The blog will be on a short break while #RWA14 commences. We’ll return on Tuesday, July 29th.
Good luck to our traveling Bad Girlz and to all the attendees!
The blog will be on a short break while #RWA14 commences. We’ll return on Tuesday, July 29th.
Good luck to our traveling Bad Girlz and to all the attendees!
As this post goes to press, yours truly is getting ready for the biggest romance writers’ convention of the year: RWA 2014. I know without a doubt that I’m going to have an amazing time there. I love going to workshops, catching up with old friends, meeting new people, and just generally immersing myself in a happy writer wonderland.
That said, right now, as I’m getting ready? I am a giant ball of stress. Packing, early morning flights, social overload, fashion anxiety. They’re all very real concerns for even the most experienced conference-goer. For someone who’s only attending for the second time?
So. For the sake of my own sanity, I started making lists. Then I looked at my list and wondered if it would look even more terrifying if I had an item for every letter in the alphabet. Then I realized making such a list would be an awesome excuse to procrastinate the rest of my packing.
Thus, I bring to you:
A is for Alcohol: You’ve heard it before. One of the most popular activities at a big conference is drinking. The hotel bar and a bunch of the watering holes around it will all be prime networking locations. But if you’re one who prefers to drink a little more than a little in order to get past her social inhibitions, I highly recommend stashing a bottle in your luggage. Because let me tell you, the drinks at those places will not be cheap. You’ll have to buy one in order to have something in your hands all night, but avoid some of the worst of the bill by nipping a bit of liquid courage in your room with your buddies before you go.
B is for Batteries: All conference long, you’ll be live-tweeting and messaging back and forth with your friends trying to figure out where’s the best place to meet up. Heck, RWA even has an app this year. All those messages and tweets and schedules take up precious battery space, though. If your phone runs out of juice fast, make sure to bring a supplemental battery to keep you running, outlet or no.
C is for Coffee: VERY IMPORTANT FOR PUTTING YOUR BEST FOOD FORWARD ON LITTLE TO NO SLEEP.
D is for Drama: There’s always some sort of drama surrounding the annual general meeting. Things change. Decisions about membership and the future of the organization get made. Either inform yourself about the issues and participate, or decide to focus on your writing and ignore it. But either way, don’t let it keep you from having a great conference.
E is for Earplugs: Even the best roommates sometimes snore. Even the best hotels sometimes stick you next to the elevators. Even the thickest walls allow the sounds of partiers and night owls in. Better safe than sorry. Earplugs are your friends.
F is for Fabulous Shoes: Put a couple thousand primarily female conference-goers in one spot, and what do you get? One hell of a shoe parade apparently. Bring some comfortable kicks, but remember that this is a place to see and be seen, and there’s no easier conversation starter at this particular party than fantastic footwear.
G is for Granola Bars: The conference is only providing one lunch this year, and there’s not always time to grab a real meal between meetings and workshops. Stash a couple snacks in your bag to tide you over, just in case.
A funny thing happens when you get a bunch of enthusiastic, regularly stressed-out, mildly neurotic, but ever-hopeful writers together: They realize they’re normal. Normal for writers anyway.
Writing, as I’m sure you know, can be very isolating. You have your CPs, WCs, perhaps an agent or even an editor, but they aren’t physically with you every day. Most days it’s just you and the ole laptop or desktop, clicking away, playing with your imaginary friends. Maybe you’re on deadline and freaking out about not finishing in time. You’re querying and freaking out about the replies and rejections. Perhaps you’re polishing up your manuscript and you’ll soon be on submission, so you’re freaking out about the future OR you’re on submission, and freaking out about who will have interest and who won’t. You might have a new release and you’re waiting to see how your book sells and OMG!
Note all the freak outs that come along with being an author? And here’s the really fun part: From what I’ve learned by chatting with established authors, both midlist and best sellers, the freaking out never goes away. Waiting and anxiety, fretting and doubting, but digging deep to find your motivation and patience – these are all parts of the business. How do we stand it? How can we possibly survive this much wackadoo?
Simple. We surround ourselves with other writers who are freaking out. But instead of a snowball effect of freakage, it somehow makes us calm the hell down. Weird, huh?
We email, text and call each other to celebrate the wins, no matter how small, because a fellow writer knows every win is a big deal. We do the same when we stumble and fall, because our writer peeps will listen, sympathize and then pep talk us back up to functional capacity. We communicate and keep each other grounded, focused and motivated. However, the best, most therapeutic of all author activities is the in-person Writer Get Together.
Preferably for a few days, outside of any conference or actual writer work, we gather with other writer friends and simply exist in the same physical space. We like to sit in our comfy clothes, with no make-up on, chug enough coffee to stun a donkey, and talk about everything. No really. EVERYTHING. The craft of writing, the business of publishing, how the heck royalties work, social media, what to wear at conference, what conferences to attend, how to style our hair, gray hairs, our kids’ afterschool activities, food and how much we love it, chair upholstery, mermaids, camp songs, Legos, hormones, mulch and whether or not Tony Stark has a house on Lake Norman. (He totally does, btw.)
At some point we gussy up and go out for food and beverage, but mostly it’s a lot of sitting around (or floating if in the pool) and commiserating.
Topics bounce around like ping pong balls, conversation drifts naturally in and out of “real life” and writer life, and somewhere around that 24th hour mark everyone realizes, Holy shit I needed this quality writer time like oxygen!
Each writer recognizes that they are normal. Everyone else is freaking out about things too, everyone else has doubts, strengths and weaknesses, and everyone hopes they’re a few pounds lighter by the next conference. We laugh about what we’ve been through, what we’re going through right now and while we may leave exhausted from all the socializing, we’re also a lot stronger and steadier than we were a few days before.
THIS is why you need to get together with your writer friends. I mean it! Plan a get together right now. Try for a weekend getaway. If you can’t swing an entire weekend, shoot for one overnight stay or a day trip get together, somewhere you can talk. At minimum, take a long lunch with some other writers and nurture your writer soul while nomming on good food.
Do this and I promise you will be able to face the insanity of writing with a more zen outlook. What else do you do to keep the crazy at bay? How does quality writer time help you?
Okay. Time for raw honesty, here. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but I’ve never been one to sugar coat shit — it’s still shit. So here it is.
It doesn’t look good for the home team, folks.
I started out with such high hopes, a kickass game plan, and the stamina to make it through a three month journey to writing a manuscript. And here I am at halftime with a big fat goose egg on the scoreboard.
Yeah. I suck.
So what went wrong in the first half? What didn’t I account for in my brilliant plan? If I’m going to make any adjustments to my defensive line, it’s now or never. Right? We can still turn this thing around.
Only…there’s a slight problem. My opponent is fierce and relentless, and smiles at my measly attempts to take him down. What I need to adjust is the one thing I CAN’T.
THE DAY JOB.
Sure, I thought about it. I cut down to 3 days a week and planned on using some vacation time here and there to make up the difference. Seemed like an okay plan, until I got hit with an impossible deadline and watched my 2 days off get pried from my cold, bleeding hands. *cue violins*
I tried to fight through it, but after doing math for twelve hours straight there’s just not a lot of room left for creativity. I am exhausted, busy, and I am flustered. So exhausted that I don’t feel like doing anything but lay around re-cooping on my days off. So busy that I can’t even manage to read and comment on my fellow badgirlz blogs. So flustered that I’ve been having my seven year old daughter make my to-do list, because I can’t seem to remember to pick up the Combos I promised her from the convenience store.
So, not only do I suck at blitzing – an idea I came up with – but now I’m a disgruntled employee, lazy wife, horrible friend, and even worse mother (how did I forget the Combos??)
See where I’m going with this? It’s like a freaking snowball, getting exponentially bigger as the days go on. How can I write with all this crap going on? Where would I find the time if I could?
I always hear people say you need to find a way to write through it all, but how? HOW, when there aren’t enough hours in the day? HOW, when you’re creative mojo is being sucked away by deadlines that your bills depend on? HOW, when you’re trying to write a family saga but feel like the world’s worst mother?
I’m all ears, folks. I don’t want pity, I just want some ideas. Help me get back in the game!!
Hope you’re blitzing better than I am!
You probably know from previous blogs, I’ve been taking a screenplay class. My instructor has what I call the perfect combination of teacher requirements. He’s very knowledgeable about his craft, and he’s entertaining. Funny as heck actually. I’ve learned a lot from him over the past few months. He always throws out one-line bits of information, hoping something will stick. For me, some things stuck and some slid down the wall of too much to remember.
However, one thing he taught us, I’ll hold on to forever. This is what he said:
“You are God.”
He spent weeks trying to get us to understand this one simple concept—when you are the writer, the creator, you are God. You decide everything in your story. You decide who lives, who dies. Who has children? Who has affairs? Who falls in love, and who doesn’t?
He was right. You create the people. You create their universe. You are God!
As Bruce Nolan learned in Bruce Almighty, with great power comes great responsibility. So my advice to writers is to use this power wisely.
Here are a few things to remember as you start from nothing and create EVERYTHING.
Let’s call it Writer-God 101.
You must fill your world with interesting people.
We’ll start with Heroines. You can’t make them too weak, or they come across as whiny. If you make them too strong, they come across as hard. If you make them too perfect—well then, what do they have to learn in the story?
Heroes. The men of our dreams. Again, too weak equals yuck. Too strong—hmmm. On second thought, big, strong, bulging muscles. Is there such a thing as too strong for our alpha males? :) But even the strongest hunk needs a softer side, right?
As you create the outer shell of your characters by supplying traits like blue eyes and blonde hair, don’t forget about the inside. You can’t start your story with a contented heroine dancing around in a field of daisies, with nothing to get in her way of ultimate happiness, but a few annoying blue birds singing in the trees around her. Nope. Your characters must grow and the way they do is by drizzling enough pain and suffering into their lives to make their journey realistic. They need to fight some sort of battle. The character could be dealing with trust issues, addiction, insecurities, maybe the loss of a loved one, or a broken heart. But they must overcome something. Who creates these painful circumstances for your beloved characters?
You. Writer-God. You.
You need to invent appealing secondary characters as well. Your heroine needs friends and family members, who are helpful, fun and aid with keeping the story moving.
By the way, Writer-Divinity, while you’re creating your kingdom, you will need to produce cars, animals, malls, tornadoes, food, night, day, etc., etc. You get my point. You must create EVERYTHING!
By now, I’m sure you’re feeling the weight of your characters’ world on your shoulders. And that’s where it should be. Like my teacher said repeatedly, “You are GOD.”
How about it, my writer friends?
Let’s create beautiful worlds together.
Always remember to dream big!
So, E. Michels is sick. I am not sure how one gets sick in the summer, at home, while watching me remodel our kitchen, but she managed to do it. As I looked upon her lying on the sofa moaning, “UHHHH, I feel so crappy. And, I have to write a blog post.” I decided to take pity on her and help a sister out. So, the Alpha Male is taking over the airwaves this week for some tidbits of random thought, and an opportunity to rant about life. I would like you to note the quality of my punctuation. It is a little known fact that I do all of E. Michels initial line edits. Oh yeah, that’s right – the secret is out. As a point of order, I believe in the oxford comma just like I believe that Pluto is still a planet, regardless of what is currently trendy. I am just old school like that…well, at least 90s school.
Anyway, I have watched my beautiful bride toil over her laptop, actually she has gone through 2 of them so far, and is working on a third; and I must admit I am very proud of her. She (and I’m sure many of you) has faced insurmountable odds on her way to realizing her dream. All forms of obstacles (that’s pronounced ob-stack-els for you OH BROTHER Fans) along the way: rejections (oh the rejections), re-writes, re-brands, stopping manuscripts half way in to start another, etc. The list goes on and on. I thought early on the rejection was the worst. I don’t know about you, but there are only so many times, and so many people, that can tell you, “YOU SUCK” before you start to believe it. In contrast, there are only so many times your loved ones and friends can tell you, “YOU DON’T SUCK” before you no longer believe them. Getting through this was by far the worst, or so we thought.
I would have to say that, in truth, the rejection stage was not the worst. Truly the hardest part to overcome begins much, much, further down the line. Let me paint a picture for you. You just pushed through the rejection thanks to your unshakeable self-confidence (or sheer stubbornness – your choice.) You have signed with an agent, you have a book deal, you are on deadline, and things are going well. You have won the war. You have book one done, book two almost done, and you are still working on book three. Things are clicking baby, your creative juice sippy cup runeth over. All is right with the world. Then book one hits the shelves. At first this is AWESOME!!!! You are on a high matched only by rolling ecstasy on a Friday night in the height of your college days (or so I have read.) This is what it’s all about, you are blog touring, book signing, tweeting your heart out, and marketing is so much fun… Right? Oh, wait, shit, you have another book and a half to write. Now you are so wrapped up in worrying about your numbers, answering your comments, dealing with your publicist, all of your creative juice is corked up like an 80 year old man on an all fiber diet. What do you do?
In my humble opinion the worst thing that can happen to a great writer is getting published. If you truly want to distract, befuddle, and block a great writer; give them a book on the shelf to worry about. Once it becomes sales numbers, marketing plans, blog tours, and book signings, it is all over. You forget the only thing you are there for, the one thing you do, your only marketable skill – telling great stories. It is about the STORY, people. The STORY is the only thing that matters, it is your whole purpose in life. If you lose sight of that, you lose sight of why you started this crazy journey in the first place. Sure some people don’t do it for the craft, they do it for the idea of the fame and fortune. Those people will never see the fame, or the fortune; of this I am certain. The writer that will truly succeed as an author is the one that is focused on the story. If you remember this, block out the industry bullshit, you will look up from your laptop one day and realize that you became a NYT bestseller three books ago, you will shrug, and keep on writing.
Thank you for listening to my rant and remember – do not sell yourself short, do it for the right reason, don’t listen to the haters, and never give up.
“What do we fish for? BIG FISH!!” – Mr. Alpha Male
I plugged this in for E. Michels:
The thoughts, comments, and baseless complaints in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of Elizabeth Michels, or Elizabeth Michels LLC. They are intended for entertainment purposes only and should not be read by anyone. Now, go buy a copy of How To Lose A Lord In 10 Days Or Less.
When I started writing my first novel, I knew it was going to be awesome (see Jeanette’s previous post). I knew what I wanted to write about, I had my characters, I made a plot outline, and started typing. Over time, that draft grew into an almost shamefully bad novel that slowly turned better. Even the better version somehow didn’t “click” as a whole, though. Was it conflict, motivation, or character arc? Yeah, pretty much all of the above. So I worked on those things, polished it up, and polished again. I worked on it until the polishing turned into obsessive tweaking, and it still didn’t work. While the writing was (pretty) good, the characters were (sort of) likable, the dialog and settings were (all) right, the sum total felt about as structurally sound as a house made out of a couple of old single-wides shoved together with vinyl siding tacked over the seam. And yes—where I live, this is an actual thing. Sure, it keeps out the rain, but it’s not Architectural Digest….and its novel version certainly won’t get me published.
After banging my head against this shoddy wall for eons, I finally realized that as it stood, that story would never get past the permitting stage. Blame it on pacing, the dreaded Sagging Middle, or the subplot that was really more of a tangent that read like filler rather than legitimate GMC stuff. Its structure just wasn’t up to code, even if a lot of the building materials were of good quality. I’d written a tear-down! Someday, I might salvage the good parts, but I know I’ll have to incorporate them into new construction.
These days, it’s taking more time to crank out a novel than it used to, but I’m spending more time on the blueprint stage. I’m keeping close to GMC (goals, motivation, and conflict, not the pickup truck), and paying much more attention to something I didn’t even realize was important: a timeline. This is the actual chronology of the story. Does the action take place over years, or one season? Or just a few days that change the course of your character’s life?
The Sagging Middle is often blamed on pacing. If your writing flows and your scenes are paced well, but your story still feels off, your pacing issue might be a timing issue. You might have the wrong timeline for the story you are telling. A sexy romance might have more fizzle than sizzle if it takes several years. A coming of age story might be rushed if it all takes place in a weekend. And if your manuscript is like my first one where the main action is over a few days and then streeeeeetches out over the next year to finish, the whole thing is off-balance.
A tight time frame gives a sense of urgency, or can build intensity if there is a deadline for the characters to meet. A longer time lends itself more to a family saga. A season-long story works well for coming of age stories and romance. It’s up to you which time frame you choose, but I urge you to stick to it, just like a good building contractor should. It might end up being the key to the construction of your next great novel!
When I first started writing seriously, I was twenty-nine. It was the summer after my second year of teaching, and beginning to write down all the stories in my head was the first step on a long road toward rediscovering myself after a pretty difficult period in my life.
I came up with an idea. I started a new document.
And let me tell you: I was on fire.
The words flowed. Everything that came out of my brain was sheer, staggering genius. Angels wept, reading the beauty of my prose. I was convinced that I was going to sell in a minute flat. The instant I finished that bugger, publishers were going to be knocking down my door, desperate to bring my literary brilliance to the world.
Do you believe me? If so, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.
I look back now on those first fledgling efforts, and I’m struck by a mixture of mortification and wistful fondness. Baby Me was so adorable! So naïve! So confident!
She didn’t know that you shouldn’t use two adverbs in every sentence, or that dangling modifiers were even a thing. She didn’t know about beat sheets, or Big Black Moments. Hell, she didn’t even know her book needed a f*$(ing conflict.
She was, in a word, a beginner. An amateur. She didn’t know what she didn’t know, and so she thought she knew everything.
I’ve come a long way since then, but it’s been a hell of a difficult road. The journey has been humbling, and there have been times when I’ve lounged around in a pit of despair, bemoaning my inadequacy. Even now, when things have been looking up in my career, I’m plagued by self-doubt. I’m arguably the most skillful at my craft as I’ve ever been, and yet my confidence is nowhere near as high as it was when I first started out.
In other words, I’m a poster-child for something known as the Dunning–Kruger effect.
If you aren’t familiar with this particular principle of psychology, allow me to briefly explain. The idea is that this basic cycle applies to everyone working to master a new skill or enter into a new field:
To put that in graph form:
(I’m not sure about you, but the fact that psychology has actually given a name to what I’ve often imagined to be my own particular brand of neurosis is oddly comforting.)
Sometimes, it’s tempting to look back on the heady days when I first started out on this crazy road with nostalgia or even longing. I wish I could write that freely and with such self-assuredness, knowing what I know now.
But then I remember: I was an idiot back then.
And the fact that I feel like I’m an idiot now is a really good sign that I’m a lot less of one than I used to be.
It’s great to see all the posts for #BGBlitz. Mine is a little late, but that’s okay because now I can give you a goal and an update.
My #BGBlitz goal is to finish Book 2 of my contemporary series. I’m almost a month in and I have ~15,000 words. That’s not the 30k I’d like it to be, but it’s because I’ve also been editing Bk 1 to make it shiny and bright. I think it’s mostly shiny now. Maybe.
So, from here on out, I’d like to write Book 2 in 8 consecutive weeks and have a completed rough draft very close to Labor Day. I’ve written books in two months before, but with month long gaps in the middle to promote this release or pause for the entire month of December due to holidays and birthdays. Caveat: My rough drafts are normally about 65k words. I do A LOT of beefing up with round 1 edits. It’s just how I write.
McGovy #BGBlitz Goal: Finish the rough draft of Book 2 by Labor Day.
McGovy #BGBlitz Playbook: Write at least 1,500 words a day with a stretch goal of 2,000 per day.
I find personal accountability helps me a lot when it comes to keeping to my daily writer time. If you see me tweet about a #1k1hr, it’s because I need to hold myself to it that day. Sometimes I text a writer confidante and say, “I’m going in.” An hour or so later, I report out with what I’ve accomplished. This ‘play’ keeps me from getting side tracked with emails or internet fun times.
Lori mentioned Book in a Week last week and it sounds like an effective tool. Do you have any tips or tricks to help reach your daily word goal? How do you stay focused and write every day?