Progress: Making It and Recognizing It

I’m relieved to say that, in the year between the release of my first book (Stepping Up To Love by Katie O’Boyle) and my second book (Coming Home To Love, due out the 24th of this month), I’ve grown as a writer. The evidence made me smile a few weeks ago, when I received the first-round edits for book two. In sharp contrast to book one, my editor praised book two as “very clean copy, such an engaging story,” and she made a few dozen editing suggestions to tighten the writing style and give the story more punch.

How was that different from the first-round edits for book one, and how did I get from there to here? It’s important for me to know the answer, and I’m hoping it will help others, particularly new authors, as they work on improving their style as professional authors.

The first-round edits for my first book were humbling, to say it kindly. I thrashed about, trying to sort out how much of the feedback was a misfit between author and editor and what to do with the rest (see Staying True to Your Book). When the dust settled, I saw that most of the editor’s craft-related comments were very helpful, and I made it a point to incorporate those changes in the manuscript and in every manuscript since. They have made my writing clearer, more effective, and more professional.

But I didn’t stop there. I explored several paths to improve my writing. Each of the following made a positive impact, gave me benchmarks for progress, and were well worth the investment of time and money:

  • Making full use of my local writers’ group for critiques.
  • Participating in workshops that targeted my areas of weakness (sex and sensuality, for example). The best suggestions for workshops came from my online RWA chapter, Celtic Hearts, and most cost between $10 and $35.
  • Bypassing the raffle baskets at our annual conference to bid on a 30-page critique from our group president, whose reputation as a tough, effective critic is well deserved.
  • Entering and judging RWA-sponsored contests. (See Contest Takeaways). Very recently, my third book (Finding the Way Back To Love, due out this winter) finaled and took fourth place in The Sheila Contest (Valley Forge Romance Writers).
  • Taking to heart Debby Gilbert’s recent SMP-Update suggestion to continually edit our own work. I submitted an improved version of book two just days before my editor began the first round editing process; this version incorporated feedback from beta readers, critique partners, and contest judges, as well as tips and techniques from workshops.
  • Joining RWA PRO and finding a variety of critique partners. Joining PRO was a simple, one-time application process. Finding and engaging with PRO critique partners has simply required courage, time, and an open mind. This step has taken my writing to a new level and has given me confidence in my own feedback to others.

How about you? I learn so much from fellow Soul Mate Authors! What measures have helped you make progress with your writing? What do you recommend to new and seasoned authors who are eager to grow?

 

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I Run Away Often . . . Especially to the Old West by Lauren Linwood

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When I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money to use for traveling–so I did the next best thing. I read about all the places I wanted to go. I sailed down the Nile and saw the pyramids. I ventured to the Tower of London and saw Queen Anne Boleyn beheaded. I peered out across Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower. I went on safari in Kenya and spotted everything from hyenas to lions. I went backward and forward in time and traveled from the Seven Seas to outer space with interesting companions. Reading helped me escape to different continents and eras.
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Fast-forward to my adult years, and I still love to read. More importantly, I’ve become a writer. It’s my mission to take others on adventures now, along with my characters. And one of my favorite places to travel is the American West in the years after the Civil War. So many Americans—many of the Civil War veterans—ventured from the safety of the cities they’d grown up in to make a new life for themselves on the Great Plains and beyond.
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If I had Marty McFly’s Delorean to help me travel back in time, I’d enjoy visiting the Old West. Notice I said visit. Not stay. I love my modern creature comforts. I consider things such as flush toilets, running water for my ultra-hot showers, and my blow dryer as necessities in life, while luxuries include the Internet, cable television, and air travel.

So when I daydream that I’ve run away to the West, I think about the people I’d encounter. The transportation I’d take. The food I’d eat and how difficult even a simple meal might be to prepare. I think about the clothes and customs and a dozen other things—and then I follow it up with research. That’s when my little luxury of the Internet and my laptop come in handy. Pulling all of these ideas together help me build plots and characters that I put into all kinds of situations. Coming up with conflicts never seems to be a problem in this era.
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I’ve had three western historical romances published so far. My heroes and heroines have been writers, gamblers, teachers, and even a whorehouse owner! I’ve gotten to research gambling, cattle drives, dime novels, and the layout of cow towns and 1870s San Francisco. I try to slip in just enough research to give my books the flavor of being in the West without banging a reader over the head and screaming, “Hey, Reader—like my research?”
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I’ve published one medieval romance and have another one come out in a few months. That’s been a wild era to run away to in my mind—all the fighting and weapons and castles and different, complicated clothing. Still, both medievals were a fun place to travel to as I wrote these novels, and I hope my readers will enjoy the setting of the Hundred Years’ War as a backdrop to my upcoming story, A Bit of Heaven on Earth.

I’m off now to run away again. Another place and time far away are calling my name—and I can’t resist that siren’s call!
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You can read about Lauren Linwood’s historical romance novels at: http://www.laurenlinwood.com

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When Giving Up is NOT an Option by Celia T. Rose

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When Giving up is Not an Option, by Celia T. Lucente W/A Celia T. Rose

Maybe you’ve heard: what you think about you bring about (remember The Secret by Rhonda Byrne?). How about Do What you Love and the Money will Follow by Marsha Sinetar.

You’re the little choo choo train that puffs and puffs but makes you destination!

How bad do you want to be an author? What kind of author do you see yourself being? A NY Times best-seller? An author who can sustain themselves full-time on their royalties? Alternatively, an author who’s happy to have their stories finally being printed?

Yet as hard as we try, we might feel we should to cut our losses before we bankrupt ourselves financially and possibly, spiritually.

As for my writing and finding a home for four completed books in four years of full time writing, well, the ‘ole shot gun approach didn’t work. You know, when you pitch everyone one who might be remotely interested in the material and hope one will bite. They didn’t. Five hundred agent rejections, fifteen conference requests that turned into nothing, numerous editor requests unpublished—well, you get the picture. And may have experienced the same yourself.

Then the debilitating self-doubt sets in. Maybe I’m not meant to do this. The other writers I’m competing against have MFAs, have written their entire lives, have an inherent talent that I could only hope to duplicate.

Ah, and there we have it. Comparison to others. Didn’t your mother, guardian, or teacher tell you that you shouldn’t compare yourself to anyone else? To do the best you can do. Well, then, why are the accolades given to the highest score receiver? Why is a # 1 NY time’s bestselling author considered better than a lesser-known self-published one?

Today I read a Florida conference blog and here’s a quote from Joanne Lewis, murder and historical fiction writer: “There will be more rejections, I promise. Success in your writing has to come from within first, and then you can worry about what the outside world thinks.”

If you asked yourself why you write I’ll bet there are as many answers as there are book ideas. The reasons are personal and unique to you. For me, I wanted to reach people, comfort them, offer encouragement, and escape from problems in their lives. I remember reading through all the stages of growing up and looking to the heroines and main characters as a reference for my moral barometer and for solutions to solve similar problems. To me, living vicariously through those characters provided an escape from teenage angst, college grade worries, young executive insecurities, and later on many personal levels.

So, you see, I can’t give up. Even if I take a side job, as I’m currently considering such as a licensed insurance agent, I can’t give up on the writing. I have people to reach, characters who want to be born; ideas brimming inside of me that are dying to come out on the computer. Sure, it’s scary, all the social networking, possible bad reviews, jealousies that might surface….But if you don’t take the risk then you’ll live to regret having not done it.

So giving up isn’t an option for the aspiring author or even for the publishing author who is creatively stuck. Together we can encourage each other, cheer each other on, and help one another make the goal of writing a publishing reality. Recently I signed with two novel series. One with Soul Mate Publishing called Executive Women in Love out in early 2015. So, progress is in the making. I wish you luck with your writing endeavors, as I know you will me!

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My First Anniversary as a Novelist

Wow. My first novel was published one year ago, which means it’s only taken me forty years to fulfill my childhood career plans. I was young, I didn’t know about the law of abundance and the magic of dream boards. I didn’t know I was supposed to follow my passion and then live it because that catch phrase didn’t hit the prime time until my daughters were in high school.

I stated “I’m going to be a writer when I grow up.”  Now I clearly see the flaws to that goal. I said writer, not novelist. Novelist was what I meant but instead I achieved that writer career except it was in nonfiction and even worse, technical and business writing. The other flaw with that life plan is the Grow Up concept. Novelists need to nurture their inner child unless they write tragedies.

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1 yr old Kaedence dancing with her 6 mos old cousin Robbie

Living happened to me, as it usually does to most writers sometime before they find their stories and voice. It was easy to recognize that my passion was writing romance novels and I was building my library of books on storytelling and crafting all the layers of a novel. I was also building a stack of rejection letters from agents and editors who were always really nice with personalized suggestions for my next manuscript – usually about having a plot and developing some conflict.

So eureka! My first novel was published! Friends and family read it and admitted to being surprised that it was rather good. (One sister has issues with the scene where my heroine passes out on the seat of the car and curls up like a kitten instead of sprawling and drooling on the hero’s lap. I reminded her it is a novel which means – fiction.) Then I began the process of deciding which will be my next novel because I agree with my editor who says: “Create a solid, well-constructed bookshelf of your releases and the readers will come.”

I had intended, and expected, to be able to announce my next novel by this time. As I saw the scheduled date for this blog post I wanted to share some stellar advice about my first year as a debut novelist. So here it is: Wealth has not flowed into my bank account, fame has not touched me. My delight has been that I am now able to answer reader questions of “What do you write? Have I heard of you?” by handing them my business card which includes my website and the cover of my novel on the back.

I was also thrilled to get that first royalty check last December! It was for ten dollars.  

Those dancing cousins in the picture are a primary reason why I don’t have a next novel ready for readers. My hands have not been on the keyboard but snuggling grand-babies. But babies grow fast and I’m already settling into building my bookshelf of novels. 

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Being Beau-TEAL-ful

You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life–Zig Ziglar

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As an author, we have the ability to create amazing and page turning stories, but one of the things I most enjoy has to be leaving a good message. It sounds a bit hokey, I know, but the power we hold is immeasurable at times. As we weave words together, we help people escape reality and put a smile on readers’ faces. But we may help them solve problems, heal wounds, and find ways to improve and/or save their own lives.

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Case and point: Three years ago, when my best friend got an unexpected diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer. I felt completely hopeless and lost. She lived over two thousand miles away, we’d just gotten a foster child, I couldn’t go anywhere. How could I help her through this terrible time?

One of the best ways I knew how…with words.

After she had her initial surgeries, we worked together to write an article on what she’d been through. People at work quit talking to her, quit making eye contact, avoided her in the halls. She said she felt like she’d done something wrong. People gave her crappy advice and made judgements about her diagnosis and some, truly had no idea what to say or how to help. I asked her A LOT of questions and learned how to “stay normal” during a chaotic time. 

We wrote it all out and pitched it to Modern Mom who immediately snatched it up. We called it What to Say (and not to say) About Cancer and people loved it. 

Readers posted on the message board how it helped them, help others. 

Then we took it a step further and decided to start a website called Candid About Cancer. She’d tell her story as the one with cancer and I’d tell my half about the person trying to figure out how to help. Yin and Yang about the process of having a crappy disease and going through harsh treatment.

Feedback from readers were wonderful. People wrote they recently had a friend who’d been diagnosed and they had no idea what to do.

We’ve decided to rewrite the What not to say article because with her fighting her second round of cancer, there are things we didn’t think about the first time.

Also, we’re considering writing other books and articles about it. She said he helps her get her thoughts on paper and it helps me do something besides feel helpless. Though our words we help inform and increase awareness about OC as well as breast cancer (since the two are interlinked). One day, I’d love it if RWA also pushed awareness as well because hey, most of us have or had their ovaries. It’s important we all know how to keep them healthy and what to do if we suspect they aren’t.

So, it’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, my Soulies.

Next month it’s all about Breast Cancer.

November is National Adoption month.

There’s always a cause, a story to be told, information to be shared, and lives to help. 

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Getting my teal locks done.

We are writers and our words are powerful. Use them well.

Oh and wear teal! 

 

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Keeping Organized

I just wrote an entire post where even I wasn’t entirely sure what the point was. 

And that brings me to the point of this post: Organization.

Organization is the bane of my existence. No really. You should see my desk at work. If I can’t hold it in my head, it’s in some sort of disorganized pile. I’m terrible with paper. Oh, my working memory is strong enough that I can find it (usually) if I need it, but until I need it, it’s in some sort of haphazardly arranged stack sitting…somewhere. You know, in one of five different places.

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(The piles look right, but there’s not enough of them for this to be my desk. Also, I’m not a dude.)

But organization is a key piece of making a story work, right? You have to keep notes on the goals, motivations and conflicts that each of your characters experience. You need to keep notes on the time period, on your major plot points, and your story arc. You need to have notes on all the research you’ve done. So what’s a disorganized gal like me–who admittedly loses paper–to do?

You could do the spiral notebook thing, and I’ve done that. I didn’t like it, because I like things to be organized linearly, but ideas never come to me in a linear fashion. I gave that one up rather quickly.

You could do the three ring binder, complete with color coded dividers, and I’ve done that, too. It’s okay, but usually gets ruined by the random sticky note… and you have to remember to file the paper in the right spot. Meh.

I tried the sticky note thing, which I liked because of the ease of use. I had a board to pin them to, and they were all color coded, but then, in a moment of inspiration, I’d pick up the wrong colored sticky note to pin up, and then that made it hard to find when I needed it later. 

LIke I said, I’m bad with paper.

People gave me so much writing advice when it came to keeping my story organized, but they tended to fall back on paper. I even gave Scrivener a whirl, which so many people absolutely love, but I just couldn’t get into it. I tried, really I did, but it didn’t feel intuitive to me, and I don’t have time to teach myself a brand new system. 

Organization, I think, takes time to figure out. Not every system works for every person. What wound up working for me is roughly the same thing that ultimately wound up working in college. Back then, I had an accordion file. Now, I have the computer. I have a main folder that contains my document. I have a sub folder for each category: GMC, research, random scenes that pop into my head, a chapter by chapter guideline for the story, etc. If i have an idea at work or some other place, I use Evernote in my phone–and then transfer that information to the appropriate file when I get home. If I remember. I can even make my phone remind me later if I have something pending, so I can’t forget for long.

I think, after years of trying, I can safely say my writing is pretty organized. Now, if I could just find a system that works for my desk….

What about you? How do you stay organized with your story?

Posted in A Memo from Meggan, Time Management, Writing | 7 Comments

Help, My Editor Wants to Kill Me! by Char Chaffin

editorOkay, maybe nothing so drastic as that. Though having been on both sides of the writing bed, I can relate—and yet offer little sympathy either to myself in writer mode, or when I don my editor’s hat and deal with my authors. Sorry, guys (they know who they are). Sometimes you have to employ tough love.

After all, it’s a tough business, this writing thing, and editors don’t always make it any easier for the authors under their care. We kind of can’t, you see, because the book that just passed into our hands is somebody’s baby and yet the kid still needs to be potty trained, for want of a better analogy. We’re there to make sure everything gets cleaned, polished, and prettied. Yes, your manuscript is not unlike a soiled bottom. That’s what every author wants to hear, I’m sure.  ::grin::

Because I’m an author myself, I can see the author’s side of things very clearly. But authors can’t always see the editor’s point of view, though they toil mightily on their manuscripts before they submit them anywhere. A good rule of thumb: what I, Author think is plenty of editing, usually doesn’t begin to scratch the surface once I, Editor, get my hands on the soiled bottom (nee manuscript). Frustrating for Author, and a moment of resigned reality for Editor.

So, I get this bottom, er, manuscript. It’s sort of clean, and yet spotty. I have already decided I want it because I can see the promise under all the, um, stuff-that-needs-to-be-cleansed. After the easy fixes—reformatting, correcting punctuation, EM dashes and ellipses, the usual editor checklist that authors receive at the start of the process—I can begin, chapter by chapter, to make that manuscript pretty. We all know the process. Authors start writing their next WIP while they wait (at least, I hope they do), and when their first round edits are ready, they begin revisions.red ink

It’s just that easy!

Not.

It hurts to delete, remove, pare down, revise. Nobody really wants to see their words flushed or watch in dismay as a ‘heavy-duty wipe’ erases months of hard work. “Dang it, that editor wants to remove a hundred and five instances of ‘that!’ Never mind, there are still fifty that are in place. Whew! Thought that I’d lost them all.”

I’m not even kidding.

Beyond the standard do-and-don’t of editing guidelines, every editor has their own personal list. Call them ‘pet peeves,’ if you like. I’ve got several I promise you all my authors have experienced. Silly romance novel clichés probably top the list. Over the years these clichés have given romance reads a bad name. My two absolute, don’t-write-it-or-I’ll-kill-you, pet peeves are:

1. Releasing the breath he/she didn’t know he/she was holding. If I had money for each time I’ve read this in a romance novel, I could retire to Tahiti in style. Not only is it impossible to achieve in any character’s POV, but it’s irritating because it’s in so many books.breath
2. He/she captured her/his lips. Okay, break out the butterfly nets, because all I can picture is a few men in white coats going after the local nut case at the insane asylum who’s running amok. Toss in a ‘slanted his/her lips over hers/his,’ and you have added images of a playground seesaw into the mix. Which way will they slant next? Whee!

Here’s the thing I believe romance authors need to remember: it’s all been done before, using the exact same wording, for the last fifty years or so. Readers get bored very easily. My top advice for any author is to remember they’re authors and as such they need to get really creative. You’ve got the talent, otherwise you’d be doing something else, something not creative at all.

I spoke with one of Soul Mate’s editors, MJ Compton, also a published author. It’s always good to get another editor’s take on things. I loved her response.

MJ said, “Looking and breathing are two of my pet peeves. The English language is replete with strong verbs. If your characters must look, find another word that suits the particular situation: scan, skim, stare, glare, peruse, study. Try to eliminate the word “look” from your prose. Looking isn’t active, and your characters should be doing other things besides looking and breathing.
“Limit gasps and sighs, unless your character is having an asthma attack. In my day job, I work with a woman who is a heavy and frequent sigh-er. The habit is just as annoying on the page as it is in person. And don’t forget to include a sense of smell. Fragrance is often the touch that can make a good scene great.
“Watch out for character traits used by more than one character. You want each character to be unique. Sharing a habit lessens the impact of the ‘toothpick in the corner of the mouth.’
“Be specific. Words like “it” and “that” are vague. “He had a knife. It was thin,” versus, “He held a knife. The blade was narrow.” And you shouldn’t use that either, because it’s passive. “The narrow blade flashed silver in the moonlight,” would be better.”

From MJ, I can jump right into another editing snafu: the dreaded ‘repeat word.’ As she said above, there are so many other words to put into play. There’s the creative-author thing again. If you search for them, you’ll find them and if you use them, your editor will love you forever.

Editors want you to succeed. They want readers to pant for every word you write, and then come back for your next release. So many romance readers are collectors; if they like an author, they’ll dig through backlists to find everything published by that author usually regardless of genre. Because they know what they’re going to get when they open up that book: the same quality they found when they took a chance on someone maybe they’d never read before. Senior Editor Debby Gilbert has said it many times: create a solid, well-constructed bookshelf of your releases and the readers will come.

It all starts with a manuscript needing its cheekies polished, an editor determined to apply those heavy-duty wipes . . . and a willing, eager author. I liken it to a phrase from a favorite show of mine:

‘Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.’

Char Chaffin is an Acquisitions Editor for Soul Mate, a multi-published author, and a displaced Alaskan who regularly plots to return to the Last Frontier, preferably when hubby Mr. Don can travel with her.

Posted in Char's Thoughts, Creativity, Inspiration, Perserverance, Publishing, Soul Mate Publishing, Writing, Writing career | Tagged , , , , , , | 24 Comments