Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Write On The Go or Take It Slow?

Bonjour tout la monde, ItsMeAshleyC here. As my summer vacation begins and I have a glorious four month holiday, I'm starting to think about all of the writing and editing I've had to put on hold until the uni semester is over.

In terms of writing, I find myself reflecting on the two very different writing styles I use. When it came to writing Loaded, I took my time with each of the chapters, often going back to make small changes while I was writing. I put a lot of thought into every sentence I wrote and thought about how the reader would feel about each single word coming out of my character's mouths.

However, I'm currently writing a novel with Lisa called 17 Promises (stay tuned for details) and I find myself writing chapters a lot quicker than I normally would. Maybe it's the pressure of having a deadline and someone else relying on me to get their side of things done that's making me move a lot quicker, or maybe Charlie feels natural to me. Her words flow quicker, I'm not stopping to make sure everything is absolutely perfect and I'm having to make a lot less edits.

So when it comes to writing, I'm starting to think writing on the go is better. You'll get drafts out quicker and you'll also feel better about your writing. It's better to write now and edit later, so the project is still enjoyable.

What do you guys think? Is it better to write on the go or take it slow?

Lisa: I actually prefer to take it slow. However, I've found that the projects I write quicker end up being better. The one book that comes to mind that I wrote quickly, I had no deadline. I had no one waiting on me. I simply wrote it quickly because it was coming to me that fast, the passion for it was driving me write, write, write. This was stressful, though. And exciting. If you look at the definition for stress, excitement is a "stresser." I've also begun to realize that the novel I write for me, only me, it takes longer because I savor it. As a byproduct, I also enjoy the process more. It's like when I come home with leftover steak for my dog. She swallows it down in one gulp, and I'm disappointed...I mean, how could she have enjoyed that? So when I want to savor a novel, writing it slowly, it's more for my own enjoyment. When it's a novel where the characters won't leave me alone, and imagined readers are excitedly whispering in my ear "Hurry and finish it so we can enjoy it," then it's more stressful for me. According to sales, the "hurry up and finish" novel are more marketable too.

Dan: With NaNoWriMo starting in a few days, I'm definitely leaning toward the "write first, revise later" camp. For me, it's hard enough to find time to write new prose. If I let the internal editor take over, I'll never finish anything. Yet there's no right or wrong way to do this, as long as you're putting words on paper. William Faulkner used to spend an entire day writing the perfect paragraph. I'd say, do what works for you to get the book finished.

Caitlin:  I think first drafts are my least favorite part of the process. But I LOVE editing and revising. So, I actually take longer writing than I do revising, which just prolongs the not-as-fun part and then I tend to excitedly rush through finishing it once I have a first draft. Which I think means I probably should focus more on just sucking it up and writing that first draft more quickly so I can get to the good stuff! But, i agree with Dan, do whatever works for you!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How to make it a "re-reader" book

Hi visitors. It's Lisa today.

What's a re-reader? It's a book that people re-read. I'll give an obvious example: HARRY POTTER. Anyone who has read any of the HARRY POTTER books, generally they've read them again. For me that "re-read" number is closer to one than ten.

So what makes a book a re-read? I have it boiled down to two reasons - either it's the plot that brings you back or it's the main character.

Often it depends on the reader as to what brings them back to books again. For me, it's the main character. It doesn't matter how amazingly creative the plot, it doesn't matter how smooth the writing is either, if the main character doesn't pull me back, I won't be back. I can handle a shaky plot, but I won't be back if that character doesn't mesmerize me. Not that it's a bad book, it just isn't good enough to read twice.

What are you thoughts? How can an author write a book that guarantees you'll be back for a re-read?

Ashley: For me, it's a mixture of the character and the plot. The books that I've re-read the most have been Sophie Kinsella's Confession of a Shopaholic Series and Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl. With both, I clicked instantly with the narrators because I found points in common (Rebecca's shopping addiction and Cath's love for writing) and the plots kept me intrigued and my imagination running. An author's writing style will also get me hooked.

Dan: This is a tough one, because as a reader I'm pretty picky about rereading things. There are just so many books that I haven't read for the first time. That said, I'm a sucker for a good character and a great plot. Pace, too, is important, because I'm less likely to repeat a book that slowed down in the middle. Much of this is subjective to the reader, but there's one thing an author can do to help the chances of re-reads: write a series. When a new book in a series comes out, I'll often read the previous book(s) to get warmed up for it.

Caitlin: Honestly, I can't remember the last time I re-read a book. And I may be one of the few Harry Potter fans who only read the books once. Like Dan said, there are so many books out there I haven't read! I feel an anxiety about that, how will I ever read all these books! And that anxiety is a pretty big deterrent for me when it comes to re-reading something. Additionally, the mot fun pat of reading, to me, is the discovery and anticipation, which is lost a little on a second read. All that said, I will often go back and read the things I underlined, certain other sections, etc. as more of a study. If I really liked the narrator's voice, I'll re-examine a few sections to try to dissect what it is that I like about it and see if there isn't something I can keep in mind when creating my own voices. I will also re-read short stories that I really like in this same way, studying them the second/third/fourth time around instead of simply enjoying them. There are also several books I read as a kid or in college that I keep thinking I really should re-read now because they'd probably be quite different with an older perspective (Huckleberry Finn, Pride and Prejudice, Heart of Darkness, etc.) Additionally, there have been a few sequels where I felt a little lost and probably should have re-read the first book to refresh my memory first. :)

Friday, October 9, 2015


Bonjour tout le monde. It's me Ashley and today I'll be taking over the Trouble The Write Way blog with my very first post.

I was recently digging through the mountains of documents on my laptop, when I decided to open up my writing folder and skim through what I had. As it turns out, instead of a few drafts, the folder contained 12 drafts of the same novel, all with various plot lines and endings.

Most people would find it strange that I've kept so many drafts, especially since the plot and characters I'm dealing with now have evolved so much and barely compare to their original form.

However, keeping all drafts is a fantastic idea. If you're ever stuck with your latest draft and feel like you've gone off the rails, you can always return to a previous draft and go from there. You might also find an amazing metaphor or a killer line that might just become your stand out line in the published version.

What about you guys? Do you keep all of your drafts? Why? How many drafts do you average?

Lisa: For the most part, my drafts are simply revisions or edits of the original draft, and those edits I make on the only draft that exists. There's no need to have two files of one story. However, with one story, I decided to try a different approach and the entire first half of the book would be have a totally different structure. For that, I'd call it a rewrite, and I did keep the original draft. Maybe I had a presentiment that I would hate the new version. I was right, and there's no describing the relief I felt when I finally gave up on my rewrite and saw the original version still in my file waiting for me to come back to it. Altogether, I've written seven books, and only the one was rewritten. So, two drafts for one book, versus six books with only one draft, my rewrite average is very low.

Dan: Welcome, Ashley! We're glad to have a new contributor, and this is a fantastic topic. I too am a pack-rat when it comes to keeping drafts. I even have trouble making myself recycle old hard copies of stories that have been workshopped. With digital files, it's much easier (and cleaner) to just keep everything electronically. I save new versions of my WIP often, and back up all of those files to a Dropbox folder. The selling point for me is that I can go back and repurpose stuff that I had to cut in previous versions. I never delete anything permanently.

Monday, September 28, 2015

How to make a "wrong" summary work.

I've been working on the summary to my book that will be released next month and had to refrain from going unconventional. Again. For the summary of one of my other books, I tried going against the grain and wrote a one-sentence summary.

It didn't work.

But that's not always the case. I see unusual summaries work often - some written from the perspective of the main character, some in the form of a letter. I've even seen an author let an excerpt from the story say what needs to be said. Some of those worked for me, and some didn't.

What has been your experience of unusual summaries? What worked and what didn't? Examples?

Caitlin:  The first one that comes to mind is WE WERE LIARS. But I didn't like it. I was annoyed that there wasn't more of an explanation about what the book was about and I probably wouldn't have read it if it wasn't for a book club. After reading it, I still didn't think the blurb set it up well. I think if an idea comes to you that just seems really great and isn't conventional, then cool, go for it! If it fits the book well, it's certainly worth a try! :) But I don't think it's worth it to sit around trying to think up an unconventional way to write the summary. I think that process would probably create something that comes off as gimmicky and/or "you don't need to know what this book is about you just need to read it" (which is annoying, IMHO). 

Dan: When a reader visits a book page on Amazon or another online bookstore, I think there are three main factors that influence their purchase decision: cover, description, and price. There is some value in trying new things to move books, but I'd be very careful in going unconventional with the description. Readers expect certain things when shopping for books, and a nice 2-3 paragraph book description is one of those.

Straying from that in hopes of "standing out" may ultimately do more harm than good, but it's probably worth investigating if you have a clever idea. A/B testing, also called split testing, is an important tool that authors and publishers can use to assess the impact. In the simplest form, you try one description for a designated time period, then try the other, and see which one converts better. So I'm all for trying unconventional things, as long as it's backed by hard data.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How to avoid realism when writing, and why would you want to...

Hi, all. Lisa here today, and I'd like to talk about skirting reality for the sake of making your story more readable.

In writing, the goal is to replicate real life as closely as possible. "As possible" are the key words here. There are things we write about that we have to work around because to be totally realistic is to make it hard to read - dialect, sex, cursing, character voice, etc. Some ways of avoiding are easy, for instance, fading to black instead of having "on-screen" sex. Others are not quite so easy, but I have found a few tricks to skirt realism, and I'll share. I'd also like to know what you all do.

1. Everyone has heard that writing in a male's voice you can't use as much description. Generally speaking, the male mind just doesn't notice as many details as women. How I get around it is by using the exceptions that we have in real life. Yes, males don't normally notice all the details that women do, but there are exceptions, and for purposes of writing I have learned to pounce on those exceptions. When I write from a male's perspective, I give him a characteristic that would make him notice the details that I want to write - those details that make a scene complete. For one of my characters, I made him an artist of sorts. He drew- mainly sketching faces - so that allowed me to realistically include details that would have seemed out of character before. So, one way to skirt realism is to find real life exceptions and work under those.

2. Another point is language and/or dialect. One of my characters is Scottish. I loved that but he got way too slangy for readers to be able to understand sometimes. However, if any of you have watched Trainspotting, you know that their speech is almost indiscernible. To tone it down wouldn't be realistic...unless I could find an exception. My exception became the outside influences on him. I lightened up his slang a lot and blamed his lack of an abundance of "Scottishisms" on being around his American and British bandmates for three years.

3. Yet another character should have had really, really bad pottymouth. Since I always write first person, that would have transferred to his thoughts tenfold. But that would have been hard to read. However, the goal is still to be realistic, so what do you do? What I did was give him a strong guilty conscience. His dying grandmother told him he was a good boy, would always be a good boy. She is the only one to ever say anything quite so positive to him, so he tries to fulfill that idea. Don't get me wrong, he's still got strong language, but it's not overabundant.

So what are your tricks for skirting reality when reality doesn't transfer well onto paper?

Dan: I hadn't heard that one should use less description when writing a male voice. Then again, I am male, so I may have just failed to notice it *grin*. I'll admit, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of avoiding realism. In science fiction and fantasy, realism is rarely the default. I'm usually coming at this from the other direction: trying to inject more verisimilitude into my writing.

At the same time, SF/F readers often demand more pace to a story than realism would allow. The classic example of this is the protagonist learning to fight with a sword. In reality, a farmer who's never fought with one would take years (if not decades) to achieve mastery at this. Yet we don't usually have that kind of time to spend on a training montage. Robert Jordan addressed this in a clever way: Rand al'Thor goes from shepherd to master swordsman rather quickly, but that's partly because he's inhabited by the soul of a thousand-year-old guy who was a true master.

I wish I'd thought of that.

Caitlin: I'm actually quite bad at this! I've been told that some of my new adult characters don't use words kids in college would use. Don't get me wrong, I don't just ignore that criticism, I consider it. But, in the end, I also don't think every college student sounds exactly alike. (Hell, I remember one girl in college asking me if I could assist her with "lodging" for a trip, and yet another asked me where I "summered" is full of all kinds!). So, basically, if something doesn't ring true to your CPs, you need to consider it, but you also don't need to adjust your characters to meet stereotypes.  FWIW, my husband often notices details I don't, and I'm supposed to be the writer  ;-).

When it comes to reality drastically interfering with the pace, you need to remember that your loyalty is to the story. Does smudging this reality a bit service the story, or is it just a lazy workaround that hurts the story? That should help guide you, methinks.

- Thanks, guys. What are your thoughts? Is finding ways to skirt reality a good or bad idea? In what ways to you work around the more mundane but necessary moments of real life in order to keep a good pace to the story?

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Hi, everyone. It's Lisa today and I have a problem that I share with one of my characters and probably many other writers out there. Keira is a lyrical dancer who has many things on her mind. During one of her performances, she is thinking of her grandfather dying, her mother's inconsiderate delivery of said information, making the right steps in her routine, ignoring her internal drum that doesn't come close to matching the beat of the music everyone else hears at the recital...she's having a hard time. She tells herself "focus!" repeatedly. But just like everyone else under the stars, telling yourself to focus doesn't quite do the trick. Keira's lack of focus is a lot like mine when I either want to write or I've actually sat down to write. So, let's make a deal. I'll tell you some of the things that help me focus in hopes that something in my list will help you, but this is a give and take post, okay? Okay. Be nice and tell me some of your focusing secrets too.

1. The first of my problems when it comes to focus is the area in which I'm trying to write.
If it's not at least a little tidy, my mind can't be tidy either. If it's really bad, and you can't see wasting time to really give it an overhaul, maybe stuff it all under the bed or behind the chair you're sitting in. Maybe if you can't see it, then it won't keep diverting your attention to it. No? Then straighten up.

2. The second problem is people, whether they be online, in person, on the phone - people divert me often. How I combat the in-person distractions is headphones or earbuds. I prefer the headphones as they look more official and/or intimidating to the person about to interrupt you. Plus, they tend to shut out extraneous noises too. These headphones or earbuds serve yet another purpose which I'll tell you later. As for the digital "person" interruptions - turn it off. Turn you cell phone to vibrate, don't look at text messages. If it's an emergency, that person will call when texting doesn't get your attention. Not only does that keep you have having unnecessary interruptions but it also keeps your focus on the task at hand. What I mean is if you decide to quickly read that text, it could be something that isn't so easily forgotten. It could be something that wiggles at the back of your mind, messing with your focus. Let the little "wiggling" wait until later. As far as the online people alerting you with their bells and whistles - turn those off. You can turn off the IMing alerts on Facbook, Twitter, etc. Do it. Your writing is important. Even better, turn off internet. It's a simple button that you can undo later. It's F8 on my computer, and I'm sure you have something just as simple though I believe it's a pretty universal thing. If it's not F8, then it's at least got a tower with curved parenthesis-like lines on either side of it. That's internet signal radiating off of it, if you were wondering, threatening to make you lose focus.

3. Choose the sounds you allow to enter you brain wisely. Some people think no sound at all is best.
But there never is really no sound at all, is there? I'll get back to that. Some listen to music. I can't listen to lyrics as that'll make me lose focus. I'll involuntarily, even unconsciously, think too much about what I'm hearing. You need something that will fade into the background - not something that will sound especially great, make you wonder about the lyricist, singer, producer, etc. Some people believe only nature's sounds are okay such as waves or trickling stream, birds, etc. Those are all good, but I've found some sounds/music that is specifically designed to make people focus really well. Look it up - there is all kinds of "music" made for concentration and focus. I'd listened to one on Youtube for a long time then decided to pay 1.99 to download it since I turned internet off.
Okay, back to the "no sound at all" notion. The reason I'm not a subscriber to this is because unless your house is totally empty and you live in the middle of nowhere, there is talking, television, radio, a dog, people on the sidewalk, things that are making noises and distracting you. It's easier to tune them out when there is a different noise in your ear, just make sure it's a noise that will make you churn out words like a beast!

Now it's your turn. Share your secrets on how to focus.

Dan: Oh, what a fascinating topic! I should admit up-front that I'm not the best role model for focused efforts. I'm a bit different from Lisa, in that I can (and usually do) remain productive in a messy environment. All of my workspaces default to some level of disorder. Yet if that's a distraction for you, I agree 100% that it should be addressed before you try to get down and do some serious writing. As long as you don't lose most of your writing time to cleaning every day, you'll probably come out ahead.

Most of my distractions are internet-based. One of the reasons I like Scrivener is that it has a distraction-free, full screen writing mode where you can't see any windows except for the text editor. That helps a lot. Many writers (including at least a couple of pro authors I could name) turn off the internet while writing. I haven't been brave enough to try that yet, but I probably should.

Caitlin: I love the images Lisa! I also can't focus if I'm listening to something with lyrics. I have a "Film Scores" station on Pandora that's great for writing. Many of the songs have an "epic" feel, which just gets me more excited about what I'm writing. :)  I would also definitely recommend using a timer.  Set it for 10 or 20 or 30 minutes and work on only one project for that amount of time. Texts, emails, etc. can all be checked after the timer goes off and you are on a short break. Then set the timer again and get back to work. Repeat. :)

Friday, August 14, 2015 Mean Prewriting

Caitlin here. So, yesterday, I didn't actually do any writing on my WIP. But I went on a 45 minute walk where I hashed out a number of plot problems and thought through a number of scenes. Does that count on working on my WIP? I'm undecided.

Certainly, we all realize, that daydreaming alone does not a novel make. But, when I spend time daydreaming on my commute, while I'm working out, while I'm waiting in line, when I'm doing mindless chores, when I'm painting my toenails purple, etc. etc. I think it makes the times that I actually do sit down to write MUCH more productive. I just need to expel everything that was already in my head. I think this is important throughout the entire process (final line-editing and proofreading being the exception). I'll even run scenes though my head that I've already written and revised and polished, and, you know what, sometimes the version in my head has a nice quip or an additional interchange of dialogue that I think, "I have to add that!"  (This sucks when it happens after your book is out in the world, but that's another story...:) )

So, basically, daydreaming is a big part of my process and I think it's productive, but I realize I can't JUST daydream. What are your thoughts on daydreaming? Does it play any role in you process of do you sit down and tackle the blank page with a fresh mind?

Lisa: I think daydreaming plays a highly important role in the process. Daydreaming enables you to form less cliche characters, scenes, events. The first idea for a scene or character is usually not the most original idea. I actually tested myself on this recently. It took seven plot point ideas for me to get to the one I could see myself using.

Dan: My first reaction to this is the sheer relief that I'm not the only one who does it. Therefore, I vote that it does count as "writing time," even though it doesn't add to the word count. Modern life offers a lot of downtime -- driving in traffic, riding in elevators, waiting in line -- when it's not terribly convenient to whip out the laptop, but I can still flip on on the creative side of the brain.

Usually, I'll take advantage of such moments to plan what's next in my WIP, identify plot holes, invent backstory, etc. Later, when I do face the keyboard, I find that it's helped a surprising amount. I have a plan of action (even if it's just in my head) and that helps me jump into the writing itself.

Friday, August 7, 2015

How Do Readers Find Books?

It's Dan today, and I'm back to talk a little bit about book promotion & marketing. I stumbled upon a fantastic bookstore yesterday -- Southern Bound Books -- with a lovely inventory of gently used books for sale. One thing I love about used bookstores is that the inventory reflects a slice of the physical book market for the past 20+ years, as opposed to a new bookstore's carefully selected inventory (which incorporates, among other things, paid placement).

Many of us who are planning to publish books (or have already) spend a lot of time thinking about how to promote and market them to world. The same question from another point of view might be this: how do readers find books? Based on my research in this area, I think it comes down to three things:

  1. Author name recognition, e.g. Stephen King, John Grisham, J.K. Rowling.
  2. Word of mouth (family, friends, co-workers, etc).
  3. Everything else
Most of us don't have control over the two biggest contributors -- name recognition and word-of-mouth -- so that leaves us with the third category. So, what are the other ways that readers find books? How do you decide which books to read? 

Last but not least, I'll pose the obvious follow-up question: how should authors leverage this knowledge to promote their own work?

Caitlin: I think one way to look at it is what do you need to do (3. everything else) to get 1. & 2. to happen. Because, I'd bet, that's how most books are sold. But, there is one way I find books that I think (wish) could be enhanced. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a book on a specific element (an MC with telekinesis) or with a specific trope (trainer/trainee relationship, famous guy/regular girl). In those times, things like listopia on Goodreads help me find books I might not otherwise have found. But, I find myself frustrated even with those limitations. I'd love a system where you could get really specific with what you want (e.g., a mystery set in the 1980s in the American Southwest; a speculative YA trilogy involving references to the KGB that has a trainer/trainee romance, etc. etc.). Perhaps you could even search for things like word count, publications date, author bio, etc. etc. If you know of a search tool like this, let me know! But so far, I haven't found anything that lets you do an advanced search for these types of things and brings up a list of books that meet your criteria. I think that would be a great way to help readers find books that they'd love and help books find their audiences. 

Karlie: Caitlin, yes please. I would LOVE it if that were possible!! It would be the best. I also think that things like promoting specials on sites like Amazon tend to help, and social media can be a great tool as well. In my experience word of mouth is the best promoter of all.

Lisa: Name recognition usually only comes after a top ten best-seller - more than likely it'll take two or three top ten best-sellers before your name is recognized as widely as the authors you mentioned, Dan. I've found that website/social media ads aren't the most effective ways to promote your book, as well as many other forms of paid advertising. In my limited experience, which is mostly just witnessing from the sidelines, is that word of mouth is the best way to get the word out. This works on social media - Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler - but I feel like it's even better with a more focused social setting such as Goodreads or bookblogs. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Hi, it's Lisa here today. No, you're not going crazy; I'm not supposed to post this week. It's Dan's turn but he is gracious enough to let me cut in line.

I've been thinking about writing a sequel on one of my  novels - for which I already have an epilogue, so I thought it might be tricky getting around that - and thought I'd see what other people's thoughts were on writing a sequel after you've already told your audience what happens three years after the book ends. Guess what I found. Nada. There's so much talk about prologues on Twitter, on craft blogs, at writer seminars, on book comments/criticisms. But there's virtually nothing on epilogues. And guess what I decided would need to happen. There needs to be more blogs about epilogues of course.
So here's where we put our thoughts about them - negatives, positives - and can you effectively write a sequel after having one? Are they necessary? Is the "necessary" question even applicable here? Is it just like a desert, unnecessary but nice to have, so no harm, no foul? Or are they an aggravation and you don't read them?

1,2,3, GO!

Dan: That's a great question, Lisa. Short answer: I have no idea. I do most of my reading in science fiction and fantasy, where stories can span several books. Epilogues are rare, and maybe that's a good thing. It feels a little bit like cheating (to me) to drop in a chapter that quickly wraps up everything in a pretty bow. There's far less emotional impact.

That being said, I think that there's always room to write a good story, even if people know where it's going. In fact, the series prequel faces a similar challenge: we already know what happens later in the series. But with a series, world, and characters that readers enjoy, I think either a prequel or a post-epilogue book is a viable option.

Caitlin: With HEARTSICK, my agent asked me to add an epilogue. With RED BLOODED, my editors did. I tend to like to keep at least some aspects of the story open-ended. Even with the epilogues, though, many reviewers wrote that they were looking forward to the sequel to HEARTSICK ( sequel is in the works yet...:-/), and I've already gotten one reviewer who thought RED BLOODED ended too quickly. So I guess I tend not to wrap things up, even when I'm told to, heh.  But, as I said, HEARTSICK had an epilogue but also left many things open-ended, things that could be explored in a second book. Does your sequel take place after the epilogue, or does it cover what is already covered by the epilogue?  If the former, I don't see any problem at all! If the latter, that is a little unusual, but, like Dan said, readers often want to "experience" stories even when they already know the ending to. So, if you want to write the sequel, I say go for it. :)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Writerly Goals

As writers, we usually have a career dream, that end goal that makes it worthwhile and keeps us churning out page after page, day after day. Sometimes we lose sight of that goal in the rush of everyday life, but in the end, it always resurfaces. My question for all you writers out there – where do you see yourself and your craft in ten years? What are your long-term goals?

As for myself – I hope to have a doctorate in English, enabling me to teach at a university while still devoting plenty of time to writing. Getting published is a pretty big goal too. My secret wish is to eventually support myself on my work alone – but that will probably take longer than ten years, haha.

Share your success stories, fails, and end goals – we want to hear them!

Dan: This is a great topic! I think a single or handful of goals is tough, because as you unlock each new achievement in a writer's career, your goals change. For me, at least, there's never a point where I'd say "this is good enough" and just call the rest in. When I started writing, it wasn't really for the money. If you forced me to call out a single goal, I'd say walking into a bookstore and finding a book with my name on it. That's the moment I'm really waiting for. Trouble is, once I do that, what's next?

I decided to capture several of my writing goals with a "Writing Career Bingo Card." I heard about this from some writer friends last year, and made one of my own. You basically make an Excel file that's 5 rows and 5 columns. In each of the 25 squares, you put a writing achievement. Some of mine are: get a book deal, pro short story sale, anthology sale, first 5-star review, first 1-star review. Then you fill out the squares as you accomplish each one.

My writing career bingo card is 7x7 (I'm ambitious like that) and I only have six squares filled in, so I've got a long way to go.

Lisa: Success story - Support myself with nonfiction writing - achieved.
Fails - Starting and continuing a print newspaper in a small town for at least ten years (I blame the recession). Hey, I still have the news website though.
End goal - In ten years I want to support myself with fiction writing.

Caitlin: I agree with Dan that goals are tricky, because, sometimes you actually achieve them! ;-)  My original goal was just to write a book, so, I remind myself often that I already achieved said goal and all the rest is just gravy. That said, I don't always listen to that positive take on it. When I was in the query trenches, I realized that I was too caught up in the single goal of getting an agent and I made myself think about what I really wanted from this. I wrote a "writing mission." I won't post the whole thing because 1. it's long, 2.  it's embarrassing, but the main themes were to continue finding joy in writing and to connect with other people in a positive way through what I write. Yes, these are both a bit abstract, but I like that they are things I can achieve on my own by simply writing and putting my work out there (in whatever form). There are so many writing goals that are dependent on external factors that are completely out of my control, it's nice to focus on what I can control.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Time to Write

I don't personally know any authors yet whose "real" job is writing, meaning it's not your sole source of income. So you have a job that isn't writing. You work a lot of hours at it. That takes time away from writing. You have kids? Those take away time from writing. Have a significant other? You guessed it - time away from writing.

Here's how the conversation goes:
Significant other: You're on your computer every night.
You: And?
Significant other: Don't you want to spend time with me?
You: Uh....

It seems like there are 1,000 things trying to pull me away from the time I spend writing. How do people do it?

Karlie: I can definitely relate to this…between summer classes and holding down a job, I only have a few stolen minutes every day to write. It's very tempting to watch a movie or curl up with a book instead, but I try to spend at least twenty minutes writing - operative word here being try. For me, it's all about keeping my eyes on the goal. This is what I want to do with my life, so it's time well-spent, no matter how tired I am at the end of the day.

Caitlin:  I think the best way to find time to write is to make it fun. Be sure you're working on something you really are enjoying. How many times do you hear people say they don't have time to watch TV or play games on their phones or check Facebook. Don't get me wrong, I do hear that sometimes (sometimes I'm the one saying it ;-) ). But, most of the time those activities just kind of happen because they are fun, we enjoy them. If you realize writing is a fun outlet, like playing a game, then it isn't just one more chore to add to your to do list.

As for the other demands, my husband and I make deals sometimes. For example, I can write for an hour as long as after that we do something he wants to do. He is supportive of my writing, but he also likes hanging out with me (heh), so, like with all things, there needs to be a balance. And that's okay. 

Dan: This is a good topic, because it is hard. Especially for those of us with full-time jobs and spouses and little kids. I basically fit my writing in around the edges: in the morning before work (rare) or at night after the kids are in bed (more common). It's harder in spring and summer, when the good weather usually takes us places where a laptop would be... less than welcome.

I'm not complaining, though, because I love and need my family, just as I love and need my job. Something tells me that if I had none of those things, and could write full-time, I'd still have the same level of productivity. Luckily, my family's pretty forgiving about the writing stuff when I'm up against a deadline. They know I'll make it up to them.

Friday, July 10, 2015


Caitlin here. One of my favorite novel writing tasks (or, perhaps, procrastinating tasks) is looking online for images to help inspire and drive my process. I try to have a few images, which I usually find on Istock, of actual people who are close to how I “see” each prominent character. These images aren’t just for coloring and facial features, because the best pictures show the model doing something and/or having an expression that resonates with the character. 

I’m less into looking up images for my settings but, as I’m writing my first fantasy in a new world that isn’t too dissimilar from our own, I’m starting to find myself seeking out images in order to craft the cities and other places that will flesh out my world. 

How do you use images as part of your process? Where are the best sources for images?

Dan: I like having visuals to help plan things, and to keep me motivated while writing that first draft. For my most recent writing project, I created this Pinterest board to collect images from Google Image Search, DeviantArt, Wikipedia, and other places.

I also keep world maps and/or landscape images in view while I'm writing. I import them into Scrivener, and display them in the top panel (while I write in the bottom panel). The map is not only a time-honored tradition for fantasy writers, but actually quite useful in reminding me where my characters are and what's around them.

Lisa: I'm not a visual person. Images tend to mess up the idea I have of my characters in my head. So, it's more about a feeling to me. What feels right. That's why I'm not too fond of covers with faces. I skirt around that by only having partial faces on my covers, or else faces with the picture altered so much that the faces are obscure. For both MOMENTS and TRICOLOR covers, I just wanted get the point across that there's a boy and a girl. That's it. As far as setting, I do visit my locations, but it's not so that I can "see" my setting so much as to treat my other senses. I need to hear the sounds, experience the pace of the town, and feel the tone - try to put my finger on the pulse of the community, what's important to them, their activities/festivals, what they hold sacred.

If I were writing a fantasy, I'd consider creating the setting in the "image" of a town that would work for my plot. Say you're writing a steampunk. St. Augustine, Florida would be a great town to mimic your steam punk town. It's dark, steamy/humid, the body count from violent deaths is high, so it even has the haunting/dreadful feel to it at night.

Karlie: I tend to use Pinterest a lot here - it's amazing what you can find. I created one entirely for Kismet and another for Forsaken, collecting little things like tavern stools and larger ones like setting. It really helps me to immerse myself in the mood of the place I'm writing - so I use images a lot. Every now and then I'll use one for a character visual - but like you, Lisa, I'd rather keep them in my mind. :) Great post, Caitlin!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Defining Complex Human Emotions

It's Dan writing today, and I wanted to tackle the complexity of human emotions and life in general. In particular, how to recreate some of the deep, powerful feelings that we have at certain moments when it's hard to put words to them. Recently, I stumbled across a wonderful and entertaining resource called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a compendium of rare but widely-understood emotions described in lovely depressing form. For example:
n. the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist—the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye—which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.
I read that and just thought yes, I've had that. It is not an easy thing to describe, but the author of this dictionary somehow nails it. I started perusing the site and found there are over a hundred entries like this. The words themselves are made up, but the feelings are not. Here some of my favorites:
n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.

n. the awareness of the smallness of your perspective, by which you couldn’t possibly draw any meaningful conclusions at all, about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, because although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still only has a sample size of one, and may end up being the control for a much wilder experiment happening in the next room.

n. the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable—their pupils glittering, bottomless and opaque—as if you were peering through a hole in the door of a house, able to tell that there’s someone standing there, but unable to tell if you’re looking in or looking out.

n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

dead reckoning
n. to find yourself bothered by someone’s death more than you would have expected, as if you assumed they would always be part of the landscape, like a lighthouse you could pass by for years until the night it suddenly goes dark, leaving you with one less landmark to navigate by—still able to find your bearings, but feeling all that much more adrift.

n. a moment of awareness that someone you’ve known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life, and somewhere in the hallways of their personality is a door locked from the inside, a stairway leading to a wing of the house that you’ve never fully explored—an unfinished attic that will remain maddeningly unknowable to you, because ultimately neither of you has a map, or a master key, or any way of knowing exactly where you stand.

n. frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone—spending the first few weeks chatting in their psychological entryway, with each subsequent conversation like entering a different anteroom, each a little closer to the center of the house—wishing instead that you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first, before easing into casualness, until you’ve built up enough mystery over the years to ask them where they’re from, and what they do for a living.

What I admire about this dictionary is that the author gives us a simile for each term that's usually as hilarious as it is descriptive. It leads me to two questions that I'd like you to answer:

  1. What are your favorite obscure sorrows? Bonus points if you make one up.
  2. How do you go about trying to write such complex feelings into your fiction?
Go forth and be sorrowful!

Caitlin: Perhaps this sounds weird, but I don't find these depressing. Instead, when I first read some, I actually felt a bit of a weight off  of me. It's a really nice reminder that I'm not alone in some of my weirder feelings. :) Meaning, it helps ease my monachopsis. But, I'd also like to add, that as writers, we need to stare vemodalen, the fear that everything has already been done before, straight in the eye (and bring on that opia feeling). It can be a really depressing feeling until you, well, just accept it. A writing teacher told me once that everything had already been done, so that's never a reason not to do something. It's actually kind of freeing if you think about it that way. Just write what you want to write, knowing it's unlikely to be a truly, earth-shatteringly new idea. And that's okay.

Lisa: I love this! So, I might sound insane and like I need to knock on 50 tons of wood for saying this but what about lachesism, n. the desire to be struck by disaster? Not that I want something horrific and terrible to happen to me. But there are times that I sit and think: I'd like to totally change my life, new career, move to a new town, get new friends/coworkers/car/pet. Even live in a different country. But I'm too scared. To do something like that I'd have to be forced and a disaster would do that. As far as writing lachesism, that's what I did in my book that'll be out this month TRICOLOR. I wanted to make a character make an entirely new life for herself. Though, I don't think I wrote it in the spirit of the above definition. My character didn't want that big change...or maybe subconsciously she did. How did I write it? Kicking and screaming. When a character doesn't want something like this, that's what they do. Kicking and screaming makes for great drama :)g

Karlie: Lisa. Yes!! I've had that same thought before.