Archive for the 'the writing life' 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”.

 

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!

10
Mar
10

For the Love of Research

Yes. That’s a picture of me. Fencing. No. I’m not very good.

Almost every romance writer I know loves research. It doesn’t matter what genre they’re writing in or how long they’ve been at it; discovering a long-lost tome on Victorian etiquette or finding an early reference to the existence of werewolves can stall an entire week’s worth of writing time. After all, there’s no better way to avoid writing than to spend countless hours in the field shopping at bookstores or interviewing experts over a few martinis. After all, it’s research! It’s work! Don’t try to tell me otherwise, because I won’t listen!

I write historicals, so most of my research comes from books and online. Sure, I could line up a trip to England to see some of the sites for myself, but I haven’t been able to justify that one. Yet.

So when a friend asked if my husband and I would be interested in a fencing class, I literally jumped at the chance. Although none of my characters have fenced so far, it is an issue that comes into play from time to time, and I thought it would be a great way to immerse myself in some of the activities of my favorite eras.

Fast forward a few weeks, and you have me at the first lesson, knees bent at odd angles and creaking like old doors, my arm exhausted from holding a piddly three-pound sword straight ahead for a few minutes. Because here’s what those dandified, sword-wielding heroes dueling over a lady’s honor never let on: fencing is HARD. You are forced to maintain a rigid form at all times, all while parrying back and forth with a twelve-year-old boy boasting boundless energy and limber limbs. Add those dark masks, the heavy long-sleeved outfit, and a plastic breastplate of armor like this one, and it’s HOT, too.

Note: Only women have to wear the breastplate. Not, as it would seem, to actually protect the breasts, because the points don’t hurt at all. Really, it’s just so the men don’t hesitate to lunge at you with everything they’ve got. That’s my theory, anyway.

Of course, fencing is really fun, too. The ringing clang of the foils, the swift movement of the feet as you advance and retreat, and the gentlemanly salutes before and after each match transport you immediately to another time, when fencing wasn’t just an Olympic sport but a way to determine a man’s worth. Terms like right-of-way (you want it), disengage (it’s harder than it looks), and beat attacks (the only move I can actually do) are just as relevant now as they were two hundred years ago.

Although fencing as a modern sport isn’t quite the same as a first-blood match over a lady’s honor, it really does have a way of setting the tone. And I’m fairly certain my next novel will have at least one fencer in it; most likely someone doing it for the first time and sweating buckets, wondering how all those young, dashing blades make themselves look so darn graceful.

08
Mar
10

the middle of the book. oh, yeah.

I have a new release out this week, which is really awesome 🙂

It’s SHADOWGLASS, book 2 in my Shadowfae Chronicles series. Check the cover. Isn’t it preeetty? You can read a blurb and excerpt at my website.

I’m also 50K into my work-in-progress. About halfway.

Yeah. It’s that time again. Y’all know what I’m talking about. “Eww. This has got to be the worst book EVER. How did I ever believe this was a good idea? What was I thinking? Maybe I’ll just bin the whole thing and start again. Better still, bin the whole thing and DON’T start again. Ever. Because, you know. I suck.”

It’s not good for motivation. Every word I write seems dull or awkward or just plain stupid. My characters seem false and idiotic. The plot I’ve dumped them in seems like a tangled mess.

Of course, none of this is real. I’m just caught in that crazy netherworld called the Middle of the Book.

So I just keep writing. I say to myself, ‘Self, get a grip. This wasn’t a terrible idea when you outlined it two months ago. If it was a terrible idea, your editor wouldn’t have approved it. So it can’t possibly be a terrible idea now. And no, you haven’t forgotten how to write a sentence that sparks, and your vocab hasn’t mysteriously dissolved overnight.

You’re just lazy, self. Lazy and tired, true, but who’s ever not tired? So just stick to the outline — which is GOOD, by the way, same as it was two months ago, so don’t give me any rubbish about restructuring — just harden up and get on with it.”

Yep, I don’t get much sympathy around here 🙂

But it’s times like these when I’m especially glad that I outline my books. Without that to fall back on, digging through the Dreaded Middle would be even more difficult.

So, writers, tell me: how do you cope when you get the yips in the middle? Push on? Have a few days off? Think about another project for a while?

03
Mar
10

Always a Bridesmaid…

If you’ve been on the submission’s train long enough, you’ve probably developed the bridesmaid syndrome. You know what I mean – – the close, but not yet. If I were a Regency writer, I’d compare it to being the debutante who received tons of callers but went home without a marriage proposal at the end of the Season. There are days I feel like Jane in 27 Dresses — standing next to the altar, but never the main attraction.

I’ve queried three novels so far. All three of them have garnered requests for fulls from agents. Two of them have won contests. In other words, I know I’m doing something right. Then the rejection comes. Most of the rejections involve the line “not for NY”, but I’ve had a couple of recent ones pointing out my flaws. Sometimes you need someone to point out that you need to invest in some Spanx to get rid of the saddlebags if you wear tight dresses. The good news from all these rejections is that they usually end with an invite to send something else, which I understand is a “good thing”. But I’m still left alone at the reception in bad dress  sipping on a watermelon margarita.

Sometimes it’s easy to give up on Mr. Perfect and hook up with one of the groomsmen just to get it out of your system. It’s always a gamble. I’ve seen frustrated writers self-publish (through LuLu, for example), which I would compare hooking up with a lazy guy that makes you do all the work in the relationship, but sometimes you come out on top. Others sign up with vanity publishers (like Publish America or DellArte — STAY AWAY!), which is like getting involved with a mooch who takes your money and gives you nothing. Then there are others that publish with an e-pub or small press, which I would compare to going after the shy, quiet type. You won’t have the big bells and whistles in that relationship (say compared to a NY pub), but it can very satisfying, and you might just find a diamond hidden under the shy exterior.

My 2 most recent rejections were tempered by 2 requests, so I’m still out there on the agent hunt, but I’m definitely thinking e-pubs may be the way to go for now, at least with what I have out there. Of course, I’d first need to strike up a conversation with my editor to see if she’d be interested in my novels.

What are you thoughts about the “bridesmaid” situation? Have you been there? What keeps you motivated to keep sending queries out? Any success stories you’d like to share?

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!




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