The Journey to Publication, Writing

Zombie Books and On Staying Stubborn

Keep clinging to the edge of the cliff - you are NOT going to fall. (Source: my photo)
Keep clinging to the edge of the cliff – you are NOT going to fall. (Source: my photo)

I am a stubborn individual. Actually, mule-headed, and too damned ornery to ever quit may be more accurate assessments. This is part of why I can’t give up.

I have been in rewrites on the zombie book – that is, the WIP that refuses to die, but isn’t actually healthy, alive and kicking (ie: working out like it’s supposed to). As I dive into yet another round of revisions, I find still more errors in the book that still seem to stick around. It makes me wonder if I can write at all, if I’m just kidding myself.

This is called self-doubt. If you’re a creative sort, I’m sure you’ve met it before.

Nasty fellow. And as soon as you let him start leading you, you’re not heading anywhere good, trust me.

And sometimes, when you’re stuck with a zombie book – a book that refuses to straighten out, and yet it still holds some allure to you, some promise that it could be good – then what you have to be is stubborn. Mule-headed, I-will-work-with-a-patch-over-one-eye-and-a-broken-hand stubborn.

So, here it is. My five ways to keep writing even when things look like crap (how you feel, the WIP, you name it):

  1. Get your butt in that chair, turn on the computer, and start writing. Yes, it will suck. Yes, many of the words will suck. But they will get better.
  2. Stop looking up the mountain at how far you have to come. Looking up and dreading it will not make you feel better. Instead, look straight ahead at the step you’re taking now. Keep at it. Keep moving forward, and you’ll make it up the mountain of whatever workload awaits you.
  3. Take note of what that whiny voice of self-doubt is saying – anything useful in there? Then tell it to shut up and let you get back to work.
  4. Give your fear, your self-doubt to your characters. Let them wrestle with it. And as you do, note how good your writing looks, how sincere. ๐Ÿ™‚
  5. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. You are not perfect. Every word you write will not be perfect either. That’s what revisions are for. And remember that this is the bottom of the hill in the creative journey. Things will get better. You will feel better – so long as you hang in there long enough to ride the roller-coaster back up to the top. Treat yourself kindly, but don’t give in to self-pity. Keep at it. Keep fighting.

Okay, so now I’m about to head off to battle the WIP. Today: assessment of the chapter notes and see what lives and what dies, and if any of the structure is right at all.

But first, what about you: how do you conquer self-doubt? How do you keep fighting through when things get tough?

Thanks for reading, and I hope you gave a great week. Oh, and hey! Like the post? Why not follow the blog. ๐Ÿ™‚


Constructive Yet Kind Critique: 10 Tips for Effective Critique

By the timeย  you read this, I’ll have gone wedding dress shopping with my soon-to-be-sister-in-law. Which made me think about critique.

Here’s the thing: I believe all critique must try to strike the right balance between kindness and compassion … and telling it like it is. Too kind (sometimes known as “rubber-stamp critiques”), and it’s meaningless for the other person (beyond an empty ego-boost). Too harsh, and you crush egos and hurt feelings (and if you want to be THAT harsh, you may want to consider the motives behind it – are you trying to hurt someone’s feelings? to prove something?).

Anyhoo, here are my 10 Tips for Effective Critique – whether we’re talking working with a critique partner on your writing, or possibly going wedding dress shopping with your future relation.

  1. Clearly outline expectations. This comes first because, from hard-won experience, I learned how important this is. Try to understand and establish how the critique relationship is going to work. What are the expectations from both sides? Goals? Level of critique required or desired? Frequency? Give yourself a starting point.
  2. Acknowledge and then try to leave personal prejudices and goals out. We all have a past which leads to certain dislikes, habits, weaknesses, strengths, and preferences. Be up front about it, but don’t let them tarnish the critique. Do you hate wrestlers and your CP has just written a whole book about them? Have you always hated V-neck dresses and that’s what your friend is trying on? Try to look past your own feelings and goals, instead working to help the other person, not yourself. If you fear not being able to get past yourself, acknowledge it so the other person can possibly temper your critique based on the information.
  3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Yes, this means don’t belittle the other person or make them feel terrible since probably, you wouldn’t want to be treated that way. But it also means putting their goals in the forefront instead of your own. Does your friend want to look like a princess? Great – help her do it. Does your CP want to write the best vampire erotica ever? Great – help her do it. Remember that just as you’ve sought out critique to achieve your best – and push you to your best – the other person has too: help them achieve their goals.
  4. Be honest. If there’s a problem, make note of it. Not telling your sister she looks fat in a dress or your CP that the entire opening of their book is boring if that’s what you honestly believe, well, you’re not helping anyone. That said, honest doesn’t have to be mean. Consider tact when stating your concerns. Something like: “I really like your main character, but I’m finding the opening a bit slow” is easier to stomach than “I could hardly stay awake for the first three pages.” Having established expectations early on, you and your partner will know what’s acceptable – but they still need to hear the truth.
  5. Ask questions. Sometimes this helps to establish expectations. Sometimes it can point out weaknesses, direct the partner to problem-areas, and help to direct the critique. Is something unclear? Do you wonder why a particular authorial choice was made? Is your cousin really comfortable wearing a neon-pink dress down to her ankles? Ask questions an gain more information to assist in the critique.
  6. Emphasize the positive. While you’re busy pointing out what’s wrong, make sure you remember to point out what’s good! Sometimes this will be easier than at other times, but remember that just as nothing is perfect, nothing is probably that terrible either. Look for the positive points, the things you like – even if small – and make sure you shine a spotlight on those.
  7. Edit your comments. Especially true for any kind of written correspondence or critiques for other writers, I strongly recommend going back through and re-reading your own comments. Watch out for excessive sarcasm, annoyance, cruelty (intentional or not), or unnecessary notations.
  8. Take your time. Think before you speak, and take your time in giving your opinion – taking into consideration all of the above. Is what you’re saying necessary? Is it helpful? Is there a way you can be more helpful (ie: instead of just giving criticisms, offer suggestion for possible improvement)?
  9. Give it your best effort. No one is right all the time, and you may not be an expert. But, you’ve been asked for your honest opinion and critique, and that’s what you need to give to the best of your abilities. This means putting real effort and work into the critique and not sloughing it off: you want better than that, and your partner deserves the same.
  10. Be willing to be wrong, or ignored. Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter. Understand that you give your best effort for a critique, and sometimes it will find fertile ground, sometimes it will be ignored, and that’s okay. It’s only your opinion, and whoever asked for the critique is allowed to accept or dismiss it. Give your best, and then let it go with a smile. That’s all you can do.

Have I missed anything crucial? Do share!

Hoping your critiques are well received, and my soon-to-be-sister finds a terrific gown. Thanks for reading, and have a great week. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Journey to Publication, Writing

Revision and Plotting: Do as I say, not as I’ve done, Pt 1

Do you ever have a moment when you pray to whatever you believe in that maybe, just maybe, you’ll start getting smarter? That maybe you’ll stop making the same ridiculous mistakes again and again, ever after making your life more difficult?

I do. Especially when it comes to my writing. As with many things, it’s so much easier to give advice than take it. So, I’m going to suggest ten things I know about writing that you SHOULD do … and which sometimes I’m not smart enough to remember.

  1. ย Plot the damned book. No, I don’t mean you have to use a spreadsheet and know every detail of every scene, or remember each day of your fictional character’s life (although if that’s for you, go for it). What I am saying is have some kind of a plan. Maybe it’s just an idea of a direction that you jot notes about. Maybe you opt for the “25 things that have to happen” list, or just the major turning points, but if you give yourself a bit of a road map, you make your life SO much easier, especially when it comes time for revisions. Yes, I have started with no idea where I’ve been going, and I’ve written detailed plot cards; the first is too little for me, the second too much (I get bored). Which leads to my next point …
  2. Plot and write in YOUR way, not the method that works best for Mr. Bestseller or Ms. NewYorkTimes. Certainly, as you grow and learn your craft, your methods will likewise change and evolve. That’s great. They should. And who knows, maybe you will write and plot like other writers … and maybe you won’t. Don’t worry about it so much, and just get on with the writing and discovering your own method. Which means …
  3. Never stop learning. Take courses, read books, talk to other writers. I think it’s dangerous to suddenly reach a point where you feel you have nothing left to learn. Why, are you perfect? How did that happen? And if you are, where are you supposed to go from there? Your books might still be good, but they’ll never get any better, which personally, sounds boring. So, keep learning, keep trying to expand yourself however you can. Sometimes you’ll learn / realize something that will knock you back on your butt, but that’s okay, it’s just a growing pain.
  4. Avoid information overload. Respect your own intuition, too. Okay, so once you’ve read all those books, it can be really easy to think, gee, I’m not doing ANY of those things, and I must be terrible, I have to change how I’m doing this, I better try that … Stop. Consider. Are there areas in your writing (craft, methods, etc), that you know need improvement? Than maybe some change is needed. However, don’t change everything just for the sake of change. Some of what you were doing was probably working for you, and if it’s getting the results you want, don’t toss it needlessly.
  5. Know what input to accept, and what to reject.This is something that takes confidence and belief in yourself, and which changes over time. It applies to critiques, workshops, classes, knowledge in books. Before accepting – or rejecting – anything just because, let it sink in for a bit. Some will stick, and feel right. Others … won’t, so let them float away and disappear. Which leads to …

A break for the week, since this post is growing too long! Next week I’ll have the final 5 things you can do and hopefully avoid my mistakes.

Meanwhile, what mistakes / tips would you share? Come on, it will be cathartic.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.