Share, and Lighten, the Load

Share loadWhat do you get out of RWA?

That’s not a rhetorical question. What do you, personally, get out of RWA?

I have to assume something, otherwise you wouldn’t belong to your local chapter, wouldn’t come to the monthly meetings.

It could be you’re coming for the speakers, to learn and improve your craft.

Maybe you’re looking for critique partners, to take your writing to the next level.

Possibly, you’re networking. Building up that base of potential readers, reviewers, blurb-givers.

And for some of you, belonging to the organization could be just for the social aspect. And that’s fine.

Hopefully, each person who belongs to a local chapter is getting from it what they’re looking for. But what if the monthly meetings stopped happening? What if the chapter disappeared? Would you even care?

If the answer is yes, then it’s time to start thinking about helping your chapter survive, let alone thrive. Increasingly, in chapters across the country, both local and online, members aren’t stepping up to volunteer for board or committee positions. More and more of the work is falling on the shoulders of a few members who agree, over and over, for years and years, to serve.

Last year at this time I wrote a similar article which included the advantages to being on the board, and there are many. This year, I’m hitting a bit further below the belt. Because the problem persists from year to year.

If you think you have more important things to do than contribute, does that mean the people who are on the board don’t? We all have families, jobs, or other responsibilities that limit our time. We’re all striving to become successful writers. And we all want our local RWA chapter to continue to help us on that journey.

But it can’t if it’s not there.

This fall, when volunteers for the board are asked for, think about that. Think about what relatively small contribution you could make to assure that the organization, from which you’re receiving so much, continues.

Give back. The load is easier if we share it.

 

Replenishing the Well

well“Drink from the well, replenish the well.”

That’s a quote from The Walking Dead, Season 7, Episode 2. Yes, I’ve been binge-watching. And it’s a good thing, because I had absolutely no idea what to write about this month. I’d paused the episode a few minutes in, knowing I really needed to come up with a topic and get this thing written. As I sipped my coffee and stared blankly at the TV screen, searching my brain for random thoughts on writing, the episode name came into focus. “The Well.” Hot diggity damn!

As writers, we know our wells aren’t bottomless. We draw and draw from them while we’re writing. But then we need to replenish them, from whatever sources work the best for each of us.

I recently finished a book and am starting a new one. I’m in the brainstorming stage, which I love the most. But I was spinning my wheels on a few plot points, so I decided to take a little break and see if I could add to my creative reserves a bit.

I’ve been reading. A lot. I’m a slow reader, which irritates me because I’m afraid I have more books in my to-be-read piles than I have time left on this earth. (Not expecting to go anytime soon…I just have really big TBR piles.) But at the same time, reading slowly allows me to appreciate the turn of a phrase, a character’s development, the way other authors accomplish their craft. I learn from every book I read, whether they’re good or bad examples.

I’ve been doing research for the new book. This series takes place in a small town in Texas, and although I live in Texas, I don’t live there. So I go online to research ranches and hunting and a million other things. (I love research almost as much as brainstorming.) When I find pictures of where my story takes place, I download them, get lost in them, and they generate ideas. And often while researching something in particular, I run across other information I didn’t even know I needed or wanted. Into the well.

I’ve been spending time with writer friends. One in particular, whom I love to brainstorm with, happens to know someone who owns a hunting ranch in Texas that she visits frequently (to visit, not hunt). What are the odds? A random phone conversation with her about lunch plans turned into a wealth of information about the ranch property, which in turn started my brain to spark. And the best part— she has this amazing knack for waking up with ideas for her friends’ books. They may not be the route I’m planning to go, but each one fills the well a little bit more.

I’ve been watching TV. I’d severely rationed my boob tube usage while tweaking my last book, so I started catching up on a few shows. Like The Walking Dead. Granted, the dead bodies in my books don’t get up again. But understanding the TV characters’ motivation for what they do creates backstory “aha” moments that I drop into the well.

And sometimes I even get a blog idea from an episode title.

How do you replenish your well?

 

Techno Whiz Kid

CloudHow many times have we heard it? Backup your work. Make copies. Save it to the cloud. And we all do, right? I keep a Passport drive plugged into my computer that my security software backs up to every night. But having a completed book sitting on my hard drive made me think about going one step further.

I decided it was time to invest in actual cloud backup software. I started by doing what I always do. I Googled. I researched. I compared. Then I decided. I paid. I downloaded. Look at me. Sending my shit up to the cloud, where it will be safe and secure. I’ll never have to worry again.

This is a good backup software. Rated at the very top. Lots of bells and whistles and the ability to customize and all sorts of good stuff. I skimmed the instructions as best I could until my eyes glazed over. I set the schedule, marked the files to backup, and smiled that smug little smile I sometimes get when I accomplish something I didn’t know I could do. I am woman. Hear me roar.

This new software has a sync capability, like Dropbox. With the backup software on my laptop too (yes, I got the one with unlimited computers capability, even though I don’t have unlimited computers) I can take the latest, greatest, backed-up version of my book with me and work on it anywhere.

Side note: I write in Scrivener. My critique partner and I email each other scenes and chapters in Word. Sometimes, being my anal-retentive OCD self, I have a tendency to over-save copies of things. Just the weekend before doing the Great Back-up Software Purchase, I’d wasted a half day combining edited versions of chapters because I’d accidentally been working in the wrong one. So I spent the second half of that day doing the Great Copy Clean-up, deleting all the extra, unnecessary versions. Kicking a-r ocd’s butt to the curb. Booyah!

So, back to the sync capability. I dragged my Scrivener file, the one with the completely finished and almost completely edited book, from Dropbox to Sync. I opened it. And more than half of the book was gone. Holy crap! (Okay, that’s not what I said. But you get the picture.) Being the technological whiz kid that I am, I closed it again really quickly. You know, five second rule? And I dragged it back to Dropbox. Who doesn’t believe in do-overs? Still only half my book.

I ran to my laptop and opened Dropbox, because…techno whiz kid. (Yes, I do understand the concept of Dropbox. But a girl can dream, can’t she?) Still only half the book. I tried “recent versions” in Scrivener. No luck. I tried the Passport drive backup. Although good for a total restore, that thing’s a bitch when it comes to trying to find one single version of one single document. Still staving off tears, I called my critique partner. Luckily (for me, not so much her at the time) she’d had a similar issue last year. She helped me find my current Scrivener backup on my hard drive and restore it. Whew!

Once my blood pressure returned to normal, I Googled a bit more. Seems Scrivener doesn’t play well with some syncing software. That’s okay, it works in Dropbox. But just to be on the safe side, I’m reverting back to a semi-hoarder with my files.

Notes to self: Read all the instructions. Don’t over-delete. Wipe that smug smile off your face. After all, you’re no techno whiz kid.

 

Writing Kegels (and Wear Your Tighty Writies)

blog2Ever since I started learning the craft of writing, I’ve heard “write tight.” I thought I understood what it meant and I thought I did what it said. I’ve sold several short stories, so I’m used to writing, well, short. But I recently became aware that I still have a tendency to use more words than necessary.

My characters don’t just sit or stand. They sit down. And then they stand back up. They don’t just turn. They turn around, then turn back around. Anyone dizzy yet?

And don’t think that I forgot all the words that are really so unnecessary. Grammar/spellcheck does not always know best. If the sentence reads well without a word, cut it.

There are all those teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy redundant words that pound in the point we’re trying to make. For that matter, we don’t need to try to make a point by pounding it in. We simply pound in the point, or make the point.

Use contractions when possible. When my characters are talking in my head, they are often emphasizing words that, once on the page, read better as contractions.

Sometimes we need to tighten up bigger writing issues than words. Our sentences can be repetitive. We’re saying the same thing in multiple ways. We’re beating a dead horse. We’re still pounding in that damn point.

I’m currently more aware of currently because a writer friend is currently using it too much. It’s rarely necessary.

I catch a lot of these in my writing now that I’m aware of them. But it helps to keep a list, so when editing, I don’t miss any.

So, do those Kegels when you’re writing. And when you’re editing, wear those tighty writies.

 

Go Ahead and Judge Me

judgeNo one likes to be judged. It brings to light our faults and weaknesses. It exposes our innermost insecurities. But it can also make us be better. Better people. Better writers.

Entering a writing contest is intimidating. I mean, face it, you’re literally asking people to judge you. We write our words, we think maybe they’re good words, and we want positive reinforcement from someone else. Someone who isn’t a friend, living in fear of the screaming banshee we turn into when confronted with negative feedback. Someone who isn’t a relative, afraid of being cut from the will if they’re honest. So we send our words off to a contest, then spend the next several months alternating between hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

There are several good reasons to enter contests. I entered OCCRWA’s Orange Rose and HODRWA’s Molly for feedback. They were my first contests, and I wanted to see if I was on the right track with my book. I received praise, but also constructive criticism that helped me tighten my plot and strengthen my characters. The feedback didn’t leave me crowing from the rooftop, but I also wasn’t curled up in the fetal position in a corner. I’d gotten what I’d hoped for from both contests.

So imagine my shock when I finaled in both (as well as the Unsinkable Heroine award in the Molly), then went on to win first place in romantic suspense in both, and then the Orange Rose’s Charlotte for Best of the Best. Winning gave me self-confidence, something I often have to work hard on. It validated the fact that maybe my writing doesn’t suck like a Hoover. Although I hadn’t thought about it when I’d submitted my entry, I found that validation is an important reason for entering contests. When I’m banging my head on my desk, wondering why I ever thought I could write, I look at my beautiful Charlotte trophy and think, well shit, someone thinks I can write.

Then I decided to enter WHRWA’s Emily contest, this time to focus on the final judges who would read my work if I reached that stage. I did final, then won first place in romantic suspense, then the Emily Best of the Best. A lot of people will testify that I was, to say the least, stunned. Not only did I get great feedback from the first round, and affirmation from finaling, I also received full requests from the editor and agent final judges. All I’d hoped for, but much more than I’d expected.

All of this contributed to my decision to enter the Golden Heart. Go big or go home, right? Although it doesn’t provide feedback, it’s the ultimate contest for unpublished romance writers as far as affirmation and potential requests from editors and agents. I was lucky enough to be one of the happy-dancing, screaming-into-the-phone entrants who received that coveted “You’re a Finalist” call early one March morning. And I have found that the Golden Heart is unique in that it comes complete with a group of finalists who bond together in friendship and support, encouragement and advice. The National Conference in Denver will be a whirlwind of fun and excitement, culminating in the winners being announced at the big awards party. (Okay, that’s how it used to work…now we get a luncheon in the middle of Thursday instead of a formal event Saturday night, but you get the idea.)

As with every contest, I hope for the best, but am prepared for the worst. But the worst is far from bad this time. Because as my Golden Heart sisters will tell you, just finaling has already made us all winners.

 

I Fully Embrace My Suckitude

 

I recently read a guest post by Jenny Hansen on Christina Delay’s Cruising Writers Blog about how to keep writing when you feel like you suck. Her advice to allow yourself to suck while writing is priceless. Hansen basically says to stop letting fear of making mistakes prevent you from following your passion. Make those mistakes because they’re part of learning.

Hansen’s post includes a video by author Maureen Johnson, “Dare to Suck.” Johnson is hilarious, but delivers a very important message. No one can expect to be awesome at something the first time they try it. They have to suck at it first, then suck less, then become awesome. Johnson’s advice applies not only to first attempts at a completely new endeavor, but also to first drafts.

I happened to be struggling with a scene when I came upon Hansen’s post. After reading the blog and watching the video, I marched my butt back into my office, planted said butt in chair, and spewed forth more writing in two days than I had in the previous week. Why?

Because I fully embraced my suckitude. I stopped worrying about if it was good enough (I can rewrite it later) or if it would be finished soon enough (sucky progress is better than no progress) or any of the other what if’s that roll through writers’ minds when they’re supposed to be, uh, writing. By embracing my suckitude, I felt free to just write.

So stop worrying about your words being perfect the first time they hit the page. Stop telling yourself you can’t write because you suck. Dare yourself to suck. What have you got to lose?

The Only Thing Standing In My Way Is Me

stopsabI love to plot. Brainstorming a story problem gets me excited. I also love to edit. Tinkering and tweaking previously written words makes me happy. It’s the stuff that comes between brainstorming and tinkering that sometimes makes me want to tear out my hair and rend my garments. You know, the actual writing of all those words.

We can analyze the psychology of it all until the cows come home, but it basically boils down to this: self-doubt, leading to fears that paralyze my mind and fingers. And there are really only two big fears here. Ironically, they’re on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Fear of failure. What if I finish and it sucks. I’ll never be as good as I want to be. People will realize I’m a fraud, that I can’t really write. I’ll be criticized and ridiculed and will have to change my name and drift away from all my writing friends.

Fear of success. What if I finish and it doesn’t suck? What if someone actually wants to publish it? Then I’ll have to write another one, similar to this one because that’s what readers expect. And it has to be at least as good as this one or everyone will say that one sucks. I’ll have to deal with editors, agents, deadlines. I’ll have to learn about edits, covers, marketing. What if I make a wrong choice along the way? What if my long hours of writing become mandatory instead of voluntary? What if I lose the joy? The passion? What if I can’t keep doing it all? (See fear of failure, above.)

These two fears then lend themselves to a truly amazing array of self-sabotaging behaviors.

Procrastination. The baseboards suddenly need to be dusted. That box of twelve-year-old tax papers must be shredded now. The newsletter article I’ve been putting off has to be written before I work on my book!

Avoidance. I deserve to watch that Netflix show everyone’s been raving about but I haven’t seen yet because I’ve been so busy writing, poor pitiful me. I also deserve to spend more time reading books, lunching with friends, playing with my dog. I shouldn’t have to give up everything I love to do in order to write, should I?

Perfection Complex. I sit my butt in that chair, I put my hands on that keyboard, and I start writing. But the word I just typed isn’t quite right. There’s a better one, but I can’t think of it. So I pull up Google on my other screen and do a quick synonym search to find the perfect word.

A couple paragraphs later, I’m not sure which imaginary river should flow into the imaginary lake in my story. I made up the lake, for God’s sake. I should be able to make up the river, right? But what if that state has no rivers that flow into natural lakes? I don’t have a dam on my lake. Should I? Back to Google, for never-ending research.

As writers, we all know that what we write will never be perfect. But that doesn’t stop some of us from striving for it. It’s not just in our writing – it applies to other areas of our lives. Again, I won’t get into all the psychological mumbo jumbo of it, but it’s a thing. Unfortunately, when we inevitably fall short, we beat ourselves up, call ourselves failures and say “I can’t do this.”

And…we’ve come full circle. Fear of not being perfect. Fear of failure.

I’ve come up with a few creative ways to deal with these self-sabotaging behaviors. I reward myself with a show or a book when I meet writing goals. I throw my dog’s ball close to the wall when we’re playing fetch, and she dusts the baseboards as she slides by. And instead of Googling as I write, I type one particular word in caps when I get stuck. Later, when I get to do the fun editing stuff, I do a search for that word and Google to my heart’s content.

I know in my heart that I can accomplish any goal I set for myself. I just need to get out of my own way.