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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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You Can Do It!

Do you mind if I vent for a second? I know other people have bigger problems than I do–hell, the entire country has Problems–but there is something that’s been getting me down lately. Homeschooling my thirteen-year-old daughter, who we had to pull out of public school due to some chronic health issues. To be clear, I love my daughter–I love both of my children–and her health is critical to me. I am willing to make sacrifices for her well-being, absolutely.

But, in the other column, have you met teenage girls? To paraphrase that Merc with a Mouth and noted child psychologist Deadpool, teenage girls are characterized by long sullen silences and mean comments. This is how I’m spending all day, every day. With a moody teen who misses her friends and is understandably frustrated about her circumstances. Add to that my struggle to remember what little I ever understood about 8th grade Algebra and it’s amazing my life hasn’t become a looping gif of Bridget Jones’ “I choose vodka” declaration.

This time last year, my kids got up, went to school (on the days my daughter felt up to it), and I had the house to myself. For hours! Oh, the glorious solitude. I got to write and play in my own make believe world and, shockingly, got PAID to do it! What kind of nonsense adult job is that? Now, I still have deadlines for books but far, far fewer productive hours (and as a result, fewer paychecks). I wonder if I’m driving my daughter away with all this togetherness. I wonder if I’m too impatient with her. I worry that I’m not enough to keep the former honors student caught up academically with her peers. I say to my husband a dozen times a week, “I can’t do this.” And, yet, since it’s getting done, apparently I….can?

Reluctantly, perhaps. Inexpertly, for sure. With a side of tears and swearing, absolutely. But I am managing something difficult in spite of the self-doubt. One day at a time.

I’ll bet you a dollar there’s something in your life you want to accomplish but you doubt your ability to achieve it. Maybe it’s lose a little weight or learn to knit or write a book or make the world a better place and you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do this.” I bet you another dollar that you absolutely can.

I do not love this new homeschooling arrangement, but my daughter is making straight A’s. We’ve both been learning about algebraic formulas and the Articles of Confederation and how animals adapt to their environment. It is not a perfect educational environment and our progress is slow, but we’re damn lucky that we have the resources and computer and flexible schedule to attempt what other families might not be in a position to try. And I don’t write as fast as I used to, but the fictional voices are still there, talking to me at odd moments, and I record snippets of dialogue and ideas for scenes in the Notes section of my iPhone. Yesterday, I put sentences on a page–not as many as I would have liked, but a paragraph exists now that wasn’t out in the universe before, and I created that.

Books are written one sentence, one word, at a time. Keep slogging forward. Those words add up. One of our math problems last week was whether it would be better to take a job that paid a million dollars for thirty days (where do I sign up?!?!) or a thirty day job that paid one penny the first day but doubled salary every day. To steal from clickbait headlines, THE ANSWER MAY SURPRISE YOU. Pennies add up. Steps walked and calories counted add up. Calls and emails to politicians about important matters add up. And the more you do, the better you feel. Start small–hell, start tiny if you need to. Keep your expectations reasonable and be patient with yourself, but do not listen to that stupid, petty voice that sneers “You can’t do this.” It is wrong, and I believe in you. Surround yourself with people (in your physical world or online) that echo that belief and cheer you on and, in the meantime, I’ll share with you these wise words from Christopher Robin that I’ve hung on my own wall as a reminder.

Now get out there and kick some ass—-slowly, and in manageable tasks with occasional setbacks. But that’s okay. An ass kicked in slo-mo is still an ass kicked.

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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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When Ideas Come Buzzing Around

The Bad Girlz have been talking about “plot bunnies” (a term for something that sparks a story idea) and what some of our most memorable have been.

My weirdest bunny was a wasp.

It’s fitting really, since sometimes an idea will start buzzing at the edge of my subconscious, disconcerting me. My anxiety runs the gamut from “what if I can’t do this idea justice?” to “when the hell will I have time to tackle this idea on top of my other commitments?” and the neurotic classic “what if someone else beats me to an even better version of this idea?!”

Yeah, ideas can be uncomfortable, but at least I’m not outright allergic to them, as I am with wasps. After I was stung on the leg once, the swelling was so bad I couldn’t wear pants for over a week. Thankfully, I’ve only been stung three times, but all the scenarios were the same: Tanya was minding her own business, winged red monster drops from the sky, HOLY SHIT WHY IS MY SKIN ON FIRE? Oh. Wasp sting.

The last time it happened, my husband and I were honeymooning on a tropical beach. This resulted in a first aid intervention where nobody spoke the same language but there was a lot of animated gesturing toward my butt. So, anyway. Wasps. Don’t like ‘em.

After my honeymoon but before I sold a book, I was house-sitting for a friend. She’d given me the code to open her garage door/disarm the alarm so that I could enter the house, but there were three wasps circling the key pad, looking as if they were considering a new place to call home. I didn’t know what to do. Short of breaking a window, that key pad was my only entrance into the house. The dogs inside (BIG dogs) had obviously heard me drive up and were barking like crazy. If I didn’t let them out soon, there could be accidents or exuberance-based damage. I sat in my car, feeling like a fear-riddled moron, hoping the wasps flew away.

And I started to imagine a heroine who had her life in total order (so, clearly the opposite of me) and is used to being seen as poised and in charge. But everyone has a vulnerability. When she was a kid she fell into a wasp nest and is now seriously phobic. She meets the hero as he’s trying to propose to his girlfriend at an outdoor restaurant when the heroine runs from a wasp and crashes into his table. Once I got in the house, I started jotting notes about this heroine and by the end of summer, I had a full manuscript.

In the writing world, sometimes we have face-to-face pitches with editors at conferences. My first one was a disaster. Actually, disaster would have been an upgrade. I was so nervous I forgot my own name and began babbling all of my faults (“I’m not sure I’m funny.” “I can’t write a sex scene to save my life.” “Mine may be the worst synopsis you’ll ever read.” WHY, TANYA, WHY? For the love of humanity, stop talking!!!) Anyway, the editor was stone-faced throughout, probably wondering how far away the nearest hotel security personnel was. Then I said something about the wasp-fleeing heroine crashing into the hero’s table while his marriage proposal is getting rejected and the editor cracked a smile, praise the Lord. She requested the first three chapters of the book and called me two weeks later to ask for the whole thing. She didn’t buy that story, but it was the first time I got close to a sale and she DID buy the next romantic comedy I sent her (The Maid of Dishonor, still available in ebook.)

I still don’t like wasps. But sometimes when I see one through the safety of double-paned glass, I have to grin. You never know when an idea will strike or how it might help your career.

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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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Putting Writing First

Hey there everybody! This is my first post coming to you from the other side of becoming a parent for the first time. I’m the happy mom to a healthy two and a half month old girl.

And you know what else? I’m still a writer.

2016-11-13-dc1Before my tiny one came along, I have to admit that I had my doubts and fears. Kids take time and energy, and I always felt like I was barely meeting my word count as it was. How would I ever manage to keep up once I had parental responsibilities?

The answer, some days, is that I don’t. Kiddo has a bad day—or worse, a terrible night? Yeah. The words might not flow. Hell, I might not even get a chance to open my laptop.

And even on the good days, it sure isn’t easy. There are too many things to do in a day, and my tiny human needs so much. Even when she isn’t desperately, angrily in need of something, the guilt I feel that I should be doing more—playing with her, reading to her, teaching her calculus (okay, fine, maybe not that one…yet) is intense. The house needs cleaning, food needs cooking, laundry needs doing. It’s so easy to let the time just slip through my fingers. As I see it, in our current phase of life, I basically get to pick one thing to get done in a day outside of basic baby, life and household maintenance.

So here’s my secret—my incredibly easy, nearly impossible secret: I choose writing. Any day it possibly can be, I make that my one thing I get done.

This means my husband may come home to a disaster of a house. It means we might be having takeout (again). It means I may have to put on my headphones and pretend I don’t hear my daughter crying while my husband does his best with her.

It means I may only get about half of my pre-baby daily word count in. And it means I may have to be okay with that.

But it also means I continue to make progress. I don’t lose sight of the one thing I was determined to keep up with even after becoming a mom.

Make fun of me all you will. Tell me I’m hopelessly naïve or that I’ll see just how impossible it is once the tiny human becomes a little less tiny. You might be right. But here’s what I’m telling myself right now:

I take care of my kid, myself and my family. But after that? No excuses.

I put writing first.

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A Writer For All Seasons

Yay!!!! Today is officially the first day of fall.

Fall is my very favorite season. As a kid, I probably loved fall because it meant celebrating my birthday. As a work-at-home mom, fall means my own children are back in school and I can write in relative peace. (There are still interruptions, but not quite the INTERRUPTIONS of summer.) I love the fall holidays, the fall wardrobe (comfy sweaters and cute boots!) and the fall weather.

Of course, as I enthusiastically celebrate fall, I have to remember that it’s late spring in the book I’m currently writing. My heroine will look insane if she starts carving jack-o’-lanterns in May.

Writers are frequently “out of season.” Do you know how many times my family has heard Christmas carols blasting out of my office because I’m trying to write a holiday novella in August? I frequently get the date wrong on school notes, checks, etc. Not necessarily because I’ve killed too many brain cells with pinot grigio, but just because there’s so much weird time overlap in my career. In 2016, I’m booking speaking engagements for 2017 and promoting a book I first started writing in 2013. It’s September now, but I just got the cover for my January book, which takes place over Valentine’s Day. (But, really, there’s no wrong time of the year for a cover that looks like this! *heart eyes*)

jan-17

You may not know this, but every manuscript goes through its own cycle of seasons. A book starts with the bud of an idea, one a writer joyfully nurtures. There’s beauty and hope in this creatively fertile time. Blossom, little story!

in-bloom

Then, as you write pages, those pages become chapters and the story really heats up! Your characters become more real to you–scenes play out in your head, as vivid as a summer blockbuster film. On the best days, writing doesn’t even feel like work. It feels like a vacation from reality.

summer

But things change. Even if you plotted your book ahead of time, there will be forks in the road you didn’t anticipate. The story takes on a life of its own, requiring flexibility on your part. (In worst-case scenarios, a once promising story feels flat and lifeless on the page, requiring problem-solving and revision.) Change is as inevitable as the barrage of pumpkin spice products that hit every autumn. Sometimes it’s a beautiful change–a poignant dialogue exchange you didn’t see coming that makes you cry at the keyboard. Other times, the change is your plot falling apart faster than leaves fall from the trees.

fall

And then…

The winter of authorial discontent, those bleak days when you’re frozen by self-doubt, second-guessing every decision you’ve made. It feels like this in your soul (but less cheery):

bleak

You regret having ever started this damn book and realize the Starks totally knew what they were talking about: Winter WAS coming. It has descended upon you, leaving you up to your eyeballs in snowdrifts of uncooperative characters and unwieldy prose.

But don’t panic! This is just the natural life cycle of a book, not a sign that you are a hack who should quit. We must question our books, or how would we make them better? It’s okay to look for ways to improve the story, it’s okay to retrace your steps and find a better path. It’s okay to throw out four chapters (OUCH!) and write four new ones that incorporate all the knowledge you’ve gained about your story and characters along the way. The ice will thaw and your talent will shine through.

Just remember, every season offers something to celebrate and something to learn.

I wish you the happiest of falls and hope you’ll find time to curl up in a comfy sweater with your favorite autumn beverage (pumpkin spice or otherwise) and a good book.

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Staying Healthy: Family & Friends Edition

For the last few weeks, our focus here at the blog has been on maintaining your health (physical, mental and emotional) while writing. Expanding on that, there’s one other thing you probably want to keep healthy: your relationships.

Between deadlines and the many voices of fictional people in your head, it’s not always easy to balance the real people in your life. There’s a fine line between making your loved ones respect the sanctity of your writing time and alienating them entirely. A few years ago, I was struck by the irony of someone who writes romance novels for a living (me) telling her husband “I know it’s our anniversary, but I have to get this book turned in. Raincheck!” Yeah. Super romantic, Tanya.

In my defense, my husband frequently travels for his job. He’s spent an anniversary, a Valentine’s Day and quite a few of my birthdays in Europe. Without me. Not that I’m bitter.

The trick is to communicate these scheduling conflicts ahead of time as much as possible and make it up to each other later. Luckily, my husband is pretty supportive about my writing. (He sincerely hopes that one day, I’ll be a zillionaire best seller and he can retire to a leisurely life of golf and woodwork.) But people react to an author’s demanding schedule differently—some observers have trouble seeing it as a job, just because there are erratic hours, no commute and, occasionally, no pants. So how do you train those in your life to respect your eccentric career without making them feel neglected?

Based on daily arguments I have with my teenagers, I am not a perfect mom. But I did sell my first book two and a half weeks after my first child was born, so I’ve been juggling this family/writing thing for a while. (Shown below, me and my extended family, the epitome of happy, healthy, and harmonious.)

the fam

My thoughts on the people vs. pages balancing act:

1. Family comes first. If your spouse is going through medical procedures or a grueling time at work or you’re in the middle of a move (or have a baby who needs you), don’t expect to be able to focus on writing. Inevitable family obligations will cut into your time. If possible, schedule accordingly. But always keep a notebook or iPhone/Dictaphone nearby so that when inspiration strikes somewhere unexpected, like a pediatrician’s waiting room, you can jot it down for later.

2. Family comes first UP TO A POINT. After that, you have my permission to be heartless. If your child has chicken pox and is feverish/miserable/itchy, it’s understandable that the kid is gonna pester you. But it is not acceptable for your offspring to bug you because he/she “is bored.” Do not succumb to parental guilt for turning them away. I’ve seen this be particularly difficult for women, especially if they haven’t yet sold and aren’t making money. We beat ourselves up with thoughts like, “Why am I wasting my time on this when I should be baking brownies for junior’s soccer team?” Hold up. Dedicated pursuit of a goal is not wasting time. You are teaching your children perseverance, which is an important life skill. Meanwhile, I encourage you to rock the store-bought brownies.

3. Involve your family in celebrating goals and milestones. These can be tiny celebrations. “When Mommy finishes this chapter, we’ll go see Finding Dory.” Or play a family board game. Or go out for frozen yogurt. (For spouses and significant others, it could be a straightforward, “Let me write until 10 pm so I can get this scene down, then we’ll watch something on Netflix.” Or, you know, whatever the two of you are in the mood for.) Offering this kind of deal serves two purposes—assuring your family that spending time with them is also a priority and encouraging them to leave you the hell alone so you can actually reach your goal and get to that fun event faster. Sometimes, celebrations are more noteworthy. Once the manuscript is finished, get glammed up for a date night; you’ve earned it, and it will be a nice change from the bedraggled ponytail and yoga pants of deadline. A historical romance author bought her daughters a horse when she sold her first book; I took my family to Disney after the best royalty check of my life. But those were rare circumstances.

4. Come up with a schedule.

5. Stick to the schedule. Numbers 4 & 5 probably sound redundant, but they aren’t. You are going to encounter people who threaten your writing time—from relatives who subtly sabotage your efforts to well-meaning neighbors who want to have you over for coffee to that relentless PTA zealot who is determined to make you run the book-fair. Not only do I encourage you to tell these people no, I suggest you adopt a schedule that covers you like armor. If you write in the morning, don’t pick up the phone before noon. Turn off the ringer. Worst case scenario, you can ignore the whiny cousin who calls to complain about her life. Best case scenario, she gets the message and quits calling entirely during that time-slot.

While you don’t owe anyone explanations/defense about your time, you can soften refusals to friends and neighbors with counter offers that highlight your schedule. “As much as I would love to have coffee, I’m swamped until I finish this book at the end of August. How about September?” This sets a clear boundary (don’t bother me again until September!) but also demonstrates that your friends matter to you. (Because, once the damn book is actually turned in, you don’t want to look around and realize you’ve run off all your buddies. Although, frankly, I think there’s a reason so many of my best friends are fellow writers. They GET it.)

6. Don’t underestimate the importance of people—not just to your emotional health but to your ability to write great characters. I had a friend who doggedly invited me to social events (movies, Pampered Chef parties, book club meetings, holiday parades, wine tastings) even though I routinely turned her down. I was struggling to catch up on belated deadlines after my daughter had been sick. My friend was pretty good-natured about it, but she asked me once, “If you never get out of the house and interact with people, how can you expect to write about believable, fully developed people in your books?” I decided she was right and said, “screw it, I’m going to lunch.” After all, even on deadline, a writer’s gotta eat. And you know what? I returned to the computer refreshed and with some funny new ideas for dialogue.

7. Be careful about bitching to civilians. There’s a lot to drive us nuts about writing—low contest scores, rejections, lousy reviews. You are fully entitled to vent about these disappointments. But it’s usually best to commiserate with other authors who’ve been there and who can inspire you to keep going. If you routinely tell your mother, boyfriend, and former college roommate about how hard writing is—especially if you’re not under contract—they may suggest you quit. This can make you feel like they don’t believe in you and lead to arguments and hurt feelings. You can reduce the odds of this by having mimosas with a trusted critique partner.

In summary, writing can make us bonkers. Our loved ones can make us bonkers. But with strategy and effort, you can probably keep the bonkers manageable. While you want to make sure the people around you understand how seriously you take writing, you don’t want to drive them all away—at least, not permanently. Celebrating when you hit that first bestseller list will be a lot more fun when you’re surrounded by loved ones to cheer you on.

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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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Deadline Doubt & Doom

When you’re on a deadline, you doubt everything.

I cannot write. I won’t finish this book. If I do finish this book, it’s going to be utter crap. I am crap. These characters are crap. Is there no logic left in the universe? What is life? What even time is it?!?!

But – plot twist – all of these doubts are horse hooey.

These are lies your brain tells you because you’re under a lot of pressure. The truth is, you can write and you will finish, and the book will be wonderful. You’re just a teeeeeeeeeensy bit freaking out at the moment.

How do I know? Because I’m on deadline right now. O_O (Omg, how did you guess that? You’re so smart!)

It’s not just me though. Over the past, idk, three or four years (HOW HAVE FOUR YEARS GONE BY?!?!), I’ve watched and listened as my best writer friends continue to take this journey. Inevitably, as the book due dates close in, panic ensues.

The book will never be done! ‘Tis rubbish! All is Lost!!!

I’m not smirking at my friends; I’m smirking with them, because I said these exact words this past weekend.

WE ALL PANIC. I’ve come to think of it as a writer rite of passage. Don’t feel like you’re the only head-case around. Come on and join the Panic Parade. We have cookies and Cheetos, a whole spread of unhealthy stress and comfort food, and wine. Like, lots and lots of wine. We will look into your crazy eyes with our crazy eyes, and you will know you’ve found home. Come, commiserate with us over our imminent doom.

I’m kidding. There’s no imminent doom (it just feels imminent), but we do have crazy eyes.

Take a deep breath and repeat after me:

I can finish this book. I will finish this book. I’m a bad a$$ author who has done this before. And, when I do it again, I’ll take a moment to pat myself on the back and celebrate another successful THE END…right before I dive into the next book and repeat this whole process again.

See? Feel better? Awesome! Me too.

Now, I gotta run. I have to finish this damn book! 😀

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