Taking the Bad With the Good


Who told you you could write, anyway?When you’re new at this author game, you are sure you can “take it.”  You will tell yourself that you can take the criticism, and say, “how bad can it be?”  You believe that you are mature enough, have had enough life experience, that this should roll off your shoulders like water off a duck’s back.  It won’t hurt you, much less make you bleed.

But I’m here to tell you, you are never really ready for the criticism.

It starts with your beta readers, who come back with blunt comments about what needs to be fixed.  Then you sell your manuscript but wait, there’s an editor, and she will be ruthless.  Absolutely ruthless.  The beta readers were like walking on stinging nettles, compared to the daggers the editor will throw at you.  Much bleeding will occur, mostly in the form of red ink (or in this case, “track changes”) on your manuscript.

Then there are the reviews.  Some less than stellar.  Ouch.

As a debut author, with my first novel now out there for the world to see, I now have a much better understanding of the process it takes to get to a published book.  There is a process I went through in each of these three stages.

Beta readers

The comments came back, and I anxiously read them all.  Prick prick prick went the needles in my ego.  Prick prick prick…tiny drops of blood ink.  One reader picked out all my weird…grammar.  She caught all the sentence splices, the incomplete sentences, the improper use of contractions.  Another picked out a glaring plot hole in the first third of the book.  Another took me to task for the first sex scene of the book.  And my writing companion found a weird plot thing, not a hole exactly, but something strange, towards the end.  Tiny drops of red ink.

Editor

When the first round of edits came in, I was so excited that I immediately dived in to take a look.  Boy, was that a mistake.  Every mark was like being stabbed in the heart.  I only got about half-way through reading them before I had to stop, completely demoralized.  She was asking me to chop off the toes and fingers, and dig out the spleen.  I had to put it away for a few days, when I could look at it with a much clearer head.  It was painful.  But I made the changes, seeing where she was going with things, and felt happy with that version that I turned in the second time.

Well, we weren’t done.  The second round of edits came in.  This time, we were chopping off legs and arms, and doing a brain transplant.  Copious amounts of blood ink.  The opening chapter needed to be removed completely and re-written.  The agony!  I agonized for days before editing anything, arguing in my head with my editor about the changes.  I tried to come up with a good way of arguing my point with my editor.  Surely, we didn’t need to be so drastic.  Surely, not the whole beginning!  Agony.  Pure agony.  I finally gave myself a stern talking to, packed up my laptop, notes, and printout of that first chapter, and took a short retreat to the mountains.  I sat in a coffee shop by a little river, watching it snow, while I scribbled and scratched and came up with a new beginning.  It was the best thing I could have done.  I was able to focus completely, hand-writing a rough draft, then typing up the final draft.  It took four hours.  I’m surprised the other people in the coffee shop couldn’t see the blood ink dripping onto the floor.  I had never worked so hard on a story.

I sent it back to my editor, holding my breath.  The third round of edits came back, and they were so minor that I nearly cried for joy.  I had made it!  I had survived the blood ink-letting, and my story was the better for it.  I wondered momentarily why the editor hadn’t given me those big edits on the first round.  But I know now that she was being very smart.  If I’d gotten back he big edits the first time, I’d probably have dissolved into defeat, and never touched the story again.  She started with the easy stuff.  In my case, weird phrasing and filtering words, which I’m particularly bad at.  Once she saw that I could handle those relatively minor edits, she knew I could take the bigger ones.  And she was absolutely right.

Critics and Reviewers

There are always going to be people that don’t like my book.  I did actually have a reviewer make a comment about my cover.  I didn’t design the cover, that was handled by the publisher, so it didn’t hurt too badly to hear that.  But there were others who thought my heroine was too naive, that the bad boy wasn’t bad enough, that the story was too “soft.”  I got good reviews too, so I can’t complain.  But those little pokes of criticism still hurt, still set me back a bit.  As they should.

You see, it really does take all that criticism to make me a better writer.  If I can’t take those criticisms, I will never be able to improve my writing, and sell a second book, a third book, a fourth book…

I’m a big girl.  I can take it.  And if I say it often enough, it will be true.  Or, as I like to say, BRING IT.

How do you take your criticism, and how did you survive your editing process?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

 

Using Real Emotion in Writing


Daisy the catThis past Monday, we had to put our elderly cat to sleep.  She was just shy of 18 years old, and had multiple health problems including extremely high blood pressure, thyroid issues, blindness, loss of hearing, and worst of all, senility.  Poor Daisy would get lost in the only room she spent time in – not able to find her food, her favorite chair, etc.  Sunday night, the Great Cat God took away her ability to walk.  It was time for us to say goodbye, and we made the decision to do what had to be done.  We will miss her, even the crazy, senile iteration of her we’ve been caring for the last two years.  Life is nothing if not changing circumstances, right?

But what does this have to do with writing?  My current Work In Progress opens with the burial of the heroine’s grandfather, who raised her.  In describing her emotions and behaviors at the funeral, I had to draw on resources I didn’t actually have.  I am at a sort of in-between age right now.  My grandparents are long gone, most having passed when I was a teenager, but my parents, while elderly, are still alive and quite well.  So it’s been a while since I experienced heart-stopping grief.

Monday fixed that.  I blubbered my way through the day, so distressed that I didn’t care who saw me sobbing in public.  One pocket of my jeans was full of new tissues, and the other full of used ones.  I went through two full boxes of Puffs, and drank enough water to fill a small swimming pool.  Every day since has had me fighting back tears at least once, but it is getting better.  I’m thankful for that, because my face rather feels like I’ve been in a bar fight, and I’m worried my eyes will stay puffy forever.

But I’m a writer.  So ultimately, I will be finding good use for my very personal experience with overwhelming grief.  I know, losing the grandfather who raised you is not the same as losing a pet, but I would wager that the response, at least for me, would be similar.  With this “refresher course” in grief and how I respond to death, I feel better equipped to put the right emotion into that opening scene, and into the scenes that follow for the next few chapters.  So at least my grief has become a bit of a win, in a way.

Many writers use their own real-life experiences to fill scenes in their novels, and building the right emotions and using realistic emotional responses in our writing is part of that.  We want our readers to feel our character’s emotions acutely.  It is part of getting the reader attached not only to the characters, but to the story.  Nothing bothers me more than an unrealistic story with ridiculously unrealistic characters.  So I want my characters and their emotions to be as real as possible.  Or at least, realistic. I hope to be able to insert some more realistic grief-type reactions and emotion into the opening chapter and subsequent scenes in my current WIP.

Have you used your own personal grief or response to death in your writings?  What about other emotions?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Fairest of the Faire – available now!

Fairest of the Faire book coverBlurb:

Schoolteacher Connie Meyers is suddenly a young widow, her husband killed in a horrific car accident. Heartbroken to find out he had gambled away everything they had, she moves to her sister-in-law’s Midwest home to rebuild her life. A trip to the local Renaissance Faire with her nieces leads to a summer job as a costumed storyteller.

Avowed bad boy and fair performer Gage Youngblood is infatuated with Connie at first sight. Despite his deliberately commitment-free life, and Connie’s don’t-touch-me attitude, he soon has her in his arms, realizing quickly she is also in his heart.

When she is threatened by her late husband’s bookie, he steps into the role of protector, his fate forever sealed with hers.

Available NOW!

Buy at Wild Rose Press:  (eBook and paperback)

Buy at Amazon (Kindle and paperback)

Buy at Barnes and Noble (Nook)

 

Rag-Picking


fuel for coffee shop writingAs usual, I’m at the coffee shop this morning, jump-starting my weekend.  The picture to the left shows my usual fuel for writing in the early mornings.  24 oz. latte, a banana, and a 24 oz bottle of water.  I always think it will help me perform magic. It doesn’t, but it tastes good, so it’s still worth it.

This week has been busy at the day J.O.B., so much so that I come home completely wiped out and unable to think.  That makes it hard to write at night, so I’ve been reading instead.  And mostly I’ve been reading some older pieces I’ve written, looking for gems to pull together for some sort of a novel.  I call this process “rag-picking.”  As I’ve worked on this particular story idea for the last five or six years, there are a lot of rags to pick through.

And not surprisingly, that big lie we all tell ourselves comes into play.  “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember it.”  In this case, I have snippets of this particular story idea in so many places on my hard drive that I can’t seem to find them all.  I know I wrote a bang-up car crash scene (gosh, I’m punny this morning!), but I can’t find it.  Last night I stumbled across an alternate opening scene I’d completely forgotten about, and dang if it isn’t better than the four others I already found.  Some of the pieces are five or six pages, some more than thirty.

Are all these snippets at least in the same folder on my hard drive?  Of course not!  I’ve found them in a couple of NaNoWriMo folders (2010 and 2012), in my usual place (“novels”), and one just hanging out on my desktop.  I found one hiding in the folder for Fairest of the Faire. And I never save things to my desktop.  What the heck was I thinking by putting one of those snippets there?

Who knows!  Writer’s brains are messy.  We leave our stuff everywhere up there in our cerebellum, and once in a while a floating bit of an idea taps us on the shoulder and we follow the idea right down the rabbit hole.  My hard drive is a reflection of what is going on in my brain, I think.  As organized as I usually am, this one thing seems to get out of order pretty quickly.

But that’s okay.  It’s kind of like a walk of discovery, digging around in boxes of knick-knacks and old t-shirts and photos of vacations, finding that gem or two that is worth rescuing.  I’m rag-picking.  Those bits and pieces will make a great quilt of a story someday.

That is, if I don’t end up stuck in the rabbit hole…

I’d love to hear about your current WIP, if you’d like to share.  Leave me a comment!

An Icy Beginning


Snowy Tree

Snowy tree in our front yard on Thanksgiving day 2015.

As I write this, we are at 19 degrees with freezing fog, after a snow storm that dumped another 5 inches on my town.  We have not been without snow on the ground since Thanksgiving.  Here in Colorado, you would assume that is pretty normal.  But I don’t live in the mountains (although one day I hope to), and our weather is usually pretty up and down.  We can be above 60 degrees on any given morning, with sunny skies, and have snow by mid-afternoon and drop into the single digits by nightfall.  Weather is so unpredictable here that forecasts aren’t really good for more than 36 hours out.

And you would think I would be upset with all this snow and cold.  But I love it.  I was a born and raised Midwestern girl, but I always longed for the snow-peaked Rocky Mountains.  When I had the opportunity to move here at age 50, you can bet I didn’t look back.  And snow and cold in winter means I can slow down and spend more time writing or crafting or cooking, three things I love to do.  There is no gardening or outside work, and our social calendar has gone to great emptiness since the holidays.  Winter is quiet, encouraging one to be introspective and thoughtful.

And as a writer, it means I may get time to be inspired.  To write more.  To catch up on some research or read an extra book or two.  Or, to come up with new ideas for stories.

What if my heroine and hero were forced together by an ice or snow storm?  What kind of trouble could they get into if there was no power because of downed lines, trapped in a single room of a cabin where a wood stove could keep them warm?  And needing to replenish the firewood supply, what if they were to run into an angry, hungry, sleep-deprived bear?  What if they knew each other before, parting on less-than-ideal terms and having some hard feelings about how that whole thing went down?

I have read some books set in winter, that trapped the hero and heroine together in an icy or snowy situation.  They had to make do, and stay away from the bad guy, in one of the books.  They had to make do, and while they made do they had plenty of time to think about themselves and each other, to fall in love, to work together to find a solution.

My brain has been playing around with such a story.  And I think my brain is having more fun with this than usual, because of our current icy, snowy conditions here.  Not that that is a bad thing, right?  I’ll take inspiration where I can get it.

Unlike some other writers, it is really hard for me to write about a particular time of year, say, a holiday or hot summer or cold winter, unless I’m actually experiencing that thing myself.  It’s hard to be inspired to write a Christmas story, for example, when it is the middle of June and I’m picking green beans in my garden and getting a sunburn.

So, since my current WIP is floundering, perhaps I’ll drag that ice-storm story out and give it a go.  For a while, anyway.  Until the sun comes back out and gives us some warmth and melting of snow, and then I can get back to the summer story I’ve been working on.

What are you working on in these cold, dark months?  Tell me about it in the comments!

I Think I’m a Grown Up


alarm clockMost days, I feel like a grown-up.  You know, paying bills, working a day J.O.B., keeping a house maintained, remembering to pick up milk, getting the laundry done, scheduling oil changes for the car, and making my own doctor’s appointments.  After all, I’ve been doing this stuff for somewhere around 35 years or so.  I should have this stuff down pat.

I’m known for keeping a calm head in panic situations, and in fact, people rely on me to maintain that level of calm through any stressful or crisis situations.  I have been this way all my life, even when I was a teenager.  It isn’t until later, when I am alone and out of the crisis situation, that I can allow my internal panic alarm to activate and work its way out of my system.  No one ever really knows.

But as a writer, I don’t always feel much like a grownup.  I am constantly worried about whether people will like what I’ve written, feeling seriously aggrieved when there is criticism or requests for editing.  I am often paralyzed by this fear, sitting with my fingers over the keyboard unable to write a single word that doesn’t sound awful in my head. No one is going to like it.  My editor is going to scratch it out with a red pen.  Worse, my publisher will not buy it.  I am a loser.

That panic keeps me from being productive when I should be being productive.  As I head into a new year, with the same goals from last year (finish the damned manuscript!), I don’t feel any more capable than I did last year.   There has been no magic switch.

But as a grownup, I know how to fix it, or at least, how to attempt to fix it.  When I feel incapable, I know much of it is because I feel like I don’t know enough.  I know enough to panic, but not enough to actually move forward.  So this first month of the year will be mostly about getting my crap together, boosting my skills, and learning as much as I can before I dive back into the current story, with the hope of finishing it.

I definitely have my work cut out for me.  As I pointed out last week, I have a few things I’m working on, and will be trying.  Today I will get my big white board out and see what I can do about that whole goal/motivation/conflict thing for my characters.  My writing journal, where I will record my successes and failures about writing every day, is ready to go.

Now, let’s just see if I can act like a grown up and get this thing done! 🙂

As always, I’m happy to hear your comments, suggestions, helpful tips, smacks to the head, whatever it takes to get me going on my goals!

 

Fairest of the Faire – available now!

Fairest of the Faire book coverBlurb:

Schoolteacher Connie Meyers is suddenly a young widow, her husband killed in a horrific car accident. Heartbroken to find out he had gambled away everything they had, she moves to her sister-in-law’s Midwest home to rebuild her life. A trip to the local Renaissance Faire with her nieces leads to a summer job as a costumed storyteller.

Avowed bad boy and fair performer Gage Youngblood is infatuated with Connie at first sight. Despite his deliberately commitment-free life, and Connie’s don’t-touch-me attitude, he soon has her in his arms, realizing quickly she is also in his heart.

When she is threatened by her late husband’s bookie, he steps into the role of protector, his fate forever sealed with hers.

Available NOW!

Buy at Wild Rose Press:  (eBook and paperback)

Buy at Amazon (Kindle and paperback)

Buy at Barnes and Noble (Nook)