10 Writing Facts About Me!

My friend Lyra posted about this over on her blog, and I thought, “Hey! Cool idea!” So I stole it am doing it too.

Writing is a strange vocation. You’re in a world with hundreds of thousands of others, but it also feels totally isolated – especially for a self-pubber – so it’s good to see how other people work or deal with it. Maybe you need some suggestions on how to make things work for you and seeing into other people’s process can help with that. It did for me when I was first starting out.

So here are ten things I do while writing.

1. I am an entirely different writer today than when I was when I first started out writing. When I first started, I was a panster. I just sat down and blindly wrote, figuring out the story as I went. I knew what the end was, I just had to figure out how to get there. Now I outline. When I first started, if I outlined, I lost the momentum, the urgency to tell the story, because, basically, I already did. Now I need a road map. But it’s like a road trip – I know my final destination and I know the pit stops on the way, but anything can happen while I’m there. I will occasionally write off the cuff still, but I have more focus than I did before.

2. I use music to write. If I’m starting a brand new project, I give myself a couple of hours before I begin to get a soundtrack going. I do use songs with lyrics because they really help me. I can write and not consciously pay attention to lyrics, but they’ll propel me into the mood I want for the book and/or scene, like subliminal messages. If I’m writing a series, I’ll just keep building on the same playlist until I have an epic soundtrack. This works for me because, if I’m not in the mood or the right headspace to write, I can turn on that soundtrack and like a Pavlov’s Law, I will suddenly be able to get into the mood of the story.

3. Sometimes my soundtracks fail me. Sometimes you gotta switch it up. If a book has been tension filled and I’m coming to a big battle or bloody scene sometimes I need to switch to actual soundtracks to get me through. I have a backup playlist that is just full of music from movies and video games with no lyrics that really drive me through intense, physical scenes.

4. If there’s a fight scene in a book, I have choreographed it in real life with my husband. I’m very lucky to have my husband as a resource at my beck and call. He is a trained fighter and a lifetime martial artist and a self-defense instructor. So, often, I’ll think of a scene and then grab my husband and work it out down to the last gory detail so I know it’s real and not just a movie fight.

5. For me, the hardest part is the rough draft. People hate editing, hate revising, but for me it’s getting that first draft done. Which is why I tend to “fast draft” – get big word counts done so I can get it done faster. It’s also why I outline. Editing and revising are easy to me because the hard part is done. Every milestone is great until I realize how far I am from the end.

6. I pinterest to keep track of what my characters look like. I have a lot of series going at once and that means a huge cast of characters to keep track of. So I will start boards with pics of celebs and other people so I can keep them all straight. It also helps me make sure no new character sounds like they look like another character.

7. If a book/series is particularly hard to figure out, I talk it out. So many books have been resolved while I was sitting on the counter in the kitchen, sipping coffee, while I talk AT my husband. He will offer suggestions, but often, my mind is racing and I’m watching the book unfold in my head and I’m talking out loud for the benefit of hearing it and committing it to memory. Also, I want to hear another human being tell me how awesome that idea is.

8. I used to say “write every day” but I don’t anymore. That phrase is so misleading, especially to new writers. I am a full time writer. I write 4-6 days a week depending on how well the sessions have gone. To me, that is writing every day. Yes, even with a day off. And then when the first draft is over, I take a break. Sometimes just a week, sometimes much more, depending on what I need. To me that is writing every day, but when you hear that phrase, it makes people think, to be a “real” writer they have to be writing 365 days a year and that’s just not true.

9. I don’t disconnect from the internet when I write. Some people need that, but I couldn’t focus if I knew I couldn’t take a break if I needed it. It’s like in school, when the clock is on the wall in the back and you weren’t supposed to look at it. That drove me nuts. If I write a few hundred and then want to check Twitter, I do. Sometimes I’ll bang out two thousand words without breaking stride, but I know I can take a break, so it helps. It’s all about figuring out what works for you.

10. It took me a long time to figure out what works for me to be a full time writer. My music, a set time of day that I write almost every day, a cup of coffee or a bottle of water, an outline, these work for me. But you know what? Even if I don’t have all these things, I sit down and write, or edit, or revise, whatever stage I’m at in a project, I get it done because this is what I want to do with my life.

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The Importance of Good Alpha/Beta/Critique Readers

When you first start out writing, it’s incredibly difficult to let go of your pages and let someone else read them. Even a trusted friend or mate, the idea of someone else reading your work is so terrifying, it is probably the main reason so many people never pursue publishing. And it’s a sad thing.

Husband puts tiny faces on the bottoms of pages depicting his reaction to what he's reading and as a marker of how far he is.

Husband puts tiny faces on the bottoms of pages depicting his reaction to what he’s reading and as a marker of how far he is.

When I first started out, I held back my work as well, never wanting people to read it until it was totally polished and perfect. Yeah, I know, impossible. That’s why writers always tell people, don’t read your old work because you’ll want to fix it. There comes a point where you have to accept that something is done or just never finish.

But I have to say, it is having trusted beta readers and Critique partners, that has given me the courage and confidence to put my work out into the world for mass consumption – even though it is still terrifying! When people tell me they’re writing, or they’ve finished a project and don’t know what to do next, I ask, “Have you let someone else read it and give you feedback?” Often that answer is either met with complete shock and terror or a common answer of, “Yes, my spouse/mom/girlfriend/boyfriend/bff read it and they loved it!”

I mean, that’s great, but is your spouse/mom/girlfriend/boyfriend/bff a writer? Or an editor? Or anything to do with the writing world? Oftentimes, not. And oftentimes that spouse/mom/girlfriend/boyfriend/bff wants to love it to support you, or can’t see the errors because they love you, or don’t want to hurt your feelings so there is a tiny chance they’re lying to you.

Don’t get me wrong, if your spouse/mom/girlfriend/boyfriend/bff is in the creative world, or if they have a skill set that is imperative to your work so you need their insights, then yeah, let them read and critique. But they have to critique. They have to be honest with you. And you have to take that honesty.

Honesty. And then we talked about how to make it possible.

Honesty. And then we talked about how to make it possible.

My husband reads all my work. Mostly just to support me as my spouse and so that, when people ask him about my work, he can answer intelligently and I really appreciate that. But he is my Alpha Reader for the ASH AND RUIN TRILOGY. Why? Because he has many skill sets that are essential to the plot of the book, the fight scenes, the survival aspects, and the weaponry used in the books, that gives him the qualifications to critique the book for me and give me feedback, constructive criticism, and help to make it correct and better before I send it off to my beta readers to critique the book as a whole. For my other books, he helps me with fight scenes, but that doesn’t make him an alpha or beta reader for those.

What do my betas/CPs do for me? They help me make the book stronger. They tell me what works in the book, what they loved, what made them laugh or cry. Then they tell me what didn’t work for them, and why. Where my story might’ve gone off the rails and didn’t make sense. They tell me when I left a plot thread hanging, so what the hell happened with character x? They ask questions so I know that other readers will have those same questions and I won’t have the luxury to answer them so I need to fix it.

That little line made my whole day.

That little line made my whole day.

Having readers look at your work, give you honest feedback, and opinions on what to do to make it better, is not a slight against your genius. It is an opportunity to make your work shine, if you’re willing to take it. Now, believe me, if you have a reader who just tears you down, without giving you any praise, even tiny things to hold on to, it’ll break your spirit. So you have to find the right balance in your team of readers. Yes, team. One ain’t gonna cut it. I like to have three betas, and I like for all three to be different kinds of people. It really helps you weed out personal taste responses and know when things are really working or not in a general sense.

But the way you make that happen is by being open and honest with your readers as well. Ask them what kind of Beta/CP are they. Do they like to do reader reaction with in-text notes as they go? Or do they like to read the whole thing and then type photo 2up a critique letter with generalized reaction but comments on core things that stuck out to them? Or maybe they like to do a bit of both? I, myself, like to put reader reaction notes in the document itself so that I can make sure I don’t forget something I wanted to bring up later. And I like to put little “lols!” and “Good line!” comments when something gets me. But then I like to give the writer a short letter at the end, recapping and maybe making broader comments on issues I found, or illustrating things they did particularly well.

So let go of that baby. There is no way to know your book is ready for the masses or an agent to see if you don’t let someone who isn’t emotionally connected to it read it and tell you what they think. Even if they hate it, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. The best thing about writing, is that you can always rewrite, but you gotta do it before you hit “publish” or burn bridges with agents because you sent pages prematurely. Have faith! Have courage! Build your team!

And, if you want to be someone’s beta, keep these things in mind. Constructive criticism doesn’t mean ripping someone to shreds. People need to know they did do some things well. We are not in the business of crushing dreams. The pie is big enough for everyone to have a slice.

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My Writing Process

Happy Monday everyone!

I’ve been tagged in the writing process blog hop by my friend, S.K. Falls. You can check out her gif-awesome post here!

I went a little more wordy for mine. So sorry. Tl;dr version: I like to write sprint.

Full version:

Many of you know I churn out a pretty high word count average per day. When I sit down to write I average 2,000-5,000 words. I don’t like to say pages because a page of narrative compared to a page of dialogue is so different that some days you’ll get 4-8 pages and others 10-15 depending on how much dialogue you wrote.

So, how do I do it? Since I started writing the Elemental Series I stopped treating writing like a hobby. That is the biggest question you need to ask yourself: Is writing a hobby for you? If it isn’t, if you plan to someday quit that day job and become a fulltime writer then you need to treat your writing like a job. I wrote the first three rough drafts of the first three books in the Elemental Series while working a full time job. I did not, by any stretch of the imagination, get 2-5k words a day during that time, but I forced myself to get 1k words, five days a week.

Because I was in the habit of writing 1k words a day (which averages out to 4 pages if you’re curious), when I lost my job due to the economy crash, it wasn’t difficult for me to demand more words of myself every day.

Now I’m a fulltime writer so of course I need to get a much larger word count. Yes, the house needs to be cleaned, the laundry needs doing, the dogs need walking, food needs cooking, time spent with my husband needs spending. All of that needs to be done, but you do all of that with a day job, right? Why make excuses to keep from writing? All of those things will still get done after you’ve allowed yourself time to write. Treat it like a job. If you called in sick every day to any other job, you’d eventually get fired, right? Right.

But how do I get that much written in a day, that’s the other question. I do not sit at my desk and write nonstop until I reach my word goal for the day. If I did, I would never get the numbers I get. Instead I carve out my words in chunks. There are a few different ways to do this, you just gotta figure out what works best for you.

I am very active on Twitter and like to have it open while I’m writing. I use it to report how much I’ve written and tell people I’m writing so if there’s someone else writing at that moment, they know they aren’t alone. It’s good to have a writing community.

When I first started this practice a popular challenge was #1k1hr – which means you’re committing to writing for one straight hour to get 1,000 words. This is cool, but it doesn’t always work for me. One straight hour, never looking away, never giving myself a tiny break, gets to me. Like a cat with a laser pointer, I can’t focus.

I sprint. I write for 15 mins straight, or 20 minutes or 30. I never go longer than 30 without a break. In 15 mins I can write about 400-500 words. In 20 I can write 500-800 words. And in 30 I almost always break the 1k mark and average 900-1300 words. But if you ask me to write for one hour straight I won’t get much more than 1k because I slow down and want to do other things. Or I think, “no pressure, I still have like 38 mins. I’ll get more… oh, look! Pinterest! Hey, what was that song I wanted to know the lyrics to?” It’s too much! Could you run as fast as you could for a whole hour? Do you think by the 40 min mark you’d be running just as fast as you were at the 15 min mark? Probably not. I look at writing the same way.

I sprint, usually with some writer friends, for a short block of time, then look away from the document. I check my email, twitter, stats, whatever. I take a 5-15 min break and then go again. But even if you only take a 5 min break, it will make a huge difference.

Also, when I start a new project, I allow myself a day to figure out the beginnings of a soundtrack and compile at least an hour’s worth of songs on a playlist on Spotify. And I’ll let myself play on Pinterest with a muse-board for the book. I might pin pics of people/celebs that look like my characters for inspiration. Or, if I know what city the book is set in (or at least what kind of city), I’ll pin pictures of locations or structures to refer to later. It all helps in setting the mood. I by no means have to do this to write, but it helps. To this day there are songs that I will always associate with specific characters or scenes within my books, or even one particular song could encapsulate the feeling of a whole book for me and when I hear it, I’m right back in that book in my head.

Some luxuries help. Sometimes the perfect cuppa will help. Sometimes doing my hair and makeup will help. Sometimes changing clothes or staying in my pjs will help. Sometimes I don’t need anything but my outline, my soundtrack, and my desk.

Oh yeah, I started out as a pantser. My first 3.5 books were all pantsed, but when I hit the half mark on book 4, I couldn’t finish it without an outline. Now, I have a much easier time writing if I take the time to write a loose outline for the book. See? There are many factors. But sprinting. It’s all in the sprints for me to get my words done.

That’s my big secret!

Figure out what works for you and do it. It doesn’t matter what you have to do to write, so long as you actually write.