Want to be a Writer? Don’t Have a Backup.

Tell your parents you dream of being a successful writer (or actor, artist, filmmaker, etc.) and, after they hopefully give some encouraging words, you’re bound to hear, “That’s great, but you should have a backup.”

We all know what that means. Few people make a living pursuing a creative career, they’re thinking, so you better have an alternative career path lined up when you inevitably fail.

But I’m here to tell you that you can’t fail at any artistic pursuit. Your first or tenth novel might never see the light of day, but if you keep honing your craft and putting words to the page, you’re allowed to put “writer” on your business cards. That means you don’t need a backup!

Now, I want to be clear, that doesn’t mean you don’t need another job. A backup is something you do after you fail at your first pursuit. A job is something that brings in money and other positive benefits while you’re a writer. (If it doesn’t, you should get a different job!) There’s nothing wrong with that. Many successful writers have held down other jobs. Kurt Vonnegut still worked as a car dealer after publishing his first novel. Philip Glass was a plumber while he composed music. Many successful writers continue to teach. A second job can provide community, inspiration, and interesting characters. It can keep you sane and get you out in the world instead of insolated in your home with your cat and laptop your only friends. Spending 40 hours a week writing is likely to make you crazy. You don’t want to end up like Jack Torrance, do you?

So, when you’re working on a report for your boss, serving up coffee at Starbucks, or suiting up as a professional wrestler instead of working on your next book, embrace your situation. Your job isn’t a backup, it’s a lifestyle choice.

Happy Writing,

Kelee

 

The Five Stages of Critique Grief

What does a writer want in a critique? Be honest now. I know deep in my soul that what I really want is to be told I’m an incredibly talented writer and that, other than a couple of minor revisions, my manuscript is perfect just the way it is.

I know I’m not alone in this because I often see that unacknowledged desire in other writers. I don’t know how many times I’ve read an independently published novel that begins with heartfelt thanks to a legion of beta readers, only to struggle through a book that’s poorly written with too many spelling and grammar errors to count.

The first step in accepting a pull-no-punches critique is to acknowledge that we need to go through the five stages of grief after our child is pummeled and left bleeding on the ground.

Denial

That reviewer doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

He doesn’t understand the genre.

It’s good enough. I can’t rewrite it anymore.

My boyfriend liked it.

Anger

The reader is an idiot.

She’s probably jealous she can’t write as well as me.

Julia Quinn said I showed a lot of talent.

I won a literary award in middle school.

Bargaining

I’ll show it to my mother. She likes romance.

Maybe if I just change this one scene it will fix everything.

I should take that other novel out of the drawer and worked on it for a while.

Lord, make me a best selling author and I’ll give half my income to the poor.

Depression

Why did I ever think I could be a writer?

I should go back to accounting.

I wonder what’s on Facebook.

I need a drink.

Acceptance

Maybe she has some good points. Time to get back to work.

Happy writing!

Kelee

Writing on the Ebb

Spring break has come and gone at my house. My writing routine was interrupted by family and travel. I felt frustrated and, at the same time, relieved. I had reached a point where I was struggling through the first draft of my new novel. I didn’t feel inspired. At the same time, I was waiting for comments to come back on Goddess, Book 2. I tried to enjoy my break from writing, but I was afraid that if I didn’t keep working, my creativity would drift away like the ebbing tide.

spring-break

Now, vacation is over and I’m mostly back to my regular schedule. Yes, it was difficult getting started again. But vacation gave me time to think and feel instead of write. I came up with some new scenes and mulled them over in my mind during break. When I went back to work, I began to write them down. It started out painfully, like getting back to running after a patch of sedentariness. But then my creative muscles began to stretch. I got excited again about the pages I was writing. It felt good to be back in the flow. I learned that ebb and flow are a good thing for a writer.

I need to remember that.

Kelee

Guest Blog: Author Melissa McClone

I’m pleased to welcome best selling author Melissa McClone to my blog. Melissa has published over forty romance novels with Harlequin and Tule Publishing Group and has been nominated for Romance Writers of America’s RITA® award. When she’s not writing, Melissa can usually be found driving her children to various activities. (I can relate!) Her latest novel is The Valentine Quest (Love at the Chocolate Shop Book 5). You can find links to all Melissa’s books on her website. I like her idea of writing the last chapter near the beginning of her writing process. I may try that myself just to see what happens. Anyway, welcome, Melissa!

Knowing the End by Melissa McClone

When I decided to try writing a romance novel, I was a die-hard romance reader who was working full-time during the day as a mechanical engineer and taking classes toward an MBA at night. I was left-brained to the max. This, however, served me well with plotting those first stories.

Forty-odd published works later, I’m still a plotter, but over the past two decades (my “call” from Harlequin to buy my first book came in November 1997 when I was pregnant with my first child who is now a freshman in college), my process has changed a little.

What’s the same?

I like to have an outline or synopsis to get a general feel for the story. I use this to make sure I don’t forget anything I should have. That means when I’m ready to outline, I pull out one of my plot/structure books/worksheets and decide which one I’d like to use. I wish I could say I found the perfect plotting tool or method that I use with each project, but I haven’t. These, however, are my go to resources:

My outline/synopsis is never set in stone. It’s just so I know where to start and have an idea of where I’m going. Next, I write the first three chapters. This is where I get to know my characters. Often there’s too much internalization and backstory in the first draft, but I don’t worry about that. That’s what revisions are for.

What’s different about my process now?

With a couple published novels to my name, I decided to try something different with how I wrote. After I’d drafted the first three chapters, I wrote the last chapter of the story. When I did that, something clicked in my brain. Something good, so that’s what I started doing and have been doing. I used to write only the last chapter, but lately (I forgot exactly when), I’ve been writing from the black moment to the end.

During the revision passes (I’m a draft writer), I’ll add more detail and description, and of course, clean up the writing, but the scenes don’t change much. The only significant rewrites have happened when I changed a character’s internal conflict, but I can’t remember ever changing the actual setting of an end scene.

Some of my writer friends don’t get this at all. We’ve had some interesting discussions about my process. I don’t know if it’s my left brain or what, but I need to know the ending to know how to get there. Writing the end first doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of writing the rest of the story. If anything, I can breathe easier and enjoy the journey to get there.

A friend once encouraged me to write the story linearly just to see what that was like. She felt I was missing the discovery that happens as you write from start to finish. I’m always up for experimenting, so I gave it a try with a novella.

The result?

A total mess and lots of tears.

D-I-A-S-A-T-E-R!

The bright side of the experiment, however, led me to completely embrace my process. When others tell me that they could never write the way do what I do or they’d never need to write the book if they knew the end, I just smile and continue doing as I’ve done. The way I write works for me, so why switch things up?

IMG_4956

Melissa’s uncredited coauthor.

Writing By Hand: First Impressions

While I’ve been waiting for my beta readers to get back to me with notes on Goddess, Book 2, I decided to start writing a new novel. After creating a detailed outline, I’m now writing my first draft in my lovely red notebook using a fancy new pen I bought for the occasion. This is an experiment to find out what happens when I step away from the computer. It’s been interesting enough that I wanted to share some of my initial impressions.

  • Writing by hand means less distractions. There are no temptations to check Facebook or look at an email that just came in. I can’t look up the perfect word in my electronic thesaurus or check a fact on Wikipedia. Instead, I just plow ahead, making up what I don’t know, knowing I can fix it in the second draft.
  • Writing by hand is more spontaneous. There’s no need to start up, log in, and open my document. If I have a few minutes on a bus or waiting for an appointment, all I have to do is pull out my notebook and pen and write a paragraph.
  • I can’t check my progress. There’s no word count or page number at the bottom of the page. I have no sense as to how a handwritten page translates to a page in a published book. It feels like I’m moving ahead quickly, but who knows? I have to let go of worrying about that. I just write and the pages fill up.
  • There’s no going back. There’s no search box to find a sentence I already wrote. If I missed something I should have put in earlier in the story, it’s very difficult to add it in the right spot now. I either have to let it go or put it in where I am and move it elsewhere later.
  • Writing by hand is physically hard. I used to write morning pages – three handwritten pages of random thoughts. But writing a novel by hand is much more challenging. My hand cramps and I have to rest every page.
  • My handwriting is terrible. When I’m inspired, I write quickly, which makes my handwriting even worse. And when I’m writing on the train, my handwriting becomes almost illegible. It will be interesting trying to decipher what I’ve written when I transfer the first draft to my computer.

Happy writing,

Kelee

Snowflake Pro Outlining Software: A Review

I fully admit that I hate outlining. It rarely feel as satisfying as actually writing the novel I’ve cooked up in my head. Often, I end up with a jumbled mess of scene and chapter breakdowns that don’t serve me well in the first or subsequent drafts.

That’s why I decided to try Snowflake Pro. I was hesitant because I’ve had experience with screenplay outlining software that was either too complex or tried to put my script into a formulaic, three-act box. Thankfully, while author and software developer Randy Ingermanson talks about three acts and other structural tools, he doesn’t push them hard, so I felt comfortable only using what I needed to help me write my outline.

The snowflake method isn’t new. The idea is to start with a simple pattern and make it increasingly elaborate until you end up with a beautifully designed snowflake or, in this case, a novel.

Snowflake Pro retails for $100, but discount codes are easy to find. I paid $50. It’s easy to install. The only issue I had was that it’s not yet compatible with Mac OS Sierra, but a quick email to Snowflake’s support staff told me that all I needed was to download an earlier version of Flash. I did and was quickly up and running.

snowflake-welcome

Snowflake first asks you to choose a number 1 through 6 for how much detail you want in your outline. It didn’t give any direction as to what those levels meant, so I chose 4, which felt about right.

After entering some author information, step 1 asks you to write a one-sentence summary of your story. I think this is a vital step in any story development process, and one that was very familiar to me through my years of writing screenplays.

In subsequent steps, Snowflake has you expand that one sentence, first to a paragraph, then to longer synopses. It alternates this with steps where you develop your characters in more detail. At each step, Ingermanson offers a short audio lecture to guide you. I found these useful to get my bearings. Less useful are the examples offered from other books. There are only five available: Gone With the Wind, Harry Potter, Book 1, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Pride and Prejudice. I would like to see a wider variety of well-known classic and genre novels, and isn’t Pirates a movie, not a novel?

I appreciated the systematic way the software helped me expand my novel. When new ideas or changes popped into my head, it was easy to backtrack and add them in at earlier steps. In fact, Ingermanson encourages this.

Not as useful to me was the step where you add various details to your character profiles: what color are their eyes, what kind of clothes do they wear, what books do they read, etc. I know some writers like to consider these things, but I find it useful only when it comes up in my narrative.

While I loved the step where you make a list of your scenes (Though I know they’re going to change as I write.), it wasn’t useful to think about the typical pages per scene and the ideal pages per chapter. If that’s what your focus is on at this point, you’d better get your head back in your story.

The other step I found kind of strange was the final one, where you take what you’ve outlined and turn it into a proposal, adding marketing details, endorsements, etc. I know it’s useful to consider some of these things before writing a novel, but what are you going to do with a formal proposal? Unless you’re an established writer with an agent and publisher, who’s going to even read it?

I also missed having spell check and drag-and-drop editing. I’m so used to those conveniences in Word and other software that it made Snowflake Pro feel a little underdeveloped.

Overall though, I would highly recommend Snowflake to any writer who wants to improve his or her outlines. While you could create something like this on your own, it’s great to have it in a neat package. In my humble opinion, it was well worth a $50 investment in your writing.

Kelee

 

Where Do You Get Your Book Ideas?

I’m sometimes asked where I got the idea for a book. The answer is, my ideas can come from anywhere: an article I read, an overheard conversation, an interesting person I meet on the El. The important thing is that the idea sticks in my gut, not just my head. Ideas that only exist in my head are usually influenced more by marketing than passion.

Some of my best ideas come when I’m about to fall asleep. A story pops into my head and then, every night, my barely awake conscious adds to it. Sometimes the story dies on the vine, sometimes in flourishes. Either way, my muse rocks me to sleep.

After the election in November, I couldn’t sleep. I’d lie awake every night roiling in fear of what the future held. I’ve always enjoyed reading dystopian fiction. Now I was facing dystopian reality. I was exhausted. I had to do something.

I decided to make up a dystopian novel in my head. Thinking about fiction was safer than thinking about reality. I didn’t have any ideas at first, but I trusted my subconscious. It only took a night for a premise, and then a main character to appear. Every night, I developed them. The setting and story grew. I didn’t write my story down. I didn’t want anything concrete to limit my creativity.

It worked. I was able to sleep again. And now, while I’m waiting for my beta readers to ctitique Goddess, Book 2, I’m further developing the story on paper. My plan is to turn it into a YA novel. I know I’ll return to romance (After all, I have Goddess, Book 3 to write.), but I want to run with my muse for awhile and see where she takes me.

Happy writing,

Kelee