Category Archives: Perseverance

The dangers and rewards of fear.

Girl Sitting On Ruins (c) Belovodchenko Anton

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”

Motivation is important. And not just for characters. A thousand things can motivate you and a thousand things can tear you down. Sometimes, the same thing can do both. Fear is one of those things.

If you’ve ever read a list of phobias, you know you can be afraid of anything and everything. Some of it may make sense to an outsider, a lot of it doesn’t. Either way, it’s all in their head, but that doesn’t make it any less real to the person experiencing that fear.

Fear can be debilitating or it can push you to be better, stronger, braver than you ever thought possible. It all depends on whether you let it motivate you or cripple you. The bonus/bright side/silver lining is that you’re not alone trying to find the right side of that line. Everyone deals with it. Especially authors.

One of my editresses recently posted about fear. On her blog she talks about the intense process writing book one in her series was and how she now fears she’ll have to go through that same process every time she sits down to craft a new story. Danielle said,

As you know, I wrote Follow Me Through Darkness eight times before I got it right. And while it’s awesome that I kept at it, it sure did a number on me. I don’t think I realized that until this week. Now, I have this crippling of fear of writing ALL my books eight times. And well, when you’re working on the sequel to the book that caused all the fear, it can be pretty daunting.

No. Not daunting, terrifying. I’m terrified.

Not of the book (though there are missing pieces and I’m working with a MC who is NOT forthcoming at all) but because I don’t want to fail. Guys, I don’t want to re-write this book eight times. That worry is almost debilitating, and with FMTD2, it made me not know how to start and to question everything from my characters to my plot to myself.

So how do you do it? How do you trample fear down into something manageable, something motivating? There’s no right answer to that question, but Jody Hedlund talks about clinging to hope:

I share all of my insecurities for a couple of reasons.
One, I want to show that nobody always has it all together all the time.
Insecurities happen no matter where we’re at in our publication journeys. We all ride the waves of doubt.
Two, I want to encourage us not to let the waves of insecurities drown us. When we feel like we’re sinking, we need to keep paddling forward anyway. The difference between those who make it and those who don’t is the ability to persevere. Some give up too soon. Those who keep writing and growing are bound to get where they want to go eventually.
I try to cling to hope and remember these things:

Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do. ~H Jackson Brown Jr.

Never, never, never give up. ~Winston Churchill

Believe you can, and you’re halfway there. ~Theodore Roosevelt

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on. ~Thomas Jefferson

A good laugh and a long sleep are the two of the best cures for anything. ~Irish Proverb

A little fear is a good thing. It nibbles away at ego and keeps us from thinking we can do no wrong. Too much fear devours self-confidence and starts making us believe we can’t do anything right. Use fear to keep pushing you to be better, to make your next book even more compelling than your last, but be careful about how wide you open the floodgates. The line between too much and just right is microscopically thin.

Why I won’t finish every book I start writing.

Old Road (c) greenchild

I had a realization this weekend. One that beautifully illustrated just how little I understand the workings of my own mind. I should be used to moments like this by now, but I’m not. It’s still weird.

At this moment, I have 31 standalone novels or series in progress. Yes, seriously. 31. I just counted. It’d be higher if I counted the books in a series individually. That seems like a lot, but what I realized this weekend is that at least 20 of those will never, ever, be published. They probably won’t even be finished. The purpose of this post is for me to try to explain why. Hopefully I can phrase it in a way that makes sense.

My subconscious works in strange ways and I’ve noticed that several stories will spring into my mind that all focus on a different angle of the same idea. I’ll start writing–usually getting between 5,000 to 20,000 words in–and then stop because either I don’t know where to go from there or another idea hits me and I start working on that one instead. This may seem like a waste of time to some people, but it’s not to me. What I didn’t realize until now is that this is how I explore different variations and angles of a core idea. Sometimes the idea isn’t even what I thought I was concentrating on. One of my newest projects, for example, pulls in an idea I’ve had floating around in my head for over a year with another idea I’ve tried to focus a story on a couple of times already. Only now that I’ve combined the two am I seeing the whole plot laid out in front of me and the possibilities for an entire world blooming around it. Only now do I have a story that might actually see the light of day in a few years.

The same thing happened with The Dream War Saga, as well. I realized when I constructed the world outside of Sing, Sweet Nightingale and looked at the way their universe works that I’d mirrored it on the world I’d dreamed up for my first failed series. The similarities were almost disconcerting until I saw that first series as a way to work out the kinks in an incredibly complex idea.

I’m trying to make a couple of points by poorly explaining this “Aha!” moment of mine.

1) Don’t let anyone tell you the way you work is wrong. Should you try other methods to see if they work better? Sure. Should you give up on yours just because it doesn’t make sense to someone else? NO. A lot of people would look at my folder of forgotten stories and shake their head over all the “wasted words,” but anything that gets you a step closer to having a finished, polished, beautiful book isn’t wasted.

2) It’s okay if you don’t finish everything. Sometimes you have an idea that’s just the beginning of something better. If you find yourself slogging through the first draft and hating it, consider putting it aside. Maybe you’ll find the inspiration you need to go back to it or maybe it was never meant to be finished. Maybe it was just a way for you to work out the answer to a question you didn’t know needed to be asked.

Edited to add: Just noticed this is my 300th post! Woohoo! Somehow I haven’t let this drop by the wayside yet! I’m very proud of myself. 😀

Decisions, choices, and sacrifices.

There May Be Trouble Ahead 2 (c) B Cleary

There is no right way to get where you want to go. At least, not when we’re speaking metaphorically. There are methods that make the most logical sense, but there’s always at least one story about someone who went in the complete opposite (and seemingly roundabout) direction and ended up being wildly successful. The point is, you have to find the path that works for you.

This is good, general advice for life, but right now I’m thinking about it more in the context of writing and the choices writers have to make early in their careers. Most authors will warn you not to quite your day job too early, but what about switching jobs? Cutting back? Giving yourself something with fewer hours and less stress and making do with less money for a while? That’s what I’m considering right now. Cause, in the end, being happy is a lot more important than extra money, yes? Plus, I’m counting on the possibility that one day what makes me happy will be bringing in my extra money. 😉

Sometimes writing is about as fun as resetting a broken bone

Writing – (c) Elisa Xyz

My goal this weekend was to work on a short story I’m trying to finish this week. I knew where I was heading and so, in theory, this should have been a cinch.

Turns out, it wasn’t.

I got very inventive at avoiding sitting down at my computer to write this weekend. Saturday I finished switching bedrooms by organizing all of my books onto their new shelves. I even took the time to put a bunch of unorganized pictures into photo albums. This is a project I should have done years ago considering some of the pictures were from elementary school. Sunday I played around online for a while and then decided I needed to get some sun, so I went out to the pool for an hour or two. It was while I was baking in the blistering Florida sun that I finally realized why I was avoiding my story.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know what the next scene was or didn’t know my character or any of that, I just didn’t want to write it. I knew what was coming and it was going to be painful for both me and my character and I didn’t want to face it. Luckily, once I understood this, it was easier to take a deep breath, sit myself down at my desk, and plow through that scene. Everything is moving forward again and the end is in sight. Yay!

The lesson to be learned from my weekend o’ procrastination is that it isn’t always your story blocking you from writing. Sometimes you need to look at what’s coming and realize you’re not willing to face what you’re about to put your characters through. Maybe that will be enough for you to change the plot and maybe not, but it’s something to keep in mind when you just can’t seem to force yourself to place your fingers on the keyboard and go.

Debuts: Why Publishing Your First Novel Is Like Running For Student Body President

Because this is a topic much on my mind lately, I found this post on Writers Digest extraordinarily timely! I also loved the comparisons and the fresh way of looking at things. I enjoyed it so much I’m reposting the entire thing here. 😀

Why Publishing Your First Novel Is Like Running For Student Body President
By Michelle Haimoff
Guest column by Michelle Haimoff, writer and blogger whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Huffington Post. Her first novel, THESE DAYS ARE OURS (Feb. 2012, Grand Central, starred review from Publishers Weekly), is available nationwide. She can be found blogging on and on Facebook and Twitter.

Picture being a new student at a high school where you don’t know anyone (1). And now picture dementedly wanting to run for school president (2). Lord knows why you want to run for school president, but maybe you think you’d make a terrific president. You have really good ideas and if people would just give you a chance you could make this school the greatest school the world has ever seen (3). You know it’s a long shot but it can be done, so you set out to do it.
1 – writing your first novel
2 – publishing your first novel
3 – it is possible that your novel doesn’t suck

You start making signs (4) and trying to get student groups (5) to let you talk at their meetings . But nobody knows you so they tell you that they don’t have time for you to talk at their meetings (6). The kids on Yearbook (7), Model UN (8) and Debate Team (9) won’t even look at you (10) when you approach them. The ones in Band (11) and Chess Club (12) say no way, but the Community Service Committee (13) says they’ll think about it. You make sure to say hi to all Community Service Club members in the hallways (14) anytime you pass them. They never say hi back.
4 – writing emails
5 – newspapers and magazines
6 – review your book
7 – The New Yorker
8 – New York Review of Books
9 – The New York Times
10 – respond to your emails
11 – Daily Beast
12 – Salon

13 – The Atlantic Salmon Journal
14 – retweet their tweets

Your signs (15) are made out of loose leaf (16) and graph paper (17) because you’re paying for them with your own money and you can’t afford oak tag (18). But you notice that other candidates, the jocks maybe, have signs (19) that are professionally laser printed (20) and hang as banners in the hallways (21). You look at your dinky graph paper sign and then at the enormous sign in the hallway and you wonder how you’re ever going to get anyone to vote for you (22). Also, you wonder where they got the money for those signs. But you shrug it off and keep your head up because you’re an optimist (23). An unrelenting optimist (24).
15 – publicity
16 – Facebook status updates
17 – tweets
18 – a publicist
19 – personal websites
20 – really fucking well designed
21 – come up first in a Google search
22 – buy your book
23 – an idiot
24 – an idiot with an inflated sense of self

Every so often you stand at the entrance to the cafeteria (25) and take an informal poll to see how many students are planning to vote for you (26). One day two students tell you that they’ll vote for you (27)! But moments later the captain of the football team trips you (28) causing you to run and hide (29).
25 – go on Amazon
26 – check your ranking
27 – you were ranked lower than #400,000
28 – Amazon recommends that you check out the Fifty Shades Trilogy
29 – close all tabs

At this point you have a moment of sanity and wonder what the hell you were thinking running for office. There’s no way you’re going to win (30), you should just be focusing on your homework (31) and graduation (32). It is at that moment that French Club (33) tells you they want you to speak at their next meeting (34). You have tried so hard for so long and you are overjoyed by this minor victory. You come out of the meeting knowing that you got more votes.
30 – make any money doing this
31 – getting an office job
32 – saving up for retirement
33 – a blog you’ve never heard of
34 – is going to review your book

The election comes and goes and you don’t become student body president, but you don’t get the least number of votes either (35). The kids that voted for you (36) wish you better luck when you run next year (37). And now you actually have some friends in this school, or at least more people to say hi to in the hallways (38). And because you really don’t know when to quit, you think, “Hmmm. Maybe I will run again next year (39)… maybe I will (40)…”
35 – some books aren’t even in the top #400,000 on Amazon
36 – your readers
37 – tell you that they’re looking forward to your next book
38 – Twitter followers
39 – there is this other book idea I have…
40 – and my second novel will definitely sell better than my first…

Publishing: Publishers And The Path To Success

As an unpublished author, publication is almost always on my mind. This means I usually stop and read articles I stumble across that have anything to do with publishers, successful publication, etc. One post I found recently was written by author Chris Eboch about midlist authors and their departure to the world of self-publishing.

Chris starts off by saying:

They often start with their out-of-print books and then do well enough that they consider self-publishing their new work. The numbers may not be huge yet, but they are growing, and if the publishing business doesn’t change, publishers will lose their midlist – books that don’t make a fortune but sell enough to pay their expenses and help keep everybody in business.

 This is a valid point. I’ve heard from a few midlist authors who have essentially given up on their publishers because they aren’t given the attention, recognition, or marketing backup they deserve. Do their books sell millions of copies? Not usually. But they do sell enough to pay the rent and that position deserves respect. Holly Lisle is one author I know of who has taken her fate into her own hands and is publishing stories the way she wants. JA Konrath is another and he’s been doing very well for himself in self-publishing. How can publishers combat this exodus? Chris Eboch had an idea.

These days, you’re probably hearing a lot about “brand building” for authors, the idea that you should stand for something specific. Yet many publishers haven’t embraced the concept themselves.
If you know that a certain publisher always produces well-edited and well-designed books with a specific, narrow focus that matches your interests, you’ll trust them and look for their books. You might even buy directly through their website, which means higher profits for the publisher.
Small publishers can keep a narrow focus more easily (such as a regional focus), but bigger companies could do it as well. Tor, for example, is known for fantasy and science fiction, while Poisoned Pen Press focuses on mystery, as you could probably guess from the name. “Harlequin is Romance” as their tagline says, and specific Harlequin lines follow clear guidelines on subject matter and tone. But who goes out of their way to pick up a book by Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins? What do those names mean?
Big publishers publish too great a variety to brand themselves by genre, but many include imprints with a narrower focus, though few of those are known outside the business. If publishers develop imprint brands with a clear, narrow focus, and promote those, they might build customer loyalty.
And if they promote the brand rather than promoting a few titles each season, that would also be an advantage to mid-list and new authors, who’d benefit by the association even if they get no individual publicity.

 The simple brilliance of the idea is kind of amazing. Why haven’t the publishing companies thought of this? Establishing these brands in the public mind would be challenging, but not impossible, and it would definitely be more cost effective than individually promoting a large number of debut and midlist authors.

Life: Playing Catch Up

It seems like whenever I get rolling on a project, something comes along that completely derails me. This time the project is my novel with co-conspirator Lani Woodland and the derailment is a full six days (including weekend) of non-stop work.

Now I need to figure out what I missed out on in my new novel project and what work (for the job I actually get paid for) fell by the wayside while I was out of town. Just trying to get it organized is a little overwhelming. Why is it that whenever I play catch up I somehow end up further behind?

Despite my derailment, my project with Lani is actually moving ahead at a clipping pace! Kind of like those adorable pigs! 😀 We’re about a third of the way through a very rough first draft and I think it’s shaping into something interesting and definitely worth sharing. Eventually. Maybe. After a lot of editing. 🙂

Also, don’t forget to enter my giveaway! Only a few days left until the prizes are awarded.

Writing: Getting Unstuck

Sometimes you’re not blocked so much as stuck. For example, I have about twenty-five different novel projects because random bits of dialogue and setting pop into my head, but only seven of them contain more than a couple scenes. Sometimes these incomplete ideas are because I haven’t invested time in plotting the story, but sometimes I just get stuck. This isn’t always the same as writer’s block (the difference for me is when I’m blocked I can’t write ANYTHING, but when I’m stuck I just can’t write anything for a particular project), but how do you get unstuck?

This article from Writer’s Digest showed up in my inbox a little while ago and it offers a few different ideas to move you forward. The author specifically talks about research, conflict, and genre switching to help open your mind to possibilities, but these aren’t the only possibilities. Switch POVs and try writing a scene or two from a different character’s eyes. Try writing a scene completely unconnected with the story where your characters have to deal with an extremely odd situation (OMG! Where did all those tiny ninjas come from?!). There’s no wrong answer, but that’s really because there’s no right answer. No solution is guaranteed. On top of that, the solution that gets you unstuck on one project might not work on your next. Also, you should try a few different methods, but don’t let yourself get distracted researching cures for writer’s block. Sometimes a story isn’t working because it doesn’t work. If that’s the case, you might be sitting there forever if you don’t one day realize it’s time to throw in the towel.

Other articles you might find useful:
Advanced Fiction
Cynthia Sally Haggard
Psychology Today

Writing: Getting Back On The Ball

There are a lot of things in life that can be compared to riding a bicycle. Not actually riding it, but getting back onto one after weeks or months or years. You may be shaky at first, but you never really forget how to do it. Writing is like riding a bicycle.

The words are always locked inside your head, the stories are always a part of your imagination, and whether you’re aware of it or not, you have a city filled with characters just waiting for their chance to tell their story. No matter how long you stay away from the computer or your notebooks or the scraps of paper you use to record your stories, they’ll always come back to you if you sit down and listen.

It just might take a while.

Nathan Bransford, agent turned middle-grade author, posted about coming back from a break on his blog yesterday. He gives writers six guidelines for getting through the initial return to writing:

1) Know that your first day back will not be productive
2) Don’t head straight for the novel
3) Badger yourself into opening up your novel and getting started again even if it feels like you are peeling off your own skin. 
4) Start somewhere easy
5) Don’t get down on yourself
6) Follow up with a good day of writing     

Whether or not these apply to every person or every situation, they’re still good, solid pieces of advice.  Nathan goes into more detail than this on each point in his post, but you still get the main idea from his headlines. Having “returned” a few times in the past few years, I can tell you that this is pretty accurate to what you’ll face when you try to get back on the ball. Most of the time. There are exceptions, of course. Usually those exceptions involve huge bursts of inspiration, but don’t hold out for one of those. If you’re determined, just start writing. The rest will come.

Writing: Hobbies, Interests, and Obsessions

I do not have what you may term an addictive personality. I’ve never idolized rock stars or actors, never followed sports teams, never consumed information on a single topic until i could call myself an expert. I’ve never been obsessive about anything with one huge exception: Books.

A lot of parents have to bribe and cajole their kids into picking up a book. My mom got mad at me sometimes for reading too much especially, for instance, while we were driving through the lush landscapes of Hawaii.

While my other interests waxed and waned, reading was always a constant. I can’t even begin to count how many books I’ve read over the course of my live. A lot of them I remember, some of them I’m sure I’ve forgotten, but each of them played a part in shaping the way I think, the way I see the world, and how I approach my second-found love: writing. Love of books lead me toward my Creative Writing major and it helped me find career paths that won’t just be jobs. This, I think, is one of the biggest gift anyone can find: a way to make money doing something you would do for free.

This kind of persistent obsession is kind of important if you want to make a career out of being a writer. The path to publication is a struggle and it doesn’t necessarily get easier over time. You will constantly be bombarded by critics and critiques, both constructive and destructive, and have to find a way to cope with this. You’ll have to push through exhaustion and writer’s block and characters who just won’t do what their told to come out the other side with a book that someone somewhere is guaranteed to pick up and think is the worst thing ever written in the history of publishing. Hopefully this will be balanced by the people who pick it up and believe the opposite, but humans have a tendency to linger over the negative more than the positive.

Take a moment and look at your life. What are the things that have always spoken to you? What passions have always filled your heart, even if they sometimes faded to the background a little? Look at those and find a way to use that, in your writing or in your life. There’s enough misery in the world already. We each have to find our own way to keep ourselves happy.