Posts Tagged becoming a professional author

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

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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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64 Comments

This Month, We Write IN HELL—To NaNo or Not to NaNo

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NaNoWriMo. There are a lot of opinions floating around about NaNo and I can’t tell you guys what to do. Wait, I do that all the time. Hmmm. Okay, I can’t MAKE you try NaNo, but I am the friend who will gently and lovingly shove you off a cliff because it’s good for you.

WHAT!!??? You SAID you wanted to go BASE jumping be a professional author.

In my 20s, I lived life like a Mountain Dew commercial. You name X Dumb Thing? Sign me up! One of my favorite suicidal activities was skydiving. If I was having a really bad time, nothing to perk me up like free falling from 15,000 feet. But I’m a natural idiot adventurer.

My little brother? Was probably the more cautious/sane one, but I could tell from this spark in his eyes that he’d one day like to just go for it and jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

One day, I was headed out to jump and invited my brother. “Hey, you can just watch. Check it out. See if it might be something you’d like to try one day.” He rides out there with me and, to his horror, I’d signed BOTH of us up and paid for his tandem.

He should have known from our history together that Big Sisters are pathological liars. Also, I was the one who convinced him to jump off our roof with an umbrella when he was five, so, in fairness, he should have TOTALLY seen that coming.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time. You’ll just float down.

*CRASH*

Oops.

Little Bro was “fine.” But I didn’t make him do anything I hadn’t already done. Trust me when I say he was a changed person after that experience (and for the better).

Back to NaNo…

To NaNo or Not to NaNo

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

For those who have not tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), at least consider it. Even if you only partially finish (land on your knees and then get dragged through stickers by your chute that caught a sudden updraft) you are now part of a percentage of very few people who TRIED.

And, unlike skydiving, I’ve yet to encounter any NaNo fatalities.

The trick to NaNo is to appreciate it’s PURPOSE. It’s to propel us out of the comfort zone and show us what we are truly capable of if we put our minds to something and refuse to give up. It’s training for the pace of professional author. Pros have a VERY different operational tempo.

We don’t play to win, we play for keeps.

I’ve finished NaNo quite a few times (and fast-draft everything I write), but every day is NaNo for me. I have a thousand words written before most people wake up. Was it ALWAYS that way? Sure!  :D *thunder rumbles*

OKAY, I totally just lied. I used to be thrilled if I had three sentences by the end of the day. OMG, if I could like, write FIVE HUNDRED words a day, THEN I will be EPIC.

There were a LOT of roadblocks to me being a “real writer,” roadblocks that NaNo can help us face and overcome.

No Such Thing as Schrodinger’s Writer

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Want to be a writer? Write. That simple. Lose the existentialism. People who have time to discuss what makes a “real” writer have too much free time. The rest of us are busy writing. The single greatest thing NaNo makes us do is it propels us to sit our tails down and get to WORK.

Ditch Perfectionism

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Want a surefire way to NEVER finish NaNo, or any book for that matter? Edit Frenzy. NaNo is NOT for the perfect book ready for sale on December 1st. Sure there are some pros out there who can whip out a perfect book in 30 days…I think. I’ve never met one, but like Sasquatch, we like to believe they could exist.

The world does not reward perfection, it rewards finishers.

Learn to SHIP. No unfinished idea ever became a NY Times best-selling book.

Word Count

One of the complaints I hear about NaNo is there is too much focus on word count. Oh-KAY. Get a three-book deal and see how important word count becomes. Word count IS critical, because without words? We don’t have a BOOK.

The Muse

Kill it with FIRE.

Kill it with FIRE.

A lot of new writers wait until inspiration strikes. The rest of us go to work (paraphrased Stephen King). Inspiration is for amateurs and hobbyists. If we look to some of the most successful authors in history, a large percentage shifted over from journalism. Reporters who wish to remain employed can’t wait for the muse to report about the four-alarm fire. Learn from that and SHIP.

NaNo is NOT the Time for REVISION

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NaNo is for getting as many words on the page as possible in 30 days. Revise LATER. It’s NaNoWRIMo, not NaNoWriReviseAngstDrinkMoWineMo.

Humans have two sides to the brain—the creative side and the logical side. The reason NaNo is fabulous is it trains us to remain in the creative hemisphere of the brain. Stay in the fictive dream and play your guts out. Logic brain will have its turn…LATER.

Ignore typos, misspellings, run-on sentences and WRITE.

NaNo Pushes Boundaries

Most of us are capable of a lot more than we believe we are, but we dig the Comfort Zone. It has WiFi and lattes. Excellence is born in a fiery crucible. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

NaNo Strips Excuses

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Life will not change one you are a published or successful author. Today is my Dad’s birthday and the 15th anniversary of his death. Hey, he was Scottish and we are known for efficiency. My SIL went in this morning for serious and painful eye surgery to prevent her from going totally blind. I have Shingles, my house is a WRECK and I have a cat I love who’s teetering on death that I have to syringe feed every other hour. Our family business was half-flattened by squall lines last week and…blech.

But I write. Doesn’t mean I don’t CARE about those other things. But if I were in any other job, I might be able to justify a couple days away, but other than that? I’d have to show UP and do my JOB.

I know Mr. Smith has a tumor I was supposed to remove today, but my cat is sick and I am still tired from Shingles, have storm damage to clear and no clean SOCKS to perform surgery in and….

Uh huh.

Writer UP

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You guys don’t have to do NaNo or like NaNo. It isn’t for everyone, but neither is this profession. I participate in NaNo, support it and recommend it.

Just for the LOVE of all that is chocolate, DO NOT believe you are finished after 50,000 or more words. You WILL need revisions and edits, so hold off on the CreateSpace or the query. You might probably will have a literary train wreck. But you have a FINISHED train wreck. EXPERIENCE will teach you what to do and even what NOT to do.

There are ways to have less of a mess at the end, but we’ll talk about that next time.

NaNo trains speed and discipline. Style comes with preparation, time and practice, not nit-picking.

So *beats shield* come back with your first draft or ON it ;).

THIS…IS…SPARTA NANO!

Haters: We will darken the skies with our criticism.

Real Writers: Then we will WRITE in the SHADE.

What are your thoughts? Are you afraid of NaNo? Good. Now suck it up. Have you tried before and failed to finish? Why? Have you revisited the “footage” to see what you could change to improve odds of finishing? Do you over-edit? STOP IT. Do you have friends, family or activities that interfere? Hint: They aren’t going away.

Share your successes, monsters, defeats and we will raise our goblets coffee mugs and spears red pens to the Elysian Fields! We will forever be Brothers and Sisters at Arms. Sign up HERE for NaNoWriMo.

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).

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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145 Comments

What Brazilian Jui-Jitsu Can Teach Us About Going Pro as AUTHORS

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Some of you may know that (for stress relief) I practice Brazilian Jui-Jitsu. Being a teacher and a writer, I see lessons in everything. Strangely, our dojo is not known for BJJ. It’s mainly Shito Ryu Karate and those classes are always packed. There’s a plethora of black belts and they earned it. Many are kids, and they’re a wonder to behold.

Our Jui-Jitsu class? Right now we are down to five people—two out with injuries, one went off to med school and two are on vacation. This can feel weird when the next class over is packed wall-to wall with students.

Last night we were talking about why our group was so small. Why are people not as attracted to BJJ? Why do so many sign up then quickly leave? I’m being careful here, because over my many years, I’ve studied four forms of martial arts and two styles of fighting—Tae Kwon Do (Korean), Karate (Japanese), Wing-Jitsu (a fusion one Wing Chun Kung Fu and Jui-Jitsu), Japanese Jui-Jitsu, regular boxing and kickboxing.

All have strengths and weaknesses.

I have my preferences. I liked Wing-Jitsu the best because I really love doing throws and I love the hand to hand combat. But is it better than any other? Depends on the fighter.

***Hmmm, like genre preferences?

So Why ARE We So Small?

First, in BJJ you are a white belt for a looooooooooong time. The minimum time is 18 months. When people in other classes are blowing through the belt-rainbow faster than a Skittle commercial and we’re still sporting a white belt? Can be tough on the ego.

There is no “outside badge” of what we know.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of GollyGForce

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of GollyGForce

Also, since we’re mostly on the floor grappling, there’s a lot of nuance outsiders don’t see. We aren’t doing the fancy kicks and things that look “cool.” And, bluntly, BJJ is a tough, tough, tough sport. It’s hard on the body because we mostly fight. BJJ is also something that is pretty much impossible to do alone. We can’t hone our skills with a punching bag. We must have others to practice with. Since we’re doing a lot of throwing and joint locks and wear no pads, injuries are commonplace. In two months I’ve broken my nose and two toes.

Just goes with the sport *shrugs*.

***And, for the record, all of my MAJOR injuries were NEVER in a dojo. Soccer, icy pavement, and evil coffee tables hurt me worse than any martial arts.

Last week, I fought the guy who broke my nose. He made a comment about being easy on me and I chastised him. If I wanted to go through life with no pain I’d take up scrapbooking and I sure as hell wouldn’t be a writer.

What BJJ and Writing Can Teach Us

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kristina Zuidema

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kristina Zuidema

This brings me to my point. I see a LOT of parallels in BJJ and us choosing to go pro as writers. BJJ is easier if we go into it understanding the realities of the sport. We set our expectations correctly. Too many newbies don’t, which is why they quit. They think they will be the special case, the person who’s only a white belt for a month or that they can compete without pain.

Same in writing. I’ve been guilty. I didn’t need craft books or classes. Ptht. *rolls eyes* When I wrote my first “novel” my biggest concern was how to choose an agent when all of them said yes and were fighting over my book. Talk about an awkward cocktail party. I so wish I were kidding. Yes, I was an idiot. Laugh at me. I do. The query letters agents make jokes about? That was ME.

At first I was discouraged in my writing career. I wanted to give up daily. The more I wrote, the more I was rejected, the dumber I felt. I believe much of this could have been avoided had I understood the realities of what it meant to go pro. Then my expectations would have been more reasonable.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

What to Expect

We WILL Be Tempted to Judge Ourselves by Outside Opinions

Like BJJ, most of us will be white belts a LONG, LONG time. What most people fail to appreciate is there is a massive disparity within “white belt writers.” In BJJ, a white belt who’s been in class for a month is NOT the same as one who’s been fighting/training for over a year. But bluntly, outsiders will all see the same color belt and, since they haven’t been on the mats, they can’t possibly understand.

Same in writing. A writer who’s just stepped out to attempt writing a novel is often regarded the same as a writer who’s been working hard for a year or two. Just like outsiders don’t understand that the process for gaining belts in BJJ is slooooow, regular people believe the second we finish a book, it should be shelved at B&N the very next week and on the NYTBS list by the end of the month.

They have NO concept how slow the process is for writing a novel and getting that book to market (even if we were freakish savants who wrote the World’s Perfect Book our first try). Often when we’re new, even WE don’t understand this.

Regular People: So, can I get your books at a bookstore? No?

Subtext: You aren’t a “real” writer.

This is why humility is such a vital trait in life, martial arts and writing. We need to be open to not knowing “everything” and seek help from those stronger and more seasoned. We also should give ourselves permission to be new, to be learning. We get too focused on the “belt” (getting published/selling lots of books) and that’s when depression sets in and we’re tempted to give up. It has to be about LOVE of the sport (writing) and less about the recognition if we have any hope of sticking to it long enough to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Writing is ALL About Endurance, Tenacity, and SENSITIVITY

Grappling will test the limits of the human body. We spar 40-50 minutes straight with one-minute rest breaks for water. Then, the next round and the next….and the next. It’s why a lot of people quit. It’s hard work and nothing like TV or the movies ;) .

Same with writing. The Modern Author has A LOT of work ahead. Most people don’t “get” that we are going to write probably about a million words before we even know what we’re doing (then add in branding, business, social media and LIFE).

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***Btw, and if you happen to get a clue before the million words and are the exception, GO YOU. But if we go in knowing how hard this is, we’re less likely to be over-critical and give up. I know it took me at least a quarter million words to unstick my head out of my own butt.

Also, in BJJ, most people can’t see all we are balancing at the same time. Attacking, defending, calculating physics nonstop and at top speed; using hands feet, knees and mind all simultaneously. It’s a sport of strategy. It’s VITAL we learn to feel the body of the opponent, to anticipate the next move. It’s less about me and more about others.

Readers often don’t appreciate all the countless nuances of what we do, because if we’re any good, we MAKE it look easy. But we’re balancing character, plot, dialogue, subtext, symbol, description, etc. etc. Excellent writers focus on others. We feel the ebb and flow of the human condition and relax into the reality that what we do takes a lot of time in lonely places with no cheer squad.

The late David Eddings said it best and here is the extended quote:

“My advice to the young writer is likely to be unpalatable in an age of instant successes and meteoric falls. I tell the neophyte: Write a million words–the absolute best you can write, then throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written. At that point, you’re ready to begin.

“When you are with people, listen; don’t talk. Writers are boring people. What are you going to talk about so brilliantly? Typewriters? The construction of paragraphs? Shut your mouth and listen. Listen to the cadences of speech. Engrave the sound of language on your mind. Language is our medium, and the spoken language is the sharp cutting edge of our art. Make your people sound human. The most tedious story will leap into life if the reader can hear the human voices in it. The most brilliant and profound of stories will sink unnoticed if the characters talk like sticks.

“Most of all, enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s not worth doing at all. If hard and unrewarding work bothers you, do something else. If rejection withers your soul, do something else. If the work itself is not reward enough, stop wasting paper. But if you absolutely have to write–if you’re compelled to do it even without hope of reward or recognition–then I welcome you to our sorry, exalted fraternity.” (David Eddings R.I.P, Christchurch City Libraries Blog)

Master the BASICS

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Never underestimate the power of the SIMPLE. Mastery is only attained by achieving a sound foundation of fundamentals. Make them second nature. Basics are CRITICAL. When people are injured in BJJ, it’s often because they forgot basics.

Stay on the balls of your feet so you can maneuver. Relax. Roll into an attack and use the opposition’s momentum against them. Don’t post a leg where your opponent can grab it.

When I studied Jui-Jitsu, you know what we did the first two months? FALL. Over and over and over. That was it. Nothing fancy. But if you don’t know how to fall? That’s when bones get broken.

Many writers run to self-publish and they get popped because the BASICS are botched or even missing—POV, proper grammar, punctuation, dialogue, etc. Instead of starting with foundational stuff and building ART from there, they hurry or try to be “fancy”. Don’t. Basics are cool.

To make this point, here is a GREAT, GREAT laugh from my hero, Weird Al Yankovic…

What are your thoughts? Do you compare your progress too much with your peers? Do you find yourself rushing? Is it discouraging when outsiders act like you are some poseur because they haven’t seen your book as a movie yet? Do you go back to edit and realize you forgot to stay simple and harness the basics? It’s okay. Did you start out writing as clueless as I was? Then beat yourself up because you “failed”? Do you have a tough time celebrating the small victories?

It’s OKAY. I am guilty of ALL of these. This stuff doesn’t go away, it’s why vigilance is important. It’s also why I blog more about my failures than successes. I want you guys to see the REALITY of what we do, not some Photoshopped unreality.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, 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).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform (HINT: Start as EARY as possible) here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

THIS SATURDAY!!!!!

SATURDAY is my ANTAGONIST CLASS. NYC Time 12:00-2:00. Use WANA15 for $15 off. Have an idea for a book? Stuck and can’t move forward? Keep starting books you can’t finish? THIS class is the cure! You get two…okay usually more like three hours of instruction, the recording, detailed notes AND you can upgrade for personal consulting to help you repair or construct your masterpiece.

 

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50 Comments

Writer Victory!—#1 Voluntarily Submit

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I learn through anecdotes, examples, illustrations, images and I LOVE acrostics. My husband and I like to go to the Thursday service at our church, namely because the week has usually pounded us soundly enough that we need some spiritual encouragement. The group we attend is small, but the point is to nurture us so we can serve as guides and be the light for others.

Anyway, this week, the lecture used an acrostic for VICTORY. I was taken aback how remarkably this acrostic applied to my own fifteen-year-journey as an author. I wanted to share an author variation with you guys, because, in a world of “instant success” it is easy to become lost, discouraged and want to give up.

Today, we will discuss V, which stands for “Voluntarily submit.”

“Submit” might be a word that raises your hackles. We’re writers. We march to the beat of our own kazoo. Ah, but do we? Maybe we do more conforming than we care to admit.

Can we be successful being rigid? Likely not. There’s a lot of power in submitting. As anyone who practices Aikido or Ju-Jitsu can tell you—bending beats breaking ;) .

So…

Voluntarily submit to who you are. Writers don’t write because it’s a hobby or fun. We write because we must. We aren’t happy when we aren’t putting words on a page. This is part of why I blog.

Our craft often involves other things than the actual writing. It could be research or revisions. Maybe it involves watching entire seasons of Battlestar Galactica or Breaking Bad in order to better understand plot, arc, or character.

I think these times can be uniquely hard for us because we aren’t writing. I know when I dropped down to blogging maybe once a week, I fell into a funk, a weird depression I couldn’t name. All that was wrong? I wasn’t writing.

I learned that blogging or even simply doing a daily writing exercise is vital to maintaining my joy, essential for creative homeostasis.

Voluntarily submit to the idea that you will be criticized. We are criticized by others too scared to be different, too chicken to follow their bliss. Conformity is more important than creativity.

For years, I worked corporate jobs I hated to please people I didn’t like and impress those who didn’t care. These people didn’t care about anything other than my validation that being safe was sane. Paychecks were paramount.

So long as my life testified that dental benefits were more important than dreaming, no one was bothered. Ah, but when I had the audacity to challenge the status quo, I no longer reinforced The Great Lie, the Social Soma that keeps the masses medicated, caffeinated and indoctrinated. When I sacrificed my joy on the altar of people-pleasing, I had no pushback.

And life was very, very empty.

When we understand criticism is usually a sign of doing something right? It’s easier to not take it personally and keep pressing.

Voluntarily submit to the process. Understand it’s okay to be new. It’s okay to write junk (though please don’t publish it). Often we’re afraid to write that crappy first draft. We can get paralysis of analysis.

We read more craft books (which is great and KEEP doing this) and go to more conferences (again, AWESOME), but we can do this at the expense of doing the work. We can get so afraid of failure we never begin. Or, if we do begin, we edit and edit and edit the magic right out of our prose and never finish.

WANA, Kristen Lamb, We Are Not Alone, WANA International, how to be successful writer

Image via Marie Loughin WANA Commons

Because Draft One doesn’t read like Cormac McCarthy, we feel like failures, forgetting that even McCarthy’s first draft doesn’t read like Cormac McCarthy (thank you Jonathan Maberry). We are absorbing works from all our author heroes and it’s easy to forget that what we open (whether in paper or on a Kindle) is something that has been rewritten, revised, and then edited countless times by the author and also outside professionals.

It is a fully-formed pearl…not the gelatinous goo inside an oyster pried open too soon.

Voluntarily submit to honest and brutal feedback. Granted, we don’t need to offer our manuscript to people who just want to shred our souls. But we can’t shelter our WIPs from the world if we’re professionals. Professionals ship, they publish. I would rather be gutted in private and be able to repair my weaknesses than to send and ill-formed work into the world for public slaughter.

Many a writer has become angry with me when I don’t tell them every word is a unicorn kiss, but that’s not life. We don’t all get first-place trophies for trying. We can get one-star rabid reviews from nasty people with nothing else better to do than to be jackasses.

And these will come no matter how good our work. There is no such thing as the perfect book. The flip-side is deep down we will die a little if 20 reviewers blast us about things we could have corrected if we would have been humble enough to listen to correction early.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 9.58.49 AM

I’ve fallen victim, myself. When I wrote my first book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media peers told me including MySpace was a bad idea, that MySpace was making poor decisions. I hated Facebook at the time and was really rooting for MySpace to pull its digital head out of its digital butt. They didn’t. And virtually EVERY criticism I have ever had over that first book revolved around me mentioning MySpace.

I learned to listen.

Voluntarily submit that there are rules that govern our art. Yes we can break the rules, but we need to understand them first. If we don’t that is being an amateur and not a pro. Pros study the rules then bend them or even shatter them, but pros understand we write for ourselves and for others. If we get too weird, we can confuse and frustrate our audience.

The Wright Brothers appreciated the RULES of gravity and physics, thus were able to create ways to DEFY them.

Voluntarily submit to the notion that this job is WORK. A LOT of it. There are a million reasons this profession is not for everyone. In fact, most will give up. Pros don’t find time, we MAKE time. Time isn’t hiding in couch cushions with the remote. We have to do a lot of things we don’t feel like doing—research, writing, social media, etc.

We can have no gain without sacrifice.

Right now? It’s four in the morning. Spawn woke me at 3 a.m. after sneaking into bed with us. I awoke to his feet in my face because there is some scientific law that dictates that small children must sleep like a CLOCK.

I couldn’t go back off to sleep so I’m here. Writing. And yes, tomorrow…today??? I will be tired. I AM tired and I still have a company to run and a house to clean (on top of writing my books). But 1100 words have been given new life and hopeful they will give YOU new life as well.

What are your thoughts? Are there areas you find harder to submit to? Do criticism crater you? Do you find a million things to do—laundry, dishes, organizing—because you feel guilty for writing? Are you too hard on your first drafts instead of granting yourself permission to not be PERFECT? What creative exercises do you do to put words on the page daily to keep your writing mojo?

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, 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).

I will announce April’s winner on Monday. Sorry, didn’t see the whole Spawn School drama coming and I want to be fair.

If you want more help with plot problems, antagonists, structure, beginnings, then I have a FANTASTIC class TOMORROW to help you!

CLASS COMES WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

Understanding the Antagonist

If you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension.

Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . This is a GREAT class for streamlining a story and making it pitch-ready.

Additionally, why pay thousands for an editor or hundreds for a book doctor? This is a VERY affordable way to make sure your entire story is clear and interesting. Also, it will help you learn to plot far faster and cleaner in the future.

Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

I’ll be running the First Five Pages again at the end of May, so stay tuned.

And, if you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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72 Comments

Commitment is the Cure–From “Aspiring” Writer to Professional Author

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Tim Simpson.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Tim Simpson.

It’s been amazing and terrifying to watch the changes in our industry just over the past six years. For generations, there was only a handful of items a writer needed to do. Write a book. Query. Get an agent. Land a deal. Hopefully continue writing more books. Though this was far simpler, there was a horrific failure rate and most writers never saw their works in print.

In The Digital Age, we live in an exciting time. E-books have offered new life to many works that were simply a bad investment in the paper-based world (novellas, epic fantasy, poetry). Yet, with new opportunity comes new responsibilities.

We must understand the business side of our business. And, as someone who teaches at many conferences, I know that until recently it has been rare to find an in-person conference that offers training outside the old paradigm.

I’ve been to conferences with all NY agents, only a class or two on social media, nothing about formatting or indie or book covers. This leaves a majority of writers ill-prepared for anything other than a traditional path (but this IS improving).

Yet, as we watch the trends, we are seeing that even authors who traditionally publish are still pursuing other paths as well to 1) increase income harnessing the power of combined sales and 2) maintain fan excitement 3) broaden/strengthen the platform.

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As it stands, NY is limited to putting out a book, maybe two per year. Also, bookstores only have so much shelf space (which is negotiated by an agent/sales team). Due to the new mega-bookstore model, stores like B&N make more money off items other than books. Go into any B&N and the entire front of the store is filled with Nooks and Nook accessories (instead of books).

Additionally, they only can offer discounts by stocking only so many books and for a short period of time. This means authors with backlists generally will only have the most recent title for sale, unless they happen to be one of the big names (J.K. Rowling).

Writing now has merged art with entrepreneurship. We are essentially beginning a business (even if we choose traditional). Any successful business has a business plan. Also, we must invest in ourselves and our dream. There are a number of hard truths.

Regular People BELIEVE Writing is EASY

The average person out there has no concept of how hard it is to write a book. They think we sit and play with imaginary friends all day, which we do, but making those friends cooperate can be nothing short of a nightmare. Readers only see the final product. They only see what took months or years to complete. There is also this mistaken notion that because we have command of our native tongue, that writing a book/novel is only a matter of sitting down and writing.

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

Yes, butt-in-chair can be the greatest challenge, but developing dimensional characters takes profound understanding of human nature and psychology. Then we have to create realistic and interesting dialogue. Add in enough description and detail to build the world without boring the reader. We have to maintain tension on every page, know how to balance scenes and sequels, understand narrative structure and on and on and on.

But, it is this misguided perception that writing is easy that can derail us.

Forget What Other People Think

Often we are afraid to take risks because we fear failure. Yet, any true success is birthed from risk. We can’t think about what other people think or 1) we’ll quit 2) we’ll slack off 3) we’ll listen to bad advice.

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Everyone has an opinion. One way humans show love is by offering “advice.” This is fine, but we have to mature enough and grab hold of what we want so tightly that we can allow other people the right to be wrong.

When I started writing, my family didn’t talk to me for two years. I even had a church elder laugh and tell me essentially that I had a better chance of being abducted by terrorists than being successful as a writer. Other family members felt I should go to law school. For a time, I listened. I even took the LSAT and gained entrance to law school.

But, I remember standing there with my acceptance letter and I had to make a choice. Did I really want to be a lawyer? NO.

Thing is, other people can give advice, and often they do this from genuine care and concern, but remember…

Only YOU will pay the price.

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

When we allow others to talk us into “real jobs”, they won’t be the ones who die a slow death every day. They won’t be the ones who throw up every day on the way to work (been there). They won’t be the one with a broken heart, an empty life and a mental spiral of what-ifs that keep them awake at night.

Commitment is the Cure

Lately, we have been talking about WANACon, which is coming up next weekend and today is the last day to use the code Valentine for $15 off. It’s an affordable way to learn from top industry experts, learn about ALL kinds of publishing—self-pub, indie, traditional—social media, branding, craft, platform-building and all for a reasonable price and from HOME. New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling Author Shirley Jump will be the keynote and agent pitch sessions are available. We have over 20 presentations from top professionals.

WANACon is largely volunteer because I was living of Ramen my first conference. Even though it was local, it still cost me over $300 and a lot of driving. I wanted to offer something for those who might be on a budget or have time or geographic challenges.

Yet, here’s the thing. Do I want you to come to WANACon? Yes, we have a lot of fun and it will spoil you. Regular conferences are costly and a physical beating (especially for introverts). Most conferences also will charge extra for recordings and we provide them for free because we want you to succeed.

BUT, I don’t care if you go to WANACon or some other conference. Just go to a conference. Commit. Attend/ join RWA (Romance Writers of America) even if you don’t write romance. Surround yourself with what you want to be. Connect and learn from professionals.

Publishing can feel a little like THIS...

Publishing can feel a little like THIS…

I want to encourage you to take true professional steps that transition a dream into a reality. Invest in your domain name (the NAME that will be on your books). Commit to building a platform or blogging. Platforms capable of driving sales can’t be bought or POOF out of the ether. They take time and some money.

NY will not represent an author with no platform. Most agencies will google an author and if they can’t find us? Game over. Come back when we have a platform. If we go indie or self-pub? We’re dead without a platform.

The publishing world of today offers a much better chance for success, but we have to be educated and have a plan of action. We need to invest in that dream. I can’t tell you the difference my first conference made in how I viewed my career choice and even myself.

Perception is REALITY

The world thinks most writers are just wannabes typing away at a Starbucks. Why? Because a lot of us do that. I did. In the beginning, I didn’t take myself seriously. Why would others? But, when we commit and invest, this is when we change and others often do, too.

Image via Tumblr

Image via Tumblr

If you met someone who claimed to be an artist, but they simply carried around a notebook and drew cool pictures, we’d think one thing. But, what if we talked to them and realized they had a web site with their work, that they’d worked an extra job to train with professional artists?

Someone who sings in the shower or in the church choir is one thing. But what about the person who gives up every extra hobby to take voice lessons and record their songs? Or a chef who creates beautiful dishes for people at home, but then later takes out a loan to start a catering business?

Our level of commitment is a reflection of our passion and our genuine desire to do this thing for real. 

This is February. Most of us are struggling with the New Year’s Resolutions. We all do. But whether you attend a conference a professional workshop, take classes, begin building your platform, make that shift. Otherwise, our “dream” will remain an intangible. Sacrificing time and money, risking failure, ignoring naysayers, these are the things that separate the “aspiring writer” from the “pre-published author.”

Regardless of what you write, which path you choose, which conference you attend, we support you 1000%. It’s why WANA works so hard to offer you all the tools for success: classes, conferences, WANACommons (for blog images you can use worry-free), WANATribe (social network for writers), #MyWANA and Facebook’s WANA group. We want you to have education, encouragement, resources, and a support network. The rest is in the doing ;).

As a gift, we have a free recording of Gabriela Pereira’s “How To Get the Most Out of a Writing Conference.” Use this for WANACon or any conference of your choosing. You can sign up for WANACon HERE and use the code Valentine for $15 off.

What are your thoughts? Have you been bombarded with naysayers and dream stealers? Is it hard to believe that your writing is a “real job”? I know I still struggle with that, too. What are your biggest challenges, fears? What are some of your successes? Share and inspire us!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

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71 Comments

Tips to Make Us Stronger Authors—Both Fiction & Non-Fiction—Part 2

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sin Amigos.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sin Amigos.

Yesterday, WordPress (for some reason—I suspect evil elves) published my notes and many of you were sent my “Blog Haiku.” For those who missed it? Here it is:

Fill a Need

Go Niche

Get a Thick Skin

***

Now to expound…

Non-Fiction and Fiction Authors Have Similar Goals

Good non-fiction informs and entertains. Fiction entertains and fills an emotional vacuum.

Fill a Need

If we are writing non-fiction, the first thing we need to ask, is “What need is this filling?” Do people need to learn how to eat healthy, heal from divorce, manage time, balance their checkbooks? Do they want to understand and explore information left out of the history books? Do they want an informed opinion about economics, politics, or disease? Do they have a need to be intellectually stimulated?

Maybe readers want to learn about a subject that is beyond their intellectual grasp. I love documentaries about astrophysics, but whenever the alphabet (particularly the GREEK alphabet) enters MATH? I’m lost.

Doesn’t mean I might not be interested in sub-atomic particles and The Big Bang. I love writers skilled enough to take an unintelligible subject and then (through their writing) enable me to connect, understand, and appreciate something so complex.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of NASA.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of NASA.

Whenever we contemplate a subject, we must remember we are selling a product.

Secret Deodorant fills my need to smell nice at the gym and not offend those close (or sweat through my blouse and embarrass myself). A nifty car fills my need to travel from point A to point B, pay less for gas and have a sensor that tells me I’m about to run over the neighbor kid’s bike.

Insurance fills a need to prepare and feel secure that, if and when disaster strikes, I have a company watching my six and promising to make things right. Febreeze fills a need to make my home smell like autumn leaves. In Texas, this is an important need because in September, it is still 100 degrees and I need some promise it is REALLY fall.

With fiction, we are filling emotional needs. A need for excitement, adventure, love, intimacy, triumph, closure, healing, or even escape.

Go Niche

In non-fiction, this is particularly important, especially in the beginning. When we go niche, we minimize competition. We can establish expertise, grow deep roots and gain authority. Eventually, if we desire, we can use the niche success to broaden our platform.

For instance, when I started blogging about social media, I was trying to be like other experts because I was new and insecure.

Then I noticed the tactics other experts were teaching weren’t very author-friendly. Most of us aren’t IT people or power-marketers. Also, many of the experts were speaking to businesses who could simply employ someone to do their social media.

The owner of the business wasn’t in charge of creating the product, too.

Thus, I went niche. I made my content different and for a very specific audience—writers. Sure, WANA methods actually work for any small business. They are ideal for artists, photographers, stylists, lawyers, and any profession where the owner is required to also produce the product/service and lacks a department to delegate social media duties.

Yet, I remained focused on writers. One day I might expand. That’s the plan. But if I’d tried to compete with Guy Kawasaki in the beginning, I’d have been in a losing battle. I picked a field I could cultivate.

I defined my audience and dedicated everything I had into serving, informing, preparing and entertaining THEM.

If I want to write a diet book, a diet “that works” is a lot of competition. But what about a diet book for the woman who is breast-feeding and wants to lose weight, feel better, combat post-partum depression naturally and have a waistline again?

Niche.

This same principle applies to fiction. Many new writers are hesitant to pick a genre. We want to write a book everyone loves. In trying to please everyone, we please no one. Focus is key with fiction. Ask what you want your readers to feel and then focus on that. It will make your writing tighter and it will give it a greater chance of connecting to a willing audience.

We all recognize pizza in all its amazing and varied forms. Some weird casserole with a fancy name? Might taste better, but the pizza is an easier sell. Pizza CAN be creative. Yes, we can blend genres and use artistic abilities to offer “same but different” yet there needs to be a grounding point or audiences are left scratching their heads saying, “I know you SAY it’s good…but what IS it?”

Look for the vacuums. Demographics not being served. This is why I am so excited about Baby Boomer Romance. Still fills a need (love, excitement), it’s recognizable (romance), but it’s different. It can appeal to the 58 year-old who wants to read about a woman in her age group finding love.

Get a Thick Skin

Whether we are writing non-fiction or fiction, this is imperative. There are people out there who have nothing better to do than tear others down. Yes, I’m excited to now be blogging for The Huffington Post. It was a wonderful promotion as NF expert. Yet, a new level, new devil. I can’t moderate comments, and it didn’t take long to get the comment bashing me for using the word “Awesome.”

Um...thanks.

Um…thanks.

I used the word “awesome” ONCE, so I am guessing this is now a word banned from the English language? And I wonder if the commenter realizes she doesn’t look smart, just like a jerk. It took practically duct-taping myself in another room not to respond:

Awesome comment. It’s awesome you could take the time to make such an awesome observation. It’s awesome feedback like this that makes future blogs even MORE AWESOME. Thanks for being AWESOME.

But this goes with the territory *shrugs*.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Fiction authors? You cannot please everyone and if you try to? You start wearing your underwear on the outside of your clothes and take up collecting beer cans in a stolen Wal Mart cart as a hobby. Just don’t go there.

Fiction is subjective, so probably far more vulnerable.

One person LOVES description, and another hates it. One person LOVES lots of subplots, and others are confused. Just hone your craft, put out the best work you can and keep moving. Many of the bullies out there have been bullies since they were in fourth grade teasing the poor kid with the KMart clothes and a lisp.

Look at the bright side, we could be THEM.

What are your thoughts? Have you been on the other end of a bully? A Goodreads bully? Did you use duct tape to keep from hunting them down and burning dog poo on their porch? In your writing, has going niche offered focus? Do you have a clear vision of the “needs” your works should be filling?

I love hearing from you!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Winner of 20 page edit. Troy Lambert. Please send your 5000 word Word Document to kristen at wana intl dot com.

Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

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34 Comments

The Personal Apocalypse—When are We REAL Writers?

Raise a glass to yet another BONK on the head.

Raise a glass to yet another BONK on the head.

It would be lovely if, when we decide to pursue our dream to become a writer, that friends, family and acquaintances would roll out the red carpet of support. Maybe some of you are fortunate enough to have had this happen, but I’d wager most of us could have joined a cult of UFO worshippers in New Mexico and received a better response.

New Level, New Devil (Thank You, Joyce Meyers)

Any time we seek to do something remarkable, something that deviates from “normal”… expect rejection. I was “fortunate” to experience a personal apocalypse so massive, that up was the only way to go. With a misdiagnosis of epilepsy, I’d lost my job, my home, my savings, my health, my identity, and my pride. I’d suffered such a sweeping personal extinction that I very literally had nothing left to lose.

Why not become a writer? I’d always wanted to, but was too busy trying to please those who would never be pleased.

Brief History of Kristen’s Failed People-Pleasing Attempts

I’d joined the military to make my father happy. He wasn’t. After being a high school drop-out TWICE, I worked my tail off and won a full medical scholarship to become a doctor and please my grandparents. My grandmother’s first words to me when I announced I’d won a $250,000 scholarship?

“They must have been short on their quota for women.”

I fractured my back in an ice storm in 1995. No more medical scholarship, so I majored in what interested me.

I earned a degree in International Relations, specifically Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. I was going to change the world! The day after graduation, I boarded a plane for Syria and lived with refugees and mingled among the Bedouin and tried to see how things could be “fixed.” They couldn’t. At least not by me.

Defeated, I returned home.

Lost as to what to do next, I went into sales to please my grandfather (the business brain of the family). I was terrible at it. And yet I kept trying to fit myself into worlds where my strengths and talents had no place. In trying to please others, my health deteriorated drastically from stress. I remember every day going to work and having to pull over and puke. I hated what I did THAT much.

After I lost everything due to that fateful misdiagnosis, I decided to become a writer. I’d been working on my tome for years. I was sure it would be a best-seller and shut up all my naysayers. It wasn’t. It was a train wreck. I realized this when I joined a critique group and they promptly filleted me and my manuscript.

Thus, in a new personal low, I reverted back to trying to please others and got another brilliant idea.

“I know. LAW SCHOOL.”

I bought an LSAT book but never studied. I guess I thought I’d learn through osmosis. Anyway, it would have been great if I’d tanked, but I didn’t. I scored a 168 without studying. Now I was truly in a panic. Until the day I received my scores, I hadn’t been honest with myself. I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I’d just thought maybe my family would let up on me for a while then I could write while I “studied” to do better.

But, no. I was accepted into one of the top law schools in the country.

CRAP.

Crisis Point

I’d always believed in service. I was a Rotarian and had done mission work and humanitarian work for most of my life. So, my mother (my sole advocate) and I went to talk to the church elder to get some advice about law school versus being a writer.

For some reason I expected him to support my writing dream, but was basically told I was a fool and most writers wash out and starve and that writing wasn’t a “real” job.”

*Makes mental note of how many BOOKS were lining his office*

When I left, I was in tears and ready to give up on writing. Had it not been for my mother, I would have. I’d have gone off to law school then later hurled myself in traffic because I would have been chained to yet another profession that wasn’t my calling.

How Could ONE PERSON FAIL So MUCH?

Faith is the belief in things ahead that won’t make sense until we look back. This is one of the reasons I blog so much to teach you guys more than craft, more than social media. I want to teach you that it isn’t over until we give up and that failure provides the necessary ingredients for success.

If I hadn’t been a high school dropout, would I have had the tenacity to never give up?

If you read my new book, it’s loaded with neuroscience, economics, epidemiology and humor. If I hadn’t majored in Neuroscience for three years, then earned a degree in Political Economy, would I have been able to tether all these concepts together in a book that could help artists?

The same analytical skills that helped me on the LSAT helped me pull apart what worked and didn’t work with selling books. Why don’t ads sell books when they sell plenty of mascara, diet plans and computers?

If my first novel had been perfect, would I have had to take on jobs editing and reverse-engineered every book I’d ever read to learn? Could I teach craft had I naturally been “brilliant” at it? If I hadn’t landed on my @$$ so many times, would I have developed the sense of humor that makes all these concepts FUN?

Failure as Fertilizer

When we first moved into our new home, our yard was essentially mowed field. The dirt was nothing but rocks and hard clay. When I planted my first flowers, they shriveled and died. So I planted different flowers and they died too.

So then I planted different flowers and they caught on fire and fell into the swamp died too. But, finally, after rounds and rounds of dead plants, the flowers started to thrive. All that had died had provided what was missing, the vital ingredients for life to THRIVE.

THEY LIVE! Only took FOUR YEARS to BLOOM.

THEY LIVE! Only took FOUR YEARS to BLOOM.

Your “failures” feel like bull$#!&, but bull$#!&  makes fabulous fertilizer :D. You just need time, work and patience to bloom.

Embrace the Apocalypse

Becoming a writer isn’t easy. We get called “aspiring” writers until we land a sweet three-book deal with Random-Penguin. No one calls a pre-med student an “aspiring doctor.” They don’t call a pre-law student “an aspiring lawyer.” So, as I’ve said before, screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. You are NOT an aspiring writer, you are at the very least a “pre-published writer”.

Writers write, so if you are writing, you are a WRITER.

Ignore the naysayers. They’ll be your biggest fans one day when you prove them wrong. Raise a glass to your failures. They will provide the ingredients for magic in your future writing. Let the old fall away. A lot of an apocalypse is releasing the old, the out-dated and the junk that doesn’t work.

I had to let go of trying to please others. I had to let go of failing at destinies that weren’t mine. I had to let go of amateur thinking and take my job seriously, even if no one could walk into a bookstore and buy my book (yet). Know that you have stories only you can tell, subjects only you can teach or explore (for the NF authors). You were born to do this and ignore anyone who tells you any different.

If your friends and family don’t support you, the WANAs will. Join us on #MyWANA on Twitter or on WANATRIBE. When we try to hold onto the old and fail to embrace the apocalypse and embark on our true journey, we look a lot like this.

What are your thoughts? Did you have a personal apocalypse that prompted you to throw caution to the wind and become what you always wanted to be? Are you like me and struggle with people pleasing?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

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