Excellent advice as always.
To prologue or not to prologue? That is the question. The problem with the prologue is it has kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, especially with agents. They generally hate them. Why? In my opinion, it is because far too many writers don’t use prologues properly and that, in itself, has created its own problem.
Because of the steady misuse of prologues, most readers skip them. Thus, the question of whether or not the prologue is even considered the beginning of your novel can become a gray area if the reader just thumbs pages until she sees Chapter One.
So without further ado…
The 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues
Sin #1 If your prologue is really just a vehicle for massive information dump…
This is one of the reasons I recommend writing detailed backgrounds of all main characters before we begin (especially when we are new writers)…
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Back in March, I was stuck. I wanted to write, or so I told myself and anyone else who would listen, but I routinely bypassed my writing desk. I wanted to lose weight, and yet, I sat in front of the television with a bowl of ice cream nearly every night. Stuck in a job and feeling powerless, I watched my self-esteem shrink as my clothes grew.
And then I lost my job.
This is the part where you’re thinking that the bowls of ice cream get bigger, right? Surprisingly, no. Awash in a sea of confusion with what to do with so much free time, I realized that, when my job went, so did all of my excuses. I could write or I could talk about writing. I could lose weight or I could eat ice cream and wonder why I was over weight. Rather than feeling stuck and overwhelmed in my job, I was now overwhelmed with more than a little fear. Fear that my writing wouldn’t be good enough or that, no matter how hard I tried, I would fail to lose weight or get published.
Like many people stuck in a wrong career choice, I made the best of it, but once the job was gone, the noose around my neck squeezing the creativity and the hope out of me loosened. Over the years, I have survived several bouts of unemployment, and I knew (prayed) this was temporary. The luxury of what, for the moment, seemed like an infinite degree of free time, the opportunity to dive head first into my writing projects, might never come again. True to the neurotic writer stereotype, I tangoed with a fair amount of guilt for being…well…happy that I had some time to write. While being unemployed wasn’t necessarily new for me, something about this period of unemployment seemed different. Like a lost opportunity regained. A lost love rediscovered. If I wanted to write, really write, it seemed like it was now or never.
So, I made the most of it. I got up at 6:00 a.m. each morning, readied myself for the day, kissed my husband as if it were any other work day and walked down the hall to my writing desk. I worked from 7:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., learning my way around social media sites, setting up a website, blogging, researching and writing.
Losing weight was a little easier and more straight forward than writing. I downloaded an app to my phone called Lose-It and tracked my calories and exercise. I started going to the gym two to three times per week. If you’ve read my other blogs, you know that I’m a fan of spinning. Dragging myself out of bed to get to spinning classes was a challenge.
But it was all worth it. In ten weeks, I lost 20 pounds.
In eight short weeks, I wrote and published two ebooks, Why Can’t Dad Swallow, a guide for caregivers of the elderly and Dangerous Women (free), a book of poetry. My novel, Dreamwalker is about 30% completed. Prior to this, I hadn’t written or published anything since I published Call Me, an erotica romance, in 2010.
During this time, employers started knocking on my door again. I’ve worked more at my “real job” in the last seven weeks than I did before I lost my job. I won’t lie. Once I started working at my day job again, I gained a pound and had to backtrack to lose it. My writing took a hit, too. Work sucks my creative energy, but I don’t have to let that noose tighten around my neck again.
As much as I’d like to believe I can do it all, thinking along those lines leads to a vat of Breyer’s Lactose Free Vanilla ice cream swimming in a sea of Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Syrup, topped with crushed almonds, smothered in whipped cream and Six Feet Under marathons. But that’s not what I’m hungry for these days. Give me a fresh blog post, a quirky character trait for my protagonist or a few hundred new words each day on my project and I’m in my element.
I can’t do it all. But trading 20 pounds for 50,000 words is a pretty sweet start.
You can find my books on Amazon and Smashwords:
Sitting on my spinning bike this morning, listening to the instructor belt out advice on how to “get to the top” of the metaphorical hill, it struck me how much exercise and writing have in common.
As my face grew hot and sweat trickled into my eyes, I fought to stay where I was, to not bag it and head to the shower. That nagging little voice that tries to protect me from failure (but ultimately protects me from success) made the ride hard for the better part of twenty minutes. Somewhere near the top of the “hill” I saw what was happening, how warped my thinking is about my power to live in a better body and be a successful writer.
In that moment of complete clarity, I placed my D’s (distractions, drama, difficult people) in my review mirror and told them to eat my figurative “dust.” I replaced my old recorded message with a new one: All I have to do is stay on the bike for an hour. I can do anything for an hour. As I powered up my legs, and pushed to the finish, I pictured the problems and people shrinking behind me in that cloud of dust. On the other side of the hill, I could see a slimmer, toned, and more vital future me; a me that was sitting at a table stacked high with my latest best seller.
Forty minutes later, I climbed off the bike, exhilarated. I stayed on the bike for an hour! Characters for a novel that I have kicked around but seem to not be able to pin down began to materialize. I often get my best ideas in the garden, the shower or at the gym. The problem is that I often leave them where I found them. I moved to the weight machines and lifted, working hard to tone my muscles, layered as they are under excess winter fat. As I lifted, I thought about the flexibility and strength of writing muscles and what we layer over them.
Becoming overweight is not an accident. We turn our frustrations or lack of energy into powerlessness and give up. We stop eating right and exercising. We replace our vision of ourselves with that of a powerless, undeserving person. As the pounds pile up, our reflection in the mirror seems to confirm our worst opinion of ourselves. We do the same thing with our writing. We don’t write because we fear we are not good enough to publish, or because our day jobs make us tired, our kids, pets and television need us more than we need to write. We buy into the notion that it’s just too hard to publish; that we will never achieve recognition or success or be great writers. Pretty soon, our writing muscles are flabby and buried under layers of negative self-talk, insecurity and detachment. Our writing image reflects exactly what we put into it. The hope of having a successful writing career is often dashed by an industry that tells us we have little to no chance of ever being successful, and even if we are, we can’t give up our days jobs if we want to survive financially.
I say piffle to that idea! I refuse to believe that writers are powerless because the writing “hill” is too challenging to navigate. We have power. We just don’t always recognize or own our power. Amanda Hocking is a prime example of an unknown writer who became highly successful on her own through self-publishing thanks to visionaries like Smashwords founder, Mark Coker. Coker created a platform (www.Smashwords.com) on which writers can build their careers through self-publishing one book at a time. According to Wikipedia, Hocking worked a day job and wrote 17 novels in her spare time. She averaged selling 9000 copies of her self-published e-books per day in 2011, earning $2,000,000 without the help of an agent or a traditional publisher. The industry came calling after she became successful.
The publishing industry doesn’t have a crystal ball or a magic formula for which writers will or won’t succeed. I may never wear a bikini, but that’s not why I spin or choose to eat in healthy way. I do it because I owe it to myself to live an authentic life in a healthy body. I write because writing is integral to who I am as a person. Amanda Hocking clearly didn’t buy into the “never-going-to-be-a-success” idea either. She owned her writing power and created her own opportunity for success by doing something that is within any writer’s power to do. She stayed in the chair. And we can do it, too. Power up our writing legs and stay in the chair. Even if it’s just for one hour. We can do anything for an hour. We can leave negativity, our sense of powerlessness and the notion that success is an élite club for a select few in our review mirrors, eating our collective dust.
“No one can take away your good.” Les Brown. Mr. Brown, I’m going to bury my “but.” Thank you!
When I was three years old, I had a temper tantrum. I can just hear the “big deal” forming in your brain as you yawn and start looking for something more interesting to read. Stick with me. I do have a point.
The upshot of this tantrum is that, at three years of age, I knew with every fiber of my tiny being that I wanted to write stories. Now! And I wanted to write them in cursive. Sure, I was precocious, but fully articulated stories with a beginning, middle and end written in cursive? Well, that would be genius territory.
I stood on tip-toe to reach the drawer that housed the pencils and paper, and when I couldn’t reach the drawer handle, I dragged a chair over, climbed up and pulled every pencil from the drawer and all the tablets I could hold. Parked on the kitchen floor, sitting in a circle of pencils and paper, I scribbled for the better part of half an hour, shrieking when it didn’t make sense. I rolled on the floor crying and pleading with my mother to tell me the secret that would make me a writer. She tried to get me to form letters with crayons, patiently explaining that I needed to learn the alphabet first. I threw the crayons across the room, screaming, “That’s for babies!” Exhausted with my refusal to listen or play with other toys, she finally gave up and left me to howl out my frustration until I fell asleep, my face plastered to a tear-soaked tablet, the pencil clutched hard in my hand.
Years later, the details of this memory are less vivid, but that white-hot burning desire to write is just as intense. That urgent voice telling me to write was drowned out for while, lost in the din of naysayers that seemed to surround me; a husband who wanted me to earn as much money as possible before I die. Friends who were probably worried that I wasn’t good enough, discouraged me when I said I wanted to be a writer. The message was the same from person-to-person. “You’ll spend your whole life broke and hungry.”
I ignored what I knew in my gut. I listened and added the weight of their fear about “never making it” to mine. I earned a master’s degree in a field that offered me a “secure, well-paying job” instead of pursuing the one thing in this life that has made me the happiest: A writing career. People were very impressed. I was miserable. After 17 years in that secure, well-paying job, I hit a fork in the road and had to choose ethics or employment. I chose ethics.
Rather than seeing myself as unemployed, I decided to see this as my second chance to do what I should have been doing all along. And then the voices started again. This time, not from well-meaning friends or relatives, but from the last place I expected: Other writers. Starting a new career, learning the plethora of rules of publishing, the guidelines, finding platforms and learning to market my work, not to mention mastering the learning curve that comes with self-publishing, is enough to freeze any newbie in her tracks. It seems that everywhere I turn, there is some blog, podcast or article telling me to stop writing and give it up before I even get started. We all know the drill. We are but grains of rice in the vast publishing (and self-publishing) paddy.
Traditional publishing may be loosening its iron-fisted grip on the industry with the advent of self-publishing, but the attitudes are pretty much the same. People who should know better, who are fighting or have fought the same battle to be published as we new writers spend a great deal of energy discouraging us. They not only make us feel small, but encourage us to think small as well.
What coach ever takes his team out to the field and proceeds to tell them all the ways they are going to fail? How many games have you watched where the players stand around commiserating about the impossibility of winning before they start to play? Coaches understand that the players mental state is as important as his or her level of skill. That’s why they have cheerleaders.
As a hungry new writer, I listen to dozens of podcasts, looking for advice, encouragement and guidance. It is surprising at how many podcast hosts or guests promote a “writing show” or offer “writing advice” but proceed to talk negatively about writing as a career. The real purpose of these podcasts, it seems, is to promote the host/author’s book. One author, when asked what advice he had for new writers, stated, “Don’t do it. There are too many of us as it is.”
Using the podcast to promote a book is fine, but luring aspiring writers under the guise of offering useful information, and then discouraging them from pursuing a writing career is pure exploitation. If a book is good, I’ll buy it. If the podcast is helpful, I may even buy it whether it’s good or not. Asking me to buy the book but to give up on writing because of the many pitfalls involved is a questionable marketing tool. I won’t be motivated to write or buy the author’s book. I will probably be searching for the Xanax instead.
Though legitimate, high quality writing podcasts can fire me up to write, I don’t really need to look outside for inspiration or motivation. I’ve always had it, even as a three-year old girl who knew exactly what she wanted to do: get her stories on paper in a way that made sense. This is the secret to being a successful writer; listening to your heart, writing from that place, and putting the words on the paper in a way that makes sense.