Writing Resolutions for 2018 and Tips to Achieve Them

2018 crept up on me this year, and I haven’t made any writing resolutions yet. I was on the home stretch of my latest book through the last few months of 2017, and I was completely focused on finishing that. I did (yay!) and now I’m sure revisions will have to go on my writing goals list, when I get around to making it! I’ve been seeing a lot of 2018 writing goals on Twitter, and it got me thinking about my best tips for some of the most common ones. And so, voila!

Goal: Write a book / Finish a Work-In-Progress

Maybe you’re always working on something, but some of your projects are stuck in limbo, half-finished but not forgotten. Or perhaps you’re a seasoned writer with a few completed books, but this particular WIP is dragging, or you have an ambitious deadline. These three tips might be helpful for either scenario.

Dedicate time to work on it

You know your schedule, so pick the best time for you to be productive and focused. It doesn’t need to be a long stretch; you might do better with 3 fifteen-minute sessions through the day than a single, long one. And yes, fifteen minutes is acceptable if it’s all you can do – every bit counts. I get the bulk of my writing done right before bed, because I like writing at night and I can focus better when everything else for the day is done. Mornings or lunch breaks might be better for you. Whatever time it is that you choose, focus on writing for that time. Even if you only write ten words, it’s still progress.

Get competitive

I joined a NaNoWriMo group last year, for the first time, and it was an amazing experience. We were more of a supportive than competitive group, but I loved it when I could share that I’d made my goal, rather than admitting I hadn’t. I had a fair share of both days, but overall November became an extremely productive month for me. It was comforting knowing that I wasn’t alone with my word count struggles.

If this appeals to you, join a year-round writing group – even a casual one, like Twitter’s #5AMWritersClub – or see if a couple of writing friends want to join. If your schedules match up, sometimes it’s fun to pair up with a friend and each focus intensely on writing for the same amount of time (probably just a half hour stretch) and see how many words you can get out. Then you can congratulate or commiserate with one another.

Set specific goals

It’s a lot easier to focus on a goal like, ‘draft cat disaster scene’ than it is to stay on track with one like, ‘finish the entire book before year end’. Plus, if you’re like me, you love checking things off your to-do list, and having a greater number of shorter goals means more of that great feeling of marking them complete. (I write my weekly writing goals on a white board behind my desk, mostly for the pure joy of checking them off). Keep them reasonable, too. Maybe you can only edit one chapter this week because of other ‘real life’ commitments, but the next week you can spare a bit more time for an extra 1,000 words.

If you’ve got multiple projects on the go, having specific goals can also help you keep track of them so you aren’t surprised by a half-forgotten deadline.

I’d like to write at this desk! Or just daydream for hours…Photo by antonychammond on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Goal: Challenge yourself to grow as a writer / Write something new or scary

No, I don’t mean you have to write a horror – although that could be fun! Maybe you’ve been writing secretly for years, but you never show your words to anyone. What if you changed that, at least once? Perhaps you’re safely ensconced in a writing routine with your favourite genre, and you’ve pretty much become an expert in it. What if you tried something new, even if it’s just a piece of flash fiction or a personal essay? I’d been writing so much historical that I fell in love with flash fiction last year – partly because of the challenge of keeping it short, but also because for some reason my flash fictions are almost never historical.

One of my writing challenges this year is to let go, at least partially, of my beloved first-person narrative and try something with third person. I also haven’t used multiple POV very much, and I think it’s about time I did.

To be honest, this post is a actually bit of a challenge. Even though I’ve been doing this blog for almost five years (!) and I’ve got a book published, I still sometimes feel like a fraud when I give writing advice. Imposter Syndrome is real, but also silly. If you write, you’re writer. There’s not a 17-step initiation full of dangerous trials (although that might be an interesting plot for a taut but nerdy thriller…)

Photo on VisualHunt.com

Goal: Get published

This is a big goal for lots of writers, and there are lots of roads to success. Getting a book deal with a traditional publisher can take a while, especially if you need to find an agent first, but that makes it a perfect goal to break down into specific steps. And there are lots of roads to publication. Maybe you want to submit a short story to some fiction contests, or submit an article to your favourite online magazine. It doesn’t have to be straight to having a full-length book published.

Goal: Get rejected

This could be controversial as a goal and I have not seen anyone list this, but I think it’s important, especially for writers who are new to sharing their work. First, it ties into challenging yourself. It’s scary entering a contest – or what if that favourite online magazine passes on your pitch? The last one happened to me. It was fine. I’m still here, still writing. Having an editor or agent pass on your project, no matter what it is, is an unavoidable part of publishing that will happen to everyone more than once. It just proves that you’re trying new things and challenging yourself. Plus, this is probably the easiest goal on the list to achieve! Then you can pat yourself on the back and have a drink.

Lastly, this Writer Unboxed post has some more great writing lessons for 2018 if you’re feeling inspired or looking for writing ideas. Happy Writing in 2018!

 

Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 3: Success

The final part of my ‘Lessons from Debut Authors’ series wraps up with a look at the excitement with celebrating the big day – publication of the first book! For most debut authors, it will be the first time they’ve done a book signing, perhaps even the first time for reading in front of an audience. Plus, publication day is the culmination of years of hard work, and it’s a day to celebrate your success!

I had never signed a book before my launch event, and for some reason I was really stressed about the pen. What if it bled through the page? What if it was scratchy and I had to scribble to get the ink flowing? I lingered for an embarrassing amount of time in the pen aisle of an office supply store, trying to decide which one might be best, before finally making a decision. On the day of my book launch, I forgot to bring the pen at all and ended up borrowing one (which worked perfectly fine!) from the bookstore.

I guess my main tip for book signings is – bring a pen! But don’t worry if you need to borrow one. A pen is a pen. It’s also surprisingly difficult to write something personal in each book, thanking people for supporting you on your big day, while chatting with them. Coming up with a few short, sincere stock phrases is a good idea.

For the reading, I recommend practicing in advance. I was the most nervous in my little introduction, because I’d barely prepared for that part. Once I got into the reading, which I’d done at home several times, I felt fine. (Although thirsty. Stay hydrated!)

Read on to see what other advice and experiences debut authors have from their first book signing and reading…

Is this the right pen?
Photo credit: Eleaf via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

 


I’m a “talker” so I was fairly sure I’d have no problem at book events, but I also knew standing up in front of a group of people and talking about your book-baby with a microphone to people who may or may not know a thing about you…would be daunting.

I scheduled a small author event before my main one. It helped give me an idea of what to expect. I had about 25 people there and the first thing I learned was you want some HELP when it comes time to sign/sell books if you aren’t having your event at a bookstore. It was crazy, trying to talk to people while signing along with trying to do sales. Thankfully every event I had after that which wasn’t at a bookstore, my husband came with and took care of the book sales.

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club


Practice, practice, practice! Figure out what you want to say and practice it enough times so that you don’t need notes and so that it sounds natural. Of course, take your notes up there with you—it’s comforting to know they’re there in case you freak out and go blank—but you’ll feel so much better if you don’t have to rely on them. Oh, and a half glass of wine never hurts anything!

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping


Keep in mind that I’m with a small publisher, so in MY experience?  I’m not sure book signings are worth it because the cost falls 100% onto my shoulders.  There are benefits of course:  meeting other authors, networking, finding new books yourself.  But the downside is the ROI (return on investment).  You have to ask yourself if that is worth it.  For me?  Eh.  I’m 50-50.  I sold some books.  I met some great people.  But in the end, the time, investment, etc. makes it hard to determine if I’d do it again.

The event I was at was the Twin Cities Book Festival.  A GREAT festival with THOUSANDS of people in attendance.  But those who came through were more interested in free items.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars


For book signings, have a few phrases you can write as you sign your book. And smile and chat no matter if someone buys your book or not. Readings, choose a passage that’s active or has some dialogue. I’ve been to readings where it’s only introspection and I find that boring.  And practice, practice, practice. With expression!

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover


I’m just gearing up for some book launch events. Don’t be shy about offering to help with publicity. As one bookstore manager said to me, “The more outreach, the better.” You can offer to create social media graphics, post flyers and posters, reach out to nearby high schools or colleges, and contact local newspapers or websites.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing


For my book launch, I asked a friend to interview me—that way, I didn’t have to be alone at the podium. By the time my audience started asking questions, I was feeling a lot more comfortable and enjoyed the dialogue very much. I think having someone interview me was a good way to transition to speaking in public and having everyone’s attention on me. At my next book signing, I integrated all the questions my friend had asked me to my talk and I also read a few paragraphs from my book. I did a lot better when I wasn’t reading from my notes.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 


I was so nervous before my first book signing, which was at a big comic con in Seattle. It so happened that I had dinner with the wonderful and legendary Terry Brooks the night before (we share an editor), and so I asked him what his tips were for book signings, since he’s been doing them for some 40 years now. He graciously advised that the most important thing is to create a personal connection with readers—ask them a question, even if it’s just how their day is going—and make eye contact. Don’t be one of those authors who doesn’t even look up from the book as they sign it! Readers don’t have to get their books signed; they’re choosing to have this brief interaction with you. A small effort to connect goes a long way!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land


And of course, the reading isn’t the only excitement of publication day. It’s also a day when you get to revel in your success, and your family is probably pretty thrilled too! My book came out on a Tuesday, so I took a few days off work so that I could focus on celebrating the day, and also on all the pub week social media. I also found a bottle of champagne that had the same last name as my protagonist, so that seemed like the perfect way to wind down after my book reading.

Aubry, just like my character, Giselle Aubry!

I asked other debut authors how they celebrated the release day for their first books, and what made it extra special. I love how the responses are all so unique for each book.


I took the day off of my “day job” because I knew there was no way I could concentrate, plus I knew I’d be on social media a lot. That night was a banquet for the editor of a magazine I write for. She was retiring, and it was fun celebrating her big day and mine with many other area writers.

I had planned on a massage, but you know how that goes. Maybe for book #2!!!

One of the things that was stressed to me ahead of time but is something I struggle to remember, is that we need to celebrate our huge accomplishment on completing a book and getting it published!!!

It is so easy to compare our journey to other authors, and so easy to forget how many never make it to this point. I have had so many highs and lows with my book over the past six months and I have to remind myself to celebrate my hard work, knowing I’ve done the best I can do.

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club


Release day was amazing. My husband and I went up to NYC (where we used to live) and my mom flew in to meet us there, and I had my launch party at a bookstore in Brooklyn that I’ve always admired. A bunch of old friends and former work colleagues came out to support me, as well as my agent and publicist. We ended the night drinking prosecco and eating bruschetta at a little wine bar with some close friends.

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping


On launch day in July, my husband was recuperating from major surgery!  But fear not, I still celebrated.  While my husband was resting and was fine to be alone for a bit, a friend came by and took me out for a dessert celebration!  I also had lots of texts, social media messages and a group of friends sent me flowers, too.  All in all it was a low key day—just how I like it.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars


I celebrated my first book release by taking the day off work and having a huge Face Book party.  Because of my day job, I’m still kind of in the closet about my writing so doing more than that wasn’t possible.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover


I’ll be having a launch party at a local independent bookstore and inviting friends. (It will be several weeks after the actual release day, which I’ll probably spend at my computer posting a few things about the book on social media.) Because the party will be in December, I’m hoping it will have a holiday feel and everyone will be in a festive mood!

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing


My book launch was so much fun! First of all, I invited EVERYBODY I knew and it was very exciting to see that so many people came and bought my book. We sold out! After the talk and book signing, I invited my close friends and family members to a Greek restaurant near the bookstore to celebrate. The highlights of the evening were the cake, which was designed like a book with my cover on top, and a couple of Argentinean tango dancers who gave an amazing performance to celebrate the theme of my novel.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 


I had a big party at a local nature center, and a bunch of friends pitched in to help me throw it. It was super fun, and very successful, with well over a hundred attendees and almost as many books sold! (And I live in a rural area, so if people tell you nothing happens in the woods, that’s a pack of lies.) If you want to throw a launch party, here are my suggestions: first, make sure you can sell books! (You don’t necessarily have to have a bookstore do it. I used a relative’s established business to order books (so they counted as a sale!), and then friends volunteered to sell them.) Then see who’s willing to help you out—you might be surprised, but your friends actually do want to help you celebrate your big day! See how much they’re willing to do, make a plan and create a budget. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you and/or your friend group are up for. Then just tell everyone you know. Let friends and relatives shamelessly inform strangers that they should attend your party. Create a Facebook event. Talk it up! If you can include it as part of advertising in the local newspaper or promote it alongside local literary events, like a book festival or through a library, that’ll help too. If you’re like me, you’ll want to pick out something cute to wear! And then…enjoy it!! This is your big, amazing, wonderful, terrifying moment of stepping into the spotlight. (But if you really hate the spotlight, you can also hide behind the giant stack of books you’re selling. Just so you know. Though people will probably want to see your face, ‘cause they’re there to support you!)

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land


Just for release day, I splurged on a new dress that matched my book cover’s purple and blue. I also awarded prizes related to themes of the novel, including custom-made bookmarks with the image of a feather on them. My hometown release included a lot of family and childhood friends. When you’ve got your Filipino aunts, uncles, and cousins coming through, food is a must. I’m happy my local bookstore allowed giant trays of lumpia, empanadas, sushi casserole, and sweet breads on the premises. After the reading, a smaller group, including my publisher, who’d flown in from Portland, moved the celebration to a local brewery, and my baker friend, who happened to be featured on the Food Networks’ Bakers vs. Fakers that same week, brought a cake version of my book cover. My friends also surprised me with a giant, framed print of the book cover. It was a beautiful night!

Renee Rutledge, author of The Hour of Daydreams

Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 2: Surprises

Part two of my ‘Lessons from Debut Authors’ series continues this week, with the theme of what was the most surprising about the publication process and the shift from being an aspiring author to becoming a published author.

For me, the most surprising thing was that nothing drastically changed. My daily routine is pretty much the same. I go to my day job, I walk my dog, I write, except now it’s a different project. I have a little less writing time because of marketing. I think I thought I’d get a lot more attention, like people asking about my book or my sales all the time, but no one really cares and I mean that in a good way. On the flip side, I do occasionally and irrationally feel like a fraud, but that’s probably mostly because writing the next book didn’t magically become easier. However, slightly contradictory to my earlier comment that people don’t really ask me about it too much, sometimes when they do, I get weird reactions that I don’t enjoy very much. I’m looking at you various middle-aged men who feel the need to comment on how my book has the word ‘mistress’ in the title. I’ve stopped bothering to point out that it has a different meaning in context.

One of the most surprising things about the publication process was how busy it was. It was a little over a year from the time St. Martin’s picked up my novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, to when it actually hit the shelves, and I thought there would be a lot of quiet time in between those dates. In truth, I was constantly working on things, whether it be confirming things via email with my editor, fact-checking, copyedits, marketing planning (turns out you do a lot of marketing). All fun and exciting, especially getting to see the cover for the first time.

So what other surprises did other debut authors discover? Read on and find out!

Surprise!

 


I still feel like a fraud almost six months after my book was published. I feel like I’m playing “lets pretend” that I’m an author. It is strange to be on the other side of a book club where they are looking at me like I’m a trained monkey with all the mysterious answers to books in general.

But you know what? Meeting with book clubs and visiting with people after my author events has been the absolutely BEST part of all of this!!!

The downside is that although I knew the marketing/promoting/selling-of-the-soul part after your book is published…I knew that part was a lot of work. However, it came for me at a time where the rest of my life was super-busy too (day job, family things). Do what you can to clean up your life-slate before your book comes out because the marketing (to me, anyway) is exhausting!

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club


I mean, nothing can prepare you for the thrill of seeing your book on a table at Barnes & Noble!

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping


Here are my “surprises”….

THE AMOUNT OF MONEY SPENT ON “STUFF”:  When you come down to it, you’re building your brand.  But spread this out over time so you don’t feel like you’re draining your bank account dry.  Money I’ve spent includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Website
  • Postcards to hand out to friends/family/coworkers once my cover was finalized
  • Save the Date cards to mail out to my Christmas list prior to my launch date
  • Swag items that included:  bookmarks, 2 sets of magnets, custom adult coloring pages, candles, keychains, boxes for the swag items (I made “thank you” boxes for my CP’s, editor, etc.).
  • Business cards
  • Gift cards for various giveaways during launch week and beyond
  • A Kindle Fire for launch week giveaway (that I got on a Black Friday deal—so watch sales for stuff, too!!)
  • PR firm to handle my launch week (which I’ll talk about below)
  • Mailing supplies to mail out prizes from launch week
  • Postage
  • Stickers with my author branding
  • …and probably more that I’m forgetting

HAVING TO DO PROMO—LOTS AND LOTS OF PROMO:  I knew going with a small pub meant having to do a lot of my own promo.  However, it is misleading to think that if you’re published with one of the Big 5 or bigger/on the rise publishers that you won’t have to do promo.  You will.  Most publishers work with book blogger or bookstagramers (book “bloggers” who use Instagram for a visual post).

But if you want your book to get out there, you need to be planning AT LEAST a year in advance.  Get active on social media (but don’t be spammy) and connect with other authors in the same boat as you so you can have strength in numbers.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars


The publication process is very long and there is so much to do. Especially promotion. LOTS of promotion. And even being published doesn’t stop you from worrying about selling the next book or idea.  You actually have more work to do now.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover


It’s a slow process. For me it’s been about three years from writing the book to seeing it on a bookstore shelf. So the shift is gradual. But you can take advantage of that time to learn everything you need to know about publishing, marketing, social media—and work on your next big ideas for new books.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing


What still surprises me is the amount of time it takes to promote my novel! I feel like a full-time PR person rather than a writer! I spent an insane amount of time designing my website, bookmarks, postcards, creating a Facebook author page, and writing articles and interviews. It’s been fun, but I miss the days when I could shut the blinds and immerse myself in my writing. The other surprise is that some people look at you a little bit different after your book comes out. I’ve heard comments like “I’ve never met a real author before” and such. It’s surprising because I don’t see myself any different than before the novel was published.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 


I was not prepared for how much writing to an outline and a deadline would change my method! I’ve always been something of a pantser, and having to write an outline for my editor has actually been quite helpful for me. I find I spend a lot less time floundering around in the middle trying to figure out what happens next! That being said, my method is still evolving. Writing to deadline is also a change—I find myself thinking differently about a book when I know it’s going to my editor. (The way of dealing with that stress, for me, is to write something completely different—it’s SO liberating!) Another adjustment is writing another book in a series when the first one’s already out getting reviews!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land


One of the biggest surprises in the transition from aspiring author to published author is the camaraderie with other writers. The road to publication often felt like a solitary path filled with twists and turns. After signing my first book contract, I connected with several other writers, both new and experienced. By the time Second Chance in Laguna launched in March 2017, I had a new network of not just colleagues, but friends. Today, I’d say more than half of my daily interactions are with other authors. This newfound sense of community is a welcome silver lining to a dream come true.

Claire Marti, author of Second Chance in Laguna 


The biggest surprise is that in the end, nothing changes. After the rush and the hoopla, no matter how many forms of validation, big and small, you receive along the way, you still get insecure about your work. And you haven’t solved any puzzles. At least, that’s how it is for me. It’s wasn’t like I figured out a formula for how to write a book, and now, I can do it again. The next book is another, very different challenge, equally grinding. And it’s just as invigorating to feel the words come together, coming to fruition. In the end, it all comes back to writing.

Renee Rutledge, author of The Hour of Daydreams


Experienced any surprises of your own? Been surprised by any of these ones? Share in the comments or on social media!

Stay tuned for part three of this Lessons of Debut Authors Series, focusing on tips for author signings and release day celebrations.

 

Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 1: Submissions

In terms of writing goals, 2017 has been a rewarding, exciting, and sometimes intimidating year for me – my first book was published and that milestone brought with it a whole bunch of other new experiences, like the terror/joy (joie-de-terreur? Can I coin a new phrase?) of actually reading in front of people for the first time. One of the things I’ve been most grateful for this year is the camaraderie and support I’ve found with a group of fellow 2017 debut authors, called ’17 Scribes. Without all these wonderful authors with whom to share advice and experiences, I think the roller-coaster of becoming a published author would have been a lot more intense.

With that in mind, I’ve got a three part series of shared advice from many of them. Aspiring writer? Maybe we’ll have some helpful advice for you here. Seasoned author? Perhaps you’ll smile and reminisce about having similar experiences when your first book came out.

For a writer seeking traditional publication, being on submission is one of the toughest parts. You’ve likely already gone through the minefield of patience, rejection, and partial requests that comes with searching for an agent, and then it pretty much starts again when it comes to sending your beloved manuscript out to publishing houses. The waiting period can be very long. Sometimes a rejection comes with constructive feedback, maybe with an invitation to revise and resubmit, but other times it might be a formulaic, vague response.

Finding a balance between patience and positivity is key for getting through submission

So what’s the best way to cope with the stress of being on submission? Most authors recommend focusing on a new project. I think this is good advice, and it gets you invested in your next book, making it a little easier to keep the other one at arm’s length. I also tend to find a new TV series to obsess over when I’m in that nail-biting stage of waiting to hear back from editors – while The Wardrobe Mistress was on submission, I discovered and fell in love with Justified. Of course, since my book was on submission for a year altogether, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you definitely should move onto another project. It might even get finished before you make that sale!

Several debut authors from ’17 Scribes kindly agreed to share their experiences of being on submission, as well as their tips for getting through.


I’m not a patient person. Just ask my husband. But I have learned patience with writing and becoming an author since not a single step moves fast–unless it is THEM wanting something from YOU!

Stress busters for me are: running, iced mochas, chocolate, and spending time with friends. Seriously, the running and chocolate helped keep me from completely freaking out. For me it is the whole lack of control I have over so much of the process!

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club


I was so nervous while I was on submission! I jumped every time I got an email notification; I could hardly sleep. I did a lot of yoga, and I watched a lot of Netflix. (I think I watched like two seasons of House of Cards in a week; it really took my mind off the stress of being on submission.)

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping

Editor’s note: I can’t help loving the irony that the author of a (fantastic) book called Are You Sleeping couldn’t sleep while on submission. 


Tips for submissions: Do it and move on. Whenever I subbed to a publisher, I would note it in a book but then not look back. If I got a pass, I’d jot that down too but I tried not to dwell too much on if they’d want the book. If I hadn’t heard, I could pretend it was still a possibility.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover


When querying agents, don’t give up too early. I have heard of authors giving up after a handful of no-thank-you’s. I would encourage those writers to persist, and keep trying. You might contact dozens of agents before the right person reads your query and sees the potential in your book. Tweak your query as you go along, if needed. Patience is necessary, because the process can take a long time.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing


At the beginning, being on submission was very exciting for me. When my agent shared the names of the publishing houses or editors who were reading my novel, I would look them up and try to find out as much as possible about them and the kinds of books they had acquired in the past. After a while, I realized this was unproductive because some of them said no or didn’t get back to us. I stopped researching and started focusing on other projects. The only way I felt good about my writing during the submission process—with its ups and downs—was to get excited about my other novels.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 


Everybody says that you need to work on something else when you’re on submission! I think this is generally helpful, though I’d suggest, if you are trying to sell a series, not necessarily working on a sequel or even something in the same genre. Most people also develop a Pavlovian response to checking their email (which probably starts when we’re querying agents and then carries over effortlessly to editors), so I’d suggest using an app like Freedom to force yourself to take breaks from the breathless anticipation. This is also a good time to write by hand, if that’s something you enjoy. And meditate. Practice gratitude. Exercise. Whatever means you have to get away from staring at your email—use it!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land


Community provided a safe place to share the publishing journey, in all it’s glory and sometimes staggering lows. Without community, human society fades. My advice to any writer is three-fold:

  1. Read widely
  2. Write as often as you can
  3. Find your community

Renee Dahlia, author of To Charm A Bluestocking


Community can definitely get a writer through anything, from an unkind review to writer’s block! Got any other advice or experiences? Share in the comments! Next week I’ll have Part 2 of this series, all about what was most surprising about the publication process and the shift of moving from aspiring to published author.

And if you’re in the finding an agent phase of being on submission, check out this super detailed infographic with query letter tips!

Physicality in Fiction

Recently, I read a thought-provoking and helpful article on Writer’s Digest on using physicality to bring your characters to life. There’s some great advice here. Incorporating different senses and the physical signs of emotion can help immerse the reader in the setting, even in the mind of the protagonist. Being grounded in the story world makes it feel that much more real – and exciting – as a reader.

 

I think this can be especially important in historical fiction. The genre brings its own unique challenge of trying to recreate a time long past, and sometimes, as a writer, it feels like grasping at echoes. Of course, one of the joys of historical fiction – both as a reader and writer – is that once the details and story click into place, you do slip into another world entirely. I love the way being drawn into a historical world feels like new, uncharted territory, but history has left just enough imprints on the present for it to feel a little bit familiar. You might know the bare bones of the time period, but not what happens to the protagonist, or maybe you find comforting kernels of ‘sameness’ in the characters. People haven’t changed so much, really. Three hundred years ago, they still wanted to find love, or worried about their children, or struggled under the weight of family pressures.

Trying to capture the sounds and textures and the smells of the story’s setting bring it to life. For me, while I’m writing, trying to show those things end up helping me connect more strongly to the world, help me to better polish it for the reader. It makes the setting more vivid, so a reader can easily imagine the acrid black smoke from the burning Réveillon wallpaper factory, or airy softness of one of Marie Antoinette’s muslin gowns, or picture the scum of half-congealed blood tarnishing the Tuileries after it was violently mobbed, to use examples from my novel The Wardrobe Mistress.

That last one was a little dark. Sensory depictions can be delightful, too, especially if they’re food related. I still think fondly of the way Crystal King’s description of kitchens and food in her Roman historical novel Feast of Sorrow made me clearly imagine I could smell the mouth-watering aromas of Parthian chicken or the tang of mustard beets. Sounds and music can pull readers into the world, too. I can still remember the rebellious thrum of music in the Prohibition ‘juice joints’ that Bonnie (of Clyde and Bonnie fame) frequented in Jenni Walsh’s novel Becoming Bonnie.

A story or character can also be deepened by plot, as the Writer’s Digest article that sparked this whole post suggests. The article mentions a Stephen King novel where the narrator is diagnosed with cancer. Another example I can think of that I particularly enjoyed is Julia Heaberlin’s novel Lie Still, where the protagonist is heavily pregnant throughout the story. It added an extra layer of tension. As danger escalated all around her, I feared not only for her, but for her soon-to-be-born child.

Habitual gestures or nervous tics can strengthen characterization, too. Outlander fans know that Jamie Fraser often taps his two stiff fingers (from being broken) against his thigh when thinking. In Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network, her character Eve struggles with a stammer, which sometimes intensifies during moments of high stress. While reading, it makes you ache with sympathy for her – especially because the high stakes WWI environment makes everything extra scary and intense.

What physical description or sensory element has really stood out to you in a book? Please share!

 

Return of the 40K Word Slump

A short post today, because I’m fighting a sense of panic that I’m lagging behind on my current work in progress, even though I don’t have a scary deadline and I’m almost half done. I’m in that 40K word range, which is unfortunately where I tend to hit a slump, so I think that’s likely a factor in my vague sense of alarm. The 40K mark is like a bandaid that needs to be ripped off. I just need to get it over with!

I feel like I’m writing this book slower than my last one, but I think it’s because I’ve also done more early revisions than usual. I always do rolling edits, so by the end, it’s not really a first draft because I’ve already gone through and fixed most of the places where I missed a word or somehow said ‘taunting’ twice in the same sentence. (I ashamedly fixed that one yesterday). Sometimes I think of it as a ‘first-and-a-half’ draft, because the writing is cleaned up a bit, but big things like pacing or characterization probably still need revisions. This time, I’m struggling with timelines and flashbacks, and I keep changing my mind about where certain scenes should fit into the story. I’ve debated sticking outlines of all the scenes up on the wall so I can see them all at once, and shuffle them around like puzzle pieces, but I haven’t got quite that desperate yet.

Thank goodness I’m not alone in reworking structure – this very timely post on Writer Unboxed on mid-book structural revisions helped me a lot. It uplifted me when I was feeling a bit defeated, and now I’m ready to pour some coffee (of course), put on some music, and face this 40K word/plot slump. Avoiding it has been fun (I’ve read a lot of fantastic books in the last few weeks) but it can’t go on forever.

Anyone else struggling with elements of a project? What tactics do you use to regain focus?

Photo via Visualhunt.com

Exploring Theme in Fiction

I never thought I was a writer who focused on theme in a story. I studied them, certainly, in high school English and also in university. In classes, I analyzed symbolism and motifs in lots of literary classics, and wrote essays about it. But for some reason, I didn’t consciously think about applying a theme to my own work.

What is theme? It’s a pretty broad question, and can have a lot of thoughtful answers. In essence, it’s the heart of the story. It’s the underlying thread that ties all of the big plot events and character arcs together. It might not always be obvious, but I think every story has a theme. Even if unintentional, which is what happened to me with The Wardrobe Mistress.

I chose the setting of the French Revolution because it matched one of my key criteria for historical inspiration – the setting was a unique situation in history, which presented unexpected opportunities and dilemmas for my characters. It sparked an idea in my head; I wanted to write about people struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing political landscape, one that started out as a rather exciting herald for change and escalated into the violence and unpredictability of The Terror. I wrote my book, (she says casually, as if it didn’t involve hours and hours of research and slaving away over a keyboard), and that was that, or so I thought.

When I first read through an early draft of The Wardrobe Mistress, the theme of loyalty leaped out of the pages at me. My main character, Giselle, works in Marie Antoinette’s household as one of her wardrobe women. In the early days of the revolution, she spies on the Queen, but as it escalates, she finds herself torn between her loyalty to Marie Antoinette, as well as the revolutionaries in her life, including her Léon, the man she loves. Internally, she also struggles with loyalty to herself, to being true to what she believes is right against the pressures of conforming to the revolutionary or royalist ideals of others.

Loyalty unintentionally became a visual cue throughout the novel, mostly due to my research into fashions of the time period (as Giselle would be interested in, given her role in the household). As patriotism increased during the revolution, people wore rosettes made of red, white, and blue ribbons. Tricolour became a symbol of the revolution – fervent revolutionaries might wear almost garishly decorated outfits, heavily displaying the red, white, and blue of the revolution. As revolutionary fervour increased, and it became dangerous to be seen as a royalist, people would wear tricolour cockades perfunctorily, even if they didn’t truly support the cause. Indeed, by September 21 of 1793, women were legally required to wear a tricolour ribbon, the insignia of the republic.

tricolour

Other colours in clothing were factors as well. During the Women’s March on Versailles in October of 1789, Marie Antoinette went outside to address the rioters. She made the grave error of wearing a black and yellow dress. To the rioters, these colours symbolized the colours of Austrian royalty. Since the people of France had never quite trusted Marie Antoinette, suspecting her of having greater loyalty to her home country of Austria instead of to her new one of France, her wardrobe choice almost seemed proof of it, creating yet another reason to loathe her.

My accidental theme isn’t as overarching as some, but it’s still there. I’d argue that every story has some kind of theme. It doesn’t have to be epic, like good versus evil. This is one of the themes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as that of the hero’s journey. In Lord of the Rings, almost no one can go against evil and come out of it untainted. Though he destroys the Ring, Frodo is never the same again. Boromir finds his heroism, but not after nearly succumbing to the Ring’s dark power. Sam is perhaps the only character who emerges whole, and stronger, after all the dark events.

Pride and Prejudice is another classic, well-known novel with a strong theme. It’s right there in the title; Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet embody the two qualities, and provide the book with its theme of the dangers of excessive pride and of judging people without knowing them.

P&P

One of my favourite themes in a book is in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, because it slowly builds over the entire series. The idea of ‘home’ is a strong theme in the novel. Through his entire childhood, Harry longed for a home, for the idea of belonging. He finally found a sense of belonging at Hogwarts, but he struggles during the holidays when everyone else has a home to go to. During his search for the Horcruxes, Harry visits the homes of other characters – some of them which were also substitute homes during his childhood, like The Burrow. It’s this that helps him understand that he must make the ultimate sacrifice to defeat Voldemort and defend Hogwarts (his home, and a home for others, too). He understands he needs to protect the people and places he holds dear, and that is the true belonging.

What themes have resonated with you in a book? Can you think of a book to challenge my theory that every single one does have a theme? Please share!