A Post For New Writers: There is No Perfect Time To Write So Write Today

A Post For New Writers

A Post For New Writers

One of the most common struggles writers face is the “I don’t feel like writing today” syndrome.

 (Ironically, this is how I’m feeling today, so this post is also to help me get going. ;) )

The reasons for this are many, but here’s a short list of possible ones:

  • Real life creeps up (such as car accidents, illnesses, house repairs).
  • Someone says your story sucks.
  • You lose interest in the story and want to work on something else.
  • Sales aren’t what you hoped they’d be.
  • You don’t know where to go next in the story.
  • You’re burned out/tired.

When this pops up, don’t despair.  These (and more) are all valid reasons for not wanting to write.

But…it’s important you keep writing anyway.  Take a short break if you must.

For example, I took the last two weeks off of writing because I had just finished five books ever since May and was so exhausted, I couldn’t even speak/think straight.  I was going over my grocery list with my family and was writing muffins and waffles but said “Does anyone want muffles?”  The thing is, I was doing a lot of this.  I was even reading things wrong.  So yes, it was time to take a break.

We all need to recharge our batteries at some point.  But the story will only getting written if you sit down and write.

So today, I’m going to share some strategies I use that help me when I don’t feel like writing.

1.  Make writing a priority.

If you don’t make writing a priority, it won’t get done.  Make a list of things you want to do for the day or week.  Then divide the things between needs and wants.  Needs go to the top.  Wants at the bottom.  Writing must be a need if you are going to finish the story in a less than a year.  The more books you want to write, the higher this need must be.

So when real life creeps in, you can buffer against it by making sure you make time to write.  Even if all you manage to get in is a couple hundred words that day, it’s a couple hundred that wouldn’t have been written otherwise.

2.  Pace Yourself.

If you’re squeamish about setting the high goal of 5000 words a day, there’s no need to aim that high.  On average, I do 2000-3000 words 5-6 days a week.   Sometimes I only get a couple hundred words in during a day.  Sometimes I am able to hit 4000 or 5000 words (though I have to be super psyched and ready to write to get that kind of word count in).

Since November 2007, I have written 45 romances (1 of which is in the editing stage).  I am just starting my 46th romance.  That’s averaging 7 novels a year.  And I’ll reach 50 romances in 2015, which is really exciting for me.  (My goal is 100.)

How do I do it?

I pace myself.  I do a little at a time.  I don’t sit down for a couple hours and do nonstop typing.  I go in smaller chunks of time, usually 15 minute bursts.  Sometimes I am able to go 30 minutes to an hour.  But mostly, it’s 15 minutes because I have four kids and a husband, and someone is usually coming up to me during the day.  My husband, who now works, will be working on weekends when the kids are home, so the thought of having no one in the house and having total silence is not going to happen.  I have to work around distractions.

It helps immensely that I have a laptop so I can carry it from room to room, which comes in handy when the kids need something upstairs.  Or when I do a little cleaning, write for a few minutes, clean some more, etc.  I also take it to the park or other places where I can sit so the kids can play.  (And don’t think just because they’re playing, they leave me alone because they don’t.  Even at the pool this summer, at least one would come up to me every 15-30 minutes.)

There is no secret formula.  You just have to sit down and write whenever you can.  If you can do a schedule and make it work, that’s awesome.  I’m not able to do it, but I would if I could.  My point is, it’s possible to write in small chunks of time and even when real life distractions creep in.

3.  Set aside periods of rest.

If you’re in this for the long haul, you need to pace yourself to avoid burn out.  Some say serious writers write every single day.  But I’m going to give you a freedom from that type of thinking by assuring you it’s okay to take breaks.  Periods of rest are vital to our health.  If we don’t get enough sleep at night, our bodies will physically, emotionally, and spiritually suffer for it.

I don’t write 365 days a year.  There are days when I take the day off to spend time with the family and rest.  I don’t dwell on what I’ll write next, though if ideas come, I let them.  I let my mind take a break.

Whatever word count you want to aim for is up to you.  You don’t have to write a book in a month.  Your goal can be to write a book in 3-6 months.  Maybe it’s a book a year.  Maybe it’s a book every two years.  Nothing is wrong with that.  The longer your book, the longer it’ll take to write.  The more research involved, the longer it’ll take, too.  But if you take time to rest (like 1-2 days a week), it really does a world of good for maintaining your creative flow.

4.  Push through the rough patches.

Writing is not easy.  It is hard.  It is work.  But it can be work you love and are passionate about.  However, you don’t always love it or feel passionate about it.  Sometimes it feels like you’re pulling teeth.

It’s important to write anyway.  Why?  Because the longer you put off writing, the harder it’ll be to get back into the swing of things.

As mentioned above, breaks are good, but breaks are short periods of time (a couple days each week or a week each month) you choose not to write.  Breaks are intentional and done by choice.

The rough patches are not the same thing.  These are obstacles standing in the way of you and your dream of a finished book.  You can’t let these things paralyze you.  Even if all you manage is a couple hundred words every day for a week, do it.  It will get easier.  You just need to make yourself do it.  This is where the blood, sweat, and tears of writing comes in.

Next time, I’ll look at characters.  (Today I wanted to put up an inspirational post instead of an instructional one.)

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A Post For New Writers: Point of View

A Post For New Writers

A Post For New Writers

The point of view concept is another hard one when you’re starting out.  There’s an urge to give multiple character points of view in the same scene because you’re afraid that there’s something important the reader might miss.  But this isn’t true if you give actions to hint at what other characters are thinking.  Nonverbal cues are very important in conveying emotions and thoughts in a scene.

The use of multiple character points of view in one scene is called head hopping, and this technique will confuse your reader.

The reader might have to stop reading, go back and reread a passage to figure out who is thinking what, and that will disrupt the flow of your story.

Let me give you an example to show you what I mean.  Remember the idea I’ve been using with the father who is separated from his wife and was picking up his daughter?  Let’s say the house he went to was completely empty, so he couldn’t find the girl.  Now he has to tell his estranged wife.

“What do you mean the house was empty?” Clara asked, not believing her ears.  “Didn’t you go to the right address?”

“Of course, I did.” He pulled out his smartphone and dug up the email she’d sent him.  He showed her the screen.  “That’s the address I went to, but I’m telling you, no one was there.  No one’s lived there for years.”

She shook her head.  Just typical.  He was running late from another meeting.  He probably turned down the wrong street without realizing it.

Once again, she refused to believe him.  She was assuming the worst.  And he didn’t know how he could rectify it.  “Let’s call their number and see if the address is wrong.”

With a sigh, she went to the kitchen to retrieve the number her daughter’s friend had given her.  He was going to feel foolish when the girl’s mother verified she had the correct address.  She never made mistakes.  Ever.

When the phone picked up on the other end, she said, “This is Clara.  I’m sorry my husband is late in picking our daughter up, Mandy, but my husband had trouble finding your place.  May I verify your address?”

He listened as she talked into the phone, and though she didn’t sound irritated, he knew that was exactly how she felt.  It seemed like he couldn’t do anything right lately.  But he had made sure the address was the one she’d given him.  He was more sure of it than anything else.

She waited for a response on the other end of the line, but she only heard dead air.  “Hello?  Mandy?”

Still, no answer.

He turned when Clara returned.  Clara stared at the phone in her hand, a creepy sensation coming over her.  Something was wrong.  Terribly wrong.

Did any of that confuse you?  I hope so because it was given with lots of head hopping.  Now, let’s switch this example to using only one character’s point of view.

A good rule of thumb is to use the character who has the most to gain or lose in the scene.  

In this case, it’s the father because he is losing his wife’s trust, something he’s desperately trying to keep because he’s the one who wants to save the marriage.

“What do you mean the house was empty?” Clara asked.  “Didn’t you go to the right address?”

“Of course, I did.” He pulled out his smartphone and dug up the email she’d sent him.  He showed her the screen.  “That’s the address I went to, but I’m telling you, no one was there.  No one’s lived there for years.”

With a shake of her head, she narrowed her eyes at him.  His gut tightened in dread.  She was assuming the worst.  And he didn’t know how he could rectify it.

“Let’s call their number and see if the address is wrong,” he suggested.

He wasn’t sure if she’d do it.  She had gotten used to ignoring any of his suggestions, but after a long sigh, she went to the kitchen.

A long, tense moment passed before he heard her say, “This is Clara. I’m sorry my husband is late in picking our daughter up, Mandy, but my husband had trouble finding your place. May I verify your address?”

Though Clara didn’t sound irritated, he knew that was exactly how she felt. It seemed like he couldn’t do anything right lately. But he had made sure the address was the one she’d given him. He was more sure of it than anything else.

“Hello? Mandy?”

Eyebrows furrowed, he turned toward the kitchen, ready to head in there to find out what was going on, but he refrained.  This was no longer his house.  He forced himself to look back out the window, hoping their daughter would be showing up, that the friend’s mother had taken it upon herself to take her home.

Footsteps brought his attention back toward the kitchen, and he turned in time to see Clara entering the room, staring at the phone in her hand, her face white. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong.

In the second scene, I did add more to his point of view because not head hopping freed me up to be more in tune with his thoughts and feelings.

The key to good writing is to make reading as easy as possible for the reader.

When you stay in one character’s point of view during the entire scene, you are helping to keep the flow of your story steady.

To best understand point of view, it’s important to practice by writing it.  So, take one scene from your work in progress.  If you head hopped, then convert that scene to only one character’s point of view like I did above.  Then, to better understand the concept even better, take the same scene and now switch it to the other character’s point of view to see how things changed.

Another way to best understand point of view is to write first person point of view.  This is the “I” point of view.

Remember, when you’re in one point of view (be it first or third person), you can only give the thoughts and feelings of the character whose point of view you’re in.  All you can do is report what other characters are saying and doing.

This can be tricky, and only writing can help you get this one down.  To be honest, I didn’t truly understand this until last year when I wrote a novella from the point of view of a villain in a book I’d written back in 2007.  So don’t get discouraged if this takes a while to learn.

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First Draft of His Convenient Wife is Done! (And A Lot of Rambling about Sprinting)

His Convenient Wife ebook cover

His Convenient Wife was done last weekend, but I was exhausted so I didn’t make the post.  I’ve been on a writing vacation since last Sunday and plan to stay on it for another week or two.

I sprinted Patty’s Gamble, The Earl’s Secret Bargain, and Just Good Friends.  I didn’t really sprint A Royal Engagement because it was a rewrite of a previously published book.  I could not, however, sprint His Convenient Wife, no matter how hard I tried.

What I’ve learned is the sprinting method is great for writing books faster, but it also wore me out.   I was unable to manage more than 2000 words a day by the time I got to His Convenient Wife, and this was starting at 10am and going to midnight.  I needed a lot more breaks during the day.  I had to keep going back and rewriting multiple scenes.  I had to swap scenes around from one place to another and then modify those scenes so they made sense in their new location.

 

I don’t know if other authors who do sprinting need breaks between books.  Maybe if they outline when they aren’t sprinting, they can keep going.  But no amount of outlining works for me.  I’m not a plotter.   I’m a panster.  I am beginning to believe that teaching someone like me to plot is impossible because no matter how many ways I tried to do it, it just didn’t work.  I was making a new outline every day because nothing went the way I thought it would while I was writing the day before.

So my takeaway advice (for what it’s worth) is to write the way that’s comfortable for you.  And that includes the sprinting method.  Sprinting isn’t for everyone.  I was able to do it, and for two months, it worked great.  I did an average of 5,000 words a day, which meant, I was able to finish a full-length novel in three weeks or less.   If I hadn’t done it, Patty’s Gamble and The Earl’s Secret Bargain wouldn’t have been out this summer.  And I’m happy with the way they turned out.  Then I had the time to get to A Royal Engagement.  Again, something that wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for finishing the other two books.

But…

It took a lot out of me to do it.  By the time I got to Just Good Friends, I noticed my word count was getting to be more about the 3,000 to 4,000 range, and I took a vacation in the middle of the book, which helped me recharge my creative energy.

When I got to His Convenient Wife, I was pretty much running on fumes, but the book is already set for release on November 16, and I need to get it ready for my editing team in early September.  October 1 is when I plan to have it uploaded to Smashwords so there will be enough time to get the book ready on Barnes & Noble and Kobo.  Apple is quick.  But the other two places take longer, so that is why I pushed myself to finish it.

His Convenient Wife turned out to be 77,000 words in the first draft.  A couple thousand words will get trimmed off during the first round of edits, which I’m currently doing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m really happy with this book.  It’s one of my favorites.   I went two weeks over my estimated time to finish it because I wanted to make sure I got it done right.

But what I took away from this whole experience is that sprinting (for me) isn’t something I can do all the time.   So when I go back to writing, I’m going to work on a couple books at a time and slow things down.

Next on the list is Love Lessons With The Duke, my part of the novella for A Groom’s Promise, and another book (haven’t decided yet).  I can see sprinting again, but it’s going to be a while before I do it again.

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A Post For New Writers: The Proper Use of Backstory

A Post For New Writers

A Post For New Writers

In my opinion, backstory is one of the hardest things to figure out when you’re starting out.  There’s a temptation to mention everything to the reader right away.  Part of this stems from figuring out who the characters are as we are writing.  I’m not the kind of person who outlines a story when I start it.  I’ve tried and failed.  Writers who do outlines first probably have an easier time learning the delicate balance of when and how to use backstory.  (I’m guessing they do since they take time to figure out the backstory before they begin writing.)

But for the sake of this post, I will have to assume those reading this are like me in that they learn about the characters as they go along.

So, what is backstory?  

Backstory is revealing the past of your character.   The past is everything that happened before the story officially begins.

I hadn’t heard the term “backstory” until I’d already published six romances.   Basically, it’s where you’re trying to tell the reader all this stuff that makes up who the character is today.  (For example, you’re telling the reader why the hero bitter.  Usually, there’s some traumatic event in his life that made him who he is today.  Or maybe you want to explain why the heroine is afraid of candles, and you really want to explain this right away because candles are a big part of the story.)

Backstory works best 1/3 -3/4 of the way into the book.

The prologue or chapter 1 is not a good time to dump all this information on your reader.  Why?  Because the reader doesn’t care about the character yet.  So this is going to be boring to them, and chances are, they’ll skip it.  Wait until later in the story when the hero or heroine is at a crucial part in the story where the tragic event in their past is going to possibly hinder them from reaching their goal.

For example, let’s say the hero is bitter.  When he has a chance to mend a situation with his dad, he refuses.  We’re 1/3 or 1/2 into the story, so now that reader is going to care about why he refused to talk to his dad.  Now, you can show the time when his dad walked out on him and his mom.

Another example, let’s say the heroine is afraid of candles.  About 1/3 or 1/2 into the book, she needs to go into a house during a storm and all the power is out.  But she needs to use candles.  Now, you can show why she’s afraid of candles.  Let’s say she almost burned to death in a fire started by a candle.  So show that backstory then show how she is going to overcome that while she’s in this house.

Don’t bog the reader down with backstory at the beginning of the book

Backstory in the very beginning of a book is a very common and easy mistake to make.  I did it when I started writing, too.  Hey, we’re all human.  It’s okay to goof up.  The important thing is to learn from the past and do better next time.  So don’t worry if you’ve already done this in a previously published book.  Just move on and do better in your next one.  You learn best by writing more stories, not going over and over your old ones.

So what do you want to do instead of backstory as you’re writing your first couple chapters?

Focus on the character.

Whichever character you introduce, you need to establish an emotional connection between that character and the person reading the book.  This is not done with giving their past, even if they did suffer some traumatic event.  The connection needs to be something that is happening to this character at this very moment in the story.

The character is central to the story because you’re going to tell some of the story from this character’s point of view.

So when you start the story, put the reader in the moment.  

What is happening to the character.  What is the character thinking and feeling?  What is the character saying?  What is the character seeing and hearing?  Are there any other things important to the scene that the character is experiencing?

Here’s an example from the idea I had about the father going to pick up his daughter:

Pete Grant wiped the fog from the windshield and jerked when he saw the curb coming up straight ahead.  Tapping the brake, he turned the wheel and cursed himself for being so careless.  The car slowed to a more manageable speed and he released his breath.

The rain was relentless tonight.  The wipers did little to compensate for the downpour.  He hated summers in Florida.  Sudden bursts of rain and humidity.  Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he cranked up the air conditioner.

“You should take the job,” his estranged wife had said.  “Florida’s a paradise.”

“Some paradise,” he muttered as he took a more cautious turn down the next bend on the lonely, dark road.  “It’s been nothing but problems.”

And now he had one more problem.  He was late–yet again–in picking his daughter up.  But this time, it wasn’t his fault the meeting ran late.  But would his wife believe it?  Probably not.

“I can’t do anything right.” He shook his head.  “Forget about it.”

Right now, he had to focus on making it through this storm without crashing his car.  He also needed to watch for the addresses as he passed the occasional house.

In that scene, I did hint at a couple backstories.  The character has a past, but I didn’t go into it.  I only skimmed the surface.  The point of hinting at backstories are to intrigue the reader and to make them wonder what is going on.  In this case, the father is late.  But why did the meeting run late?  I noted he had an “estranged” wife.  What is the marital conflict?  And did the move to Florida have something to do with it?

Also, I established the character’s thoughts and emotions at that very moment in the scene.  He’s anxious.  He’s in a hurry but struggling to drive safely.  He’s unhappy about the state of marriage.  He has a sense of doom that his wife will blame him even though him being late is not his fault.  There are a couple things going on, which the reader will hopefully connect with and sympathize with when they read the first chapter.

The beginning of the book not only sets the stage for it, but it also builds a relationship between the main character and the reader.

***

In the next post, I’ll discuss point of view, which can be another hard thing to work with when you’re starting out.

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Characters Who Have Appeared in the Nebraska Series

Once in a while, I get questions about the characters who are in the Nebraska series who haven’t had their own books yet.  I originally intended for the series to span 30 or so books, but the trouble with that is I’m not writing these books in chronological order.  I have not have this problem with other series I’ve done.  But the Nebraska series is unique. While other series easily come to a close, this one seemed to keep expanding.

eye of the beholder

This was supposed to be the only historical western I’d ever write.

For example, I wrote this book first.  In fact, it was Dave and Mary Larson that got me hooked on historical westerns.  I’d read them, of course, but at the time, I was thinking once I finished this book, I would return to writing fantasy.  Obviously, this didn’t happen.

Instead I wrote this book because I wanted to give Neil Craftsman his second chance:

his redeeming bride new ebook cover

Originally, I was going to only write Isaac’s Decision after this book and make the Nebraska Series a trilogy. But…Jenny Larson wanted her own book. Then there was Tom Larson. The series evolved on its own from there.

Chronologically, these books have other books that happen before, after, and between them.  I have Eye of the Beholder at #4 and His Redeeming Bride and #8.  Those other books didn’t come right away.  It took time to get to them.

This series has no limits.  And I can’t place it into a neat little box.  That’s what makes this series so complicated.

After people kept trying to order the books in reviews and on Goodreads, I finally had to give the books numbers.  At the time, I finished Sally Larson’s story, which was the 9th book I wrote for this series.  Chronologically, it’s #2.

her heart's desire

Sally Larson’s book got to be first in the series after a lot of debate.

But I haven’t written Richard Larson’s story yet, and since people wanted me to number the series right away, I had to start with her book.

This leaves many questions up in the air, of course.  Mainly, what about the other characters?  Like Richard Larson, Sep (who was in Shotgun Groom), and Vivian and Hugh (from Her Heart’s Desire).

Since I have now numbered the series and that numbering system is in reviews I can’t change (and they’re all over the internet), I have to be creative.

So this is what I’m going to do.

I’m either going to write the other characters’ books as standalones or create spin-off series from them.  I already did that with Eliza (a minor character in His Redeeming Bride).

loving elize

The first spin-off from the Nebraska Series. This story led to the South Dakota Series.

So I’m thinking with Richard Larson’s story, I would lessen the focus on the Larson family (as a whole) and focus more on the other people going along the wagon trail with them.  I’ll have to write the book and see how things go.

I'll have Stephannie Beman work on the cover to fit it in a series if a series does evolve from this book.

I’ll have Stephannie Beman work on the cover to fit it in a series if a series does evolve from this book.

Other Potential Spin-Offs

1.  I am hoping to make Sep’s story a 3 or 4-book series.  I’m thinking of something like a bride lottery, but we’ll see.

2.  Vivian and Hugh will have a story, but it might be a standalone, depending on how things go.  I’m thinking their story takes place in California since her sister moved out there in Her Heart’s Desire.

A Note About Other Characters

After Isaac’s Decision, I did write Rachel Larson’s story, but it’s embedded in with Eva Connealy’s romance, which is Boaz’s Wager.  This is book 2 in the Montana Collection.

boaz's wager with award

This time two Nebraska characters got placed into another series instead of starting a new series.

Isaac has two other sisters, Rose and Harriett Larson.  I already wrote Catching Kent, which is Rose’s story.

catching kent ebook

I wrote this to give Kent Ashton his second chance after the way things played out in Falling In Love With Her Husband.

At the moment, I am working on His Convenient Wife, which is due for release on November 16.

His Convenient Wife ebook cover

I should finish the first draft of this book either today or tomorrow.

From Rose and Harriett’s stories, I know there’s a potential for their brothers’ romances.  Adam’s story is already in my head.  Jacob’s and Eli’s have to be developed.  At this time, whether or not I write about them will depend on how well His Convenient Wife resonates with people.  Catching Kent just didn’t appeal to most people.  There are several reasons for this, but I won’t go into it here since this post is long enough as it is.

If His Convenient Wife also fails to accumulate enough interest, I am going to focus on other books for the time being.  My “To Write” List is huge.  I have to be careful when I pick out which books I’ll write because (unfortunately) I can only write so many books in a year.  When choosing which books to work on, I need to consider if the book interests me, will the book interest others, and is it a good time to write it.

So depending on how things go, I will tackle these other books when I can and when I’m able to.  I learned to never set deadlines unless I know I can make good on them.

All I can say right now with certainty is that His Convenient Wife will be out November 16. I’m not sure when the others featuring the Nebraska series characters will be written.

Posted in Boaz's Wager, Catching Kent, Eye of the Beholder, His Convenient Wife, His Redeeming Bride, Loving Eliza, Wagon Trail Bride | Tagged | 8 Comments