Tag Archives: adversity

When to get Stubborn . . . And when to get Smart

LightbulbJust this month, NYT Bestselling Author, and well-known author mentor David Farland wrote an excellent post titled “A Question of Balance”. He opens by saying, “How do you develop as a writer? It requires a balance of study and practice.”

That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about this month as I prepared this post, and I highly recommend you read his blog. If you’re not signed up to receive his Daily Kicks, you should consider it. His wisdom and advice is one of several factors I point to in helping me break through obstacles in my writing.

When I first started writing almost eight years ago, I took the stubborn approach that all I had to do was write, and write and write, and eventually I’d get there.

And so I tried.

Working pretty much in a vacuum of my own little world, I plowed ahead and wrote my half million throw-away words. Sure I improved many skills related to the actual craft of writing words on a page that make sense and, not knowing any better, figured I was at the top of my game.

The only problem was, no agent wanted my 300,000 word ginormous epic novel, and I couldn’t figure out why.

That was my first big obstacle, and I could not overcome it by just writing more – which I continued to do anyway. Just like David Farland said in his blog, I needed a better balance – some training to go along with the writing – to learn to work smarter instead of just harder.

That’s when I reached one of those milestone events in my writing career: I took David Farland’s Professional Writer’s Workshop. I found out about it by listening to Brandon Sanderson’s weekly podcast Writing Excuses, which I also highly recommend.

It was only with the knowledge I gained at that writing workshop that I recognized the flaws in my first book (weaknesses in the plot, waaaay too long, etc).

That’s when I faced the second challenge: What to do next?

StubbornHere, stubbornness kicked in again and provided the answer. Time to get to work. I threw away all that initial work, that entire novel, mined some pieces that were salvageable, and totally re-designed the novel from the ground up. That new novel, now titled The Sentinel’s Call, is in the hands of my agent, who will hopefully find a home for it.

In the meantime, I’ve since written 3 other novels. In each project, I’ve faced additional hurdles. Sometimes the answer was to get stubborn, plant butt in chair, and write like mad – like last November when I had to re-write 80% of my YA novel. In six weeks, I pounded out over 75,000 new words, and edited another 50,000.

Other times I had to get smarter, like when I signed up for the Superstars Writing Seminar– again, highly recommended. It’s the best place to Relaxlearn the nuts and bolts of being a professional author – the business side of writing. Or, when I studied other writing books – like Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, which I found extremely helpful.

Over the past eight years, I’ve found the best way to overcome the regular obstacles we face as we strive to become professional writers is a balance of stubbornness – just sit down and write; and an ever-increasing foundation of knowledge gained by studying, attending seminars and workshops and by networking with other writers.

I just wish I’d started the focused learning aspect sooner.

Depending on what stage we are at with our projects, or where we stand in our writing career, we’ll need a different answer to break through whatever obstacle we’re facing. What is your biggest challenge right now? Do you know yet if you need more stubbornness, or more learning to overcome it?

Finding Courage in a Harsh World

Many stories, from mystery to science fiction and fantasy have inspired and awed me. But my road to writing has been a tough and painful one. It wasn’t so much inspiration I needed as the courage to overcome an environment that discouraged reading, let alone writing for a living. One author gave me that courage.

Imagine growing up in a family where reading was never encouraged and was viewed as being lazy. Where farm chores and homework were the priorities. My father occasionally read westerns and Archie comics and then only after we were in bed. My mother just read recipes. Now, imagine the frustrations of a child whose imagination is so taken by the Dick_and_Janerich worlds in books that she wants to write but must suppress that desire and limit it only to school assignments.

What did I love to read? I still remember Dick and Jane’s antics in the grade one picture books – “See Dick run. Run Dick run!’ – those first words excited my tiny heart and showed me the power of words on paper. Then came rhyming and Dr. Seuss filled my world – “One fish two fish, red fish blue fish’. nancy drewBy grades five and six, I was sneak reading the mysteries of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys on the bus ride home – a book a day. Somewhere in junior high school, I discovered science fiction, fell in love with it and then got into trouble with teachers because my imagination and verbosity were greater than assignments demanded. When I took a degree in English and drama, I had relatives who shunned me for years.

Perhaps I should have quit then and for a few years life took over and I almost did. But I always dabbled and always loved reading. So, what changed? What gave me the courage to write and to overcome all the discouraging influences? Where did I find the confidence to achieve my goal of mastering and communicating in my second language? Oh yes, English isn’t my first language and throughout my life, I’ve had a desire to master it and rarely feel I have. Yet, one book, one writer gave me the courage to pursue my dream wholly – to throw myself into it with a modicum of hope to succeed. I owe my courage to J.K. Rowling.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_StoneWhen I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I thought that if she could do it, so could I!”. Her life story, her courage to write and her perseverance to find a publisher were the inspiration I needed. Since then, I’ve written many wild tales. I can write! My childhood desire to engage in worlds so far removed from reality, to master their voices and breathe life into them in words not my own has blossomed!

Which authors inspire me today? They all do as do the readers who buy their books. Everyone who has the courage to pen their imaginations, to give life to new worlds and voices, and to all our readers who encourage us, I give you my heartfelt thanks.

Cheers and happy writing (and reading too)!

Revise Unto Death or Quit?

The last post of 2012. Oh, the pressure!

This makes me think of endings… and beginnings. These ideas fortuitously play into the topic at hand – when should a writer abandon a scene/plot/character/work that just isn’t working rather than rewriting for the fiftieth time?

My story, A Guardian’s Destiny, was a work in process for sixteen months, give or take. I wrote, rewrote, edited, revised, rewrote and on and on for what was longer than was good for me or it. I was halfway through rewrites that added a major character when I couldn’t take it any more. I knew it needed fixed, but I couldn’t figure out what the fix might be. Frustration didn’t begin to cover how I felt. When I stepped back and looked at it with some small measure of objectivity, I could see it had “Edit Face.” Not pretty. So, I put it in a virtual drawer and began something else.

When do you make that call? End one thing, begin another?

That is a personal decision, but here are some things to consider.

  • Time – How long have you worked on your scene/plot/character/work? Think about Return on Investment or Lost Opportunity Costs. Yes, we want our writing to be its best, but it will never be perfect and we need to recognize the tipping point where we have gone beyond productive effort. If you could have written a multitude of other scenes/plots/characters/works in the time you’ve spent on this particular one, then maybe it’s time to let it go and move on.
  • Sanity – Is it making you crazy? My story was. That’s not constructive and it’s stressful.
  • Distance – Sometimes, it isn’t that you need to completely abandon your scene/plot/character/work, it’s that you need some distance from it. Your muse may need time to gel. Time to work out exactly what the problem is and how to fix it. It may be weeks, months, years or never. You just never know.
  • Perspective – It’s just a story. We’re not curing cancer. Don’t marry your scene/plot/character/work. You need to have some perspective. Sometimes, things just aren’t working and you need to stop. If it helps, save all the drafts or put any deleted text into a different document. Then it isn’t really gone, just not where it isn’t working.

A Guardian’s Destiny has been tucked away for six to ten months. My critique partner asked to read it anyway despite my protestations that it seemed hopeless. After all this time and with her help, I think it may be time to take it back out and finish it. With a second set of eyes and ideas, it may yet be salvageable, but I know now that if it isn’t complete in a reasonable amount of time (not months on end), then back in the drawer it goes.

Here are some sayings that I keep in mind to help me.

A certain amount of opposition is a great help to man. Kites rise against, not with, the wind…… John Neal

It’s only a book. If nothing is happening – hit delete and start over. ….. I don’t remember where I heard this, sorry.

When your moment of truth comes, remind yourself: They told me it would be hard. This is what hard feels like. I can do this. ….. Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

What do y’all think? I’d love more great quotes and/or tales of death, birth and maybe rebirth of your scene/plot/character/work.

 

 

 

Are You Bored or Burned Out by Your Story?

You’re tired of writing the short story before you’ve even finished it. You’re 40,000 words into the novel and are falling asleep at the keyboard. You’ve worked hard on your world building, done the research done your character profiles and have the main elements of your plot chart, the writing should come easily but it doesn’t.

Don’t panic! The inability to write because your work doesn’t feel interesting at this moment doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer. It means that you’re stuck and that you need to answer one simple question to get through this:

Are you bored or are you burned out?

Burn out happens when we’ve been at it too long – our brains need a rest from processing information and creating a work of art. Writing takes lots of energy – physical, creative and emotional. That’s when you need to give yourself a break But sometimes when you’re feeling bored it’s your brain’s way of telling you that information is missing. I had that experience when I was doing the world building and background work for my new series. I had had so much fun world building and I wanted to write the novel so I could share it. No matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t happen. Three times I started the beginning and each time I set it aside. It wasn’t fun anymore. I grew bored. So, I let it rest and when I reviewed my research, I realized that I hadn’t thought through a critical element. My brain, in the form of boredom and frustration, was telling me that I was missing something.

Sometimes I write three to ten pages of background material (important but boring stuff) because I need to get grounded in the setting and characters. Once I’ve done that, then the story begins. So, write, write and write some more. It’s not boredom per se that you’re experiencing, it’s simply that you’re going through the first step of needing to become part of that world, to unclutter your brain by getting information and relationships out of your head.

What happens when you’re genuinely bored with what you’re writing? When you’re sick of the plot and the characters? When it’s not exciting anymore and it feels like work and not fun?

Sometimes, it’s not fun and when that’s the case we need to simply write our way through it until it becomes fun. There may be technical reasons why this is so but many times those aren’t apparent until we’ve finished the novel and are revising it. So don’t stop writing. Write through the scene or section and get to the fun part!

Feeling bored may be the result of not getting to the interesting parts of the story. You’re missing mood, emotion, action and reaction because there’s too much inconsequential description, the reader isn’t an idiot and doesn’t need that level of detail, it reads like a technical manual, and yes, it’s simply boring writing! So in this case, the problem may not be with you but with what you’re writing. Again, get it out of your system, then write the real story.

But what if you’re bored because you’re derailed and don’t even know it? Check your plot chart. Write out chapter summaries or summarize your scenes in point form. Ask yourself: where does the story begin and what is the disaster in the opening quarter that compels my charter to act? What is the story goal? What is the climax? What is happening to the protagonist between the middle and the end which makes it challenging for him to achieve his goals? It may be that somewhere in the swampy middle that you need to increase action and tension, up the stakes in order to make things dicier for your character and more exciting for yourself. This solution also works if you’re bored because your characters and plot feel boring.

Boredom may mean that you need a break. We get tired – it happens. Do something different for a bit: write a short story or a poem; paint the fence; go to a movie; bake something – give your brain a break and do something fun! Beware though that you aren’t using boredom as an excuse to procrastinate – that it’s an excuse to do the fun things and not write! If that’s the case, the surest way to quell boredom is by applying the BICFOK cure – Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard.

Yawn! I’m not bored – I simply need a nap!