Posts Tagged writing professionally

What Makes a “Real” Writer?

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I’m finally home from speaking in Pennsylvania. Was honored to keynote for The Write Stuff Conference and super sad to leave. I get so attached to the writers and miss them when I have to go. Their passion, imagination and enthusiasm never fails to inspire me. I’d keep them and collect them in my basement except apparently this is called “taking hostages” and is “illegal” *rolls eyes*

…that, and I don’t have a basement.

I never prepare a speech. I’ve tried. But I am too ADD and end up ignoring/forgetting everything I prepared, so why not save time? Also, I present quite often and never want attendees to feel like they will hear the same things from me. Every class, every presentation is new. I love listening to those around me so my content fits better because it’s custom made.

This said, when I arrived in Pennsylvania, I had no idea what my keynote would be about specifically, so I had to keep my ears open for the common themes.

There is NO Aspiring

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Some of you have fallen for this when I speak. I will begin and ask how many aspiring writers are in the room. Yes, it is a trick question and yeah, it is more than a little evil of me, but it never fails to make a point. When the timid new writers “follow instructions” and raise their hands I yell, “NO! Stop it! You are a pre-published writer. Do or do not; there is NO TRY. 

Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for the weak and it takes guts to do this job.

Hey, I did it too. When I was new, I’d written tens of thousands of words, spent every spare moment reading about writing, studying, going to writing groups instead of the mall. I spent every spare bit of money on conferences instead of a vacation…but I was aspiring? NO. Writers WRITE. Stop being existential. We are REAL.

No one meets a lawyer who just passed the bar and asks if they are a “real” lawyer.

Really? A lawyer? How many cases have you won? 

Granted there are aspiring writers. They are pretty easy to spot because they say the same crap:

Yes, well I want to write a book, but I just have to find the free time.

My life is SO interesting. It would make a GREAT novel. Hey, how about I give you my story, you write the book and I will give you half?

Um? NO.

Writers Deserve RESPECT 

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This is my new hot button and I’m going to handle future interactions very differently because I’ve had enough. I spent all day Wednesday traveling across the country. Didn’t get to bed until midnight. Presented from 8:00 in the morning until almost 6:00 in the evening. We were rallying to leave for dinner at the bar of the hotel’s restaurant and THIS conversation actually happened:

Guy at Bar: *looks at me and two fellow authors and starts polite conversation* What are you doing here?

Me: We are writers.

GAB: Really? *genuine shock face* You are writers? Like…real writers?

Me: Yes.

GAB: Real writers? People actually DO that? For a living? This is your real job?

Me: Yes.

GAB: How much money do you make? You can live off that?

OKAY, I am DONE. I have had this conversation WAY too many times. So, the next time someone does this the conversation is going to look like this:

Me: Well, what do you do?

GAB: Human resources. I’m an HR manager.

Me: Wow *genuine shock face*. People DO that? That’s a real job?

GAB: Yes.

Me: Are you sure? Don’t they have an app for that? Or robots? How many people are you in charge of? Can people make money at that? Really? HR. You can live off that? How much money do you make?

And THIS is why Kristen requires adult supervision :D

Thing is, yes humans do write for fun or for a hobby. But if we are asked what our job is and respond, “I’m a writer” odds are we are not writing bad haiku on a Starbuck’s napkin all day.

And I get it. Writers (creative professionals) are like unicorns. Everyone knows about them just they would be pretty shocked to meet a real one. Yet, what other profession has to endure this amount of disrespect? No one else has to cough up a tax return or show a profit to prove their job exists.

Keep this in mind. If we don’t respect who we are and what we do then why would anyone else?

Stop Apologizing

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

I hate the term “aspiring writer” because it takes guts to do this job. Everyone loves what we do. Their lives would implode without it. Without writers there would be no entertainment, no instruction, no industry. No movies, no television series, no books, no manuals, textbooks, magazines, newspapers, trade journals, warning labels, laws, speeches, and all songs would be instrumental. No lyrics. Heck there wouldn’t even be an Internet.

It would be all pictures of cats.

Modern society hinges on writers. If we can take a step back and truly take in all we contribute it’s easier to own our profession and value it. Most people take what we do for granted because they fail to make the connection that their favorite television show began as an idea and started with a writer. 

They just assume they will log onto the Internet and be able to google anything they want. It’s easy to forget someone wrote that information.

So yes, I get it. This is a tough job. But if what we do didn’t matter then why is it dictators arrest and shoot the writers first? ;)

Writing is More than Literacy

Help those with no voice!

Help those with no voice!

Yes, it is probably great to be literate to become a writer, but what we do is more than stringing words together in sentences. We have a unique set of eyes and see the world in a way mere mortals cannot. I saw this mannequin while out shopping with the family. I guarantee you that hundreds of people had passed by without wondering why the mannequins were getting too fat for their cardigans.

:D

Before my keynote, a fellow writer told me the story of how he was staying in a hotel that was run by foreigners. We’ve all seen the signs clearly written by someone who didn’t have English as a first language. Anyway, he’s in the bathroom and there is this sign that reads:

Beware of Soap Dish

I have NO idea what that warning was trying to convey, but as a writer? What the hell is so dangerous about that soap dish? It is demonic? Does it try to eat people when they sleep? Does it steal souls? I might have even had to call management to know exactly what makes this particular soap dish so sketchy…

And THIS is the stuff writers think about :D .

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle with apologizing for what you do? Do you get tired of having to justify your profession? Are you now going to ask people if they are real doctors?

I love hearing from you!

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

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am finally back teaching and offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

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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142 Comments

From Newbie to Master—Understanding the Writer’s Journey

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

The mark of a pro is they make whatever we want to do look easy. From running a business to playing guitar to wicked cool Kung Fu moves, masters rarely seem to even break a sweat. Same with authors. With the pros? The story flows, pulls us in, and appears seamless and effortless.

Just check out Ronda Rousey’s 14 second record-breaking WIN from this past weekend for an idea of JUST how EASY pros make things look…

Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, we can easily fall into a misguided notion that “writing is easy.” Granted there are a rare few exceptions, but most of us will go through three acts (stages) in this career if we stick it through.

Act One—The Neophyte

This is when we are brand new. We’ve never read a craft book and the words flow. We never run out of words to put on a page because we are like a kid banging away on a piano having fun and making up “music.” We aren’t held back or hindered by any structure or rules and we have amazing energy and passion.

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Woodleywonderworks Flikr Creative Commons

But then we go to our first critique and hear words like “POV” and “narrative structure.” We learn that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we need to do some training. We also finally understand why so many famous authors drank…a lot.

Act Two—The Apprentice

The Apprentice Phase comes next. This is where we might read craft books, take classes, go to conferences and listen to lectures. During the early parts of this phase, books likely will no longer be fun. Neither will movies. In fact, most of your family will likely ban you from “Movie Night.” Everything now becomes part of our training. We no longer look at stories the same way.

The apprentice phase is tough, and for many of us, it takes the all the fun out of writing. The apprentice phase is our Act II. It’s the looooongest, but filled with the most growth and change. It’s the span of suck before the breakthrough.

I’ve studied other forms of martial arts, but I am relatively new to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Right now I am in the span of SUUUUUCK. When I started as a neophyte, I “seemed” to do better because I just muscled my way around on the ground and being naturally strong? It worked…against an equally green opponent.

Moments before Kristen gets her tail kicked….

Moments before Kristen gets her tail kicked….

But it also wore me out and gave me more than a fair share of injuries. I had to learn technique. Technique looks awesome when Coach does it. It looks easy on theYouTube videos.

When I do it? Eh…not pretty and NOT easy.

Right now, I’m losing most of…ok, all of my rounds, which is tough on the ego but easier on the joints. I’m focusing more on “rules”, finesse and drilling the basics because I know that in time? It will pay off. Right now is NOT the time for me to try and be “creative.” There is also NO substitute for time on the mat.

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Same with writing. Many shy away from craft books because they fear “rules” will ruin their creativity. Truth? They will, but only for a little while ;) .

Eventually we realize that rules were made to be broken. BUT, the difference between the artist and the hack is that the artist knows the rules and thus HOW to break them and WHY and WHEN. We start to see rules as tools.

As we move through The Apprentice Phase and we train ourselves to execute all these moves together—POV, structure, conflict, tension, setting, description, dialogue, plot arc, character arc—it eventually becomes easier. In fact, a good sign we are at the latter part of the apprentice phase is when the rules become so ingrained we rarely think about them.

We just fight write.

We’ve read so much fiction, watched (and studied) so many movies, read so many craft books, heard so many lectures, and practiced so much writing that all the “rules” are now becoming instinct and, by feel, we are starting to know where and how to bend, break or ignore them.

Like anything, there is NO substitute for DOING. Watching Ronda Rousey videos is a good idea for understanding ground-fighting, but it can’t take the place of mat time. Reading, taking classes, studying cannot replace writing crap until we don’t write crap.

At the end of the apprentice phase, writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the piano keyboard. Like the fighter who instinctively knows to arm bar an opponent without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the “right” words and timing without bursting brain cells.

The trick is sticking it through the apprentice phase long enough to engrain the fundamentals into the subconscious.

Master

This is where we all want to be. In fact, we all want this on Day One, but sadly, I believe this Day One Master is reserved for only a handful of literary savants. Mastery is when we return to that childlike beginning. We write with abandon and joy and, since the elements of fiction are now part of our DNA, our literary marrow, what we produce isn’t the off-key clanging of a neophyte, it’s actually a real story worth reading. Granted, it isn’t all kittens and rainbows. Masters have a lot of pressure to be perpetual geniuses.

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Portrait by Yosuf Karsh via Wikimedia Creative Commons

I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase and the Mastery Phase. If we choose to try a totally new genre, we might even be back to Neophyte (though this will pass more quickly than the first time).

We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.

The key to doing well in this business is to:

1. Embrace the Day of Small Beginnings—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you recognize it.

2. Understand We All Have an Apprentice Phase—We will all be Early, Intermediate, then Advanced Apprentices. How quickly we move through these will be dictated by dedication, hard work and, to a degree, natural talent.

3. No One Begins as a Master and Few Remain Permanent Masters—Every NYTBSA was once a newbie, too. When we understand this career has a process, it’s easier to lighten up and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to not know everything. Many writers get discouraged and give up too soon because they don’t understand there is a process, and they believe they should be “Masters” right away.

Hey, I did.

We need to give ourselves permission to grow. If we love and respect our craft, we will always be learning, so we will continue to dip back into “Apprentice” to refine our art even further.

Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged? Write with the abandon of the Neophyte then edit with the eyes of an Advanced Apprentice or Master ;) .

I love hearing from you!

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

The winner for February is Monica Karel. Congratulations! Please send your 5000 word WORD document to kristen @ wana intl dot com. 

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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91 Comments

Can Being Tired Make Us Better Writers?

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Image via Lauriesanders60 WANACommons

Last month I participated in NaNoWriMo even though it’s the holidays and, as many of you know, I am battling the last vestiges of Shingles which makes me tired, like down to the BONES tired. But, lest I go crazy, I had to write, because that’s what writers do. We aren’t happy unless we are writing something. 

I figured in the beginning I likely wouldn’t make the 50,000 word mark not only because of feeling puny, but I also have other writing that doesn’t count toward NaNo.

Yet, the interesting thing is, being tired can have benefits. If we wait until that celestial alignment when the kids aren’t sick, our pants fit, there isn’t a heap of laundry, the garage is clean, the junk mail sorted, and we feel energized? We won’t get a lot of writing done, so here is some food for thought next time you believe you’re too tired to write.

Embrace Being Tired

Okay, first I want to take a moment to acknowledge that we do need rest. We need breaks and days off. Shingles had taught me I am seriously HUMAN. It’s actually humbled me to be better at resting because I love what I do and this makes it easy to overdo.

I’m going to be writing a new NF in 2015, so I needed to REST my left brain and let RIGHT BRAIN have some time to play (ergo NaNo).

Your Body Will Lie to You

Beyond sickness and disasters, our bodies tend to be a bit lazy, and they like to lie. They tell us we need a day or two or twenty off, and the longer we’re away from the work, the easier it is to let things slip, to see a new shiny and start a newer, more exciting project. In this business, time is our enemy. Always remember this.

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Image via JulaiLimjl Flikr Creative Commons

It Will Never Be a “Perfect” Time

We want to wait until we’re rested, the kids are out of the house, until we have total quiet, a new computer, the list goes on. To do this job at a professional level, we have to learn to write no matter what. This is a profession, not a playpen. People often groan that NaNoWriMo is in November and there is all this shopping and cleaning and cooking.

Okay, well, I used to work in sales and they still expected my tail to be on the road selling industrial paper from Mexico to Missouri until that scrawny four days off for vaca. If I was sick? I knew when I came back, I had to bust tail to catch up. Family emergency? Okay, tend it, but then back to get your $#!& done.

Coffee was for closers.

Writing (for those who want to make a living at this) should apply the same rules as other professions. Granted, it’s a LOT harder because no boss is going to write us up or chew us out if we don’t write…and most of our family and friends secretly believe all we do is play with our imaginary friends and we don’t have a “real” job. We need A LOT more self-discipline than other jobs.

I write every day but Sunday with a preschooler whacking me 47 times with a NERF sword before breakfast, all the while Paw Patrol is blazing in the background. I’ve learned to un-see the dirty dishes, the laundry that needs folding, and the Christmas tree that was attacked by my cats in the middle of the night and needs triage.

Distractions=Death

The Spawn

The Spawn

Time is the Enemy

When writing anything (but especially fiction) taking time off can kill momentum. We need to go back, reread, familiarize ourselves with the story and characters (since we’ve slept since that last bit we wrote). This can lead to editing the beginning to death and stalls forward progress. We get bogged down in the first part of the book.

Take too much time? Likely, you’ll have to start all over.

I did. Yes, even NF authors are vulnerable to time. Back in 2011 I scored a premium NYC agent and over a year and a half later? The project was going nowhere. When I finally decided to self-publish my most current social media book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I spent more effort trying to retrofit work I’d done for my agent back in 2011 than I want to admit. Finally, I just scrapped the whole thing and started over. 150 pages of wasted work all because I didn’t keep writing.

My mistake. Won’t happen again.

Sometimes Being Tired Produces Better Writing

I know a lot of you work day jobs, are full-time caregivers, and you’re squeezing in writing when you can. GO YOU! You’re superheroes, and always remember that. Keep pressing.

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Yet, one mistake we make is we don’t tackle the novel when we’re tired. We believe our work will be better if we’ve rested.

This isn’t necessarily true.

Candy runs a workshop she calls Fast Draft. In Fast Draft, you write your novel in two weeks. It is one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever done, but it works. No editing, no going back, just keep going forward. By Day Three, I promise you’ll feel like you’ve been tossed in a bag of hammers and shaken.

BUT…

One of the biggest enemies of great fiction is Conscious Mind. Our internal editor lives there and won’t let us move forward until we get rid of “was clusters” or add more detail to that “jungle scene.” Conscious Mind will have you “being responsible” and browsing the Internet looking at South American plants instead of writing.

Conscious Mind is the Bigger Sibling Who Constantly Calls Little Sister (Subconscious Mind) Stupid and Tells Her to Shut Up

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Image via Life Mental health Flikr Creative Commons

Subconscious Mind is the primal mind. It sees things we don’t, makes connections Conscious Mind, also known as “The Thinking Brain”, misses. Thinking Brain is a bit of a Bossy Pants and likes to shove Subconscious Mind around, give it wedgies and promise that it can jump off the roof with an umbrella and float down.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time.

The best way to get your Subconscious Mind to help you is to wear the bigger, bossier sibling out. This allows the Little Guy an opportunity to help you make magic without the bigger sibling butting in.

Conscious Mind is the Inner Editor, the Inner Critic, the Nit-Picker, whereas the Subconscious Mind (the Limbic and “primitive” brain) is the one who sees value in finger painting and advantages of glitter.

Subconscious Mind will thrust you deeper into the story. Subconscious Mind is like a toddler who jumps head-first off the couch. No fear. There will be greater emotion and the writing often is more visceral. Subconscious Mind plants Seeds of Awesomeness that you will see flower into something more amazing that you believed you were capable of.

But that won’t happen unless Conscious Mind is exhausted and too tired to argue and bully it’s littler sibling.

So if you’re struggling with the WIP, you might just be a little “too rested.” This isn’t to say we don’t take care of ourselves, but total immersion and pressing on even when we’re worn out and would trade everything we own for a nap does have major advantages.

It’s also why I didn’t kill myself to make the 50,000 words for NaNo, but am still plugging. If I take too much time away from the novel, I KNOW I can cause myself more grief than I care to deal with.

Have you ever done a fast draft? Did it help? Do you write even when you’re tired? What has that shown you? What are your thoughts? Questions? War stories?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, 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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86 Comments

Writing Tip #2–Writing is Pain, Learn to Take a Hit

WANA, Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, WANA International

Want to be a writer? Expect suffering. Lose your illusions and embrace pain. Writing is not always a glittery unicorn hug, and we don’t get what we wish for, we get what we work for. This profession is not for the faint of heart, namely because 1) it’s hard 2) it’s often under appreciated 3) great writing requires us to expose our soft tender parts and hope no one carves them out with a spork.

I’ve said it before. Just because we have command of our native language in no way qualifies us to create a work of art spanning 50,000 to 100,000 or more words. We need to study, practice, apply what we learn (WRITING), and grow a damn thick skin.

Grow Rhino Skin

No matter how well we write, someone won’t like our stuff. It’s just reality. Ten years ago, I went to my first critique thinking every word I wrote was a rainbow kitten dream. Guess what? The group slayed me–it was all blood, teeth and adverbs. Later, when questioned, no one could positively ID the body (of work).

I sat in the parking lot alone crying, but I didn’t give up.

writing, WANA, Author Kristen Lamb

How badly do you want the dream?

Expect criticism, and get good at taking it…but not taking it personally. Remember, others have a right to be wrong. This is why it’s critical to know your craft. Any whackadoodle can join a writers’ group and give advice. If we don’t know our stuff, then when someone suggests we add a bunch of stupid description or adverbs we can politely thank them…and then gift them a copy of On Writing.

Know your $#!t.

Learn all you can and embrace peer review. Writing groups, conferences and workshops are good investments of time and money. If you can’t find a writing group, or you live in an area with no real access to a writing group, hop on to WANATribe and find the tribe that suits you best, or create one.

You are no longer writing for fun, Sweetheart. You are writing for keeps, so train like it. Read books, take classes, go over to WANA International and sign up for a class.

Learn to Take a Hit

Boxers volunteer for others to punch them in the stomach over and over and over to toughen their solar plexus so that, when it comes time to hop in the ring, their bodies are hardened and can take a hit. I see too many newbie writers more interested in the “glamorous life” of being a writer, than the grueling pain of the professional, so they enter the “ring” soft, sloppy, and untrained.

They treat publishing a book like furnishing a Barbie Dream House, and are more interested in cover art and bookmarks than the quality of the manuscript. Too often, they self-publish too soon and with no peer review. The first bad review they get, they go nuclear and give up.

This is a profession, not a playpen. Toughen up. Learn to take a hit and get back up.

You know I am here for you guys. I’ve been here for a lot of years and am rooting for your success, no matter which publishing path you choose to take. But real love is tough love.

All of these lessons I had to learn, too. I used to goof off, write when I felt like it, constantly start new projects, and daydream instead of getting my @$$ in the chair and writing. I had to put away my Author Barbie Dream House and grow up, too.

If I can do it, anyone can do it. Trust me.

Social media is critical, but books are the most important. Thrilled you stopped to read this, but back to work.

It writes the words or it gets the hose! ~Kristen Lamb

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: December’s winner will be announced when I return from Seattle.

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of January I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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