Avoid the Pointy End of the Sword

Anyone ever read Terry Pratchett and his Silver Horde? A sketchy band of octogenarian fighters who, despite their advancing years, still get out for the occasional job. Just to keep the blood flowing. A young man asks one of their members how they can still fight. His response boils down to this, “Be somewhere else when the sword gets there.”

These guys have enough fighting experience that they know exactly what they’re opponents are going to do. Ever.y Single. Time. So it’s easy for their arthritic bodies to be out of the way just in time to avoid being stabbed.

angampora_sword-shield_fight

Think about your life. Aren’t there things that always happen? Every. Single. Time?

For instance, it never fails that just as soon as I get my writing grove on, and I’m either busting out a rough draft, or plotting a series or editing a final manuscript, my day job decides to get greedy and they slap extra hours on me. This happens exactly two days after I’ve made a grand plan for finishing my latest book and am ready to jump in with both feet.

Of course there are the holidays. Sure, it’s conceivable that I could get some writing done in the seven weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. I have days off, after all. My family couldn’t possibly fill all of that time, could they?

Uh, yes, they can. And then some. It’s all great—the food, the fun, the family and friends, the running about and admiring the snow as I tell my husband to go shovel. It’s a beautiful time of the year. Beautiful, but completely unproductive.

Oh, and July…don’t even get me started about July. Wait, too late. Between trips to the local Shakespeare Festival, one of the largest parades in the nation, rodeos, sprinklers, the fourth of July, the local holidays, fireworks, swimming, hiking, family reunions and then recovering from all of that, nothing gets done. Somehow I end up farther behind than when I started. Gotta love the summer.

These are just a few of my life’s tells. If these things are coming up, then I should know that I’m screwed. I should, but more often than not, I forget. My inner optimist overpowers my ornery realist and decides that I can make it work this time. I can write the rest of my novel in July. I can sneak it in between the reunion and the Shakespeare Festival. Or between plays at the Festival. Or on the fourth, when surly no one will want to do anything.

What I need to do—and have done on occasion—is change my tactics. Forget making novel progress. Instead, I’ve found that these are good times to branch out, or finish little projects I’ve been putting off in the name of getting my next novel out.

Projects like researching a new marketing scheme, or reading a couple of books in my genre so I can give my opinion on them to my newsletter victims, or picking up my disaster, er, office, read a book on craft, or browse that non-fiction research book I’ve been ignoring, or plan a random presentation for a conference…

So instead of getting sliced and diced, depending on the severity of the interruption, be ready to move. Be prepared with as many contingency plans as you can. If your July blows up, like mine does, don’t plan to have a book finished in August. Go with either June or September. If your kids tend to break out in the stomach flu every November, be ready to juggle things so that you’re not losing ground. Just change ground and start digging there. Because life doesn’t stand still so you can write. It never has and it never will, and if it does, you’ve probably consumed too much of something.

Damage Control

crisis

Guest Post by Aubrie L. Nixon

Damage Control is such an odd concept to me. How can you really control damage? By the time something is labeled as “damage is is far past the point of being able to control. Damage is essentially uncontrollable. Yet, as human beings we still feel the need to give everything purpose to make things matter, even damage. As a writer, who is working on getting published, I have made my fair share of mistakes. One that stands out the most is rushing into sending out Query letters.

Being the creator of my fictional world, I hold it very dear to my heart. There can’t possibly be anything wrong with my baby, I would know! I created it. How very, very wrong that attitude is. My current work-in-progress, while awesome, is far from perfect. It took multiple rejections from agents for me to realize that. Now, I like to think I got overly excited in finishing my precious book, and sent it out too early. And that very well may be the case. But, I should have never had it sent out without proper revisions and edits to begin with.

I should have realized that while I see my baby as perfect, I would need an outside perspective to love my book enough to help me make the rest of the world see it as perfect. Thankfully, I have awesome friends and beta readers who helped me see that my book can be so much more than it is right now–perfectly imperfect.

I have been hard at work revising and adding the changes that my world needs. The thing about edits and critiques is that you need people who aren’t afraid to tell you what they think. Though, it might be painful to hear, those extra set of eyes are needed in order for you to become a better writer. You owe it to yourself and those characters that you have created to give them the best possible chance to succeed. You need to find people you trust and respect to help keep you motivated when you’re at the end of your rope.

People who will continue to love your world and the characters in it, even if they have to help you tear them apart first. Revising is one of my least favorite things. But, it is essential to do it. In order to get better, you need to revise. I have never in my life heard of someone who had a perfect first draft. It is called a first draft for a reason.

While I like to think I am all that and a bag of chips, and my writing is the tops, it’s not. I need my friends and beta readers to knock me down a few pegs and pull me back into reality sometimes. Looking at where my manuscript was, to where it is now, and where it is headed… phew, I could have never done that on my own.

I shudder to think if I had sent my baby into the world unprepared. It would have been torn to shreds, my career and potential as an author would be ruined by my own ego. So, to say the least, my people saved me from myself and utter humiliation. I have since learned from my mistake, and laugh at how terrible my first draft was.

So fellow humans and lizard people, don’t pull an Aubrie. Learn from the mistakes I made, that could have very well ruined me. Get yourself a few critique partners, take the advice you agree with, even if it hurts. Scrap the advice you don’t like, and revise, revise revise. You owe it to yourself and the world you have created to make sure you have done your very best. Trust me on this.

aubreyAubrie is 24 years young. She plays mom to a cutest demon topside, and is married to the hottest man in the Air Force. When she isn’t writing she is daydreaming about hot brooding anti-heroes and sassy heroines. She loves Dragon Age, rewatching Game of Thrones and reading all things fantasy. She runs a local YA/NA bookclub with 3 chapters, and over 200 members. Her favorite thing to do is eat, and her thighs thank her graciously for it. If she could have dinner with anyone living or dead it would be Alan Rickman because his voice is the sexiest sound on earth. He could read the dictionary and she would be enthralled. Her current mission in life is to collect creepy taxidermy animals because she finds them cute and hilarious. She resides just outside of Washington DC.

Most Times, Catharsis Isn’t Worth the Price

I get it. You’re angry, furious even. Your masterpiece has been unjustly defamed by a cruddy review. You’ve received your millionth “dear author” rejection letter. Or some idiot at your publishing house has messed up your precious manuscript as they were shuffling it through the process of becoming a best seller. Whatever the cause, all you want to do is lash out and tell the world what a moron the offending individual has been. It’ll feel soooo good to write that scathing blog post, email, or response in the comments section. You’ll be witty and cutting. It’ll go viral. You know that the Internet cannot help but see that you are in the right, that your cause is just.

STOP.

Stop and take a deep breath. Take a walk, beat up a punching bag, or scream at the moon. But whatever you do, do not click send. Not in your current state at least. As good as it would make you feel, trust me, the catharsis isn’t worth it. The Internet never forgets, so why give it something that could come back to haunt you later? Furthermore, the publishing business is a small world where everyone knows everyone else. And, everyone talks. You DO NOT want to be the unflattering email that gets passed around the office. You do not want to end your career in a moment of pique.

So, what do you do? The first step is to acknowledge your emotion. You’re mad. You’re sad. You may be right to feel that way. You may be wrong. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you feel the emotions, that you admit to them, accept them, and then own them. Acknowledge that your feelings aren’t within your control, but how you act absolutely is. You won’t be judged for being angry, but you will be judged by how you behave.

The next step is to be thoughtful and deliberate in how you will react. The situation is already bad, so what’s the best case scenario for an ending? Chances are that a bad print run, a hostile review, or an impartial rejection cannot be changed. So then, what is in your control? Perception, specifically how others perceive you. Are you going to be the drama king/queen that flies off the handle or are you going to be the suave professional that takes the situation in stride? Will you let your baser instincts drive your reactions, or will you rise above them?

Let’s be frank. You cannot use anger to win over someone who is determined to be hostile. More often than not, both parties simply make fools of themselves. If you don’t feed the haters, they’ll get bored and find the next person they can rile up. Like the wise samurai, leave them with their anger, jealousy, and vitriol. If you write the best book you can, keep improving your craft, and be a likable author, your fans will speak up for you. Their praise and fan-love will drown out the haters.

Impersonal rejection is part of the business. We all deal with it, and past rejection has no bearing on your future success. J.K. Rowling was rejected by, what? 12 different publishers? Now she’s one of the most loved and powerful voices in the world. Furthermore, there is no point in souring your relationship with an editor or agent just because your manuscript doesn’t fit their needs at this time. Throwing a fit just convinces them that you are too much trouble to be worth working with in the future. And they will share that opinion with all their friends and colleagues. By ranting at one closed door, you may destroy another opportunity.

Sometimes even major goofs can be turned to your advantage. I recently read a really suave blog post from an author I admire. He had written a short story for an anthology. Somehow, the end of his story was left out of the first run of printed books. What a big “ooops!” However, instead of expressing perfectly justifiable frustration, he publicly acknowledged that such mistakes sometimes happen. He went on to tell his fans that the publisher had fixed the problem and reordered the copies of the book, so future orders would be whole. However, there existed 50 books with the miss-print. Act fast, he urged us, and the publisher will sell you a signed copy of the miss-printed book paired with a special, one-run-only chapbook that contained the end of the story. That’s right! Only 50 of these items would ever exist. In so doing, he turned an embarrassing mistake into a collectible. Now, that’s smart business.

There are many things in this world that are beyond our direct control. Mistakes will be made. People will be hateful. Business deals won’t always go through. We will feel angry, frustrated, and disappointed when these things happen. However, how we choose to respond to these circumstances will define who we are. More importantly, it will shape how others think of us. In our media driven world, perception is power. It’s the power to sell books, close deals, and win over lifelong fans.

So you’ve acknowledged and mastered your emotions. Now you have a choice to make. Will you be the author who flies off the handle when things go wrong or will you be the suave professional? Will you be the voice that adds to the cacophony and catastrophe, or will you be the one to turn a bad situation into an opportunity? An emotionally driven outburst may make you feel better in the short run, but it often makes matters worse. So when you feel the need to unleash a heaping portion of righteous wrath, instead think… is the catharsis really worth it?

So You’ve Written Yourself Into a Corner…

Every writer has been there. Your plot is humming along. Your protagonist is sidestepping or hurtling every obstacle you throw at them, and they are well on their way to the climactic, final showdown. Suddenly, BAM! You find them squarely in a situation that you can’t see your way out of. You’ve written yourself into a corner.

It’s honestly one of the worst feelings in writing. That awful, “Oh no, how much am I going to have to change to make this work?” feeling of time and effort wasted. It sucks. But take a moment and collect yourself. We’re here to help.

FIrst, take comfort in the fact that every writer has (or will have) experienced this feeling. Those who prefer the “pantsing” style will generally feel the pain far more and probably have developed thick calluses to it, but even the most ardent outliner will have a logical hiccup in their plan every now and then and find themselves having to fight their way back out of it.

There are varying ways to tackle the problem. Which one to apply depends entirely on two factors: how systemic the damage is and the level of the writer’s improvisational skills.

But before I go into specifics, there is one rule you must obey above all when trying to correct the problem of having written yourself into a corner: Use this as an opportunity to make the story better. 

I don’t mean better in the sense of “I had written myself into a corner and now I’ve fixed it.” Go beyond just fixing the problem. Use the fix to illuminate your characters more, or to reveal richer details of your worldbuilding, or to make your plot flow more elegantly. Seeing this as an opportunity serves more purpose than simply resulting in a better story than you had before. It also helps you avoid the psychic toll of feeling as though you’ve wasted a bunch of your time writing into a dead-end. Pull this off, and you’ll be happy you screwed up, because the end result will be that much better.

The first thing you have to do is analyze the problem and the context surrounding it. Are you happy with the book up until this point? Or has the story become more like a beater car, struggling more and more to make headway as it gradually falls apart, with this dead-end being the final straw?

If things had been just fine up until the dead-end, then you probably don’t have to do all that much to fix it and probably aren’t even reading this for advice. Backtrack as far as needed and make a few changes to foreshadow a solution, or change the scenario entirely into something that works.

But sometimes a dead-end is merely a symptom of a larger problem. You can almost think of it as your subconscious’s way of forcing you to really look and see the larger issues of the story. I’ve run into this before where two hundred pages into a book, I realized that my protagonist’s actions didn’t line up at all with his personality. As Dave Heyman discussed a couple of days ago, I had to tear the story down to the studs and basically start over with a premise and some characters.

Hopefully your problem won’t require such drastic measures. Is your dead-end more character-focused but not something you can easily rewrite? Luckily for you, people are very complex creatures, full of flaws and contradictions. Think about a real person you know well. I’m guessing that most of their personality will angle in a certain direction, but that you’ll have noticed that they have a few weird tics as well that don’t seem to jibe with the rest. This sort of thing is a great way to add richness and complexity to your characters. As long as you foreshadow a character behavior a couple of times in advance, you shouldn’t have any trouble tweaking the character enough to allow for the behavior while not breaking them.

If your dead-end is more centered around logistics or plot mechanics, now’s your chance to showcase the world your character inhabits. Especially if its a science fiction or fantasy story, there are any number of ways to add a cool worldbuilding wrinkle that will enable your character to progress. Just make sure that you backtrack and insert that wrinkle (or hints of it) liberally throughout the early portion of your story, to avoid a deus ex machina situation.

If you’re REALLY lucky, you can find yourself with what I like to call the Sublime Solution. This is where those of us who practice the pantsing style of writing really come into our own. Consider: are there any other loose threads of your story dangling out there, things you put in because they just seemed really cool and now you don’t know what to do with them, so you’re considering marking them as darlings to be killed? Well, not so fast. Because maybe, just maybe, you can find a way to tie one or more of those loose threads into a rope to hoist your character free of their dead end. If you can pull this off, it’s one of the best feelings in writing. I had a situation like that arise while working on Ungrateful God, picking up a thread that had been dangling since early in Unwilling Souls and, well… saying any more would be telling. 🙂

In summary, finding yourself written into a corner is both quite common and no reason to panic. Indeed, if you look at it as an opportunity to strengthen your story the annoyance factor … diminishes. Saying it goes away would be a lie, because it’s annoying every single time. But with experience it gets easier to see it for the backhanded gift that it is.

Because it’s always better for you to find and fix the problem before a reader does.

 

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and the upcoming Dragon Writers Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.