Archive for June, 2012
Saturday, June 30th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Howdy folks and happy Saturday.
My research gypsy scout and good friend, Terrick Y’Zir, has encouraged me from time to time to tackle a standalone novel next, once I wrap up the Psalms of Isaak. And I’m thinking very seriously about it, though I’m pretty sure anything I write could just as easily be the first book to a series. I tend to think big in Story when it comes to novels and though I’ve only finished three novels and I’m still two books from completing my first series, it seems all of my ideas are for series. Three book, five book, maybe even seven book.
It’s gotten me to thinking about the pros and cons of writing a series. For me, I’m writing a series with a fixed ending point at five books. Other series are more episodic and can continue for decades. I’ve thought about both kinds of series and for whatever reason, I feel more at home in that world than I do the world of standalones. And truth be told, I still feel more comfortable in the world of short stories than I do novels. But that’s a post for another day.
What are some of the pros and cons of writing a series?
1) You get to spend a LOT of time developing your characters and building your relationship (and your reader’s relationship) with them over the course of the story you’re telling.
2) Readers tend to like series — probably because of those characters you’ve been developing book after book.
3) Because readers tend to like series, publishers tend to like them as well. Lots of new series debut each year from new authors.
4) You know what you’re going to write about for a long stretch of time.
Those are just some of the pros. I’m sure you can come up with more. But what about the cons?
1) You spend a LOT of time with these characters. For me, we’ve been married now for six years, me and Rudolfo, Petronus, Jin Li Tam, Vlad Li Tam, Neb, Winters, Isaak. We’ve spent far too much time together. I’m not always happy to see them at this point.
2) Readers really like series…especially when they’re finished. I’m not sure how it will look but I’m pretty sure that once the series is complete, there will be a spike in sales from all the people who told me “Oh, I never buy a book in a series until the series is finished.” Most of the time, these folks will recognize the error in that thinking if you point out to them that publishers measure a series success based on sales now and that low sales could mean the complete series may never be published. Then, they buy the books and stash them. But still, keep in mind that some of your audience won’t spend their money until you’ve finished the whole thing.
3) You know what you’re going to write about for a long…stretch…of…time. I’ve been fortunate to mix it up with a few short projects but even still, the Psalms of Isaak has filled up six years of my life. It’s likely to take up close to seven before it’s finished. That’s…a…long…stretch…of…time.
And yet…nearly everyone is writing a series of some kind. And folks are liking mine, despite my loud protestations of being a short story writer until 2006 when that dare launched me as a novelist.
There are days when it’s a love-hate relationship, but like any other marriage, I’m in it for better or for worse. And as hard as I try to come up with a standalone idea for my pal, everything I think of now is at least three books. Maybe even five!
Trailor Boy out!
Friday, June 29th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Since I know a lot of the readers here are aspiring authors who want to know what the process is like from the contracted side of the fence, I thought I’d share a little bit of process with you.
A week ago, I got at revision letter from my editor for my latest manuscript. Yesterday, I had a phone call with her to discuss the revision letter and my plan of action.
This is what I do when I get a revision letter (your mileage may vary).
- I open a bottle of wine and pour myself a glass.
- I read the revision letter, start to finish.
- I take a walk, mop the floors, fold the laundry, otherwise do some sort of busy work while I ruminate. Sometimes I have another glass of wine.
- I go back to the revision letter with a couple of highlighters and start in, highlighting bits that I need to concentrate on and leaving notes in the margins about possible solutions.
- I brainstorm with my husband and critique partners about ways to solve things.
- Once I have a plan of action in place, I call my editor to discuss it, as well as ask her advice about any sticky places or articles of disagreement.
- I do not drink wine before calling my editor.
So yesterday, I set up a phone call with my editor. This is my fourth book with her, so we know each other pretty well by this time. We talked for a few minutes about summer vacation plans, the deliciousness of heirloom tomatoes, what my toddler is up to, and my upcoming events for my latest book release (which is also one of hers). Then we segued into the letter. The Letter.
Just kidding. Editorial letters are actually pretty pleasant. Editors usually start out telling you how much they love the book, before they tell you about all the stuff they want you to change.
And here’s the thing I’ve learned — usually, editors stick to pointing out problems. They may offer solutions, and if they feel right to you, then you should use them, but you can also come up with something different that will solve the problem the editor’s having.
To give you an example, a few of the problems my editor pointed out in my latest manuscript (she was actually much more detailed and eloquent in pointing this out, but in the interest of simplicity and spoilers, I’ll be brief and generic):
- too many secondary characters with too little depth
- not enough focus on the heroine falling for the hero (the opposite was apparently fine)
- the hero’s little sister, who is an important part of the plot, is forgotten for big swaths.
I realized, during my planning sessions, that I might be able to solve all of these problems by combining the sister character with another secondary character, an associate of the heroine’s, who was in the story a lot more, but wasn’t intimately connected to the hero. This would help reduce the number of secondary characters that were crowding the story while deepening the role of the (combined) character that remained. Also, it would bring the sister to the forefront. Finally, because it would give the heroine more opportunities to interact with the hero’s sister, it would give me an opportunity to show how the heroine’s feelings toward the hero were evolving. (You can’t help but think of the guy you’re falling for when you’re hanging out with his beloved little sister).
So during the call, I laid out my plan to my editor, talking about the points in her letter hat I think this change would solve, and explaining how it would alter the story. She gave me some suggestions for scenes I hadn’t even thought of yet, and we decided to move forward with it.
We had similar discussions about other elements of the story. One of the problems I’m having with this story is landing on the perfect opening. (I’ve tried five.) We brainstormed yet another opening, and I offered to send it to her, prior to turning in the rest of the revision, to see if we were on the right track.
Since we’re both really well read in what’s going on in teen literature these days, we have a shared vocabulary of solutions. “Well what if I did something kind of like what Cassandra Clare did in this one scene in City of Ashes?” or “There’s that scene in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy that accomplishes something like that.” And of course, “I think we want to stay away from anything like in [REDACTED].”
After we went through the letter, we chatted a little bit about cover ideas. And then I had to go make dinner for my family. But now I’m diving into the revisions, happy that my editor and I are on the same page about where to go from here.
So that’s how it works for me. I know other writers who don’t get revisions letters at all, or have gotten manuscripts back with the equivalent of big red Xs on them, but I’ve been lucky so far in my career to have editors that are very involved and willing to work with me to make my manuscript the book we both know it can be.
Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 by Sasha White
I had a different post in mind for today, but I changed my mind, which seems to be a pattern lately. Which is also why I’m going to share my Three favorite tricks to increase productivity.
1) Time Me.
Get an egg time or use Write Or Die, or even use Twitter, but the key is to set a time limit, and do nothing but write for that time.
I see a lot of friends doing 1K1Hr (1 k in 1 hour) on twitter, but I find an hour of pure focus on writing a bit beyond me most times. (Unless I’m right up against a deadline.) If you’re having a real busy day and don’t think you even have time to write, set a timer for 5 minutes. You’d be amazed at what you can get done in 5 minutes..
Me? I like to do 15 minutes focused writing, then 15 minutes of something else (Dishes, laundry, cooking, eating, surfing the net.)
Any way you look at it, a timer helps you focus when you need to.
2)Find your time.
By that I mean try working at various times of the day/evening/night and seeing which time slot seems to be your most creative. I often find writing at night to be my best creative time, and use the daylight hours for other aspects of work than putting down new words. Knowing this helps prevent me from spending hours during the day at the computer staring at a blank screen or rewriting the same page over and over and getting super frustrated.
3) Go somewhere
Sometimes getting out of the house/office helps jumpstart the juices. I’m not a fan of coffeeshop writing but I do like to take my iPad or a notebook and go to the library, or the park. Sometimes just getting away from the same 4 walls really helps.
Monday, June 25th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
I’ve mentioned that one of my ongoing goals is to practice saying no. I need to not take on too much work, and I can’t commit to every invitation — for a guest blog, an anthology, an appearance, etc. — that comes to me. I’m getting better about saying no. I know about how many short stories I can promise in a year and still be happy, and I’ve been able to stick to that for the last year or so. I’m still figuring out how many events in a year is sane, and what kind of events I’m comfortable doing. I think this is going to be an evolving process, pretty much forever.
Part of my problem is that, in effect, my eyes are bigger than my stomach. The invitations and projects and conventions and so on always sound like so much fun. I’m ambitious and I want to do it all. But I’ve learned that I simply, physically can’t. What seems like a great idea now will turn into that one deadline that tips my life into stress-out chaos six months from now. I really can’t go to a convention every weekend and still maintain an actual life at home. Not without some kind of teleportation device. And you know what? That’s okay. This may be the hardest part of learning this lesson, after spending so much of my early writing career hustling for opportunities and networking my head off: Saying no is not going to wreck my career. On the contrary, saying yes to everything might very well wreck my career, if I start missing deadlines and getting so stressed out that I can’t write effectively. In fact, I think my career will be better served in the long run by saying yes selectively, and saying no a lot more often.
A couple of weeks ago, some other writers posted on their blogs about the great challenge of saying “no.” Jim C. Hines writes about boundaries in general, the social difficulties of saying no — and how we’re often trained to feel guilty for saying no, for various reasons. Cat Shaffer writes about setting boundaries as a professional freelancer — how freelancers can be under particular pressure to make their schedules and boundaries infinitely flexible, and how establishing strict boundaries will make both you and your work better. Both posts are well worth reading, for advice and for validation — it’s not just me who’s going through this.
This is my lesson learned: I need to pay attention to my boundaries, and then — most importantly — stick to them. Both me and my career will benefit.
Saturday, June 23rd, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Howdy Folks and Happy Saturday!
We’ve been spending some time talking about writer’s block. Last week, we talked about taking a careful inventory to get as accurate a read on what’s happened to your process. Is it a problem with the goose (you) or the golden egg (the project you’re working on?) Gathering as much information as possible through that exploration may bring you to a place of figuring out why you’ve stalled. And if your exploration brings you to the place of realizing you’re stalled for a very good reason, do what you can to mitigate it. In my experience, there are a lot of blocks that can unblocked by making changes somewhere either in your project or in yourself.
If it’s you, have the courage the face those changes. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard was that if you want to fix the problems in your writing, fix the problems in your personal life. Because the two are bound up in one another.
And understand that there are just some things in life you can’t write through. Especially losses — relationships, deaths, jobs. These can have a profound impact on the creative muscle and you just have to wait it out. Strike the balance between continuing to try and giving yourself the space you need to re-constitute.
In the midst of my recent blocks, I learned some tricks that helped. They didn’t always work but they were still worthwhile. So here’s a short list:
1) Clean and organize your office or workspace. Sometimes taking the time to create order in our environment helps us order our brain.
2) Change where you work. If you’re don’t have an office or workspace, establish one and see what happens. If you usually write in our office or workspace try writing outside of it. The living room, a cafe, a quiet park. Explore. What do you have to lose?
3) Do whatever part of the work you can do. There are a thousand things that need to be done in a writer’s life. If you’re not writing fiction, write blog posts. Re-do your website. Gather and organize your tax data. Go do some research.
4) Return to the outline for whatever project you’re on. If you don’t have an outline, create one. If you do have an outline, ponder it, expand upon it. Because if it is a problem with the golden egg you may be able beat the block with a bit of thought about what’s got you stuck in the project.
5) Go for a walk. Or a run. Or a bike ride. Get out and get active. And keep at it. It’s good for you and your brain and even if it doesn’t unblock you, it’s still giving you other benefits.
6) Research writer’s block. Oddly enough, it helped me. Read what other writers have to say on the subject, talking about their experiences with it. Talk to the writers you know. You’re likely not experiencing something in a vacuum. You may pick up some ideas from them. And what the hell? Try everything you can from their advice.
And the last two things: Do not despair. Keep trying. Getting emotionally tangled up in the block can make it worse and you won’t know you’ve beaten it until, well, you’ve beaten it. So keep your line in the water until the fish strikes.
I hope this has been helpful. There’s nothing more frustrating in our line of work than not being able to write.
And, to quote Gump, that’s all I have to say about that. Have a great weekend! Trailer Boy out!
Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
I was intrigued by HelenKay’s post yesterday, and not just because she’s going to write four books in six months (HelenKay, please tell me your secret!). I’m not a writer who gets bombarded with new ideas all the time, but neither am I one who worries that the ideas won’t come. Ideas come at a steady rate. Sometimes just when I need them, other times when I’m in the middle of something else.
Some can be jumped upon right away, while others need to marinate in the back of my mind for weeks or months or even years. Some probably needed more marinade than they were given, which is why, sometimes, my ideas are DOA and never turn into books at all (my agent still occasionally asks me about a stalled proposal I declared unworkable back in 2009).
This spring, I published a YA dystopian short story that started life as a book idea for a now-defunct line of romantic suspense novels… in 2003. The new project I started this week is an unrecognizable iteration of an idea I’ve been brainstorming for more than a year, and the manuscript I recently turned in to my publisher is a riff on one that I first thought of in 2005.
I don’t throw anything away. I have no idea what might be tangled in the flotsam and jetsam of my subconscious, and what might emerge, years or months later and be oddly perfect for what I need to write next.
Or sometimes an idea jumps up and grabs me by the throat, pushing aside whatever project I “decided” was next. (My first published book, Secret Society Girl, worked like this. I got the idea in mid-January and pushed it off while I finished another manuscript –but not too long, since I had a proposal by March and sold it in April.) This is fine… as long as I’m not under contract. Unlike HelenKay, I’m not a fast writer, and not nearly as fast as I was seven years ago.
I admit that since ideas have always been there, I haven’t given much thought to what would happen if the “well” dried up all of a sudden. I think that would probably signal a deeper problem with my life — maybe I’m not getting out enough or there’s something else sapping all my creative energies (I did NOT have a lot of ideas while dealing with a newborn!). I worry a lot more about my ability to bring my ideas to fruition than about having them in the first place. After all, every writer knows the most common question, “Where do you get your ideas?” is answered with “Ideas are the easy part.”
Thursday, June 21st, 2012 by HelenKay Dimon
I have a writing friend who insists she has a finite number of book ideas in her head. She gets to the end of a contract and panics because she doesn’t have a new idea. This never happens to me. I have the opposite problem – idea bombardment. I have four books to write from now until December 15th. Two are romantic suspense and two are straight contemporary romance. You’d think I’d be consumed by those books, possibly throwing up a little because the deadlines are tight, and focusing on those four plotlines only. Yes and no.
While I am consumed, a little deadline dizzy and focused, I’m also thinking ahead. For some reason, whenever I need to go on a serious writing run new ideas for stories that aren’t under contract pop into my head. Like, they storm in and the plots start moving. If I didn’t write for a living I would truly worry that there is something wrong with me.
This cycle has happened repeatedly over the last few weeks. Since I have almost no short-term memory, when the ideas come I need to take some notes or risk losing the idea forever. Unfortunately, that eats up time but I found out the hard way over the last six years that this is how my mind works. Take notes or else!
So, today while I work on a contemporary that’s due for Berkley on August 1st I will also be mentally wrestling with a new super sexy contemp idea that came into my head two days ago and a space cowboys idea that’s been kicking around up there for months. At some point I will stop and take notes on the new contemporary idea so I don’t lose it. I’ll probably have that moment of doubt where I wonder if that new idea is the one I should be writing for Berkley instead of the one I sold, and eventually the voices will die down and I’ll get the pages done on the deadline book…I hope.