Archive for December, 2009
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 by Charlene Teglia
Pinch-hitting here at Genreality gave me two reactions. I’m thrilled at the opportunity. But I also immediately asked myself what I could contribute. Since I’ve been a writing pro for five years and have experience with both new markets in epublishing and traditional markets, I have a background that’s very relevant to the changing times.
So for my first post as a substitute, I’m sharing 10 things I’ve learned about the writing biz.
1. Keep your day job and your benefits as long as possible. I didn’t have this option; I started my writing career working around a special needs child and getting a “real” job and putting her in daycare was not an option. But if it is an option, understand that it doesn’t make you less of a pro. It actually goes a long ways to protecting your pro career by buying you time to wait for the right deal instead of latching onto one that might not be a good fit because you need the money. And once you’re paying for your own insurance and supplying all your own benefits, your costs increase significantly. Unless you can sell enough books per year to make up the difference in salary and benefits, it can make a lot of sense to hang onto that corporate position. The myth that having a day job means you’re less serious about your career or in some way a lesser pro than somebody who doesn’t is just that, a myth. The hard reality is that bills don’t wait for six months while you wait for a publisher to pay. Unexpected medical expenses can sink you. And you’re at risk for making the wrong call for your long-term career goals in order to meet your immediate needs.
2. Don’t expect anybody else to care about your interests the way you do. Your agent might be the nicest person in the world, but he/she has interests that don’t include you and sometimes might directly conflict with yours. Same for your editor and publisher. You can respect the people you work with (and if you don’t respect them, don’t work with them) and you can listen to their input and consider it, but at the end of the day, your publishing career is yours and it’s up to you to make the best choices you can for yourself.
3. Sometimes the best you can do is make a well-informed and hedged guess. This business is full of unknowns. If you second-guess every decision, you’ll make yourself crazy. You can only make choices based on what you know at the time. Do your best to investigate the real risks and benefits, make your call, and know that sometimes you’ll make the wrong call. The possibility of a mistake can’t be allowed to paralyze you.
4. Writing is a business. If you want to be an artist more than you want a viable career, publishing may not be for you. Or you may be happiest self-publishing and having complete creative control. Only you know what will make you happy. Sometimes achieving a goal and getting a taste of what you wanted makes you realize you need to readjust your goals or reevaluate your plans. Sometimes life changes and impacts your plans. If you know your values and goals and make choices that are in alignment with them, you can find a good fit or make one.
5. Your life should include writing but not revolve around it. You need time for your friends and family, time for yourself, time to take care of your health, time to read, time for hobbies. If you let writing eat up all that time, not only will you wear yourself out (and possibly write yourself out), you’ll be less resilient when you have career lows. Every career has ups and downs, nobody just has a straight upward progression. If your career is all you have, it’s time to make some life changes or you may be in a real personal crisis when a career crisis hits, making you less able to cope with the downturn and plan your next move.
6. Surround yourself with smart, resilient people. Even though I’ve lived in relative isolation from other writers, the internet has allowed me to connect with writers and readers, to learn from people who have more experience than I do, to stay informed about changes in the market and see who is experimenting with what, and the results. Not only does it help to have community, you can avoid re-inventing the wheel. And we become like the people we associate with. So if you want to make smart choices, be resilient, and have career longevity, find people with those qualities and hang around them. I’ve been learning from Lynn Viehl and Holly Lisle since I made my first sale. Their advice via their blogs has been invaluable. Lately I’ve been reading Penelope Trunk’s blog because she has a great handle on what it takes to be successful in today’s business environment, and the difference in values and viewpoints between Gen X and Gen Y.
7. Don’t take it all too seriously. It’s only a book. It’s only a career path. If your book tanks, if your career derails, it’s not the end of the world. Truly. See #5. It’s so easy to have tunnel-vision, to place so much importance on the outcome of this book, that deal, that when things go wrong it’s devastating. Things go wrong. They do in every business, and writing isn’t special and protected from bad things happening. We care so much about our words, our work. But we have so little control over the outcome. This can make us crazy.
8. The publishing business really can make people nuts. That’s been a theme in these ten points, but it deserves one of its own. It’s because we have limited autonomy and limited control, but total responsibility for the outcome. If you at least know the business can make you crazy, you can compensate and be careful about getting too caught up in it. Following every trend, paying attention to every bit of news is a straight path to the nuthouse. Be informed, sure, but don’t obsess. Don’t lose sight of your goals, your values, what you want to do. If everybody says it can’t be done, ignore them and find a way to do at least most of what you want.
9. We’re creative thinkers. This means we can apply creativity to business problems and come up with innovative solutions. Creativity is not limited to the ability to plot and write a novel. Business can benefit from creativity, too. Don’t discount your business abilities and leave that up to other people because you’re “just a writer”. You’re also an independent business person and uniquely gifted with the ability to come up with solid ideas.
10. Writing fiction for a living really is a worthwhile goal. After five years, it’s still the only thing I really want to do. Writing a book is still the only thing I’ve ever done that fully engaged me and took everything I had. It’s the only job I’ve ever had that hasn’t gotten boring after six weeks.
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 by Bob Mayer
I’ve written over 40 manuscripts. All that time I’ve struggled with my voice as an author. In the Warrior-Writer program I’ve developed (more on this week once it’s up and running) I focus a lot on blind spots and the power of the subconscious. It’s taken many years and a lot of hard work for me to finally figure voice out. Often the voice that is your strongest, is the one you are most afraid of and uncomfortable with. This is because it cuts closest to the core of who you are, and you want to protect that core. We bleed onto the page and there is a difference between bleeding with a paper cut and bleeding from an artery. To be a successful writer you need arterial blood.
What authors do you love to read? What voice do they write in?
In the same way I tell people that however they organize their day is the same way they are going to outline their book, I believe the voice we love to read is the voice we want to write in.
I’m currently rewriting The Jefferson Allegiance once more. I already rewrote it for plot and that is now solid. Focused on character without the big, dark back-story overwhelming things. Now I’m rewriting it, sentence by sentence, for voice, and I’m loving it. My voice is omniscient. Not first, not third limited, but omniscient. I sat down over the weekend and read several Dennis Lehane books that I had already read before, and I focused on his voice. Then I realized a lot of authors I really enjoyed wrote in the same voice: Richard Russo, Larry McMurtry, JRR Tolkein, etc.
Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
My Rogue Angel novel, THE SPIRIT BANNER, hits bookstore shelves later this week and I’m looking forward to seeing how fans react to Annja’s newest adventure. I’m a history buff and getting the chance to work on this series -which effectively combines history, archeology, and a touch of the mystical – was a real pleasure for me.
This time around, Annja is hired to help locate the long lost tomb of the man who seemingly did the impossible by uniting the many tribes of the Mongol steppes and leading them to become one of the most feared warrior nations on earth, Genghis Khan. The Great Khan, as he was known, was a cunning leader and a brilliant strategist. I enjoyed learning more about him as I conducted my research for the novel.
For my post this week, I wanted to give our readers here at Genreality a sneak peek inside the book. I’ve chosen an excerpt from chapter six in which Annja is hired by multimillionaire John Davenport to locate the Great Khan’s tomb. She, of course, finds the entire notion ridiculous…
Once the help had withdrawn, Davenport continued. “I’m considering putting together an expedition to find the Khan’s lost tomb.”
“Don’t bother,” said Annja, without even glancing up from her drink. Because she didn’t do so, she missed the quick flicker of surprise that flashed across Davenport’s face.
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because he more than likely didn’t have one.”
Davenport laughed, but when Annja glanced at him without joining in he looked at her expression more closely. “You seem pretty sure of yourself.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the Mongol people didn’t believe in tombs in the first place.” Annja paused to gather her thoughts and to figure out the best way of passing on what she knew without seeming to preach at him. “Remember that the Mongols were a nomadic people, both before and after Genghis united them as a single political body. They had few cities and those they did have were more oriented toward storage of war booty rather than for any community-minded purpose.”
Davenport nodded. “Go on.”
“Because the Mongols moved from place to place, their religious beliefs evolved very much along similar lines. They considered the natural world to be full of spirits, much like the animists of feudal Japan. For instance, they were forbidden from bathing in rivers or streams because such places were considered the life blood of the earth itself and doing so would have been a horrible affront to the land.
“A Mongol warrior’s greatest possession was his Spirit Banner, or sulde, made from tying strands of hair from his best horses to the shaft of a spear. Whenever he made camp, the warrior would place the Spirit Banner outside the entrance to his tent to show his presence and to stand as a perpetual guardian beneath the Eternal Blue Sky that the Mongols worshipped as god. The banner would soak up the power of the wind, the sun and the sky, transferring that power to the warrior. When he dreamed, the banner would show him his destiny. Over time, the union between the warrior and the banner became so strong that upon the warrior’s death, his soul was considered to reside in the banner and not the body.”
“But Genghis was not just any warrior,” Davenport protested. “He was the spiritual father and warlord of the Mongol people. Just like people today, they would have wanted a place to remember him.”
Annja shook her head. “They had one – the Spirit Banner. It rode with the Khan’s descendants until 1647 when it was placed in the Shank Monastery for safekeeping.”
Davenport seemed fascinated with her story. “So you’re saying the Mongol people didn’t need a tomb because Genghis Khan’s very soul rode alongside them wherever they went?”
While it wasn’t a perfect explanation of Mongol religious beliefs, it was close enough that she nodded in agreement.
“Interesting,” said Davenport, sitting back and watching her for a moment before continuing. “What if I told you that the legends were true, that the Mongols did build a secret tomb for their Great Khan? That they filled it with an amazingly diverse treasure trove, loot from the hundreds of cultures he conquered? And what if I said I had in my possession the journal of a man who had intimate details of the burial process itself, a journal that contained a map to the location of the tomb itself?”
Annja couldn’t help but smile. “I’d say you’d better hire someone to authenticate the map and the writings pretty darn quick, because whatever you paid for it, it was too much. You’ve been had. Hell, I’d be happy to do it for you myself, just to prove to you the ridiculousness of the very idea.”
Davenport smiled. “Good. Then that’s settled,” he said with a laugh. “You can start first thing in the morning.”
Annja stared at him blankly for a moment and then it dawned her that she had been neatly led right where Davenport had wanted her to go.
Well, she’d just have to take the job and show him how wrong he was. After the events of earlier in the week she knew that the dig was all but finished for the season; she’d simply give them a call and let them know she was going home early.
A map to the tomb of Genghis Khan? Ridiculous!
Monday, December 28th, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
Welcome back! I hope you’ve been enjoying the season. And the weather! Brrr!
I’ve always thought the holidays shouldn’t end until New Year’s Day. Then I discovered Twelfth Night and realized I could make the holidays last another five days. I think this is an excellent plan. So again, Happy Holidays to you!
This is a very good time of year to reassess your goals and your plan for making them happen. Some people call this making New Year’s Resolutions, and they dread it. But if you want to accomplish anything, you need goals, and you need a plan for accomplishing them. (I’m a big fan of formal goal setting. Write it down! Make a plan! What things do you need to do every day to accomplish that big goal five or ten years out? And not just in writing, but in your whole life. Want to own a house in five years? What are you doing now, day by day, to make that happen?)
Writers talk a lot about setting goals, because writing and publishing lend themselves very well to step-by-step goals. You do all the steps — writing every day, finishing a novel, finding a critique group, sending out x number of query letters per month, etc. — the “getting published” almost takes care of itself. But equally important is the need to reassess your goals because your situation changes. If your biggest goal until now was “sell a novel” and you actually sold your novel this year, what are you going to do next? I think this is where a lot of newly published writers fall down a bit — they lose momentum because they were working so hard for that one milestone, that once they passed it, they didn’t know where to go next. This is also the reason I think this business actually gets harder after you make your first sale, rather than easier — because you have to keep working, but you no longer have that shining beacon of a first sale to inspire you. You have to come up with something else to work for.
Since 1995, one of my more important goals was to submit to a short story market every week. This forced me to keep my short stories in circulation, research new markets, and write new material. Well, this year, I let that goal go. I had a hard time accomplishing it last year, and this year I just couldn’t. And it was strange, because I’d been doing it for so long and I saw it as a big part of my success. But my situation has changed — I’m getting a lot of requests/invitations now, so while I’m still writing short stories, they’re usually meant for a specific market. I don’t have time to write short stories and research markets when I’ve got deadlines for two or three novels hanging over me — and novels pay a whole lot better, so I know where I ought to be spending my time. Also, a few years ago I said yes to everything because I was just so pleased that people were asking. Now, I can’t do that. I’ve had to learn to say no, which has made me look at what I really want to write, what projects I want to say yes to, and what are good reasons to turn down a project.
It’s been a pretty big mental shift, realizing that the goals that served me well when I was just breaking in — worrying about getting my work out there, and building momentum — just aren’t working anymore. My new goals: managing my time so that I can meet my deadlines, don’t be afraid to say no, don’t compare myself and my career to others, try new things, continue to challenge myself. And “write every day” That one hasn’t gone away.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in this business is that it never gets easier. You trade one set of challenges for another, and situations are always changing. That’s why it’s important to always be thinking about your goals and what you need to do to accomplish them.
What are some of your writing goals for the new year? How have your goals changed over time? How often do you reassess?
Monday, December 21st, 2009 by Sasha White
Happy Holidays from the GenReality Authors!
We’re taking the week of December 21-27th off to enjoy some time with family and friends this holiday season. We’ll be back after Christmas, and hope to see you then. Please surf the archives if you’ve got time, there’s plenty there to see!
Saturday, December 19th, 2009 by Candace Havens
I’d like to introduce our special guest today, the lovely Jaye Wells, who wrote one of my favorite books from the past year, THE RED-HEADED STEPCHILD. I love Jaye’s perspective on the world, and she is here to share a little of that with you today. Please show your appreciation by commenting below. -Candy Havens
Discipline is a Dirty Word
By Jaye Wells
Everyone knows that being a writer requires preternatural levels of discipline. Why, to hear some writers talk about it, you’d think we were all martyrs to our keyboards– St. Wordy of the Perpetual Finger Cramp.
Personally, I hate the word. Discipline. Say it out loud right now. Go ahead, no one’s around. DISCIPLINE. I dare you to say that word with a smile. It’s almost impossible. Why? Because guilt and duty weight down those ten little letters.
For me, it conjures images of ruler-wielding nuns and drill sergeants screaming for me to drop and give ’em 20,000 words.
The truth is, to apply discipline to writing connotes that there’s something inherently lazy and flawed about being creative. Artists are flaky after all, right? Our muse must be flogged into submission until we’re afraid not to write.
Here’s a fact: Anyone who tells you discipline alone will make you a better writer is full of it. Hell, even the original sadist–the Marquis de Sade–managed to tear himself away from his quill for some (admittedly scandalous) fun every now and then.
So if we can all agree discipline is a crappy word to impose on our creativity, what’s the alternative? What other word can we apply to writing that will result in word count? One that gets our butt in a chair regularly? One that overcomes the doubt monster and the rejection flu so that we forge ahead?
Now that’s a word I can get behind. Enthusiasm. Enthuuuusiasm. Unlike it’s authoritarian cousin, enthusiasm dances off the tongue. If discipline crosses its arms and says no, enthusiasm throws its hands in the air and yells YES!
People always say write what you know. That’s great and all, but I prefer to write about things I want to know. I want to write about things that amuse me or intrigue me or inspire me. I want to write about things that scare, thrill and confound me. In short, I want to write about ideas, characters and plots I’m excited about.
But, Jaye, you’re thinking, aren’t we supposed to write for our audience? Well, yeah, but your first audience is you. And if you aren’t excited about what you’re writing how in the heck can you expect anyone else to be?
Here’s another fact: Enthusiasm will get your butt in the chair just as easily as discipline. But I guarantee you’ll have a lot more fun while you’re there.
That isn’t to say being excited about your stories will mean you’ll never have another bad writing day. It doesn’t mean writing won’t ever be hard. I guarantee it will be. But at least you’ll be working hard because you want to be–not because discipline shamed you into it. Not because guilt told you to write or else.
As writers, we understand the power of words. So why in the world do we constantly impose negative ones on this creative thing we’re supposed to love? Enough, I say. Starting today, focus on how to be more enthusiastic about your writing. Your muse will thank you.
And so will your readers.
For more information about Jaye Wells and her upcoming books check her out at www.jayewells.com
Friday, December 18th, 2009 by Rosemary
I think one of the reasons that people get such a glow from holiday songs is that they use a lot of sensory imagery.
When it snows, ain’t it thrilling, though your nose, get’s a chilling…
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…
Put on your yalmulka, here comes Hanukkah…
(Okay, that last one is a little weak, but I was trying to be ecumenical.)
From the smell of lit candles to the taste of gingerbread, the holidays are full of sensations that resonate with emotional memory. (Good or bad.) On one hand, I can call up the sound of bells and carols in church, and on the other, the blare of canned holiday music and the screams of weary children in the mall.
Give that last one a try: Close your eyes (after you get done reading this) and call up the memory of the mall in December. Concentrate on the sounds– the holiday music, the echo of voices in the high roof of the central mall–and the sensations– the weight of the packages in your hands, the jostle of the hurrying crowd, the ache of your feet as you stand in line. The terror you feel knowing Santa is lurking at the other end of the mall… Oh. That’s just me.*
You’re probably having a pretty strong emotional memory right now. Maybe your neck has tensed up into knots and your stomach is a ball of anxiety and stress, and your heart is thumping. Or maybe you’re doing deep breathing to keep your cool, and finding your happy place in the middle of the chaos. Whatever it is, think about THOSE sensations, too.
Try doing this the next time you’re writing a scene, and your character should be feeling harried and stressed and tense–even if he’s trying to get to somewhere to diffuse a bomb, or save the president, or whatever–remember the sensations of being at the mall on a bad day (there are good days, too, but everyone has probably had the experience of needing to get something done in a mad crush). Translate some of those internal sensations into your scene, and put those emotions to good use.
This is something we as writers can apply to any season. It’s drilled into us from Writing 101: Show don’t tell. Surround your characters by sensations drawn from your own experience. Just like acting, where your goal is to show real emotion in fake situations, writing should do the same thing. Giving your characters sensory experiences in their moments make them real and emotional, and can resonate with your reader.
What physical sensations–touch, taste, sounds, smells, sights–evoke emotions in you? They don’t have to be holiday related. I have certain things I recall when I need to feel scared or angry or nostalgic. (The smell of dirt and cut wood makes me think of building fences on the ranch with my dad. I use it when I need to feel exhaustion and satisfaction of a doing a hard job myself.)
And in YOUR busy December– whatever you celebrate, or don’t–I hope you collect more good sensations than bad!
*To those who just met me. I’m not a fan of Santa. Sort of ironic, given my last name. But seriously, when I was growing up, we could not go to the mall from Thanksgiving to New Year’s without my pitching a screaming fit because Santa was there. Waiting. Watching. Judging. *shudder*