Archive | August 2012

The Fear Factor

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. . . . Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.” – Stephen King

Up in a balloonFear shows up in a number of ways, and hits each of use differently. It shows up a lot in the only workshops I teach.

It shows up in excuses (I’m too old, I’m too busy, I won’t try this because I don’t understand).

It shows up in procrastination (I’ll catch up later, I’ll try the exercises after the class on my own).

It shows up in perfectionism (I’m awful because I didn’t do this right, I failed, I suck, I’m stupid).

It shows up in a refusal to try new things (I’ll post this old story bit instead of writing anything new).

And I can see it every single time. Then we have the brave souls who face their fears dive in and fall on their faces. I applaud that. Because they’re learning. Which is the point of a workshop. It’s supposed to be a safe place to try things, to experiment. Instead, I see so many writers who are afraid to spread their wings—as if one mistake is going to be a disaster.

Folks—we learn from our mistakes. Go out and make more of them.

I am amazed how many people resist this idea. They want to be praised. That’s not good. That’s not going to help you learn. What does help is the rewrite and the revision and the experiment. Try something new. Write a scene. Then rewrite it from a different viewpoint. Just because. Throw stuff out there. Try something in first person if you’ve never done first person. Or in present tense. Just try it out. Tell yourself that:

a) it doesn’t have to be perfect

b) it doesn’t have to be good

c) it can actually be really awful

Just let it be what it’s going to be. Then read (aloud so you catch what you’ve really done) what you’ve written and look at what you can learn from what you did. Look at what works. Look at what doesn’t work. Keep the good stuff.

This happens when I cook, too. I’ve made some awful things—I once put too much baking soda into my gingersnaps. They came out Alka-seltzer hockey pucks—hard and fizzy if you chewed on one. Great for your digestion (if you needed it), and not something anyone would eat (not even the horses would go for them, despite the sugar on the outside). Learned a great lesson on baking soda from that one.

Same applies to my writing. I’ve written awful scenes (and I expect I’ll keep doing that). Sometimes the dialogue clunks like a flat tire. I’ve tried first person, third, second, even. Present tense, past tense—it’s all about stretching those writing muscles and trying new things. You don’t know what really works until you’ve tried it.

I’ve written books that are not for everyone (go read the reviews)—sometimes folks hate my character (hey, it’s better than indifference). And I worry about all of it. I still get the nerves going and I still wonder if I’m any good at any this—no amount of praise ever takes that worry away.

The point of this is you’re never going to get over your fear.

Live with it. Know it’s there. Let it flow into you and out of you again and go write anyway. Use the fear—let it keep you sharp. Let go, too, of the affectations that King talks about—which means get out of the way of your characters. Let them tell you their story and stop pushing them into plots that don’t work. Stop being so damn writerly and just get clean words onto the page.

And if you need more good words from Stephen King buy his book On Writing: Memoirs of a Writing Career. Or read more at: http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/StephenKingWriting.htm

(First published at https://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com.)

Best Advice from RWA National: The Promise To Your Readers

It was an upbeat conference this year. Editors didn’t look so hunted. Those writers not yet published didn’t look so desperate—probably because the decision to be published is now in their own hands. And the self publishing panels weren’t just about how to format an ebook, but actually had a lot of great info.

My favorite workshop was held by Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, and Tina Folsom—three ladies who’ve done very well for themselves and who have shown that self published does not mean bad books or terrible sales. The best advice I heard came from Bella Andre who talked about the contract a writer has with a reader—a contract to deliver not just a good read but a certain level of sensuality in the books. She’s established as a secondary identity for a different type of book (and no, I’m not going to tell you the name—you’ll have to hunt it up yourself). But she did the new name because the books offer a different level of sex in the books—it’s a different “type” of book.

Now, I’d been looking at genre for “different”—and thinking that of course that’s why you needed a pen name. But this hit home—of course it’s not genre. It’s more about the feel of the book—what type of book is it. And that got me looking at my own bookshelves again.

I read sexy books—love the good ones. But it’s not my primary read. And that got me thinking.

Paths of Desire is a book I did to break out to a larger book and a more sweeping historical. I amped up the sex in the book—probably too much so. It’s a good book—or I think so. But I got to thinking about my readers. I’d had one reader post a one star review—and I think she’s right. It’s not the book for her, but she’s my reader. And it’s a brave new world.

This lead me to do an edit and I’m bringing out Paths of Desire: The Sweet Regency Edition. It’s more like my other Regencies—not exactly the door shutting on the sex (it’s a romance, and these folks become lovers, and that’s a vital part of the plot), but making it more about the emotion and less about the body parts. A new cover and a new ISBN denotes the new version of the book. And now readers can choose which version they like better.

I’m also going to be looking closer at my urban fantasy books, too—maybe I’ll bring out the hot version and the plot version and let readers pick which they prefer. Or maybe I’ll just bring them into the “Shannon Donnelly” version so that no pen name is needed—it’ll be a change of genre, but not a change of tone.

Either way should be interesting.

So what do you think—hot or not? Or is it best to have a choice that you the reader can make in which edition you like best?

Writing Workshops

I’m just starting up the Writing the Regency Workshop online for Outreach International Romance Writers, which works well since I just gave a talk on this at RWA National Conference, too. This had me thinking about what is it that folks need to get right, and I also asked the RWA Beau Monde Chapter about what they thought. Here’s the short form answer:

1 – Basic History. Even if you’re doing alternate history, you need to know some of the basics because this informs the characters–people live within the context of their world, and it helps to know what events formed their parents and grandparents and their family.

2 – —Titles & Class System.  Gossford Park is great to help us Yanks get an idea of a nuanced class system–Americans are used to rich/poor and something in between and that’s about it. Getting this right can be tricky since titles evolved over more than a thousand years, but it’s important–nothing can throw a reader out of a story faster than a title that makes no sense.
—3 – British Sensibilities.  BBC America is a big help here, so is being an anglophile.  This one is another tricky spot since you can end up with characters who don’t seem as if they’ve ever been near England.
—4. Legal Stuff.  If your story premise has anything to do with inheritance or marriage laws, it’s time to break out the research books and make sure the basic premise works. If that doesn’t work the whole story can fall apart on you.
5. —Society’s Attitudes. The 1800′s are similar to our world, but it’s also a different era–and while your characters may rebel against this, they should know what they’re up against. Folks back then knew about a woman’s place, and a man’s place, and that there were no teenagers, just adults and children. All of this can affect your characters.

6. Social/Personal Constraints. Honor mattered, so did duty–and while some folks might shrug those off, others did not and it said a lot about a character who did not take these to heart. This is also the stuff that makes for great conflict so it’s wonderful meat for a writer.

Now, of course, there’s lots more to know–but those are the big ones. We’ll get into the rest in the workshop.