W is for Writer’s Block

There’s a debate over whether or not this actually exists.  I’ve heard convincing arguments against it, but I still believe this exists.  Anything that prevents a writer from being able to sit down and write the story is writer’s block (at least in the way I define it).

writers block

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The sources of writer’s block  varies.

It can be real life demanding you tend to more urgent needs (such as an illness or filing taxes).

It can be exhaustion.  (This is why I recommend taking two days off a week from writing to refresh yourself.  I don’t believe a writer needs to write every single day.  Setting up days off to regroup can really help for the longterm stamina needed to consistently publish books through the year.)

It can be something in the story that isn’t going right.  Maybe the character is leading us in one direction, but we think the character is making a huge mistake so we try to steer the character in another direction.  (Most of the time, this is why I hit writer’s block.)  Sooner or later, the character totally rebels and stops altogether.  You can force the issue, but the story ends up sucking when you do.  (And yes, I’ve done this, only to regret it.)  This is why I believe in letting the characters lead all the time, even when it scares me.

Whatever the issue, there are times when you can feel stuck.

What can you do to help combat it?

The hardest part can be pulling yourself up out of the writing funk.  I have a few tips.  If anyone has any they’d like to add, feel free to add them.

  1. Work on something else.  The only problem with this is that you might get sidetracked and end up ditching the original story.  You want to finish the original story.  This probably works best if you can write more than one story at a time.  But if you can work on the second story, finish it, and then get back to the original, you’ll be okay doing this method.
  2. Write ahead.  If you know for sure a scene will be coming up in the story, go ahead and write it out.
  3. Try writing 250 words and see how things go.  I learned this tip from a podcast Joanna Penn did with James Scott Bell, except he said he does 350 words.  I thought he said 250.  I just read the transcript and see I was wrong by 100 words.  But I think the principle is still a good one.  Try a little bit and see if it gets things going.  Here’s the site for the podcast info:  http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2015/09/28/writing-discipline-james-scott-bell/
  4. A tip I just learned from another podcast at The Creative Penn that Joanna had with Michaelbrent Collings sounds promising.  The basic idea is to put something ridiculous into the scene to get things rolling.  So if you’re hero is trapped in a room, and you are trying to figure out how to get him out, you can do something like have a bird come into the room and say, “Let’s get out of here.” The hero would ask the bird, “How are we going to do that?” Then the bird might say, “There’s a window over there.”  Then you take out the bird and write the scene.  I’ve tried this a couple of times already, and I think it actually works.  I don’t write in the bird.  I just imagine the bird.  I hate rewriting anything, so the less typing I do, the better.  But you can modify this idea to fit your personality as a writer.  Here’s the link if you want to hear more from this podcast: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2016/04/04/write-faster-michaelbrent-collings/
  5. Step away and take a break.  Sometimes you just have to do that.  And there’s nothing wrong with taking time off to regroup if you need to do it.  I know being vigilant is important, as I wrote in my last post.  But I also know there’s a time when you have to take a break.

The blog is part of the Blogging from A – Z Challenge.

 

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V is for Vigilance

Today, I want to talk about vigilance in the life of a writer.

ID 65345668 © Olga Medvedeva | Dreamstime.com

ID 65345668 © Olga Medvedeva | Dreamstime.com

Vigilance in storytelling.

When I started writing, I believed there was a point where a writer would know everything.  I believed I would reach a point where I no longer had to improve my storytelling craft. Boy, was I ever wrong.  I finally came to the conclusion that the more I learned about storytelling, the more I had to learn.

The goal is to make your next story better than the last.  It should flow better.  The characters should be more real to the reader (and to you).  The point of view should be sharper.  The setting should compliment the characters’ needs a lot better.  Etc.  The point is, all elements that go into telling a story should be fine-tuned with each story you write.

If you’re going to write longterm, just be aware that improving the craft of telling a story is a journey.  If you can look back on your early books and shiver (because they were “so awful”), then you know you’re getting better.  That’s great news.  I know it sucks to think your older stories are “awful”, but really, it’s a good thing.  It means you improved.  It means you grew as a writer.  It means you’re better today than you were yesterday, and you’ll be even better in the future…if you keep it up.

Treating writing like a job.

Sometimes it’s easy to get lazy.  Actually, it’s always easy to get lazy.  What’s hard is staying vigilant.  Writing is hard work.  Yes, it’s fun.  It’s something we chose because we enjoy it, but it’s still work.

There are times the work will seem like play.  The words come easily, and your word count is amazing that day.

But there are other times where each word feels like you’re pulling teeth.  It is not always easy to write.  Things going on in real life can definitely impact your motivation to write.  Some writers find taking a break works best.  On occasion it does for me, too, but most of the time, I have to sit and write.  Even if it’s only a couple hundred words, those couple hundred words help me get back into the story, and the next day is usually better.  Maybe not a ton better.  But a little better.  So on day 1, maybe I only manage 250 words.  Day 2, I might manage 500.  And so on.

Sometimes you can’t wait until you feel like writing to write, especially if you need the income to help pay the bills.  That’s why vigilance is key.  Don’t rush the story just to get it out.  I know it’s tempting because each new story means the potential for more money in your pocket.  But each story needs to be savored like fine wine.  Remember the pacing and tell your character’s journey as she wants you to tell it.  Honor your reader with each book you write.  Give them a complete and fulfilling story.

Vigilance can be hard when sales are down or someone leaves you a nasty review.  Maybe you want to give up.  I get it.  I’ve been wanting to give up for most of this year so far, even though I’ve been showing up to work almost every day and typing out the next story.  What keeps me going is treating it like a job.  Usually, once I get 500 words in, I get my motivation.  But each day is like pulling teeth to get the first couple hundred words out.  It’s not easy.  That’s why this post on vigilance is just as much for me as it is for anyone else who can relate to it.:)

This post is part of the Blogging from A – Z Challenge.

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U is for Universal

There are universal themes in plots.  The key is knowing how to approach these in a refreshing way.

universal

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Universal themes are those that are common to the human experience.  As writers, we tend to worry we’ll bore people with a story that hits on common themes that have been told over and over again.

Some examples off the top of my head: forbidden lovers (ex. Romeo and Juliet), beauty is in the eye of the beholder (ex. Beauty and the Beast), and betrayal by a best friend (ex. Julius Caesar).  Those are just three examples, but there are plenty more.

The point is that universal themes work because they touch on the human experience.  I don’t remember the number of plot types out there, but there is a finite number of plots out there.  You can mix some twists into them, but overall, common themes often emerge while telling the story.

The key is how you tell the story.  It’s what you do with the theme that matter.  It’s in the execution of the plot that makes all the difference.

Let’s take a look at the universal theme of the underdog who gets the prize.  One such story is Cinderella.  This story has been told over and over many times.  Here you have a girl who is being oppressed by her stepfamily.  She ends up winning the heart of the king/prince, usually because of a slipper.  The story has been passed down from different countries and from different time periods with various versions of it.  You might be familiar with the Brothers Grimm version which had the stepsisters cutting off parts of their foot to fit the slipper.  In Disney’s version, it’s all rated G so you won’t see any bloodshed there.  But the basic plot stays the same.

One of the oldest versions of the story was in China, and it was first published in the 9th-century compilation Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang.  This version is called Ye Xian, and her father had two wives.  Well, she loses her mother early on.  After her father’s death, she is regulated to servanthood in the house for her stepmother and stepsister. (Only one stepsister is in this version).  The girl befriends a fish,who was her guardian spirit sent by her dead mother. (Another version had this fish as being her mother reincarnated.)  The stepsister and stepmother eat the fish, and Ye Xian buries the bones.  There is a festival taking place where the young maidens are to meet potential husbands.  The stepmother forbids her to go.  Ye Xian makes a wish to the fish’s bones, and she is magically given a beautiful gown and a pair of golden slippers.   She goes to the festival and is admired.  She loses her slipper.  The slipper is found, and she marries the king and lives happily ever after.

I actually found the variations and similarities while researching Cinderella interesting, so I decided to share the Chinese version.  But you get what I’m saying.  The common theme in these versions were the underdog,  a chance for a better life, an obstacle to that better life, help in getting a better life, the event that changes everything, and finding happiness.

If you strip away all the details in the versions, you get the basic plot.  It’s the details you put into the story that make it unique.  Instead of having the main character being a girl, you could make him a boy.  The chance for a better life might be trying out for a sports team.  The obstacle could be bullies in the team who try to stop him.  The help could be from a stepfather who practices with the boy to make him the best player on the team.  The event that changes everything could be getting the final score that wins the game.  The boy is now a hero and admired by all.

See what I did?  I removed all the details from Cinderella and just came up with a new story.  I used the common themes from Cinderella, but you’ll note that this story is definitely not Cinderella.  It is a brand new story.

If you’re struggling to come up with story ideas, this technique can work.  Do NOT retell another person’s story.  Make the story your own.  Give it a fresh look.

This post is part of the Blogging from A – Z Challenge.

 

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Her Devilish Marquess is Available (and The Mistaken Mail Order Bride will be Soon)

Due to a power outage, I was unable to make this post last Sunday.   (Mondays through Saturdays are taken up with posts for the A-Z Blog Challenge for April.)

So today, I’m announcing that Her Devilish Marquess is now out!

Her Devilish Marquess ebook cover

If you read His Wicked Lady, you were introduced to Danette Everson (Regan’s best friend) who had rotten luck with past engagements.  One gentleman ran off to India, and another ran off with another lady.  So she’s reluctant to take a chance on a third engagement.  But Regan talks her into giving it another shot.

If you read The Earl’s Stolen Bride, you might recognize Dr. Westward, who took care of Lady Reddington’s (Chloe’s) brother and then delivered her child at the very end of the book.  He’s pretty much sure no respectable lady will be happy married to him since he has a tendency of telling people exactly what he thinks of them, which doesn’t go over well for those who have something to hide.

So I paired up the lady who’s terrified of scandals with a gentlemen inclined to upset to the Ton.

If you’re interested, here are the links where you can get it:

Amazon

iBooks

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

***

Also, The Mistaken Mail Order Bride will be out earlier than expected!  The new release date is May 15.

The Mistaken Mail Order Bride

Thanks to my awesome editing team!  To Shelley, I tried emailing you, but I kept getting a “this email can’t be sent” message.  I’m not sure if you can get in touch with me or not about an email that’s good.

It’s available on pre-order at all retailers now, so I’ll post links here if you want to get it ahead of time.

Amazon

iBooks

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

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T is for Temptation

A powerful tool in your writing arsenal is temptation.

temptation

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Obviously, this doesn’t play out in every book you write.  When I think of different storylines in movies and TV, not every character is tempted to make a decision that has the potential to hurt others or themselves.

If you offer the main character a temptation, it has to be something that has the greatest impact for his specific personality.  It has to be something that tests their character.  For example, in one of my books, I had an ex-prostitute who was struggling to make her life better.  Her big goal was to be someone who was deserving of respect.  So in choosing her temptation, I had to pick something that would make her seriously consider going back into prostitution.  And this something happened to be hunger.  She worked hard to earn money, but her employer was stingy and didn’t pay her the full wages.  After a couple of weeks of battling hunger, she had to face the temptation of reverting back to her old life so she could buy food.  (To this day, that is still my favorite book because of the power of temptation in it.)

The more you can make your character suffer up to the point of temptation, the more impact that temptation will have.  Think of a time in your life when you were pushed to the very limits where you didn’t think you could keep going.  Everything that could go wrong was going wrong.  All you dealt with was stress upon stress upon, and just what you thought you couldn’t take it anymore, there was even more stress thrown your way.  Your nerves were on edge.  You were at the point where you felt as if you’d reached a path in the road, and either choice you chose was going to be the wrong one.  This is the point the character needs to be at in order for the temptation to have its greatest impact.

Also, keep in mind your character’s motive could be good, except he’s tempted to do something bad in order to obtain get to the goal.  A great example of this is the movie John Q. with Denzel Washington.  This movie is about a man who holds hostages in a hospital (a bad thing) for the sake of saving his son’s life (a good thing).  The effectiveness in this type of temptation is that the reader will sympathize with the character’s plight.  Even though the character might do something horrible, he is doing it for a noble cause.  The reader will be pulled in polarizing directions.  While the reader wants the good thing to happen because of the suffering the character is going through, the reader also knows the potential for harm if the character goes down this path.

This blog post is part of the A-Z Challenge.

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S is for Serious

Sometimes writers can take criticism much too seriously.

serious

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The problem often comes into play when we listen too much to others.  I have a friend who has let other people dictate how she feels about her own work.  She was truly bummed out over something she had no control over: others’ opinions.  These opinions happen to be from those in a very small niche group who idolize a certain storytelling technique.  If you don’t fit that exact technique, you don’t fit in, and they will not approve of you.  So is it really “her” work that is inferior?  No.  Her work just happens not to fit their mold.

We will have moments when we don’t feel like we’re good enough.  No matter how well you sell or how many people enjoyed your books, that little nagging doubt can creep in.  And yes, harsh words about our work does hurt.  We’re human.  Over time, you do get thicker skin, but that skin needs to develop in order to be effective.  I’m afraid there’s no shortcuts to it.

Today, I’d like to encourage you to not take your critics too seriously.  Do they have a valid point?  Maybe.  If your fans agree with them on a certain point, then it’s something to look into.  But if not, I would dismiss it.  Oftentimes, when someone doesn’t like your work, it’s because they don’t like the way a certain character is or the fact that your book was too “sexy” or “violent” for their tastes.

One author I know got criticized because her villain had red hair and was overweight.  The reviewer happened to look just like the villain, and this person felt offended that red haired, overweight people were portrayed as being evil.  Now, the author didn’t know this person.  So how was the author to know a real person who looked similar to the villain was going to read her book and think, “This author is making fun of me”?  The answer is: the author couldn’t know this.  Sometimes people will hate your book for reasons you can’t predict.  It just happens.

Most of the time when someone criticizes your work, it says a lot more about the critic than the quality of your story.  People have their biases when they go into a book.  You can’t control what those biases are.  You can’t cater your story to every single person on the planet, either.  You will have to cater directly to your fans.  This is why social networking is key.  Get to know your fans.  Find out why they like about your work, and do more of it.  Don’t let those outside your fanbase deter you from doing that which has pleased your fans for so long.

As for typos and grammatical mistakes…  We’re human.  Even though I have editors and beta readers and go over the book myself, things still get missed.  Even traditionally published books aren’t perfect.  Sure, fix the typos and errors when you become aware of them, but don’t obsess over them.  Do your best to polish it up, put your book up, and write the next one.

Since so many factors are out of our control, I hope next time someone criticizes you, you’ll remember not to take them too seriously.  Consider the source of the criticism.  Then surround yourself by your fans and remember “why” they love your work.

This post is part of the A – Z Challenge.

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R is for Realistic (in historical fiction)

Just how realistic should a historical story be?

realistic

ID 59303266 © Wrangler | Dreamstime.com                                                                     “Just kicking it back for one of Ruth Ann Nordin’s historical romances.  I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with a convertible in 1876.”

The picture is a joke, of course.  There is a need to be realistic to a point.  But how far should you take it?  I submit a couple points on why being authentically realistic in historicals can hurt, rather than help, you.

Consider the climate in today’s culture:

In some cases, if we were to write books exactly to fit the historical time period, we’d end up in trouble.  Case in point, African Americans used to be called an offensive word for a long time in United States history.  I don’t care how “realistic” it is.  I’m not going to use it in any of my books.  Why?  Because it’s not appropriate in today’s culture.  Times have changed (and thankfully so).  The other day when I was reading reviews on Gone With the Wind, a lot of negative reviewers called the book “racist” and “offensive”.  And keep in mind, that book was written in a time period where society condoned it.

Another example, back in 1890s, the word “gay” meant happy.  Today, we think “homosexual”.  To avoid confusion, I won’t use the word “gay” in a historical romance.  I’ll just say “happy” so the reader knows what I mean.  The older generation would know what the old definition was, but would younger readers?

Fiction is fiction for a reason, and when we’re writing it, we’re writing for today’s culture.  The primary goal of fiction is to entertain.  It’s not to give a history lesson.  The setting is your backdrop.  It’s your wallpaper.  Sure, you want horses in the 1800s instead of airplanes and cars, and you don’t want to use phrases like “text me when you get in, babe”. But you could go crazy worrying about all the nitty gritty details of the time period, and if you do that, the book might never get done.

Consider just how much of a history lesson you need to divulge to your readers:

Is it wrong to write for historical authenticity?  Of course not.  Just don’t lose sight of the fact that your first goal is to tell an entertaining story.

I’d advise you not to get too deep into the historical time period that you forget you are telling a story.  The focus needs to always be on the characters.  I once read a book that had an entire chapter dedicated to a new wife cleaning the house.  I’m not kidding.  There were details on where she put everything, what she cleaned the kitchen with, how she was sweating, what the kitchen gadgets were called, etc.  This had absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

If anything you’re writing in the story doesn’t add to the plot, get rid of it.  I don’t care how much time you spent researching it or how interesting you think it is.  If it doesn’t advance the character’s journey, it doesn’t need to be there.  You can bore a reader with too much information.

Conclusion:

Above all else, keep the story entertaining.  Most readers will forgive some historical inaccuracy if your book is so compelling they have to keep reading, but they won’t forgive a book that bored them.  Seriously, don’t sweat the small stuff.  Focus on the big thing: the character’s journey through the book.

This post is part of the A-Z Challenge.

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