced to readers, calmly waiting for an investigation to “fall into her lap”. When Spencer Whellaby, wealthy store owner, bursts into her office and asks for her help, she is thrown aback to discover that he wants to her to investigate a suicide.

Interestingly, I never meant for Alexis to become an important character. But I absolutely love her– she is tough, and she tells it like it is. She is reluctant to get involved in the lives of others, but she is strangely drawn to Naomi Vogler, the main character of Check Out Time, whose sad story touches Alexis’s heart.

Meet Alexis Nevid in my latest Mystery release, Check Out Time. I have a feeling she will be returning in future works. After all, although Alexis has a habit of disappearing when she wants to, she tends to reemerge when we least expect it.

Buy Check Out Time on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Available in print and e-book

Enjoy this short excerpt of Check Out Time . . . .

When Alexis didn’t want to be noticed, she had a talent for disappearing. As the sounds of the night settled in and bats fluttered in the overhang, Alexis sunk into the bench and became a statue—a part of the shadows. When the time came, she would be ready.

No one seemed the notice the dark shadow on the corner of a bench until it began to move, straighten, and become a human being. The night crew turned collectively and saw Alexis emerge from the darkness, smooth and snake-like, much like some denizen from another world.

“Where’d you come from?” Keith asked.

“I’ve been here,” Alexis explained. “I’ve been waiting.”

“Not for this . . . I mean, you didn’t know the power was going to go out, did you?”

“You’re quick, Mr. Ryan. I had a pretty good idea something was going to happen, but I didn’t know what. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Alexis pulled a nine-millimeter out of a holster on her belt. “I believe there’s something in there waiting for me.”

“What’s going on?”

“I’ll tell you later.” Alexis walked toward the front door.

Thank you to my dear friend Brian’s father, Michael, for taking the Halloween photo of me and immortalizing Alexis.

Who’s your favorite hero? Reply to this blog post with your name and email. You will be entered to win a digital copy of Check Out Time. Good luck!

Beginning July 27 and ending on the 31, over 100 authors and bloggers will share their favorite things about heroes. And everyone is doing a giveaway, including me!

We have THREE grand prizes. You as a reader can go to EACH blog and comment with your email address and be entered to win. Yep, you can enter over 100 times!

1st Grand Prize: A Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet
2nd Grand Prize: A $50 Amazon or B&N Gift Card
3rd Grand Prize: A fantastic Swag Pack!

Enter to win! Remember to leave a comment.