Category Archives: Writing

Why Do I Write?

I am doing a free webinar series that until recently I thought was a light and fluffy thing. Often times I go into experiences with expectations that turn out to be nothing like what I really have in store. This was one of those times. What I thought I was getting was nuts and bolts instruction on how to write a novel. (Because I’ve written two already and somehow I don’t think I know everything yet? Enter the standard self-doubt plagued by all writers!) What I am getting instead is philosophy and emotionally based concepts about all the things that writers do to sabotage themselves without knowing it.

This week we were asked to answer the question: “Why do you write?”

I’ve never asked myself this question and neither has anyone else asked me. When you talk with other writers, we all just know that feeling deep down that we have stories that we must write and the drive that keeps us going is part of what unites us. We don’t need to define the why, certainly we don’t talk about it. But maybe we do…

The answer that bolted from my subconscious to my conscious mind was surprisingly well defined. As if I have always known the why even though I had yet to articulate it in words.

Why do I write? To lend voice to alternative perspectives and expose that there is ALWAYS another side to the story than the side that a person identifies with initially. If I can connect with a reader on a level where they either feel less alone in the world or they discover a different way to look at an issue, I’ve succeeded.

My latest project is a massive one. I’ve got so much doubt about whether I have the skills to really pull it off. If I can, it feels like a story that will be marketable and will appeal to a broad audience. Part of me that wallows in that doubt is desperately clinging to every excuse there is about not being ready and not knowing enough. That part of me is the one seeking answers in this webinar about how to write a novel instead of just writing it already. Time to pull myself up, banish the voices in my head full of doubt and get to it.


The Next Step on the Publishing Path

My latest contract pays royalties. Pays. Royalties. My first publication had all proceeds being donated so I didn’t have to worry about accounting for money coming in, or all the other intimidating things I’ve been ignoring. Like paying taxes. But now the game has changed again. It’s time to get legitimate beyond a website address and some business cards. A step that felt enormous last year when I took it.

What's Next

Now I need a business license and a business account. At least I think that’s what I need. In truth, I’m guessing on that. I know I need to figure out how to file taxes as an author before I have income as one next year. It’s amazing the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know until I got here… Time to consult the professionals who can tell me how to navigate through this uncharted territory.

I can’t wait to see what next year brings!


Learning to Say No: The Aftermath

It isn’t often I do a follow-up post but this one is much warranted. Back in August, I decided it was time to start saying No to things. If you didn’t catch the original post, you can find it HERE. (Go ahead, go read it. You’ll want the background so you’re caught up with my epiphany.)

It was a crazy time where I’d said yes so much I had boxed myself in with no free time. Every night of the week – every week – was jam packed. More often than not, I wasn’t at home with my family. I was feeling the pressure. More acutely my family was feeling the strain, even while rooting for my success. In a somewhat rare moment of clarity I stepped back and took stock. I prioritized my obligations. I started saying No.

No Smoking Sign

What lessons did I learn? First and foremost was the reality that I either have time to volunteer in a writing organization or write, but not both. It is somewhat of a catch twenty-two for me. So many opportunities came from my time organizing and leading but in the end my writing had suffered. In a chain of events outside of my control, the organization was dissolved and I found myself with an extra chunk of time back. A chunk that I hadn’t realized was as big as it had become.

My production of words on the page exploded. Writing was fun again instead of something I was always too tired for and forcing myself to do. I finished revisions and sold another story with all that free time. I still belong to several writing organizations and I attend meetings somewhat regularly but I’ve stopped volunteering for leadership roles that require more than that. Even when others have asked me to step forward, I’ve graciously refused. In the long run, the time writing will pay off far more than the satisfaction of leadership. Especially when you can never please all the people all the time. Of course my inner overachiever is still struggling with this – especially when I have been approached – but I’m holding strongly to this stance for the time being.

It feels good to protect my precious writing time.

What about all the time spent away from my family? My day job has added a travel requirement to support system conversions over the next twelve to eighteen months. The hours I spend at the office every week has increased as well. I spent two weeks away from home in late October and it was much easier on the entire family because I’d been spending more time with them in the months leading up to it. It was still hard. In retrospect it would have been far more difficult if I hadn’t made changes beforehand.

I realize that my children are growing faster than I can keep up with and I’ll never have this time with them again. My oldest is four years away from college and adulthood. My baby is in Kindergarten and learning to read. At this rate, I’ll blink and she’ll be dating. Earlier this week Baby Sister begged me to come home early so we could decorate the Christmas tree. When I found myself with an afternoon free of meetings, I did it. I’ll never forget her screams of joy when I walked in or her cries of “you came home early”. I tried not to dwell on the fact that her shock and joy were more of an indication of how often I’m not able to do that and embraced the happiness of those stolen couple of hours together. No, the time away from my family I’d been spending doing things like Rock Opera rehearsals and Board Meetings that, while they gave me great personal satisfaction and exposure to opportunities and potential fans, wasn’t worth the time away from my family.

One of my closest friends shared an epiphany she had recently after she funneled a lot of energy and money into an endeavor that didn’t yield her the results she was after. Her words have stuck with me. Paraphrased, she said she was done acting like she was further down the path than where she really was. I likened it to my tendency of trying to fit in with, and do all the same things (like be on panels at writing conferences) that all my more successful writing friends are doing. It’s easy to compare yourself to others and feel bad that you don’t have all the same successes. One of my best writing buddies had three books release this year from three different publishers. I finally asked him how many novels he had finished and how long he’d been writing. His response: twelve completed novels over ten years. It was then that I knew that I hadn’t put in the same effort so it was ludicrous to expect the same kind of success. Instead, I need to do the work and hope I find similar success when I get caught up to where he is on the path.

I’m working on my third novel. One that feels different. Important maybe. A story so compelling and unique I hope it would stand out from the crowd. Something that’s never happened before is also happening: the characters won’t let me rest until I’ve told their story. I like to think that I cleared out the clutter of my life enough to find this particular tale. I only hope I can do it – and the characters who sprung fully-formed into my head – the justice it deserves.

I’m sure there are still lessons to be learned in the world of saying no. But so far I’m loving the rewards!


What I Learned This November

As November comes to a close and with it another NaNoWriMo, I look back at the insanity that is always there but always different. Three years I’ve written a full novel in November. Last year I was editing a completed novel – some call that mid-project. This year, I had a half-baked idea that I tried to write by the seat of my pants with basically no preparation – otherwise known as pantsing. Which I hate, for the record. I’m sure you’re wondering whether I “won” or not this year. Did I go the distance. The answer is no – and yes.

In the literal sense, I did not win this year. An official win consists of fifty thousands words – any words – written in the course of the month. In total, I was able to crank out just under thirty thousand words.

In the broader sense – that of being a professional author – I did win and learned new lessons along the way.

I learned that I cannot write productively without having a plan. Pantsing a novel is not for me. Not now. Probably not ever. I also learned that I am far more productive when I write what inspires me rather than trying to force a story that I don’t feel in my gut.

I write and read mostly dark fiction – not always horror but always dark. My oldest daughter has become an avid reader and really wants to read my stories. Every time she has tried to read my work she has to put it down because it scares her too much. She requested a story written for her, not too dark and not too scary. I tried. I really did. But I failed. I was bored so I barely wrote anything each day. All the great ideas I had that excited me would have turned it very dark very fast so I didn’t indulge my inner muse.

This same lesson of productivity being driven by excitement was cemented when about three weeks in I abandoned the flailing idea and instead wrote something I’ve been thinking about for months and just hadn’t had the time to focus on. The words poured out of me – thousands by the day over one weekend – and I made up quite a bit of ground. As a professional author, I know this lesson will do me well in the coming years. Translated into a bigger context, don’t write what you think will sell or what the next big thing is. Write a story that excites you. Either you’ll sell it or you won’t. Guaranteed it will feel less like work regardless.

This marked the eighth year I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo but in truth I write like it is NaNo all year long thanks to the habits formed in November. Consistent writing and putting in the work of learning the craft are the best rewards there are to embarking on this crazy journey year after year. I have multiple publishing credits to my name and I’m well on my way to my goal of publishing novels thanks to National Novel Writing Month and those who organize it every year. There was a badge this year you could earn by updating your word count for thirty days in a row – sort of the booby prize in case you didn’t get the word count for an official win. I wrote every single day in November and am just as proud of that badge as I would have been for a win in the word count.

Until next year, NaNo – thanks for all the memories and all the lessons.


When Life Ups the Ante

It’s the first week of November – a time synonymous in my life for writing a novel in a month for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I do this every year, without fail. Some years I succeed at fifty thousand words by the end of the month, sometimes I don’t. It isn’t about winning, it’s about consistency.

Anyone who has participated in NaNo knows that the first week is filled with excitement on many levels. The shiny new idea still hasn’t revealed all the plot holes and questions you haven’t thought how to address yet. The sleep deprivation hasn’t really set in either – plenty of time for that later. The family and friends haven’t gotten sick of hearing “maybe next month” because I’m obsessed with staying on track with my word count. Week two is when everything starts to shift toward procrastination and life stuff getting in the way, when the need for the momentum of a great week one to get through it is serious.

This year is different for me. Usually NaNo is the most insane and time-consuming endeavor in my life once November rolls around. This year, 2015, NaNo week one is also week two of traveling for work – the day job that is. Sleeping in a hotel and working between thirteen to fifteen hours every day. By the time week one of NaNo rolled around I was already sleep deprived as if it was week four of NaNo–without a single word written to show either. No amount of coffee or Dr Pepper has helped combat the exhaustion enough for any significant writing. Although given this, I’m taking the fact that I’ve writing an average of 500 words a day this week – every day. In truth, I’m in bed by nine thirty every night so I can wake up at four for my next shift. If you know how much of a night owl I am, you’ll know how incredible that is. Bed-before-my-child-is-home-from-dance-twice-a-week kind of incredible.

I’m thrilled that my work travels are done and I’m headed home to reconnect with my poor family who has had to fend for themselves without my iron organization and management for the past two weeks. Here’s hoping I can make up lost ground in week two of NaNo – stranger things have happened, right?

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Are you writing a novel this year? If you are, hit me up on NaNoWriMo.org and let’s be buddies! If you’ve ever uttered the words “I’ve always wanted to write a novel” or “I wonder if I could write a novel” then I hope you’re already embarking on this great adventure. And if not, why not?


Writing tips from Julie Coulter Bellon

I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the presenters at UAACon15. Check it out HERE. Julie presented an amazing class on self-editing and revision today.

Sometimes saying ‘yes’ when I really am too busy comes with great returns!


Writing Series: Major Revisions

This article was written for Operation Awesome and appears originally HERE.

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One of my favorite sayings when the horror of writing the first draft starts to settle in is this:

FirstDraftQuote

It’s enough to keep me blazing through until the end, even when my inner fears whisper this is the worst thing ever written in the history of the world. Every writer knows those dark moments, smiling and nodding as they read this, for it is those shared fears during our darkest times which bind us all as comrades and brothers in arms.

The truth is, getting to “The End” is only the first step. It is then that the hardest work – that of revision and editing – begins. What if you realize you’ve taken a wrong turn along the way, despite your best efforts?

This happened to me with both my first and second novel-length projects. I decided to put away the first novel, chalk it up to the one I spent years learning with, and write something else. But once I was done with the second novel, I realized it, too, was lacking something.

I spent a few weeks thinking I wasn’t good enough to be an author. Wrote and published a few short stories instead, trying to forget about the project I’d finished but hadn’t.

Eventually I pulled myself together, reminded myself that I had already written two novels so clearly I am good enough, and decided to fix it. Which meant an entire re-write.

The antagonist had changed halfway through the first draft, leaving the ending mismatched from the beginning – curse those characters who take on a mind of their own. At a minimum, that needed to be fixed. I also decided to add a supernatural element to make the story more compelling. I’d set out to write mainstream fiction believing it would be easier to write (and sell) than paranormal but if you’re a genre writer like me, that isn’t always true.

With the help of my editor and writing group, I spent several months taking stock of what worked and what didn’t and came up with a plan to incorporate a supernatural subplot – the key to most of what was lacking. Along the way, some of the characters morphed, changed their motivations or got cut out completely, and some of the existing plot points had to bend to work with all the new changes. From there, I built a rough outline. One that looked very different than the original one which I’d already written.

I wrote sixty thousand words in that first draft and hoped not everything had to go. However, enough had changed that even the scenes I could still use had a different feel and a different flow in the re-write. I found it nearly impossible to salvage original writing while doing such a major overhaul. Instead of cutting and pasting, I opened the original document so I could reference it and I started from scratch.

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© Bethbee | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Every writer should know, and if you didn’t already let me be the first to break it to you so you’re prepared for it, that the editing process is often not only more difficult than writing the first draft, it is also the largest part of the overall project. Especially when you have an editor. When the editing process begins with a complete re-write, it is even harder.

For the record, I believe everyone should have an editor who can see their work from the viewpoint of the reader and identify things you, as the author, are too close to the work to see. So if you haven’t incorporated critique partners and editors into your revision process, you should reconsider. You may not always like what they have to say, but they are usually right.

Five months of writing later, I’m almost finished. Again.

No one said writing was easy. For those of us in the trenches, at times it can feel overwhelming. Just remember, each time you write a story – regardless of the length – you get better at it. The same is true of revision and editing.

Don’t lose hope. If you find yourself at “The End” and unsatisfied with the product, there are ways to rewrite and salvage it. Figure out the missing elements and have a plan before going in. Above all, never give up. Never stop writing.


Operation Awesome

Thank you to the folks at Operation Awesome who let me visit and share a previous article with their readers. If you’re looking for inspiration for all kinds of writing topics, drop in and visit them.

Here’s a link to my Guest Post.


Fear of Rejection

The arrow of the mouse pointer hovering over the ‘Send’ button. The email meticulously crafted, submission guidelines checked and double-checked. Once sent, it cannot be undone. Will they love it? Will they hate it? Is it good enough? Will anyone else love it like I do? Will anyone besides my husband and my writing group ever read it?

All of these thoughts swirled through my mind as I clicked ‘Send’ tonight on my most recent submission. Now I wait… hoping for quick news about the fate of my latest story. It is par for the course in the life of an author – but also that of any writer who puts themselves and their work out there for consumption. Whether it be the first time or the hundredth time, waiting for acceptance and fearing the rejection–rejection that is statistically more likely–is perhaps the hardest part of this publishing endeavor.

© Rolffimages | Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Rolffimages | Dreamstime Stock Photos

For the moment, I’m trying not to stress and starting another project. May the universe and the submission editors smile on the latest slice of my soul that I just sent out into the world.


Learning to Say No

I believe I’ve found the next lesson the Universe is trying to force feed me.

I cannot do everything as I have always done. My days feel shorter, my nights more jam packed with activities and commitments, and I’m consistently bombarded with new offers and new projects. My first reaction is to say yes immediately, then figure out how to fit whatever it is into my project plan that somehow, amid all the chaos, resembles a satisfying life.

I’m impulsive that way. I always have been.

Here’s the reality: The project plan is full. Constraints cannot be overcome by throwing more money or resources at them. There are no more resources in reserve. Unless someone has invented a time machine that automatically doubles the hours available to me every day. In which case, I haven’t heard the news yet.

Which means I have to start prioritizing, balancing all the things I want to do and would love to do with realistic expectations of what I am capable of doing without losing my marbles.

Is my volunteer work within a professional writing organization paying the right dividends to justify the time spent away from my actual writing?

Is my time away from my family pursuing my writing career being spent in worthwhile ways?

Was I completely insane when I thought I could have a full time job, be a wife and mother and be a professional author on top of it all?

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I wish I had a crystal ball!

I don’t know the answers, I do know that summer has been hectic. I’ve got a couple of short stories to show for all the insanity but the novel is still not finished. Time to ramp up the efforts and get rigid with my time. ‘I can sleep when I’m dead’ has become my mantra.

It’s time to learn how to say No.

The closer I whittle the things that make up my life down to the things that matter most, the harder it is to cut away without damaging the gems underneath. At the end of the day, I’m left with knowing that just because I’m capable of doing anything I set out to do, that doesn’t mean everything I attempt will make me happy. Sometimes it’s too hard to fit it into what I’m already doing and the right answer in that moment will be No. No matter how cool it sounds, or how fun I imagine it will be.

In related news… watch for upcoming announcements about the next big thing I’ve got cooking and currently taking most of my free time. Hint: it’s happening at Salt Lake Comic Con.


The Birth of a Story; or How It Feels to Finish Drafting

I am on cloud nine. Want to shout from the rooftops. I just finished a short story that almost killed me to write. Why was this one so hard? I don’t know. Maybe because I had only a vague idea and not enough of a story before I embarked on the writing so it turned out to be an exercise in “pantsing” which I rarely do. (Pantsing is an author euphemism for writing by the seat of your pants. I hate it and rarely do it.) It was also the first time I decided to write a story within guidelines someone else set for me. We all know how I do with rules, right? Plus it’s my first short-story length foray into writing horror. All these things commenced in a perfect storm of really hard months of writing.

Last month I almost threw the whole thing in the trash and never looked back. I had admitted that all I had were a couple of really cool scenes that I’d wanted to write and once they were down on paper there wasn’t enough meat to create a story from them. Luckily I have a fabulous writing group that includes my editor who is phenomenal at developmental editing. Last month they asked me hard questions that I couldn’t answer yet about the story I wanted to tell and set me on the right path to finding the story I had lurking in my brain waiting for me to find it. Neither of those first scenes even made it to the finished draft.

Nights of writer’s block and avoidance that I had to overcome didn’t help get me to the finish line. But I had the willpower to continue in spite of them. There is a submission deadline looming, after all, dangling a carrot called a publishing credential. It helps to hear people who’ve read some of my other work ask when they can read more to keep me going in the dark depths of despair when I don’t think I have an ending I can pull out of my ass. So thank you if you’re one of my vocal fans, it means a lot.

Now to let it sit for a few days, figure out what I can whittle down so it meets the submission criteria and then get it to my editor. It truly takes a village to get to publication but the creative process of getting the first draft down feels much like giving birth to another child. Every time. This one is about a ghost, and a baby, and I don’t have a title yet. Maybe someday the public will read it but today is when I finished the first draft of it.


Why Every Fiction Writer Should Be Writing Short Fiction

I know you. You’re a novelist, an aspiring writer of the next great novel. Forging ahead through the jungle of self-doubt and rejections. I know, because I am just like you. Only I found a shortcut to success in the most unlikely of places: writing short stories.

Short fiction is an amazing avenue—even for those of us novelists who would never dream of writing short stories. Online magazines beg for content. Open calls for anthology submissions abound, hoping to find the next great thing. Many small presses use quarterly anthologies to find new novelists to sign. Flash fiction sites boast daily publishing for readers who want their fiction in tiny snippets. Land any one of these opportunities and that query for your novel just gained legitimacy—the kind that only comes from publishing credentials.

Opportunities aside, the best reason for aspiring writers and seasoned veterans alike is short stories hone your writing craft. Beginning novelists can take years to complete a first draft, then must repeat the process multiple times to polish their skills enough to land a publisher or sell well in today’s indie market. Why not learn all that on a microcosmic scale instead? Take months, not years, to learn the same lessons.

Can you never get from the dreaded middle to a neatly wrapped up ending? Write a short story. Do you struggle with dialogue? Write a short story using only dialogue. Not sure if you can pull off first-person present tense? Try it out on a short story. Do you avoid the overwhelming, often dreaded, prospect of editing your work? Write a short story, then edit multiple times to perfect it. My first published story went through eleven drafts. Imagine the time that would have taken with a novel! But once you’ve acquired these skills in an accelerated way, you can apply the experience gained to your longer fiction.

Veterans can use short fiction to further refine established skills. My editor’s favorite question is this: Does your writing do more than one thing at a time?

For example: The pendant hung from Susan’s neck where it always did. She loved the intricate scrollwork surrounding the pearl in a starburst pattern. She walked down the street, worrying about the events of the morning. Three sentences, thirty-four words.

Instead of separate sentences describing the pendant and the action, an experienced writer will combine the two: Susan eyed the storm clouds, thumbnail caught in the scrollwork of her mother’s starburst pendant like it always did when she was worried. One sentence, twenty-three words.

In that single sentence, we have tone, setting clues, action, and description. Plus, this shorter version shows us a characteristic when she’s worried, instead of breaking the cardinal rule of telling us she’s worried. Writing succinctly will set you apart in the eyes of readers and acquisition editors alike.

When you can write with an economy of words, stripped of the superfluous, your writing at any length will be more compelling. Use these benefits of short fiction, perfecting your own voice in the process, and your fiction writing overall will be improved.


Ebb and Flow of Life

This week has been soul-sucking busy! Ideal storms collided between needing to update content for training I facilitate and responsibilities for developing and implementing a new process at work. The result? Zero writing time. I could lament, but this is the reality of being an adult with responsibilities. I can’t lie though… I did lament, especially when my late-night writing time was spent catching up on the day-job when all I wanted to do was write. The truth is, there are some weeks that life doesn’t lend itself to being a productive writer. Sometimes it’s the day job, sometimes it’s being a mom with active kids, sometimes it’s just that my hair and lash appointments ended up in the same week because I wasn’t thinking big picture when I found an open spot on my calendar a month ago. I won’t always be this busy, a fact I had to remind myself of in order to get through the week.

I wanted to pout and be mad when I couldn’t go to the park yesterday with Hubby and the kids because I was working. Instead, I poured an adult beverage in protest and kept working. My life feels crazier than normal, but I realized I’m doing a lot more that has to be crammed into the same available hours in a week. My fault alone that I can’t relax on the weekends like I used to, refueling and recovering before doing it all again the next week. I could give up my volunteer work with The United Authors Association, but I believe in their vision so deeply that I can’t bring myself to do it. I could quit my day job, but how would we pay the bills? I could stop writing, but how would I stay sane? I’m only happy when I have that creative outlet, and this whole new level of insanity is because I decided I wanted to write professionally instead of just a hobby.

My fitness tracker keeps telling me I haven’t met my sleep goal. As if I didn’t know! I haven’t sat on my couch in over a week and I’m grateful that I require my children to help with housework or it might never get done. But this is the life I’ve created and it makes me happy (when I’m not pouting). The human tendency might be to wallow in the fact that I couldn’t write this week, let another week slip past without it, and easily get out of the daily writing habit. Instead, I stole some editing time between classes when I was guest presenting at Big Sister’s school Friday. Because half an hour of writing this week was better than nothing. Life goes on, ebbing and flowing, regardless of how we react and deal with it. Here’s hoping next week is better!

What are you doing today to live the life you love?