So You Wrote a First Draft—Dear God! What NOW?

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 4.30.54 PM

Once we have that crappy first draft usually there will be two major things we need to do…fill or cut. Okay, drinking makes three. And maybe wondering why we didn’t go to dental hygienist school instead makes four….

Anyway.

While it is true that too little substance can generate confusion, too much fluff can create distraction.

There needs to be a balance between…

Enough about the damn snowstorm! and Wait? There was snow?

Thus, once we have that completed first draft and begin our read-through we need to make these refinements to see if what we created meets or exceeds our expectations.

Sadly this is usually the first draft.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 7.49.42 PM

Much of what we will need to do is going to be dictated by what kind of writer we are. Are we a Trimmer or an Embellisher? There is a fantastic post over on Writer Unboxed that describes these two types of writers.

Some writers do a very sparse first draft that acts a lot like a frame for paper machet. It is really meant to just give an idea of the final form and serve as a guide.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Suzette.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Suzette.

Once the structure is inspected and found to be solid enough for government work, the writer then goes back through and fleshes in the work.

Other writers write super heavy then carve away what doesn’t serve the story.

And while I think all of us will identify with one type or another (Trimmer or Embellisher) it really helps to know what to add and/or what to cut.

If we add too much of the wrong thing, we can spoil the entire novel. If we cut too much of the right stuff we can collapse the story. Thus I hope today to at least give you some guidance beyond the more surface line-edit tips I’ve given before (6 Ways to Self-Edit and Polish Your Prose) though those are super helpful as well.

When I do a content edit for any writer, these are the main areas I am looking for.

What To Cut

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jojo Nicado

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jojo Nicado

Character Redundancy

Each character should have a distinctive personality. This personality will give them a corresponding unique purpose to driving the story forward and generating conflict.

In Lord of the Rings the main story problem is of course created by Sauron (the whole evil ring thing). But, much of the story conflict is actually created by the cast members of the various parties who all have a specific role to play.

Merry and Pippin create a lot of chaos that generates sudden changes in the plan. For instance, the plan was to meet Gandalf at The Prancing Pony NOT to nearly fall into the Dark Rider’s lap outrunning a ticked off farmer.

The duo is naive, inquisitive and we can kind of bundle them into one because they are a team in their mischief. To have essentially another Merry and or Pippin type character would be a redundancy that would be a distraction.

Ask yourself then: Do I have any characters who could be merged?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Q Family

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Q Family

Scenes that Don’t Move the Story Forward

All scenes have one common element. Conflict. There is a goal. No goal and that isn’t a scene.

Sections of information dump, flashbacks that have no ties to the main plot problem/resolution, or scenes with no conflict (I.e. two characters merely talking about a third character)? CUT.

Lackluster Description

Many of us love description. I do. My motto? No metaphor left behind! But description can have two main problems. Either we have a lot of good description but it is SO much that it is bogging down the story. Or, we have description, but it isn’t anything remarkable and we need to replace it with something better.

Ideally, it will be description that goes below the surface and adds to the plot, sets the tone and heightens tension.

Description is more than a weather report or a police sketch.

He was tall and handsome with a chiseled chin and dark wavy hair and…

And he took your purse?

I love this line from the beginning of Prisoner of Hell Gate, which is a literary suspense and one of my favorite books. This description hooks me and sets my expectations:

Dampness prevails, as always, but at this time less from the river and more from the mugginess that weighs on everything. It penetrates the very bricks, their crumbling mortar spongy to the touch.

I don’t know about you, but I am practically wilting reading this. It works way better than:

She walked beside the river on a hot summer night.

Though obviously style will dictate how we write description, even lean writers use words that will give the most impact.

He was a boring man dressed in an off-the-rack suit.

Maybe, instead…

He was the kind of man whose face you forgot even while you were still speaking to him.

Good description is less about piling on details and more about evoking a feeling.

What to Add

Sense of Time and Place

Is this a modern story? Or one set back in time? Is there magic? Technology? What is the setting? Now drop in the details that ground us. Talking heads in a place we aren’t oriented in is jarring. If this is in the beginning of a book, often it will fail to hook.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 7.47.12 PM

Character Nuance

If we just roughed out a bare-bones plot, we now need to go put the modeling clay on the skull.

Another one of my all-time favorite books is Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. Now in a parallel world maybe he just wrote out that he needed “a brash bounty hunter with a red car” then later built it into this:

“It was a 1967 Pontiac LeMans Ragtop. Bloodred and so souped-up that she’d outrun any damn thing on the road. And I do mean damned thing.”

That’s how Charlie Matthias always described his car. Then, he’d give a big braying horselaugh, because no matter how many times he said it, he thought it was the funniest joke ever. People tended to laugh with him rather than at the actual joke, because Charlie had a 72-inch chest and 24-inch biceps, and his sweat was a soup of testosterone, anabolic steroids, and Jack Daniels… (Page, 24)

We learned a lot about this character from a three-sentence bit of dialogue, some power-packed description and even some narrative regarding how others responded in the company of this particular character.

This is a really short section that does a lot. It even hints at what type of book this is…a book about zombies. If we happened to pick up this story with no book cover, we’d “get” what it was about.

More Conflict/Tension/Surprise

Great stories are about one thing and one thing only. PROBLEMS. Are our characters getting what they want too easily? Too quickly? Is their action toward each goal too linear? Are there enough stakes? Setbacks? Misdirections?

Are the characters’ actions too predictable? Can you maybe do better at defying reader expectations?

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 8.02.53 PM

Are the characters acting as three-dimensional “people” who carry a lot of baggage? Or are they plot-puppets merely doing and saying things because we Author God need them to?

What are your thoughts? Does this help give you a plan of what to do with that first draft? Are you afraid of your office because your WIP might bite you and thus far refuses to be potty trained? What items do you look for? Can you add to the lists I gave?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

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

 

, , , , , , , , , ,

50 Comments

Are We Undermining Our Own Writing Success?

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.23.23 AM

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Keith Roper

I rarely reread books, namely because there are so many new titles I want to consume and only so many hours in the day. But, there are a handful of books I read and reread namely because they are areas I struggle in and so reinforcement is tremendously helpful.

The three books I seem to cycle through the most are actually about money and investing: Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and (even though it is an older book) Stanley and Danko’s The Millionaire Next Door.

There are plenty of money manuals that promise to make me a gazillionaire overnight with no effort on my part and those kinds of plans frankly give me hives.

The books I prefer are far more salt-of-the-earth and they say the same things, though in different ways.

Fortunes made on a winning lottery ticket are rare and never last. Slow and steady wins the race. Never underestimate small actions done daily.

I know this. I know all of this stuff. So how is it I so easily get off-track?

Perception Matters

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.37.10 AM

What is so fascinating particularly about The Millionaire Next Door is the very people we would think have vast investment portfolios actually are far more likely to be living paycheck to paycheck. Conversely, those who actually have accumulated substantial wealth often don’t “look” wealthy at all.

Here I was beating myself up because I use coupons and buy everything on sale.

What am I doing so wrong?

When I reread these books, I realize that I’m doing a lot more right than wrong. What I perceive as a truth actually isn’t (it’s a consumption shill propagated by pop culture). Most genuine millionaires don’t have a fleet of new luxury cars. They have a solid IRA instead.

But because my “vision” isn’t correct, it is then really easy for me to start accumulating bad habits that undermine my goals.

Well people with clean homes have maids.

NO, they wash their dish after eating!

In Regards to Writing

Often we writers can fall into similarly skewed thinking when it comes to our profession. We have a flawed perception of what a successful author looks like…and this opens the door for the little foxes that spoil the vine.

A successful author would publish her first book and be a runaway success with no social platform.

Noooo, that isn’t an author. That is a unicorn. A tortoise isn’t glamorous, but it is at least real.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.34.06 AM

In our minds, we can believe that we would do far more writing if we simply had more “time.” Since most of us don’t have the luxury of getting up, having coffee and simply creating all day long, we then fail to invest at all.

We will invest “one day.”

We believe that because we also hold a day job and “only” have an hour to spare in the mornings, that our situation is hopeless. The consequence is we end up squandering the most valuable resource that is available to all living humans.

Time.

Why I love books on fiscal responsibility is I hold a core belief:

Small truths reveal larger truths.

If I am not managing, planning and budgeting my money, odds are I am not doing that with my time either. I find that often when I work on habits in one area, other areas also improve. When I zoom in on waste in one area, I become aware of it in others.

If I fail to plan the meals for the week, the consequence is a lot of food I throw away. We end up eating out or rushing to grab a bite because I didn’t put dinner in a crock pot and I am tired and cranky and In-N-Out Burger is just so darn convenient.

The end result is I nickel-and-dime myself $15 and $20 at a time.

When we look at how we are spending our time, are we leaking it away 15 and 20 minutes at a time?

Planning matters. Using time deliberately is vital.

If I fail to plan my time for the week, I’m all over and time goes swirling down the drain. In fact, failure to plan can cost me BIG. For instance, last Tuesday, instead of getting my next day planned I was “tired” and decided that Facebook and watching Dr. Who was preferable to preplanning.

Wednesday morning, I was in the middle of working and feeling great about my progress.

Then…

OMG! Spawn’s camp has a field trip today! I totally forgot! And they leave in 20 minutes!

In a mad rush, I swooped the one remaining Lunchable into a Sprout’s bag so I could dash like a crazy person to get him there in time for the bus.

In my haste, I unknowingly threw my cell phone in with his lunch.

Shoot…me…now.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.42.49 AM

That three-second mistake (that could have easily been prevented with ten minutes prep work the night before) cost me an entire day and easily ten years off my life from stress.

A three-second error cost me four hours hysterically hunting for my phone and then two more hours at Sprint replacing the missing phone with a new phone. Then when the school found my phone? It cost me another two hours returning the new phone I didn’t need and reactivating the old one.

And a $35 restocking fee, or what I fondly refer to as a Stupid Tax.

How much writing could I have accomplished with only ten minutes of preparation the night before?

How Much Stupid Tax Are We Paying?

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 9.19.49 AM

When it comes to time, boundaries go a long way. Now, I’m no proponent of cramming activity into every waking second. But we can start truly seeing our days instead of merely wandering through them as bystanders.

Just as many of us hemorrhage money through tiny holes and unseen leaks, the same could be said of our time. But not being stupid with time is not the same thing as being wise with it, either.

Are We Investing Wisely?

Via Flickr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Via Flickr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Many people believe when they have money, they will invest money. But if we take a closer look, those who have money, have it because they invested it.

Not the other way around.

Many writers new to the profession see building a brand and a social media platform as a wasteful use of time because they don’t yet have a books to sell. Problem is, in this publishing climate, trying to build a platform after the book is almost a formula to fail. They will spend valuable time (later) that could have been used to write more books and better books scrambling to claw sales from the ether.

They believe they don’t have time, and yet a really strong brand/platform is rather simple to build over time with small and consistent investments in the right places.

Where to Invest?

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.51.29 AM

Instead of investing an hour a day on Facebook and Twitter, could I spend that on building an author blog? Being an expert tweeter does nothing to improve my skills as a writer. Facebook content can’t be eventually harvested for a book (that can make money or be used as a loss leader/promotional tool). Search engines will never direct new fans to my author site with my clever Instagram pics.

So instead of feeling overwhelmed that we don’t have an entire Gucci wardrobe a bazillion SnapChat fans, can we be patient and consistent with our small IRA account blog that we know with time and consistent investing will reap amazing returns?

This is a snapshot of my blogging stats. WP didn’t even bother measuring my first two years because they were too small to register. In 2009 I had roughly 6,900 views. By 2013, a half a million.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 9.52.15 AM

Though looking at raw numbers, my overall traffic has gone down over the last couple of years but numbers can be deceiving. In 2010 I published a total of 95 posts and received 62,000 visits. This year I generated over 220,000 visits with only 60 posts, meaning I am doing more with less.

I’m gaining an advantage of compound interest (archives and following) which frees me up to now finish more books because now my blog is doing far more work for me than it did at the outset when I was new.

That was great because we’ve had a horrible couple of years with illnesses and death and it has taken a toll on how much I could physically do.

But the cool thing was, because I invested what little energy I had in a blog, my brand not only remained in tact, it actually grew much larger even though I wasn’t there to micromanage content (like I would have had to on all other social media sites).

The effort I could continue was effort that would pay dividends. When I had Shingles, I wasn’t tweeting a lot, but by gum I could post a blog. Now that I have weathered these storms and am back writing like a mad person, I don’t have to waste time reclaiming lost territory.

My blog is strong and so is my brand. Now to get my @$$ in gear on the books.

Because books can do the same thing. Most authors who make a good living aren’t banking everything on the sale of one book. They are investing their time and focusing it on multiple titles.

If we are focused, can we spend an hour a day on the novel. Just one hour. Instead of waiting for the magical, mystical tomorrow, can invest that today?

What are your thoughts? Are you happy you don’t have to try to be a unicorn? Do you find yourself buying into popular myths about what’s required to write novels (I.e. eight hours uninterrupted time)? Do you feel guilty because you aren’t on every single social media site? Are you relieved to know that is actually a bad plan?😀  Are you leaking small amounts of time away and they are adding up big? I bet you’ve never put your cell phone somewhere stupid😀 .

Are you actually excellent at managing your time and have tips to share?

***Btw, I do actually have a blogging class coming up😉 .

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

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

 

, , , , , , , ,

44 Comments

Want Success? Embrace the GRIND

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

Last time we talked about quitting. Successful people quit all the time. They quit bad relationships, toxic partnerships, dumb ideas or projects that fail to bear any fruit. They step back, assess and then change direction.

What do you want? How badly do you want it? What are you willing to sacrifice? These are the questions we must ask not once, but daily. There is no success without the GRIND.

Or perhaps, the G.R.I.N.D.

Give

Every day we have something to give that will keep propelling us forward. I love, love, love the movie Rocky. This is among my favorite quotes:

The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. ~Rocky Balboa

Life does hit hard. I’ve been there more times than I can count.

Some of you know I was a high school drop out twice. I had the chance to simply get a GED but I chose to go back and finish even though I was embarrassingly older than my peers (19 in a class of 14 year-olds).

I worked hard at a community college until I won a full Air Force scholarship to become a doctor. Before I could enjoy that? I fell in an ice storm and broke my back.

My free ride was over. I took a job in a tiny mall store that sold motivational material. At the time, I couldn’t walk without a cane and while my coworkers spent the slow times chatting with friends on the phone, I read every single book in that store over and over and over.

knew physically I was a mess, but I also appreciated that this was a meantime. It was the span of suck before my breakthrough. What could I do for my will? For my mind? How could I keep my spirit healthy while my body mended?

Life hits and worse, it will sucker punch you. We may not always be able to do the big stuff, but we can keep pressing with the small stuff because greatness is not a singular moment. Rather…

Greatness is the accumulation of a lot of hidden moments that have no glory.

We give our best because our energy is seed. We plant our dreams and faith in the world and in others and trust that eventually it will bear fruit and eventually give back.

If I don’t have enough of something? I give it. That is a huge reason for this blog. Today, I need encouragement, so I am giving it. Want more love? Give it. Want more skill? Help others hone theirs. Want more passion? Give it.

Life is an echo.

Relentless

Moments before Kristen gets her tail kicked….

Moments before Kristen gets her tail kicked….

You want to do anything remarkable? Learn to be relentless. I heard someone once say that the richest place on earth is a graveyard because we cannot imagine what we’ve lost; the dreams, inventions, ideas that people took to their graves because they were afraid of failure.

One of the reasons I’ve always been such a pit bull is that my father was an extraordinarily talented man. Probably far more talented then I ever was. But he died penniless and working for $8 an hour in a bicycle shop. Why? Because the second anything got hard or gave pushback, he folded. For all we know, we lost one of the greatest writers of the 20th century because his fear was bigger than his faith.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that the harder life is pushing back? The better. Usually that is a sign we are doing something right.

Look back at your own life and I will guarantee you’ll see those times. You had a goal, a plan, and were actually seeing forward momentum then?

The AC in your house died, the car broke down, the kids got sick, the family decided to all go crazy simultaneously. You went from being ON FIRE to putting out nothing but grassfires.

Truth is, that’s a good sign. Keep pressing.

Invest

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Invest in yourself. Talent is natural but it isn’t anything all that remarkable. Talent is nothing if it isn’t paired with skill. Skill is only something we can earn with blood and sweat and pain. We can’t earn skill on the sidelines, only on the mats. Hammering on our will, our mind, our craft day after day after day.

Skill only comes with failure.

Skill only comes with getting back up knowing we could fail again. Skill only comes when we appreciate that if we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting. Skill eventually rises out of the ashes of our failures because we have made all the wrong moves and so we begin to recognize the right ones.

Skill comes from reaching out to those who are better, wiser and asking for help. Skill comes from humility. Read craft books, take classes, ask questions then do it again and again and again. If we want to improve, we must look to those who are better to train us.

In Jiu Jitsu I worked harder than anyone (being the only female and about half the size of most of my competitors). I struggled and worked and killed myself. Then, I finally gave in and got personal coaching. Just ONE session made all the difference. A pro taught me what ten months of killing myself never did and never would.

THIS was the first guy I got to fight upon earning my blue belt. Just….seriously.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 8.37.14 AM

Jiu Jitsu. It is only awkward if you are not on the mat🙂 .

But some good rounds of coaching taught me how to instantly position better, no matter how big or strong my opponent. Instead off getting crushed? This dude is moments from being flipped over and arm-barred.

Yes, the devil is in the details.

I have busted apart and repaired hundreds of plots. Virtually every one of my consulting sessions involves some poor writer who has spent a year or more trying to repair a plot that I can fix in less than three hours. Sometimes we need those outside experts. Getting help isn’t weak, it is smart! If you are in a mess, e-mail me😉.

No

No is one of the most powerful words in human language.

We must learn to say NO. We have to say it to ourselves. When I’d rather putter around the house and clean than edit or write my blog or research? NO.

I tell myself that I have a choice. No to now? Or no to later? I must give up what I want now for what I want most.

Learn to say no to toxic people. They will always have more drama they want us to fix. Learn to say no to the small leaks deflating your energy.

Quit expecting average people to help you accomplish the extraordinary.

Conversely? Don’t take NO.

Back when I was in sales, my managers could not get over how good I was at cold calling. Most salespeople loathe cold calling with the power of a thousand suns because it is 99% rejection. Why was I successful? Because when they said “No” I heard… “Not yet.”

A lot of you are attending conferences. You might be pitching agents or sending out query letters. Expect rejection. Rejection isn’t always bad. Rejection isn’t NO. It is “Not YET.”

Go back and fix what you can. Move forward. Invest in your skill and then ask again. And again. If they won’t budge and you’re ready? Go around. Find your YES.

My book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World was with a major NYC agent for over a year. New York was unwilling to publish a book about social media even though my book didn’t rely on technology. I wrote it in such a way that it would always be relevant, and so didn’t have the typically short shelf life of this type of book.

I didn’t wait for them to change their minds, I published it anyway.

Aut inveniam viam aut faciam. We will find a way or we will make one. ~Hannibal

Dare

I hate those scams on late night TV that promise vast riches with no risk. That’s bunk. Our rewards exist in direct proportion to our risk. Risk big win big. Risk small and…yeah.

When we risk big, we can lose big. But we can also learn big. If we never fall from that kind of height, how can we learn to roll out of it? Dare daily. Dare to do something different, something meaningful. Nothing miraculous ever happened in the comfort zone.

When we dare to push ourselves outside of what we believe is possible, we discover talents we never knew existed. Yes, invest in your future but remember that today, THIS day, is the only one that matters. Because THIS day adds up. The only question is…

How are we going to use it?

Do you find yourself making excuses? Heck, I do. Do you find yourself spread too thinly “helping” others who are unwilling to help themselves? Are you afraid of failing? Do you feel selfish going after your dreams? Do you find yourself “waiting” on others? Does success seem unreachable? What dreams or goals have you attained that you never thought possible? What did you do? Sacrifice?

I love hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

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

 

, , , , , , , , ,

65 Comments

Maybe It’s Time to Give Up

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Cristian Bortes

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Cristian Bortes

I’m a voracious reader and easily go through about two books a week. I recently finished a Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth and it’s a really excellent book, though I’d like to expand on her ideas today.

Though I loved the book, there’s one assertion she makes that I completely disagree with. Over all the studies conducted, she claims that one can never have too much grit. That those who are not seeing the success they want aren’t exhibiting enough tenacity…which is true, but then again?

NOT TRUE.

I think many of us have plenty of grit, we just have them with the wrong things. Successful people “give up” all the time. In fact, today we will talk about what we need to give up in order to gain.

We Need to Give Up On People

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 8.52.37 AM

This has been a brutal lesson I keep getting over and over, probably because I love people, love serving and helping. I really don’t like giving up on people. Far too many times I have held onto relationships to my own detriment. It’s why I loved this meme, particularly this line:

Life is not a group project.

Guess what? Our writing journey isn’t either. When I wrote my first novel, I thought it was perfect mainly because I was a newbie and a moron. I joined a writing group and quickly discovered how little I really knew. I worked and worked until my pages where the cleanest but then something strange happened.

Originally I had a slew of fellow writer friends. But week after week their writing didn’t improve. I was still nailing them for the same sloppiness. They refused to read craft books or go to conferences. Many would show week after week and yet they didn’t write anything. So I figured it was a failure in leadership so I killed myself to become president.

And I did.

Attendance only got worse. Many argued with the experts I brought in. A large portion of the group never showed with more writing on the WIP but trust me, they did plenty of writing…usually in the form of hate mail telling me everything I was doing wrong.

The more successful I became, the more skilled I grew, the more resentment I encountered. But still I persisted because I couldn’t give up on my “friends.” I tried harder, gave more….and was a mess.

I haven’t seen a single member of that group in five years. The reason? There’s a truth to the saying, “It’s lonely at the top.” The only successful writer birthed from that original writing group?

Me.

And I had to leave it to accomplish anything remarkable. If I’d stayed I would have withered on the vine.

The strange truth is they weren’t the problem.

I was.

The analogy that helped me the most was when I learned to think of my writing journey as climbing Mount Everest. In the beginning, climbers have huge teams of sherpas to get them to the base camp. At each new level of altitude, the party gets smaller and smaller and smaller and only a handful of people ever make it to the top. That isn’t a “bad” thing, it is just how climbing works. The teams of sherpas were never intended to summit.

I was trying to make my writing group into something it wasn’t. They were only meant to get me to base camp. They introduced me to the world of being a professional. They cleaned up my prose, but they didn’t have the skill set to offer me what I wanted. I was looking in the wrong place.

Of course they resented me. I was dragging them up the mountain! This was vexing them and wearing me out. All of us were miserable.

Few things can damage our success like hanging out with the wrong people.

Sometimes there is nothing per se wrong with the people around us except they have different goals. If my goal is to become an Olympic swimmer, then going to the gym and taking a water aerobics class is just a dumb plan that will never get me to the level I want.

I have no idea what your dreams are. Not every writer has the goal of becoming a legend. Some people just like to hang out and drink coffee and dabble. And truthfully? Nothing wrong with that…unless that doesn’t align with our goal.

We cannot become professionals while keeping the company of amateurs.

And I know some people probably winced at that, but hear me out. An amateur is not someone who is merely new. An amateur is a mindset. Amateurs know everything. They can’t take criticism. They believe in BS and glitter instead of good old fashioned hard work. Amateurs complain, procrastinate and blame everything and everyone but themselves.

Amateur: Well, NY is just publishing junk.

Professional: I need to write another book. A better book.

We Need to Give Up on Magical Thinking

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 8.34.36 AM

The problem with amateurs is they have magical thinking. Hey, I have been there so I am not judging. Magical thinking is believing our first draft/novel is perfect. It is believing if it isn’t perfect (or worse, if it is a total disaster) that we aren’t talented.

Magical thinking keeps us from moving on. So many writers keep editing and reworking that first novel instead of moving on. They are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic instead of appreciating that there’s a seriously steep learning curve to excellence. They are afraid to make a decision but in making no decision, that’s actually a decision.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 8.01.27 AM

Magical thinking is believing there will be some perfect “time” to write when that is a myth. We have been meeting on WANATribe for sprints five days a week every week at 7:00 AM CST for the past ten months. We meet in the Main Room IM and sprint until lunch. I’ve been there virtually every day through two months of pneumonia, a dying grandmother, a dislocated knee and on and on.

Trust me, I didn’t always feel like sprinting, but I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of simply showing up.

Life is not going to stop to give us time to write and we need to give up on believing it will. Few writers have what it takes to maintain the operational tempo of a professional. I believe most of them fall behind simply because they are holding onto a magical belief that time can be found.

If I could only find the time.

Time is not laying around in the couch cushions like loose change. Professionals make time, we don’t “find” it which is probably why the initially large WANATribe sprinting group is down to about five people.

The Power of Giving Up—Are You On the Right Mountain?

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 9.59.21 AM

It’s hard to admit when we’ve latched onto the wrong people, goals, projects or dreams but failure is an amazing teacher. It’s foolish to keep chasing a mistake just because we’ve spent a lot of time (or money) making it.

We only have so much emotional bandwidth and if we don’t let go of bad relationships, there’s no room for good ones. If we don’t let go of the bad book (the learning curve) we never get to writing the next book, the better book. If we are in the wrong writing group, there’s no time for the right one.

Grit is one of the most valuable ingredients of success, but we always need to be asking the hard questions. If my goal is to climb Mount Everest and I realize I am actually ON Mount Shasta, then I’m not even on the correct continent! Sure I might summit, but…

It’s the wrong damn mountain.

And just so you guys know, you likely will always struggle with this. Right now I am having to cut loose family members I’ve always “been there” for because they insist on making dumb decisions. I can either rescue them (again) or realize my goals. I can’t do both and me thinking I can is…magical thinking😉 . I have to go through my goals again and make sure they still “fit”.

What are your thoughts? Is it time for you to give up? Maybe you have a bunch of drama queens in the family and you are rescuing instead of writing? Maybe some toxic friendships? Do you fall into magical thinking? That you will “find time”? What do you commit to “give up” today? By the way, feel free to join us at WANATribe for sprints! And you want a new level? Check out the classes I have coming up!

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

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

 

, , , , , , , , ,

97 Comments

Is Perfectionism Killing Your Success?

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 7.23.57 AM

Last time I wrote about stress and how it can kill creativity. Many “normal” people (code for “non writers”) see our job as play, as fun. They really don’t grasp what goes into creating the stories they all enjoy and that it is a lot of work. Also, because our field is so subjective, writers must endure an onslaught of “enemies” no one else can see because often they are in our head. Sometimes, in our effort to produce the best work we can, we invite in a very dangerous enemy.

Meet….Perfect.

All of us want to do a good job. We want to put our best foot forward. We all say that we want feedback and critique, but deep down, if we are real honest, we want people to love everything we say and do. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality. We can’t please everyone, and it is easy to fall into a people-pleasing trap that will steal our passion, our art, and our very identity.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again with writers. They rework and rework and rework the first chapter of their novel, trying to make it “perfect”—which is actually code for “making everyone happy.” Here is the thing. Not gonna happen. Ever. Oh and trust me, I am giving this lecture to myself as much as anyone.

One person will say our book is too wordy. Another wants more description. We add more description and then another person is slashing through, slaughtering every adjective and metaphor.

Lessons from Aesop

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 7.24.44 AM

I find it interesting that some of my favorite childhood stories were about character issues that I’ve struggled with my entire life. My favorite story Old Man Whickett’s Donkey and was loosely based off one of Aesop’s fables, The Man, The Boy and The Donkey. The story in a nutshell is this.

An old man and his grandson head to market with their donkey carrying bags of grain for sale. A passerby says, “What a fool. Why buy a donkey if you aren’t going to ride him?” In response to the critic, Old Man Whickett and the boy load up and ride the donkey into the next town where another passerby says, “You cruel lazy people. That poor donkey carrying all that weight. You should be ashamed.” So Old Man Whickett and the boy dismount and carry the bags of grain and the donkey (which seriously freaked out the donkey).

Anyway—and I am probably butchering this story, but give me a break, I’ve slept since I was five—Old Man Whickett and the boy keep trying to please everyone who passes and what happens?

The bags of grain burst open and spill all over the road from being moved around so much (and in Aesop’s version the donkey falls in the river and drowns). They never make it to market and all of them are exhausted and half-dead from trying to please everyone.

Moral of the tale?

Try to please everyone and we please no one.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 7.26.52 AM

The Fine Line of Fools

We have to walk what I will call the Fine Line of Fools. There are two different types of fools. There are fools who plunge ahead and don’t ask for any feedback and ignore anyone who tries to warn there might be a problem. But then there is the other type of fool who can never seem to make up her mind. She keeps changing direction every time someone has an opinion (been there, done that).

All of us are in danger of being one kind of fool or another. While the wise writer is open to critique, she also needs to know when to stand her ground. If she doesn’t learn to stand firm, that’s when the donkey hitches a ride.

I would love to tell you guys I’ve never been either of those fools, but I don’t dig getting struck with lightning.

Perfectionism and People-Pleasing Mask Fear

I have learned through a lot of trial, error and stupidity that perfectionism and people-pleasing really are just an extension of fear. If we get everyone’s opinion about our book, web site, blog, color of fingernail polish, if someone else doesn’t like it, then we don’t have to own it.

“Well, that wasn’t my idea. That was Such and Such’s idea.”

We Can’t Please EVERYONE

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 7.30.09 AM

Over the weekend I took a short family trip to get away and reset my head after the trauma of last month. I love mysteries and detective novels so I hastily just downloaded a book Audible recommended to me based on other books I’d enjoyed. I had never head of the author but there were 14K reviews and overall 4 stars.

So I started listening and the story was just moving at a snail’s pace. In my opinion it was wordy and pretentious and gave me no good sense of place. I kept listening for three hours until I just could’t give any more time to the book. When I looked the book up again, I realized that the author was actually the legend J.K. Rowling writing under a pen name.

I thought that it had to be me. I was just being picky. Maybe I hadn’t turned off my editor’s brain. But when I glanced at the one and two-star reviews, the commenters were saying the same things I was feeling about the story.

But isn’t that just more than a little amazing?

Not that poor J.K. had to endure one-star reviews, but that she isn’t…wait for it….wait for it…she isn’t perfect. Even the famed J.K. Rowling can’t write a book that pleases everyone. Many other readers (far more actually) enjoyed the book. So good for her! She still did her job and did it well.

***As a quick side note this is one of the many, many reasons I never leave a review unless I can give it four stars. There is a person on the other side of that review and for all I know it really could just be me. Maybe Mercury is in retrograde, my underwear is too tight, or I needed to try this book after a vacation.

Learn to Drop the Donkey

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 7.32.23 AM

In this new publishing world, all of us need to learn to be leaders and leaders own everything, the good and the bad. That is no easy task, and I have to admit there are times my neck starts hurting and I get this lower back pain and then I realize…I’M CARRYING THE FREAKING DONKEY! DROP THE DONKEY, YOU IDIOT!

We have to be aware that there are jerks and there are also people mean well. Humans offer constructive criticism to show love, even if there is nothing wrong. I’ve seen perfect works of fiction get eviscerated by well-meaning “helpful” critique groups.

This is why it is critical to really understand the rules of writing, why it is essential to really know what our book is about, and to learn to be confident in our brand. This way, when well-meaning folk offer us poles and twine to tie up the donkey on a sledge, we can say, “No, thanks. I think my donkey can walk.”

This is one of the many reasons I love for authors to have a blog. It really does help us develop rhino skin and trains us to publish even when the writing isn’t worthy of a Pulitzer. One mantra I have when I find I am afraid to move forward is:

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

So are you carrying the donkey? Do you find him difficult to drop? Do you fall into the trap of carrying your donkey? I know I am a notorious donkey-toter, but getting better every day. What tools, suggestion or advice would you offer to other who struggle with their respective donkeys? What are warning signs that you are carrying a donkey?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

rattheearnestpainter is JULY’s WINNER! Please send me your 5000 word WORD document, double spaced and in 12 point Times New Roman to kristen at wana intl dot com! Congratulations! You can also choose to send a one-page query letter (250 words) or three-page synopsis (750 words) instead.

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

We are doing ANOTHER round of Battle of the First Pages!!! August 5th THIS FRIDAY!

The first time we did this we had some tech issues doing this new format and we’ve since worked those out, but for now I am still keeping the price low ($25) until we get this streamlined to my tastes.

LIMITED SEATS. This is an open workshop where each person will submit his or her first page of the manuscript for critique. I will read the page aloud and “gong” where I would have stopped reading and explain why. This is an interactive workshop designed to see what works or what doesn’t. Are you ready to test your page in the fire?

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

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

 

, , , , , , , , , , ,

59 Comments

4 Powerful Ways to Improve Your Writing

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.00.39 AM

Today, copywriter and blogger Alex Limberg is back with a post that’s a bit different from his typical “how-to” writing advice. In this one, he spills the beans on how his own writing process came together. Here is the link again to his wonderful e-book that will help you create a tight and intriguing story by asking “44 key questions.” Check it out! And off we go…

***

Over the last several months, I’ve had the great pleasure of publishing ten guest posts here on Kristen’s fine blog. They were posts about all kinds of technical writing topics like characters, action scenes, how to introduce information, plot, etc… (look them up).

But for my eleventh post today, I thought it was time to switch gears.

Yes, it’s time for me to stop hiding behind the mask of the teacher and show myself to you bare-naked. But fear not, this post is still not X-rated. No need to hide it from the kids.

I’m just saying that this is a much more personal post than the ones before it.

Today, I want to report from my own writing journey and highlight for you what has advanced me most in my writing. Hopefully these lessons will help you too, especially if you are at the beginning stages of creating fiction.

Any look back on a passion project must always be personal and a bit awkward. That’s because it matters so much to you.

When you start out writing, like with any new skill, what you are doing just feels clumsy and deficient. The ugly truth is, the beginning stage is painful for novices of any field. You have no clue about anything, and you don’t even have a feeling for what’s missing. You feel out of balance, like a bear starting to practice riding a unicycle.

In my case, that clumsy bear phase began when I was 14; that’s when I started writing with serious intentions. Gladly, while writing, I didn’t realize how far I was from where I wanted to be. Like the donkey following a crunchy carrot, it always seemed to me my goal was just around the next corner.

Internet was still a few years away, and I didn’t have any information about the most effective ways to sharpen my skills. I just followed my gut and did what my passion told me: To keep writing and pushing forward.

But looking back now, I can point out the four specific things I did that helped me more than anything for my fiction writing. Let’s take a look at them.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Like always, if you want a comprehensive, no-holds-barred list about what I learned makes a good story, download my free ebook about 44 test questions to make your story great.

Putting a Lot of Hours into Writing

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.01.36 AM

If you take just one single thing from this post, let it be this one: You only learn by doing!

By far the most important thing you can do to get good at a skill is to practice it relentlessly.

Theory can be a shortcut, and it’s a good idea to study a bit how people more skilled than you have done it before you – but don’t get stuck with it. You will never be able to write well just from reading theory. That would be like trying to become a world-class tennis player by sitting on your couch, watching tennis and eating potato chips.

No, here is the only way to get good: You have to sit down on the cheeks opposite of your face and actually do it!

There is a rule that says you need about 10,000 hours to excel at a skill, and I found that number to be remarkably accurate: After roughly 10,000 hours of writing, I started to become really happy with the quality of my writing and my stories.

But back then, of course I didn’t know about that rule. I just knew that to have a finished book that I loved, I would need to have a finished book first.

And so I wrote. When the novel was done, I read it, and my heart sank to my knees – my writing was a lot worse than I had thought. But I still loved the story. So I wrote it again. And again. All in all, I wrote that novel four times.

And while putting in my hours and actually doing it, I became good.

Reading a Lot

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.05.18 AM

Just like you probably do, I loved books, I loved stories, and I loved to withdraw and immerse myself in different, fascinating worlds. I was intrigued by exciting plot, strong characters and skillful dialogue.

I had started devouring books at age 6 and never stopped. By the time I started writing, I had already been through many bookshelves worth of literature, with many more to come. I just followed my passion. But what I didn’t know was that observing my role models shaped me excellently.

When reading fiction, your subconscious automatically absorbs the language, the patterns, the three dimensional characters, the plot structure.

When you constantly immerse your brain in stories and language, you can be sure that deep down a killer instinct for writing is built. You can’t help but learn.

You will be able to draw from this reservoir for all of your writing career. Even if it’s not a career.

Being Brutally Honest with Myself

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.32.13 AM

 

You won’t find this one in many writing manuals, because it’s hard to do: Being able to admit to yourself what you have written is plainly bad. Admitting it is especially hard when you have no idea how to make it better and how to navigate the maze that is writing a good story.

Me, I’m a critical and sometimes too critical mind.

I’m usually able to confess to myself when work I have done sucks. To be honest, for many years reading my prose was an utterly depressing experience. My pulse quickened and my palms got sweaty when I realized everything it lacked.

What I wasn’t aware of at the time was how many people go for half-hearted outcomes, only to tell themselves it is okay and good enough. But self-deceit hardly ever leads to success.

You grow most outside your comfort zone. You grow when you set yourself goals and work towards them. And in order to establish these goals, you must admit that you are not there yet. You have to be able to take a good, hard look at your writing and realize what is missing.

Only then do you allow yourself to become better.

Knowing My Characters as Well as My Best Friends

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.03.37 AM

Your characters are driving your story. That also means when you have great characters, they will drive your story for you.

They will take care of who they are (characterization), what they do (plot), what they say (dialogue), and what they see (description). That’s still not your entire story (above all, you also have to learn how to handle language), but it’s a huge part of what makes your story.

Hence, if you know your characters really, really well, it will help you enormously.

Once I realized this, I started to write out long character sheets for each main character before even writing one single word of the main story.

I wrote out deep psychology, background, attitude, speech patterns and more. Then I put my characters into single scenes totally unrelated to the story, just to see how they would behave. How would they react to winning the lottery? To their brother insulting them? To gaining weight?

Minor characters would get shorter character sheets and even very small characters would have a couple of sentences dedicated to their personalities.

So write out your character sheets, and then lean back and let your characters do all the hard work for you…

In summary, follow these four cornerstones: Write relentlessly, read, be honest with yourself and know your characters like your best friends. I followed these rules intuitively, and only looking back do I now realize how important they were for my writing.

If you do just these four things, you have come a long, long way. Your writing will improve fast and the quality of your stories will skyrocket. Till one day you notice… writing doesn’t feel clumsy anymore at all.

Now it feels effortless.

****

Got it, Alex.

Kristen here. Now tell me: What do you think of these four points? Is there something else that really helped you getting better at story writing? Why can it be so brutal to read your own story? Do you ever wish you weren’t in the room when you read it? Could you maybe say you have gone outside for a smoke? Do your characters even like you?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

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).

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.23.28 AM

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Polish your tales to greatness with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and in the movie industry. He has lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

We are doing ANOTHER round of Battle of the First Pages!!! August 5th

The first time we did this we had some tech issues doing this new format and we’ve since worked those out, but for now I am still keeping the price low ($25) until we get this streamlined to my tastes.

LIMITED SEATS. This is an open workshop where each person will submit his or her first page of the manuscript for critique. I will read the page aloud and “gong” where I would have stopped reading and explain why. This is an interactive workshop designed to see what works or what doesn’t. Are you ready to test your page in the fire?

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

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

 

, , , , , , , ,

37 Comments

Stress & Burnout—How to Get Your Creative Mojo Back

Image courtesy of Eflon via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Eflon via Flickr Creative Commons

The past few years have been just brutal. My grandmother who raised me was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it was just one crisis after another and it just never…freaking…let…up. I felt like I was in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu being crushed all the time, but not allowed to tap out. Then, on Independence Day (ironically) my grandmother finally passed away.

I really never appreciated how much her declining health was impacting me until she was gone. It was like I was wandering around in a fugue state only aware that my knees hurt. Then out of nowhere a hand lifted off the 500 pound gorilla and I could breathe again. I never noticed the gorilla, never noticed the lack of air, only the knee pain.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 10.57.04 AM

So now I am in the process of rebuilding. I plan on taking a couple days off to just rest and get away from all the work that piled up for me to do. Hit my reset button, so to speak. But I figured blogging about this might help some of you who are struggling, too.

Burnout can come from all directions—family, job, marriage, illness, death. Sometimes we are not even aware how hard we have been hit until something radical changes (for me, a death). We are the frog being slowly boiled alive, oblivious that maybe we should jump out.

Writer’s Block

The words won’t flow and you think you might have worn out your thesaurus function looking for another word to say “the.” You might be your own worst enemy.

Writing can be therapeutic. True. But, our creativity can also be one of the first casualties of too much stress, which makes sense when we really study what is happening to us when we’re under too much pressure.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 10.58.00 AM

Biology 101

Have you ever wondered why you can’t remember half of what you said after a fight? Wondered why it seems the only time you can’t find your keys is the day you’re late for work? Been curious why you said the stupidest comments in the history of stupidity while in your first pitch session with an agent?

Yup. Stress. But how does stress make perfectly normal and otherwise bright individuals turn into instant idiots?

Basically, the same biological defense mechanisms that kept us alive hunting bison while wearing the latest saber tooth fashions are still at work today. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work in tandem to regulate the conscious mind. Sympathetic gears us for fight or flight. Parasympathetic calms us down after we’ve outrun the bear…or opened that rejection letter.

In order for the sympathetic system to do its job effectively, it dumps all sorts of stress hormones into the body—DHEA, cortisol, adrenaline—to enable that super human strength, speed, and endurance required to survive the crisis. The problem is that the human body thinks in blanket terms and cannot tell the difference between fighting off a lion and fighting with the electric company.

The human brain is divided into three parts:

Cerebral Cortex—higher thinking functions like language, meaning, logic.

Limbic/Mammalian Brain—used for experiencing emotions.

Reptilian Brain—cares only about food, sex, survival.

I believe that writers (and people in general, for that matter), could benefit greatly by truly understanding stress and the affect it has on the mind and body. A brain frazzled to the breaking point physiologically cannot access information contained in the cerebral cortex (higher thinking center). Thus, the smart writer must learn to manage stress.

And for the purpose of this blog, I am referring to bad stress so there is no confusion.

Modern life may not have as many literal lions and tigers and bears, but we are still bombarded with their figurative counterparts all day, every day. When stress hits, the body reacts within milliseconds.

Welcome to Stress Brain

This is me right now *head desk*

This is me right now *head desk*

The sympathetic nervous system floods the body with hormones, increases heart rate, pulls blood away from digestive and reproductive systems, etc. And, most importantly, it diverts blood supply to the mammalian and reptile brain at the expense of the cerebral cortex. Apparently the body feels your witty repertoire of Nietzsche quotes are not real helpful in lifting a car off your child.

Thus, since the mammalian brain is in high gear, this explains why it is not uncommon to experience intense emotion while under stress. This is why crying, when confronted or angry, is very common. It is also why, once we calm down, we frequently wonder why we were so upset to begin with…mammalian brain overtook logic.

This is also why the gazillion action figures your child leaves littered across the floor suddenly becomes a capital offense two seconds after you accidentally set dinner ablaze. Your emotions have taken front and center stage and knocked logic into the orchestra pit.

Another interesting point…

When the sympathetic nervous system prepares us for fight or flight, our pupils dilate. The purpose of this is to take in as much information about a situation as possible. The problem is that, although we are seeing “more” we are actually seeing “less.” The body is totally focused on the cause of the stress. This is why, when we’re running late to work, we see every clock in the house, but cannot seem to find our car keys.

This also explains how, once we take time to breathe and calm down, those keys have a way of magically appearing in the same drawer we opened 763 times earlier (while screaming at the kids, the dog, the cat, the laundry….). Poof! Magic.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 11.06.15 AM

Once we understand and respect stress, it seems easier to give ourselves permission to go on vacation or truly take a day off. It is a matter of survival. When bad stress piles up, we physiologically are incapable of:

1) Being productive.

That book proposal will take 15 times longer to prepare because you keep forgetting the point you were trying to make in the first place.

We will wear out the thesaurus function on our computer looking for another way to say “good.” Face it. Stress makes us stupid.

2) Making clear decisions.

We won’t be making decisions from the logical part of our brain, so eating everything in the house will actually seem like a good idea.

3) Interacting in a healthy way with our fellow humans.

The new trees for your back yard might never get planted because your husband will be too busy plotting a way to bury you under them.

The most important lesson here is to respect stress. We must respect its effects the way we should alcohol. Why do we make certain to have a designated driver? Because when we’re sober, we think clearly and know that driving drunk is a very poor decision. Yet, the problem with alcohol is it removes our ability to think with the higher brain functions. Stress does the same thing. It limits/obliterates clear thought.

That’s why it is a very good idea to have people close to us who we respect to step in and 1) force us to back away and take a break, 2) convince us to take a vacation, get a pedicure, go shopping, hit the gym 3) give us a reality check, 4) take on some of the burden, 5) run interference with toxic people.

Like great violinists take great care to protect their hands, we writers would be wise to do the same with our emotions and our minds. So when the stress levels get too high and you start seeing it seeping into your writing, it is wise to find a way to release stress. Take back the keys to your higher thinking centers! Take back that cortical brain!

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 11.01.32 AM

Exercise, read, pray, meditate, watch a movie, laugh, do yoga, take a walk, work in the garden. Most of all…write. But do a different kind of writing. Write without a care in the world. Ever wonder why experts advise us to do freewriting when we hit a wall?

Seems counterintuitive, but it is actually super smart when you think about the biology lesson we just had. If we can just write forward, without caring about the clarity or quality, we often can alleviate stress rather than fuel it. This freewriting can calm us back into the cortical brain so later, when our head is back on straight, we can go back and clean up the mess.

Which is exactly what I will do…after I go for a walk.

What are some ways you guys deal with stress? How do you overcome writer’s block? Have you been through caregiver burnout? How did you recover? Hey, I am a work in progress too😀 .

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).

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

We are doing ANOTHER round of Battle of the First Pages!!! August 5th

The first time we did this we had some tech issues doing this new format and we’ve since worked those out, but for now I am still keeping the price low ($25) until we get this streamlined to my tastes.

LIMITED SEATS. This is an open workshop where each person will submit his or her first page of the manuscript for critique. I will read the page aloud and “gong” where I would have stopped reading and explain why. This is an interactive workshop designed to see what works or what doesn’t. Are you ready to test your page in the fire?

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

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

 

, , , , , , , , ,

53 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 54,018 other followers

%d bloggers like this: