Special Forces Assessment and Selection is based on successful character traits. Studying the character traits of successful writers will help you understand your True Nature.
How willing are you to change? Are you willing to learn from any source that helps you improve yourself? If you are not where you want to be, then you must change, rather than waiting for the world to come to you.
Because guess what?
So how do you use being open-minded to change?
You need a . . .
Willingness to Surrender When Wrong
To change, you have to be willing to say the three hardest words for many people, I am wrong. Followed by, maybe I’m not doing this the best possible way. Maybe I can learn to do this better. You must be willing to surrender. You must be willing to change based on the feedback you receive from the exercises in this book.
A Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, found something interesting when studying talented people and how they performed. She discovered those people who believe they were born with all the talent and intelligence they will ever need approach the world with a fixed mind-set. They rarely change. Why should they?
Those who believe that they weren’t born with everything they need and can expand their abilities and become better, approach the world with a growth mind-set. Guess which of the two are more successful? The latter reach their creative potential, while the former rarely live up to their potential. In Special Forces, volunteering for the training and successfully completing it indicates a willingness to grow. I found the same to be true of writers: I often saw extremely talented writers fail, while those with lesser talent but greater open-mindedness and perseverance succeeded.
There are so few successful writers, because few writers are willing to learn and change. Change is also difficult because it requires not just change in your action but also in your way of thinking.
Part of what can motivate you to try change and also stick with it are two apparently paradoxical emotions . . .
Desire & Contentment
Desire is the stick that drives the successful to achieve more. The carrot. What do you desire? What do you want? What do you need?
Contentment is the reward for achieving your desires. You can’t constantly be in a state of desire. Every once in a while you must get to that point of achievement, or frustration will rule. For a person to enjoy life, there must be a degree of contentment in the here and now. What is the point of being successful if you can’t enjoy it? Every once in a while you need to focus on what has been achieved.
Too much of either is dangerous. They feed off of each other. For many years I’ve joked that I never take a day off, but, unfortunately, it’s true. And it’s burned me out. It’s hard to change habits, as we all know, but it is one area I’m working on.
So let’s talk about motivation a bit. First, the carrot and stick method doesn’t really work anymore. The old maxim was: reward an activity and you’ll get more of it. Punish an activity and you’ll get less of it.
That’s wrong. Studies have proved that often linking a reward to an activity dampens enthusiasm for it. It can go from being a creative, fun experience, to becoming work. This often happens to the midlist writer who is under contract. Instead of creating, they’re working. An experiment with artists by the Harvard Business School found that those artists working on commission produced less artistic work than those artists not working on commission. The pure joy of creating was lost to a degree when there was an external outcome attached to it. This has powerful implications when you think in terms of multiple book contracts for authors.
Not only is creativity hurt, but the desire to do good can be diminished with rewards. Paying people to donate blood has proven to lower the number of people donating blood. People prefer to volunteer to do that. Thus internal motivation is more important than external.
On the good news front, researchers have found that goals we set for ourselves are beneficial, but goals set for us by others, are not. This is why I try not to listen to agent and editor panels at conferences. Their lists of ‘do’ and ‘don’t do’ are irritating. An author’s job is not to make their life easier. An author’s job is to create.
Researchers have also found two types of people: Type X and Type I. Type X are motivated by external things. Type I are motivated by internal things. A writer must focus on being Type I. Because in publishing, you don’t control many of the external factors. Whether a traditional publisher picks you up or not is not in your control other than by the quality of what you write. What I’m finding interesting is that by founding my own publishing company, it reduces my stress level as I write. Because I know that even if my agent can’t sell a book, I can still publish it. True, I won’t have a many thousands of copy print runs, but I can put it out there. Also, I’ve had thousands of copy print runs and watched books die a slow, agonizing death of neglect.
If you get a $10,000 advance for a mass-market paperback, you need to sell (at $6.99, 8% royalty) 17,882 copies to earn out. But what if the print run is only 25,000 copies in today’s tough economic times? And average sell through is 50%? Let’s say you do very well, sell through at 70%. You’ve sold 17,500 copies. And not earned out. In publishing eyes, you’ve failed.
But every day I can check my Kindle account, my Smashwords account, my Lightning Account, my iBooks account, and money is coming in. I used to say that even though I’m making less, it’s more satisfying to see progress. However, things have changed once again the steady stream of money coming in is more than what I might have gotten on a single book deal AND I still get the satisfaction of seeing the progress. In fact, I’m making more now as an indie author than I ever did as a traditionally published author. Also, on those days or weeks where we see a drop, we can ACT by re-evaluating our business plan and continue to push forward instead of the REACTING the way I was doing when dealing with traditional publishing and writing from one contract to the next. This is a change in going from traditional to non-traditional publishing that works in the author’s advantage.
A successful person needs to balance desire and contentment.
As part of desire and contentment, you must also be able to close doors. We waste time pursuing too many options. One of the purposes of the first Tool of this book was to help you lock down your WHAT, your goals. The opposite of that is discarding goals that aren’t what you really want so you can focus on those you do.
Closing doors can give you great focus. When Cortez arrived in the New World he had eleven ships and less than a thousand men. His WHAT was to seize the treasures of the Aztecs. His WHY was positive for him, but not so great for the Aztecs. He pursued his WHAT with single-minded ruthlessness: he issued a famous command: “Burn the ships”. You can imagine this wasn’t very popular with his men, but it was a great source of motivation: they had no choice now. They had to succeed. He had removed an option; closed a door.
As Erich Fromm noted in his classic book Escape From Freedom, when we have too many options, we don’t focus on the ones we should.
I’ve been working on being more disciplined in my life- not just trying to write every day, but trying to do it a certain times, to treat it more like a job, than a work-at-home thing, because I can admit I’ve let the work at home thing …relax my ways a bit. Okay, quite a bit. With this in mind I thought I’d share some of my own motivation thoughts to stick with it this week.
A Quote or three:
“I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”– Martha Washington
“If you believe you can, you probably can. If you believe you won’t, you most assuredly won’t. Belief is the ignition switch that gets you off the launching pad.” – Denis Waitley
“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” – Lou Holtz
A kick in the pants:
Thanks to Marjorie Lii for sharing this tidbit.
Write what you want to write. Write what you need to write. Write what engages you, what interests you, what gets your blood pumping and your jaw tight. Because what else are you going to do? Play it safe? Write what everybody else is writing just because everybody else is writing it? What’s the point? Why bring nothing new to the table? Why fail to bring yourself and your passions to the page?
Write urban fantasy because you want to write it. You want to write astronaut porn? Suburban murder mysteries? Arthouse tales of North Korean sexual repression? Fuck it. Buckle up, and write it.
A Reader Review of MY PREROGATIVE that I just saw on the weekend, and that made me want to write because the reader “got it”. (Plus, she commented on something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, the whole ex-military, special forces, cop hero thing. ) And BTW: My Prerogative is on sale for $5.60 right now
Ms. Daisy wrote… Everybody knows a person like Kelsey or have heard outrageous stories about someone like her, but has anyone taken the time to find out what makes the wild child tick. Sasha White has created one of the most realistic h I have read in a romance book and deconstructed her before our eyes so the reader can fully understand why she does the things she do. My Prerogative is a story about finally growing up and getting ones life together before it is too late. Kelsey is the cool chick living her life by her own terms and loving it. Although she has a college degree she decided long ago the conventional life of a pencil pusher was not for her. Bartending in a popular Night Club is her thing and sex is her calling. She eat, sleep and breathe sex, nothing is forbidden or too outrageous. She also has deep depressive moods she must control, the methods she use is a big part of her problem. The customers and co-workers at her bar believe she is leading a happy exciting life because she is the life of the party and and sexually free. What they don’t know is that there are deep disturbing emotions consuming Kelsey that keep her from having meaningful relationships. She secretly desires a man that will accept her as she is especially her sexuality. Her family loves her but fears she will never settle down and find a committed partner. She meets Harlan after he spies on her through his apartment window while she was pleasuring herself. Once Kelsey discovers she has an audience she really puts on a series of shows that will rival a Porn Star. Harlan is smitten with Kelsey and decides to get to know her which proves harder than he imagined. He is persistent and patient as he navigate the mine field of Kelsey’s personality. It was similar to peeling away the layers of an onion, he found her center just as appealing as her outside. Harlan is the kind of alpha male I adore, confident, strong, caring and willing to let Kelsey figure out for herself what she needs to be happy. I enjoyed this modern romance about a bad girl finally falling in love for all the right reasons. The sex is HOT, but the sex with Harlan is sizzlin’ with a lot of heart. You know this man loves him some Kelsey.
Finally a book about falling in love without a kidnapping, gun or Special Ops/Assassin in sight. I don’t know why every other romantic book whether HR, Erotica or Contemporary you pick up lately feel the need to insert some type of violence/crime into the plot to bring the H/h together. If you are looking for a romantic sexy read this is the book for you.
I admit it, I find reader reviews very motivation when it comes to my writing. Sales are always good, but actually hearing (or reading) that someone has enjoyed the story that I created, the characters that I build, really warms my heart and makes me want to do it again ad again.
I’m back home from 12 days of traveling: two conventions, two signings, and many late nights in the bar talking until my voice gave out. I now have four days to get my voice back online before the next convention. Then, I can take a break. I think…
Anyway, I’d meant to post something last night and failed utterly. So this morning, I’m going to make you all do the work for me by asking a couple of questions:
What are you working on now? (writing-wise) What has surprised you about your current project?
I’ll start: I’m working on Kitty 11 (along with a couple of other things, but this is the big one), and I’ve been surprised at how going back to some of my original source material (notes and inspirations for the very first book in the series) has helped me solve a couple of plot problems.
I’ve been recovering from Worldcon and co-hosting the Hugo awards ceremony — tons of fun! And I’ve also been thinking about my upcoming posts here on Writing Characters that Feel Real…I’m not sure yet if it’ll be a two-parter or a three-parter.
Meanwhile, a great question came in last week and I thought I’d open it up a bit and get you not only my thoughts but also those of my two best pals, J.A. Pitts and Jay Lake. We’ll look at the question, get an under-the-hood view of Lake and Pitt’s organization process this week, then a look at mine next week with some follow-up thoughts.
So…first, the question, from John:
Hello, I’m curently delving into the world of writing. I happened by Genreality and love what I read there. However, one subject I’ve never really seen was about how you guys stay organized when you write. From drafting, plotting and even revisions…..how do you keep everything –
I was hoping you might be able to shed a little light on that. Either via email or on the blog….. do you use a writing program? Such as Liquid Story Binder, or just simply Microsoft Works? How do you keep up with notes and plotting? Just curious, I like to keep everything neatly organized and I’m torn about which direction to proceed. I hope to hear from you on this.
Great question, John. First up, let’s get Jay Lake’s take on this. Jay’s written two trilogies, hundreds of short stories and a handful of other books in addition to his kajillion words of blogging.
What say you, Mr. Lake?
I don’t use a special software tool or anything, though people do keep
recommending Scrivener to me. I’ve been using Microsoft Word since the late 1980s, and have never overcome my inertia to branch out to
For short fiction, the story lives entirely inside my head. Characters, plot, setting, continuity, the whole ball of wax flows from backbrain to fingertips and then back to eyeballs in a particularly inefficient circuit that seems to produce story. I simply write by following the headlights and seeing where the story goes. I am often surprised by the ending, and sometimes don’t understand them until years after the story has been published.
This idea of holding an entire piece of fiction in my head is called
“span of control”. I’ve blogged about it before, http://jaylake.livejournal.com/260396.html for example. When I first
began writing at a professional level, my span of control was a few
thousand words. That progressed with time and practice, until I can
now hold about 200,000 words of story in my head. That’s a first draft
of a substantial novel.
When I am working on novels, even with span of control in play I have
to use an outline. My outlines are synoptic rather than structural,
simply telling the story in a very condensed fashion in reading order.
Prior to my current project (Sunspin), my novel outlines
ranged from five paragraphs to about 15 or 20 pages. I would write
them, refer back to them as I was drafting, and use them as maps to
the story. Still, it flows from my backbrain to my fingertips, et
I’ve had to significantly modify my process for <em>Sunspin</em>,
however. That’s a space opera trilogy that will probably run about
600,000 words in first draft. This significantly exceeds even my
substantial span of control. The outline for <em>Sunspin</em> is about
140 pages long, and continues to grow as I work on the book and find I
need to add things. That’s about 100 pages of worldbuilding, character
lists and whatnot, and about 40 pages of synoptic outline of the three
volumes. (You’ll note that my ratio of synoptic pages to finished
prose hasn’t changed much, it’s the need for all the supporting
material that bloats the Sunspin outline.)
In order to handle all this, and keep a phenomenal number of balls
moving in the air, I’ve decomposed the outline into the three volumes
of 180,000-200,000 words each in target length, and each volume into
three sections of 60,000-70,000 words each in target length. Each
section then decomposes into a subsection of 18,000-25,000 words in
target length. In effect, I’ve taken the three-act structure and
driven it down fractally three layers.
That allows me to tackle the project in novella-sized chunks of
18,000-25,000 words, manage each chunk within my span of control, and use my outline to coordinate continuity issues and larger plot and
character arc consideration.
Even so, I’m never really working from the kind of structural outline
or detailed notes that many writers use. My <em>Sunspin</em> process is an adaptation of the same basic organic writing process I use for short fiction, scaled up to the massive requirements of the project.
I hope this helps!
Good stuff, sir! Thanks for weighing in. Next up, J.A. Pitts, who’s written three novels in his Sarah Beauhall series and a gaggle of short stories. What say you, Mr. Pitts?
My process has evolved over time. The first novel I wrote I just ran by the seat of my pants. Honestly it read like it — meandering far and wide. Only when I got to my second draft did I realize how far and how wide.
With novel two I decided to outline. This has proven to be the best thing for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t do the type of outlining they taught us in elementary school. None of that 1, a), i, A. stuff. I open a Microsoft Word document, insert a two column table and put an auto-number in the first column. I shrink that column over narrow enough to only show the number, then I start adding words to the right-hand column.
I’ve done this for three novels now and I find it comforting. I start filling in the table with sentences and paragraphs describing scenes in the novel. I move stuff around, add in new rows, color code text, etc. until I have what I consider to be the full story of the novel.
This is by no means finished and definitely not locked in stone. I let this sit for a few days and come back to it, read through and make adjustments as the storyline merits.
Remember, this is a narrative thread. Every scene should flow organically from the previous one. Every scene should further the plot, lead the characters into rising or falling action, improve their lot, or ruin it. I should have hooks for setting and characterization in every single scene. If not, I add all this and tweak the outline until I feel like it tells a coherent story.
At this point it still lacks the heart of things — the full prose. It’s more like a skeleton of a novel. Sometimes I get so excited by a scene I’ll write several paragraphs, even down to dialog on occasion. But it is all, 100%, open to change.
The next part comes from my background in both database design and finance (day job stuff).
I take an Excel spreadsheet and run a row of numbers across the top for each scene. Then I list the major and minor plot lines down the first few rows. Next I go a couple of lines down, and start listing every single character (grouped by association) in the next set of rows. I’ll have Movie people, and Blacksmithing folk — bad guys of various factions, and other support cast.
Finally, I go through the outline and add an “X” in every intersection of scene number and plot line, so I can see if I’m touching one or more threads in every scene.
Then I drop to the characters and check status. If the character has the POV for that scene, they get a “P” and I color code that cell blue. Everyone else gets an “X” in the intersection of their row, and the scene number if they are present, or an “m” if they are only mentioned.
This allows me to see the ebb and flow of characters that run through my book. Handy for learning that your antagonist vanishes for seven straight chapters, or that super cool side-kick doesn’t show up until scene thirty-eight.
As I write my novel, I never have muddle in the middle. At least not yet. What I know is all I have to do is finish the scene I’m on and I can look at my outline to see what to do next. It’s a road-map.
Three novels in it provides me with enough structure to keep moving, and enough leeway to make course corrections.
So there are two approaches, John. I’ll jump in next week with my own (an interesting blend of these guys) and talk a bit more on how to find the best approach that works for you.
What makes an agent or editor pull a manuscript out of the huge pile on her desk and keep reading?
A great hook, an opening that draws you in, sparkling dialogue, intricate plots, these are all great. But the thing that makes the gatekeepers (and readers, for that matter) look past minor, fixable quibbles is the narrative voice.
First person or third person (or, I guess, second person) doesn’t matter. The narrative voice is the storyteller. Imagine you’re stuck next to someone on an airplane, who wants to tell you all about the time he went to Philly while his luggage went to Peoria. How he tells the story makes all the difference between in flight entertainment, and contemplating jumping from the plane without a parachute.
We all know people who can bring any story to life through their descriptions and turns of phrase. And we know people who can make the most madcap adventure sound as exciting as a trip to the department of motor vehicles.
The problem is, voice is one of those things you can’t learn by the numbers. It’s unique to each writer, and usually pretty distinct. It’s not as simple as avoiding adverbs and ‘was’ words. I can tell you that the more specific your word choice is, the more details you put into your narrative, the better. But it’s not just about the right word–it’s about the right word for a particular character and story.
My voice changes a little bit with each book (especially since I have first person narrators) but there are similarities to the way I tell a story, even if the attitudes and personality and vocabulary changes between characters.
So how do you develop your voice? It takes practice and experimentation to find what works for you. This is where a free-writing journal can come in handy. Try writing in the style of another writer. Or try writing the opening scene of a book with a distinct voice in another voice, telling the story another way.
Think about your character. If you’re writing a YA, trying telling the story as your 16 year old self talking to your 16 year old friends. What language do you use? What things do you notice and how do you describe them? How does the rhythm of your storytelling change if you imagine speaking formally behind a podium to a distinguished audience?
For fiction, you generally don’t want to sound like you’re speaking from a podium. Once we, as authors, starting thinking like AUTHORS and not like narrators telling a tale from within the head of a character, then the author voice creeps in, the language gets wordy and formal and like with think a work of Proper Literature should sound instead of the engaging adventure a book should be.
What authors do you love for their voice? Who has a really distinct way of telling a story? Have you ever experimented with different ways of putting words together?
My motto at Write It Forward is appropriated from the Infantry: Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way. Authors produce the books. Readers consume the books. Everyone else is in the middle. And therefore, very, very nervous. Because, in essence, the only two parts of publishing that are absolutely necessary are writers and readers. Yes, books need to be edited, marketing needs to be done, etc. etc. But much of that work can be contracted out.
It used to be publishers controlled distribution. That was their lock. If an aspiring author asked me if a publisher was legitimate or not, I told them to go to their local bookstores and ask the manager if that publisher had distribution to the store. But today, everyone has access to distribution with eBooks.
I use to tell aspiring authors to never self-publish fiction. The reality is 99.5% of self-published fiction will fail. But when I began Who Dares Wins Publishing, I had to re-evaluate. The reality is 99.5% of queries to agents fail. So the odds of succeeding at self-publishing at little cost via eBooks and print-on-demand, are pretty much the same. There are going to be success stories coming out of the ranks of new authors among the self-published. So why not double your chances of success by continuing querying while at the same time self-publishing and self-promoting? Some will say that agents won’t look at material that’s been self-published. That’s called an ignorant agent. The game has changed and either change with it or get the hell out of the way. BTW, the self-promoting is something traditional publishers and agents are saying authors have to do anyway. In fact, it gets to the point reading all these blogs and tweets from agents/editors, that I ask. If I, as the author, have to do all this stuff, what the heck are you doing?
The self-published who do succeed. But there is an inherent flaw in that. A self-published book that sells 5 or 6 thousand books will get interest from the Big 6 and literary agents. Except when that author crunches the numbers, the publisher will have to guarantee 4 times as many readers in order to break even with what that author is making on their own. It’s a Catch-22.
All in all, I think it’s an exciting time to be an author with lots of opportunities. But only if you educate yourself and stay on top of the latest developments and trends. This is one of the major goals of Write It Forward. Authors, you must assimilate faster than publishers, bookstores, and agents are, if you want to survive. Embrace the technology and use it to your advantage.
Like most writers I’m an avid reader. I’m also a huge movie buff. I like all kinds of movies. Sometimes I go to them to escape the stories in my own head, sometimes to inspire more stories. And sometimes I go because I can’t not…if that makes sense? LOL
Basically, I love story telling, in pretty much all forms. And I think being an avid reader/movie buff and t.v. junkie really helps crystalize writing craft in my own mind.
When I write one thing I’m always highly aware of is over explaining. As a reader I hate it when it feels like the author is hitting me over the head with the same thing over and over again, sometimes it’s a simple description, sometimes it’s a plot point, or a personality quirk of a characters, it doesn’t really matter what it is, but if it’s coming at me over and over again I feel like the author thinks i’m too stupid to remember the first three times they said it.
I feel the same way with movies. I’m watching, adn I’m paying attention, and if I see a character crying over a body I know they’re upset. I don’t need them to launch into some monologue about how upset they are.
It’s called subtly, or reading-between-the-lines, and I think that leaving the reader/viewer to interpret the sublties, and read between the lines allows them to connect with the characters on a deeper level. I could totally be wrong though.
I mean, I only explained once in WICKED that Lara’s (the main character) mother abandoned her when she was young, yet a reviewer missed that part, and then gave the book a Did Not FInish rate after going on and on about disliking/being uncomfortable with heroine’s who are submissive because they issues after being abandoned by their dad. WHen I saw that I just thought…”hmm, guess she skimmed the story and got that important detail wrong.”
It happens, despite my every effort to make sure that there is never any reason to skim any part of my stories.
But maybe the reviewer didn’t skim it, maybe it was simply the mood they were in when reading the book, or maybe they were projecting….you never really know. What I do know is I was super excited when I heard about the movie THE BANG BANG CLUB. It’s an indie film and never made it to theaters here, but I rented it on iTUnes the other night. Before renitng it I read the Rotten Tomatoes reviews posted. 3 out of 4 said it was rotten. Well, I liek plenty of movies reviewers don’t. The big comment in the reviews that made me worry was this one…. “Writer-director Silver, who trained in documentaries, appears flummoxed by the challenges of getting the audience inside the heads of these young men.”( Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune.)
The review did not stop form watching the movie, and as usual…I disagreed with him. I thought the film was executed with a deft touch that let the viewer take it all in, and read between the lines. The acting was increadible (even if the accents weren’t) and I was glad that I was left to watch, absorb, and imagine what those guys were thinking, or feeling instead of having to watch them tell me.
I prefer to be shown stories be with words or images, not told them, and I like it when a writer gives me enough credit to get it. It all comes down to show vs tell. no matter what the story telling format is.