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Burn Out is Real…and it’s Scary

I’m a burn out. Wait, wait! Let me rephrase that. I am burnt out.

I am in the process of writing my fourth book in a year and a half… During that time, four other books released. I know there are some amazing authors who can kick out a book every two months — or one month. I wish! But that’s not me, and I know that.

Let me be clear…I’m not complaining. NOT ONE BIT.

But I am admitting…
I’m burnt out.

As a debut author who had never signed a contract before, I didn’t realize how grueling a publishing schedule would be. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to just put my head down and write as I did for years before I even tried to get a book deal.

Sure, I knew all about the other things that go into being an author—the editing and editing and editing, social media, marketing, conferences and continuing education workshops, author events and signings and more editing…and, of course, writing.

I signed my first contract in February 2015 and I haven’t been able to catch up yet. As soon as I signed that contract and put myself under a real deadline: Reality happened. Exhaustion and stress and life unraveling happened.

Real life doesn’t stop when you get a deal. And for me, it got a whole lot more complicated.

An entire re-write of my fifth book is staring me in the face. Minutes click quickly toward the date that it’s due (again). So how do I get my mojo back? How do I muster up the strength and energy to write the best damn book I possibly can?

I went back to my favorite place to write. A local French bakery in the “Noda” neighborhood of Charlotte called Amelie’s. It’s got such an eclectic vibe. There are always people there. Creative people. Business people. (Not that those two can’t be the same,) All ages from toddler to Betty White.

I settled into a seat and put my head down. No Internet. No writing companions. Just me, the music (because you guys know I need the music) and my laptop. And I wrote my ass off. I was there from 6pm to 2:30 in the morning. The next morning, I jumped out of bed and was back at a cozy table with black coffee and a delicious breakfast sandwich (eggs, spinach and asiago on a croissant—in case you want to get the full picture) by 8am.

The words were flowing. The ideas kept popping. It’s almost as if I had to get out of that pocket of life that was stifling my creativity and go back to this vibrant, happy coffee shop where I’d written so many words previously—before the contract.

Life. Moving. Jobs. Deadlines. Marketing. Motherhood. Social Media. Events. Separation. Moving. Kids. Time. Love. Loss.

There’s always going to be something. Find your happy place and get back on track. If that doesn’t work—mix it up. Try something you’ve never tried before (I just started yoga again after 9 years). Go where creative people are. Find meet up. Be in the presence of individuals who like the same things you do. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Find yourself. <3

After a few more sessions at Amelie’s, I’ve almost finished re-plotting and restructuring my current work in progress. And I’m going back tonight.

 

P.S. Photo: A scrumptious berry tart and dark chocolate covered strawberries. Happy Valentine’s Day to me. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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The Down Low on Life with a Multi-Book Contract

Hi ho! Sophia Henry here and today I’m giving you the inside scoop on what happens after you sign a multi book contract. 🙂

1. Celebration! Seriously. Dance and shout and let it all out because you scored a multi book contract with a publisher! That is awesome!! Congratulations! Get the celebration out of your system, because it’s time to…

45840449 - writing with quill pen last will and testament or concept for law, legal issues or author

2. Write your butt off. Remember that first novel you wrote? I’m guessing it takes most of us more than a year to research, write, edit, rewrite, and re-edit that first book. It took me over three years w/ my first. You *probably* won’t have that kind of time again during your contract. Do you write slow? Save yourself some stress >> Be honest and realistic about how fast—or slow—you draft and build that time into your contract.

3. Editing. You will go through at least two—maybe more—rounds of edits on each book. The first will be developmental edits from your editor. Once you complete those your MS is sent to copy edits. (*Keep in mind you may go through more than one round of developmental edits to get the book where it needs to be). If you have a print book, you will probably have a page by page proof to go through after copy edits.

4. Market/Promote. While you are doing all the edits on the book to polish it to perfection, you will also be marketing and promoting. On Facebook. On blogs. On Twitter. On Instagram. Wherever you chose to have an author presence. 🙂 My advice is: take those posts to heart and make them the best they can be. Whether it’s an author interview, a guest post or an excerpt–this is what you ware showing the world about you and your writing. Maybe the blog only has 25 followers. It doesn’t matter. Promotion is promotion. 25 is better than Zero. AND if someone googles your name, that blog might come up. So always best at your best. Your brand is your career.

46744572 - promote yourself concept

5. Write your butt off. While you are doing all of this you are also (or should be) writing the next book in your contract—because I bet your deadline to have that to your editor is coming up soon.

6. Release Day! CELEBRATION TIME! Stop what you’re doing and celebrate today. I don’t care if it’s your 1st book or your 71st. Take the time to celebrate each accomplishment. You published a book (or 71 books). You ROCK!!

7. Release Day Continued… Don’t plan on doing anything on Release Day other than: answering calls, texts, FB messages and posts, Twitter, Instagram, commenting on blog posts. THANKING everyone who bought, read, shared, helped in any way with your book.

8. Write Your Butt Off. At this point you should be very close to turning your next book in to your editor. Can I just say that TIME FLIES when you have all of this going on. It goes in warp speed, I swear.

9. Edit. See above. Just because you’re a super awesome published author with an amazing book out doesn’t mean your second won’t need (major) editing.

10. Market/Promote. See above, but you’ll be doing it for Book 2…AND Book 1. You can’t forget about that puppy! Because it’s probably going on sale a few weeks before book 2 comes out and you want to get people into your series so they preorder book 2 or snatch it up on release day!

11. ARE YOU WRITING BOOK 3 YET?? BECAUSE IT’S DUE TOMORROW!! Okay, maybe not tomorrow, but all of these things will sneak up on you. You *may* need to ask for an extension. I’m not promoting it, but it happens. Be honest and upfront with yourself and your editor. If you are honest, changes can be made. Don’t avoid contact with the world because you’re embarrassed or stressed. We are humans, not machines. An e-mail or phone call is a glorious thing. 🙂

12. #2 through #7 above OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER until you die. Death may be a *slight* exaggeration, but the cycle continues so you must be prepared for it. It’s overwhelming and amazing simultaneously. YOU’RE AN AUTHOR!!

This post is not meant to scare. It’s meant to PREPARE. Because on top of all this–you have REAL LIFE. Jobs, family, root canals…Life doesn’t stop when you are writing. Honest and realistic are my favorite words. If you are honest and realistic with yourself and your editor: You’ll be happy, your publisher will be happy, your readers will be happy. WIN WIN WIN!

Has anyone felt the heat yet? Please share your words of wisdom from your magical and crazy experience. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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A New Beginning…

This blog cycle we are supposed to be dispensing wisdom about staying physically and emotionally healthy as writers… *twiddles thumbs* <– which makes my carpal tunnel flare so I’m going to stop now.

I wrote a post awhile back on my treadmill desk which has done more than anything to get me healthier and more focused on my writing. I still read my reviews (slaps hand) and hate release days (pass the wine.) My “wisdom” is rather lacking.

Instead I’d thought I’d pull a Monty Python…a now for something completely different!!

I’m going to discuss beginnings. Like literally the beginning of your manuscript. I really don’t consider myself an expert on anything writing related. I’m always looking to learn from someone farther along on the journey. So I was surprised after my editor read my latest manuscript when she said, You should teach a class on how to write first chapters.

I scoffed and replied back that there was no method to my madness, but it got me thinking… I’ve never changed the first chapter of any of my books. From the time I drafted the first chapter through all my own edits and my editors’ developmental edits. That would be nine that have gone through professional editing, so maybe I’m doing *something* kind of right. Also, I regularly judge unpublished contests in both historical and contemporary categories which honestly helps my writing as much as the contestants. I read my own work with a more critical eye.

It’s no surprise the biggest issue with first chapters is managing backstory. Two big problems I see:

  1. The “Coming Into Town” beginning. This can be in a car or carriage and usually involves the hero or heroine ruminating on what is bringing them back to their hometown or why they’re moving into a new town. It’s usually a big fat stinky info dump. Doesn’t matter if the heroine is describing the scenery in-between introspection about her family drama or getting fired from her job. Unless something active happens, like she gets pulled over by the cops or gets beset by a highwayman or rammed in the bumper by the hero, just skip it. Sorry, but it’s boring.
  2. The “As You Know” conversation. For a new author (or even experienced one) this can be a deceptive backstory dump. I typically see this conversation taking place between a main and secondary character. For example, maybe it’s the heroine giving the lowdown to her best friend. Except, it’s really a sneaky way of imparting backstory to the reader. If you can add in the phrase “As you know” before dialogue, you have a problem.

As you know  “I had to come home because my grandmother is sick.”

“Your brother should be helping,” her best friend said.

As you know  “He is a wastrel and at the clubs until all hours, the scapegrace!”

If the two characters are close, then it’s a conversation they would have already had. Plus, it’s usually mostly telling with no showing. Better to start with the brother coming in drunk and the sister confronting him in the wee hours. That would impart the needed knowledge plus the ability to weave in a gamut of emotions from frustration to love.

The best piece of advice I read about backstory came from a Margie Lawson class (I think she got it from someone else, though). Write all the tidbits of backstory for your characters on a piece of glass. Then, shatter that glass. Pick up only the most important facts. Facts that the reader *must know.* Sliver them in throughout the first third of the book. Discard the rest.

I also want to touch on prologues. I’ll admit, I love the damn things, but the overall consensus is to avoid them. My way around this? CALL THEM CHAPTER 1! All three of my Cottonbloom books start with an incident between my hero and heroine that took place many years in the past. That scene was needed to frame their present. But, make sure it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t use a prologue as a means to impart backstory. It must reveal something vitally important about your hero or heroine or their relationship with each other (not necessarily romantic.) If you can lose the prologue and still understand the story, then…lose the prologue.

I would posit that the advice “Start your book with action!” should really be “Start your book with the inciting incident!” The inciting incident is what upsets the balance of your characters’ lives and sets the story in motion. This “incident/action” doesn’t have to be a fight or a car crash, it can be something much more subtle.

For example, the book I’m working on now is Book 4 in the Cottonbloom series (and incidentally has no prologue, because it didn’t *need* one.) In Chapter 1, the heroine wants to surprise her fiancé with work on his classic Camaro and is dropping it off at a restoration garage. Except, she finds her best friend’s panties under the seat. The hero is the mechanic witnessing this incident.

Another piece of often heard advice is that your hero and heroine should meet in Chapter 1. I do agree you should get them on the page as soon as possible, but sometimes the inciting incident only involves the hero (for example) and it snowballs to include the heroine. I have at least two books where the hero and heroine don’t meet until Chapter 2 or very late in Chapter 1. On the other hand, the hero meeting the heroine can be the inciting incident. This is often the case for a romance. For example, maybe the highwayman who stops our heroine’s carriage *is* the hero.

What about you? Agree or disagree? Do you have any advice for beginnings?

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What’s in a name?

I have many weaknesses in my writing. Some I’ve identified and am working on, and some I’ve not yet discovered. But, that’s true for all us! No matter how long we’ve been writing there’s something else to learn. Which is awesome, and also why I’m afraid to go back and read any of my books. I’d probably nit-pick them to death with what I’ve learned since.

One of my weakness is picking names. Not that I pick *bad* names per se, but I tend to get hyper-focused on one or two letters in the alphabet. For example, my character list for Slow and Steady Rush:

Darcy (heroine)

Robbie Dalton (hero-often called Dalt)

Reed (cousin and hero of Book 2)

Dave (football player)

Rick aka Rick the Dick (policeman)

Dylan (football player)

Ada (grandmother, not technically a ‘D’, but strong ‘D’ sound)

I realized my issue when I was editing a scene with Robbie and Reed. What stinks is when you become attached to names, or the names have already imprinted onto your character. There was no way I was changing my hero or heroine, but I caved and changed Reed to Logan. I had already written his book, so this was heart-wrenching. I had to keep Rick the Dick (for obvious reasons, amiright?), so I changed Dave to Tyler and Dylan to Jamal.

Another of my weakness is keeping (or not keeping) a series bible. This has bitten me on the butt more than a few times, yet I feel like I’m too busy to go back and reconstruct a detailed one. So while I recognize this as a weakness, I still didn’t do one at the start of my new series. But I was introduced to a copy-editor trick that helps me avoid name repetition and also helps me keep track of main character highlights, like hair and eye color and any distinguishing characteristics or titles. It’s the Cliff Notes version of a series bible.

Pardon my handwriting and lack-of-OCD straight lines…this could be set up in Excel, no doubt, but I like keeping it next to me while I’m starting a book so I can jot things down or scratch things out. To me that’s easier than the screen. Plus, I use a spiral bound notebook for each manuscript to long-hand scenes and jot down ideas, so this works for me. I’ve found it super simple, and extremely useful…

You can divvy up grid2your quadrants however you like, and if you do it on the computer, you could expand into as many as you want. But, the point is to write every name (first, last, nicknames) and proper nouns on the grid. From a glance you can tell where you have too many names of the same letter.

 

 

It also helps narrow the search for new names. In my case, I’d probably go to the ‘H’s or ‘P’s in my big book of baby names for a first name and the ‘A’s or ‘Y’s in my telephone directory for last names. (Don’t throw those antiquated books away… They are very handy for surnames!)

I hope this helps some writer out there avoid my missteps. I would be very interested in how you guys keep track of names or other shortcuts you use to keep track of your series…

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DICK, and Why You Need It

Beyond the skill and love of writing, there’s something more important. If you’re going to be a published author with staying power, you need some DICK.

Settle down and bear with me. DICK stands for:

Determination, Independence, Compassion & Knowledge.

(Get your mind out of the gutter – where it’s having a faaaaaaabulous time with mine!)

Determination. You’ve heard it before but it cannot be said enough. You get into the business of writing, you better be determined to keep at it, NO MATTER WHAT. Put on you perseverance pumps and your best resilient red lipstick because this industry will mow you down if you let it. Do not let it. Remember everyone goes through the valleys of darkness (yes, valleys, plural), even your very favorite NYT Best Seller. She or he probably considered quitting when their sales dipped or their contract wasn’t renewed, or their sub genre glutted, etc. etc. Here’s a little secret: everyone has considered quitting at some point. Probably a few times, but guess what. They didn’t. That’s why they’re still around, putting out books.

Real life will get in the way of writing, and sometimes you must let it. We will go through times when writing simply has to be put on hold in order to deal with bigger issues. Other times, you have to power through and write anyway. I’m currently writing the opening of book 3 and this blog post on my phone as I sit at the gas station around the corner from my house. Why? Because the people looking at my house still haven’t left and if they’re going to put in a purchase offer, I’m certainly not going to rush them. So here I sit. Me, typing on my phone and my son with his iPad, looking like we’re casing the joint because we’ve been here half an hour yet haven’t left the car. At the moment, my real life is a tornado of house showings, keeping my house tidier than I ever keep it otherwise (seriously, you could eat off the floor right now) a book deadline, day job projects, and wondering if and when we’ll sell or find a home, etc. etc. I know we will, but these ‘tween times ain’t easy. And still, the earth keeps on turning and I’ve got to keep on writing, just like you. 😉

Independence. Here’s something you may not know as a newbie author. Your agent or editor, amazingly fabulous though they are, cannot always be there for you for every little thing. Your critique partners, while THE best, most coolest people you know, have books and lives of their own. Sometimes you’ve got to go it alone. You’ll need to make a judgment call, turn in a novel that hasn’t received critique, think up a book title, resolve an issue – all of it, by your self. It’ll be scary, but I promise, you can do it.

Compassion. For yourself and others. For yourself, ease up on the harsh judgment. Maybe you didn’t write 2,000 words today. Hell, maybe you didn’t write 2. That’s you okay. Go get ’em tomorrow tiger! For others, realize they may be in the middle of a shit storm you can’t even fathom. If someone’s behavior is less than stellar, maybe cut them a little slack. But if they’re consistently horrible, that’s a whole other story.

Knowledge. This business is constantly changing. Uuuuugh, that sounds so trite, but it’s also true. Publishers close, new house lines open, editors move, sales trends change monthly/daily. Arm yourself with knowledge. Stay plugged in via a writer’s group, blog or loop, Twitter or Facebook or whatever. Stay informed so you aren’t left with your mouth hanging open like a fly catcher the next time some big news rocks publishing.

I hope this insight helps (and made you smile at least a wee bit). Just remember, whenever the going gets tough, think about DICK.

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I Read It For The Articles

From the moment I walked into my very first RWA chapter meeting some four odd years ago, I was hooked. I met amazing people who thought it was perfectly normal to talk about crazy writer eyes and drink mimosas while discussing marketing and beat sheets. Ladies who wanted to talk plot bunnies and gentlemen who were prepared to compare lists of dream agents at a moment’s notice.

stepbrothers-did-we-just-become-best-friendsSimply put, I’d found my tribe. The folks who understand me and accept me, and who I understand in a way I don’t think I can entirely explain.

These people are the reason I get up on the second Saturday of every month and trek all the way across town to go to meetings. They’re the reason I make every effort possible to get to as many conferences as I can. Not workshops. Not networking. But people. Friends.

But the funny thing is that no matter why I go, I go. I attend at least half a dozen workshops per year at my local chapter meetings, and that many again in a single weekend at a conference. And in spite of myself I keep learning things.

When it came time to plot my latest book, what did I do? I found the handouts from four different plotting workshops I’d been to. Crafting a synopsis? I referred to my notes from the synopsis clinic my chapter-mate put on. Trying to get excited about writing yet another love scene? I even have a handout for that. Self-publishing, copyright law, writer software, editing. You name it, I’ve probably seen someone speak about it.

The business and craft of being a writer are complicated, nuanced things, and the simple fact is that at any stage in a person’s career, there are still new things to learn. We have to keep growing and evolving and finding ways to keep our practice as writers fresh.

I may not have thought I was going to all those meetings and conferences for the workshops. But damn if I haven’t accidentally learned a lot from them all the same.

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Lessons From The Corporate World

I’m going through leadership training at my day job. It’s pretty awesome because it’s all about Women in Leadership, less focused on our particular industry, more focused on how to be a leader in anything we do. As I sat listening to a panel of corporate hot shots this summer, some of the advice struck me as particularly helpful for authors and I wanted to share it with y’all.

1. Have a personal brand and a brand strategy.  As an author, specifically, this means figuring out your branding. The big things like: Are you a cozy southern mystery author? Sexy contemporary romance with wry wit? Deep and thoughtful YA? Maybe you’re sexy YA romance author who is deep and thoughtful. It may take a few books or your publisher to help you nail it down, but eventually, you’ll know your particular brand.

Once you know your brand, develop a strategy. If your books are steamy, your book covers should reflect that. Whether you’re indie or traditional, consider your brand and communicate with your cover artist. When they give you the form to fill out for art details, be detailed. If your humorous, share your humor on social media. If your books are adventurous and fun, it doesn’t hurt to be fun at a conference. From your online behavior, to how you appear at events and reader meet and greets, YOU are your brand.

In even greater terms, your personal brand means important things like: Your reputation for professionalism, your public persona, your business ethic. Are you genuine and polite or is it super obvious to everyone that you use people merely to get ahead? Are you easy to work with and dedicated or do you complain about everything, to anyone who will listen? All of this is part of your brand too. You think the good or bad word about your behavior doesn’t get around? You know it does.

2. “I am where I am because of all the promotions I didn’t get, all of the things that didn’t happen. Now I see, the rejection led to my success.”

This came from the head of a national department, but it hit home with me as a writer. The jobs she didn’t get only made her work harder. She kept going, kept trying, and as a result, ended up with a plethora of experience that made her a top executive. As writers, I think we face a hell of a lot more rejection than other industries. But we can take the closed doors and criticism, and use it to push us harder. Keep writing, keep trying. You will only get better. If one path to publishing is closed, go for another one. That is where you could find success. No one ever grew stronger because their path was easy. You gain strength when the going gets tough.

3. Three things will lead you to your definition of success, regardless of what it may be:

a) Believe in yourself. 

b) Find your voice and help others find theirs. Opportunities to speak, lead, teach, mentor, volunteer, moderate, serve on a committee – all of these are a form of helping out and networking. Once you have a clue what you’re doing, get out there so you can help others and meet people. In teaching, we learn and serving we are served. This pretty much goes for every aspect of life. Our time is limited, but we can always volunteer to do our share.

c) Enjoy the ride! Otherwise, this journey gets to be a real drag. There will always be somewhere else to go or something else to do, that next book deadline looming on the horizon, but pause every now and then to take note of how far you’ve come. Pat yourself on the back for the improvements and face palm at the failures. Get together with your writer people and celebrate even the smallest accomplishment. Rent that confetti canon, if for no other reason than just once in life you want to fire off a freaking confetti canon!

confetti canon

 

I hope some of these points speak to you. They certainly did to to me. The business side of writing can be pretty nuts, and quickly become overwhelming, but when I think of it in terms of any other business, and how I’d conduct myself and my reactions, it helps me manage the madness. 😀

Write on!

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Getting Down and Dirty…with Sentence Mechanics

You thought this was going to be fun and sexy for a hot second, didn’t you?  Sorry to disappoint, but this is important! I want to save you hours of rewrites down the road. If you’ve gone through the editing process with a good editor, this post might not apply, but if you haven’t–or maybe even if you have– then pull up a chair…

boredI’m going to talk about two bad habits I am still learning to shake—Autonomous body parts (Abp’s) and Simultaneous actions (SA). I’ve learned these abbreviations by heart because I saw them so much in the editing process. I still struggle with this in my first drafts, but at least now I can recognize and fix them before shipping them off to my editors.

Some of you are shaking your head and tutting because you learned this in your Creative Writing classes or English 101. I was an engineering major—which means I can pretty much plug every logical plot hole in my manuscript, but I was never taught the intricacies of grammar beyond what I learned in high school. My Samhain editor (that poor, patient, saintly woman) has taught me so much I dedicated my second historical to her. No lie.

It wasn’t until I received first round edits on my first historical, An Indecent Invitation, that I recognized the true extent of my issues with Abp’s (Side note: BadGirl Heather had very gently pointed out this problem in a novella she read for me, and I had half-heartedly started to break myself of the habit then. Listen to your CPs!). My editor had almost no plot-type changes for me to make, but I had Abp’s everywhere, especially during sexy times, and it led to some serious re-writes. It stemmed from an earnest, new writer desire not to start too many sentences with He/She, which certainly is something a writer should avoid, but it led me into other mistakes.cpine hands

  • Autonomous Body Parts are basically when parts of the body act with no oversight from the person. The easiest way to recognize Abp’s is with examples. Everything here is from An Indecent Invitation. Are they the best examples? Are they how you would write/rewrite them? Maybe not. I just want to illustrate what Abp’s are and ways to fix them.

Example 1: Simple fix of two Abp’s

Not good: Her head tilted back and her eyes closed with a small hum of pleasure.

Better: She tilted her head back and closed her eyes with a small hum of pleasure.

Example 2: Here’s one where all sorts of Abp’s came out to play…

Not good: He rolled her to her back and notched a leg between hers. His tongue flicked her parted lips, and she opened willingly. She explored the width of muscles through his damp lawn shirt. His questing tongue skimmed her teeth and rubbed shamelessly against hers. Her hands battled his shirt, trying in vain to pull it out of his breeches and up.

Better: He rolled her to her back and notched a leg between hers. He flicked her parted lips with his tongue, and she opened willingly. She explored the width of muscles through his damp lawn shirt while their tongues played. His shirt became her nemesis as she tried in vain to pull it out of his breeches and up.

*Notice how eliminating the Apb’s forces you to tighten prose and/or find more interesting ways to phrase things to avoid a litany of He/She’s.

Two caveats—because every rule in the English language has to have exceptions, right?—is instinctive/visceral reactions and using Abp’s outside of POV.

Example: Instinctive/visceral reaction

She stroked him, and his hips jerked.

In my opinion, when it’s a response that doesn’t involve conscious thought, I like Apb’s. I think it would sound weird, with “…he jerked his hips” substituted in this case. But, there’s lots of wiggle room here, and it really depends on your style (or maybe your editor’s style.)

Example: Rarely, I’ll use Abp’s when describing a non-POV character’s movements.

His hand inched closer to her hiding spot. Black dirt caked his fingernails.

Again, this is my opinion, but making his hand autonomous in this case lends the scene a dread that saying… “He moved his hand closer…” doesn’t quite impart.

  • Moving on! Simultaneous Actions (SA) are another of my weaknesses. I fell into this bad habit to avoid starting too many sentences with He/She as well. Generally, this is all about using an -ing clause at the start of a sentence.

Example 1:

Not good: Slipping off his sodden coat, he sat in the nearest chair to pull of his dirt-caked boots.

Better: He slipped off his sodden coat and sat in the nearest chair to pull of his dirt-caked boots.

Can you slip a coat off while sitting? Debatable. Cleaner to connect with a conjunction.

Example 2: Can’t push and pull at the same time…

Not good: Pushing her dress down to ride on her hips, he pulled at the laces of her stays.

Better: He pushed her dress down to ride on her hips and pulled at the laces of her stays.

Example 3: Don’t be afraid to link more than two actions…

Not good: Dressing quickly, he flipped the sash up and climbed onto the narrow ledge.

Better: He dressed quickly, flipped the sash up and climbed onto the narrow ledge.

*You could slip in an “After dressing quickly…” but I think it’s cleaner to link with conjunctions. Especially when it’s something simple you’re trying to convey. I need my hero dressed and gone. That’s it. No need to get fancy.

Example 4: Here’s a super messy sentence that could qualify for Abp’s and SA’s and a dangling participle to boot.

Not good: Spinning her legs off his, only his banded arm at her waist kept her seated.

Better: She spun her legs off his and tried to stand, but his arm at her waist kept her seated.

Maybe even better: She spun her legs off his and tried to stand, but he kept her on his lap with a strong arm around her waist.

*The Better fix in what is in the book, but if I could go back…

Slipping in an occasionally Abp or SA is okay, but be conscious when and why you are doing it. If you already know better than to use Abp’s and SA’s then…well, I might hate you just a little:), but if you’re starting out, try to avoid the mistakes I’m still making!

Happy writing!

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The Power of Perseverance

Since I already did my post on what I constantly screw up for this month’s theme, I’m going to use this post to write about something that’s important for any writer: Perseverance.

If you want to make it in this business, you need it. There’s no denying that. You will constantly face obstacles and challenges—not to mention rejection—and it’s important you keep on keeping on.

This is the second year I’m a mentor for Pitch Wars, a writing contest where hopefuls submit their work to a limited number of potential mentors, vying for a slot as mentee. If chosen, there’s two intense months of rewrites and revisions under the guidance of a mentor, leading up to the agent round.

Right now, it’s selection period. The mentors have been researched (hopefully), their wishlists scrutinized. The submission window has closed, during which the hopefuls submitted their polished work, and now they’re all waiting with bated breath, hanging on the tweets of the mentors to see if their MS will be selected.

As I was trying to figure out what to write for this post, I put out a call on twitter (as one does) and asked what the Pitch Wars hopefuls would like to see. I got several tweets, but the one that stuck with me was, What should we do if we don’t get picked?

Well. I’m glad you asked. Grab your marshmallows, gather around the fire, and let Auntie Brighton tell you a little story…

August 2013, I submitted my query and the first 250 words of CAGED IN WINTER to a contest (I can’t remember which one…I thought it was Pitch Madness, but the timing doesn’t work, so just make one up) and then I waited. And I hoped. And hoped some more. I was so sure I’d get picked.

And then I didn’t get in. (Dun dun dunnnnnnnnn)

Did it suck? Hell, yeah, it did. Did I give up and never write again? (Spoiler alert: my sixth book released last month.) So, uh, no. I didn’t give up. I picked up my bruised ego and my dented pride, and I kept going. I continued on the path I’d intended. I was fortunate in that my path wasn’t much longer. Two weeks after that rejection from the contest, I received the first of four agent offers on CAGED IN WINTER.

So what does this tell us? A few things: one, everyone’s path is different. Some get in contests and land an agent immediately and their book sells at auction. Some get in and don’t get any requests. Some don’t make it in and get a dozen. Some don’t do contests at all and query for a week and get an offer. Some find an agent after years in the trenches. No two paths are the same–your path is your path for a reason.

Two, some manuscripts just aren’t made for contests. There’s not enough room for them to breathe. They can’t shine. From 140 characters to 50 or 250 words…or even one chapter, sometimes that’s not enough to get to the gold of your manuscript.

Three (and this goes for more than just contests, but for errrrrrr’thing in publishing), reading is subjective. Ridiculously so. Every person who reads your MS is bringing their life circumstances and their baggage with them, and that affects their reading experience–for better or worse.

Lastly, the power of positive thinking didn’t kill me. It hurt a little after my hopes got crushed when I didn’t make the cut, but the main reason I was able to wallow for an hour, then shrug it off and keep going is because I believed in my work.

I feel like I need to repeat this while putting it in all caps, bold, italic font, so I think I will: I BELIEVED IN MY WORK.

If you want to persevere in this business, you have got to have faith in what you write. Because if you don’t? Who’s going to?

During the 48 hours, give or take, since the submission window closed for Pitch Wars, there has been an influx of tweets on the hashtag, most mentees biding their time chatting while they wait to hear. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of negative thinking hanging out over there, too. Many are certain they’re not going to get in. So certain of it, they’ve pretty much written it off. Meanwhile, I still have approximately 30% of my subs to even open, let alone read. They’ve thrown in the towel before we’ve even had a chance to read their name on a submission form.

I’ve always been a believer in the power of positive thinking. I get excited over things that may never happen, but I do it because it makes me happy. I like looking forward to something, thinking about all the good possibilities. Is it disappointing? Well, sure, sometimes. But, hey, life is disappointing sometimes. At least this way I got some genuine happiness from hoping.

Here’s the real truth: this industry is chock-full of disappointments and rejections and many, many no’s. That’s just a fact. You are going to face it every leg of this journey from finding agents to publishers to working with editors. The good news is it’s also full of lots of good news! But you’re going to sometimes have to wade through the bad to get to the good. One thing that helps is to remember you’re not the only one to go through this. Head on over to the good ol’ google and search for famous author rejections. There are a lot. Pages and pages of them, and many of them are classics or beloved books, ranging in category and genre. But what do they all have in common?

Not a single one of them gave up when they got that inevitable ‘no’. Will you?

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Just Come Back Here

Oh, man. A month blog topic dedicated to stuff we screw up. This is like a playground for writers. We, as a whole, are pretty good at picking apart what we suck at, I think. Things we fumble time and time again. There are countless things–not trusting myself to tell the story; not being able to write an elevator pitch to save my life; never being able to write a short and concise synopsis (which is actually pretty hilarious considering I’m a very concise writer in my drafts). While I definitely do all those things, what I do without fail is fall to crutch words. Those pesky words I can’t let go of. They’ve been with me since my first manuscript, and if manuscript #9 is any indication, they’ll be with me for a long time to come. My favorites? Just and back. (FYI: I deleted an instance of just that didn’t need to be in this paragraph…I can’t run, and I can’t escape.)

Wordle_-_CreateWhen I Wordle my novel pre-edits, those two are nearly as large as the characters’ names on my word cloud. But like with most crutch words, they generally aren’t needed. Or at least they aren’t needed nearly as often as I would lead you do believe in my first draft.

I’ve managed to train my brain to automatically delete any unnecessary thats–while reading and writing–but I can’t quite get there with these others. Maybe it’s because when I draft, I tend to do so pretty quickly, where I don’t really think about the words I’m writing. I just (<—see??? I’ll never give it up!) write them. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown comfortable with certain ways to say certain things, and that’s how they come out on the page–as my crutch. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad I have Wordle (as well as an editing checklist I work off of) and copy-editors to delete these pesky things pre-publication, because they can weigh down the sentences and keep your MS from being punchy.

A few other crutch words to be on the lookout for are: really, very, totally, so, that, and then, just, well, good/great, quite, little…and probably a dozen others I’m not thinking of.

How about you? What are your crutch words? And do you have a special process or checklist you work from to eliminate them?

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