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Writing Life

Process? I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Process!

How many writing processes are there? Answer: How many writers are there? I find that writers tend to land on what works for them naturally.

My process is pretty much the same for every book. Now, being a former engineer, you might think that I’m all about Excel spreadsheets and plots and knowing where my turning points are within +/- 500 words.

Nope. I’m a total panster. I come up with a general idea, the characters, and a scene. Preferably the first scene which should be the inciting incident.

Sometimes, I’ll get the spark of an idea from a news story or song (while driving…always while driving.) This often happens when I’m in the middle of writing a different book. I like to use spiral bound notebooks to keep track of ideas. I’ll jot everything that comes to me in a notebook and set it aside until I have time to actually write it. IF I have time to write it. I have many notebooks waiting patiently for me.

I’m all about letting an idea marinate in my subconscious as long as possible before I start writing. Maybe that’s my equivalent to “plotting.” One thing I’ve learned is to keep scraps of paper around, including a waterproof notebook for the shower, to record ideas down that come out of my subconscious at the oddest moments. It could be a piece of dialogue or a plot twist or backstory. I’ve learned to be prepared to capture these jewels before I forget them. And I will forget if I don’t record them. (You will too!)

Let’s be clear: I don’t encourage anyone to follow my “process.” (Does it even qualify?) It can be stressful as you wander the barren landscape of a manuscript as the slobbering wolves of your deadline gain on you every minute.

What I would do is encourage you to embrace your process, whatever it may be. Don’t try to change your process because someone else says you should. I don’t care if they are an NYT bestseller or a well respected craft writer. You do you!

I’ve tried to change my process. I’ve read plotting book after plotting book. I’ve tried beat sheets and character interviews. But, I’m an impatient writer. I want to jump in and sink or swim. I don’t like the prework when I already know the first few scenes. I get to know my characters and learn their backstories and idiosyncrasies as I write. It’s fun!

Does that give you hives? Then, plot your little heart out before you write. Don’t fight the feeling. Embrace it. Learn to work with your process. And know that your process is as unique and as special as the book you’ll write!

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The Big Ravenous Drooling Bear (aka Deadlines)

Deadlines. Those little bastards. Most writers probably keep a planner of some sort and have deadlines circled in ominous red or big lettering like BOOK DUE or a three-fire alarm will issue from your electronic calendar. Deadlines are something we as writers must live with lurking in our lives. Hopefully, you picked deadlines for yourself that were doable and maybe even comfortable. However, one thing we never build into our plans are things out of our control like…

Acts of God!! *cue ominous music*

In my case, it was Mother Nature roaring through my neighborhood in the form of a tornado. Which, by the way, are extremely rare where I live in the upstate of South Carolina much less in December! Curse you, Global Warming!

We’re fine, the house will be fine. We’re getting a new roof, new fence, new shed. All fixable. The point of this post is not to host a pity-party, but to emphasize that sometimes things happen that are totally and completely out of our control. It might be weather related or health related (ours, our parents, our kids) or election related or maybe a friend needs us to drop everything and help.

As writers we have the flexibility to handle these crises as they happen, right? Maybe, maybe not…

One thing I learned after I accepted an offer of publication was that some publishers set their schedules months, sometimes up to a year, in advance. This is especially true if you are with a Big 5 publisher and got a print deal. Print requires a massive lead time, 4-6 months ideally. This means your book has to be fully edited (developmental, line, copy, page proofs, and a final proofread) before it heads to print.

For example, I have a book releasing in print August 1st, 2017. That book was due to my editor on November 1st, 2016. If I slip *my* due date, the entire process gets shifted and hardship falls to the publisher. Moving publishing dates that have been set for months is not good. (<–understatement) In other words, do not be late with your manuscript!

Not only do lead times figure into the equation, but if you are lucky enough to sign a three-book deal, you generally commit to due dates for all three books. This can commit your time for at least a year out! If you fall behind with the first book, what happens to your next two?

Back to my tornado…my plan was to hammer out the rough draft of my next book before the kids got out of school for Christmas break and before I receive edits on that book I turned in November 1st. My husband was actually scheduled to be out of the country for a week and I was going to work my butt off.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. My husband caught a flight home to help me deal with everything. We lost power for two days. People have been in and out of our house for the past week, driving me and the dog insane. Needless to say, that rough draft is not going to get finished before break.

However, that’s okay, because I have time built into my writing schedule. First off, let me get this out there…I am *not* a procrastinator when it comes to writing. In fact, I don’t understand people who do procrastinate. My anxiety would be off the charts.

Because I don’t procrastinate, I don’t bother to count days until my deadline and space out word count. Instead, I always write like my deadline is a ravenous bear chasing me even if that deadline is months away. I would rather build up a sizable lead on my bear instead of feeling him breathing down my neck. I ignore my deadline and try to get the book written as quickly as possible. This way if something happens that’s out of my control, like a tornado, or even something in my control, like I wrote myself into a corner, I’m not scrambling and panicking at the last minute. And guess what? I’ve always turned my books in early. That’s right, hate me if you want:)

This post is a cautionary tale about life and writing and things out of our control. If you are a procrastinator then…STOP IT! Don’t put off writing until that bear is huddled over your chair, drooling down your neck. You never know what might happen. And, no one wants to get eaten by a bear, right?

(**Sometimes though, really bad stuff happens. Stuff that’s more important than deadlines. That’s when you need to go to your agent and editor and have a ‘Come to Jesus’ talk about the future. That’s totally understandable**)

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Congratulations!! You Got a Book Deal…What Now?

With the Golden Heart® announcements taking place last week, it got me thinking of my own “class” of finalists in 2014. The Golden Heart® can be a huge stepping stone to publication. A majority of my class has gone on to ink publishing deals or get agents or self-publish or are *so* close it’s not even funny… I’m amazed by them every day. I’m sure the 2016 class (including our own BadGirl Sydney Carroll—woo-woo!) will be no different.

Yay, you got a deal! Celebrate and high-five and announce it over social media…but your job is nowhere near done. What actually happens after you accept an offer? Some of it depends on the house/editor and what kind of deal, but this skeleton of what happens is similar from house to house.

**A word on contracts…Don’t be surprised at how slooooow things move. If you have an agent, then negotiating the contracts can take months. I was through most of my edits before I signed the contracts on my Falcon Football series with St. Martin’s Press. As a new author, this made me nervous, as I worried things could fall apart at any moment. The reality is that accepting the offer is a virtual handshake. The contracts are red tape that your agent has to deal with. As a new author, trust in your agent, put your head down, and concentrate on releasing the best debut book ever.

The first thing you’ll get from your editor is your First Pass Edit notes. This can range from an email with bullet points to a Word document of several pages. It can also be very stress inducing. An author who enjoys receiving those initial edits is like a unicorn—I’ve never met one. Just remember that your editor offered on your book because they loved it and convinced an acquisitions board of its merit. Take a deep breath and tackle the issues. You’ll come out the other side with a better book. Once you receive edits, you’ll have ~1-4 weeks to complete.

Once you turn in your first pass edits, don’t twiddle your thumbs. If you signed a multi-book deal, get writing on the second book. Not only will you be chasing your contract deadline, but most likely, your editor will ask you for the first chapter or two fairly soon (before it goes to copy-edits) in order to include as a teaser in the back of the first book. If you didn’t sign a multi-book deal, start on your next project! You always want something in the pipeline!!

**Insert fun stuff** Typically somewhere in the editing process, you’ll get a peek at your cover! Hopefully, you’ll fall in love and plaster it everywhere. (I made a phone case out of KISS ME THAT WAYJ) Enjoy the high…now get back to work!

Depending on your editor’s schedule, (remember you are not her only author) you’ll receive Second Pass Edits. These are usually much lighter than first pass, and usually consists of detailed line edits rather than the big-picture edits. I’ve also had manuscripts that have skipped this step altogether and gone straight to copy-edits. In my experience, it’s depended on how light or heavy first pass edits were. You’ll have ~1 week to complete.

Once your editor accepts the second pass edits, the manuscript will be sent to a copy-editor. Their job is to get nit-picky about commas, hyphens, and awkward wording. They’ll also check for consistency of your time-line, character descriptions, and naming conventions. I’ve always received digital copy-edits, while some houses still send a printed out manuscript with markings. This can take several weeks. Remember, the copy-editing department services all the authors for your house. While you’re waiting on copy-edits to arrive, guess what? Get back to work!!

I *always* recommend reading through your manuscript one last time from start to finish after completing copyedits. At this point, you’ll be sick of reading it. Do it anyway. I promise you’ll catch a handful of mistakes. I’ve generally been given ~3 weeks for copy-edits, but I can usually complete these in a few days.

After you turn in the copy-edits, a few things can happen. For one set of digital books, copy-edits was my last review. For another set of digital books, I did a last review of a “book” formatted PDF version. For my print books, I get galley copies. This is a print formatted paper copy. I make any changes with a pen and scan the pages with changes back to my editor. The final step in all the processes is for a publishing house proof-reader to give the book one last read, catching any (hopefully) very small mistakes. Galleys take me ~3 days for a very slow, through read.

At this point, it’s all in your publishing house’s hands and the next step is your release. It can happen anywhere from four to eight months after you last touched your manuscript. In this time, expect to field constant questions from family and friends…when the heck is your book coming out anyway?

Guess what you should be doing with your time? WRITING! If you have other books due, it’s absolutely necessary to keep writing. Be professional; don’t miss your deadlines. If you aren’t under contract, you want other books published, right? They must be written to be published.

Harkening back to one of my previous posts on Debut Anxiety, the continued writing will also keep you (relatively) sane approaching your release. I’ve made no bones about the fact, I do not enjoy the pocket of time right before/after my books release. So, I’m like Dorie…I try to forget about the release and just keep writing…just keep writing…and (hopefully) repeat all the above over and over and over.

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Debut Anxiety

I almost named this Performance Anxiety (heehee), but I digress…

It seems like a good time to reflect on my last twelve months…one word comes to mind cRaZy. I will never have another year like 2015. Last January, I had one book on preorder. Now have eight(!) books listed on Amazon and by the end of the month will have five books released into the wild. Looking in, I’m sure it seems like I’m ‘livin’ the dream.’

And I am! Being a published author *is* a dream come true. I just didn’t realize how stressful the dream is. As in I cracked a tooth this year stressful. As in I’ve put on 10-15 lbs stressful. I haven’t written a post on this before or really talked about outside of trusted author loops, because I don’t want to come off whiney or ungrateful.

Believe me, I’m neither. (Not that some of you who are still in the trenches won’t want to punch my cracked tooth out anyway. Lol:) When I was receiving rejection after rejection during the submission process of my first manuscript, I remember reading a quote from a big-time author (whose name I can’t recall to give credit too, unfortunately).

She said, “Getting published isn’t the hard part. The hard part is *staying* published.” I scoffed. I harrumphed. I might have even flipped a virtual bird. Because there’s no two ways about it, getting published is damn hard!!

Here’s the rub: SHE WAS RIGHT. I apologize profusely to this wise woman for the virtual bird flipping.

At the beginning, it’s all exciting, fun times. Signing the contract. Getting your first advance check (if you’re lucky). Seeing your cover for the first time. Finding your book on pre-order at Amazon. You think, I’ll never come off the high. The warm fuzzies can’t be controlled!!

For me, the anxiety started when my book went out to reviewers. I knew it went out to reviewers because I was stalking my Goodreads page and noticed a bunch of bloggy-type readers were adding my book. The nail-biting commenced. The first review rolled in. A five-star. Yay! I was riding high again. The second one came soon after…a three-star. I plummeted. It wasn’t a bad review. She liked the book even. But, why didn’t she *love* it? It made me sick to my stomach. Now my obsessive checking of Goodreads filled me with anxiety instead of excitement. The crazy thing is I generally received great reviews. It didn’t seem to matter to my psyche.

From the time my book went on review, I had a difficult time writing. Which was very bad considering I was under contract to write four full length books in eleven months. To make matters worse, somewhere between the reviews and release day, I realized that there were Expectations—with a giant E.

I’m ambitious. I have goals. Even when I was seeking an agent or on submission, I put expectations on myself. But this felt different. Before, if I fell short, it was only me who was disappointed. Now I had an agent and editor who had taken a chance on me. And a publishing house that wanted to make money.

The expectations weren’t explicit, but the reality is that this is a business. If your book doesn’t perform…well, they aren’t going to give you another contract because they like you. Release day rolled around. I got a lovely email from my editor. My agent spread the word. Yet…I was not filled with joy. People congratulated me, and I grimaced out something resembling a smile. I drank copious amounts of wine while obsessively checking Amazon. My book spiked low and then after a week drifted higher and higher in the rankings. Higher is not good.

I read happy, joyous tweets or Facebook posts from other authors releasing books and wondered what the hell was wrong with me? Why wasn’t my first book release the greatest time of my life??

Anxiety stole my words.

At this point, you’re probably waiting for me to drop some words of wisdom. I wish I had some. After an author on one of my loops confessed her anxiety, a floodgate opened and *so many* authors chimed in with their own struggles. Most of us suffered through the same roller-coaster of emotions with our first release. If you can relax and enjoy the ride, then good for you!

If you can’t, I can tell you this from my experience…Bad reviews still have the power to sting me but have stopped paralyzing me. (And, yes, I know I shouldn’t read them, but I do and nothing seems to be able to stop me!) Approaching my fifth release, I can also tell you that I still do not enjoy release days. I’m not sure I ever will. But they don’t turn into week-long sessions of me curling up in the corner in a ball refreshing Amazon either. (And, yes, I know I should stay off Amazon too, but…yadda, yadda, yadda).

After all the release day anxiety/excitement fades, I hope every single one of you remembers why you started that very first manuscript years ago…for the love of storytelling. So that’s what you do. You sit back down and write another book. Maybe a better book. *That’s* where the joy is. In the work, not the release. Published or unpublished, debut or fiftieth release. The work will carry you through the insanity to the other side.

And if that doesn’t work, there’s always alcohol…

 

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Slipping under the Crazy-radar…barely

have I gone mad?
I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Cheshire_Cat_KHRECI’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best person to ask for advice when it comes to balance, sanity, and managing the emotional highs and lows of a writing career. I exist in a constant state of madness and chaos, barely managing the roles of wife, mother, daughter, friend, and writer that life has thrown me.  And though I’ve never been professionally diagnosed, I swear I’m ADD or ADHD, or whatever the terminology is to describe a person who cannot focus on a task for longer than two minutes.

In short, I’m a hot mess.

So how does someone with little to no control over the madness, manage her sanity?

I have no ever-loving clue.

What I can tell you, however, is how I manage to slip under most people’s crazy-radar.

REMEMBER LIFE EXISTS OUTSIDE OF WRITING  (blasphemous, I know)

I volunteer at the school. I go for walks with neighbors. I accept invitations to friend’s barbeques and school award dinners.  Yes, this takes up precious writing time. But being reminded that real people exist, is important for me. I can’t live in a fictional world all the time, and neither should you. Live life. Have fun. Then return to the page feeling refreshed and invigorated, knowing your reality check has been made and you’ve done your service to society by actually leaving your house. Wearing clothing upon your departure from said house, however, is optional. (Though highly encouraged.)

REWARD YOURSELF

I am not a prolific writer. Nor am I verbose.  My books rarely break 50K words, people. The idea of writing 1K words a day to meet that goal is sometimes an agonizing, acute and sheer form of torture for me. While some days those 1K words spill out in two hours, other days it takes until 9pm to eek in the last word. In order to prevent myself from going entirely mad, and to motivate me to hit my word count, I reward myself. It doesn’t have to be anything big. A square of chocolate will do. So too will a walk. A phone call break, wherein I talk to my very real (and not fictional) mother. A lunch date with friends. A volunteer opportunity. A yoga lesson. A pedicure. A You-Tube break. I have to DO SOMETHING to make sitting at the computer a pleasure and not a chore. I encourage you to do the same. Trust me, your inner crazy will thank you.

I keep trying to think of other ways to slay the crazy dragon, but they all come back to the two ideas above–in short, occasionally step away from the writing. I love being a writer (I swear I do), but engaging in other activities reminds me how much I like writing. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. After a break, I’m ready to return to my passion…and the madness. It’s what I do.

It’s what I love.

 

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