Twenty Things the Craft of Writing Has Taught Me

 

My pub sister, Amy K Mcclung recently posted this in her Facebook page and, since I agree with pretty much everything she says, I asked her if I could post it here. What do you think? Is there anything else you’d add to the list?

Twenty Things the Craft of Writing Has Taught Me

by Amy K Mcclung

  1. A good editor is worth everything
  2. Don’t read reviews!
  3. If you do read reviews, learn from them…don’t cry
  4. Write what you love, not what’s the big seller at the moment 
  5. Other Authors can be a great support system, 
  6. There are some authors who will only look out for themselves (true in all aspects of life)
  7. Write what you know or do your research heavily on what you don’t. 
  8. Show, don’t tell. 
  9. When I tell people “I write romance” and they respond with a judgmental, “Oh”, remember there are so many people who love the genre, and who love my books 
  10. Blurbs are hard 
  11. Rejection is part of writing sometimes. Take it and move forward. 
  12. I’m not crazy, the voices in my head are characters 😋
  13. Don’t force a story. It will all fall together when the time is right 
  14. Avoid drama – especially on Goodreads 
  15. Be proud of my books, I wrote an entire novel…that’s not something everyone can do. 
  16. If one person reads/loves my book(s) I’m a success.
  17.  I don’t need a Best Seller tag to prove my worth as a writer 
  18.  Blurbs are hard (yep I said it twice)
  19.  People will judge a book by its cover 
  20.  Family will support you even if they don’t read your books. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. 

Idea Girl

Ignoring the Impostor Syndrome

We all felt it one time or another, the insidious whisper inside our head that says, “You’re an impostor“. “How dare you stand among the great ones? What right do you have to be here? What makes you qualified to dish out advice?” You know the whispers–or sometimes loud screams in your mind.

Writers are particularly vulnerable to this. How many of us have been part of a book event where you have big names in your genre at a table five feet away from yours? It’s both exhilarating and depressing because on one hand you’re excited you’re breathing the same air as some of your literary idols while at the same time being depressed for feeling you don’t measure up to them.

Measuring up

Recently I was invited to co-present at a local, small writer’s conference. My first reaction was to say yes, but then that nagging feeling came whispering again–what can you possibly say about writing that others would think interesting or helpful? I said yes anyway because I’ve promised myself a long time ago I’d take on more challenges.

I had been part of panels before, but this was different; this was the two of us running an informative session about the writing business, From Spark to Finish (my co-presenter, talented YA author, PM Hernandez, came up with the catchy title). Between the two of us we have thirteen books published and we have both learned quite a lot in our journey through this business. And yet that doubt, that nettling feeling, was still gnawing at the back of my mind.

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Photo Credit: Jan Rayl

In the end it was a great experience. Turns out we both have quite a bit of helpful information to impart with beginning or aspiring authors, and this was the perfect venue to do so. Hernandez and I have different experiences and perspectives but because of that we were the perfect combination; she’s self-published, I’m a hybrid; she’s a semi-pantser, I’m an all-in pantser. I think I speak for both of us when I say, we had a blast as you can tell by this picture.

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PM Hernandez and me – Photo Credit: Jan Rayl

I’m sure that irksome voice will rise again, but for the moment I’m on Cloud 9, feeling accomplished and worthy. Moral of the story is we all need to ignore those whispers and take risks. When you hear that inner voice again, stick a cork in it and move on. You’ll be so glad you did it.

*Many thanks to Jan Rayl, Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, and Becks Sousa of Write by the Rails for organizing such a great event. And everyone who attended. It was a lot of fun.*

Writing a Strong Broken Character

A couple months ago I finished writing a romantic comedy that is close to my heart for a few different reasons. If you have read any of my books you know they are not just about romance and happy endings (even though they definitely have both) but they normally touch on something a bit heavier, sometimes darker.

This one is no exception. I wanted to write a character who is being emotionally blackmailed. This was an important subject for me because it’s something I experienced personally. I had always considered myself a strong woman. Not the most assertive one, but emotionally strong. Until the day I discovered I had been manipulated by someone I considered my best friend at the time. Worse even this had been going on for years. I lived in a state of confusion and hurt without a clue of who or what was making me so miserable.

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Emotional blackmailers use traits of your personality (good qualities more often than not) against you. In my case, she used the fact I would do just about anything to help and/or defend a friend and turned it into a weapon against me. She also used the fact I choose to believe the best about people to make herself believable in my eyes. She was the victim, the one that needed help, everyone was out to get her. And I ate it up even when my conscience and common sense told me there was something wrong with her stories and/or her attitude.

When I began writing this story I wanted my main male character (who in romance are kind of expected to be alpha males) to be a victim of emotional blackmail. As I wrote the story I had the suspicion I was making him look weak, which was not at all my intention. Strength has nothing to do with this. The most put together, emotionally stable person can be the victim of one of these predators. Because make no mistake, these are predators as ruthless as any other.

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I submitted the manuscript thinking that I would get it back with the comment, “he comes across as weak”. I was right. That’s exactly what happened. So now I’m faced with the challenge of portraying someone who has been “broken” by his girlfriend but still seems strong and capable–which he really is. Not an easy task but I have all confidence I’m on the right track. I agonized over it when I was writing it the first time, I’m agonizing over it now as I revise it. I want to be true and fair to my MMC and not make him look like the weakling he is not.

I’m hoping I can make my guy just as strong and awesome as he is broken and confused. Have you ever have to write a character like that? What did you do to balance his state of mind with his personal strengths?

 

Romancing The Taxes

Tax season leaves me with an ambiguous feeling–I’m not sure whether to be happy I’ll be getting some money back this year or depressed because I spent so much more than what I earned even after working overtime for the past three years.

In 2017 I totally neglected to claim my writing expenses. Being a rookie with three books published by then and royalty checks that wouldn’t feed a fish, it never occurred to me that I could indeed claim all the expenses I had incurred in my writing career. In fact, come to think about it, neither did my husband who is normally on top of that kind of thing.  I didn’t claim the laptop I bought so I could write my novels, or the marketing materials, or the workshops and conferences I attended, or the writing craft and references books I collected that first year.

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It almost happened again this year. My husband, like many people, does not consider my writing a real job. The fact that I spend every waking hour when I’m not at my teaching job glued to a laptop, writing, editing, marketing, researching, networking, learning, etc did not seem to be a good enough hint this was more than just a hobby. The trips we took to conferences, book fairs, book signings, workshops also didn’t register as similar to all the work trips he does for his job. Like him, most people consider writing just something you do for fun. Without realizing it, I must have bought into this mentality because even the loss of my social life in favor of time with my writing didn’t register as “hell, this is a second  full-time job!”

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I cannot thank Neece McCoy, author herself and tax-expert extraordinaire with The Write Services (well, she knows a lot more than me) enough, for reminding me that this is indeed a job and that the huge amount of money I’ve invested in my writing business should be claimed come tax time.

Now that I’ve actually sat down and picked through receipts and bank statements to file my taxes, two things have surfaced. 1) I’m going to get some money back for the first time in years, and 2) Shit! There is such a chasm between my expenses and my income that it’s painfully obvious I have yet to experience being a mildly(ish) successful author.

 

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So, I’m divided between jumping for joy and crying my eyes out. I’ll keep working and hoping that one day I will be able to claim I’ve actually made a profit from the inordinate number of hours I’ve spent working on a craft that most still consider a hobby–while trying not to get too upset when readers complain that my book costs too much (less than a frapuccino at Starbucks).

A Writer’s Nightmare

As most of you know, I’m a traditionally published author (small, awesome publishing house). Being the weirdo that I normally am, I wrote a sci-fi/dystopian romance in 2016 told in three POVs and holding two separate romances–one F/M and another M/M, never once stopping to wonder how difficult it would be to market such a book (do you market it to the F/M romance readers, or the M/M?). The first sign that I was in trouble was when friends or beta readers began complaining about different things–too much romance (the sci-fi readers), too much sci-fi (the romance readers), main characters are too sexual, main characters are not sexual enough, it’s too intense, it’s not intense enough… I had one reader that actually tried to change the whole thing including the way I write and erase my voice. Holy shit!

After I submitted it to my publisher, I was told what I already suspected–that I either changed the manuscript radically, which meant breaking it into two separate romances, or they couldn’t publish it because of the potential marketing nightmare. At that point I had to totally agree with them. I had poured my heart and soul into this manuscript (which at times was emotionally very difficult to write) and I wasn’t willing to change it at that time. I was not being arrogant, just overwhelmed with it all. For me that story was one and I couldn’t imagine breaking it into two. It would be like leaving a part of myself behind.

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The manuscript had already gone through one round of professional edits, but after I had unsuccessfully tried to modified it to better fit the marketing woes, I knew it was back to a mess. So I hired my usual editor for another round of edits with the growing idea (which terrified me) of self-publishing it in the future. Unfortunately, my editor  broke the trust I had in him by doing an extremely superficial edit and taking off with my money. I may be trusting but I also know when I’ve been had.

I had a couple more people read it for content feedback and I was again disappointed that no one was willing to read my manuscript to the end. Beta readers were giving up after a couple chapters. It didn’t bode well. I almost gave up on the idea of publishing it. But in the end I couldn’t give up on my characters and the world I created. I felt I owed it to them to stay the course.

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I contacted a book cover designer I have admired for a few years and asked them to design my cover. I was delighted with the results. That cover is amazing (cover reveal to come in the near-ish future).

I changed a few things according to suggestions and critiques from others, tightened up the writing (I have a tendency to be wordy), and hired another editor to do a final round. After the edits were done, I went over it again twice, tightening it even more, paranoid as I am now that my writing truly sucks. I went over it once more after a friend of mine had formatted it for publication (and amazing friend that she is, she was willing to do it again after subsequent changes).

My book now has an ISBN and I have to choose a publication date in the next couple days. I’m already paralyzed by all I will have to do. Because I have a couple more books releasing this year, there is a very short window to publish this one so it doesn’t conflict with the others. Which means I have to do it within the next month or so.

Frightened and stressed young business woman

My nightmare is not over yet because after suffering so many setbacks and getting bad feedback for two years, I’m terrified of how the public is going to respond to it. I have now invested more money into this book than possibly all my other six together and, being my first self-pub, I’m sailing in uncharted waters from where I expect a monster to jump out at any moment.

Do you think I did the right thing sticking by my story or was I a total dunce and should have just scrapped it?

Letting Characters Take The Lead

I‘m very pleased to have A.L. Vincent as a guest blogger today. Please, welcome her and, as usual, comments are always welcome 😉

My favorite part of writing isn’t creating stories, it’s creating characters. For me, that’s where the real story begins. Why does the character act the way he or she does? What do they want? Where do they want to go? I spend countless hours simply watching people. This might be at a restaurant, in the line at the grocery store, at the beauty shop, or my favorite place, New Orleans. Now, sitting on a balcony on Bourbon Street will give you all the character inspiration you could need or want. (And sometimes more!)

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All this observing can give ideas, and get stories going, but the hard part starts when the characters get stubborn. They can completely halt a storyline if they aren’t getting what they want. I’ve scrapped scenes and entire chapters and started over again because where I wanted the story to go and where the character wanted to go were two different things. To be honest, I feel the story turns out better than I planned when I do that, but don’t tell them that.

Like most authors, I’m sure, I have a few favorite characters. I’ve enjoyed writing all my main characters, but there are three that really have a little extra space in my heart. Those three are Noah, Carly, and Ivy. Each has a slightly different story of how they were created.

Noah

Noah

Noah is the love interest of Emily Breaux in Tangled up In You. He’s quiet, strong, and what some would call an “old soul”. He’s been through a lot, been broken, but pulled himself together. When I was writing Tangled, I kept trying to coax Noah to tell more of his story. But, he wouldn’t talk. I told you he was quiet. When I was writing the second book in the series, Running on Empty, Noah decides to tell his story to Grace, who is going through her own personal hell. Noah was the first character to really teach me that the character will talk when he or she is ready.

Carly

Carly

Carly is the first character I created. I started her story many years ago while attempting my first National Novel Writing Month project. She is named after one of my favorite General Hospital characters. I scrapped that novel, although parts of it have been used in various other Fleur de Lis books. Carly is a dreamer, she questions the world and the things around her. She’s a tomboy, and she has a naivety about her when it comes to love. She’s also clumsy, funny, and a wee bit reckless. Her character has remained the most constant, although that’s changing in upcoming novels.

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Ivy

Ivy would get the award for Most Changed character. Ivy started out as a very minor character in my alter ego’s paranormal series. She went from a twenty-something bartender, to a centuries old vampire. A little meek and mild as the young woman, she became a force to be reckoned with as her character developed. She has a love for one-liners and a story that she hasn’t revealed to me. Yet. I’m sure there’s more to her coming soon.

Characters can be pesky creatures sometimes, but it’s so fun to see them start from little spark of inspiration and grow into full grown ideas. My favorite books are about characters I fell in love with even from way back. Characters such as Jo from Little Women, Lestat in The Vampire Chronicles, and Katniss from The Hunger Games always stood out for me. It was the people I loved as much as the stories themselves.

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Author Bio:

A.L. Vincent is a teacher/writer who lives in the heart of Cajun Country. Born in Oklahoma, Vincent became fascinated with South Louisiana after reading Interview With the Vampire. Finally, she became a Cajun transplant in 2001. When not getting lost in a story line, Vincent can be found cooking or enjoying live local music. She has one son, and a furball of a dog aptly named Furby.

Links:        Facebook            Twitter              Instagram

 

 

Romance On A Mission

If you read a few of my romances you may have noticed a common thread running through all of them, no matter if the story is set in the imaginary world of the angels or a very real town in Maine. My characters are diverse. They come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, some have disabilities, others are emotionally scarred in one form or another. But they all have one thing in common—they all want to be loved and are willing to move heaven and earth to protect those they care for.

I’ve heard it before as I’m sure you did too—the old adage (not so old as it turns out) that claims you can’t write a diverse character unless you are one yourself. I’ve heard the maxim from certain readers and from literary agents, from members of the LGBT community, from African Americans, Hispanics, people with disabilities or mental illnesses. Pretty much from every minority group everywhere. Because let’s face it—there is no way to fully understand what someone feels or goes through unless you’ve been through it yourself. But wait! Actually, even people who went through similar things felt about it differently because there is only one YOU.

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I don’t subscribe to this philosophy, though. Most writers have a well-developed sense of empathy and as such, and to use myself as an example, I may never fully comprehend how a gay man feels when faced with prejudice but I can come close. Nothing annoyed me more throughout life as being excluded from things because I didn’t quite belong. I was too or not enough of everything. People will bring up just about anything to exclude people they somehow don’t think belong with them.

I believe that no matter where we come from, what our ethnicity is, our religion, our state of mental or physical health we all have one thing in common—as my characters, we all really want to be loved and be happy. So, I write romance with a mission. Sounds silly but after a lifetime of being told I COULDN’T for so many reasons, I wanted to write about characters who in spite of all obstacles, in the end COULD and DID.

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What do you think? To which school of thought do you subscribe and why? In the next few weeks I will be posting some blogs about characters and character development. I know I’ve done it before but I want to go deeper. I’d love to hear from you too, and I’m opening up for guest blogs focusing on characters (their creation, inspiration, favorite ones, most hated ones, etc). Just email me and we’ll go from there.

 

 

Emotion in Writing

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I attended Donald Maas‘s workshop and I’m just now writing about it. I almost didn’t sign up for it. The workshop was being hosted by the Richmond branch of the Romance Writers of America (VRW) and held in Richmond, Virginia–an almost two hour drive from my house. Driving far from home and to places I’ve never been to stresses me out to panic levels and I normally avoid it like the plague. But I really wanted to go to this one, so I signed up. Luckily one of my local writer friends signed up too and I was able to drive with her. I’m a much better copilot than a pilot in situations like this.

This workshop was everything I expected it to be and so much more. A huge kudos for the Virginia Romance Writers  who set up an amazing event in a great venue and for providing us all with a magical supply of food (especially the donuts which seemed to be forever reproducing themselves in the kitchen) and the awesome speaker.

DMaas and me

I’ve been to many workshops. Some were writing-related and others not. Some were excellent, others left me regretting the money and time invested. This one was inspirational. I came out of the full-day event revitalized, inspired, and motivated to write more and better. I also left vindicated somehow.  I’m an emotional writer. I have a tendency to neglect certain details (which in my mind seem superfluous) and focus on feelings. I thought that maybe I was writing romance the wrong way, but after this workshop I feel I’ve been doing the right thing. But I need to get better at it.

During the session I wrote a couple of the best scenes in my current project, not to mention I came up with the missing pieces of my plot. Pretty wonderful, don’t you agree?

Mr. Maas was a pleasure to listen and talk to. Nothing like being able to immediately apply what you’re learning to give you a sense of accomplishment. He took us on a journey through his last writing book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, and had us apply it directly to our current projects. It was truly magical.

I don’t normally recommend writing books, no matter how great they are, because we all write differently and what I’ve found is that one “technique” may be amazing for some and absolutely not work for others. However, this one is different. This one works with what you already have and helps you–through some pretty simple exercises–to make it better, to make it resonate in readers’ s minds and hearts. So I am totally recommending it. Further more I am suggesting that you buy it and read it as you edit your work. You’ll be amazed with the results.

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My only regret after such a great workshop is not having anything to send to Mr. Maas’ agency after he so kindly extended an invitation to all of the attendees to query him. Maybe one day, Mr.Maas, maybe one day…

Panel Etiquette or What Not To Do In A Panel

During my very short writing career I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of two authors’s panels. Obviously I’m not an expert and this blog is merely a reflection of my limited experience and pure observation of many other panels I attended in the past.

My first time as part of a panel was at a major book event and I was so lucky to share it with two amazing writers. It was a great experience. The questions were smart and thought provoking (and hard), everybody had an equal chance to talk, and the audience was engaged throughout the whole thing.

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At that same event I was part of the audience for another panel with four great YA writers and I was astounded by the lack of courtesy one of the members showed the others by monopolizing the conversation. The other authors were frustrated and I was equally upset because the one author I was there to hear talk never got the chance to open her mouth. I felt cheated as a fan and I’m sure she felt cheated of her chance to interact with her readers.

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My second time was at a smaller event and things didn’t quite go as smoothly for me this time. The subject of the panel was something I’m very passionate about and I prepared for hours so that the audience wouldn’t get bored. Unfortunately a couple of the other panel members seemed to be totally oblivious to time constraints or be respectful of the other members. It took them over thirty minutes to answer a question which had a time limit of five minutes. On top of it all, they read from the handout going home with the audience (which was supposed to be an extension of what was discussed during the panel). Needless to say I was frustrated, bored, and the teacher in me really wanted to explain to them the concept of sticking to the schedule.

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Here are some pointers (which I totally made up for this blog) on what NOT to do in a panel discussion.

  • Do NOT go over the time allotted to you for each discussion point or question.
  • Do NOT insult your audience by reading directly from your notes. Your audience knows how to read and can read the notes on their own and on their own time.
  • Do NOT hog the discussion. Allow the other authors in the panel to participate no matter how fascinating you believe your speech is. Others may not be as passionate about it.
  • Do NOT take the lack of hands up in the air as evidence that the audience is fascinated by your words. They may very well be taking an open-eyed nap or visiting their zen place while you speak.
  • Do NOT explain the whole plot of your book to explain something generic to the genre.

In summary, and to put it quite simply, respect the other members’s right to discuss the content matter and try to make it interesting enough for the audience to feel they haven’t wasted their time.

Note: the panels pictured in this article are not in any way related to the ones I attended. In fact, judging by the smiles, I would say these particular panels were probably quite awesome 🙂

Writing Samael- Behind The Character

 

Writing Samael- Behind The Character

(Lavender Fields villain)

Writing nice, likable characters with hearts of gold is easy for me. Writing villains, as it turns out, is not. Not because I can’t imagine a character vile enough to make a good villain but because I have a tendency—or so I’m told—to create cheesy villains. In the words of one of my editors (I should be mad at him but he made me laugh so I forgive him) at first, Samael came across as the cartoon villain in The Incredibles. I still don’t agree with this assessment of Samael, but I figured that if even one reader agreed with my editor, I’d be in big trouble. I decided to change it.

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Buddy Pine, aka Syndrome from the Incredibles

I needed Samael to be truly dark, inside and out, the epitome of evil. I wanted the readers to be afraid for my characters. And, if I’m totally honest, I wanted the readers to have some nightmares about this character and what he may do to Caleb and Sky. I dug into my previous experiences writing villains and rehashed the one I felt was the most insidious of all.

This character is from a novel I wrote a long time ago and which hasn’t as yet seen the light of day. It was never edited and rests on my pile of maybe-one-day-I’ll-revise manuscripts. This man—can’t even remember his name right now—was evil because he hated and harmed for no logical reason. He had no other motivation but hate itself. In the original manuscript, he hated the main character because of his race. Samael hated Sky because he was in many ways different from him. Ultimately though he just hated because it gave him pleasure, it justified his existence. Isn’t that the ultimate evil?

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Samael is the character that reflects many of Sky’s fears—his fear of being enlisted by the dark angels, losing his freedom, and ultimately his fear of losing the things and people he loves the most. Just like the boggart in Harry Potter, Samael is the incarnation of everything Sky abhors and fears.

Who wouldn’t be scared of evil that can sneak on you at any time and has the power of angelic magic on its side? Samael made my skin crawl while I was writing him, and yes, I had a few nightmares about him. I think I’ve achieved a truly scary villain but, in the end, the readers are the ones who will decide.

LFFeathers