Archive for category Writing Tips

NaNoWriMo: Know Your Weapons!

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 9.24.36 AM

I’m once again letting Piper hijack my blog to talk about a subject near and dear to me—GUNS. Chances are, many of you are writing thrillers or suspense or knitting books that involve FIREARMS. Piper and I are NOT the people you take with you to an action film unless you believe—like we do—most of these movies should be classified under “Comedy.”

We count rounds. Ooooh, I want THAT GUN. The one that NEVER runs out of ammo EVER! We also cringed in the Sherlock—A Game of Shadows movie. Remember? In the Arms Factory Scene, Col. Moran whips out the c96 Mauser pistol and loads it from the bottom, perhaps because this looked “cooler.” Historical Note: Good luck loading that gun from the BOTTOM. It loaded from the top.

I also love how movies have these LOOOONG shoot-out scenes with thousands and thousands of rounds fired. Afterward? No one is yelling like my 90 year-old Aunt Peggy when her hearing aid lost battery.

WHERE DID THEY FLEE?

YOU HAVE TO PEE?

NO! WHERE DID THEY GO?

NO! I DON’T HAVE TO GO! BATHROOM LATER! FIND BAD GUYS NOW!

Okay, I’ll stop and let Piper take it from here. The point of this blog is that, IF you are going to use firearms in your books? Please let the reader see you did your research. They will love you for it. And, if you (the author) put a safety on your revolver (actually had this happen) we will HURL your book across the room.

Take it away Piper and Holmes!

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

NaNoWriMo is almost here. Whether it’s your first draft or your tenth, the last thing you want to look like on the page is an amateur. Yesterday, we got rid of your backstory. (See Backstory: The More You Know, The Less I Need To.) Now we’re going to take a look at your terminology.

Whether your story is literary fiction, a romance, or a thriller, it might well have a firearm in it. Firearms should always be used properly, whether in person or on a page. So let’s make sure you have your vocabulary straight so that people like us and Kristen don’t throw your book against the wall.

Let’s start by clearing up the most common gun misnomer of all time— the “clip” vs. the “magazine.”

If your story has “clips” in it, you most likely need to be writing historical fiction. There are extremely few modern weapons being manufactured today that use clips unless they are replicas of old weapons. One rare example of a modern weapon using a clip is the Smith & Wesson 9mm revolver, which uses a moon clip. So if your character is using a weapon with an actual “clip,” you need to make it quite clear in your writing that it is either a historical weapon or one of the extremely rare exceptions.

This is one example of a “clip.”

K31 Stripper Clips for Swiss Karabiner Standard issue for Swiss Armed Forces 1933-1958 Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

K31 Stripper Clips for Swiss Karabiner
Standard issue for Swiss Armed Forces 1933-1958
Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

 

K31 Stripper Clip in Swiss Karabiner Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

K31 Stripper Clip in Swiss Karabiner
Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

 

These are “magazines” (BELOW). Magazines are widely used in both handguns and rifles.

They hold cartridges and can be quickly and easily reloaded.

Magazines for SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380 Image by Piper Bayard

Magazines for SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380
Image by Piper Bayard

These magazines fit into the handles of the pistols. Contrary to popular belief among certain circles of politicians who I shall not name, they can be reused countless times. They don’t magically get used up just because all of the cartridges are fired.

SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380 with accompanying magazines. Image by Piper Bayard.

SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380
with accompanying magazines.
Image by Piper Bayard.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on to the different types of firearms—automatics, semi-automatics, and revolvers.

Gunner's Mate 1st Class Montrell Dorsey with M240B automatic weapon Image by US Navy, public domain

Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Montrell Dorsey with
M240B automatic weapon
Image by US Navy, public domain

 

With an automatic weapon, the cartridges load into a removable magazine. The weapon is called automatic because when you pull the trigger, it automatically fires repeated bullets until you take your finger off of the trigger. When the shooter fires, the brass shells of the cartridges are ejected from the weapon. Modern automatic weapons are generally illegal for private ownership without special licenses, a ton of paperwork, and a background check so thorough that it would make your personal physician cringe. These licenses are also so expensive that you’d be better off opening a small business instead of pursuing this type of weapon license.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 semi-automatic Image by Avicennasis, wikimedia commons.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 semi-automatic
Image by Avicennasis, wikimedia commons.

A semi-automatic also has cartridges that load into a removable magazine, which, in a pistol such as this one, fits into the handle of the gun. However, one trigger pull equals one shot, and the brass shell from each cartridge is automatically ejected. The weapon does not automatically keep firing.

Semi-automatics are legal in all states, but only to varying degrees in different places. In a few Western states, they practically come as prizes in the bottom of cereal boxes, while in others, only bodyguards of celebrities and politicians who advocate gun control get to carry them. In fact, if the celebrities and politicians are vocal enough in their opposition to private firearms, their bodyguards are approved to operate drones, drive tanks, and launch thermonuclear devices and other weapons of mass destruction :D .

If you live in one of these latter states, such as California, check your laws before you put a pistol in your California character’s hand. California requires certain design modifications. Your readers will know this, and they likely could call you on it.

It’s extremely common for a semi-automatic to be inaccurately referred to throughout media, movies, and TV as an “automatic” weapon. No matter how hot the journalist, movie star, or soap opera star might be, don’t believe it just because they say it.

Piper in the remake of Dirty Harry

Piper in the remake of Dirty Harry

A revolver is so called because the cartridges reside in a revolving cylinder. Like the semi-automatic, one trigger pull equals one shot. However, the brass shells are not ejected automatically. A shooter must open the cylinder and eject all of the shells simultaneously. Again, the legalities of ownership vary from state to state.

Not to knock one of Piper’s favorites, The Walking Dead, but if you listen closely when Rick fires his Colt Python .357 revolver, you will sometimes hear the sound of ejected brass hitting the floor with each shot—something only semi-automatics and automatics do. Total audio fiction.

Speaking of weapons, Holmes and I are calling all bloggers for a contest in which the winner will be determined with a shot.

The Spy Bride Blogger Challenge

To celebrate our debut spy thriller release, THE SPY BRIDE in the RISKY BRIDES Bestsellers’ Collection, we are inviting all bloggers to write a post about absolutely anything espionage or wedding related. Link back to this post at out site to be entered in a contest for a $25 Amazon card and a copy of RISKY BRIDES.

Write about your favorite Bond movie, your favorite historical spook, or how you used to spy on your siblings. Tell us about your wildest bachelor party, you favorite wedding, or your worst bridesmaid’s dress. If you manage to write about both spooks and weddings in the same post, you’ll have your name entered twice.

Be sure to link back to the Spy Bride Challenge post at our site so we see your entry!

Click here to get to the post at our site.

The winner will be chosen on Thanksgiving Day. We will attach the names of all entries to a shooting target. Then we will blindfold Piper’s lovely daughter, DD, and she will shoot the target. The name that she shoots will be the winner of the coveted Amazon gift card.

DD ready to determine the winner.

DD ready to determine the winner.

And for our awesome readers . . .

We have some wonderful prizes for you, as well. Sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Newsletter and be automatically entered to win a Secret Decoder Ring, a stash of Ghirardelli chocolate, or a bottle of sparkling wine from Mumm Napa vineyard.

Bayard & Holmes Newsletter Link–Click Here to Enter

Feel free to enter both contests!

Best of luck to all of you. Can’t wait to see your entries!

 

RISKY BRIDES

 

 

RISKY BRIDES is on sale for a limited time at only $.99 and is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and Kobo.

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Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes
Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

 

Piper Bayard is an author, bellydancer, shooter, SCUBA diver, and a recovering attorney with a college degree or two. She writes spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, a forty-year veteran covert operative and a current senior member of the intelligence community. Piper is the public face of their partnership.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

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Backstory: The More You Know, The Less I Have To

Just in from teaching in Seattle and have NO VOICE. Hubby is a little more thrilled than he should probably show O_o. Anyway, the wonderful Piper Bayard is here for some more writing tips for those who want to NaNo. Even if you don’t? Backstory is ALWAYS a bugger. Kinda like in dating. Be mysterious, yet not weird, yet not clingy and OH DEAR GOD HE IS NEVER CALLING BACK TURNING THE NEXT PAGE…..

By Piper Bayard

NaNo season will soon be upon us. Speaking from experience, it is totally possible to write a solid first draft of a novel in one month, but only if you’re prepared. Now is the time to prepare.

Typical NaNoWriMo Writing Space

Typical NaNoWriMo Writing Space

First, give yourself permission to suck. Accept the fact that your first drafts are always going to suck. Everyone’s first drafts suck. That’s why God made editors. Perfectionism and over-editing during the first draft only make us all suck more in the long run. As Supreme Court Justice Brandeis said, “There is no great writing, only great re-writing.” Your books won’t be great until they suck.

Maureen Johnson says it best. Dare to Suck!

 

Now that you’re keyed in to your sucking, you can get down to work to prevent unnecessary suckage. The best thing you can do to minimize your suckage is to know your story before you write it.

We’ve all read books with page after page of backstory. Okay, we’ve all skimmed books with page after page of backstory. Where does that extra verbiage come from, and why does the author put it in? Easy. Excessive backstory is the visible evidence that the writer is telling herself her story. That backstory is there for her, not for us. It means she didn’t know what she was writing about before she started writing.

I know what you’re thinking. But I’m a pantser! My story must be unsullied by forethought!

Forethought this. Writing is an art, but publishing is a business. Any successful business requires forethought.

We all write for different reasons: therapy, because it’s easier than talking, therapy, because we love words, therapy, because we’re unemployed, therapy, because it’s the closest thing we have to talking to adults while we care for our babies, therapy, because stories are swirling inside our heads and must get out, therapy, because a world where we don’t write is simply inconceivable. And some others write for therapy. Regardless of our reasons, forethought is our most powerful tool for shaping a story and actually getting it on the page.

Canstock 2014 Oct Rabbit therapy cartoon

 Here comes the surprise portion of this dissertation. When I’m talking about forethought, I’m not necessarily talking about plotting, though I personally find plotting indispensible. I’m talking about people. The characters.

(For all you sci-fi folks, you have a little extra work. Read through this article a second time and exchange the word “characters” for “world building” so that you don’t have to tell us how the planet was formed in the belly of a lizard and coughed out in the hairball of the cat that ate the lizard on the night the cat was locked out of the house because it had gotten mad when it’s owner ran out of soft food and only gave it hard food so it had peed on its owner’s clean laundry. In other words, you need to know your characters and your world before you start.)

The single best way to eliminate backstory is to know your characters and, therefore, your backstory, before you ever start your draft.

  • How old are they when the book starts?
  • What do they look like?
  • Where were they born?
  • Where did they grow up?
  • Did they go to school? Where?
  • What is their religion? Do they believe it, practice it, play along with it, or reject it?
  • Are they city or rural? Which city? Which country?
  • What were their relationships with their parents?
  • What were their parents’ occupations and educational levels?
  • Who was their first love? How did it end?
  • What were the watershed events in their lives, and how did your characters change because of these events?
  • How did they meet the other characters?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What are their inner conflicts?
  • What do they want?
  • Who is keeping them from getting what they want?
  • Absolutely anything else you can think of to ask about your characters.

In other words, don’t just know your serial killer Terrell is a psychopath. Understand exactly how Terrell became a psychopath, what sort of a psychopath he is, and why he is where he is when the book starts.

Do this for your antagonist, your minions, your protagonist, your love interest, your allies, your mentors, and anyone else who has more than twenty lines.

So how does knowing all of this about my characters minimize my backstory?

Thank you for asking.

The answer is summed up in another quote, this time from Hemingway. “. . . you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted, and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.” In other words, you can leave out anything as long as you know what you’re leaving out.

Ernest Hemingway determining what to leave out. Photo at his home in Cuba, c. 1953 JFK Presidential Library, Boston, public domain

Ernest Hemingway determining what to leave out.
Photo at his home in Cuba, c. 1953
JFK Presidential Library, Boston, public domain

This is twice-true with backstory. So if you don’t know your backstory, you can’t leave it out. On the other hand, if you DO know it, you don’t feel compelled to put it in, because you don’t have to tell yourself your own story while you’re writing it. You can focus on telling your story to your readers instead.

As an added bonus, when you know your characters, they will tell you your plot. You never have to wonder what’s going to happen next, because your characters will behave in characteristic fashion. You avoid moments of “Oh, no! What is Frida going to do now that Gomez has left her?” Easy. Look at Frida’s character profile, and let her do what Frida would do. If she’s a whiny brat, let her whine. If she has anger management issues, let her hunt down Gomez and run over him with her car. If you know your characters, your plot is less likely to leave you hanging.

Frida was here.

Frida was here.

Let me reassure you of this method with a little of my own backstory. My first manuscript SUCKED. No, seriously. It sucked with capital letters. In fact, Kristen edited it and spent five hours (count ’em—five) on the phone telling me just how bad it sucked. It is now being used for enhanced interrogations at Guantanamo, and no one has lasted past page 25. The US Navy sends me thank you notes and cookies for my birthday each year.

Out of 157,000 words (really) I threw out all but five—a, and, the, but, or—and I started over by getting to know my characters. That’s because Kristen didn’t just tell me my book sucked. She told me how to fix it. I highly recommend you listen to her writing advice. She knows what she is talking about.

When I sat down to re-write the book, I discovered something. I naturally left out everything except the actual story. It was an epiphany. As a result, I have a far better story. That book became my debut dystopian thriller, FIRELANDS.

Now, I’m writing spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, who is a forty-year veteran covert operative and a senior member of the intelligence community. Our debut novella, THE SPY BRIDE, is in the Bestsellers’ Collection RISKY BRIDES, where we join USA Today Bestsellers Vicki Hinze, Rita Herron, Donna Fletcher, Peggy Webb, and Kathy Carmichael, and veteran authors Kimberly Llewellyn and Tara Randel to share our unique take on what it means to be a risky bride. 8 novels and novellas—8 genres—8 RISKY BRIDES. RISKY BRIDES releases today for only $.99 and is available for a limited time at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and Kobo.

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Boxed Set final Cover

 To celebrate our release, Holmes and I will give away one copy of RISKY BRIDES to someone who comments below. To determine the winner, I will put the names of everyone who comments below in a hat and have my daughter draw one out at random on Friday, October 24, at 9:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

And to celebrate going from super-suck to published authors, Holmes and I will also be giving away three prizes—a Secret Decoder Ring, a stash of Ghirardelli chocolate, and a bottle of Mumm Napa sparkling wine—to three randomly selected subscribers to our newsletter on November 27. Sign up now for the Bayard & Holmes newsletter to enter.

What are your issues with backstory? Do you develop your characters before you write? Do you have any questions for me?

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Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Piper Bayard is an author, bellydancer, shooter, SCUBA diver, and a recovering attorney with a college degree or two. She writes spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, a forty-year veteran covert operative and a current senior member of the intelligence community. Piper is the public face of their partnership.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

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96 Comments

8 Elements to NAILING Your Plot & Owning NaNo

Attack of the Killer Plot Bunny. That rabbit is DYNAMITE!

Attack of the Killer Plot Bunny. That rabbit is DYNAMITE!

I promised not to leave you guys hanging with my last post. Now that I have a lot of you beating your shields ready for NaNo, I’m going to give you battle tactics to come out victorious (or maybe at least alive).

Sure, NaNo is great to just learn to turn off the Inner Editor and get those 50,000 words DOWN. But, if in the end, all we have is a gelatinous ooze that eats people and attacks the city? They call in the National Guard to take out our WIP, because no revision can tame it.

What to do? This post is incredibly redacted, but it’s a blog. So roll with it ;) .

These tips will work for any novel, but they are SUPER important in NaNo, lest we write ourselves into the Corner of NO Escape by November 10th. These tips will ward off plot bunnies, keep the muse cooking, and hopefully help you finish.

Last I checked, finished books sell the best.

Anyway….

Active Goals

Our WIP can feel a little like THIS...

NaNo can feel a little like THIS…

A lot of time when I’m called in to repair critically injured plots, the main problem is…well, the problem. It’s passive. If your story involves “protecting” something, “escaping” something, “avoiding” something? Not going to work.

Think of it this way. I want to write a story about protecting the princess or the world will be robbed of all glitter and chocolate and all the people will be super sad. Oh-kay. What’s the plot? Stick her in a giant human-sized hamster ball and make sure it’s heavily guarded? Guarding is not ACTIVE.

A teenage boy inherits the power to time-travel but he will rip the space-time continuum if he does. He must never learn he can time-travel or use his powers.

Again, oh-kay. So does the book involve distracting him with video games for 65,000 words?

I call this The Containing Communism Conundrum. Didn’t work in the Cold War, likely will be equally ineffective/frustrating in a novel.

And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I will get a bunch of comments with, “But Such-and-Such did this and it was a TOTAL HIT in 1875.” Have fun storming the castle. I won’t stop you.

I will, however, wager that the stories one might be tempted to cite, really DO have an active goal.

Core Story PROBLEM

screen-shot-2012-03-27-at-6-17-32-pm

Novels are simple. Solving a PROBLEM. Why do we dig reading novels? Because of life. Life is just one problem after another and it never ends…EVER. Don’t believe me? Come check out my laundry room or peek at your e-mail. We like it when characters go up against something seemingly insurmountable and WIN. It FINISHES.

Maybe it takes 20 books to finish, but it does eventually END. As a caveat, within the series, the problem of that episode book will be SOLVED.

Lately we’ve been watching the series Grimm. And yes, I’m slow to series namely because I like to binge and also, if I watch something in the first season and LIKE it? Surefire way to kill it. Still sorry about Firefly.

Anyway, for those who’ve not watched Grimm, it’s a take off the old Grimm’s Fairy Tails and the Grimms are humans with special abilities to spot and stop the beasties living among humans and causing problems. Granted, there is a BIG problem involving seven keys and world domination, but this is obviously not solved in ONE episode.

Now, the werewolf that robs the convenience store in the opening scene? He’s apprehended or killed by the end of 50 minutes.

ACTIVE: Wow, who/what ate the poor QT clerk and took all the Snicker’s bars and stole the Slurpee machine? This person/thing needs to be stopped.

Interesting Problem

Self-explanatory.

Stakes

And Grumpy Cat

What will happen if your protagonist fails? The bigger the stakes the better the story. These can be outward or inward stakes but there must be stakes. Oh, and inward stakes need an outward manifestation. They also need to be BIG or…who cares?

For the literary folks, I like to cite The Road. Man and Boy have an ACTIVE goal. Reach the ocean. No idea what’s there, but seems like a good idea. Here’s the kicker. Humans somehow did something that killed every living thing on the planet, except people (and I’m really ticked McCarthy never divulged what that was). Thus, humans have devolved to cannibalism.

The point of the book is less about making it to the ocean and more HOW they make it. If they stop to snack on some fellow travelers? They fail. The stakes are Would you die (stave to death) to protect what it truly means to be human, OR would you resort to the animal state?

Weakness

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Perfect characters are boring. Good story problems force the protagonist to do what he or she would NEVER have done in a GAZILLION years had the problem never surfaced. The inciting incident rattles the character’s cage and the first turning point is when the protagonist steps out of the comfort zone. The comfort zone is also a coping mechanism that has worked great up until said story problem.

For instance, in The Labyrinth Sarah is doing just peachy hiding in her room with her toys and costumes and refusing to grow up. It’s easier to resent her parents and baby brother. She calls on the Goblin King to take the baby away and WHOA! He shows up, takes the a baby and offers her all her dreams.

And any preteen girl who saw this movie took another 20 years to figure out why she didn’t take the deal.

But, since that would have made for a seriously short movie, Sarah has to go face the Labyrinth lest she be grounded FOREVER for selling little bro to the Goblin King. She must leave the safety of her carefully constructed world and see her flaws. Life isn’t fair and love is about sacrifice, not control.

Blind Spot

Oh, Scarlett

Oh, Scarlett

Every strength has a counterpoint. The very thing that makes ANY character good at what he or she does is also the Achilles Heel. Most characters are not evolved enough to know what their blind spot is and that’s okay because that would make them boring. Heck, it takes years of expensive therapy for most of us to pony up to what we always knew our biggest problem was/is.

I HIGHLY recommend the Positive and Negative Trait Thesauri for help. If a character is funny and charismatic, they can also be flaky and undependable. Show me a great leader and I’ll show you a control freak. Give me a loyal person, I’ll show you a sucker. Scarlett might have been a spoiled brat and a pit-bull, but she had what it took to keep it together when $#@! got REAL.

The plot serves to help the character see, then face, then overcome the blind spot/weakness and harness the counterpoint (the strength).

Secrets

RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN. You may need to know why such-and-such is a certain way as WRITER-GOD, but that might not be good for the story and the reader. Keep secrets. Reveal slowly. Ever been on a date with someone who told you every intimate detail of their lives and the waitress had yet to bring the Bloomin’ Onion? Don’t be THAT date writer.

The Force was better before it was EXPLAINED. Metachlorians?

Really?

Secrets drive great fiction, and for more on that, check out this post on being a great secret-keeper so that THIS post isn’t uber-long.

Restoration

Photo courtesy of JM Powers WANA Commons

Photo courtesy of JM Powers WANA Commons

Books must eventually end or they are called Days of Our Lives. Is Stephano still around?

When we create an ACTIVE goal for our character(s), our ending should be far clearer. I’m not a plotter. More of a plotser (I know my main story points and riff from there). But, though I don’t do outlines, I will tell you that it seriously helps to at least have an idea where you’re going.

In The Labyrinth we KNOW the ending. Sarah solves the Labyrinth and has baby bro home before she’s hauled away by police yelling, “The dingo Goblin King got the baby!”

The Death Star is blowed up. The Ring of Power is melted. Buffalo Bill is stopped from making more human-skin-lady-suits and senator’s daughter rescued (and has to have even MORE therapy about being a size 14). The Deadites have to be defeated, the portal closed, curse broken, disease cured, wedding stopped, Voldemort destroyed, Amway stopped, etc. etc.

These are the broad strokes that should help tremendously. They’re simple, but NOT easy. Despite what others may very mistakenly believe, writing a novel is HARD. Most people cannot do it. And just remember that the same folks who are telling you writing books is “easy” are the same people who were willing to pay you a hundred bucks to write a 500 word paper for them in college ;) .

What are your thoughts? Do these tips help? Make you want to go run in traffic? Have you skipped one or all of these steps and ended up with a plot so complicated you didn’t even understand it? Hey, I’ve been there.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

September’s Winner: Taylor Grace. Please send your 20 pages (10,000 word WORD doc to kristen at wan a intl dot com). You an also choose to instead send a one page query or synopsis. Congratulations!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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63 Comments

The First & Most Crucial Step to OWNING NaNoWriMo

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 10.42.44 AM

No Spawn left behind!

I love all of you, so it might be best to hear this from me. Sit down. We need to talk. Writers are….”different.” This might not be news to some of you, but I imagine others of you are in denial. I know I was for ages. We try SO HARD to be normal, but normal is just so, so, so…BORING normal.

Our “differentness” weirds normal people out, because they’ve been trained by TV what the writer’s life should look like.

Just like DNA analysis takes less than 10 minutes on an episode of Rizzoli & Isles and the bad guy is caught and in cuffs in less than an hour, what “looks” like writing and the creative process in movies? Kind of isn’t. Not even CLOSE.

Too often, pop culture paints authors as caricatures instead of pros. We mainline coffee (okay, that’s accurate), are barely functioning alcoholics who dither around instead of writing. At the last moment, we are visited by the genius fairy, type for a full  week 24 hours a day to turn in a masterpiece (last minute) to our agent who’s been calling over and over worried sick about us.

*clutches sides laughing”

Um, sure.

***Though I will cop to being a functioning yarn and video game addict.

New Kindle cover…..

New Kindle cover…..

There are a lot of activities we must do to write great stories that, to the outside world, look a lot like goofing off. We aren’t goofing off (though without discipline it can become that). Lately (namely because of Shingles) I have traded Jui-Jitsu for crocheting until my doctor clears me for beating people up.

But there is a LOT of thinking and pondering going on while I work on my projects. I watch series and deconstruct plots, characters, etc. I note dialogue. I contemplate ways one could kill people with crochet needles and if I could write a series called The Etsy Murders (no stealing O_o).

…and have a nifty Kindle case to show for it :D .

We must fill our creative well before we write, or we have nothing to draw from.

Creative people are a lot like tigers. We do a lot of what looks like laying around and warming our bellies in the sunshine. Yet, what we’re really doing is powering up because, once we go after that first draft, those words can be more elusive than a gazelle that’s doping.

Regular folks who clock in and clock out of jobs in cubicles are grazers. They do the same routine day after day. *munch, munch, munch*. I feel this is often why creative people feel so stifled in these environments. We’re tigers stuffed in a non-tiger role.

TIGER BLOOD! *giggles*

Strong writers are apex predators who lurk, plan and power-up until go-time.

I spent two and a half years researching for my last social media book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. I read stacks of books on neuroscience, sociology, communication, the history of communication, leadership, sales, etc. This probably didn’t look (to many others) like working. Yet, it was. I was filling my mental reservoir. When my hands met the keyboard, I wrote almost 90,000 words in six weeks that needed minimal revision.

Same in fiction. I knew I wanted my series to involve Mexican drug cartels. What did I do? I watched A LOT of documentaries, read books, articles, blogs, collected images, and played video games.

Yes, video games.

Take Time to Fill Up

Too many writers fail to finish NaNo because they haven’t fueled up properly. If one studies any endurance athlete, what do they do before an Iron Man or the Tour de France? They EAT. A LOT. Endurance athletes know they need the extra weight because it isn’t uncommon for participants to lose as much as twenty pounds by race end.

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

Yet, how many of us go into writing a book with a malnourished, anemic muse?

Feed the Subconscious

Part of why I love NaNo and Fast Draft is it does a number of things. First, it tires out the analytical side of the brain that wants to edit and make everything “perfect.” REFUSE TO EDIT. If you’ve taken time to feed the muse, your “Boys in the Basement” could be doing some seriously cool mojo, and if you edit that out? You can benevolently tank your story.

Often a lot of the subplots or cool twists and turns come from all the stuff we fed the muse ahead of time. For instance, there is a scene in the first book of my trilogy book where the two main characters find an old drug house and of course teenagers and addicts have been in there and there’s a ton of graffiti. There are the usual pentagrams, devil-worshipping symbols, goat heads, gang signs, profanity, etc. but my fingers typed (seemingly of their own accord) that there was also a veve of Papa Legba.

Veve of Papa Legba courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Veve of Papa Legba courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Huh? Voo-doo in southwest Texas? Where did THAT come from?

Probably a documentary. I began to backspace over it, but then let it ride. My FBI agent notices the veve, recognizes it, and finds it odd and “out of place.” This is all that is mentioned of the veve in this book, because my subconscious already had the plot for Book Two which involved…Santeria.

My subconscious must have pulled up the multiple news stories of bodies with hearts removed (or headless) who were presumed to have been killed in ritualistic fashion by cartel leaders for otherworldly protection over their operations. My muse was placing the perfect bread crumb in the story to lead to the next one.

But what if I hadn’t “wasted” all that time reading and watching documentaries? What would my muse have been able to draw from? A bag of stale Goldfish or a 10 course meal?

Another reason I love NaNo is that once we tire out the analytical side of the brain, we can fall into a sort of trance, much like a runner’s high. This is where the muse hits overdrive, and, since we are SO immersed in the story, we become part of that world.

This means we’re less likely to lose ideas or make major mistakes because we’re hyper-familiar with the terrain. If we start writing, then put a book away for a month and try to pick it back up, we need to do a lot of refreshing and the story can become jaunty and incongruent.

I recommend checking out another of my posts: Write FAST and Furious! Learning to Outrun “Spock Brain.”

My recommendation before writing ANY book is total immersion. I read a lot of submissions and many of them have a bunch of fluff and filler and that could have been avoided if the writer had more research to draw from.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of FromSandToGlass

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of FromSandToGlass

It’s easier to use setting powerfully if we’ve researched the terrain ahead of time. What do people in certain roles or regions talk like? The more facts, images, and stories (even news stories) we have in our head? The richer the work and the easier to give our writing texture.

Later, we’ll discuss some ways to fill the muse. And yes, a lot of it might look like goofing off, but runners preparing for a mega-marathon do a lot of what looks like eating a ginormous bowl of pasta or downing special protein drinks. Not especially glamourous, but essential for success.

How do YOU fuel? What things do you do to enhance creativity that looks like slacking? Are you afraid to watch TV or movies because you fear you aren’t…GASP…writing?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Will announce September’s winner later this week. Have to tally :D.

Super Cool WANA Announcement!

WANA has a super cool class coming up October 4th. VERY RIGHT BRAIN and a cool and unique way to envision your story and prepare a rich, textured novel with deep and dimensional characters. Rachel Funk Heller is teaching Prepare for NaNoWriMo–Writer’s Coloring Book. Give yourself and your brain a play date. It’s good for BOTH of you!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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76 Comments

Cyberbullies, Trolls, Mobs & Haters—How to Protect Yourself & Others in a Dangerous World

Image via "The Terminator."

Image via “The Terminator.”

As the WANA Mama, I am fiercely protective of my writer peeps…like Giant Kodiak Mother Bear Protective. I will and have gone to the mattresses for fellow writers who’ve found themselves under senseless attack.

Yet, as a counterpoint, I choose my battles. I love Sun Tzu, and have read his Art of War until the pages were falling out. When it comes to dealing with a formidable enemy, Sun Tzu is the master tactician. One of my favorite quotes?

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. ~Sun Tzu

A few days ago Psychology Today posted an article I found interesting in that 1) this article gives data to support what we all know deep down but 2) don’t want to believe. We know there is something different about trolls. They exhibit what is called The Dark Tetrad Personality—Machiavellianism, narcissism, sadism, and psychopathy.

Yet, this is where we can get in BIG trouble. We often try to deal with trolls the way we would rational people who are not deeply disturbed. Trolls remind me of the Terminator, and the hero (Kyle Reese) has the best explanation of what an Internet Troll truly is.

Kyle Reese: Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Kristen Lamb: Listen, and understand. Trolls are out there. They cannot be bargained with. They cannot be reasoned with. They do not feel pity, remorse or fear. They take tremendous joy in our suffering. Suffering and pain is their subsistence, the very thing they LIVE to create so they can FEED. They will not stop ever until we are dead (spiritually/emotionally/professionally)…unless we take a stand.

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This blog is called Warrior Writers for good reason. We are in a multi-front war. War with our bad habits, our fears, our insecurities, our family or friend’s disapproval. We are fighting and training to grow to be better writers than the day before. Battling to become better business people (yes, writing IS a business).

We also must appreciate we are targets. We can believe the enemy isn’t coming, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. Preparation is paramount.

To be clear. Everyone has a bad day. Some people might strongly disagree with us and might not use the best words because they’re emotional. Or they might disagree respectfully and that’s okay. I don’t want Pod People Commenters. I don’t have to agree with others to support their freedom to have opinions.

Some people might believe (have the opinion) I don’t know what I’m talking about and have the intellect of a brain-damaged garden slug.

They have the right to be wrong :D .

THESE ARE NOT TROLLS. Trolls are a unique life form with a VERY different psychological makeup. Trolls feed off pain and strife. They seek it. They create it. They need it and they CRAVE it. They are addicts who also need higher and higher doses of suffering to get the same high. KNOW THIS.

Know Thy Enemy—Levels of Trolls

Image via the movie "The Purge"

Image via the movie “The Purge”

Not all tactics will work equally because not every enemy is the same. There are little trolls and often they’re the “easiest” to deal with by simply setting a boundary and refusing to budge. Recently, I had a guest post about grammar, thus I wrote a funny intro for my guest. I used the term Grammar Nazi, which is a common term and a humorous one, likely inspired by the Jewish comedian Jerry Seinfeld in the episode with the Soup Nazi.

One commenter scope-locked on that single term and razed me. He informed me that using the word “Nazi” was never funny and that I needed to take down my post and write a public apology. I replied with a professional version of, “Pound sand.”

I informed him that I refused to be PC or let one commenter dictate how I wrote my blog. If he didn’t like my blogs, there was the digital door and don’t let him hit it in his digital @$$.

There was a time I would have apologized for offending him and tried to reason and explain and that is BUNK.

POUND SAND.

If I’d catered to his bullying, I assure you that would have emboldened this person to only become a more powerful troll because his comment would have been enough to make me rewrite, revise, and cater to what HE wanted. Oh the surge of god-like powers he could have felt, but I denied him what he wanted.

When we appreciate that trolls are wired differently this makes early intervention make more sense. Serial killers don’t start out kidnapping, torturing then butchering people. Research has shown these “creatures” begin small with tormenting animals then escalate. If early deviant behavior is not recognized, dealt with or cut off, it then will continue to grow into a malignant evil with a body count.

Trolls aren’t after your flesh, they want your soul. They collect broken dreams and broken hearts. Trolls often hunt in packs because bullies are small insignificant people who need cronies to help them do their dirty work. But, hopefully this post will train you. If you are attacked? It will be instantly and painfully clear they picked the wrong writer to mess with.

The following tips will help handle even the most sadistic and highly motivated trolls.

What To Do—Writers and READERS

Go Sherlock—Scrutinize and Discern

Image via "Sherlock Holmes" with Robert Downey Jr.

Image via “Sherlock Holmes” with Robert Downey Jr.

If a book catches your attention and you think you might want to read it, take the ratings at face value. If there are a gazillion one-star reviews, take a moment to look at them. Troll swarms are fairly easy to spot because of all the fecal matter they leave behind.

Other signs?

One-star reviews with no commentary, no picture, a moniker, etc. Reviews with ad hominem personal attacks. Reviews that are psycho-emotional. Often trolls will have their reviews hidden. If they don’t, and you’re uncertain if this person is a troll, look at their other reviews. Does this individual ever give a good review?

Then, ignore the reviews and look to the sample pages and use those to make your decision. Later, if you LIKE the book, leave a good review and then go back to the one-star reviews that are clearly trolls, and, when Amazon asks if the review is helpful? Do a BLAST NO BLITZKRIEG. If Amazon gets enough of those on certain profiles, these folks will be banned from reviewing. On Goodreads, hit the dislike button. Same deal.

Refuse to tolerate bullying. When we do nothing, we are enabling.

What to Do—Writers

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 8.43.59 AM

Be YOU—Don’t Let Trolls Steal Your Peace or Your Book Sales

First of all, use the name printed on your books. A moniker or a pen name won’t stop the hate. It’s still you. If someone called me names and ruthlessly attacked my character it wouldn’t matter if it was Kristen Lamb’s Blog or Penelope Fluffernutter’s Blog. It’s still me behind the computer. When we try to hide behind a moniker to protect against the inevitable, all we do is make it harder to sell books.

The bullies win. They can steal your peace and maybe even success. If they take your NAME, they can steal your book sales.

When we get off the Internet because of these cretins, they win. It’s a “blaming the victim” mentality. If your skirt wasn’t so short blog wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be raped harassed by trolls. This is why I DO recommend a WP based site. There is this marvelous TRASH function.

Illegitimi non carborundum…

I’m not naive. I KNOW these comments hurt. I’ve had comments that reduced me to tears. But we have control how much power we give these thugs and for how long. It isn’t easy, but it is reality.

Keep Records

If you get hateful, threatening messages take screenshots. Save e-mails. If the troll is motivated enough they can easily slip into an area that can give you power legally. But, proof is what will help your case.

Manage Your Blog

I don’t allow hate. I am always open for respectful disagreement, but if someone gets out of control? I politely pop them on the snoot and remind them to behave or delete their comments. You guys need to feel safe to comment on my blog (others need to feel safe to comment on yours). Trolls will shred the fabric of your community. It’s our job to keep them in check. Set boundaries and refuse to tolerate abuse.

NEVER hide your blog or shut down comments. It’s what they want. The trash function is your friend and you can block them from commenting.

Stand Up for Friends

If you have a writer friend who’s being bullied, gather together and, when Amazon asks if a review is helpful? Click NO. The WANA Community is massive. Let us know. We are happy to stick up for you, and a troll might be able to harass one or two pals who come to your aid, but a few thousand is a tougher challenge. Bullying is something that can only be beaten with the power of friends and community. Trolls have their gang? Bring it. We’ll be your Huckleberry ;) .

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Report and Block

Report abusers on Facebook. I’ve been on Facebook since 2005 and only had to block three people. These trolls weren’t just harassing me, they were harassing all my friends who commented on my wall. They were PSYCHO. I went to Facebook and had them banned. I blocked their comments and profiles (until FB could take them down).

DO NOT ENGAGE

Don’t feed the trolls. Negative attention is still attention. Often trolls will leave seething comments to upset people SO much that they HAVE to go to their blog/website to see WHO this JERK IS. It’s the only way they can get hits and comments and they feed on negativity. Starve them.

Hire a Professional

If you’re worried about your safety or your family’s safety because someone has gone THAT nutso? Contact Jay Donovan at TechSurgeons. Jay is an amazing human being, a tireless champion for writers and he IS The Digital Dark Knight. He’s a computer genius who can have said troll chasing his own @$$ down a hole of frustrated nothing.

There are ways to protect yourself digitally and Jay is a master of security. Even if you want to take some preventative measures, talk to Jay.

Many of you know I am NOT a fan of pen names. What you may not understand is I’m not a fan of pen names, because a different name alone isn’t enough. Worse, it can provide a false sense of security. Writers are locking the screen door thinking that’s going to keep out the motivated ax murderer.

There are sound reasons for having a pen name. I advise against it most of the time because friends, schoolmates and family can be powerful mouthpieces and very helpful. A pen name limits how much of that energy we can harness and dilutes focus. BUT, if you DO need a pen name for safety, security, etc. TALK TO JAY. Again, a different name alone isn’t enough. An eight-year-old with decent Google skills can find who you are without the skills of someone like Jay helping you.

Speak Up

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

In the end, trolls (sad to say) are often a sign we are doing something right. Get ten trolls and I think we are officially a celebrity. Learn to un-see. Focus on those who love you. Join our WANA Community (WANA stands for We Are Not Alone, information here). We are a great refuge and support system. You can join us on Twitter at#MyWANA, on Facebook or even WANATribe (a social network for creatives). I have ZERO tolerance for trolls and have smiting powers.

I know it can feel very defeating sometimes, but a great circle of loving friends who have your back is a great start. Refuse to feed the trolls your peace, success and happiness. They exist, but together we are stronger.

Trying to reason with trolls is wasted energy. Trolls need professional help and we aren’t being paid NEAR the kind of money to required treat these kinds of people. We’re writers, not shrinks and not the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit.

And just remember…WE ARE NOT ALONE.

What about you? Have you been bullied? Did you find any tactics that were effective? What are your thoughts? Do you check the one-star reviews to make sure they are legitimate? I am no expert, so I would LOVE any suggestions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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115 Comments

Generate Nerve-Shredding Story Tension—Power of the Secret-Keeper

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Image via the award-winning show “House.”

It’s tempting for us to create “perfect” protagonists and “pure evil” antagonists, but that’s the stuff of cartoons, not great fiction. Every strength has an array of corresponding weaknesses, and when we understand these soft spots, generating conflict becomes easier. Understanding character arc becomes simpler. Plotting will fall into place with far less effort.

My POV? All memorable stories are character-driven. Plot merely serves to change characters from a lowly protagonist into a hero….kicking and screaming along the way.

One element that is critical to understand is this:

Everyone has Secrets

To quote Dr. Gregory House, Everybody lies.

All good stories hinge on secrets.

I have bodies under my porch.

Okay, not all secrets in our fiction need to be THIS huge.

Secret #1—“Real” Self Versus Authentic Self

We all have a face we show to the world, what we want others to see. If this weren’t true then my author picture would have me wearing a Star Wars t-shirt, yoga pants and a scrunchee, not a beautifully lighted photograph taken by a pro.

We all have faces we show to certain people, roles we play. We are one person in the workplace, another with family, another with friends and another with strangers. This isn’t us being deceptive in a bad way, it’s self-protection and it’s us upholding societal norms. This is why when Grandma starts discussing her bathroom routine, we cringe and yell, “Grandma! TMI! STOP!”

No one wants to be trapped in a long line at a grocery store with the stranger telling us about her nasty divorce. Yet, if we had a sibling who was suffering, we’d be wounded if she didn’t tell us her marriage was falling apart.

Yet, people keep secrets. Some more than others.

In fact, if we look at The Joy Luck Club the entire book hinges on the fact that the mothers are trying to break the curses of the past by merely changing geography. Yet, as their daughters grow into women, they see the faces of the same demons wreaking havoc in their daughters’ lives…even though they are thousands of miles away from the past (China).

How could she just LEAVE those babies?

How could she just LEAVE those babies?
Image via IMDB “The Joy Luck Club”

The mothers have to reveal their sins, but this will cost them the “perfect version of themselves” they’ve sold the world and their daughters (and frankly, themselves).

The daughters look at their mothers as being different from them. Their mothers are perfect, put-together, and guiltless. It’s this misperception that keeps a wall between them. This wall can only come down if the external facades (the secrets) are exposed.

Secret #2—False Face

Characters who seem strong, can, in fact, be scared half to death. Characters who seem to be so caring, can in fact be acting out of guilt, not genuine concern for others. We all have those fatal weaknesses, and most of us don’t volunteer these blemishes to the world.

The woman whose house looks perfect can be hiding a month’s worth of laundry behind the Martha Stewart shower curtains. Go to her house and watch her squirm if you want to hang your coat in her front closet. She wants others to think she has her act together, but if anyone opens that coat closet door, the pile of junk will fall out…and her skeletons will be on public display.

Anyone walking toward her closets or asking to take a shower makes her uncomfortable because this threatens her false face.

Watch any episode of House and most of the team’s investigations are hindered because patients don’t want to reveal they are not ill and really want attention, use drugs, are bulimic, had an affair, are growing marijuana in their attics, etc.

Secret #3—False Guilt

Characters can be driven to right a wrong they aren’t even responsible for. In Winter’s Bone Ree Dolly is driven to find her father before the bail bondsman takes the family land and renders all of them homeless.

Ree is old enough to join the Army and walk away from the nightmare, but she doesn’t. She feels a need to take care of the family and right a wrong she didn’t commit. She has to dig in and dismantle the family secrets (the crime ring entrenched in her bloodline) to uncover the real secret—What happened to her father?

She has to keep the family secret (otherwise she could just go to the cops) to uncover the greater, and more important secret. She keeps the secret partly out of self-preservation, but also out of guilt and shame.

Seeking the truth is painful...

Seeking the truth is painful…
Image via “Winter’s Bone”

In the first novel of the trilogy I am writing, my protagonist takes the fall for a massive Enron-like scam. She had nothing to do with the theft of a half a billion dollars and the countless people defrauded into destitution. Yet, she feels false guilt. She feels responsible even though she isn’t.

This directs her actions. It makes her fail to trust who she should because she’s been had before. When she uncovers a horrific and embarrassing truth about someone she trusts, she withholds the information (out of shame for the other person) and it nearly gets her killed.

This embarrassing secret is the key to unlocking the truth, yet she hides it because of shame. Shame for the other person and shame that this information reveals her deepest weakness…she is naive and has been (yet again) fooled.

Be a GOOD Secret-Keeper

This is one of the reasons I HATE flashbacks. Oh, but people want to know WHY my character is this way or does thus-and-such.

Here’s the thing, The Spawn wants cookie sprinkles for breakfast. Just because he WANTS something, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for him. Don’t tell us WHY. Reveal pieces slowly, but once secrets are out? Tension dissipates. Tension is key to maintaining story momentum. We WANT to know WHY, but it might not be good for us.

The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED.

Everybody LIES

They can be small lies, “No, I wasn’t crying. Allergies.” Lies of omission. White lies. They can even be BIG lies, “I have no idea what happened to your father. I was playing poker with Jeb.” Fiction is one of the few places that LIES ARE GOOD. LIES ARE GOLD.

Fiction is like dating. If we tell our date our entire life story on Date #1? Mystery lost and good luck with Date #2.

When it comes to your characters, make them lie (even if it’s only to themselves). Make them hide who they are. They need to slowly reveal the true self, and they will do everything to defend who they believe they are.

Remember the inciting incident creates a personal extinction. The protagonist will want to return to the old way, even though it isn’t good for them.

Resist the urge to explain. 

Feel free to write backstory/secrets out for your benefit…but then HIDE those babies from the reader. BE A SECRET-KEEPER. Secrets rock. Secrets make FABULOUS fiction.

What are your thoughts? Questions? What are some great works of fiction that show a myriad of lies from small to catastrophic? Can you think of what your character’s “false face” is? What is the lie that defines him or her? What is the self-delusion? What is the weakness that they dare not show (but by not showing it, is ultimately inhibiting growth)?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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59 Comments

Want to Successfully Publish? First, Are You a “Real” Writer?

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 8.07.57 AM

For many writers (me included), we don’t start off with the confidence to yell to the world, “I’m going to be a professional author!” Heck, I wrote a 178,000 word “novel” and still didn’t believe I was a writer. Later, I had over a year and a half of consistent blogging under my belt, multiple short stories, and newbie novels that had been at least good enough to win prestigious contests and yet….

I was not a “real writer.”

Schrödinger Writer? If you put a writer in an office at a keyboard, is the writer alive or dead (real or fake) until the book is published?

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We’ve Come a LONG Way, Baby

The literary landscape has shifted dramatically. More avenues of publishing have opened and become appealing, thus this silly question of, “Are we a real writer?” holds far less power. Believe it or not, when I began blogging, I dedicated countless posts to answering this very question. In retrospect, I did it for me as much as for others.

I’ve always asserted that we are what we do. What is our primary career focus (beyond a necessary day job)? The second we sit at a keyboard and write, we are writers. Yet, as my first “novel” glaringly illustrates, we might not yet be a “good writer.”

To read it, you MUST first recite the sacred words! Klatu! Verata! N…. N-Noun? Nunchuk? Nutmeg? Definitely an “N’ word. 

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Changing Times

What’s fascinating for me was how much this opinion of being a “real writer” varied from 2008 to as late as 2013. I’d post and assert, “If you write, you’re a writer.” This then would spawn a flurry of Kristen Lamb is an Idiot-Hack blogs asserting that we didn’t deserve the title until 1) we had an agent 2) had a contract 3) were traditionally published.

Or whatever.

I see this debate far less, or maybe I’ve just learned to ignore it and my naysayers are smart enough to no longer hyperlink to me.

***By the way, being called an idiot is usually a good sign we’re doing something right. When we challenge the status quo, most won’t throw us a parade. We’re doing what they don’t have the guts to try.

Maybe we fail. I’ve failed A LOT and am very proud of that. Why?

If we aren’t failing we aren’t doing anything interesting.

Thank the Mushroom-Eaters

Change is frightening, but thanks to the mushroom-eaters there are more ways to get our books to readers than ever before in human historyWriters have more freedom, more flexibility than ever. They’re also being PAID.

Mushroom eaters? Yes. Come on. Haven’t you ever seen someone eat a raw oyster and you wondered, “Who was the first?” I guarantee you it was a group of cavemen, and someone lost a bet. Who ate the first sea cucumber? Or determined that snails actually were quite tasty with some butter and garlic? Live squid? Are you serious?

Chuy

Back to the mushrooms. There are 100,000 known species of mushrooms, and only 2000 of these are edible. In fact, many mushrooms are toxic, even deadly. How do we know which ones to eat? Risk. Someone, somewhere took a chance.

Mushroom-eaters are the ones brave enough to try a bite. Innovators are the ones who eat the poisonous mushroom and die, whereas early adopters are the ones who watch and learn. But, we must appreciate that someone had to be willing to take the first bite.

Perhaps we won’t die. Maybe, instead, we can take a bite, throw up and hallucinate and actually live to tell others…yeah, don’t eat the orange ones with the spots.

It’s great to be an early adopter, and there is nothing wrong with that. But, if there are no innovators (mushroom-eaters), then there is no one taking risks that pave the way for the early and late adopters to follow suit.

I was a mushroom-eater when it came to social media for authors. I did plenty of passing out and seeing spots, but continued to press no matter how often I was told social media was a fad. I was deeply convinced we were seeing a fundamental shift in human communication and society, one not seen since the invention of the Gutenberg Press.

***Great. Freaking Gutenberg. Now EVERYONE can be published *rolls eyes*.

Time redeemed me, though I had just as much chance of resembling the person who thought THIS was a great idea…

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Fortunately it all worked out *sigh of relief*. Now those agents who slayed me in comments won’t sign an author who doesn’t have a viable social media brand (no matter how good the book). Writers who believed social media was the Digital Pet Rock had good reason to believe that. Not everyone is an innovator/early adopter and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Even I waited for the third version if the X-Box 360 so they could work out the bugs.

How Are YOU a Mushroom-Eater?

This notion of whether or not we are “real” writers is intertwined with being a mushroom-eater. First, the decision to write and publish a book ALONE is mushroom-eating behavior. My father had a genius IQ (was FAR smarter than me), yet died working minimum wage at a bike shop. He’d always longed to be a writer, but that was “foolishness.” It wasn’t a real job.

Friends and family often offer the strongest resistance, partly because they love us and mean well. Don’t you want to learn medical billing? The pay is GREAT!

Writing professionally IS a tough job. We are entrepreneurs (authorpreneurs) and the failure rate is high. But no risk=no reward. Failing to at least try and give it all we have only leads to unanswered questions. Expect others will be jealous we had the guts to do what they could not.

Why is This SO IMPORTANT?

All businesses should begin with a mission statement of what precisely that business IS and what it specifically offers. Goals, objectives, education, planning, execution will ALL be flawed if not first defined.

I’ve done a lot of business consulting over the years. Show me a failing business and I’ll show you a business with an identity crisis. They’ve failed to do that first critical step of claiming what they ARE, defining what they DO, and understanding and communicating why their good/service is RELEVANT and better than the competition.

Fail to plan and plan to fail.

Writers who want to actually sell books are a small business. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s tough. But nothing worth having is easy. You guys can do this! Some of you are doing this. Doesn’t mean we don’t have moments of doubt. I do. All the time. But I no longer waste emotional energy wondering if I am a “real” writer and neither should any of you.

Write. That will answer the question ;) .

What are your thoughts? Are you new and struggling with a writer-identity-crisis? Are you getting pushback from those close? Animosity from peers? For those who’ve been doing this a while, do you have days you wonder if you have what it takes? Are you reinventing a genre? Writing something outside the norm, but it scares you?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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