Saturday, November 28, 2015

Nanowrimo Day Twenty-Eight: Gestation

As you can see, it’s been a while since I’ve checked in. Ten days to be exact. I allowed for real life to take priority throughout my birthday and the holiday, which is typical for this time of year. I don’t usually take a whole lot of time off, I can’t afford to, but sometimes those breaks are necessary.

After this year, y’all, I need a vacation in the worst way. Preferably somewhere tropical, where I can drink frosty, frothy drinks that taste like coconut and pineapple, and get fanned by two hunky, tanned cabana boys named Rico and Javier.


Instead I just unplugged and spent time with the fam, which is even better.

It doesn’t mean I wasn’t working, mind you. For an author, there is writing work and non-writing work. I call the non-writing work “gestation.”

Over the last ten days, I’ve done a lot of mental preparation to complete this project and start new ones. I’ve released another book, which is the publishing part of my job. That never ends even if I do take the rare week or two off here and there.

But in the creation process, where Nanowrimo lives, it’s all been brainstorming and preparation.

My best friend and I have come up with an idea for a TV show that will demand a lot of research, given the periods of time it is set within. Yes, I did say “periods.” Most of my truly ambitious work involves history, mythology, and all those other wonderful things that are so research-heavy I can’t jump in with both feet like I normally do. Rather, I circle the idea, hand to chin, calculating the best and most efficient course of action to complete the project.

And that’s really the heart of Nanowrimo. Yes, we’re given a month to do “the impossible” – to write a book start to finish – but it’s not so much the time frame in which we do it, but the fact that you actually finish a project at all. Far too many writers are thinkers who just have an idea, and a long list of excuses why they don’t have time to write it.

Nano challenges you to change the placard over from “Want” to “Did.”

The only difference between the writers and the thinkers is that we make the time. We steal those precious minutes or seconds to mull over, plan, consider, debate or brainstorm story ideas that will get us so excited that we pounce all over the very first second to write that presents itself. Yes, there are families and jobs and holidays and commitments, like I’ve shown you with a ten-day hiatus. But you’ll note I didn’t take that hiatus until after I reached the goal of 50,000 words. I still worried about families, jobs, holidays and commitments, particularly the one I made to my manager about this kick-ass TV script idea, but I found time to lay some groundwork for a book I will complete and publish later, probably in time for next year’s Nano. I’ll fill it in later with all the other little goodies and advice that I had outlined to share. I’ll do more research, I’ll make it even more helpful. It’s nowhere near done the way I want it, and so I can shelve it while I work out all the other stuff to make it the kind of book I want it to be.

This takes time. Many times more than it takes to complete a first draft start to finish.

In other words: it’s okay to wait. Sometimes it’s necessary to wait. Remember all those naysayers who griped about Nano, who said that no good book could be written in 30 days so why bother?

Most of the reason they say that isn’t because of how long it took you to write a book. No one cares about that, not really. If they read your book and they think it’s great, they’ll bring their own prejudices with them. If they ask later, and they might, they might be thinking that you had to take ten years to write your masterpiece, just because that’s the accepted wisdom of such things. You can surprise them later, and I hope you do, by producing a strong, well-written, engaging story, maybe even one right after the other, to pop a hole right in that theory, to prove there many more ways up the mountain than just the one, singular, narrow path everyone expects you to follow.

That most of those people who feel that way are NOT writers should tell you how useless their advice truly is. They say it can’t be done because they’ve never done it, and that’s just a baseless standard for anyone. I can’t physically run a mile, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t. The limitations of others don’t define you. (And thank God.)

However, and this is key, this is not to suggest that you shouldn’t take your time to get it right.

By November 28, there are basically two types of Nanowrimoers left. I’m going to take a second to speak to you both.

First up: The “Never-Gonna-Get-It-Finished” Nanoer.

You are the writer who has more to write in the next two days than can ever be written, even if that's all you do. As much as you might like to, you're not going to finish in time to "win" the bragging rights you set out to claim November 1. Generally you fluctuate somewhere between “Why the hell did I sign up for this crap?” and “Eh, maybe next year.” You realized too late just how daunting a task this would be, or underestimated your ability to fit writing a book into your current schedule. Either way, just like the other 80% of Nanowrimoers, it just ain't gonna happen for you this year.

This is perfectly okay. So you didn’t get the 50,000 words done, so what? If you wrote one sentence, you have the perfect excuse to get BACK to the writing, and you don’t need Nano to do it. Granted, it’s a lot more fun when everyone else is sharing your misery to write a book, which is probably why Nano is so successful and popular in the first place. But some stories take time, that’s just how it is. Sometimes your life takes priority. If you need to put food on the table, you need to focus on things that bring in an income, not some “hobby” of writing a book.

This is not a failure. You attempted, and good on ya. It’s hard to write a book, especially on a tight deadline, which is why many people will attempt Nanowrimo, but only 20% or less will actually finish on time.

What’s not okay is using that as an excuse to stop for good.

For you, the gestation period requires that you prioritize your writing so that you may complete your project one day, whether it’s in December, or next November. It’s still up to you to get it done, and you totally can… IF you make it a priority.

I had planned to write a full book in the month of November, just to prove that it can be done. When it comes to a first draft, I’ve gotten the process down to knocking one out in about a month, thanks to the preparation work I use in the gestation beforehand. So I had full faith I could prove this by showing you this process day after day.

Life happened. Other priorities came first, even if it was just taking a day off because I’ve written or completed five books this year and that takes a lot out of a person. This was technically Book Number Six, so I gave myself permission to take some time off and regroup, no matter what my slave-driver of a boss had to say about it.

(She’s such a bitch. I really don’t know how I’ve lived with her day after day for 46 years.)

Sometimes you need time away. Sometimes the story gets so convoluted in your head that you need to step away from it, for clarity – and for sanity. Last year, my Nano project was a page-one rewrite of a “morally ambiguous” YA title sure to be banned in all southern states, particularly Tennessee. It was without doubt the darkest story I have ever written, and I’ve been known to plumb the depths. This book, however, was something I was writing with someone else, whose ideas pushed me even further than I ever wanted to go.

Some folks need a trigger warning to read a book about the things I explored in this title. I needed a trigger warning to WRITE it.

By the end of November I barely limped across the finish line with 50,000 words, but the book was nowhere near done. I didn’t finish it until this year, when the OTHER 50,000 words nearly drove me to therapy.

I needed time to finish that book. And after it was over, I needed space to heal from it. We just signed the publishing contract on it last month, so I’m sure that the rewrites/edits will be coming hard and fast very shortly. I should be ready to deal with it, but odds are… I’m not.

That’s the thing about deadlines. Doesn’t really matter if I feel it or not. I’m expected to finish it on their timetable, not mine.

Nano has been a good teacher in that regard.

But it did take me a LOT longer than I thought to write that book, the longest I’ve taken to write any book in a long, long time. Not because I cared any more about it, but just because that story needed more time to tell. It took more out of me. It raked me across the coals. So I cried “Uncle” whenever I needed to, just to get from one little baby step to the other.

All of this is perfectly okay. It’s normal. Every writer has likely done this, even Mr. “2000-words-a-day” Stephen King. It’s one thing to write, it’s quite another to complete a project, and if you need time to make that happen, then take all the time you need.

It is still on you to make it happen. You can move slowly, but you gotta keep moving if you want to get anything done. True in life, especially true in writing.

It’s okay to say that other things have taken priority when they do. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not an indictment on your character as a writer.

But if you want to be a writer, you have to find your way back to the writing. There is extra time to be found, you just have to make it a point to find it.

Like I said before, I hope you do. There’s no greater feeling on this planet than finishing a project that you created from scratch. It is honestly where we are most godlike. By no surprise, there’s this delirious euphoria that hits whenever you’ve done it that is better than any drug. There’s a sense of accomplishment that no one can take away from you. YOU created something. YOU did it. You can hold hundreds of pages in your hand that prove how much blood, sweat and tears you poured into a project, with characters you love and a story that captivated you so much that YOU couldn’t stay away from it.

That’s a pretty good indication that some reader out there will feel the same. It may sell ten copies, it may sell a million, but as long as one person reads it and loves it, you have done something astounding.

Find your passion first and you will attract the passion of others. That’s just how it works.

So take your time. Circle the idea, your chin cupped in your hand, as you figure out a way to make it happen.

Then Make. It. Happen. Because you totally can, whether or not you could “win” Nano.

There’s always next year, right? And I guarantee if you take some of the hints mentioned, you can prepare yourself for a more successful run in the future. For those who are intrigued by the challenge of writing a book in 30 days, that’s an itch you won’t really be able to scratch until you do it. Nano will be there for you when you’re ready to try again.

(I really, sincerely and truly hope that you do.)

Now for the other 20% or so of you...

The “I-Can’t-Believe-I-Actually-Did-It-Lemme-at-What-Comes-Next” Nanoer.

You have either written all 50,000 words or are in spitting distance, with no quit left in you as you race towards the finish line.

First of all, congratulations. It is no easy feat to write a book at all, much less in 30 teeny tiny days. Good for you for setting a goal and doing whatever you needed to do to make it happen. I know from experience this wasn’t easy, and my hat is totally off to you that you stand tall and strong among the tired and victorious.

You have now reached the delirious euphoria mentioned above. You’re giddy with excitement as you hold your newborn creation in the palm of your hand. (If you haven’t printed out a copy of your baby, I highly recommend you do, just so you can see the fruits of your labor and truly appreciate the journey you’ve just taken.)

Now that you’ve “given birth,” you may think that your time of gestation is over.

Au contraire, mon frère. What you’ve just experienced is the first stage of labor. For those of you who are unaware of the different stages of childbirth, that was just getting your body ready for the hard work ahead of expelling a human life into the world.

Your baby may look complete, but it is not yet ready in the least to face the marathon it must run (and win) against more mature works.

You’ve written a first draft of a book. That’s amazing. But as we’ve covered before, A FIRST DRAFT IS NOT READY FOR PUBLICATION.

People who slam Nanowrimo have one legitimate complaint. People who finish a book, who are stoned silly on that natural high of completion, are far too quick to send off their unpolished babies into a market that is already saturated by a lot of poor writing, incomplete writing and sticky, smelly, goo-covered babies who weren’t yet ready to leave their parents.

Now that you can self-publish in the click of the button, what normally ended up in “slush” piles in every agent/manger/publisher office known to existence now clogs up places like Amazon and the like, making it that much harder for people who “took the craft seriously” to be seen.

Writing a publishable book is only the first step. Next comes marketing, which is a helluva lot harder for most of us.

We fight for every one-click dollar against dozens of new books releasing every single week now.

Writing quickly and publishing quickly doesn’t guarantee you a quick payday. Often you have one shot to make a first impression with your readers, and they’re a lot more unforgiving than you’d think. Unlike your family and friends, who love you and support you and think everything you produce is pure gold simply because it comes from you, anonymous readers just want to read a good book. If they pay money and find that the book is lacking in any way – even if it’s just a matter of something happening that they don’t like – you’re going to get slammed. Hard.

Even if your book is critically hailed as the second coming of Harper Lee, there are still readers out there who can’t stand Harper Lee.

That doesn’t mean the readers are your enemy. The readers will make your career. Have a little respect for them, and for yourself, and for your book, and only present something that you feel is the very best of what you can produce.

I write like a maniac, finishing between five to seven projects a year, and I can tell you with all certainty that a first draft of anything – no matter where you fall as a writer – is NOT the best you can produce.

You want proof?

If you’re still in absolute love with your book, I want you to take the month of December away from it. Put it away. Don’t open it. Don’t read it. Give yourself till January 1 before you revisit it at all.

Not only does this give you some distance from the material, it helps wipe your short-term memory. This is what helps you mentally fill in every gap you may have left in the writing, something that someone new to the material will spot with glaring clarity, but you might miss entirely because after all… you knew what you meant.

Once you get to January 1, give yourself a day to devote to reading your book. Yes, it may only take a few hours for you to read a book for pleasure, but I’m pretty sure that you won’t find this experience as “enjoyable” as you might think you will. This will begin your editing process, and believe me, that process takes excruciating hours of time.

When you’re reading, every single time you have to re-read anything twice to understand what you meant, highlight that passage. It will need to be fixed. Every time you find a typo, highlight it. Every time you find some kind of inconsistency, highlight it. Every time you cringe, because what you read is NOT brilliant, but rather hackneyed or contrived, highlight it.

You don’t have to change any of it as you go, just highlight it.

Then, when you’re done, peruse your book to see how much work is left to be done.

You’re going to need at least another day to do it.

Once you’re done with that, you have a draft that is now strong enough for someone else to read and give feedback. I keep saying it and it’s still true, first drafts are for YOU, not for anyone else. Once you see how much you light up your manuscript like a Christmas tree, you’ll get exactly what I mean by that. You’ll be both embarrassed that you thought it was so awesome, and relieved that you didn’t show it to anyone or worse… publish it for the whole world to see.

Once you have a solid second draft in place, you’re going to need some input from the outside world. I recommend at least five beta readers. (Beta = second.) One or two can be your buddies, particularly if they're avid readers, but unless they’re writers themselves, they can only offer an overview from the point of the reader. Completely necessary, but you do need to get some technical input as well if you’ve never published a book before. Join writing groups, make friends with other writers who participate in groups simply because they want to help out their peers. For people who do such solitary work, we really blossom in community. You’ll see that when you join the different groups, many of which offer peer-to-peer reviews, which, if you're an inexperienced writer, are critical to your process.

This criticism will be way more constructive, just from a professional point of view. Your mom telling you that it’s a sure bestseller is nice to hear and all, but you need to know where the problems are in the work so you can make it as strong as possible. Find people who love and respect you enough to be honest with you, even if it's not what you want to hear.

When these beta readers return your book with their notes, pour yourself a strong drink and consider what they have to say. If more than one person repeats a criticism, you need to address the problem. If they tell you something isn’t clear, pay attention. You are not an objective reader, but they should be. And if they tell you that something doesn’t make sense to them, the error isn’t theirs to correct. If you find yourself at all saying, “What I meant to do here…” then maybe that idea was not completely fleshed out. Instead of explaining yourself, fix the passage so that no explanation is needed.

Once your third edit is complete, you may feel like you have a strong book that is ready for the market. If you’re trying to publish traditionally, you may start sending out queries and getting some interest. If you plan to publish independently, you still need the input of an actual editor. Yes, they’re expensive, but if you’ve never worked with an editor before, you cannot miss this step. It will cost you more in the long run.

If you’re trying to make any money off of your work at all, you will need professional editing. If you’re freelancing or working through a traditional publisher, you will be edited HARD. And this is truly the competition for you when you publish independently. Your competition isn’t the other first draft of another newbie writer who hit publish too soon. That book is going to sit untouched on Amazon the minute anyone realizes that it was haphazardly thrown together and slapped online for a quick buck.

They WILL realize this. Readers are smart. And they don’t particularly like it when they pay for a book only to find out it wasn’t produced with thought and care and respect for whoever might read it later.

No, your competition is the book that was produced with thousands of dollars thrown into the editing and the marketing. You’re expected to meet a certain publishing standard if you want to dance toe to toe with the big boys.

Only a professional editor can get you there, because it’s their job to know what that standard is.

Here is a snapshot of an edited version of my book CHASING THUNDER, which was published through a traditional publisher, just so you can get an idea of the standard you need to meet:

Find yourself an editor who understands the publishing industry and let them have at your book. Word of warning: they will likely hack it to pieces. It’s going to hurt to read it, especially after all the work you put into it already. By Draft Three, you might think that you’ve gotten it as perfect as you can. This is probably true. You’ve gotten it as perfect as YOU can.

Let them guide you the rest of the way. With every editor you work with, you learn something new. Consider this a part of your ongoing education. Pour an even BIGGER drink and just muddle through it.

*Editing tip: You don’t have to change everything they tell you to change. Only change what feels right to you. You’ll know whenever something is made better by the editing, and that’s all you really have to change. It’s still your story and you get to tell it your way. Editing is made to enhance. Unless they’re telling you what readers have echoed, you can pick and choose what to change when it comes to story.

Make your changes accordingly and then put it away for a week or two, maybe even a month, depending on your personal publication schedule. (Hint: It’s not December 1, 2015.)

Once you read through it again, take note of any straggling errors. Even after all these safeguards, you will find errors. People miss things, even when they’re looking for them. Our brains have a funny way of correcting the information it processes.

This is why you need to go over it more than once, and you need to have more than one stranger look it over as well, to catch what you didn’t. This is why a first draft isn’t ready for publication, nor is a second, third or fourth draft.

You may have written a draft in a month, but in order for it to be ready for publication, you’re going to have to double, triple, quadruple that gestation period to get it ready. You’ll come to realize what so many of us have, that writing the book – while difficult and time-consuming – isn’t the real “work” involved in producing a book.

Whether you finished Nanowrimo or didn’t, you’re about to face a whole new gestation period, one with a little more liberal of a timetable than just 30 days. (And thank God for that.)

Take. Your. Time.

As for me, I will be shelving this book while I work on my TV pitches, as well as let a few other ideas that have been circling the runway land so I can get started on them in the new year. In this past month alone, I’ve come up with a new book idea along with a 7-season TV series, which will make the SECOND TV pitch I have to work on, and possibly a web series as well. This is not to mention a second installment of my Wyndryder series, which I had planned to start by January, and four other books I had already planned. (And that doesn’t even count the two scripts I have planned.)

People always wonder what drives me to juggle so much all the time. The short answer? I know I can make these things happen. So I do.

As usual, I’ve got a lot of work in front of me, and so I’ll let this little ditty marinate until summer, when I’ll turn my focus back to it so I can prepare it for publication by next November.

In the meantime, I’ll take lots of notes whenever I think about this project, to add to, to take away from, to make clearer and more helpful, so that the next time I open this file, it will have properly gestated in preparation of “birth.”

When I publish it, you’ll see in clear detail what had to be changed to make it worth publishing “for real” in a book, rather than just some blog installments. The two are very different things.

Trust me when I tell you that you must allow for things to gestate. It’s a process I rigorously follow because I do care about the craft, even if I’m a passionate and devoted Nanowrimoer. Some will suggest that my insane work schedule, which produces quite a bit of content relatively quickly, makes me a hack, and that’s okay that they think that. They’re not who I’m trying to win over anyway. I never could. These are people who are looking for reasons to overlook me, and believe me there are plenty of reasons for that.

For my readers, who have made my career possible even when it was against all the odds, putting me securely in the Top 20% of all writers when the competition was stiff (and getting stiffer by the day,) they clamor for more, more, more and I’m all too happy to give it to them. That doesn’t mean I will just slap anything online for a quick buck. You don’t claw your way into the top 20%, or even the top 10% where I have peaked before, by being a hack. You have to respect the process, respect your books and respect the readers who will buy them.

So take your time. Get it right. The universe will reward you in ways you can’t even imagine.

See you next year, my valiant, faithful warriors of the written word.

We’ll do it all again.


Started First Draft: November 28, 2015 9:56am PST
Completed First draft: November 28, 2015 11:33am PST
Word Count of first draft: 3,821
Completed revisions: November 28, 2015 10:52am PST
Updated WC: 4,503/65,993

Friday, November 20, 2015

ONE WEEK! All your questions will be answered. Check out this excerpt from #MastersForever!

Excerpt from MASTERS FOREVER, book three in the Masters Saga, my most sizzling series yet. Spoilers to follow for those who haven't yet joined Coralie's and Devlin's story. Start with MASTERS FOR HIRE, currently rated 4.2 stars out of 5 on Amazon!

It's all about to come to an explosive conclusion. Get caught up now!

**If you're not a fan of cliffhangers, you might want to time finishing book two, MASTERS FOR LIFE, at exactly midnight, November 27, 2015! **

“Suzanne Everhart is a dangerous woman, Coralie.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m so sick of hearing all all-powerful she is. Did you see her in that meeting, Devlin? She was running scared. She knew I could blow over her house of cards like that,” I said as I snapped my fingers. “She’s all bluster and hot air now. Kind of like her husband.”

“You’d be a fool to underestimate her.”

“No, Dev. She’s a fool to underestimate me. You may be okay with her keeping you on her chain, but she has no power over me. I’m not some hot guy she can corral in her stable of studs. There’s nothing she can get from me.”

“Don’t you see? Your being a woman makes it that much worse. She’s always more sadistic to the women. Remember what Caz already told you about Lydia?”

“Excuse me but I’m a little bit more than some barmaid. My name has power. So does my reputation, especially now.”

“That’s why you have so much more to lose,” he said as he leaned forward. “This isn’t a game, Coralie.”

“Of course it is,” I snapped. “I just didn’t know I was playing it until one night in early October. Now I get to make some rules of my own. Suzanne Everhart is not going to threaten me, coerce me or intimidate me into doing what she thinks I need to do. She’s already taken everything away from me she can steal. There’s nothing left.”

He pondered that a bit before he placed his glass on the coffee table. He rose to his feet.

“Please. Join me for dinner.”

I stood too. “No.”

“Come on,” he cajoled. His voice dropped a notch and those eyes inhaled me as he gave me the once over. “You’re too skinny.”

I glared at him. “I thought you said I was perfect just the way I was.”

“You were,” he admitted before he turned towards the formal dining room. I fumed as I followed him.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I demanded as we reached the table.

“It means you used to be lovely. Sweet. Voluptuous,” he added as his gaze swept across my breasts. “You were soft, like sinking into a dream. Now you’re hard and rigid, just like every other rich bitch who thinks she runs the show.”

“Fuck you,” I gritted.

“Love to,” he said. “I’m free now. Are you?”

I knew that was his way of asking me if there was anything going on with Caz.

“You know what? I don’t need this,” I decided as I stalked back to the library where he had placed my purse. I had my own set of keys. He couldn’t keep me there against my will.

I quickly learned I was wrong. My purse was no longer in the spot where he left it. I turned to Dev, who leaned against the other wall. “So this is what we’ve reduced to? Kidnapping?”

He chuckled as he straightened. “How can it be kidnapping when you want to be here?” He turned back to the dining room, forcing me to follow.

Two plates were now set upon the table. A uniformed maid finished lighting the candles on the table before she gave me a polite smile and disappeared back into the kitchen.

“Sexy maid in her uniform?” I asked. “A little cliché, don’t you think?”

He sat at the head of the table, where he pulled one of the linen napkins into his lap. “What can I say? I’m living my fantasies these days.”

“You are such a bastard.”

“Right as always, Mrs. Masters,” he said before digging into a bite of his meal.

“I’m not your wife, Devlin. How many times do I have to make that clear?”

“Marry someone else and I might believe you,” he said as he drank some wine. “But face it, Coralie. You’ll never get me out from under your skin.” He looked back up at me. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have been ready to fuck two men just so you could be with me again.”

I hated how he could still read me like a book. “I hate you.”

“And yet if I touched you, we’d be in that bedroom within ten minutes and you know it. That’s what you hate most.” He pointed to the plate. “Now, please. Griselda has prepared a lovely meal. Let’s not let it go to waste.”

I held out for a moment more before I finally sat at the table. Maybe if I just indulged him, he’d get bored with me and let me go.

Long quiet minutes passed before he finally said, “So tell me what you think you know about overture.”

“How about you tell me what it is, and we’ll compare notes?”

“No,” he said.

“Then no,” I responded.

He leaned back in his chair and watched me. “Fine. I’ll make you a deal. We each get one question and one answer. You can ask any question you want, and the answer can be as simple as declining to answer. But for this one date, I will do my best to answer one of your questions.”

“This is a date?”

His eyebrow lifted. “Is that your question?”

“No,” I snapped. “I want to know what overture means to Suzanne.”

He chuckled softly. “You really want to waste a question on something I’ve already answered?”

“So what’s the point? No is going to be your answer for everything.”

“No is still an answer, Coralie,” he pointed out. “If I ask you to drive with me to Vegas, tonight, and get married, you’d say no.”

“You’re damned right I’d say no.”

“And that’s still an answer,” he said. “You’d expect me to respect it. And to accept it. That’s all I’m asking you to do.”

I took a deep breath. “So I’m supposed to just magically come up with the question you might answer?”

“Consider it a challenge.”

I glared at him for a long moment. “Do you love Suzanne?”

“No,” he said.

“Is that the answer? Or is that the refusal to answer?”

He smirked, and damned if it didn’t shoot fire to every single nerve ending. “One question. One answer. Any question. Any answer. But there’s only the one. This date anyway,” he added before letting that suggestion sit a bit. His eyes darkened. “My turn. Do you love Caz?”

I arched my eyebrow. “No,” I responded. Two could play his game.

He laughed. “You were always a quick study, Coralie. One of the things I always loved about you, from the first time you stripped for me.”

I shivered. “Why do you have to torment me, Dev?”

He wagged his finger. “One question. One answer.”

“Fine,” I relented at last. I was exhausted from playing these stupid games. I had too much to do to waste another minute. “Tell me what you want to tell me so I can get the hell out of here.”

“Now you’re getting it,” he murmured. “Tell. Don’t ask.” He drained his glass of wine. “You made an enemy of Suzanne today. She doesn’t like to lose, and your little power play in the conference room was a sure way to draw a bull’s eye on your back.”

“I’m not afraid of her.”

“You should be,” he said softly. “You’re in the big leagues now, Coralie. She has a network of very powerful friends, who have made sure that there is zero accountability or responsibility should the shit go down. And eventually it goes down. I just don’t want you to be buried with it.”

“Why do you care?” I said, before cursing myself for asking yet another question.

To my great surprise, he answered it. “Because I love you. I always did. And I've never stopped.”

“Then why–”

“One question…,” he started.

“One answer,” I answered with him. I heaved a frustrated sigh.

“I know you’re confused. But I really need you to trust me.” I scoffed, but he continued. “I’ll keep Suzanne distracted. It’s what I do best. In return there’s something I want from you.”

Knowing I couldn’t ask another question, I just arched my eyebrow.

“One date every week. You and me. Here at the house, very civilized and proper. And every week, I will answer any one question you might have. This way we rebuild what we lost when we came back to Los Angeles last year.”

“No, thanks,” I declined at once.

“You may want to reconsider, Coralie. Just think. You show the world, and Suzanne, you’re dating Caz, but really you’re here with me. I would be cheating on her with you. Sweet karma.”

My eyes narrowed into slits as I stared at him. “That maybe a fine deal where you come from Devlin, but nothing about that sounds appealing to me.”

His eyes swallowed me whole. “Bullshit.”

I sucked back my gasp. Why ask me anything? He knew it all.

Like magic.

“I’m not interested in your proposal, Devlin. You’ve wasted your time.”

He smiled softly as he rose from his chair. He walked over to where I sat, his crotch practically in my face as he reached into his pocket to withdraw his set of keys to my car. He laid them on the table in front of me before he caressed the curve of my face briefly with his hand, his thumb brushing ever so slightly against my bottom lip. “Time is never wasted with you, Coralie.”

He said nothing more as he walked away from the table and down the hall. When I walked back out to the foyer, I saw my purse returned to the spot I left it. I practically snarled in frustration as I snatched it from the table and marched out the door.


Pre-order MASTERS FOREVER now! Available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

#Nanowrimo Day Eighteen: "Show, Don't Tell" and Other Worthless Advice

Whenever you become a writer, writers and non-writers alike will offer what I call “bumper sticker” advice. It’s short, sweet, sounds good on a bumper sticker, but is woefully incomplete. “Show, Don’t Tell,” is basically another version of “Write What You Know.” It sounds good. It’s rooted in very sound advice. But it’s a little murky.

It’s the writer’s equivalent of, “Yo, that was pitchy, Dawg.”

Basically the reader knows something is wrong, or off, or out of joint. You’ve lost your excitement and made it a chore for them to read. This is the nugget of truth behind this standard advice, which is why it has persisted, though it often only scratches the surface of the problem.

If you're the reader, you know something is wrong because you’re dissatisfied. The author simply didn’t dig deep enough, and tried to cover it up with some glossy overview that you found lacking.

It’s okay to say that. It’s helpful to say that. It’s kind of your duty to say that, if you want your criticism to be constructive.

Example time…

I binged on Danielle Steel when I was a kid, this is no secret. It’s also no secret that Ms. Steel mixes “tell” and “show” quite a bit, to varying degrees of success.

Considering she’s a bestselling author who can boast millions of books sold to millions of happy, loyal readers, I’d say she sinks the ball far more often than she misses.

Part of that has to do with the genre in which she writes. Some are simply more forgiving of this particular style than others, and she has flourished very well in the romance/saga genre with her brand of storytelling.

Back in the 1980s, when I found her, I liked that exposition background stuff that got you “up to speed” with the character and the world in which they lived. It was like the first, clanking incline of a roller coaster, which takes its sweet time getting you to that first drop where you can do nothing but hang on afterwards.

If you’re familiar with the kinds of things Danielle does to her characters, you’d know why a safe passage of exposition was often needed. This woman knows angst. Her basic formula is Girl Has Everything. Girl Loses Everything. Girl Gets Everything Back. Girl Loses It Again. Girl Finally Triumphs. Though they are considered “romances,” these stories covered every single facet of life as a woman, as mothers and daughters, sisters and friends, wives and mistresses, survivors and victims.

I’m known for my angst because I have followed this particular formula. Story is all about conflict, remember. And I have been told more than once that I was nearly responsible for broken e-readers.

All I have to say to that is if you ever have any problem with the things I throw at my characters, pick up a copy of “Zoya” and get back to me. I know this angst because I was taught this angst, and it works very, very well for me. (Thank you, Danielle.)

Sadly, I lost some steam as a fan in the 2000s, particularly when I realized that Danielle’s heroines were almost always going to be the kind of thin, fabulous women that have always dominated modern romance. Some view that as part of the “fantasy.” I do not. I prefer to see women like me represented on the page, which is why I’ve built my entire career making it so.

Fast-forward to 2010, when Danielle Steel published her novel “Big Girl,” which – surprise, surprise – finally starred a larger woman. This was about three years after I had started writing my “Rubenesque” romances, and I was beyond curious to see how she would pull this off, given her earlier work was so pivotal to me as a storyteller.

I'm no Danielle Steel by far, but by the time I got around to reading this book in 2014, I knew a thing or two about storytelling just from experience alone. I had written and published fourteen "Rubenesque" romances to varying degrees of success all my own. So I felt confident in my ability to pinpoint exactly where this particular book fell flat for me.

The biggest reason for this was that the exposition and overview that used to take place in the first chapters of her previous work dominated the narrative throughout “Big Girl.” This left me frustrated and dissatisfied both as a reader and as a fan.

As a writer myself, I was able to take everything apart and examine what went wrong with a little bit more authority... which is what I did. (You won't set out to do this, by the way; you'll both want and seek to lose yourself in the story. It just happens, occupational hazard.)

I can only assume this lackluster storytelling had something to do with the fact that while Danielle Steel knows more than I will ever know about being thin, rich and fabulous, she wasn’t able to channel the experiences of a big girl because she’s never actually been one. This means she broke two bumper sticker rules in one. She didn’t write what she knew AND she spent most of the book telling instead of showing as a result.

There were a lot of things missing from her book that should have been there, scenes and experiences that are commonly shared by most girls and women who are heavier than their peers. The world around us is set up to be critical and derisive, and it shades our entire lives and everything we live through, from the very moment we figure out (or, more commonly than not, told) that we’re different. Someone who hasn’t shared that experience might miss these tiny details, leaving the story half-baked and unrealized, particularly for someone who knows what is missing.

I can tell you why “Duck, Duck, Goose,” was one of the more traumatic experiences of first grade, because I was slower than all my peers and, as such, a favorite target for the “game” I was set up to and often did “lose.” I can share in painful detail, either in scenes or exposition, why co-ed P.E. was stressful when we had to “suit up” in similar clothes that only made me stand out even more. I can tell you what it was like to have boys tease me in the lunch line, calling attention to me and mocking me by acting like they were interested so all their friends could see how the fat girl responded to a popular boy dangling the “dream” in front of her face.

In my books, you’ll live those scenes, experiencing them in every harrowing detail.

People who simply “tell” their stories often do so because they don’t have the background to show us through action. This is Problem One. They haven't done the research, they don't fully know their topic enough to translate it for the reader, or they have no emotional connection with the work and just want to treat significant scenes as if they aren't all that significant. This is where you will get cold-busted for exposition. Readers recognize immediately when you’re trying to “cheat” the process. This is the meat behind the advice, “Show, don’t tell.” By no coincidence, it’s also the reason we’re told to “write what we know.”

Or at the very least, “write like you know.”

Spending an entire book “telling” me how this character responds to her world is not as emotionally satisfying as showing me what she has to face and how she overcomes it. This is why the story demands to be told in the first place. You need those action scenes to drive the story, to engage the reader, to make them care. Confidently put yourself in the shoes of your character and live in their skin a while. See how life would treat you, experience it down to the most seemingly insignificant detail. When done well, these “snapshots” of action will tell your story far better than you can on your best day.

Problem Two: You don't trust your readers to fill in the dots.

Consider my writing sample many days back when I added the small detail of making my fictional social worker’s attaché scuffed to show that she had been on the job a while. That detail wasn’t needed for that passage, but it was a good way to convey the information in a subtle way that the reader will pick up on, even subconsciously. This adds layers and dimension to the story, fleshing it out and coloring it in with vivid color.

Inexperience demands that you over-explain, rather than trust your reader to tie the pieces together on their own. You keep hitting the same notes and that will put your reader off as well. Give them a little bit and move on, which is the real intent behind “show, don’t tell.”

But sometimes you do need those exposition passages because those are the best, most emotionally satisfying, most efficient ways to tell that part of the story. I challenge anyone to show me a successful book that is strictly action from start to finish without some form of exposition added to enhance the narrative.

Most great books I’ve read marry the two forms together so seamlessly you really don’t know the difference. You’re swept along by the momentum of the story and the finesse of an experienced storyteller. (Notice I didn’t say story SHOW-er.)

Problem Three? You simply don't have the experience to know the difference, and you won't until you write boring exposition passages that you have to correct later, when someone shows you why they failed and how to fix them.

This is what makes “Show, don’t tell,” so freaking useless to a brand new writer, who regurgitates onto the page a mish-mash of everything they’ve ever read. They need to know why it doesn’t work for that particular scene/passage.

“Show, don’t tell,” often boils down to the fact your exposition has bored the reader and bogged down the read itself, enough for them to realize there’s something wrong with how it was done even if they can't articulate it. Maybe you’re balls deep in a “talking heads” scene, where your characters are transcribing action rather than showing you the action. Maybe you’ve glossed over something that the reader needed in order to properly engage or empathize with the character, like what happened in “Big Girl.”

It’s a marriage, a yin and a yang. Absolutes like “Show, don’t tell,” only confuse new writers who haven’t yet learned how to strike this balance. This can’t be your only advice to them, even though it fits ever so neatly on a bumper sticker.

The only place that “Show, Don’t Tell,” is a firm, no-room-for-error rule is in screenwriting. Everything you write on the page has to translate to the screen in moving pictures that the audience can physically see. Exposition is wasted in a screenplay if it’s not spoken in dialogue, which is usually cautioned against because it, too, will bog down the action and screw up your pacing. Instead you have to provide those deeply layered scenes that define your character in a very limited space, with pictures that pack a punch, and carefully constructed dialogue that tells you what you need without telling you that you need it.

Take, for example, the award-winning movie “American Beauty,” by the amazingly talented screenwriter, Alan Ball. For those who haven’t seen it, the story revolves around an all-American family that is nothing what it looks on the surface. This family includes young Jane Burnham (Thora Birch,) who is a sullen, alienated teenager who hates her parents, her body and her life in general.

When enigmatic Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) moves in next door, he is immediately fascinated by this girl, which is brand new experience for her. Normally her vivacious bestie, Angela (Mena Suvari) gets all the attention, even the creepy, pervy attention of Jane’s own father, Lester (Kevin Spacey.)

When Ricky finally approaches her at school, singling her out and vocalizing his interest, Jane decides to accompany him for a walk home, where they end up at his house. There she learns a little bit more about him, like we do as the audience. He takes her into the room where his militant father keeps all his guns in a case to protect them. Also in this case there’s a white plate with black trim. Very simple in design. Ricky pulls this plate out to show it to Jane, instructing her simply to, “Turn it over.”

There, on the back, is a swastika.

In one very powerful visual, we get all we really need to know about Ricky’s father. They didn’t need to sit for five pages talking about it. He didn’t have to share his history with her, no matter what great stories he has to tell, and we already know from their walk from school that he has some interesting ones to share, ones that warranted the time taken to tell them.

In this scene, he just has to show her one very small, very important detail that she would have overlooked had she not turned over the plate.

(This, by the way, fits in with the theme of the movie to “Look closer,” which makes the scene even more genius. We’ll get into this subject before the week is over, and you’ll see why this chapter needed to happen first.)

Since Alan was juggling six primary storylines in this movie, Lester and his frustrated wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening,) Jane, Angela, Ricky, and Ricky’s father, Colonel Fitts, he didn’t have a whole lot of time to worry about exposition. He had to marry it with killer dialogue, which he did, and artistic visuals, which he did. Some scenes needed a little more exposition than others, so he had to strike that balance by being extremely economical with his choices, piecing those tiny bits of rope together in ways that delivered the quickest, strongest punches.

Like say, showing a swastika. Jane gasped when she saw it, as did most of the audience.

You can do that in your books. You will do that in your books. You will learn to layer your writing with all the necessary elements to keep your readers engaged. You will learn to walk the tightrope. Experience will teach you this delicate ebb and flow.

In the beginning, though, hearing, “Show, don’t tell,” without being told how or why is a bit like being told you’re lost, but given no map or directions to get you back on course.

It’s only as useful as you make it, and it’s too limited to be useful on its own.

Here’s how you can make “Show, Don’t Tell” work for you, particularly in the framework of Nanowrimo. You have plenty of room to tell your story with these “moving pictures.” Nano only asks for 50,000 words, and adding action scenes will help you reach that quota quicker than exposition, or on-the-nose dialogue. If I tell you how my day went, I can condense that into a paragraph or two. If I “show” you, with action and dialogue, it’ll beef up the narrative with things that the reader can “see” and experience along with me.

As an experiment, write both. Write what happened to you yesterday in a glossy overview, and write every single thing that happened to you in action scenes. Odds are extremes either direction will bore the piss out of you. You’ll see that the second option of "showing" will give you way more words than the first, but it will also likely bog down the read with a bunch of unnecessary details that mire down your pacing.

In the end, I think you’ll find that you’ll marry the two together more often than not, which is a trick you learn by doing, not hearing.

Sometimes showing the action is necessary. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you’ll do both at the very same time, like that aforementioned scene from “American Beauty,” where Ricky then goes on to tell Jane that a lot of people hoard Nazi memorabilia, but his father only has the one plate.

That added bit of “telling” dialogue reveals a lot about Ricky’s character. He didn’t need to narrate this detail; a savvy observer from the audience can see that there is only one plate in the case. But that he felt the need to describe it says something about Ricky himself. He both wanted to alert Jane to what kind of man his father was, but he felt a need to protect him as well.

See? Layered. This is how deeply faceted storytelling can be. That’s why the most useful advice has to be deeply faceted as well.

If a scene you’ve written bores you, or your own eyes glass over when you read it, (and they will,) then ask yourself how you can convey this information in another way. Maybe there is a scene you can interject there, where you can “show” the reader something instead of merely “tell” them. Dig deep. Visualize something from that character’s life that illustrates what you want to say without actually saying it.

This is often a challenge in and of itself.

If it’s some boring talking heads scene, you need to figure out ways to pick up the pacing with action, rather than dialogue. If you need some inspiration, read movie scripts and see how they do it. Pick apart why it works. Try to explain why it doesn’t. Take it all in as part of your education to become a more efficient storyteller.

When you’re describing action, it should work as a gas pedal, something you can blast through your story full-throttle, keeping your reader on the edge of his or her seat as they turn page after page to see what happens next.

If you’re “telling” the story through exposition, then that works like your brake pedal, useful when you need to slow things down so we can all catch our breath. Maybe you need to piece together periods of time that would bulk up your book to over 200,000 unnecessary words if you explained every single scene that gets you from point A to point B. You only need the scenes that propel the story forward, and sometimes those need to be bridged together.

Hence, the “Describe Your Day” experiment above.

You’re a storyteller and that’s what you do. You find the most efficient, exciting and engaging way to convey your ideas. If you hit all the points that emotionally satisfy your reader, your sins of “telling” when you could have been “showing” will be forgiven, because you’re going to do both, guaranteed.

There is no absolute beyond this: If you don’t balance this art well, believe me, readers will tell you. Sometimes it will be as frustratingly unhelpful as, “Show, don’t tell.” Take that cue to reexamine where you lost them. Maybe they’re 100% right and you do need to put a scene of action there. Maybe you need to scrap that part entirely.

It’s bogging down the read, and you need to deal with it.

Trust your instincts to do that.

And teach yourself the skill to know the difference, so that when you’re spoon-fed half-baked advice, you’ll know how to use it.

Started First Draft: November 18, 2015 8:21am PST
Completed First draft: November 18, 2015 9:23am PST
Word Count of first draft: 1,891
Completed revisions: November 18, 2015 10:52am PST
Updated WC: 3,002/61,271

#Nanowrimo Day Sixteen: Write Big and Use Lots of Words

One experience that both writers and non-writers share goes all the way back to grade school, junior high/middle school or high school. There we were all no doubt tasked at some point to write an essay or report that consisted of a certain number of words about a specific topic in a certain time frame.

Nothing could have been more daunting. With multiple choice options we could take our chances, jogging our memory of facts and figures with one of the choices presented. But essays? We had to come up with our own interpretation of these events and hope and pray it would be enough to cover a word count, word by painfully chosen word, in sentences that we knew would get picked apart for every minor mistake.

By no surprise, not many find this challenge particularly “fun.”

When my kids were much younger, I thought I would foster a love of reading by giving them special treats and prizes for each book that they read. I remember the days back when I was a kid, checking off every book I could read during summer break reading challenges, just for bragging rights, feeling all accomplished every time I added another read book to my collection.

Surely… surely… my kids would get excited about this, too.

There was only one little problem. I had to be certain that they read the books. So I got the ever so brilliant idea that they would turn in a one-page report they’d write to tell me what the book was about.

I figured if nothing else, it would inspire them to at least try to read the book if they knew they’d be tested on what they knew about it. Needless to say, it didn’t work, even when I offered cold, hard cash.

Turns out not all folks like to write, and will do everything in their power to sidestep it. For those who aren’t all that comfortable with using the written word to communicate a cohesive idea, the temptation to cheat the word count is strong, just to get it done and over with. Write big, take up lots of room on the page, and use a lot of words to convey the same thread-bare information.

We got called on that back then, and rightly so.

Overwriting is never a good idea.

Or is it?

The short answer is: it depends. If you’re just trying to stuff 50,000 words into a story that won’t accommodate it, then you’re in a bit of a pickle. No amount of words will ever do the trick if the material doesn’t warrant the space taken. If, however, you are still trying to figure out what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, like most first drafts, I’m a big proponent of throwing it all out there and sorting it through later. It should be crystal clear by now that I have no problem using a lot of words to make my point. I would much rather get to 60,000 words and cut them down to 50,000 that rely on filler to barely get me where I want to go. This is why all my revisions have added words, rather than take them away. I’m still squarely mired in Draft 1, even though you get to see what is being written as it is being written. (Mostly.)

Consider it Draft 1.5.

There’s a time for fixing everything that doesn’t work later on, in the editing process. What I added for clarity will be deleted for the same reason, once I get all the pieces in place.

Right now I’m just laying the ground work. And there’s a lot to be discovered in the overwriting process. Overwriting is kind of like circling a runway. You’re allowed to take the time and burn the fuel as long as you arrive safely at your destination.

I’ll give you an example, going way back in time to 1984 when I wrote my first novella, “My Father and Me.”

We’ve talked about this before, in that I was inspired to write a book based on a song by Barry Manilow. This gave me a pretty good idea where I wanted to go with the story, but as you’re probably aware by now, a song does not a book make. It’s a skeleton only, even more limited than any kind of outline you might draft. You can plot your story from the inciting incident to the climax and resolution, but there are a lot of little details you’ll have to flesh out throughout the writing process. Hopefully these scenes spring up from the story itself, but sometimes you have to really work hard to piece together all the tiny steps needed to get from Chapter One to The End. This is particularly true if you have a specific word count.

If you plan to get paid for what you write, you will almost always have a word count requirement to meet. It started when I was freelancing and it still holds true, 26 published books later. Commercial fiction will deal with that dreaded word count, no matter what you happen to write. Genres where you make up your worlds, such as science fiction and fantasy, allow a little more room for you to do what you’re going to do, whereas a simple boy-meets-girl romance can be as half as long.

But you’re still expected to meet the industry standards, no matter how hard it is to fill in the spaces.

Agents themselves will tell you that they can tell a lot by the query just by the word count. If you’re trying to pitch a 150,000-word novel that isn’t fantasy or historical romance, they’re going to assume that you are not familiar with the genre you’re attempting to write. If you write a 50,000-word mainstream title, they might assume that you do not have a fully realized idea.

I’d much rather hack away at an overwritten piece than struggle and hem and haw trying to fill up a bone-bare story. We have a wealth of words available to us at any given time. It’s up to us to sort through them to find just the right one. And I prefer having my choice, rather than unearthing them in the cold, hard ground with a broken shovel.

Just like that kid stressing out about a 1,500-word essay about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a writer is challenged to fill that word quota effortlessly. You are a wordsmith. Words are your tools. You’re expected to use them. Most of us love them to the point of eye-rolling verbosity, indulging ourselves and choking on our own self-importance.

This is a delicate balance we all manage to varying degrees of success. I myself have set aside a book before because it spent a half-page telling me about an apple.

It happens. We all walk the line between giving the reader just enough to keep them engaged and making their eyes glass over as they scroll or skip past monotonous passages.

I learned this first lesson on the subject back in 1984, when my “word count” for myself meant filling up one of those 70-page spiral notebooks. I didn’t know squat about word counts back then. I just wanted to have a physical “book” and figured the pages in between that spiral notebook cover would suffice for what I was trying to do.

It was my first real exposure crafting a long-form story, and I hate to admit that I wasn’t all that good at it.

The scene that sticks out in my mind specifically was an engagement scene between my two lead characters. My main character, Paul, was an adult when his estranged father came calling, so he had a life all his own. He had a great job (he was a lawyer,) and a steady girlfriend, (Ivy,) whom he loved, and she loved him right back.

One of the ways he tried to manage this newfound chaos in his life was taking that next step with his beloved. He would have done it anyway, but the fact that his life had been turned upside down made it even more important for him, which, one would hope, would make it even more special for the reader. All the pieces were in place. I just had to get from the beginning of the scene to the end.

What I had hoped would be a romantic scene (at the beach at sunset no less,) turned out being one of the most overwritten and painful passages I’ve ever created.

If you know me, you know that’s saying something.

As a baby storyteller, I knew instinctively that Act II demanded that my character do whatever was possible to get back to the way things were. He was desperately trying to hold on to who he was and what he knew prior to the conflict introduced by the antagonistic force, in this case his estranged dad. Looking back now, that was kind of genius that I would even come up with such a scene, since it really didn’t play into the overall arc of the story I was trying to tell. I simply added it in because I knew I needed to piece the story together and flesh it out, and this particular scene was organic to my characters and the plot.

Of course, I wasn’t going by any kind of outline back then. I wouldn’t have even known where to start filling up a story like that. I was a Pantser through and through, allowing the story to take me where it willed.

So while I didn’t set out for Paul and Ivy to get engaged, it made sense that they did.

My intentions were spot on, but my execution left a lot to be desired. If I remember right, the passage took on a playful, almost joke-y question and answer tone, where I essentially beefed up the word count by overwriting the hell out of the scene with unnecessary, on-the-nose dialogue, which effectively robbed it of its emotional impact.

After I completed the book, I turned it in to my seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Wiseman.

I didn’t do it for an assignment, just to see if I could pull it off, and I turned it into her because I think I had mentioned it to her and she had asked to see it. Bless her soul, she read the whole thing and gave me critical feedback when she was done, like only an English teacher could. She was quick to point out that I had cheated with my word count, telling me that some scenes droned on without building any tension or advancing the story.

Like say, a romantic, beachside engagement at sunset.

Just like that student who fooled nobody when he or she wrote bigger on purpose to fill a page-requirement, I was a newbie writer that had been cold busted by a reader who saw right through what I was doing when I was simply trying to get from one step to another in the plot.

We think we’re so slick. But they catch us. Oh, do they catch us.

And I knew she was right at the time. We writers know when we’ve taken shortcuts. If you get your manuscript 89% where you want it, you can be 100% sure any feedback coming will point out the 11% you tried to sweep under the rug. When the critique comes back, it’s only telling you something you already knew, even if you don’t want to acknowledge it. That’s part of the storytelling instinct as well. You know when you sink the ball. You know when it’s a foul shot.

But, and here’s the important part, you often have to miss the basket a lot to learn how to sink the ball on the regular.

Overwrite to get to that 50,000 words, it’s okay.

Remember, the first draft is for you. It’s a trial run. It’s a first effort. It’s a practice shot. You’re not going to sell it as is, no matter how perfect you get it. So if you overwrite parts just to get connect the dots, who cares? Remember, nothing you write is chiseled in stone. You can fix it later; you just need to get over the hump today. And who knows what you’ll learn about your story and your characters in the meantime?

This is the biggest reason I don’t mind overwriting in a first draft. It’s all the extra clay I need to craft my sculpture into a masterpiece. Most of it may end up on the floor, but that’s okay. What I keep is always, always more important, as is the lesson I take away from it.

I have never regretted that scene to this day because of what it taught me. I was on the right track adding a scene like that, which was doing what it was put there to do, even when I didn’t know it had that job to do in the first place. I overwrote the crap out of it, which gave me the opportunity to learn how to convey my information a little more seamlessly.

In other words, I’d still write their engagement scene if I rewrote that story today, it just wouldn’t take five pages because I had five pages to fill. It wouldn’t have ten lines of back-and-forth dialogue that didn’t advance the scene, saying basically the same thing in five different ways just because dialogue is an easy way to cheat a word count.

These days, I’d find a way to layer that scene so that it does double and triple duty. I would know why it exists and utilize it to the fullest. This is a skill I learned after years of getting the verbosity kicked out of me.

Yes. I used to be worse. If you don’t believe me, read the first draft of MY IMMORTAL that my loving husband had bound for me.

Oh wait. You can’t. Why? Because it’s a first draft… and first drafts aren’t fit for publication. If you could see it, you’d know why.

Back in my Pantser days, when I was meandering through each event, ping-ponging towards every plot point I knew had to be hit in order to tell the story, I did a lot of unnecessary writing. I honestly didn’t know what would stick and what wouldn’t. It was all part of the discovery process, which many Pantsers love. That part was for me, getting to know my story and fall in love with it through a First Draft courtship.

Communicating the idea to an audience, however, requires a little more finesse. Fewer, more carefully chosen words pack a stronger punch, which is why editing is so important to the process. I don’t care who you are, you can’t get away from that part of it. In fact, you’ll never stop tweaking it yourself. I don’t read past work because of the temptation to make tiny changes along the way.

Works of art are never finished, merely abandoned. This is why I vehemently resist the “More Time = Better Work” idea. Of course it’ll be better a year or two or five down the line, because you’ll be better. Eventually, though, you just have to pull the trigger and put your little darling on the market if you ever want to have any kind of career. Far too many writers use the “more time” thing is an excuse for timidity and never accomplish anything at all. That doesn’t automatically make them a “better” writer than someone who gets on their computer day after day, churning out thousands of words so that they can prune the tree in months rather than years to complete a project they can be proud of.

If you need extra time, by all means take it. But don’t you dare look down your nose at writers who don’t take that approach. They’re not hacks that don’t take the process as seriously as you do, just because they reach the finish line quicker than you do. It’s not a cheat. We do all the same work you do, just with a fixed date to finish. Working writers don’t have the luxury of time. They have to do their best working within a schedule, and believe me, that’s just as hard as simmering on an idea for a year, or two, or five.

We turn writing into a job, and like many other jobs, you have to wring quality out of quantity sometimes, in a very short period of time.

Screenwriting was the best teacher of all in that regard. Unlike a book, where you have room (and time) to spread out and get comfortable, each word in a 100-page screenplay is weighted. You become very adept at whittling away what doesn’t work. A scene with five pages of dialogue in a screenplay grinds the pacing to a halt. Terry Rossio, whose credits include “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Shrek,” “The Legend of Zorro” and “Aladdin,” once said that writing a screenplay is like tying together a bunch of tiny bits of rope, with each tiny piece of rope representing each and every scene. Get into the scene late and leave early. It’s the best way to keep the story flowing.

To keep things moving you have to leave breadcrumbs, not shove entire loaves down their throats. Whether a novel or a screenplay, you will have to hack to pieces whatever you write, just to protect that flow. It’s inevitable. It’s going to happen. The only thing you can do about it is make peace with the idea.

But that’s an editing issue. Right now, you’re smack dab in the middle of the creative process, and you have no idea what you’re going to use or what you’re going to discard until you can see it in the whole scope of things when you’re done, particularly if you’re a Pantser.

Overwrite. It’s okay. Aim for about 10,000 words over your word count, because I guarantee you that you’ll cut at least that many when you’re done. Add those scenes to fill up the empty spaces. Write all that on-the-nose dialogue that totally and unnecessarily narrates the action. If you’re a new writer, your instincts are firing and trying to catch on something. Give yourself room to figure out what you’re going to say so you can determine the best way to say it. Use a lot of words, those evil adverbs included. Say whatever it is you feel like you need to say to explain the story to you, because even if you’re a fastidious outliner/planner, I’m certain you’re going to make a lot of interesting discoveries along the way.

Leave the door open to that discovery. Out of those five pages of dialogue, you may land upon one killer line worth saving. You might land on one idea worth pursuing. Be willing to take the long way around. Just like taking a vacation, you won’t keep or share all the photos you take, only the ones that fully capture the feeling and the experience of your journey. Your book is no different. No matter how much effort it takes pulling each word out of your soul, not all of them will serve you in the end.

Commit to yourself that what you write in this first draft is not publishable. Remember, even the award-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird” went through two years of editing to get it where it was suitable for the market. Your book is going to be changed, whether you do it or someone else, even if you have some beautiful scenes and sharp, witty dialogue. It’s going to be forged in the white hot fires of editing, which will sacrifice the working pieces just for the overall message.

As you become more skilled, your storyteller instincts will sharpen. You’ll know what will work and what doesn’t, usually before you even write it down. In some respects you already do, like I did when I was a clueless fourteen-year-old.

If you’re stuck, just muddle your way through it. Throw all those crap words together on the page to patch a bridge from one scene to the other. Later, when you read back, you’ll know that it isn’t strong enough to keep and you’ll either change it or edit it.

Today your job is to simply keep moving. So write big. Use a lot of words. Who knows? You might even be able to keep a couple.

Started First Draft: November 16, 2015 9:51am PST
Stopped First Draft: November 16, 2015 11:50am PST
Resumed First Draft: November 16, 2015 1:37pm PST
Completed First draft: November 16, 2015 2:04pm PST
Word Count of first draft: 2,621
Completed revisions: November 18, 2015 8:04am PST
Updated WC: 3,487/58,358

Sunday, November 15, 2015

#Nanowrimo Day Fifteen: The Halfway Point Pep Talk

It’s early morning November 15, 2015, and if you’re anything like me you’re marveling how quickly the month is zipping by. Part of that, for me at least, is a product of aging; the years are passing along a lot faster than they used to. Seems like we just started 2015 yesterday, and now we’re almost to the end already. Again.

If you’ve taken on the task of writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, the days zip along a little quicker than that. Odds are you’ve added something different to your routine, by regularly planting your heinie in the chair to get your word requirements done daily or at least semi-daily. Some of you have given up quite a bit of your daily routine to get your writing done, and I commend any effort made to prioritize your writing.

Whether you’ve reached your 25,000 words yet or not, that in itself makes you a winner. You’ve realized that writing a book is a difficult task but not an impossible one. With one word at a time, you’ve made admirable progress towards a completed goal. No matter how many words you've written, you're a few steps further than you were before when it came to finishing your book. Every great journey is filled with a bunch of tiny steps. Sometimes just a little extra effort can turn into big, big things.

No matter where you are in the process, you still have the same two weeks as everyone else to put this beast to bed. Hopefully by now you’ve taught yourself that you are capable of doing that, simply by getting into that ugly, messy first draft and getting your hands a little dirty. Hopefully by now you’ve discovered that two weeks is a lot of writing time that can get you even further along the track.

Whether you finish or not, that’s the objective. Start writing. Keep writing. Finish a project.

I, for one, believe you totally have it within you to do that. Whether you do it in 30 days or not is not really the question. You were given a month simply because it’s a definite period of time. You have a beginning. You have an end. You have thirty whole days, 720 hours, 43,200 minutes… 2,592,000 seconds. That’s a whole lot of time to write 50,000 teeny, tiny words.

Hopefully by now you’ve realized that it’s not how much time you’re given, but how you use it.

Learn that little trick, and you’ll never be intimidated by another deadline ever again.

Pressured, yes. Stressed out by, sure. But scared?

Never again.

You build confidence by doing, and that’s what you’ve been doing every single time you wrote even one little word that wasn’t there before. Whether you have 25,000 words or 250, you’re still a step further than a lot of people who merely wish they could write a book. Maybe that even included you fifteen days ago.

Wishes are for dreamers. You’re a doer. You’re an ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners, Nanowrimo superstar. I don’t care where you are or how many words you’ve done. If you’ve started, you’re one of us now. Own that. Hold your head up high.

Imagine how much better that is going to feel when you cross the finish line.

Like I said, you have two weeks left, and a lot can happen in two weeks.

As for me, I’ll be turning my attention more towards the craft of not only finishing/enhancing your first draft, but tips how to edit future drafts. We have a whole lot of work ahead of us, and I’m going to assume by now that if you’ve made it to the halfway point, you’re in it for the long haul. We’ve already covered most excuses that people typically use to give up. If any of that even remotely applied to you, you’d have told me to get stuffed by the first week and gone back to your regular day-to-day, spared the chaos and stress of doing the impossible: writing a 50,000-word book in a month.

For everyone else, you’re still here for a reason. You suspect that it’s not impossible at all to complete 50,000 words. Other people have done it. You think maybe you’d like to do it, too. Down deep inside you still want to cross that finish line. And deep inside, you suspect you have what it takes to do just that.

You're right.

I can show you how to get there. You’ll still have to do the hard work yourself, but again… I totally think you can do it.

And you should believe it, too. The first step towards accomplishing anything in life is the belief that you can. Otherwise it would be pointless to try. You’d bail at the very first failure, and that’s not how you get anything done. Besides, it’s not you anyway. If you wanted to quit, you’d have taken those same excuses that derail everyone else, the ones I handed you day after day in the beginning. The fact that you’re still here, eager or willing to learn how to bust through the blocks and barriers, means giving up isn’t an option for you.

The good news is that’s exactly what kind of moxie it takes to finish a book, whether you do it in a month or not.

In case I’m being too subtle, “not going to finish in time,” is yet another excuse to quit. I’m telling you in no uncertain terms that is not acceptable.

You may have started Nano to “win” it, which is to say you wanted to write a 50,000-word book (or 50,000 words towards a longer book) in a month, but your objective is much bigger than winning some bragging rights. The point of Nano is to turn “I wish” into “I did.” What you’ll learn in this process is invaluable. Whether you write 50,000 words or 500, you will learn how to take what is in your head and put it on the page, no matter what it turns into in the process. Sometimes that’s a mess, and you’ll learn to be okay with that. I’d much rather see you attempt and fail than fear trying at all. Only one will get you to the finish line no matter how you define it.

If you’ve fallen behind, this is your challenge to get right back in the thick of it. It’s not about completing 50,000 in 15 days anymore. It’s about staying in the game and wringing everything out of the experience you can, no matter where you end up on November 30. Aim for your own bulls’ eye. Maybe you can’t complete 50,000 anymore, but you can complete 25,000. You can complete 10,000. You can get further than where you are now, and that’s sort of the point.

So keep going.

For those of you who are right on schedule, kudos. You’ve resisted every excuse and made writing your priority, getting in your word counts even when circumstances were stacked against you to do that very thing. Life doesn’t skip over you during the month of November simply because you’ve undertaken this challenge. It doesn’t show up on your doorstep, carrying calamity and discord, and then say, “Oops, sorry. I didn’t see you were doing Nano. My bad. I’ll come back later.” You’ve added Nano to your life, and if you’ve managed to keep on track that’s a major accomplishment. You’re on track to be one of a very small percentage of “winners.” Yay, you!

Now keep going.

If you’ve already “won,” by writing your 50,000 words already just to get ahead of the game, congratulations. You’ve taken what others have said is impossible and made it look easy, even when it wasn’t. You’ve proven you are a Nano Ninja Warrior, and I have to say I like your style. You have determination and drive, and you know how to channel that into action. Writers like you challenge me to up my own game. “Deadlines? I don’t need no stinking deadlines!” No excuses, no limitations. You’ve got what it takes to go very far indeed.

So keep going.

The next part of the book will give you the tools you need to start turning that lump of clay into a masterpiece. We’ll even get into marketing and publishing a little later on. There’s a lot of ground yet to cover to get you ever closer to that next step in your journey.

In the meantime, take a moment to revel in the accomplishment, because it’s pretty huge. I’m proud of how far you’ve come, no matter how far that is. Tomorrow we get back into the nuts and bolts of writing.

Today we celebrate how far we’ve come, no matter how far that is, and we regroup for what comes next.

It ain’t over. It's only beginning.

Started First Draft: November 15, 2015 8:00am PST
Completed First draft: November 15, 2015 8:52am PST
Word Count of first draft: 1,372
Completed revisions: November 15, 2015 9:40am PST
Updated WC: 1,516/54,868

Saturday, November 14, 2015

#Nanowrimo Day Fourteen: When Life Pushes the Pause Button

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far as what can be considered an “excuse” to stop writing. Writer’s “block.” Ineffective plotting/planning. The fear of inadequacy. The flighty nature of the muse.

None of these are acceptable excuses to stop writing because they’re all things that will plague you the rest of your writer life. The only difference between a hobbyist and a professional is that one allows these things to stop them, and the other does not. If you want to turn this into a job, you have to learn how to manage these things and power through.

I’ll admit I’ve been pretty hard on everyone, cracking that whip like I’m known to do. I do it to myself all the time, which is why I’ve been able to accomplish what I’ve been able to accomplish.

Sometimes, though, life comes knocking at the door and cannot be ignored. Many times this unwelcome visitor comes bearing unexpected gifts, like chaos that you’ll have to manage first and foremost so that you can get back to writing.

It’s inevitable, really. Life has a habit of making a mockery of all your best-laid plans.

Knowing this, I had already outlined a spot for it during the midway part of the month just to show how this works in practice, fitting into an actual working writer’s life.

Sadly, I’ve been expecting real life to pay me an unwelcome call this month, due at any moment. My mother has been put into hospice care and is not doing well, which means I’m not doing all that well. Most times, including a couple of times this year already, the Grim Reaper doesn’t give me a heads' up. Of all the (many) deaths of my loved ones, most have been a complete shock/surprise. (My dad when I was 11, my uncle when I was 13. My 2-year-old niece when I was 14. My 9-day old son, my first husband, my sweet and wonderful friend James.) Only with my Aunt Eleanor, my Uncle Mac and my mother has there been any warning.

It’s almost worse somehow. The mourning period has begun, even though – technically speaking – there’s nothing quite yet to mourn. She’s still here but she isn’t. And I’ve had a bitch of a time managing how I feel about it.

Mostly I’ve been powering through, keeping myself busy and focused on the Nano project as a means to cope. But I knew that there would be a day (at least) at some point this month that I’d want to call a Time Out. Plus there’s my birthday, there’s Thanksgiving… real life is happening all over the place, and it’s up to me to figure out where to fit the writing into it.

The deadline is set. The word requirement is set. Our lives? Not so much. Things happen, and that’s just the reality.

I wanted to show that in practice, too. Though I respect Stephen King to the moon and back, I’ve never been an “X-number of words a day” writer. My life, such as it is, has always demanded a more fluid schedule, and that’s never been truer than when I became a full-time writer.

I wanted to use this chapter to show you how to keep balance. To show that sometimes it’s necessary (and okay) to walk away from the material. If you’re writing something heavy and you need to skip a day to mentally regroup, there’s nothing at all wrong with that approach. To complete Nanowrimo, you simply need to finish 50,000 words in a month. How you fit them into that month is up to you.

I prefer to stay ahead of the game, writing as much as I can when I can, to allow for this time off that I know I’ll need or suspect I’ll need. Instead of writing 2,000 words per day every day, some days I’ll write 5,000 and some days I’ll write nothing at all. Some days it’s like pulling teeth just to reach 1,000 words, and that’s never a fun experience.

I double up whenever possible to make room for those days. I don’t know when I’ll need them, just that I’ll need them, and I like to be prepared, even for those things for which you can never prepare.

Then, Friday 13, 2015 happened. Then Paris happened. And I really don’t think I need to add any more on how priorities can shift on a dime.

We’re going to take a break today, and it’s going to be okay. We may have to double our output tomorrow, and that’s okay, too. This is all part of the process.

Sometimes it can even work in your favor. Instead of one bad day where you have to pull a bunch of crap words out of your keister with a rusty pair of needle-nose pliers, you can take a break and come back in that ring swinging. You’ll throw down a thousand words or two without any effort at all, just because you took a few moments to sit on that stool and refocus.

Even though you won’t be producing content, your mind will be hard at work on your WIP anyway. Let it simmer in your subconscious. Much of what you do as a creative artist is mental, as your beautiful mind ticks away with all sorts of ideas that it can consider and discard before you ever commit anything to paper.

This time away from the keyboard will develop that muscle. Pro-tip, though. Take notes of anything that does come to you in the down time. If you’re lucky, your characters will keep whispering to you in those quiet moments when you regroup, which will encourage you to jump back into it as soon as you’re ready and able.

In the meantime, find a way to reclaim your zen. I personally like walks at the park, around nature, where it’s green. Exercise works well. Listen to music. Go to a museum or art gallery, immerse yourself in other forms of creative expression to renew the soul. Sometimes just catching a silly movie with your bestie is all the shot in the arm you need. Meditate. Try hypnotherapy. Even better, read. I usually find that I can’t make it a page or two before I jump back into my WIP, inspired and renewed to finish my own project.

Whatever you need to do to take care of you needs no permission or apology.

Life will hit the pause button every now and again, and that's okay.

Do whatever you can, to be ready, to take control, so that you can resume "play" tomorrow.

Started First Draft: November 14, 2015 4:01pm PST
Completed First draft: November 14, 2015 5:06pm PST
Word Count of first draft: 1,008
Completed revisions: November 14, 2015 5:49pm PST
Updated WC: 1,129/53,350

Friday, November 13, 2015

#Nanowrimo Day Thirteen: Slaying the Competion

Welcome to Day Thirteen. This particular year it falls on a Friday, which is an interesting day to cross over the 50,000-word mark to say the least. Technically that means I’ll have “won” Nanowrimo, even though the book isn’t finished. Even if I had written an entire book by now, it isn’t finished.


I can’t write a Nano book and not address all the hard work you need to put in after that first draft is done. We have a lot more ground to cover, and cover it we shall.

But what better day to handle the idea of competition than the day that I arguably “defeat” it?

I feel your feathers ruffling already. But stick with me, I have a point.

Nanowrimo spurs the competitive streak within us all, to come out on top of the pack. If only 20% of participants cross the finish line on any given year, those who are driven to be the best of the best will do whatever they can do to meet that challenge, to claim that coveted status.

One of my favorite “reality” shows is “American Ninja Warrior.” Inspired by a Japanese athletic competition called “Sasuke,” ANW features a ridiculously difficult obstacle course run in four stages of increasing difficulty.

To tell you how impossible this challenge can be, it took seven years for anyone to reach stage 4.

We were watching a show for seven seasons that literally had no “winner," if you count "winning" as completing the entire course.

But that didn’t take anything away from the show. Not by a long shot. The fact that it was so hard to master made us root for these athletes even more. It made those athletes train even harder. The fact that it had proven impossible didn’t matter one iota to any of us.

We wanted to see someone do the impossible. That was why we tuned in.

The best part about this show was that the athletes themselves rooted just as hard for their competitors as they did for themselves. They understood how difficult the course was. Anyone who conquered a course demanded their immediate respect.

Though they each competed for the million-dollar prize at the end, they knew their ultimate competition wasn’t the guy or girl standing next to them. It was the athlete inside that wanted to beast that course just to prove they could.

That’s kind of how I look at Nano, without (most of) the personal injury.

It’s one more chance to prove we can do something that others dismiss as impossible.

I know that’s why I personally respond so well to it, and perhaps what drives those who do win to keep going until they cross the finish line. Of the hundreds of thousands who start, only a small fraction ever finishes this obstacle course, which – for any writer at least–is just as daunting as an ANW course. It demands your very best on a daily basis, and not everyone is willing or able to meet that challenge.

The same could be said of anything worth doing.

Whether Nano, ANW or getting a promotion at your job, here’s the real truth: the only people we compete against during any challenge are ourselves. It’s not a matter of being “better” than anyone else. It’s proving we have what it takes to meet insane challenges that prove the impossible is possible. And that will be true for you your whole career as a professional writer. If money is the true mark of success, around the same number who complete Nano make any kind of money selling their books, and even fewer “crack the code” to become notable doing it.

The reason isn’t because there’s a limited amount of money to be spent on books. There’s an unlimited amount of money to be spent on books. It’s an industry worth billions of dollars. It isn’t because readers only have a slot or two open for the writers they’ll read. Some read every single book they can get their hands on. They love to read. They love to find new authors to read. New authors equal new books. For bibliophiles, there’s really nothing better than the idea of a new book. Why do you think we all walk into bookstores like we’ve reached our own personal Nirvana? Show of hands how many of you could spend hours prowling a bookstore, whether a big, three-story Barnes & Nobel or that dinky little used bookstore just around the corner.

Show of hands of people who have done both, usually within the last year.

This isn’t about who beats whom. If you write a book, and you publish a book, and you sell a book that a reader then reads and enjoys the book, you’ve won. You’ve done what they told you could not be done, because the odds are so stacked against you. It is a victory against anyone who ever told you that you should have a Plan B, because making it in this business was an impossible dream.

When I complete Nano on time or early, it isn’t to rub it in the face of any other participant who isn’t there yet. It’s to thumb my nose at all the people who say that it can’t be done, that it’s too hard, that it’s impossible.

It isn't impossible, because I just did it. That was what this experiment set out to prove.

It’s difficult, granted. It takes time and effort and focus and determination, but it’s not impossible.

All of my heroes are writing powerhouses, none of whom need the kick in the ass that Nano provides; they were just driven to create something concrete.

We talked somewhat about my adoration of John Hughes. I honestly don’t think the 1980s would have been the same without him. He’s the one who inspired me to put heart into my stories, whatever they happened to be. His were stories about human connection, about family and friendship and love, and the triumph of the human spirit. Yeah, sometimes, most times, they came dressed up in juvenile humor, but it was humor with a heart. And that will always, always, always inspire me to make each and every story I write as emotionally significant.

I want to write something that, in thirty years, younger generations will still remember, and respect.

Not bad for a movie written over a weekend. Just sayin.'

I’ll never be John Hughes, and that’s okay. It’s not my job to be him or to beat him. My only obligation in this business is to be myself, and offer what no other writer can: Me. It’s up to me to up my game and run my own race, since that’s the only way I’ll ever “win” in the first place.

Our business is one where the outsiders like to compare us to each other, but it’s sheer creative suicide if we do it to ourselves. The reason we write isn’t to be better than anyone else. Though we have to fight for each and every dollar we make, we’re not in competition with each other for that dollar. It’s not like each reader only has one slot to fill for the books that they read, the money that they spend or the authors that they love. Just because I have a dozen favorites doesn’t mean that I’ll shut off reading anyone else. I’m excited to find new books to read and new authors to enjoy. There’s room for all of us. And we can all be successful, if we just concentrate on winning our own race and making each book we write the very best it can be.

Then, and only then, will we “crack the code,” finding our own little corner of the universe to rule.

There’s a reader for every book. Some readers read hundreds of books a year, and seek out new authors to read constantly. It isn’t about being better than another writer. It’s being so good that the audience buys two books instead of one.

If you get into the nasty little habit of comparing yourself against every other writer, be prepared for a lot of bitterness and resentment. Though we all do the same work, opportunity and chance are fickle mistresses who light upon whomever they choose for no reason at all. You can put in the time, do everything right, and watch someone who “took shortcuts” or “didn’t take the craft as seriously” or “sell out” race ahead of you, making more money than you could ever imagine, while your book languishes in digital purgatory somewhere, some forgotten link on Amazon.

You’re not automatically rewarded in this business by the hard work and effort you put into it, which is what makes it so frustrating. There are no Paint-By-Numbers guidelines anywhere that guarantee your success. Your success is not guaranteed, certainly in the ways that most define it (monetary compensation and recognition.) Your “success,” whether it’s writing a bestselling book or doing this as a full-time job or winning awards, usually depends on someone else entirely, namely all the readers out there who just want a good book to read that they can connect with.

You can control one, but not the other.

All you can control is what you produce. Each book is a brand new opportunity to teach yourself something new, to stretch outside your boundaries… to grow, so that you can find that magical connection one day.

Often you do this by grasping the hands of other writers who have gotten a little ahead of you in the journey, so they can guide you where you need to go. They aren’t your enemy, not by a long shot. They’re the only ones who truly understand you and your journey, and to set yourself up in competition of them is unwise and even self-destructive.

We aren’t mired in some competition, ready to take each other down in some battle to the death. We’re blessed to be a community, who hold each other up on the shoulders of greatness, a greatness we had to fight for one word at a time like everyone else.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for other writers. One of the greatest influences of my professional career is my very good friend, Marie D. Jones. We met in the 1990s when I worked for a photographer, who conducted business out of her personal apartment. Marie happened to live in that apartment building and, ever so fortuitously, was looking for a job. She came to work with us, where we bonded immediately over shared creative vision. She was an aspiring writer/screenwriter, too. In fact, she was the first one to tell me, outside of my agent at least, that I could totally write a screenplay if I wanted, when such an idea seemed so far-fetched at the time.

I had no idea how to write a screenplay, even if I had plenty of ideas what to write for one.

In 2010, she was the one who gave me the “No Plan B,” advice that [50,000-limit officially reached] ignited my own professional writing career. She’s the one who ultimately introduced me to my agent, and remained a bug in her ear for years to tell her that I was good enough to represent until that’s exactly what happened.

She’s the one who read all those sophomoric attempts that should have embarrassed me to show anyone, since they were so raw and incomplete, but she didn’t see the flaws like I did. She saw the potential, and encouraged me to reach for it, giving me hints, advice and support to do it. Simply put: I wouldn’t have grown into the writer I am today had she not been there to guide the path.

This is why it’s so important to foster relationships with other writers. Join a writing club. Join organizations. Participate in groups. Share your work. Commiserate. Lean on one another.

These are the only people who truly understand what you’re going through.

Like I said, there are no guidelines. No one gets up the mountain exactly the same way. You never know what is going to work until it does, and who better to offer suggestions than someone who is already a little further up that mountain than you?

When I started writing screenplays, I found myself a community full of people who were in the very same boat I was in. We all wanted to crack the code and get our foot in the door, so we all helped each other wherever we could. We’d post pages for feedback from others. We’d give feedback on those pages posted by someone else.

Some of the people in that group did indeed crack the code. That was where I chatted with screenwriter Gary Whitta about zombies in the early 2000s, way before he made a name for himself writing “The Book of Eli.”

That was where I met William C. Martell, a ridiculously prolific screenwriter with dozens of films to his credit. He shared his wisdom then, he shares it now.

That was where I met a cowriter who put me in contact with a director he knew, who was looking for a vampire script to produce. Even though my option fell through, I learned more from those five months of screenwriting than I ever could have learned from any book or course.

It’s important to foster this community. It’s important to utilize it, as a source of education and inspiration. It’s important to embrace it, not as a battle to be won. There is room for everyone at the table.

Art is subjective. This is not something you get into in order to “be better than.” Your success depends on your own personal excellence, not whether or not you can best another writer. You may think you're better than [insert name of hacky, overrated writer here] and some readers may agree. Others may inhale whatever [hacky overrated writer] produces like a can of potato chips. We like what we like, and that's just the way it is. When they pick up your book, readers want to know only one thing. Can you write a great book? By great, I mean a book that someone pays money for and loves and remembers, because that’s the only measure of greatness that really counts in this business.

This personal excellence doesn’t depend on squashing someone else underfoot, and if it does... that doesn't speak too highly of your confidence in your own writing. If you've written the best book you can as effectively as you can, you don't worry about what anyone else is doing. You know that you've done the very best you could, producing a book only you could produce, and ultimately it will find an audience based on its own merit, not the rise and fall of anyone else.

I didn’t start participating in Nano to beat the ones who didn’t/couldn’t finish. Since that's what is commonly expected, you get a ribbon just for giving it a whirl. I wanted more than a participation ribbon. I started participating so I could stand shoulder to shoulder with those who did, because that is what everyone thinks is impossible.

I wanted to belong to the club, and I knew I would have to earn my place by doing what others say cannot be done.

Trust me, you’re going to see people succeed that you don’t think are any "good," or – the more sinful admission – “as good as you.” One of the most successful books in the last decade was widely panned for being poorly written. Yet it made money hand over fist, which can piss off anyone who has devoted years of their lives to get their books as perfect as they can possibly get them.

It didn’t matter what the critics said. The book reached an audience who passionately embraced it, and that’s a win. That it launched other careers by other talented unknowns is an ever bigger win, for all of us. It turned people onto reading, which pumped billions of dollars into our industry and sold millions of books, a few of my own included.

How can I hate on that?

If you place yourself in competition with other people, you’re going to set yourself up for bitter disappointment. This is a business where no two races to the top are identical. You can’t get mired down with what other people are doing, because it’s simply unfair to compare. What worked for them may not work for you. And that’s okay. What you have to offer is so radically different anyway, simply because it came from you.

Why do you think I speak out so vehemently about those who want to impose their own personal limitations on other writers?

“You can’t write a book in a month.”

No, you can’t write a book in a month. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Writers do it all the time. And those books sell, by the way. Those books go on to be bestselling books, as well as money-making movies. Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants” started as a Nanowrimo project. Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in six weeks, to get it on the market in time for the holidays, as egregious as any money-grab that these naysayers constantly condemn as “hackish” behavior.

Yet it’s a classic. It’s beloved and revered, and it is retold again and again, revisited again and again, because each new generation just can’t get enough of it.

Not bad for a hack. Just sayin.’

I’m more of a “possibilities” kind of gal. I don’t like restrictions. If someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m immediately inspired to prove them wrong. I like knowing that the world is as infinite as my power to make my place in it.

I’m not worried about being better than Danielle Steel or EL James or Nicholas Sparks. I’m focused on being the best Ginger Voight I can be, so that her name can be found among them one day.

Getting there. Slowly. I'm so focused on getting up that mountain that I don't really have the time or energy to worry about what other people are doing or not doing. I’m doing it my way, because I get to. You can do it your way, because you get to. Neither way is right or wrong, and can be as different as you can possibly imagine.

Why would we ever want to compare the two?

Believe in yourself and what you can do. Prove it to yourself on a daily basis. When possible, go beyond that invisible line and surprise yourself with how amazing you can be. It’s totally within your power to do that, and you should go for broke whenever the opportunity presents itself. In anything, not just the writing.

Yeah, sometimes you’ll fall flat on your face, which gets a whole lot harder to do as more and more people take notice and start watching. But every single time you get up, you’re learning something new about yourself.

Most of all, you’re learning how much this dream means to you, and how much crap you’re willing to wade through to make it happen.

For some of us, that means writing a book in 30 days just to prove that we can. Whether or not it’s a good book… shrug. As always, that’s for the audience to decide.

All you can control is what you do, which has dick to do with what anyone else is doing.

At the end of the day, you’re the only one on the hook for your own accomplishments. So run your own race. And, wherever possible, support others as they run theirs.

Your homework tonight is finding/renting/watching “Authors Anonymous,” the 2014 movie starring Kaley Cuoco, which highlights in painfully comedic ways how silly it is to compete against other writers, even though that's often exactly what we do.

Tomorrow we continue the race to finish a book in 30 days. Not everyone can do that, but if you’re still with me, fighting for each and every word, staying in this race and not giving up, daring to prove the impossible is possible, I’ve got an inkling you just may.

Let’s do this.


Started First Draft: November 13, 2015 1:16pm PST
Completed First draft: November 12, 2015 2:19pm PST
Word Count of first draft: 2,037
Completed revisions: November 12, 2015 4:21pm PST
Updated WC: 3,203/52,211