The Writer’s Alchemy: Transforming the Wreckage of Your Past into Novel Gold

91998041_dab331a3e7_b-600x450What makes a good novel? Is it the fact that the characters are flawless and perfect? They never have any problems or conflicts and the story is smooth sailing and sunshine from start to finish?

Right. I’m asleep already and I haven’t even gotten past the first paragraph.

What makes a novel worth reading for most people is CONFLICT and RESOLUTION. The conflict keeps readers turning pages and the resolution is what keeps them coming back for the next book. Without conflict, the story is flat, unrealistic, uninteresting, and basically, a waste of time and brain space for all involved; writer and reader.

We read and love stories with conflict because we have this drive to see what happens. Like that traffic jam caused by onlooker traffic, we have a morbid curiosity for observing tragedy, malfunction, mishaps, conflicts, and disasters. Part of this may be because we’ve never been through anything like it in our own life, so we want the experience without actually having the experience. Or maybe we’ve had similar experiences and find comfort in the fact that others have had the same experiences. Maybe we’re stuck somewhere and want to see how others make it through those emotional boobytraps, so that we can find our way out as well. Of course, a lot of this may not be conscious thought. As we are trying to decide what to read next, or we are beginning a new book and deciding whether or not to keep reading, our brain is processing all of this stuff in the background, weighing in the pros and cons of reading this. If nothing else, seeing how this very interesting and flawed character is going to get out of this interesting and complicated situation is intriguing and entertaining.

That’s where a hairy past can become a goldmine for a writer. No one can write conflict as good as someone who has experienced conflict. It doesn’t mean that if we’ve been through a nasty divorce or the death of someone we love, that that is what we need to write about, specifically. But it does mean we can hone in on the emotions that are a result of those experiences, and tailor those into our characters and story.

When I decided I wanted to write a novel, four years ago, I had recovered from a hopeless life full of turmoil, mental illness, and addiction, and I knew I had something to share. “A memoir,” I thought. “I shall write a memoir.” Not many people have been where I have been and survived to tell about it. So, I began writing said memoir. A year later, and 60K words into it, I hit a wall and was struck with writer’s block. I took a sample of it to a writer/publisher friend of mine and asked his opinion.

“You need to set this aside,” he said, after skimming through a few pages. “Maybe write some fiction for a couple years and then come back to it.”

I laughed at that. “Fiction?! No way. This is serious stuff here. I’ve been to hell and back and lived to write about it! People need to know my story!”

I didn’t write for a year. Like, at all. I was seriously depressed and struck with an array of emotions from inadequacy to self-loathing. I felt like I just wasn’t cut out to be a writer, which sucked, because that meant I went through all of that muck for nothing. I had dreamed of using my foibles and follies to reach out and perhaps help others into the light which I had found. Not writing my story meant I went through it all in vain.

And then.

The Hunger Games happened. My 11 year old daughter was super into reading and was crazy in love with The Hunger Games. Without having really read any new YA fiction, I thought, “you know, it would be cool to write a book as a way of bonding with her.” So, I brainstormed plot ideas with her and began to write “The Butterfly Prophecy.” Nine months later, like a slimy red squiggling cherub, it was born, and thus began my love for writing YA fiction. The deal was sealed when I began reading it as well, finishing the entire Hunger Games trilogy in a week and moving on to other amazing YA fiction books.

Here’s what I learned during that first “pregnancy:”

“Fiction” does not equate to “unserious.” Some of the most powerful, life and world-changing books were–and are–works of fiction. I learned that I can use all of the experiences in my past to transform my work into something real, gripping, and fulfilling. Though that first novel won’t see the light of day, the second and third will, and they are filled with powerful moments, emotion, and flavor from my past mistakes, heartbreak, insight, etc.

The truth is, almost anyone can write a book. But if you want yours to stand out, stand up on its own two feet and speak to people, drawing from your own life experiences, especially the negative ones, is something that is not only helpful, but in my opinion, necessary.

The thing I love about writing YA fiction, is that I can transform the wreckage of my past into the lifeblood that brings my characters, and my story, to life. And it doesn’t have to be about me. I don’t have to write a memoir in order to use my past to shed light on the lives of others. Through the writing of fiction, my characters can do that and leave me and my ego out of it.

My third novel (first to be published), The Tree Makers (Edgy YA Dystopian/Sci-Fi/Horror), is scheduled for release on July 4th, and I’m very excited to share it with the world. Stay tuned for more info 🙂

Until next time, writerly friends . . . .

Turn that sh#t to gold and write on! 😉

10 Ways to Navigate Plot Holes, Dead Ends, Blockades, and other Hazards on the Roadway to Writing Success

Signs

For the past few days, I’ve been navigating the rough roads of a writer trying to meet a deadline-destination with a yet-to-be-completed novel. It was complete, but then I got it back from a few fabulous beta-readers and with their help, I was able to see where I needed to add flesh to bone in a lot of places. This included a new ending, which is where I’m at now. So far, I’ve added 25K words to the story and I forsee it topping out at 100K, which means I have a mere 15K  words to bring it all together.

So, I’m traveling along this awesomely smooth road where the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and things are falling into place, when my engine screeches to a halt and the rest of the cars slam into my backside. I’m sure you know this dreadful moment. When these things crop up, we are never really prepared for them. Something doesn’t fit. F***, we might say. We may nosedive into depression because now we realize this fabulous ending we’ve been sailing towards, doesn’t pan out. I was totally bummed for two days because I needed to make A,B, and C at the beginning connect with X, Y, and Z at the end, but couldn’t make it work. The pressure to finish was on and there I was, twiddling my effing thumbs.

I decided now would be a good time to take a step away, meditate and drink some herbal tea, and scribe to you 10 of my discoveries:

 

1. If you are bored, chances are, the readers will also be bored. Don’t be afraid to cut the bore. 

I wrote for three days and was bored to tears with what was going on in the plot. The action and tension was not where it needed to be to keep me focused. Big red flag there. So, what I did was scribble out some ideas for an action-packed, tension building, and fulfilling ending. I asked myself some questions: What would that look like? Where’s “the twist” going to come in? Because I love those moments as a reader myself where something happens that blows my mind, and I for one, want that in my own writing. So, how can I tailor in a twist? I may have to go back and add some things in the beginning, foreshadowing and whatnot, but it will be so worth it. So, once I decided where I wanted to go, I cut back the bore (5K words of it), put it in my “take-outs” doc in case I want to use chunks of dialogue or description for later, and I started from that point with my note-pad in front of me.

2. Sometimes, thumb-twiddling is necessary.

The same goes for staring off into space for hours at a time and cleaning out that drawer that hasn’t been cleaned out in two years. Everyone should have a junk drawer for this purpose. Sometimes, mindless tasks–or no tasks at all–allow the blockage to clear. If you have a tendency to over-think things, you may do better with busy-work. I usually get a good mix of the two. When the wheels begin to smoke upstairs, I know it’s a good time to tackle those things I’ve been procrastinating.

3. Write by hand.

Get away from all electronic devices and conjure the spirits of the ancient art of pen and paper. Things sometimes have a way of working themselves out when we switch it up like this. Just seeing it from a different angle can shed some new light.

4. Draw a map. 

Sometimes, drawing a map of your fictional world may help you to see things from a different angle as well. Plus, it’s fun.

5. Run . . . for your story, not away from it.

Physical exercise can truly help eliminate the mental blockage that can sometimes be caused by self-doubt. After a good work-out, we feel better about life and ourselves, and may in fact feel better about the story as well.

6. Give your deadline the middle-finger and go for a drive.

I’m not saying abandon your deadline entirely. Sure, you should aim in the direction of the deadline, but if you want your story to be the best it can be, the fact is, sometimes, your story won’t be ready. Like a little furry, mysterious creature, preparing to hatch from the egg, it may need another week or two to develop. It may need longer. It takes what it takes. Sometimes, going for a nice long drive can release some pressure, getting physically far from the laptop and writing space. From there, we can “take a step back” and see better the full picture. We can just let go and stop trying to force it when it isn’t quite ready to hatch.

7. Brainstorm.

This may be the single most important item. Jot down as many questions as you can think of about your plot/world/characters, etc. Then, give yourself a few days to answer them as completely as possible.

8. Take a television/movie break.

OR

Eat Chocolate and Watch “The Walking Dead”

The point I’m getting at here is to shake up the routine. So, if you are a tv buff, take a break to clear up your mind space. And if you aren’t a tv person and rarely watch it, stop what you’re doing right now and watch The Walking Dead. The novel can wait; this is important.

9. Write your ending in flashback-form from your main character’s POV (as an exercise)

I did this and it was cool. It helped me to see what I wanted to happen at the end.

10. Don’t be afraid to skip ahead. 

So, you’re stuck and you don’t know what comes next, but you keep envisioning a scene towards the end? Write it! You can save the scene/chapter in its own file or just skip a few pages forward in your working document and write it there. It may help you to connect the dots from where you got stuck to that point.

 

Hope this helps!

Until next time, writerly peeps . . . .

Wear your safety belt, watch out for road hazards, and write on!

 

The Truth About Inspiration

inspiration 2

Inspiration is great. FABULOUS, even. You gotta love those times when that word-bowel movement starts long before you get to your keyboard. You’re driving, at work, or preoccupied in some other way, and something sparks it. You are going to explode if you don’t get to that gosh dern keyboard, like NOW. You are bursting at the seams when you finally sit down to let it out, and when you do, it pours and pours and pours, like Niagra dumping holy water on those keys, and two hours later you’ve written two freaking amazing chapters or something and it’s still coming. Isn’t it great how every day in the life of the average writer blesses us with this gift of super-human inspiration?

*shields face from the pie you are aiming at me*

Yeah. Not so much, eh?

Here’s the thing about inspiration: it comes and goes. We are not always going to be super-humanly inspired to write. It won’t always come out instantaneously brilliant and flavorful, like holy-water-doused McDonald’s french fries.

 

Some days, we don’t feel like writing at all.

And some days, we may feel like writing, but we’re blocked.

*stares at blank page for an hour*

*writes a sentence, erases it*

*stares at blank page for another hour*

It’s on those days we may begin to question our own sanity. We may ask ourselves what in the hell we are doing this writing thing for. We may curse, cry, drink heavily, or get lost in The Walking Dead binges on Netflix . . . .*coughs*

But that’s part of being a writer. I’ve probably quoted this ten times on this blog already, but I’m gonna do it again because it’s so important to remember.

“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” ~Chuck Close (painter)

Sure, he isn’t a writer, but I think with any creative profession/hobby it’s the same concept. We can’t always sit around and wait for inspiration. We just have to show up every day, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel, and get to work. No, it won’t always come out the way we want it to when we “force” it during those times lacking in inspiration. We may have more editing to do during those sections. But aren’t we going to revise anyway?

The truth is, unless we are J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, we can’t be superstars every day. Some days will be less than glam. But those uninspired days are important for bridging the other, brilliant days. Those days keep the pump primed for when the inspiration begins to flow. Let me take it a step further and say that those days actually enable the inspiration to flow more easily to us when the time comes.

If you don’t write every day, do it. Make a commitment to yourself and your craft. Get a writing calendar and “don’t break the chain;” write everyday and put a big red X on the day after you’ve written for at least ten minutes. This will get you in the habit of writing even when you aren’t especially inspired. Some days you’ll even discover that you sit down to write, lacking inspiration, and as you begin to write anyway, something sparks it and suddenly you’re inspired and it’s flowing like Old Faithful once again. It’s hard to tell when those times are upon us, so our best bet in catching them is to be prepared to write every day, no matter what.

Here’s another quote I found today. It happens to be by another very well-known painter. I think these guys are on to something 😀

inspiration

 

Until next time, wordy nerdys,

Write on!!

Why I Dove From My Traditional Publishing Soapbox and Chose to Go Indie

free-falling

A few months ago, I sweetly ranted about how my dream was to be a traditionally published author. I had been through a year of writing and rewriting, submitting, rejections, and resubmitting; I was disheartened and a wee bit disenchanted, but I was determined to do this thing the “right” way, and to not “give up” and “settle” for any less than the full package deal—agent, publisher, advance, hardcover books in fifty languages, t-shirts, posters, and Lionsgate putting my clipped-winged baby on the silver screen. It was coming, I felt it. Nothing was going to stand in my way. I was prepared for the blood, sweat, and tears that were waiting for me ahead, as I continued to send submission after submission and continued to receive rejection after rejection.

Now, I admit, I rushed those submissions. Over time, those of us writers who take a good honest look at hindsight, see our progress or where we can improve. If we are open to constructive criticism, and don’t close our minds to the possibility of improvement, we’ll always look back and see where we could have done certain things better. I’m positive that if I were to submit the novel I am revising now, that I’d have a much better chance of landing an agent. Over the past year and a half since I began writing YA novels, I have grown tremendously as a writer–and a person, mother, friend, and human being in general.

Writing fiction, for me, is a spiritual experience. Even writing YA Dystopian/Sci-fi/Horror, which is what my novel, The Tree Makers, is, I find that more pieces of me than I may care to admit wind up building the framework of the book. My life experiences, my beliefs, my fears, my desires, my dreams, hopes, aspirations, are all delicately and secretly interwoven into my fiction, like the marrow giving life to its bones. To me, the writing of fiction, when fully immersed in it and letting it flow through you, is a sacred experience, one that only other fiction writers could truly understand. But the readers feel it, even if they don’t know what to call it. When they are experiencing the story, engulfed by it, they are experiencing and engulfed by, you.

So, what’s the point? What does this have to do with my decision to go indie?

The point is that it’s not about the advance, the big NY agent or publisher, the t-shirts and the silverscreen with Johnny Depp playing one of my characters . . . . It’s about the story. And it’s about getting the story to readers. It’s about taking a step back from the limelight of my mind’s eye and realizing it isn’t about the money at all. Don’t get me wrong, a six-figure deal would be freaking AMAZING, but while I’m spending all of this time and effort hunting down the agent with this magical key to my NYT bestselling success, I could be writing. And did I mention the disheartening disenchantment? Yeah. Not something I really want–or need–in my daily life.

Let’s talk specifics.

IF/WHEN I were to finally land an agent, and IF/WHEN they got a big NY publisher to say YES, right there, I’m out anywhere from 60-80% of my royalties. Granted, if you do really well you can still make big bucks, especially since they assist with big marketing and getting you on the shelves at B&N, but you won’t be seeing your baby in print for one to two years later, and even then, it really won’t be your baby anymore. It will be their baby. They will have final say in what goes on the cover, and ultimately, what gets cut or added inside as well. And once your book is in print, you really won’t be immediately connected with sales knowledge and readership. Figures, along with slim royalties, will be given to you six months or longer after the fact, not really allowing you to keep a real-time perspective on book sales and so forth. Sure, with traditional publishing you’ll have slightly more help with the marketing aspect; book signings, speaking engagements, and so on, but from what I’ve heard, you will still need to put in a good amount of your time into marketing as well.

With self-publishing through Amazon KDP, Create Space, Smashwords, etc., not only do I see the majority of my royalties, but I also get to do what I want when I want and how I want to do it. My baby stays my baby. Yes, I know the stigma on self-publishing. There are a lot of works that should’ve had a little more TLC (and revision) before they were carelessly and impatiently spewed into the market. That will not be my book, just as it is not the book of a growing number of fabulous authors who choose to self-publish. There are those of us who’ll be damned before we put junk out there. We put in the time, get beta readers, revise and rewrite, hire a good editor, and make sure we are putting the best book we can into the hands of readers.

Self-publishing is becoming more and more the way to go for many authors. Without going too much into the details, (mainly because a couple hours’ Google search can get you everything you ever wanted to know and I don’t want to bore you here) I’ll say my decision to self-publish was one that wasn’t made hastily. It was a decision I made because I want to be right here at ground zero, down in the trenches, wading with my readers in the crazy muck of marketing, blogging, promoting, and everything that goes along with it. I want to be apart of what is happening with my baby every single day.

“But so much of your time will be wasted marketing,” I hear some of you say. To that I say, I will make time for what I love, and I love to write. I have chosen, for now, to guide my baby through its growth stages like a loving parent, until it reaches its final resting place; in the hands of readers. However you choose to go about getting there, that is the moment that truly counts.

 

Until next time, fellow writerly peeps,

Write on ❤