The More I Know…

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… the less I know! Anyone else feel that way? I’ve been revisiting writing queries and am beginning to feel like I know the format… and then, I realize that what I really need to know is something else- something completely different!

The same thing happens when I’m researching a topic for one of my novels. I spent nearly a year learning about the Native Americans living in New Jersey before it was New Jersey and then realized that I really needed to study the War of 1812 (and all it’s causes and results)… and then realized I needed to know about the New Jersey Quakers (before and after the War of 1812). Needless to say, that book was late! Very late! (And I have a ton of information I didn’t use stuck in my brain.)

Knowledge is a funny thing. If you meet an expert on something, the first thing they’ll start telling you is all the things they don’t know– yet (if they’re honest). It’s easy to become narrower and narrower in your research and not see the external connections you need to comprehend in order to completely understand the first topic.

So, I keep on learning and keep on thinking and keep on gathering up useless facts and tidbits in hopes that they’ll lead me where I need to go and don’t yet know I need to go there! Oh for a knowledge GPS!

Demons of Doubt

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The demons of doubt roam freely in the brain of creative people. They jeer and challenge until the writer is left in knots, tangled so tightly in their critique that it is all nonsense and stuff that goes poof like a dandelion in the hands of a toddler. Crippled, full of anxiety, second guessing every word, the writer stops- sometimes for a day, and sometimes for forever.

I keep demon slayers on my desk surface, swords drawn, ready to slash to a bloody death any doubt demon that wanders by. Some days, they fight a good fight and lose, exhausted and damaged by the warfare for my work. Other days, their sheer bravado takes the day and I write like my fingers are on fire, the words flowing faster than I can manage to type. Those are good days.

“Finish the work,” we tell new writers. “Turn off the editor in your brain until it’s finished,” we insist, knowing full well that without that control, the story demanding its freedom will be forever enslaved inside the tunnels of your neuron synapses. And yet, there are days… there are days… Fight well, my protectors, you are needed.

Fueling the Creativity Fire

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I unofficially type “THE END” in my mind as I finish the last page of my newest tale… and then I mope and grieve and say goodbye to the characters that have lived in my mind forever and are now gone.

They aren’t really gone. In front of me I face revisions, editing, more revisions, more editing, and then it’s off to the publisher for more editing and then… the magical cover reveal and release date. But the creative part for me ends with “the end” as I finish the story I meant to tell and I free the spirits I’ve held captive during this process.

In the days following, I don’t sit back down at my keyboard and start Chapter One. It’s refueling time. I read… tons and tons of things- all kinds of things. I visit the mall and sit in the food court. I make up stories about people I see outside my car window as I drive to the store. I watch foreign TV and I catch up on all the famous people gossip (who has a new show coming, who is singing with whom, and who was caught in NY last month and why). I watch those stupid Youtube videos with silly babies, cats, and dogs, and I search for new artists. And I read some more. I study a genre- not one I’m going to write in, but a new one so that I can figure out what makes that kind of story work and doesn’t. I carry around a notebook and make new character sketches and story plots. I answer email (and compose mental emails to those pesky spam emails). I fingerpaint with the two year old and make paper dolls with the six year old. I shop and shop and shop… and I’m in the kitchen, cooking and baking and making crafty type things.

I’m filling up- getting ready to write. To the outsider, it looks like procrastination. It may be procrastination, but it works for me. When I sit down to write again, it will pour out like an unstopped dam until the story is done and the vessel is empty. If I try to write before I’m full, I bang around on the keys, distracted and vexed.

Creativity needs to be fed something besides candy hearts and Hershey bars. It needs to feel, taste, and roll around in life. It needs to listen to new sounds, see new places, and touch new substances. It needs words and music and art until the brain is brimming and sloshing out from the overflow. So don’t be afraid to fill it up before you let it! It’s all part of the same process to me!

 

 

Marketing Books 101

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The topic of actually selling your books after you’re published came up at Writer’s Group last night and I shared my “vast, unsuccessful” strategies. They are the following:

  1. Be nice… No, really. My Grams used to say (just like yours did) “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” and while I know my readers aren’t flies (because I’ve never met a fly that could read as far as I could tell though that might explain their attraction to the paper I’m reading in the summer), it’s critical to remember that even those that hate you are human beings fighting their own battles that you know nothing of. Give them the grace you crave as another human being. You are your brand- not your publisher, editor, or writer friend… just you!
  2. Use Social Media. I’m still struggling to get this under control and while it was suggested that I pre-write and time things to post as specific times, I’d rather be a bit more real and sporadic. It’s a painful choice between writing and promotion. If I’m writing, I’m not marketing and if I’m marketing, I’m not… well, you know. Balance… ah, I fight for a sense of balance.
  3. Go where your readers are…. If only I knew where to go! Where are all those YA readers? Sometimes, I just need to go somewhere where people are even if they aren’t my people and be very nice to them! So you’ll find me at conventions that aren’t necessarily geared towards my readers, but I’m there, being real and happy and stepping outside my comfort zone.
  4. Be Professional. Treat everyone with respect and use those manners your Grams whacked into you? Your Grams didn’t chase you around the yard with a broom? Your loss! Mine taught me a lot about being respectful! And Thankful! I’m thankful for every reader, for every person who stops by a booth to talk to me, who takes my handouts happily, who friends me on Facebook and leaves thoughtful comments, and who leaves reviews after they read.
  5. Try new things. Experiment and learn. One friend leaves her bookmarks everywhere. I don’t think they’ve resulted in a single sale, but she’s trying! I’ve given writing workshops, given books away for reviews (which rarely happen), and I keep working on perfecting the craft of writing. I’ve paid for Facebook ads which has generated views (and no sales). I’ve entered local and international writing events (and still no sales). I blog and network and teach… no sales. But I have to keep trying to develop that base of readers who hound me for the next book (it’s in the works!).

So you read all this and just now realized that I have no magic answers (or sales)… yep, that’s right. No matter how well you write, there are no shortcuts that I’ve found that result in sales. But as Grams always said, “Get back in this house and finish your chores before I beat you,” or in other words, “I love you. Keep trying! Don’t give up! Finish what you started!”

Writer’s Group Doesn’t Hate You

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I see you sitting there, shoulders clenched tightly under your bulky coat, papers in front of you untouched, mouth tightened. I know you’re a hot mess underneath that fake calm you’re projecting to the group. Your thoughts are racing, the anger’s rising, and it’s taking all your self-control to stay in the hard metal chair while the urge to fly grows.

Here’s the thing you don’t understand. We’ve all been there- right there in that hard seat- feeling those same emotions- but we’ve returned and done it all over again. The real test is if there is a next time.

Can you hear me yet? We don’t hate you. We don’t even think that you’re a terrible writer. We think you’re brave for sharing it and braver still for sitting there as we take it apart and put it back together again. Some of your mistakes are classic newbie ones that you’ll learn quickly to avoid while others are complex and more of a teaching tool for the rest of the group.

It’s not about you at all in fact. The focus is on the work and how to make it the best work you can write- and in the end, when it’s over, it’ll be up to you to decide which changes to make or reject. Not all our suggestions are on target or meet the needs of your story.

I suspect that you’re used to people reading your work and telling you how great it is, but that’s not our role. We focus on the things that don’t work because we only have a limited time before it’s the next writer’s turn. You’ll know you’re good when silence falls over the group after your work is read. It will happen to you- if you’re still at the table.

Writing is a craft. Every writer who takes it seriously is on a journey. When we critique your writing at writer’s group, it’s to help teach you the craft, not to say your writing is terrible. Everyone’s writing is terrible- all the time- that’s why we rewrite, edit, polish, and beta read it. We are not there to be your cheerleader or friend. We are there to help your journey end in mastery. What we’re trying to teach you are the same mistakes we made until someone taught us. Sometimes, we still make those same mistakes until someone points them out to us. That’s why we go to writer’s group. Check your ego at the door and bring on the work. Your other choice is to listen to the primal need for flight and not return. Please return!

Paying Dues

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You occasionally see photos of authors at book signings with empty chairs and stacks of books no one is buying and before you publish, you’re a bit arrogant, and think, “That won’t be me. My book will sell itself.” Not true.

Part of garnering attention for it means sitting in an arts and crafts consignment shop on a cold rainy Saturday and waiting for nonexistent customers or going to a book signing at a bus stop that’s quit running. It means selling books to all your friends and family and inviting them to signings so the room is full. It requires marketing, more marketing, and yet more marketing, having faith that one day a small miracle will happen and your book will stand out.

As I explore the wonderful world of not selling books, I’m learning what didn’t work this time failed for a different reason than what didn’t work last time. It’s like collecting rejection slips and writing synopsis before you find a publisher- you’re paying dues.

Am I done trying things or thinking outside the box? Not at all. What I am doing now is looking for places where people gather and asking if I can share that space. I’ve banded together with other writers so there are lots of ideas. I’ve done some things that work but I’m open to suggestions. What works for you- on a shoe string budget?

Just Go Ahead and Alter Those My Little Ponies…

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The 2.5 year old and I bought a lot of MLP (My Little Ponies) at the Goodwill a month or two ago and she expressed no interest in them… until yesterday… AFTER I painted three black and started transforming them into Day of the Dead Ponies for the Fur Reality convention.

She looked and looked for her other little ponies and played non-stop with her remaining two. Really played- giving them separate voices, feeding them, combing their hair, sleeping with them, telling stories with them. Today I gave in and took her to the BIG Toy Store to get a new pony. We usually go to the small local store that has interesting toys, but this trip required the store with the backwards R because it has a huge selection. Noni was thrilled with our adventure. She found something that interested in nearly every aisle, flopping down on the floor to look at a box or read a book. It made toy shopping lengthy and I insisted that she stay focused and pick only one toy, and she continued to chose the box of three Tiny ponies wearing dresses.

In the backseat, all the way home, she talked to the ponies in the box and introduced them to her Big Pony. “This is your big sister. Momma’s at home.” And then, she said to me, “My ponies are very sad, NiNi.”

“Why?”

“Because they don’t have a daddy. Let’s go get a daddy pony.”

We didn’t, of course. I put out a call to an online garage sale group for MLP lots. We’ll see what happens…

And those in the process of being altered? Tip #1 Braid their hair BEFORE you start. Tip #2 Allow plenty of time for each layer of paint to dry before beginning the next layer. Good thing the convention is 9 days away!!! It may take me all of them to finish them! Tip #3 If you want the toddler to play with something, take it away and turn it into something else.

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