Posts Tagged WANA

NaNoWriMo, Gone Girl & Confessions of a Recovering Jerk

Image via the motion picture "Gone Girl"

Image via the motion picture “Gone Girl”

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is days away. I’m loading up on fiction to feed my brain and imagination. I listened to the unabridged version of Gone Girl. Why? Because I kept hearing the same thing over and over for almost a YEAR.

These people are just SO horrible and yet? You can’t stop yourself.

Regular people. READERS told me this. NOT other writers.

***Bizarrely, I have found there can often be a BIG difference between what we loathe and what readers LOVE, which is why we must continue to write for readers, not other writers.

The READERS were right. And regardless of one’s opinion about the book, I will say it was masterful in that we could see the best and the worst of ourselves reflected back through the characters. The control, self-righteousness, cowardice, love, disappointment, manipulation, etc. (Btw, no spoiler alerts in this post).

Some people love candy-coated fiction. I love the dark stuff. The go-for-the-guts writing that puts the worst of us on display. Because if it isn’t out? We can’t change what we can’t see.

Meet, Kristen Lamb…The JERK

I’m one of the most blessed people on the planet. Truly. I’m not a millionaire and may never be, but I’m infinitely rich. I wouldn’t trade the wonderful people I know personally and on-line for anything. This is a tough post to write because it’s vulnerable.

I have a confession. I am a Recovered (Recovering?) Jerk. It would be nice to lie to you and tell you I never have my moments, but I do. Thankfully, they are far rarer than they used to be. Today, I’d like to talk about some of my Jerk Reformation. It could be a BOOK…okay a SERIES of books, but we’ll touch on the highlights.

And I realize all of you are kind and sweet and don’t need this for you, but maybe it can help with someone you know ;) . Or maybe make your NaNoWriMo characters a bit richer. People loooove reading about screwed up people.

It’s like my fascination with horror movies. When I have a REALLY BAD KICK YOU IN THE TEETH DAY? Nothing perks me up like a good scary movie.

Why?

Because at least I am not (to my knowledge) possessed by demons….

Same with reading. Well, yeah, I’m totally screwed up, but not THAT screwed up.

Perfectionism

I used to be highly critical of everyone and everything, including myself. The last part was likely what others never saw. I led those around me to believe they never measured up, but the truth was, I never measured up. I came from a highly dysfunctional and chaotic home. I knew nothing of peace. I only knew love control. Granted, in my mind I was helping. Yet, I’ve learned over the years that people need acceptance more than “help.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.46.35 AM

I was a fraud.

On the outside my clothes were perfect, my hair perfect, my house perfect, but truth was? I was falling apart. I felt that showing any weakness was bad, that it made me a failure. This made me prideful and afraid to ask for help. Others didn’t see I needed help because, “Well, Kristen is ‘perfect’” *rolls eyes* Granted, others probably sensed I was a mess so my “perfect” facade simply generated more resentment.

People aren’t fond of phonies. Imagine that?

Life popped me on the snoot and opened my eyes to my character (or lack thereof); my poor attitude, my judgmental ways and my impossible (and stupid) standards. I couldn’t give away what I didn’t have. I had no grace for myself, so how could I give that to others?

I was white-knuckled-terrified of failure, of not knowing ALL the answers or being *gasp* WRONG. Every quiet moment was a deafening montage in my mind of how I sucked, how I’d screwed up, how I should’ve could’ve would’ve….

BLURGH!

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

I refused to cry, to let others know I was a mess. I bottled it up—the fear, the disappointment, the feelings of inadequacy.

What I’ve come to understand is that failure is the tuition we pay for success. Failure is vital. Failure is an event, not a state of being. Failure is to be celebrated, because it means we’re being brave. We’re trying. We’re daring to do something remarkable. As I began to give myself permission to fall on my face and laugh it off, I realized I needed to do that with others.

We don’t need critics who point out we fell and draw a diagram of our stupidity and how “they would have done it better.” Likely they wouldn’t have done it any better and even if they did? Who cares? What we need is a hand helping us up, patting us on the back and then high-fiving us for daring to TRY.

Pride

An ugly stepchild of perfectionism is pride. As I mentioned earlier I was prideful. I knew better, did it better and life was all a competition because 2nd place was the first loser.

Dumb, dumb, dumbditty-dumb-dumb.

Yes, I know. I had something to prove but was too foolish to realize there is nothing in life TO PROVE. Good people don’t judge us by our resume or our lists of accomplishments or rows of trophies. GOOD people won’t remember our designer handbag, our perfect house, our fancy car. They will remember and respond to how we made them feel when they were in our company. 

I worked a job for years that I loathed because the pay was good and the title “impressive.” But, I longed to write. Oh, but writing meant I might have to shop at Walmart or thrift stores instead of fancy boutiques. I might have to drive an old car and clip coupons. THE HORROR! What would others THINK?

Probably nothing, LOL.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.49.52 AMThe funny thing was all those people who were my friends when I could pick up the tab or take them shopping vanished when the money ran out. I learned the hard way that real friends aren’t for sale ;) . In the past few years? I have family members who’ve vanished. Family I believed LOVED me.

They did…until I outlived my usefulness.

Pride created other problems. Because I was too afraid to admit I wasn’t the All-Knowing-Oracle-Perfect-At-All-Things, I was an unteachable @$$. This left me to relying on luck and resenting others who were successful. Tearing others down to make myself feel better.

Oh, sure, SHE’S a successful writer. If I had a more supportive family, a better computer, a magic pad of FLOWER POST-ITS I could be there too. WHAAAAAHH!

Stupid, I know.

But when I let down my guard and began to admit that perhaps-maybe-kinda-sorta that I didn’t precisely-specifically-exactly KNOW EVERYTHING I began to grow. I could take advice and even *gasp* criticism. I could separate my work from ME. Mentors, critique partners, etc. were pointing out problems in a story or a situation, not ME. Wow! Who knew?

These were baby steps to learning that my work could be flawed and I’d live and even improve. The next step? I could be flawed in my character, behavior, or attitudes and would live to tell the tale! I might even…improve.

Whoud’a thunk?

Boundaries, Anger, Forgiveness

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

For a long time I suffered with an anger problem. I’d love to lie to you guys and tell you I’m perfect and totally cured but I hear thunder rumbling outside and don’t want to push my luck :D . When I grew to a point that I could accept increasing layers of critique/criticism with my writing, I was more open to others pointing out my personal flaws.

*shivers*

I was a people-pleaser and said yes to everything. Then I’d get overloaded, stressed, angry and lash out. I’m still working on not overextending. Shingles will show you painfully your own limitations.

I love to help. I DO. If I meet you at a conference and hug you and tell you that you will change the world and that I BELIEVE IN YOU or that I really DO care about you? It isn’t an act at all.

An energy drain, yes. But optimism as a superpower? I’ll roll with that.

Ugly truth? I used to say all the same things I do now, only I said them solely so you would “like” me. Not because I believed in you. I didn’t believe in me. How could I believe in you, too?

Optimism is a great character trait, but it needs balance. One of the reasons I’d lash out in anger is I was realllllly bad at putting down boundaries, communicating them and sticking to them in a loving way. I’d back up and back up and back up and say, “Oh, it’s okay” when it wasn’t.

Then BOOM!

Image of a Kristen Temper Tantrum via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of a Kristen Temper Tantrum via Wikimedia Commons.

What I’ve learned is that boundaries are part of all healthy relationships. I heard this metaphor and love it. Your life, MY life is like a beautiful garden (which likely needs a lot of weeding but that’s another post). Frequently we buy into the lie that fences are bad. People should be free to come in and out of our lives. This is true, which is why all good fences have a GATE. You will NEED this gate more than ever when you decide to become a writer. You might need RAZOR WIRE on that gate for NaNo.

Writing isn’t a hobby or a fun cute thing we do. It is WORK. HARD FREAKING WORK and others will not respect that unless we draw a line.

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

Forgiveness

Everything we’ve discussed so far might be useful for you on a personal level. Maybe you aren’t as messed up as I was (am?). Chances are though, if you’re a writer, fiction is cheaper than therapy. The interesting thing about Gone Girl is it viscerally showed me how we could root for utterly unlikeable people.

Self-awareness.

The difference between a selfish, insecure jerk who is a horrible person versus a pure sociopath is that, eventually, the terrible-no-good-awful person realizes they are a terrible-no-good-awful-person. Maybe they try to change. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they do the right thing. Maybe they don’t. But the linchpin difference is their eyes are opened to the reality of who they truly are.

The same applied to ME. The perfectionism, pride, back-biting, resentment, jealousy, anger, false pretenses were fuel that kept me in the destructive cycle of being a jerk. Unlike some fictional characters, I chose to change.

My disaster of a life showed me that I needed to learn to love others where they are. Love myself where I am. Perfection is a lie. Pride is a poison. I had to forgive myself if I ever hoped to forgive others.

We Are All Works in Progress

We all have good days, bad days and days we wish we could erase completely. Most people are not sitting up all night thinking of ways to make others miserable (Some do, so don’t let them through that gate until they knock it off). We screw up and always will.

But the good news is we can learn, grow and become better (so can our characters). We can discipline ourselves to look for the good in ourselves and others, because it takes no great talent to be critical. And the beautiful thing is when we learn to give ourselves permission to be imperfect, we get better at extending that grace to others. As we become more dimensional, so does our writing.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

If we only want to be around “perfect” people, life will get really lonely. Also, good fence-building is a skill that takes time.

I love this blog and adore all of you. Honestly. I love how you guys talk about your struggles and lift one another up. I’m inspired by your generosity, your honesty, your newness, your authenticity, your brokenness, your flaws, your weakness, your strengths and all of it makes me better every day. I might still be a jerk without you :D .

What are your thoughts? Shocked I am a Recovering Jerk? Hey, we jerks need friends too. Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you find yourself holding others to super high standards because you do it to yourself? Are you afraid of being you? Afraid if people knew your house was loaded with laundry they might not like you?

Do you deal with family who tramples through your heart and home? Are you learning about how to put up good fences too? Are you afraid if you cry you might never stop? Are you a Recovering Jerk too? What did you learn?

Are you afraid to write the awful character? Do you find yourself candy-coating? And share your thoughts on Gone Girl, just try not to spoil it for those who might want to still read it. I could write a BOOK about my opinions.

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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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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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

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.19.39 PM

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

Planning Travel? Five TSA-Approved Weapons of the Zombie Apocalypse

ZOMBIES!

ZOMBIES!

Next week, I hop on a flight to teach The Master’s Series in Seattle at the Emerald City Conference. I’m always so blessed to serve and I LOVE that area of the country. SCORE! But, flying has become particularly…terrifying. This only adds to my already irrational fears because—face it—I’m a writer and we have pathologically overactive imaginations. Writers INVENTED The Dark Side…literally .

And yes, we’re in scary times. My go-to coping mechanisms for fear? Crocheting, violent video games, Jui-Jitsu, gallows humor, and tasteless jokes.

You know you’re a writer when the rest of the world sees the neighbors “got new carpet” and you wonder inside if the wife is present and accounted for O_o.

*checks roll of discarded carpet for smells of decomp*

Whenever I travel, I have a number of fears.

1) The ONE time I don’t leave my home clean enough to perform open heart surgery will, of course, be the trip where I die in a fiery crash. Thus, as a good luck talisman of sorts, I have this compulsive need to make sure every stitch of dirty laundry is clean and put away. It’s my psychotic-and-pretty-much-fully-delusional-insurance against plane crashes.

2) If I wear cute, impractical shoes, the plane will have to make an emergency landing in some desert and then I will have to hump it out of Death Valley in those Betsey Johnson Iron-Maidens-for-the-Feet. In my mind I die not because I didn’t have a way out, but because I foolishly chose fashion over function.

We miss dear Kristen, but she left this world looking ADORABLE!

3) The Zombie Apocalypse will strike when I am away.

Every single trip, I have the same fear (I blame this on being a Gen-Xer). All I can think is, Gee, I hope the Zombie Apocalypse doesn’t start when I’m in Seattle and away from Hubby, Spawn and all the guns. I know normal people don’t think things like this, but you guys are writers, so you totally understand.

And I know some of you have been through this with me before on other trips, but it’s HALLOWEEN! AND helllooooo? EBOLA?

Zombies are a totally appropriate topic, and everyone should be prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse anyway. You can laugh now, but if a horde of brainless freaks hit the streets of your town, you will be thinking, I didn’t know the presidential campaign was coming around so early.

Ooops. Inside words stay inside. Zombies don’t like politicians anyway. Empty calories.

Where was I? Oh, yes. You will be thankful that weirdos people like me thought this stuff through.

Today I am frantically trying to get as much work done as humanly possible before I leave. I’m also wondering if hand sanitizer can really help me all that much in the face of a deadly filovirus, and I assume a portable flamethrower is not TSA approved. There goes my prevention plan.

But of course, it is impossible for me to travel without thinking of the Doomsday Zombie Separated from Home Scenario.

Yes, this is me.

Come on! If the zombies strike Seattle, then I have to make it cross country (because I HATE open water and that is a LONG way home to Texas). But who knows if the outbreak is contained to just the west coast? And then I have to figure out how to ride a dirt bike and we all know how well that went the time I tried it. Then I have to stay alive long enough to make it all the way home to rendezvous with Hubby because he is SO NOT doing this without me!

Hubby and I are way to excited about this…

Be prepared….

You shall not pass!

Am I wrong to be a little freaked out about leaving home? In Texas, I HAVE a plan. We have weapons, ammo, a fallback point and lots of GF food. We can also raid the burned out shells of Central Market, Sprouts and Trader Joe’s as we flee to the ranch. But to leave out of town? I can’t bring nail clippers on a plane, so this presents a new challenge.

This is what always happens in the movies. The protagonist leaves for some innocuous business trip, and that is precisely the moment that some corporation trying to create a new kind of permanent Botox screws up. Then the protagonist is in for a cross-country zombie-fest with only the hope of being reunited with loved ones to cling to.

YES, I do have an overactive imagination. It is why it was better I become a writer than an accountant.

I am a really odd duck. Yes, that’s a nice “shocked face.” Thank you for being polite. No, seriously. I think these things through. I am the person who gives SAS Survival Guides as Christmas gifts.

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Want to see zombies? Wait until the end of NOVEMBER.

But I am in a bit of a conundrum since the terrorists ruined travel FOREVER. What can I pack in case of the Zombie Apocalypse?

The people in the movies are never prepared, which is why I am then required to shout expletives at the screen to make-believe people who can’t even hear me.

Anyway, since my life is not a movie…yet :D…I’ve had to get creative. Here are my Top 5 TSA-Approved Zombie-Killing Weapons. Make it through airport security and rest assured that you will be prepared should the Zombie Apocalypse strike when you are on vacation or business travel, because you just know that an apocalypse never strikes at a convenient time *rolls eyes*. I think AAA and the airlines should give these kinds of travel tips, stuff we can actually use.

Top Five TSA-Friendly Zombie-Killing Weapons for the Apocalypse 

1. Justin Bieber CDs

Being attacked by a horde of brainless freaks? Play some Justin Bieber and they are guaranteed to start dancing and crying and believing that Justin like seriously like looked right at them! SQUEEEEEEE! This method is guaranteed not only to distract the zombies, but it might even attract some Justin Bieber fans to give the zombies a snack so they aren’t busy chasing you.

The TSA isn’t crazy about Justin Bieber CDs, but they aren’t yet officially listed as weapons of terror.

Yet.

2. Cheap Hairspray

I would go for the industrial size can if you check a bag, but also at least 40 bottles of the travel size. They are under 2.5 ounces, so the TSA can’t exactly stop you, and if you wear big Texas hair they might not even bat an eye.

Hairspray, of course, is easy to make into a flamethrower, and also to do your hair. Duh.

Everyone has camera phones these days so it is a pretty safe bet that people will be taking pictures of the Zombie Apocalypse. And on any footage captured? Naturally, you want to be looking your best.

3. Bubble Wrap

To the TSA, bubble wrap just looks like you are OCD about packing your stuff and making sure it doesn’t get jacked up. What they don’t realize is bubble wrap can serve as a Zombie Early Warning System. Scaling fences and cars running from mindless monsters can be tiring, so you need to get your rest.

Just use the bubble wrap to form a perimeter. When they step on it? The noise can wake you up and then, when they are distracted playing with the bubble wrap—because, seriously who can resist freaking BUBBLE WRAP?—you can bust cap in their @$$. Not exactly a weapon, but the zombies end up dead–er, so who cares? Close enough.

4. Lady Gaga Meat Dress

It’s like a Ghillie Suit for slaying zombies. Just make sure you wrap this in the bubble wrap to keep it from leaking on your other stuff. And I might advise freezing your meat dress.

Swap the shoes for something more functional, like sausage sprinting shoes.

Swap the shoes for something more functional, like sausage sprinting shoes.

Not only will freezing your meat dress keep it fresh for the flight, but wearing freezing cold meat can a) help you stay cool while running for your life b) serve as a cold compress for any injuries you might sustain c) makes excellent body armor d) will keep anyone of the opposite sex from remotely hitting on you, thus preventing the sexual distraction that normally comes before a zombie rips your skull open e) can be used as food until it get’s that greenish slimy look f) but once it does get green, slimy and stinky, you will fit right in with the zombies, thus the Lady GaGa meat dress becomes the perfect zombie camouflage.

The downside is the zombies might not eat you, but you could die of e-coli, so make sure to fully cook your meat dress before consumption

The TSA might be iffy on this one. I know we can’t transport produce across state lines, but no one at the airlines would answer my questions about the meat dress. And now my phone is clicking. I think it’s been tapped.

5. A Bag Full of Legos

Need to trip up a pursuer? Toss a bag of Legos on the stairs and listen for the scream. To the TSA agent, you look like a loving family member bringing a child a toy, but little do they know Legos have a dark side and sharp edges.

The Spawn claims it isn’t a mess, it’s preparation.

Well, those are the Top Five TSA-Approved Zombie-Killing Weapons.

Any TSA friendly weapons you would like to add? I have to pack for the potential Zombie Apocalypse conference, and, to be honest, I can’t think much past great shoes for running and hair utensils that can be sharpened to kill. I’d love some additional suggestions to add to the bag.

Do you have weird travel rituals/fears? Do you have a fear of dying and loved ones finding your house a mess? Why would we care anyway? Do you see a shower curtain or a great hiding place for an ax-killer? You KNOW you say the rolled-up-carpet-dead-body *stares at you*.

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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46 Comments

10 Tips to Organizing a Kick Ass Online Book Event

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Today, one of our WANA instructors is here to talk about a topic that makes most of us want to throw ourselves in traffic. BUT Angela Ackerman, our marketing maven is here to demystify Sasquatch the book launch party….

The Book Launch—WTH? What AM I THINKING?

The book launch. The discoverability blog hop. The big Christmas sale. You know you need to do it, that it will be good for your book, but the MOUNTAIN of work looming makes you want to run for Netflix and Big Bang Theory reruns.

After hosting many successful online events, I’ve learned a few tricks to making it through them alive. It involves a lot of coffee, frozen pizza for the family, and these ten steps.

1) Pick a Theme

Via Tumblr

Via Tumblr

Every event needs something jazzy to make it stand out. Pick a theme for your event that makes it fun and different. Think about your audience, and what they might find entertaining or valuable, and then pair it with a unique element from your book.

Is your book about pirates? Create an online treasure hunt. Is your hero a safe-cracking thief? Host a bank vault break in (Becca and I did something similar HERE.) The goal is to attract YOUR IDEAL AUDIENCE by tailoring your event to something they specifically will enjoy.

2) Marshall Your Forces

#PARTY

#PARTY

Put a call out using your blog, Facebook feed, twitter and email–anywhere you have a platform. If you want to run a successful event, you can’t do it alone–you need your friends and connections to build an Awesome Street Team. I find what works best is to blog about the event well in advance and request help (& share links to the post across my networks) and then to supply a simple Google Form for interested people to fill out so I can contact them with details.

This works well if you need a few different “types” of helpers…people can sign up for what they want to do. Here and here are some sample forms I have created in the past.

3) Outline How the Event Will Run

What needs to be done in advance? DO those things.

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Need a blog banner or badge for your event? Create one. Need to drum up prizes? Secure them. In advance, prepare the book launch/book event day post for your blog (and one for your street team to use on their blogs if needed). Gather any links you need (Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook page, etc.), craft tweets to use during the event, and create an event #hashtag. Doing these things now saves you time later.

4) Email Your Volunteers

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Send a group email, thanking them for stepping up to help–make it personal and genuine. Then, clearly describe how the event will run and what you would like them to do. Explain how long the event will run, when you need their blog posts up, and when you will announce winners or simply end the event.

Give people a chance to ask questions, so everyone understands what the plan is. I recommend creating a distribution list for your team so you can keep emails private. (I learned that lesson the hard way when my first event someone got upset that her email was exposed to other members of my street team.)

5) Stay in Touch

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Once it gets closer to the date, let everyone know you will soon be sending them an email package with “cheat sheet” instructions (to remind them of how the event will run and their role in it) and everything they need for the event. Tell your team that if something has changed and they can no longer participate, you understand but now’s the time to let you know.

You don’t want to be sending out a lot of email so people feel spammed, so try hard to be very organized. If you did get questions about the event from multiple parties and they are valid questions or concerns, answer them in a Q & A in this group email so everyone is on the same page.

6) Send Out the E-Mail Package

Setting Party Operational Tempo

Setting Party Operational Tempo

A week in advance of the event, give everyone a package that contains a “cheat sheet” of instructions, an image of your blog banner or badge you will be using, and an attachment “template post” that they can cut and paste onto their blog (short and sweet, so all they have to do is write up a quick intro). I send 2 versions: a Word document, and the HTML code that has the blog badge, pictures and formatting already in place.

Bloggers who can support HTML can just cut and paste, and the work is done. I always tell people they can write their own post if they prefer, but it’s my goal with events to make life as easy as possible for my team, so I give them everything they need to save time if they wish. (Here’s the blog post I sent to my street team for our event, The WHW Amazing Race.) Also, remember to tell them the event #hashtag you picked for their tweets.

7) Be Present

WANAs RULE

WANAs RULE

When your event launches, stuff might go wrong. Make sure you are available to help your team in any way they need. Tell them to email you if they need help and monitor your inbox. Check everyone’s blogs to make sure the posts are up and that links work.

If you can, interact in their comment sections as well as your own. On social media, drive traffic to your street team people. With a large group, I create a Pinterest board of participants (like this one), and then tweet links to it during and after the event, telling my followers that these are really great people & to check out their blogs. This is a nice way to say thank you to them for participating.

8) Be Enthusiastic

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For this event to be memorable, your energy needs to be up. Try to engage people, encourage them to participate, and make it super fun. (This is where having a kick ass theme comes in.) Make sure your high level of positivity is in every email you send to your team.

Be pumped, let them know how excited you are to be doing this event with them. They in turn will spread that high energy along.

9) Wrap It Up

Publish your closing post for the event (if there are winners to draw and announce, do this) and thank everyone for joining you in the event. Send out emails to winners, and distribute any prizes. Keep a list of the winners so if you don’t hear back from someone, you can try again.

10) Say a Heartfelt THANK YOU to Your Street Team

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Don’t be afraid to show your emotion–let them really know just what it meant to you that they shared time with you and made it so much fun. In the days ahead, remember to tweet them, and tweet or link to your Pinterest board from time to time. If you can help them get exposure in return, do! Some people offer a prize draw or give small gift to members of a street team. This might be something you may wish to do as well.

BONUS TIP: Buy a nice bottle of wine, or expensive box of chocolate (or both!) and take some “me time.” Relaxing and recharging after an event is important too!

Thank you ANGELA! I know this blog is a HUGE help, but need more? Angela and Becca are holding a WANA class The Marketing Marriage: Creative Social Media Solutions to Help Get Your Book Noticed. And all our instructors teach the WANA WAY, which is devoid of creepy, spammy, try to make you into a marketing Pod Person tactics.

Angela will be around for questions and I hope you guys show her some love. What are your greatest challenges? What makes you panic? Why? What have you tried that worked? What have you done that was in your comfort zone? What is keeping you from stepping out into the “unknown”?

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Angela Ackerman, MARKETING MAVEN

 

 

 

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58 Comments

The First & Most Crucial Step to OWNING NaNoWriMo

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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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