Archive for the 'craft' Category

24
Jul
10

A Woman Who Lived Her Time Well…

I went to a memorial service for a lovely neighbour recently, let’s call her R.M.  At the age of 25 she’d been diagnosed with a rare and disfiguring illness, and told that not only would her lifespan be very limited, but she would probably spend most of it in a wheelchair, and in a nursing home. We watched a slide show of her life, starting with the pretty little blonde girl with a big smile through to the beautiful and stylish young woman. Then we saw her with her husband and three delightful children…and as time progressed we began to see the terrible toll the illness took on her.

But only on her looks. R.M.’s spirit never flagged. She moved with her husband and young family to Canada at 35, leaving behind her support system of family & medical advisors to start a new life in a new land. She insisted on an active hand in her own treatment, because the disease was very rare and she was willing to do research and keep her ‘medical team’ informed of new developments. She worked full time, quilted, sewed, embroidered, travelled, raised her children, enjoyed her grandchildren, and got to cuddle her great-grandchildren. And she could be counted on to turn up at church and community events, and fundraisers when her neighbours needed help. Her song and dance and comedy routines were highlights of community concerts. And she remained close and loving with her husband to celebrate more than a half century of marriage.

Now, often when someone is gifted with beauty and then faced with its loss due to injury or disease, the response is to try to hide away. Not R.M. She was a beautiful woman, yet over the years her disease took its toll on her looks, with mouth cancer adding to her disfigurement. But you didn’t notice her looks, because she was so very much…well, she was so very there.

And when the disease fianlly took its toll – many years after her predicted demise – the whole community turned out for her memorial service, and it was a pretty colourful event because R.M. had insisted that no black be worn for her. We were all to celebrate her life by wearing bright colours. She wanted to be remembered with smiles and joy. Over and over again, we heard the words courageous, brave, joyful…but the phrase that stuck in my mind was “A woman who lived her time well.”

I’m glad you’ve stayed with me this long, because you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with writing romance. Well, here’s what I learned from R.M.: She discovered early in life that she had talents that brought joy to other people: dance, music, acting, comedy. She organised and took part in theatre, and even appeared on television. An extremely shy woman by nature, she took joy from the pleasure her talents brought other people, and so she put herself out there despite her illness and pain.

Now, as writers we complain bitterly about the need for promotion. I’m among the naturally shy and absolutely hate appearing for book signings or even discussing my work. And I’m now a bit ashamed of that attitude because, as R.M. taught me, surely if you have a talent that brings pleasure to other people you should get out there and demonstrate it? When you think about it in that light, ‘promotion’ takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes both an adventure and a gift that we use to offer our work for others to enjoy.

So thank you. R.M., and may we all become people “…who live our time well”.

 

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27
Jun
10

Dreams Are Not Enough…

As writers, we’re dreamers – and I don’t just mean about characters and plot lines.
No, we also fantasize about our careers, about signing books surrounded by
adoring fans, of watching our titles fly up the NY Times bestseller list, of being invited to chat with Oprah, of writing non-fiction that catapults us onto the speech circuit as An Authority.
And then we daydream about what we’ll do with all those millions or how we’ll parlay our growing knowledge into something that will help change people’s lives…. Yes, there are probably as many dreams as there are writers. About the life we’ll lead as Famous Writers whose books are Bestsellers.
But here’s the hard truth: these dreams have little to do with your success as a writer – unless you act on them.
To be successful you need talent, yes, and a commitment to your work. You need to use that talent to turn those dreams into something approximating reality.
The simple truth is that first and foremost, a writer writes. It’s that simple. The complicated bit comes in knowing what you should be writing and in planning for your success. Don’t give up the dreams, just temper them with a little feet-on-the-ground common sense.
Find a way to turn them into goals. Plan your writing career as you would any other endeavour that’s important to you. Dream big, for sure, but keep one eye firmly fixed on your own reality.
But whatever your writing ambitions, you need a plan. Consider these points:

1) A dream is not a goal – recognise the difference between your writerly dreams, and what would really satisfy you. Ask yourself why you write – would you be surprised to find that the answer isn’t necessarily ‘to get rich’ or ‘to be famous’?
2) Despite what you may have been told about writing every day, there are lots of successful writers who hold down full time jobs and squeeze in their writing at weekends. Their secret? They plan their work and work the plan.
3) A dose of reality – if you’ve considered #1 above, you know where your ‘success satisfaction’ lies – now find out what sort of writing would take you there.
4) Writing is hard, lonely work. Why are you doing this to yourself? What can you do to ensure your precious writing time is your own without becoming a hermit? Consider setting up a ‘support network’ of other writers (the Internet is a great resource for this!) These are other writers who share triumphs and setbacks and encourage each other – but who understand that the writing comes first.
5) Whittle away the fat: identify your writing goals. Having a road map for your writing career will help prevent you from going off at tangents that steal time, energy & creativity and prevent you from reaching your writerly destination.
6) Knowing what you want to achieve and drawing up a plan gives you an overview. This overview allows you to draw up the actions you need to take. These can be broken down even further into ‘Baby Steps’ which let you utilise even small segments of spare time to take your ambitions a little further ahead.
7) Setting up your goal calendar which outlines the tiny steps forward and shows where the giant leaps and bounds can happen.…
8) So many different types of writing work – novels, articles, copywriting, teaching, editing, speechwriting, speaking….oh my! Keeping an open mind about opportunities and where they might lead you will help you pick the best writing and promotional opportunities for your career.
9) Career planning 101: now that you know where you’re going don’t forget to pencil in some time to evaluate each stage to make sure you’re on track – or check to see if you need to change direction…
10) Learn to cope with distractions, to be decisive in handling the everyday crisis and not to let the little things become big time stealers. You need to keep all those plates spinning at once – family, friends, day job, health, etc. – and still write. Believe me, cars and appliances break down, kids need you to volunteer at school, relatives need care, big projects will come up at work…all these things will continue to happen whether you’re writing or not. You might well be calmer and more cheerful about dealing with them if you’ve been able to do your writing quota! There are many resources with tips for writing & coping with living – search the internet for Book-In-A-Week, BIAW, Flylady, Charlotte Dillon’s site,
and any more you can come up with for tips, tricks and support.

Glenys O’Connell knows what it’s like to keep on writing through the Everyday Real Life crises and the Knock Your Sox Off type of crises, too. Along with teaching creative writing, she’s led courses in Achieving Your Goals which have helped not only writers, but people with dreams of starting a business, retiring early, or changing their lifestyle. Check out her website at http://www.glenysoconnell.com where from time to time she adds articles about writing and free courses for writers.

29
Mar
10

The Secret Formula for Writing Success

I teach a creative writing course called ‘Naked Writing – the No Frills Way to Write Your Novel’.
Okay, have you stopped chortling yet?
The name seemed a good idea at the time, trying to get over the idea that this was simply a course designed to help writers finish their own book – there’d be no analyzing the classics, here, just plain old hard work. I suggested that students put ‘Naked Writing’ in the sub line of their emails to help me quickly pick them out of the inbox.
A simple idea, you might think. But no. I got complaints from some students that their servers spotted the word ‘naked’ and automatically thought ‘spam’ and refused to send the email.
Oh, yes, censorship may well be alive and well and living in cyberland….as a reaction to THOSE kind of spam messages. You know the ones that are usually accompanied by pictures of body parts you’d rather not see on strangers unless you’d specifically asked to, right?
Of course, for writers, everything is grist to the writing mill and when I thought about it….sometimes we can be a little like that – so determined to ‘do it right’ that we lack the flexibility to see and explore the worth of new ideas and opportunities. So often I’ve heard people talk about ‘the formula’ for writing a novel, a biography, a text book, a romance, a best seller…..as if there is some secret recipe that will guarantee writing success. There is a sort of one, actually – but not the one that these people are looking for.
In fact, it seems to me that there are several secrets to being successful as a writer and getting published.
 1) Believe in yourself and don’t give up. Writing can be disheartening at times – you sacrifice time you could be doing other things in order to write. And it’s hard, and sometimes it seems there are only rejections and you think maybe it will never get better.
2) Write the book of your heart, let your passion for the story shine through. Forget the idea of a ‘formula’ and write the book you’d want to read, the book that tells a story that you need to tell.
3) Realize that a good writer is in a constant state of ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’ – writers should always be honing their craft, learning and growing, so they are constantly becoming a better writer rather than merely being a good writer
4) Be prepared to put yourself out there. I think there are probably many wonderful books that their creators have consigned to a box under the bed for fear of rejection, or fear or what other people might say or think. You have to believe in yourself and in the story you want to tell.
What someone else thinks – be it a relative, a friend, your boss, an agent, publisher, editor – or even your creative writing teacher – counts only so far as you can see a way to use their comments to make the book better in your own eyes.
5) Do the work.This is the biggy. No-one ever became a successful writer by talking about the book they’re ‘gonna write someday’. Get the words on paper, learn to edit and polish, send your work out and learn from the critiques you receive from editors and agents. Then, when you’re published, be prepared to promote, promote, promote….no matter how difficult you find this, or how shy you might be.
Like I’ll be doing when I’m standing all alone in Chapters, hoping that some compassionate souls will stop and chat about my book, about writing, about the weather – anything so that I won’t feel like a fool standing there with my pile of novels waiting to be bought and signed, and a silly grin on my face.
Maybe you can add some thoughts of your own to what makes a successful book?

Glenys O’Connell’s next novel, a romantic comedy entitled Marrying Money, will be released as an ebook by Red Rose Publishing (www.redrosepublishing.com) on April 8th!

22
Feb
10

There’s Always One….

Marrying Money

Latest Romantic Comedy from Glenys O'Connell

There’s always one…. A politician I know once said there’s always one difficult heckler in a crowd. A teacher friend claims there’s always one disruptive kid in the class. And now I wonder if every writer has one problem manuscript, too….

It’s the one that somehow never seems to be quite right, somehow. You know it has promise and can’t bring yourself to dump it, but no amount of rewriting, cutting, pasting, and analyzing seems to make it fit to land smiling hopefully on an editor’s desk. I have one – it’s a cozy detective mystery and it’s driving me crazy. Other books have been written and published, their glitches ironed out and plot points smoothed.

 But this book – I can’t even get the title right – it lurks deep in whatever the computer equivalent is of the bottom desk drawer, sulking but never quite forgotten. I’ve rewritten the beginning three times; the ending at least as many times. I’ve tried different time scales, played around with the love interest and the events outline. I’ve asked editors and writers I respect to read it and acted on their recommendations. Still it remains impervious to all my tweaking.

There’s so much I like about this book – and so much I’d rather forget….yet I simply cannot consign it to the compost heap. Now I’m dusting it off for one final time – I have an idea that may solve its problems. Now I can almost hear my Internal Editor sniggering about how many times I’ve said that before for this manuscript. Maybe, just maybe, I have to accept the fact that nothing can be done to save this book. Maybe there’s always one……

On the bright side, my romantic comedy/chicklit mystery Marrying Money: Lady Diana’s Story is coming out in March from the Red Rose Publishing. It’s the first of a two-book series. The second is called Common Wealth: Sally’s Story.

What do you think? Do you have a ‘troubled child manuscript’ that won’t allow itself to be polished and finished? Have you found a solution? Love to hear from you!

13
Jan
10

Drawing Book Characters from Real Life

I’ve recently discovered that it’s a fairly common practice all across the romance interwebs to align certain characters with their celebrity counterparts. Some writers draw on pictures for inspiration, while others go so far as to study the mannerisms of their favorite actors, actresses, or the parts these professionals play. Although I’ve never done it myself, it seems like a really good way to create believable characters; whether you’re trying to emulate Hugh Grant’s bumbling speech or the way Jason Statham can blow stuff up without even batting an eye, it allows writers to infuse a real human element into a book.

The reason I don’t do it is that it never really occurred to me to give it a try. When I read (and when I write), I rarely create a solid vision of what the characters look like. Like they exist in a dream, my characters are fuzzy impressions in my mind, faceless beings whose souls I know intimately, but whose bodies could belong to just about anyone. In all honesty, I think I do this because I live in an age when half of the books I read are turned into movie adaptations, and keeping my impressions intangible allows me to enjoy the movie versions, since I’m open to what the directors interpret for the characters without ruining my own internal vision of the book.

I will confess, though, that I did once run into a real life version of one of my heroes. It just about floored me, too, because my hero is not…ordinary. Or rather, he is ordinary (for the romance genre), in that he’s over six feet tall, muscular as hell, and gorgeous. You know, the alpha combination that doesn’t usually exist in real life, but that we love to oogle on the book covers all the same. To top it all off, my hero is of mixed Pacific Islander and Japanese descent with a kick-ass tattoo across his back. And I kid you not: I saw this exact man walking across a parking lot one day. Shirtless. (Hey, it was summer and we were at a theme park.) I almost wanted to take a picture of him, if only to prove that a man like that really could exist!

Anyway, because I’ve spent most of my life NOT assigning physical counterparts to the characters I encounter in fiction, I’m not likely to start any time soon. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the fact that other writers do it. It’s fun to discover just who an author had in mind when they created so-and-so, and to see how that image differs from one I might have. It adds another layer of complexity to a book, and I’m always game for that.

11
Jan
10

Truth is, it just doesn’t matter why you can’t

Okay, so the holidays are over. Now what?

Back to writing, that’s what. Now the visiting and eating and lazing around in front of the cricket are done, gotta get back to work.

But it’s hard. My brain gets accustomed to not being used 🙂 and the little bugger likes it. My usual word goal is 2,000 per day, and I’m struggling to make it. And I should be excited, because I’m starting a brand new manuscript, the fourth book in my Shadowfae series. It’s got an interesting heroine, a self-tortured hero, cool bad guys, a vengeful demon subplot and loads of hot sex.

So why do I feel like watching tv? Or going shopping? Or to the beach? Or milling about in the garden, or walking the dog, or doing anything except sitting in front of my computer and pumping those words out?

I could sit here and analyse. Maybe I’m ‘blocked’, whatever that means. Or I’m tired, sick, over-stressed, hormonal, headachy, need a break, got too much on my mind. Whatever. Boo hoo.

Truth is, it doesn’t matter a damn what my problem is. No amount of navel-gazing will get those words on the page. I’m a writer. I have deadlines. I must write. End of story.

And I need to have faith that my mojo, muse, inspiration, fun factor, writing juice will come back. Just because I’m having a rough few days doesn’t mean I’ll never write well again, or that the story’s broken, or my vocab’s somehow dried up.

I’ve done this before. I can do it again. So I only made 700 words today. So what? It’s better than none. Which is how many I’d have if I gave up and went to the beach.

My point? There’s no value in being hard on yourself when things aren’t going well. Don’t stop. Don’t give up. Persist. Scale your daily goals back if you have to — because goals are there to make you feel good when you achieve them.

Not to make you feel bad when you don’t.

So, yeah. I made 700 words today. Good for me. That’s 700 words closer to the end of this manuscript.

And if I don’t go to the beach tomorrow — if I show up at my computer at 8 am like a good little writer — I’ll make more.

So what do you do when things aren’t going well with your writing? Any coping strategies? I like to break the writing session up into little chunks, and give myself a small reward after each. Does this work for you? What other tips can you share for getting yourself out of a slump?

30
Nov
09

We’re all going to the same place

Everyone’s writing process is different. We have plotters and pantsers and into-the-misters, brainstormers and hang-around-waiting-for-the-muse-to-strikers, technicians and I-dreamed-the-ending-ers, disciplinarians and my-characters-talk-to-me-ers. And no one can (or should!) force their method on any one else — if it works for you, then it works for you.

But look at any published romance book, and you’ll see (I hope!) that a finished romance manuscript has structure. It has character arcs and turning points and goal-motivation-conflicts. It has acts, black moments, crises and climaxes (yeah, those too!). And if it’s a well-written book, you won’t be able to tell which methods the author used.

My point being: some of us take the train, some fly, some walk around in circles — but we’re all getting to the same place.

The other day at my local romance writing group, I was chatting with a writer who was a self-identified pantser. ‘I just get an idea and start writing,’ she said.

Those of you who know me will understand that the very thought of doing this breaks me out in hives 🙂

I shuddered, and thrust my latest outlining notebook in her face — I routinely fill up a 120-pager with handwritten notes before I even start typing the outline, let alone the manuscript — and stammered, ‘But… but… but what about character arcs, and conflicts, and GMCs, and… y’know, the story!!’

She shrugged, and said, ‘Oh, I just fix that when I’m finished.’

After further discussion, we ascertained that we’re actually doing the very same things when we structure a book — I just do it before I begin, while she does it by playing with a completed first draft.

So yeah, everyone’s process is different — but we all go through the same steps, somehow. And I’m a firm believer that no matter what method you choose, or when you choose to do them, there are some structuring steps that just can’t be left out. Eventually, you have to analyse your character arcs/GMCs and romantic turning points, whatever you like to call them, to make sure the romance is realistic and means something to the characters. You have to make sure something is happening in every scene. You have to pay attention to where the manuscript begins, and so forth.

I’m cooking up a brand new book from scratch as we speak, so in true Erica style, I’m up to my neck in spiral-bound notebooks and system cards. Good old outlining. I’ll drop by next week and let you know how it’s going.




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