My Mind is Not My Own

~ By Caryn Caldwell I think I'm losing my mind. Even at the best of times my inner narrator provides an occasional play-by-play of my existence, but my current level of running commentary is reserved for the times when I'm almost exclusively absorbed in my writing, as I am now. The source of this narratus intrusionous? I spend hours recounting the lives of my characters, and then I can't seem to find the switch to turn off the narration. This means that I can't do anything without a witness in my own brain observing all and synthesizing it into giant globs of first-draft text. Believe me, there's nothing that will point out how mundane your life can be like having a blow-by-blow account of petting your cat or going to the bathroom. To illustrate, let me provide an especially riveting example from last night: Caryn pulled open the fridge door and scanned the shelves, searching for a snack. Nothing. The pantry? Still nothing. Perhaps the freezer would come through. Of course, last night the freezer yielded a half-empty bag of dehydrated peas and a frozen pizza, but there was always hope... This commentary is disturbing for several reasons. First of all, I'm referring to myself in the third person. That in itself is a clue that I need to fire my narrator and get a new one. Nothing against third person — I use it in my writing all the time — but when it comes to my own thoughts, I should at least be the lead character in my own life. Which makes me wonder: if I'm not the one doing the narrating, who is? I'd like to say it's a gorgeous muse with flowing hair and a benevolent smile, filling sheets of parchment with golden words. Her quill pen yields a graceful cursive, and every line is poetry. The truth is more likely a cranky woman named Dolores residing in a shadowed corner of my brain. She has a gravely voice, a smoker's cough and the language of a longshoreman. In-between attempts to brush away the dust in the air, she bangs away on the keys of a typewriter that is at least as crotchety as she is. Second of all, I hyperbolize, even when I'm the only audience for my self-narrations. Sure, the quest for dinner didn't stop with the freezer, but we certainly have more than a frozen pizza and an old bag of peas in there. That doesn't make for good copy, however, so Dolores reworked the truth to add a little tension. And, finally, it's boring, despite the venture into hyperbole. Which is what I rediscover about my life whenever my inner narrator kicks in: There's not a lot of drama, and when any does come along the hag in the attic actually shuts up so I can focus. That's why I write. I get to give my characters exciting lives full of adventure and mayhem. Not that I'm complaining, really. That excitement often includes betrayal, war, pestilence, murder, and mass amounts of family turmoil, none of which I want in my own life. What I do want is for the voice to go away when I turn off the computer so I can have a little peace. Caryn Caldwell writes YA novels with a chick lit feel. She’s been crafting stories since childhood (when she regularly rescued her Barbies from all types of imagined peril), through her teen years (when she wrote depressing poetry for fun), and into adulthood (when she discovered that writing books was a lot more enjoyable than housework). She has been an English teacher, librarian, and white water rafting guide, and is currently a stay-at-home mom for a toddler who is kind enough to nap every afternoon so she can write. She lives in the southwestern U.S. with her husband, daughter, and two cats. Her books are represented by Erzsi Deak of Hen&Ink Literary Studio. You can visit her website/blog at http://www.caryncaldwell.com

Giving and Receiving Critiques

~ By Melina Kantor  You can’t get very far in the writing world without learning, and quickly, that writers need to develop a thick skin. Our work is always out there for critique partners, reviewers, agents, editors, and readers to read and pick apart. As scary as this may be, it’s actually for the best. Every writer, no matter how talented, no matter how famous, needs to be edited and critiqued. It makes the stories we’re dying to tell so much stronger. Critiques are a necessary evil, kind of like going to the dentist. The thing is, no matter how harsh they may be, critiques should make us excited and eager to keep writing. That’s why I think that knowing how to give and receive critiques is so important. Here’s my list of the top five things I feel are important when giving and receiving critiques. Giving Critiques: 1. This, I hope, is obvious, but critiques should always begin with something positive. No matter how rough the work is, there’s something in there to praise, and the author deserves to hear it. Without any positive feedback, the writer has no reason to continue working on the story. 2. Don’t argue. If you make a suggestion and the writer you’re working with doesn’t agree, don’t push. Remember, it’s not your story. Once you've made your suggestion, your job is done. 3. Don’t try to rewrite the story. Yes, if you were to write the story, you’d probably do things differently. But you’re not writing the story, so all you can do is point out what didn’t work for you and answer any questions the writer may have. 4. Focus on the craft and the story, and not your own personal taste. For example, you may not like a particular protagonist, but that’s your taste and not necessarily helpful information. What can be helpful is to point out specific issues you have with that protagonist, such as, “I didn’t understand her motivation for. . .” or “Her goal wasn’t clear to me.” Those are clear-cut issues the writer can go back and work with. 5. Don’t talk down to the person you’re critiquing, and keep your attitude positive. Don’t assume that they don’t know as much about writing as you do. Remember, all stories go through countless drafts and always need work, and your job is more about giving feedback than teaching. Receiving Critiques: 1. Be gracious and thankful. Your critiquer has put a lot of effort into helping you make your story stronger. 2. Don’t argue. You have every right to disagree with what your critiquer tells you, but they have a right to their opinions. However, if a critiquer points out a valid issue with your story but you’re not comfortable with their suggestion as to how to fix it, it can be useful to politely discuss what you’re trying to do and talk about other possible solutions. 3. Get a second opinion. Two heads are better than one, and it’s funny how critiques differ. One reader may absolutely love a scene that another reader suggests you cut. 4. Listen to your gut.  It’s your story. You don’t have to make a change to your story just because one critiquer suggests it. But if more than one person points out the same issue, do take a second look and try to come up with your own way of taking care of the issue. 5. Please, please don’t take everything personally. Yes, we put a lot of ourselves into our stories, so critiques can feel extremely insulting. But remember that every writer gets critiqued, and critiques aren’t about you. They’re about making your story stronger. So, dear readers. What do you think about critiques? Do you have any experiences to share? What, in your opinion, makes a successful critique? Melina writes contemporary women’s fiction with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She recently returned from a two month trip to Crete and Israel, where she visited  family and friends did her best to turn her travels into research and inspiration for her writing. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com.

[Repost] Can You Really Make a Living Doing What You Love?

~ By Angela Kay Austin Have you ever scrolled through the Amazon Bestsellers’ list and wondered, “Will my book ever be listed?”  Well, I have.  I walk through bookstores picturing what my books would look like placed on display throughout various points in the stores, or imagine picking up USA Today to find to my amazement…what, me #1! But, what is the reality of the life of a writer? According to Forbes, James Patterson topped the list as the highest paid author earning $84 million over the past year.  In order to amass those earnings, Patterson released 10 books in the last year, and branched out into young adult and e-books. Number two on the list, Danielle Steele earned $35 million!  And, stay-at-home mom, Stephanie Meyer popped in at number six with earnings of $21 million! Okay, so I know you’re asking, “What about J K Rowling?”  Well, she hasn’t released e-books of Harry Potter, yet.  But, Pottermore is coming soon, and I’m sure that will change everything. The question is how do we do it?  Can we do it? Patterson writes with a team of co-authors, has multi-media deals.  And we’ve all witnessed the success of Twilight and Harry Potter. But, the reality is everyone is not Patterson or Stephanie Meyer or J K Rowling.  And everyone can’t have the internet success of Amanda Hocking. According to Greenleaf Book Group, LLC, although there are some six figure advances, most advances are between $2,000 - $20,000.  But, in today’s market, a large percentage of new releases are self-published or POD (print on demand).  So, I don’t think everyone should rush to the bank opening new bank accounts in preparation. Instead, we should understand that Amazon has approximately 800,000 Kindle books available, and nearly 2 million print books.  And although the Big Six may not be “all powerful,” they still have power which floods distribution channels, agents, and the booksellers that do still exist. Author Solutions owns Xilibris, iUniverse, and AuthorHouse the CEO, Weiss, has been quoted as saying the average sales per book for all of his companies is 150. Whether you are signed with one of the Big Six, or not, the world of writing is extremely competitive.  In order to be moderately successful, you need to be sure to have great writing, promoting, and packaging.  You must be courageous! Can you do it? After twenty years of practicing marketing: writing copy, designing layouts, developing advertising campaigns, Angela realized each piece of the plans she put together eventually told a story. And, since she was a tween reading her mother’s Reader’s Digest, and every teen magazine she could find she’d dreamt of telling stories. Her first book, Love’s Chance stayed on Red Rose Publishing’s Best Seller list for 10 weeks.  Her second release, My Son, is available from Red Rose Publishing.  And was a best seller at All Romance Ebooks.  New releases:  Sweet Victory and Scarlet’s Tears are available from Vanilla Heart Publishing. Angela has written for the Ezine Rithm ‘n Blues.

Balance Isn’t Easy

~ By Jennifer Fusco I wanted to take the opportunity to thank Melina Kantor for asking me to guest blog on the RWA Chick Lit Chapter Blog.  How cool!  Thanks for having me.  Usually when I guest blog, people want me to talk marketing, either they’ve read my series, Market or Die: Marketing Advice for Writers, heard me speak at RWA National, know I’m Eric Ruben’s client that writes paranormal romance or know me as the President of CTRWA. Since I’ve started writing a monthly column titled, “Marketing Insider” for the RWR I get a lot of requests, but this one was different. Melina wanted to know about me…Me? Her question, “With a full time job (I’m the Creative and Brand Manager for the General Electric Company) and a four year old, how do you find time to write?” I fell silent, not really knowing how to answer.  Unlike most writers, I don’t have a daily word count, and I can’t write every day.  I’m not a poster girl for balance or a candidate for Mother of the Year. Like most working moms I know, my life is very, very busy. Knowing that every working mom has secrets to getting it all done…here are a few of mine. The balance of work, writing and motherhood isn’t easy. I have help, lots of it.  I have a great husband who carries more than his share of the parenting duties; he’s extremely supportive of my writing and he’s my webmaster extraordinaire.  Every writer should be so lucky to have a guy like him. I segment my time.  Writing time, in my life has its place, like everything else.  I know on certain days of the week how much time I can devote to writing…sometimes it’s as many as four hours. Sometimes, it’s none. It’s quality, not quantity in my opinion. When I’m not writing I think about my stories, a scene or something I need to go back and fix.  My writing will wake me up during the night sometimes, I try not to forget what it tells me by morning. I sneak in writing time when I can. At work, lunch time is my time.  Many days you’ll find me in a conference room with the door closed from 12-1, gnawing on a sandwich and writing away. I’m selfish.  There’ve been times when I've taken a vacation day from work and hit the library and stayed there all day writing. I write at night after my son has gone to bed.  There’s really nothing much on TV anyway, right? I write on weekends in between family obligations and household chores. Like right now, writing this article, my husband is watching the NFL while my son plays with his dump trucks on the couch. To me, time is currency and, like money, it shouldn’t be wasted. If I find any extra time in my day, I’ll put it to good use. I’ll write, even if it’s just a sentence. I’ve written in the car (not while driving, of course).  My husband and I work at the same company, so I’ll bring my netbook in the car with us and off we go. I can tell you about all the things I don’t get to do like go to the movies, do yoga, go out regularly with girlfriends, attend mommy & me classes.  I can’t cook or bake.  I don’t do Tupperware parties or play Words with Friends.  I can’t because if there’s a spare moment…I’m writing.   I have to. Writing makes me a better wife, a better mother and a better person because writing makes me happy.  It’s something only writers understand. I’ve read articles and blogs on how to increase word count, minimize distractions, write faster and all sorts of tricks to the craft and out of all of those, here’s what I’ve taken away:  Do the best you can. Give it 100%, every time you sit down to write no matter if its 5 words or 5000 words. On the days the words don’t come…don’t force it. Sometimes a change of pace or a walk with the dog is just what the writing gods demand. Pay them, happily.  There’s no magic formula or secret that will get you where you want to go in this industry…there’s just you and a blank screen. There are 24 hours in a day…make the most of them. Jennifer Fusco is the Creative and Brand Manager for the General Electric Company, North America and the author of the series, MARKET OR DIE, marketing books for writers. A two time winner of the Advertising Excellence Award for 2010, Jennifer has launched successful national print and digital ad campaigns. Currently, she is a member of the (ANA) Association of National Advertisers and believes brand building is a key to professional success. Due to the overwhelming response Market or Die received from writers, Ms. Fusco launched a website, newsletter and blog designed to educate writers of all genres.  In her writing life, Ms. Fusco is a member of RWA’s PRO network and serves as the President of the Connecticut Romance Writers.  She has completed two paranormal romance manuscripts and is a monthly contributor to the Romance Writers of America’s RWR Report. Born in North Carolina, Jennifer currently lives in Connecticut with her husband and young son.  

Bring on the Holidays!

~ By Chris Bailey Because writing is the method that orders my thoughts—my form of quiet meditation—I’m thankful for this opportunity to post. Because back-to-back major holidays demand a little time apart. A little reflection. A little time to ponder the big questions. A little list of reasons to be thankful for all this, despite the stress. I’m thankful for the gift of writing. Because addressing my own goals, motivations and conflicts (sometimes) prevents me from blurting out random thoughts without regard for the consequences. I’m thankful that my characters can play out dramatic scenes, heedless of the potential impact of their words. I’m thankful for friends and family and this season set aside for gathering. Because it’s their anxieties and antics that provide an unlimited supply of plots and characters for the rest of the year! I’m thankful for Chick Lit Writers of the World and RWA. Because it’s my fellow writers who understand that writing is not a self-indulgent hobby. It’s a gift, a calling and a terminal condition. I’ve tried to quit a half dozen times, but without the prop of written words I fail to maintain a sense of balance. Happy Holidays, y’all! Shop, light candles and gather together! Make merry! And make a bit of quiet time to write. ~ Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

Friday Writing Inspiration

~ By Melina Kantor  So it's just about Week 3 of NaNoWriMo. Anyone else feel like this?

Anyway, I came across this NaNo pep talk, and even if you're not doing NaNo, it's good inspiration:

One more thought:

"Be like Mae West, brash and bold and brave." ~ Anne Stuart

Have a great weekend.

Write on, everyone! :-)

Melina writes contemporary women’s fiction with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She just returned from a two month trip to Crete and Israel, where she visited  family and friends did her best to turn her travels into research and inspiration for her writing. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com.

Live From a Write-In!

~ By Melina Kantor On Sunday, I went to a fabulous NaNoWriMo write-in, and, just for fun, asked fellow Wrimos to share some of their thoughts about NaNoWriMo.  

 * * *

I want to see if I’m capable of writing 50,000 words. And even if I’m not, whatever I write this month is more than I would write otherwise. ~ Anonymous
 
Write-ins are good for commiserating and getting support, egging each other on, and doing sprints. They can be helpful to push people to reach their goals. Write-ins in New York are full of awesome people. It’s great to meet other writers and chat about your writing. ~ Erin O’Brien, NYC Municipal Liaison
 
Come out. Come meet other writers.  You can find a cheerleader or a nemesis. The first NaNo I won was the first NaNo I went to a write-in. I take it as a sign that I haven’t lost since. ~ Marsha August
 
NaNoWriMo is more about the community than the writing.  I meet amazing, inspiring, people every November, and have learned so much from the experience. ~ Alexis Daria, NYC Municipal Liaison
 
NaNoWriMo is a great way to get a first draft, and it’s never perfect, you always needs a second draft no matter how wonderful a writer you are. Writing a whole novel is so daunting, but if you write a novel quickly, it’s not as daunting anymore. And revision is December’s problem. ~ Erika (who reached 50K at the write-in on 11/13!)

The point is, even if you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo, it’s still very worth finding a writing community. It makes a world of difference. Write on! :-) Melina writes contemporary women’s fiction with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She just returned from a two month trip to Crete and Israel, where she visited  family and friends did her best to turn her travels into research and inspiration for her writing. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com.

Revisions are Done. . .

~ Nan Reinhardt  …maybe. So here’s the weird part about being a writer, well one of the weird parts. I’m never done. I buttoned up the revisions on the first novel last night, dealt with my crit partner’s comments and edits and worked out the parts that still needed tweaking. When I was done, I put all the chapters together into a manuscript file and saved it. Then I sent it to my Kindle so I could read it again in book form. Six pages into Chapter 1, I found a POV (Point of View) glitch that neither of us caught. Um…probably a safe bet that my heroine is not going to think about the color of her own eyes when she’s fighting tears. My critique partner will tell you that I have issues with POV–mostly when I get caught up in dialogue. I’m telling the story, creating the conversations between my characters, and I lose track of the fact that the hero doesn’t think of his own shoulders as brawny and the heroine doesn’t realize her own skin is touchable. POV was a new concept to me, in spite of the fact that I’ve been writing for years. It never occurred to me that I needed to stay in the head of the person who was guiding the scene. Another term I’ve learned is “head-hopping,” which means going from one character’s thoughts to another’s in the same scene. Not a good thing unless you’re already an established author and have published numerous titles. Then you can probably get away with it because we already love you and we’ll read anything at all you write, even if you break the rules. I’m not sure how to define my writing style–except that I’m a story teller and I can get very sappy, which in the romance world is not particularly a bad thing. I’m working on my tendency to overuse adverbs, since my partner has threatened more than once to come and rip the “l” and “y” keys off my keyboard. Another thing is that I write with a lot of emotion, but I have hard time writing anger, I think because I have a hard time being angry. I’m not good at it. My biggest problem is that I’m not only a writer; I’m also an editor–that’s how I make my living. And I edit nonfiction–a lot of college textbooks–so the language is completely different from the language I use to write my novels. But the editor kicks in occasionally. For example, the use of “bad” versus “badly,” as in “He wanted her so badly, it hurt.” Now, editor Nan fixed this to read, “He wanted her so bad it hurt.” Here’s why. “Badly” is an adverb that describes the action, so the sentence as is tells me (editor Nan) that the guy is doing a poor job of wanting her. “Bad,” on the other hand is an adjective that describes the level of his feeling–he wants her a lot. So, logically, well, grammatically, that’s correct. But, that’s not how we talk. Most people would say “badly.” “I feel badly for him.” or “She wanted him so badly…” You get the picture. If you read the words aloud–something I’m learning to do as I write–“badly” just flows better. Maybe not to my editorial ear, but to most reader’s ears, it would. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and probably again and again. Writing is learning. If I stop learning, my writing stops improving. And I always want to be the best writer I can be. Nan Reinhardt is a romance writer. She’s also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and grandmother to one aging bunny and a golden retriever named, Lily. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last fifteen years, she’s earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. But writing is her first and most enduring passion. She has completed two novels and they are currently with her agent, Maureen Walters, of Curtis Brown Literary Agency in New York. Like Jo March (Little Women), she writes late at night in her upstairs garret, after the editing gig work is finished for the day and her household is asleep.

Refilling the Creative Well

~ By Cynthia Thorp  You hear a lot in writing circles about refilling the creative well.  It can be as simple as watching a movie or catching the latest episode of “Dancing with the Stars” or listening to music.  I do all of  that, of course I usually have some crafting project on my lap as well.  I’ve been crafting just a little longer than I have been writing and I started writing when I was 11.  I remember making clothes for my Barbie dolls from plastic templates my Aunt Carole made for me, it was certainly cheaper than buying clothes for the dolls.  It’s also an example of my “go for it” attitude toward crafting and writing.  I mean have you ever really looked at the circumference of a sleeve on a Barbie jacket?  Didn’t stop me from making a couple, I was about 8 at the time and I didn’t even understand that it might be hard. They weren’t going to win any fashion awards but it was a way to spend a rainy or snowy afternoon. One of my first knitting projects as an adult was a fair isle sweater.  I really hope it held up for whoever ended up with it.  My fiber allergy made it impossible for me to wear it.  Well that and the fact that I knit so tight it was actually a size smaller than intended.  Knitting to gauge, never crossed my mind.  Rarely does today either, which probably explains why all my socks are now just a little too big.  Yes my knitting has gone from one extreme to the other and somehow that doesn’t surprise me in the least. My first quilt was one with curved seams and open bias edges.  I didn’t really follow the directions to understand that the curved edges of each piece needed to be on the bias so it would stretch when you sew it.  Okay so that’s one less I have learned.  You gotta follow directions every once and a while.  The bulk of my crafting is in the making of quilts and I’ve tackled some quilts that most have on their dreamy “someday maybe” list.  I’ve followed the same theory here as I do with everything, I just go for it.  If I fail at least I failed in the trying.  Actually can you fail at something you don’t try? My crafting today is a way for me to quiet my mind enough to let ideas percolate.  In most cases whatever I’m working on craft wise, whether I’m sewing/quilting or knitting/crocheting it doesn’t require my complete attention so while my hands work away my mind drifts off and  plots.  There’s a comfort in working a sewing needle through fabric and feeling the warmth and softness of the fibers, something nearly meditative about the whole process and about as close as I’ll ever come to meditating.  I hear to meditate one has to sit still, sounds a little like torture to me. I’ve noticed recently, as I’ve taught myself new craft techniques (anything involving a sewing machine is new) that at some point I just do it.  Doesn’t matter how scary it may seem at the moment, it’s usually easier than I think it will be and much more rewarding in the end.  I’m taking that same attitude with my writing.  I’ve had a scathingly brilliant idea that I have no intention of sharing yet (yup I’m being a tease) but this idea is one I have to earn.  That idea is what pushed me back on the writing horse (I had a very bad year last year) and has me running, galloping, whatever (yeah I’m great at mixing metaphors) with new enthusiasm for storytelling. Cynthia lives in a magical cottage in Western New York where from her "office" window she can see roses and chipmunks and birds a plenty.  If she's lucky one of the neighborhood bunnies will stop by and if she's really lucky she'll spot a hummingbird amongst the sweet peas.  When she's not writing contemporary romances she's dreaming of warm sunlight beaches, especially around January when she hasn't seen grass in 2 months and it will be another 2 before it reappears.

Revisions and Revelations

Nan Reinhardt I’m a romance writer—as yet unpublished—and I just finished working on revisions to my first novel. My critique partner and I have gotten through all twenty-seven chapters and ironically, there are more things to fix/revise that either of us imagined. Not dramatically changing the story line at all, but rather tightening up language, creating more tension between my characters, just making it better. What I’m learning about my writing is that I may not actually be a straight category romance writer. I thought that was what I wrote, but I don’t think it is. I think I’m simply a story teller. My writing doesn’t fit in a specific genre, except perhaps maybe women’s fiction. I don’t seem to be able to write to a template or formula–I thought I was doing that, but I’m not. I’ve read tons of category romance and when I started the first book, I believed I was writing category with my own personal touch. I’ve been discouraged because category pubs aren’t accepting my work, but I’m beginning to see that maybe I’m not the writer for that particular genre of fiction. In a way, that makes me sad because I love category–I’m a huge fan and it made sense to me that if I love to read it, I should be able to write it. But, I can’t stay in the mold–no news there. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I haven’t fit a mold since I was born. I’ll keep writing what I write, the stories of the people in my head. These folks knock loudly, anxious to be out of my head and on paper where they believe they belong. Hopefully, my dear agent and I can figure out where their stories will be published. Hold a good thought, mes amies, and when we do find my publisher, check the Midwestern skies for the biggest fireworks display you’ve ever seen! Nan Reinhardt is a romance writer. She’s also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and grandmother to one aging bunny and a golden retriever named, Lily. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last fifteen years, she’s earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. But writing is her first and most enduring passion. She has completed two novels and they are currently with her agent, Maureen Walters, of Curtis Brown Literary Agency in New York. Like Jo March (Little Women), she writes late at night in her upstairs garret, after the editing gig work is finished for the day and her household is asleep.