I heard the phrase “killing your writing babies” when I first started and didn’t really get what it meant until I went to my first critique group meeting. I had only written one chapter on my first ever novel and as you can imagine I was a bit taken aback at all of the comments, feedback and markings all over the page. Yes, that’s back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and we still critiqued on paper…lol! Now we do it all online, but that was back in 2003 when we first started – you know, back there before the first electric light and all of that 🙂 Anyway – I digress. There were a few sentences that I thought were particularly well written and I liked the sound of them. I knew they were grammatically correct but I just really liked how they sounded and was quite proud of how I’d written them. Very “writerly”, if you get my drift. Yes, you can see where this is going. Every single one of my new critique partners pointed out those few sentences as way too flowery and not really saying what I was trying to say. In other words, I wasn’t stating plainly what I was trying to say – I was going for flowery writing and losing the reader. Yes, it was hard to hear, but wow, am I glad they all told me, and that that lesson has stuck with me all these years later. If you read my writing now I’m pretty sure I’m fairly straightforward and that you won’t find a lot of flowery. I’ve been told my books are a pretty fast paced read – not just for the action (or sex, depending on the book…snicker) but for the writing style. And some people are confused at why I’m happy to hear that feedback. It’s mainly because after I received that feedback I started paying attention to what I was reading. I figured out which authors I read wrote flowery and which wrote more straightforwardly. And I realized the books in the latter category were the ones I usually couldn’t put down. Granted, they also needed to have wonderful, complex and engaging characters as well as a well developed and believable plot, but I took the lesson and ran with it. So one of my pieces of advice for new writers is to not fall in love with your ‘babies’. That could be a particular sentence, a way of describing things, a particular phrase you like to say (or write), a plot point, a certain setting or scene etc. Sometimes those things won’t work within the story, or will NOT make it a better story or a better read. And as an author, your job (and hopefully your goal) is to give readers the best book you possibly can which hopefully means they will fall in love with your characters and your stories enough so they want to read not only everything you’ve written but re-read what they already have read. Our stories give readers not only an escape, but stress relief, a mini vacation, keeps their minds alert and a whole host of other things. So, as I heard one author tell a particularly stubborn newbie – “Put on your big girl panties, stop whining about what you THINK the readers SHOULD want, and go write a damn good book that your readers will love! That’s your job so get to it!” 🙂 I’ve always remembered that, and every time I get discouraged I remind myself to “put on my big girl panties and get to it!” And on that note, I’m off to get back to writing and kill off any “babies” I find that aren’t adding to my story. Off to be ruthless! 🙂
Well, I should say what I USUALLY do. I’ve been fighting with a scene for the past month and just realized I should’ve taken my own good advice long ago! I’ve rewritten the thing a gazillion times and it just won’t work. It feels forced and aimless even though I’ve given the characters plenty of good motivation for doing what I need them to do…
Anyway – at least once in 80% of the books I’ve written I’ve hit a wall with a scene. Like I said above, it just WON’T work. It doesn’t flow, it feels forced or won’t move at all. It’s like all of the characters have gone to sleep on the page and just won’t wake up. I HATE that feeling!
But several years ago when I was writing my very first book I heard Jennifer Ashley speak at a conference and she mentioned that sometimes she skips ahead and writes other scenes when one she’s on just isn’t working. Before that I had always envisioned writers just sitting down at the keyboard and writing from Chapter One until the end in one continuous stream. So hearing this comment from a New York Times Best Selling author who writes great books opened up a whole new vista of possibilities for me.
I immediately went home and wrote the last scene of the book which had been perking in my mind from almost the beginning of the book. After that was out of my head and on paper, I was able to go back and write the rest of the middle and thread it all together. That book – Into a Dangerous Mind – went on to win the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award for 2006 for Best Small Press Contemporary Paranormal, and is one of my best selling books as Tina Gerow to date.
Since then I’ve also used that tactic on many of my other books, including most of my Cassie Ryan books. It allows me to move on with a scene I can already see inside my head, and there’s also something about getting it out of my brain and into my manuscript that kicks my imagination and creativity back into high gear. Usually after that accomplishment – I can go back and thread those scenes together with the previous ones to bridge the gap, so to speak. So now I usually take the time to go ahead and write any scenes that keep playing over in my imagination, even before it’s their turn to play out in my manuscript.
However, this time, for some reason I didn’t do that and it has bitten me on the butt with a month of spinning my wheels. I can try to blame it on the personal stress lately or some other external thing, but I think the problem was that this was just a novella length story that I was writing to keep me writing daily until I’m back under contract. So consequently I don’t have the axe over my head of an actual deadline, and I wasn’t quite as driven as I normally am to finish. I know that’s a piss poor excuse and I need to get my ass in gear and finish it and move onto the next even while continuing to work with my agent to get me back under contract.
But after my <FACE PALM> moment this morning where I realized what I had been doing to myself, I’m finally back on board and first thing tomorrow I will take my own good advice! Or actually, the great advice that I got from Jennifer Ashley years ago and have since heard from countless other authors.
I say first thing tomorrow because I’ve already spent an hour this morning rewriting that damn scene yet again only to wear out my brain and frustrate myself beyond belief!
Yeah, sometimes I’m not too bright…lol!
So take my advice (and feel free to toss it back at me if you see me falling into this rut again!) If a scene just isn’t working, don’t force it. Jump ahead and write something later in the book and get your “love” for that story back. Then you can always go back and thread those together. In fact for one of my Cassie Ryan books I had in mind several different scenes – I think there were 8, but I wasn’t sure of the overall book arc yet. So I wrote those 8 different scenes and then threaded them together with the first three chapters – which was the partial I sold the trilogy off of – and then smoothed the entire thing together and BAM – Ceremony of Seduction was finished and ready to edit! Which incidentally, is my best selling book under either pen name – EVER 🙂
Happy writing, all!
I know everyone’s knee jerk answer to that will be, “No way! If you want to be a writer, you have to write…all the time, every day, consistently…end of story.”
But wait. There are some exceptions, and it does involve trusting your body and mind to tell you when those exceptions need to take place. I’m a firm believer that things like writer’s block are just ways that your body and mind are trying to tell you they need a break, fresh inspiration or for you to relax and come at things from a different angle.
By the same token, when writing becomes a chore that you dread doing every day, it’s time to take a break.
Remember back to when you started writing. You probably had dreamed about writing for a very long time if you’re anything like me. You fantasized about sitting down to write and loving every second of it while wonderful stories spilled from your mind down to your fingers and out onto the page. You imagined it being fun, fulfilling and exciting to do. And it still can be. But too much of anything and your body will cry foul – that it needs a break.
I recently hit such a patch just around the holidays. Things were crazy and I didn’t have much emotional energy left over for my characters. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about them and that plot ideas for my story didn’t still spill through my head, but the thought of sitting down to write made me even more tired, when I know on “normal” days the thought of sitting down to write excites me and puts a spring in my step.
For several years I dreamed of getting to stay at home full time to write. I imagined all I’d get done and how easily the books would flow. Fast forward a few years and I’m writing full time, but I should’ve been more specific with my dream. Yes, I’m writing full time, but I had to go through 7 emergency brain surgeries to get to this point where I can’t work in traditional jobs while I’m healing, so now I’m “able” to stay home full time and write. And even writing is now difficult and a chore sometimes for me to do. I just physically and mentally don’t have the stamina I used to and not just for writing – for everything in my life. That doesn’t stop the fact that I’m grateful to be writing full time and I try to take advantage of that fact as often as possible. But if I don’t let myself rest and give myself a break then my body revolts and let’s me know that it’s in charge and not me.
I know some of you are going to say that in those circumstances maybe breaks are okay, but in normal circumstances writers must write – all the time, every day. And while I don’t disagree that that’s a good goal, it’s also a good way to burn out.
Write as much as you can. Become disciplined about it and you’ll be very thankful that you did. Your writing will improve, agents and editors will notice, and you’ll finish more stories in a quicker timeframe. But sometimes – and your body and mind will be able to tell you when – sometimes you just need a bit of a breather.
And you’ll be amazed how much a few days or even a few weeks off will help you reinstall the wonder and the pizazz back into your writing and your attitude about writing. Now I’m not saying to let yourself get out of the habit of writing. Maybe you could continue to write something every day. I write out a list of 10 blessings and why they are blessings every morning. It may not be the paranormal romance I usually write, but it forces my mind to work and keeps me in the habit of sitting down at my computer and writing something every day. Or you could write a paragraph. I’ve done this before on my self allowed vacations. I just sit down and write a paragraph and keep them all in one big word doc. Several of those have turned into new story ideas and even new books, so it’s not wasted effort and keeps the creative juices flowing.
But by giving myself permission to take a break and not feel guilty over it, I’m allowing my body and my mind to take a vacation and recharge. And believe me, they will show you appreciation once you come back to it. The first few days while you get back into your groove might be a bit of a challenge, but you’ll soon be back in the habit and the flow and surprised at how much easier and how much more fun writing is at that point.
So go ahead, every now and then, set a time limit and then give yourself permission to take a writing vacation. Just a tip – DON’T do this during a writing deadline. It might sound like common sense, but during a deadline you’re going to have to gut it out and meet your deadline. After all, writing is your job (even if it isn’t your full time job) and you are expected to be professional and meet your commitments. Maybe AFTER you meet your deadline would be a great time for a mini vacation – not to mention time for a yummy butterscotch martini or two!
In any case – happy writing!